• Elise Petronzio
  • Elise Petronzio
  • School of Arts and Sciences '18
  • Major(s): Psychology
  • Minor(s): Spanish

Activities: Department of Leadership & Experiential Learning, Omega Phi Alpha, To Write Love on Her Arms

What attracted you to Rutgers University and the Honors/Scholars Program?
A friend's older sister pushed me to apply to Rutgers because she thought it would be an affordable option. I was actually very intimidated by the size, and threw it in my application at the last minute. I had no plans to go, it was actually my last choice! It wasn't until I stepped on campus for the first time in late February, for SASHP Scholars' Day, that I realized Rutgers was a real contender. Rutgers had so many opportunities because of its size and status, from study abroad to class selections. I was also coming in undecided, which Rutgers embraced and other schools I had applied to discouraged. The Honors Program offered unique opportunities as well in a much smaller community size. I grew up in a small town and did not go to a large high school, so the Honors community made me feel a little more secure going to such a large school. Combining the tight-knit Honors program with the opportunities of a huge state school, I decided to go to Rutgers.

Why did you choose your major and minor?
I chose my major after taking classes in a lot of different fields. I liked General Psychology my first semester, so I tried another psych class, and another, and another, until I realized it would be my major. I did not have a specific career goal in mind, I had just really liked the content. I would say I ended up somewhere in the psychology realm in my current work. It's a very versatile major, which was something else I liked about it. I chose my minor because I already loved Spanish when I got to campus, and the SASHP required us to get through the intermediate level of a foreign language. A minor was required for people majoring in only psych. Once I finished that requirement, I didn't really want to stop taking Spanish after studying it for almost 6 straight years. I also went on the SASHP Yucatán trip to Mexico, where I got to use Spanish in a real-life contexts, and I fell in love with it all over again. I'm particularly proud of my Spanish minor, it was really hard work and I really had to push myself out of my comfort zone to do it. (I loved Spanish, but I didn't love speaking it in front of other people in class!)

Tell us a little bit about what you're doing now. What was your first job after Rutgers? Where you do you live? What was your first job after Rutgers? Where you do you live?
I currently have two positions. I am an entrepreneur. I run a small business called 'the ocdopus', which is an OCD advocacy and recovery shop. We make merchandise that inspires people in treatment for OCD and advocates for the illness and what life with it is really like. I got into mental illness advocacy in college during my very first involvement fair, so it is wild to see how far it has taken me. I have also been working as a COVID-19 Contact Tracer/Case Investigator since last August. It has been quite an experience, and I'm glad I will be able to look back on the pandemic and know I impacted my community. Right after Rutgers, I went to teach English abroad in Spain for a couple months. After I came home, my first job was actually back at Rutgers working in admin in the Honors College.What has been your greatest professional and/or personal accomplishment since you graduated Rutgers?

What has been your greatest professional and/or personal accomplishment since you graduated from Rutgers?
My greatest professional accomplishment is definitely starting the business. If you had told me I was going to do that back in college, I would have been very confused. I never really thought that business was for me. I feel like I really have been able to take my passion and make it into a blossoming career. To give credit where it's due, I discovered and cultivated that passion at Rutgers. My biggest personal accomplishment has been learning to make my health a higher priority in my life, both physical and emotional/mental. Especially in college, people push their bodies and minds SO far, to their limits. I was a very involved student, and I am happy that I went after so many opportunities because I have a lot of amazing memories. At the same time, I also remember being very unhappy and unhealthy at different points.

Was there a class and/or experience at Rutgers that led you to pursuing your current career?
I've hinted at this already, but I'm not sure I would have gotten into mental health/illness advocacy if I hadn't gone to Rutgers. At my very first involvement fair, I saw a table for To Write Love on Her Arms, a mental health awareness organization. I'm not sure they're even still there. Through that job, I started working at NAMI New Jersey. Through NAMI New Jersey, I was introduced to the International OCD Foundation. After going to the IOCDF conference the summer after I graduated from Rutgers, I started OCD specific advocacy, which has led my to my business.

What three words describe your experience at Rutgers and the Honors/Scholars Program? 
Abundance. Challenging. Transformative.

How has your Rutgers and Honors education benefited you in your post-Rutgers life?
That first semester, I really struggled at Rutgers. I was used to being at the top of my class, and some of my classes absolutely baffled me. I had no idea what was going on and I wasn't used to that. I think Rutgers at the very least has taught me how to approach challenges, which really helps you with anything. I do still remember things I learned in classes as well, from psychology, to the Spanish language, to that Honors Business class I took that one semester. It's hard to put into words, but Rutgers really changed the way I saw the world after coming from a very small town. I think that's invaluable.

What advice do you have for our current SAS Honors Program students?
BREATHE. You're doing enough. Is what you're doing making you happy and sustaining you? If you're overwhelmed, quit something, the world will keep spinning. Do what you love and what helps you grow, and cut the rest. Keep it simple. And enjoy it! It goes so fast and you'll remember it forever.

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