Design your life — an interview with Dylene Cymraes, new Career Services director

Dylene Cymraes — self-described storyteller, university instructor, author, communication facilitator, and catalyst — is the new director of the Career Services office as of last February.

Dylene lived in Germany for ten years, helping the spouses of American soldiers with their career development. After returning to the States, she did training and development for high school students in Maryland with a program aimed at deterring and preventing tobacco use by teenagers. 

She was already well known at MIU for hosting OpenSpace events, a method of facilitation she learned directly from its creator, Harrison Owen. The most recent OpenSpace event was the Sustainability Summit for MIU held last fall at Lake Darling as a full-day retreat where staff, faculty, and community members brainstormed ways to make MIU more sustainable for the future. 

Dylene came to MIU in 2016 for the BFA program in Creative and Professional Writing. She proceeded to East Tennessee University for a master’s in Communication and Storytelling Studies, after which MIU invited her to return for the Fall semester of 2022 to be a professor of writing and literature.

But the following semester, the director of MIU’s Career Services left the university, leaving the position open.

“I can’t even describe why I was even willing to look at this position,” said Dylene, “Except that I knew I had a skill set and I knew I could provide something to the university.”

Tell me a bit about your background.

Dylene: “I grew up in Colorado and Missouri. By the time I was 22 I had three kids and I was living in Germany because I was married to a soldier. The Army would pay for childcare if you volunteered, so I volunteered a lot. That’s how I stumbled into facilitation work. Especially since we were overseas, we needed family support structures to help people deal with not being connected to any kind of natural family, so I worked in those kinds of structures.

“I was also a writer. Because writing didn’t require anything other than a pencil and a piece of paper or a typewriter, I wrote incessantly. I continued to nurture those sides of me: helping people find answers, either by gathering people and resources together or creating support systems and writing about it.

“I struggled with combining my interests for a very long time; coming to school changed all of it. It was a big desire of mine to get the degree and it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made.”

Why did you choose MIU for your undergraduate?

Dylene: “MIU was a welcoming environment. I felt like it was non-traditional enough that I could handle it because I’m pretty non-traditional. When I found out they had a writing program, that was it.”

You’re now in the Career Services department; what brought you to the director’s position?

Dylene: “The work I did overseas with the Army Career and Alumni Program, a program designed to help soldiers separate from the military during what was called a RIF, or a reduction in force. I had a wonderful manager and she and I created Women at the Crossroads, a six-week program that we ran for free, after hours. It allowed spouses to have access to the same resources that the soldiers did, and I found that I loved being able to work with people on that level. 

“I absolutely loved everything about looking at how you design a career path, especially for women who were married to soldiers. A lot of women started to feel like they had absolutely nothing to offer; it wasn’t true. What they needed was for someone to show them a different way of looking at what they had done. 

“I started working with What Color Is Your Parachute? — the book by Richard Nelson Bolles about looking at your life and breaking your peak experiences down into transferable skills. It seemed like a natural fit that I would eventually become an instructor, which I am, and I never lost my passion for the career stuff. I came back to MIU after my master’s to teach, then this job came open.”

Tell me more about your master’s degree in storytelling.

Dylene: “My degree in Communication and Storytelling studies from East Tennessee University is basically two degrees put together. My cohort and I dealt with a lot of communication theory and organizational communication methods — communication methods between people. The storytelling part was what drew me to the degree in the first place because I have always been fascinated with oral storytelling performance. 

“More than that though, I was interested in the way organizations and people tell stories about themselves, because the stories we tell about ourselves as a group, as an organization, is what forms a culture. Narratives matter, and I wanted to study how narratives are formed and influence the way an organization progresses or doesn’t.”

How does storytelling relate to your career services job?

Dylene: “It’s so synergistic! The story of us is the story of not only what we have done, but what we want to become. When you know how to dive into your own personal narrative you find clues about the little spark that’s down in your heart, about what’s going to matter to you as you progress through life.

“Some of us are lucky enough that our spark gets protected, and some of us nearly get it put out, but when you start digging back into the things you knew about yourself when you were four and five years old, you find clues about what you came here to do. By re-enlivening that narrative, by looking at the things that hold that spark, you find the skills you’ve already honed, and you find out what gives you the most joy.”

What kinds of successes have you already had?

Dylene: “One of the things we’re working on right now is an internship program. We sent out a series of memos to both TM practitioners with businesses in the United States, and to students asking about internship interests. So, my job right now is building a pipeline on both sides. I’m working to build relationships with employers that have opportunities and help students be prepared to apply for those opportunities. We’re not placing students but creating channels for students and employers to be able to access each other.”

What do you wish people knew about the Career Services office and your job that they don’t know?

“I see the career services office as the conversation that stitches the school curriculum together. I think one of our primary jobs is to help people be ready to take what they learn here into the world. This is a conversation that needs to be cultivated from the very beginning. It needs to be in every classroom. 

“It’s not just about ‘What’s your job going to be?’ — it’s about ‘How do you design your life?’ A lot of the time it’s not about what’s taught, it’s about the people who are in the classroom or the circumstances of learning a new skill. 

“If I had one wish for the whole career services endeavor, it would be that we would integrate these ideas more closely. Just like we have learning objectives in every class, and we have consciousness learning objectives in every class, I think our next priority needs to be the development of the self as it emerges into the world.”

The dynamism element.

Dylene: “Yes, this is the difference; this is the rest and activity, the two-step dance, that Maharishi talked about. We need to help people form a sense of direction and a sense of focus on what they want and what they need.”

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Career Services is available for online and in-person students and alumni. Dylene’s office is in Argiro Room 118, in the student lounge. She is available weekdays 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Schedule appointments via email at