Despite the high standard of work ethic here, there are, of course, those who seem to effortlessly out-do everyone else. And I mean that literally. Fernanda De Souza “out-does” probably everyone at this school. We met while playing tennis for the school team, of which she was named team captain for her senior season. Fernanda is also a member of the Presidential Scholars and consistently included on the Dean’s List. Beyond her academic achievements, Fernanda is also currently the editor-in-chief of FIT’s newspaper W27. Yet, somehow she still finds time to work as a nanny, write for The New York Observer, keep up an active amateur photography hobby and have a normal social life! (Can you believe I’m lucky enough to be friends with her? Me neither.) She even had the time to answer some questions I thought would be good insight for current or potential students:
E: You do a lot of stuff. I mean, Pres scholars, tennis, W27, you’re writing for the Observer now, plus your nanny job, not to mention regular school work – how do you find enough hours in each day and not want to jump off the roof of your apartment building?
F: When you put it that way, I realize I do so much. I’m not quite sure HOW I find time every day to go from school, tennis, Pres. Scholars, newspaper, internship, babysitting + working at Ralph Lauren on occasional weekends. I heavily rely on my Moleskine planner, it’s my Bible. I had a very scary spell though where I landed myself in the hospital from a severe anxiety attack because all this stress had built up and I finally couldn’t do it anymore. I’m learning to take better care of myself and pace myself during my day-to-day activities so I don’t drive myself back in the hospital. Thankfully, I have a great team behind me (especially at the newspaper) to help me. My time management’s horrific actually but I somehow manage. I’d rather be busy than sitting at home watching Netflix all day. I’d weight about 500lbs if I weren’t involved in everything I do.
E: How much of your time is devoted solely to W27?
F: W27 is draining. I can’t tell you an exact amount of time that is spent on it because it is ongoing. We have meetings for an hour every week which I’m leading, I’m constantly keeping in touch with the writers, editors, photographers via email and phone, then I’m dealing with the publisher and of course, our edit weekends where me and my art team come in once a month and sit there Saturday through Sunday getting the paper together. I also end up writing one or two articles each issue. It’s a lot of time and you’d think I’d get paid for this but it’s very rewarding in the end when it all comes together.
E: Hopefully all that time is worth it; does your position at the newspaper relate directly to what you eventually want to achieve in your career path?
F: Yes, exactly what I do for W27 is what I want to do when I’ve graduated. I want to work in publishing, newspaper or magazine, and potentially, write my own stuff (short stories mostly). I love to edit people’s work, I LOVE to write, I love setting up a nice page layout that is pleasing for the eye (of course, with the help of my amazing art team!). The dream has always been to work at the New York Times as an editor or columnist–we’ll see! Definitely can’t be an editor in chief of any publication anytime soon, always have to start at the bottom, unless I end up starting my own publication, which I would love to do sometime in the future. They say the newspaper/magazine industry is dying, I beg to differ, I think it’s just changing is all.
E: Your own publication! That’s so exciting! Did you know you were going to be named as the next editor-in-chief? And do you like being in charge?
F: I was a candidate to be editor in chief of W27 two years ago actually. I backed out from the running because I wasn’t sure I could handle it my junior year because I knew I would be extremely busy. I was also not mentally prepared. So Caroline Nelson became editor in chief last year and I was her deputy, second in command. And from there, it only seemed like I was following this line straight to the EIC position. So I sort of knew I would land there eventually–I had been with the newspaper for four years and risen from an inferior writer to being in charge. Being in charge is great, having what you say go, but it’s also very dangerous. If you take this power to an extreme, it can really screw with your head. I try to be the best editor in chief by accommodating my staff but still remaining a strict (but fun!) environment.
E: You have been known to be very vocal about your disinterest in fashion. Do you think it is worth coming to FIT if you don’t have any interest in the subject?
F: You’re right, I have no interest in fashion. I came to FIT thinking I’d be working for Anna Wintour at VOGUE eventually but that dream was quickly shot down the minute I came to FIT and realized that I was in for it. I think my biggest disinterest in fashion comes from the people who work in the industry. I’ve met some really horrible people and I go, “WHY must you act like that? There’s no excuse and you take yourself way too seriously.” I think FIT is a great school even if you don’t have an interest in going into fashion, because professors make sure to cover things BEYOND fashion. We are talking about businesses going public or bankrupt and political issues in the Middle East. A great range of subjects are covered in the courses at FIT but the major courses are very good with focusing on a career in each respective major that entails more than just fashion.
