Saturday, June 23

Q&A: Alumna shares three-year path to graduation, career building

UCLA alumna and book author Jenée Dana discusses the benefits of graduating in three years. (Courtesy of Isis Guzman)

UCLA alumna and book author Jenée Dana discusses the benefits of graduating in three years. (Courtesy of Isis Guzman)

Three was the magic number for Jenée Dana.

Dana graduated from UCLA in 2005 as a third-year geography and environmental studies student, rather than completing the traditional four-year undergraduate track. Since then, Dana has checked three boxes.

The first was opening her paper-planner company, “My Focus Book LLC,” a tool she created to stay organized in her personal and professional life. In 2012, she published her book on productivity, “Have Fun & Get it Done: Graduate From a Top University in 3 Years or Less Without Being a Genius.” Dana also recently entered the tech industry with her web application, “Focus Opus,” which provides users with an online planner and guiding questions to achieve their goals.

The Daily Bruin’s Lena Schipper spoke with Dana about her tips for college success, facing personal adversity and checking off items on her life checklist.

Daily Bruin: What was your time like at UCLA?

Jenée Dana: At first, honestly, I was really stressed out. I was getting okay grades but it wasn’t what I was used to in high school where I had a high GPA, or the kind you need to get into UCLA. My professor admitted to me that he had dyslexia, and told me I should get tested. So I went to the Center for Students with Disabilities, and they sent me to a psychologist. She diagnosed me with ADHD, and I ended up being super relieved. But that still didn’t fix anything; I was still stressed. At the end of my sophomore year, I didn’t know if I could do school for another two years, but I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. … I told myself I could do anything for nine months, so I decided I would finish school by the end of my third year.

DB: How did your methods of life management develop into a career?

JD: After I graduated, I was in sales and I had made a paper planner to help keep me focused and keep all my goals and bucket lists in one place. … As I was growing my company, I was young – about 24. When I would show up to networking meetings, people would ask me if I was ditching high school, which was really frustrating sometimes because I had a product that could increase people’s productivity and sales, but I wasn’t quite getting the respect that I needed. One day, I noticed that there was an author that came to speak and I noticed how differently they were treated than everyone else, so I decided, “I think I need to write a book.”

DB: What did you hope your book would bring to its readers?

JD: It’s a labor of love. I hated the transition from high school to college and the academic aspect of my first two years at UCLA. I loved my third year, I do want to clarify, but it was really difficult for me in the beginning. So I thought, if one person reads my book and can enjoy their entire college career and be successful at it, then it’s all totally worth it for me.

DB: What do you believe are the benefits of students graduating early?

JD: I’m in the belief that we can learn from everybody no matter what their age. Even though there might be drawbacks like that for graduating early, for every person that isn’t supportive or just doesn’t get it, you’ll run into five other people who respect and admire you for graduating in three, or four years, for that matter. … You can get a jump start and make an income even earlier depending on what you’re doing. You may take the year you would’ve spent in school and just go backpacking in Europe. … It gives you an extra year to do what it is that you want.

DB: What future goals are you setting for yourself in your career?

JD: Another book I just started is going to be about my experience in the tech industry as a woman. It’s been an awesome ride, but myself and a couple of my friends have noticed how male dominated the industry is. For me, it was intimidating coming into the tech industry. I thought, “Who am I? I just have this paper planner, I know nothing about technology,” and now I’m running a tech company! I didn’t feel prepared but I learned a lot about the industry and I fell in love with it. … So I’ll be talking about that, my experiences and learning how to overcome your fears.

DB: Did you ever encounter personal challenges in the workplace?

JD: Even though I get distracted easily, and it can sometimes make having a conversation difficult because I have to pay more attention than the normal person, at the same time it gives me a different perspective on things. I think it helps in my creativity … and people gravitate towards that. It’s been helpful, being honest about who I am and what my story is.

Compiled by Lena Schipper, A&E contributor.

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