The Unconventional Side of the Employment Spectrum

An insight into the lives of students at Stuyvesant whose parents have unique, interesting, or unconventional occupations, and how their parents’ experiences affect them.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

While many of our parents push us to become doctors, lawyers, and engineers, many adults end up working professionally in a wide range of different fields. We spoke with a few students whose parents have interesting and unconventional jobs that made an impact on these students’ childhoods.

Cosmo Coen, Senior

Senior Cosmo Coen’s father, Robert Coen, is a journalist who has previously worked with Cable News Network (CNN) and the British Broadcasting Corporation and now works with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of all children and making sure their basic needs are met. He traveled to over 66 countries and covered international war stories while working with CNN in the 1980s and 1990s. “In the nineties, he did a lot of the African independence wars,” Cosmo Coen said. “He covered Mozambique, he did Liberia, which was really tough, he did New Guinea.” In these countries during wartime, Robert Coen interviewed military rebels, child soldiers, and other groups involved in combat in villages. He grew up in Africa, which might explain his close connection to the continent.

Though Robert Coen works primarily with UNICEF, he also writes as a freelance journalist. Journalism has given him a platform to make a meaningful impact on underprivileged children. “He goes to villages and interviews underserved children and talks about schools being built there, or if they don’t have proper water access,” Cosmo Coen said. On the other side of the world, “He did a story in Guatemala of this girl who came to the United States with her father and then got deported. Her father is still in America but she was deported,” Cosmo Coen said. “He also went to Asia and Indonesia—again, for the children.”

In addition to working as a journalist for the organization, Robert Coen creates promotional and informational videos about UNICEF’s missions. “A lot of it is to showcase the stuff that UNICEF is doing, because UNICEF are the people that are building the schools, building the water supplies,” Cosmo Coen explained. “A lot of what my dad does is highlight the problems there [in third world countries] and raise awareness.” He has also worked on videos that show UNICEF’s impact over time. “He went to Mali once and talked about a big malnutrition problem, and five years later he came back and talked about things that UNICEF had been doing to combat that malnutrition.” Robert Coen’s videos are intended to show legislators and other countries what UNICEF is and explain its purpose, thereby encouraging others to open their doors to the organization.

Naya Mukul, Sophomore

Sophomore Naya Mukul’s mother, Mitra Kalita, is the Senior Vice President of CNN Digital. She oversees the news, opinions, and programming departments. Before working at CNN, Kalita served as president of the South Asian Journalist Association and attended many news conferences around the world. “We’ve been international, Belize and Mexico, and we go to India a lot because [relatives] live there,” Naya Mukul said. “We also [travel] around the country, most recently Atlanta.” When traveling, Kalita speaks at panels to share her experience with digital strategy. She shares her knowledge on how to gain traffic in start-ups or businesses, and how to maintain an online presence. She also discusses diversity in the workplace and sheds light on issues faced by women of color.

Before coming to Stuyvesant, Naya Mukul found herself traveling more often with her family. “Now, I just can’t because it’s a lot to even just miss one day of school,” Naya Mukul explained. “For example, my mom is going to Brazil pretty soon with my dad, but since we have school I can’t go.”

Naya Mukul’s father, Nitin Mukul, is a mixed media artist who specializes in painting, graphic design, and video installations. He specializes in painting but creates videos of his artwork as well. “Whenever he has an exhibition in a gallery, he does video installations [showing] his process,” Naya Mukul explained. One of her father’s projects was painting ice and recording how it melted over time. Nitin Mukul previously had a studio in Long Island City, but after the building closed, he began working from home. “His easels, canvas, and everything are there. There’s a room on the top floor where he can work, and it has a lot of light,” she described. “He does a lot of animation and graphic design, so he also has a computer available for him, and it’s most convenient for him to work from home.”

Naya Mukul described her father’s art style as being realistic. He creates graphics and animations for FOX News on television, as well as for The Wall Street Journal’s Snapchat. “His most recent project is a promo for this book called ‘People Like Us,’” Naya Mukul shared. “It’s about immigrants and the voting process.” His work in graphic design aims to promote businesses by giving them an image or a voice.

Hugo Smith, Junior

Junior Hugo Smith’s father, Ben Smith, works in the media as the Editor-in-Chief of Buzzfeed. He is responsible for all of their news operations; he works on articles and oversees the live shows and videos published by the company. Hugo Smith cleared misconceptions about Buzzfeed: “I think what a lot of people don’t understand about Buzzfeed is, they do do real news. They do a lot of cat videos [...] and quizzes and such, but they do have real journalists, and they have journalists that won Pulitzers.”

As a college student, Ben Smith became interested in the news and media sector and decided to use journalism to improve his ability to speak and socialize. “He was introverted growing up, and decided he wanted to get over that,” Hugo Smith elaborated. “He found the best way to [do] that was by talking to people and strangers, and that’s a lot of what journalism is.”

After graduating from college, Ben Smith moved to Indianapolis to write for The Indianapolis Star, then moved to Latvia to write for The Baltic Times and Wall Street Journal Europe, before coming back to the United States in the early 2000s. Shortly after returning, he wrote for various New York-based publications, including the New York Sun and the New York Observer. After a brief stint at Politico, Buzzfeed hired him as Editor-in-Chief.

In terms of Hugo Smith’s own experience with his father’s job, he reflected, “I don’t think it’s really affected my social life. Most people don’t really know or care what your parents do. When [my father] published the [Steele dossier] two years ago, that was interesting, and having conversations with my friends about that was interesting because I had a unique perspective on it.”

Hugo Smith’s family has adapted to Ben Smith’s demanding and time-consuming job. “He really does his best to be around, which can be tough, because the news really doesn’t stop,” Hugo Smith said. “When he gets home from work, his job isn’t over. And he’s on his phone all the time; he lives on Twitter from what I can tell. When I can’t get through to him, I’ll just tweet at him, and he’ll respond.”

Ben Smith also travels fairly frequently, though perhaps not as much as in the past. “He tries really hard to spend time with us, and I really appreciate it. I feel really lucky that I get to spend as much time with him as I do, even though I understand he’s really busy,” Hugo Smith said.

At this point, Hugo Smith does not plan to pursue journalism. “I think it’s pretty common to not want to do the same thing as your parents do,” he said. “You don’t want to grow up in the shadow of your parents necessarily. I could never imagine myself doing the same thing he does, but I do think that I have been really lucky to get a unique perspective on how media works.”