E: So do you think FIT’s student body has helped you in any way?
F: Being around the FIT student body has helped to reassure me of who I really am. We are all different here at FIT, not one of us is like the other. There are so many different characters at this school, which is great, variety is fantastic. But I can definitely tell you I don’t feel like I fit in AT all under the “FIT student” role. What I can say is that FIT students are go getters and hard working so being surrounded by this sense of competition pushes me to better myself in my work.
E: Speaking of competition, you have helped the woman’s tennis team here to many triumphant successes. What are the best and worst parts about being a student athlete?
F: The worst part about being a student athlete is your weekends get taken away–completely. We were at matches every weekend, sometimes we were gone Thursdays-Sunday for tournaments. Your social life suffers a little. Best part was actually being active daily and being with on a team with women who were so dedicated to this sport, in every which way. Plus, staying at hotels and getting free food and tennis courts (which cost $200 an hour in NYC!) -it’s a treat. We work hard for all those things though.
E: Do you have a favorite professor or class from your time at FIT?
F: Best professor hands down was Michael Hyde. I had him for fiction writing class (also my favorite class at FIT) and I felt such a strong connection with him that he and I created an independent study for me to embark on the following semester. It was an advanced fiction writing course where I wrote longer stories and a novella + had short stories and two novellas to read each week. He has pushed me and my work beyond what I thought I was capable of, he’s inspired me in multiple facets of my life, and we remain good friends, even though I do not have any classes with him anymore. He has become a mentor, really, and I consult him with anything I’m writing presently. The best thing I ever did at FIT I think was do an independent study-I created the syllabus and chose what I wanted to learn and we went at our own pace. I recommend it for any student looking to have a more intimate connection to their work and have a professor RIGHT there at your disposal without 26 other people to compete for his/her attention.
E: Do you have any more advice for incoming freshmen?
F: Incoming freshmen–how do I put this? Don’t come to FIT thinking you’re hot shit. Don’t come to FIT thinking you know everything and are the most fashionable yadda yadda. You’re in for a rude awakening. Absorb what’s around you, listen to your professors, respect New York (and it will respect you back) and utilize it as inspiration every day-don’t take it for granted. Don’t sit at your dorm on the weekends, EXPLORE! Don’t just go clubbing at night because you get bottle service-EXPLORE! And give FIT and the city a chance–they both grow on you.
E: So with that in mind, what is the best spot in NYC BESIDES Bushwick? [Ed. note: Anyone who knows Fernanda knows she is absolutely in love with her new Bushwick digs and talks extensively about how great her neighborhood is.]
F: Absolute best spot in NYC besides Bushwick–that’s a very difficult question – haha. Brooklyn is my hood and I love everything about it. BUT if I must choose, I’d say the Rose Main Reading Room inside the main public library at Bryant Park. Great place to people watch and unwind from the rest of New York.
E: And a more interesting question – what is the weirdest thing you’ve seen while living here?
F: Weirdest thing I’ve seen in NYC is this performance artist, if you can even call him that, who dresses up in the worst rag clothing and plays with his puppets on the subway platforms (normally on Bedford Ave.). He wears a cape sometimes and makes obscure noises and when the train pulls up he runs inside really fast making said noises and runs back out. He’ll never get a dollar from me.
E: Ok, well I’ll just avoid Bedford Avenue from now on haha. Lastly, just cuz we’re both literary nerds, what is your must read book of the moment?
F: Must read book at the moment is an anthology collection called Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York. This book is a collection of stories by writers who lived in New York City and their experience there. It was inspired by the famous Joan Didion’s 1967 piece, “Goodbye to All That”. Quick, fast, and interesting read, great for FIT students who moved to New York.
E: Ah, I’ll have to read it! And pretty appropriate for you considering you’ll be graduating soon! Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask if you know what you’re doing after college, I’m sure you’ll be fine no matter what!