- This is Poly
Two members of Poly’s Class of 1988 shared advice with Upper School students and young alumni about setting out on a career path during the second installment of the speaker series “How I Got Here” on October 7. This initiative, a collaboration between the Upper School deans and our Advancement team, provides an engaging opportunity for our students and community members to learn more about the career pathways of some of our parents, alumni, and board members.
Jeanine Smartt Liburd ’88, P’21, ’24, BET Networks’ Chief Social Impact and Communications Officer, and Samantha DiGennaro ’88, who specializes in public relations and marketing and is the founder and CEO of DiGennaro Communications (DGC) offered counsel in a Zoom meeting. Sam Genatt ’21 moderated the event. Genatt introduced the two speakers by sharing brief descriptions of their extensive professional experiences.
Liburd most recently spearheaded the network’s inaugural social impact conference, META (Media, Entertainment and Technology Alliance) to explore how the most influential people and platforms across these sectors could work together to positively impact outcomes for the African-American community. Before her career in communications, Liburd worked on urban and family policy at the local and national levels, holding positions at the Department of General Services under the Mayor David Dinkins administration, and with the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House under the Clinton administration. She is a graduate of Vassar College and holds an MS in Urban Policy from The New School for Social Research. She was a recipient of the 2018 Poly Prep Alumni Association Distinguished Achievement Award.
DiGennaro is the founder and CEO of DiGennaro Communications, a leading New York-based public relations and marketing communications agency. DiGennaro’s deep understanding of business and entrepreneurship, her strategic communications counsel, and her crisis management expertise have landed her on the speed dial of such companies as Facebook, Pinterest, Spotify, and Microsoft. Prior to founding DGC, DiGennaro honed her strategic communications skills at such global companies as Publicis’ DMB&B and WPP’s J. Walter Thompson, where she built and oversaw North American and global communications teams from 1998-2005. DiGennaro earned her AB from the University of Chicago. She has served on the Poly Alumni Association Board of Governors and was honored with their Rising Star Award in 1999 and the School Service Award in 2013.
After Genatt welcomed the two speakers, DiGennaro shared that her journey to a career in public relations was not a straight line, but began in a corporate setting. She told the students,” I didn’t like what I was doing, but that is OK, as long as you are learning.” She stressed the importance of friendships made during a career, being kind to everyone you come in contact with, and networking. DiGennaro explained that her father was an entrepreneur and his example gave her the courage 15 years ago to take the risk and start her own business.
Liburd, who earned a master’s in Urban Policy, said she thought she wanted to work in politics. Early in her career, she also worked at a PR agency and learned about “crafting a message for good.” In her work with BET, she said, she has been able to have an impact on social issues that matter to her.
Genatt asked the speakers if they had any advice for students. Liburd advised looking at the careers of alumni from their school and staying in touch with the Alumni Office. DiGennaro encouraged them to network. “Stay curious,” she said, “Stay open.” She added that in interviewing prospective employees, she likes to hear that a person is passionate about something they do, that they are a multidimensional person. Liburd added, “Your passion may end up being your job.”
“Be open to lots of different persons with different perspectives,” Liburd said. “Lean in to a potential role at a company,” DiGennaro added, while stressing the importance of a first impression.
Young alumna Charlotte Watson ’17 asked how employee candidates are evaluated. Liburd told her that Gen Z candidates are “a huge asset if you know your peers” because everyone wants to know “what is Gen Z thinking?” Afterward Watson said, “As a Poly alumna who is soon to graduate from college, this couldn’t have come at a better time. Both Sam and Jeanine had extremely useful, but also inspiring advice. Being able to hear from such successful women and feeing connected to them really reveals how Poly will play a role in your life for years after graduation. I cannot thank Sam and Jeanine enough for their time.”
Liburd, in turn, asked DiGennaro if she ever thought that running her own company ”wouldn’t work.” DiGennaro responded in the affirmative, “on March 20, 2020, when the whole world shut down,” but said that the challenges in running your own business can also be exciting.
”Entrepreneurs are built differently,” said Liburd with a smile. She added that, ideally, the students might find themselves in the position where they “know what you love to do and do it in a place you enjoy.”
Missed the first How I Got Here talk? Find out who spoke and more.
Find out more about speakers who visit Poly and inspire our students.