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From college to career: Coming full circle

Daphne Christensen
Daphne Christensen. (Submitted photo)

It’s been said that art imitates life. In Daphne Christensen’s case, her favorite quote appropriately mirrors both her academic and professional journeys.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
-Maya Angelou

As a high school senior in Des Moines, Christensen (’98 sociology, journalism) was confident with her chosen path—attend a small, private college; major in journalism; snag a fabulous public relations position in health care. Case closed.

Or was it?

Christensen’s first year at the small college left her yearning for more, and she knew it started with a much bigger campus closer to home. The obvious choice for her was Iowa State University.

“I loved everything about Iowa State from day one. I was a little concerned going from a private college that was very small. How was I going to fit in, or get the attention of my professors if I needed to? But I was blown away by how connected you are to the people who are helping you on your academic path,” Christensen said.

A new path forward

Christensen continued her journalism major at Iowa State, but began to feel pulled toward sociology. She enrolled in one class, then another and another until she was one class away from a double major in sociology with her final year at Iowa State ahead of her.

“So, I put the pedal to the metal my senior year and knocked out one more course, and I’m thrilled I did,” she said.

Christensen quickly determined that sociology applied to all facets of life—both professional and personal—and that’s what drew her to the major.

“As I got started in sociology, I realized quickly that it was a lot of conversation. It was a lot of deep dives into perceptions about people, about communities, cultures, why people act the way they do and it didn’t feel like school; it felt like lessons in life.”

The more Christensen opened herself up to the possibilities of adopting a second major in sociology, the more committed she became to immersing herself in the curricula. One of her most impactful experiences as a sociology major occurred when she and another undergraduate student assisted Professor Emeritus of Sociology Stephen Aigner with a research project related to persistent poverty.

“The work we were doing was very important. We were committed to it and Dr. Aigner was very inspiring,” Christensen said. “He was the leader but very open to our perceptions, our ideas and conversations.”

One thing leads to another

Following graduation at Iowa State, Christensen primarily put her journalism degree to work in marketing and public relations roles at the Urbandale Chamber of Commerce, Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, and at a private physicians’ practice, also in Des Moines. Today, she is director of communications and marketing at Community Housing Initiatives, a nonprofit affordable housing organization based in Spencer, though she works in its development office in Des Moines.

In her current position, Christensen’s sociology degree takes center stage. Every day, she assists people with disabilities and people of color with obtaining affordable housing in Iowa. She develops marketing plans to reach them, which proves challenging because they are often low-income with little or no access to technology or transportation. Working through social services agencies, she strives to connect them with resources that will enhance their living situations. The work takes her back to her days at Iowa State when she studied social behaviors and conducted research on persistent poverty.

“What I’m doing now is so completely different from where I’ve been, but it makes perfect sense. I think I’ve come full circle. I think Dr. Aigner would be really proud,” she said.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”