Defne Ildiz COM'16 is someone who knows how to take agile pivots. She grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, and moved to Miami, Florida, where she attended New World School of the Arts and studied dance throughout her high school career. After deciding dance was no longer the direction she wanted to go in professionally, she set her sights on Rutgers University, noting that it offered diversity, quality, choice of majors, and a tremendous variety of opportunities outside of the classroom. Ildiz shared her experiences with SC&I in a recent interview.
You graduated in 2016 with a major in communications, a specialization in strategic public communications and public relations, and a minor in gender and media studies. What led you to make these choices?
As a young high school graduate who had only ever wanted to dance professionally, the thought of choosing a new major and a career path was daunting. Rutgers made me feel like I had options, and it was customary to try new things to see what worked best for me. I decided to study communications, specifically public relations, at SC&I because it allowed me to use my creativity outside of the dance studio. The gender and media minor really spoke to me when I was choosing a minor as I wanted to explore the portrayal of women in today’s digital space. I loved learning about representation in media and have been able to apply these concepts throughout my career in PR, specifically when planning diverse influencer campaigns and activations.
What SC&I classes or instructors had the most impact on you?
Two of my all-time favorite SC&I courses were Principles of Public Relations and Message Design for Public Relations, where I was exposed to key PR concepts and learned how to implement them in real-world situations. The courses were taught by two professors who played a significant role in my career and helped me get to where I am today: Assistant Professor of Professional Practice and Communication Mark Beal and part-time lecturer Jack Grasso, who sadly passed away in 2019. I also thoroughly enjoyed my time with Distinguished Teaching Professor of Communication and Information Mary Chayko during my gender and media capstone course. Professor Chayko challenged me and created a space where I was comfortable to share my ideas.
Tell us about your early career work experiences.
After graduating, I went on to work on the global public relations team at the luxury jewelry house Tiffany & Co. After two years there, I moved on to gain more hands-on experience at Monica Vinader (MV), the contemporary British jewelry brand. I am currently the global public relations manager at MV, and I work to implement diverse influencer activations, secure top-tier media placements, and activate brand partnerships and collaborations.
What advice do you have for current and prospective SC&I students?
My advice would be to view every experience as a learning opportunity. Maybe you are struggling at your first job out of graduation or don't mesh well with your new boss. I say soak up everything you can from these experiences. One day, something from this time in your life will be helpful, and it will ultimately shape you into your future self!
What exciting plans do you have for the next phase of your career and life?
I'm looking forward to beginning the mental health counseling program at Northwestern University. When I receive my master's in counseling, I will pursue my dream of opening a holistic private practice.