When Draper alumna Mary Snauffer looks at the trajectory her life has taken in recent years, she describes it as the product of “a lot of happy accidents.” From her decision to join the Peace Corps after completing her undergraduate degree (in English and Art History), to the significant change of direction her academic interests took while at Draper (see question five, below), to her current employment with Reprise Media as a social media coordinator—Mary has found herself in a variety of unexpected places. And yet, each of these developments fit together as if they were planned from the start. Of course, as “That Draper Kid,” Mary always felt like she was “putting together a puzzle” and making the subject matter in her courses “relevant in a much different sort of way than other students in class.” So for her, bringing together disparate interests and skills is habit by now.
As a social media coordinator, Mary “creates online strategies for major brands through Facebook, Twitter, and other online social platforms.” This work, as Mary points out, “is tightly entwined with the work I did on my thesis,” which was entitled “The Presentation of Self Online: A Study of People’s Relationships to Online Social Network Publics.” Her interest in social media began during her first year at Draper, when a Steinhardt class on media culture and youth inspired her to begin thinking more about identity creation—about “online lives versus ‘real’ lives.” A former roommate who worked with social media and search engine optimization led Mary to think about her academic interests in a more “career-oriented” light. She was amazed, she said, that someone “has an actual job at this.”
As more and more brands and corporations look to expand their advertising presence in social media settings, Mary believes that the dynamic between consumers and advertisers are changing for the better.“It’s an exciting opportunity,” she says. People can be “directly engaged with brands…it’s more of a democracy, and less like being broadcast at.” She cites an example where a cosmetics company paid for a Facebook advertisement and overnight, had 2,000 fans. However, at the same time, they were identified on PETA’s Facebook page as a brand which tests its products on animals. As Mary points out, this sort of interaction dramatically “changes the dialog that brands are used to having with consumers.”
While Mary is still very much invested in her work-life, she is still committed to continuing her academic work as well. “The good part of this job is that you’re encouraged to do your own thing. My niche is that I’m the person who’s interested in academic issues. Now I can start…working on articles on archival issues.” She is currently developing parts of her Master’s thesis into more focused articles and is interested in the way in which the preservation of personal artifacts is changing. “People on Facebook are not making scrapbooks,” she says, so how do they pick what to save, and how do they go about saving it?
As for advice for current Draper students, Mary simply suggests that even students like herself who don’t enjoy “networking” should “keep an ear to the ground.” There are so many different opportunities that people can take advantage of, especially in New York City, she says. She thinks that people may be surprised that many “people are willing to help you.”
Mary responds to ‘The Draper Dozen’
1. When did you graduate from Draper?
2. Did you attend full or part-time student?
Both. Mostly part time (2 courses a semester), except for my first spring semester when I attended full-time with 3 courses.
3. Do you still live in New York?
4. What was the topic of your Master’s thesis?
I was interested in studying how social networking sites (SNSs) like Facebook were transforming the ways we think, perceive, and behave. I interviewed over 100 internet-active human subjects (from 30 countries) about their behaviors on SNSs, and incorporated (principally) media theory, sociology, gender studies as well as archival scholarship. I was curious about how people presented their identity to a largely “invisible audience”- the challenge of having to articulate yourself or, as Danah Boyd coined, “write oneself into being,” fascinated me. And whether users assumed their (and their peers’) online identities to be authentic.
5. Why did you choose to pursue an interdisciplinary degree at Draper?
I decided to do [the Draper degree] while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. Looking back, I had no real idea what I was doing. My entire application process happened in a pretty dodgy internet café in my village where it was just me and Thai boys playing either violent video games or looking at porn. What appealed to me about Draper was the idea of working closely with a mentor and pulling in different subjects to support your main piece of work—your thesis. Draper was the only graduate program I applied to. My statement of purpose was about studying gender and Muslims, which clearly isn’t the path I stayed on. At all.
6. Are you still in academia? Why or why not?
No, though I like to think I have one big toe still in the pool. I’ve been working on expanding specific chapters of my thesis in order to publish them in journals—the work I did studying the threat and potential of personal artifacts in Facebook-era really interests me and I am looking around at archival journals. Since my job now forces me to constantly consider how people view brands in the Facebook/Twitter/etc. space, working on academic stuff in this area still feels really relevant. The only problem with this area and academia is that the technology changes so quickly it’s really difficult to properly analyze anything. It’s also difficult to write in a way that won’t sound dated in two years, which is frustrating.
7. What special activities or projects do you enjoy outside of your academic work and/or career?
I enjoy running and writing fiction. I also am trying to become a “serious” cook.
8. What do you like best about New York City?
I like that I have so many friends from different areas and periods of my life who have migrated here. And that you don’t have to own a car—I like that a lot.
9. What do you like least about New York City?
That it’s a city. I like to pretend I’m really a person who would rather live in a rural/college town sort of place. I’m not sure if that’s even true anymore, as I’ve gotten pretty used having everything I need in a mile radius from me at all times.
10. What was the last book you read for fun?
I’m currently reading the Raymond Carver biography. Before that it was Lit by Mary Karr.
11. If you could change anything about ______ [fill in the blank: New York City, the world, the economy, your hair…] what would it be and why?
My job: I would get out of work at 3:00 PM and have the summer off.
12. How do you feel about social media and which, if any, do you use most?
Well, I feel quite strongly about social media! At work I am constantly on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Constantly. In my real life, I feel like I’m a registered user of everything there is but actively use Facebook, Gmail, and Twitter, with a dash of YouTube. I’ve been debating committing a “cyber suicide” for a month by cutting myself off and then writing an essay about that experience. I don’t think my boss would like that experiment, though.