Oct. 2, 2015

Alumni Spotlight: J’Val Shuster, BA’94, MA’98 (Anthropology)

Arts alumni are an accomplished crew. They have great advice for students and fellow graduates, and know that arts degrees teach skills that are sought-after in the professional environment.

J’Val Shuster graduated with a both a bachelor and masters in Anthropology from the University of Calgary. Prior to owning her own catering company, Shuster worked with the City of Calgary as their International Relations Coordinator and taught as a sessional instructor at the University of Calgary. She has sat as a board member with both Alberta Theatre Projects and the EPCOR CENTRE for the Performing Arts. In 2003 she started Devour, a full-service company that plans fabulous events and serves food you will never forget, because Shuster truly feels life is worth celebrating!

What is your favourite University of Calgary memory?

I really enjoyed the experience of my masters defense. I really respected and liked the professors on my committee and they asked really hard questions. It was so great to have people who were interested in my research and who had read my thesis. I remember thinking how lucky I was to get to do something like that.

What was your favourite campus hang out spot?

You could say I was an Anthropology nerd, so I really liked hanging out in the ‘Kula Ring’ which was the office/lounge area for Anthropology undergraduates.  I also remember really liking a desk area in the library tower that was in the corner with windows….back in the days when you actually had to get books from the shelves!

If you could give one piece of advice to a student completing the same degree that you did, what would it be?

Truly enjoy what you are learning. While it is important to think about what you are going to ‘do’ with your degree and with what you have learned, it is equally important to immerse yourself in what you are learning and to love it. Be inspired and interested. Be curious. Do what you love and you will end up loving what you do.

How has your career evolved?

My Anthropology background was directly relevant to my positions as the International Relations Officer at Expo 2005 and as the International Relations Coordinator at The City of Calgary.  The connections to Anthropology are quite obvious with those roles.  I was also fortunate enough to be a sessional instructor for a few years and found that really rewarding as well.  I loved teaching the perspective of Anthropology to students who had never considered seeing the world in that way.  Being an entrepreneur and owning Devour may not immediately seem connected to Anthropology but understanding people and understanding the role that celebration and ritual play in people’s lives has been critical to creating a business that I hope people enjoy working with.

What is the best thing about your job?

I really enjoy being part of a team that creates memorable experiences for our clients. Every event is different and some celebrations are really emotional and touching. We know we are contributing in a positive way and helping people appreciate each other and mark important moments. I like it when that happens.

How did your arts degree help you get to where you are now/your current career?

I think the most important skill I learned was the ability to work independently.  I really learned how to do this during my MA. Coming up with a research idea, carrying out and enjoying 6 months of fieldwork in Guatemala, and then writing and defending my thesis taught me skills that I have been using ever since. The confidence, the curiosity, and the knowledge gained of how to independently manage a project like that has been invaluable

Do you have any other thoughts or memories you would like to share?

I am deeply grateful to UCalgary for such a fantastic university experience.  The opportunity to pursue my MA and to receive support through scholarships and being a teaching assistant was deeply appreciated. My professors were interesting, supportive, and challenging.  Student life was fantastic!  I remember being in an elevator in the Social Sciences tower after I had graduated and was working in an office downtown and listening to some undergraduate students complaining about their classes and how ‘early’ they had to get up to be on time for a 10 am lecture. I remember thinking to myself how they didn’t realize how lucky they were!  Enjoy being a student while you can.  I would go back in a second.