From the time I was a 14-year-old high school freshman, I knew I wanted to be a journalist. Yes, I was one of those students: Driven, focused, and striving to succeed despite having grown up in an economically depressed city with historically low rates of college attendance. I had a plan, and was determined to follow it. With the help of numerous mentors and sponsors, I achieved a successful career in television news. I covered an array of issues and met interesting people with a variety of life experiences, which allowed me to learn and develop skills such as time management, attention to detail, and effective communication. I was exactly where I planned to be; the hopes and dreams of a 14-year-old girl from Richmond, California, had come true.

And yet, ten years into my career as a news producer, I began thinking about life beyond the news cycle. Recognizing that finding a new career is a lengthy process, I thought about the issues that were important to me. I also considered how I could apply the skills and knowledge I had developed as a journalist, while fulfilling my desire to give back to my community. Three years later, I left the television industry, and was unemployed for the first time ever. It took close to a year to launch my new career in the mission-driven nonprofit world. During that time, I gained an incredible amount of knowledge about myself and what I truly want to do with my life, as well as what I don’t want to do, which is just as important. While I’m happy with my current career path, I intend to continue challenging myself for years to come. Plans and goals can change, and it’s important to use change to learn about your strengths and weaknesses.

On Finding Success and Staying Competitive
You need a thorough understanding of every issue related to your job, and you must be able to actively support arguments for the policies you’re championing and, perhaps even more importantly, to understand and address the arguments against them. Be open-minded and willing to work with those on all sides, and with a variety of work styles, while staying focused on your broader goals.

On the Importance of Role Models and Mentors
I’m lucky to have had many, but my first was my high school English teacher, Diana McClelland. She gave me the courage to think outside my comfort zone and be the first person in my family to go to school out of state.

On Facing Challenges
After several years in broadcast news, I decided to change careers. I quit the job I had at the time without lining up a new one.

Serena’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
Be able to articulate both what you want to do and what you don’t want to do. Give yourself time to fully experience all aspects of each job you hold.