GRADUCon 2019 - Careers in Education and Literacy Nonprofits Panel


Are you curious about a career at an education or literacy nonprofit? Are you wondering about how the skills and knowledge you have developed in graduate work could translate beyond academia? MAs and PhDs become adept at project management, research, programming, writing, and more–all skills in demand at literacy organizations, libraries, and educational institutes. All at different stages in diverse careers, the panel will give grad students and postdocs a helpful snapshot of professional life in education and literacy nonprofit organizations. Could they have imagined their current jobs when they were in graduate school? Come listen and find out!


Alison Cuddy, Artistic Director, Chicago Humanities Festival (MA English University of Pittsburgh)

Alison Cuddy is Marilynn Thoma Artistic Director of the Chicago Humanities Festival, where she leads the programming team and sets the creative direction of the Festival. She brings more than 15 years experience developing humanities programming for diverse publics, including 10 years at WBEZ 91.5 FM, the NPR affiliate in Chicago. There she gained a national profile as the host of the stations’ award-winning flagship program Eight Forty-Eight, and helped launch Odyssey, a nationally syndicated talk show of arts and ideas which received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. From 2015-2019, Cuddy was the Project Director of Humanities Without Walls, a UIUC-based Mellon funded initiative where she designed and ran a career diversity workshop for 100+ humanities PhDs from across the United States. In addition to her work at CHF, Cuddy moderates public forums in partnership with many of the city’s cultural and civic institutions.

Ken Bigger, Executive Director, Chicago Literary Alliance (PhD Divinity 2005)

Ken joined the CLA as Executive Director in January 2018, and is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to a better, more equitable, more inclusive, and more literate Chicago. He has been a Chicagoan for more than 26 years. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Ethics, focusing on religion, political theory, and the ethics of democratic citizenship. He has worked for the University of Chicago, the YMCA of Metro Chicago, and Illinois Institute of Technology, among other organizations. In 2012, he co-founded the music blog/column Murder Ballad Monday, an exploration of music, mortality, and meaning, now hosted by Sing Out! magazine. Ken and his spouse, Sara, live in Hyde Park, and are the parents of two CPS-educated kids (Go Dolphins!). When not looking back wistfully on the days when his favorite thing to do was to take his children to the Blackstone Branch Library, Ken enjoys reading, playing music, camping, running, cycling, kayaking, and open water swimming. He enjoys writing, too, although it’s more complicated than that. Having formed his baseball allegiance elsewhere, he is content to root for Chicago’s home teams in all match-ups save one. Nevertheless, he will join with Carl Sandburg in saying, “Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive…,” and with Nelson Algren in “loving the joint for keeps.”

Mimosa Shah, Adult Program Coordinator, Skokie Public Library (MA Humanities 2012)

Mimosa Shah is curious about many things. That curiosity inspires her to work in libraries and museums where informal lifelong learning is championed. She’s currently the Adult Program Coordinator at Skokie Public Library, where she develops, manages, and evaluates public programs for adults. A 2019 American Library Association (ALA) Emerging Leader, Mimosa is proud to channel her values of community, equity, and justice into a project tailored for library professional development. She is also a 2019 Diversity, Accessibility, Equity, and Inclusion (DEAI) advisory board member for Museum Computer Network (MCN), a community for museum professionals engaged in thinking about emerging technologies and their ability to connect people and collections. When she’s not at work or running after her two children, she’s an avid photographer and bookworm.

Maria Vieytez, Imagination Library Coordinator, Open Books Ltd. (MA Humanities 2018)

Maria first became involved in the non-profit literacy sphere as a volunteer in Open Books’ Reading Buddies program, where she helped third grade students to develop their literacy skills. After completing a research internship at the Chicago Literacy Alliance, Maria officially joined the Open Books team as a Bookseller, and shortly after became the Program Coordinator for the new Dolly Parton Imagination Library initiative. In this role, Maria works to introduce DPIL to communities on the South and West sides of Chicago, helping children aged 0-5 to receive a new, free book in the mail each month.


Margaret Fink, Assistant Director, UChicago Writing Program (PhD English 2017)

Margaret is an Assistant Director at the Writing Program, and her responsibilities primarily involve hiring, training, and supporting writing instructors in the Humanities Common Core and the Writing Program’s flagship course, Academic and Professional Writing (The Little Red Schoolhouse). She is also involved in offering graduate writing support–individual Graduate Writing Consultations and Structured Writing Accountability Groups. Her academic interests lie in disability studies, and she has also begun offering outreach programming about accessibility and inclusive teaching.