The Importance of Strong Communication Skills: Q&A with Alumna Melinda Englert

Jan. 22, 2024
Melinda Englert smiles in front of a colorful background

Melinda Englert

Melinda Englert earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology and journalism from the University of Arizona in 2010. Her post-graduate career has largely focused on nonprofit leadership in addition to strategic and creative communications. Melinda has held positions at organizations such as The Boys & Girls Club, Make Way for Books, and the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. She now works as the director of communications for CommunityShare. Here, she talks about how her education at UArizona has helped her achieve meaningful success in her career.

As director of communications at CommunityShare, what do you do?

As the director of communications, my primary focus is to communicate and raise awareness about CommunityShare's mission, vision, and impact. CommunityShare collaborates with thousands of community partners and educators to deliver authentic and real-world learning to PreK-12 students across Arizona and the nation. They engage thousands of community partners and educators in Arizona and across the nation to ensure more young people have meaningful and engaging learning experiences that prepare them to thrive in school as well as in a dynamic and changing world. My job is to inspire and encourage educators, community partners, and supporters to get involved in this essential mission. In the day-to-day, that means creating and guiding clear, impactful messaging, imagery, video, and so on for various channels such as digital, print, social media, and in-person communications.  For me, the most rewarding part of this work is listening to and reflecting the powerful stories and learning that is happening to educators, partners, team members, and our community.

How did your UArizona degree in anthropology and journalism prepare you for your professional endeavors?

Community and contribution have always been at the center of the work I wanted to do in the world. This core purpose led me to work in youth development, literacy, and education nonprofits for more than a decade. My degrees in anthropology and journalism have been instrumental in preparing me for a career in communications and non-profit work. At the core of anthropology is the study of people, their contexts, and the dynamic and nuanced nature of cultural and societal change. This discipline has equipped me with an understanding of diverse perspectives and the importance of context in any narrative.

Similarly, studying journalism honed my skills in research, asking incisive questions, and, most importantly, listening. Journalism is about more than reporting facts; it's about understanding the stories behind those facts and presenting them in a way that resonates with the audience. This aspect of storytelling is crucial in non-profit and communications work.

Education isn't just about gaining knowledge; it's about opening minds. What drew me to study journalism and anthropology was deep curiosity. What I've learned through my educational experiences, both formal and informal, is the importance of being endlessly curious — about people, their stories, and the world around us.

What kind of nonprofit work have you been involved in?

Nonprofit and community development work has been part of my career as well as my life as a volunteer. The common thread across both areas has been a focus on youth, education, and community development and sustainability. In my work at Big Brothers Big Sisters and at the Boys and Girls Club of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, I had the opportunity to engage directly with youth through tutoring and club activities. In these roles, I also contributed to communications and development efforts. This dual focus allowed me to see the impact of effective storytelling and community engagement in garnering support for important causes.

I worked as the creative and communications officer at Make Way for Books, an early literacy nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring young children (ages birth to five) have access to high-quality early literacy and learning experiences they need to become thriving readers and learners. During my ten years at Make Way for Books, I expanded my skills in leadership, design, and videography, and was a part of an inspiring organization that nearly tripled in size and impact during this time.

Currently, I'm applying the skills and insights I've gained to impactful Arizona nonprofits and organizations, including CommunityShare. I'm also an avid gardener and volunteer my time at Las Milpitas Community Garden and as a Pima County Master Gardener.

Please talk about your work at Las Milpitas Community Farm & Garden and how that led to you receiving the 2023 Night Bloom grant from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson.

Las Milpitas de Cottonwood is a six-acre community farm located on the banks of the Santa Cruz River in Tucson. A project of the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Las Milpitas is more than a garden; it's a community of individuals and families comprising many diverse experiences who come together to connect with and cultivate land and plants, build community, and grow together.

I'm part of a group of community gardeners at Las Milpitas who meet throughout the year to cultivate community spaces, including caring for collective spaces, sowing seeds, planting, making compost tea, and working on projects to benefit the garden community and support greater access to organic plants and food for community members. Collectively, we are composed of people with diverse life experiences and share a deep bond over our connection to the land and our commitment to cultivating creativity within our surroundings.  Together, we developed Sketching the Senses, an inclusive, place-based project that brings together community members to engage with the abundance of the Sonoran Desert region through sketch sessions. The project provides a platform for community members to facilitate events focused on seasonal elements as the catalyst for communal celebration as well as physical and mental space for contemplation, inspiration, and shared creative expression. Sketching the Senses is designed, organized, and coordinated in community. This effort is led by three co-organizers: Teresa Pereira, Ai Nan, and me.

In 2023, we received a Night Bloom grant from MOCA Tucson in partnership with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts to implement Sketching the Senses at Las Milpitas Community Farm. To date, we've gathered more than 150 participants, including gardeners, artists, families, and individuals from the Tucson community at our sessions.

What advice do you have for current students interested in the world of creative communications?

Sometimes, the most profound lessons come from diving into opportunities, even those you feel slightly unprepared for. This approach can accelerate your learning. It's a way to push your boundaries and discover your potential. Asking good questions is a skill honed through practice. By asking insightful questions, you'll gather valuable information and understand more deeply. Both are essential to communicating meaningfully.

Your community is essential. Surround yourself with people you admire and can learn from. Your community can be a source of inspiration, collaboration, and learning. Engage with peers, mentors, and professionals who challenge and motivate you. Humility is key. Don’t be too attached to your work; there's always room for improvement and new ideas.

Lastly, strive to become a genuinely interested and passionate individual. The essence of meaningful communication lies in truly understanding and believing in what you're communicating. Choose projects and roles that align with your values. When you're invested in your work, it resonates.