We Asked the Class of 2023 What Was Next. Here’s Where They Are, One Year Later

May 10, 2024 By Alice Berry, aberry@virginia.edu Alice Berry, aberry@virginia.edu

A degree from the University of Virginia can take you to some surprising places – including the top of a volcano in Central America or the set of a Charli XCX music video.

Every year for a UVA Today video we call “What’s Next,” we ask graduating students what they will be doing after they walk the Lawn and receive their diplomas.

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This year, we decided to catch up with a few of the graduates featured in 2023’s video to see where they are now. Here’s what they’ve been up to.

Mia Gualtieri

When Mia Gualtieri entered her first year at UVA, she didn’t know filmmaking would become such an important part of her life. Now, she’s making a living at it in Hollywood.

Candid portrait of Mia Gualtieri

Mia Gualtieri makes films in Los Angeles now. (Contributed photo)

“I thought it was going to be an extracurricular thing” at UVA, she said. “I would get involved in clubs and do it on my own time.”

She intended to study environmental science instead, but realized during the COVID-19 pandemic that movies were how she found meaning. She “pivoted” and graduated with a degree in studio art and media studies.

Since she graduated and moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams, Gualtieri has worked on short films, and music videos for pop star Charli XCX and Grammy-winning R&B singer SZA. She is currently an art department production assistant on a feature film shooting in Los Angeles.

She said UVA helped get her to Hollywood.

“I feel so lucky to have had such an intimate, hands-on program where we could figure out what elements of production we were interested in, and how you don’t need to make movies in the typical, really rigid studio sense,” Gualtieri said.

Joel Valentin

Joel Valentin’s goal was to become a nuclear engineer. Though he didn’t land that job immediately after graduating, he is now a nuclear engineer, working on projects that deal with fuel and energy storage in his hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Candid portrait of Joel Valentin
Joel Valentin, a Questbridge Scholar, also performed in Black Voices during his time on Grounds. (Contributed photo)

“This is my dream job,” Valentin said.

Valentin came to UVA through Questbridge, an organization that identifies high-achieving, low-income high school students and offers them scholarships to attend top universities. As a student at UVA, Valentin was a member of Black Voices, a Black gospel choir on Grounds. He said he cherishes his memories playing bass for the group and serving as its musical director. 

It’s a day’s drive from his hometown of Chattanooga to Charlottesville, but Valentin said the distance helped him.

“Being so far away from home, I was able to really come into myself as a person,” Valentin said. “It taught me personal responsibility.”

Carmen Petras

Carmen Petras grew up in Amsterdam, London and other cities around the globe. Her UVA degree has enabled her to extend her travels across Central America.

Portrait of Carmen Petras
Since graduating, Carmen Petras has learned Spanish and climbed volcanoes. (Contributed photo)

Her environmental sciences professor, Deborah Lawrence, connected her to Calyx Global, a company that rates carbon credits. Calyx assesses the quality of the credits companies buy to offset their carbon emissions.

Before she started working for Calyx, Petras completed a fellowship for NASA, working remotely from Charlottesville, studying wildfire mitigation measures in Chile. She enjoyed the work enough that she put a pause on her initial plan to go into academia after her fellowship.

“I want to make a difference,” Petras said.

Because she works remotely, she’s been able to enjoy the environment she helps protect. She’s traveled through Guatemala and Nicaragua, climbing volcanoes and becoming fluent in Spanish by immersing herself in home stays.

94% On-Time Graduation Rate Pleases 100% of Parents, to be great and good in all we do
94% On-Time Graduation Rate Pleases 100% of Parents, to be great and good in all we do

“My current job is fully remote, so I get to travel wherever I want, as long as I have good Wi-Fi,” Petras told us from Nicaragua.

She offered this advice to current UVA students.

“Talking to your professors, people at conferences, is so important,” Petras said.

After all, it was through talking to people she found her NASA fellowship and her current role.

Media Contact

Alice Berry

University News Associate Office of University Communications