Change unexpected

Emily Reid (’09) knows about JMU’s brand of change.  As an undergraduate, she interned in the Be the Change office and wrote about individuals who were changing their worlds.  Now, as a JMU alumna, she’s practicing what she wrote about.   In her own way, Emily is Being the Change, and proving that JMU people — all over the world and in all avocations — are changing the world.  Recently, Emily sent us an update — a Be the Change report from the field. Here’s Emily’s look at being the change:

What do you do with a B.A. in English?

Looking at change from a different perspective (JMU Photography Services)

By Emily Reid (’09)

When I applied for college, I had  no idea what I wanted to do with my life.  I came to JMU as an undeclared major but after taking the required General Education classes, I fell in love with English. During my sophomore year, I declared English as my major and picked up a double minor in writing and rhetoric, and women’s studies.  After declaring my major, I felt a sense of relief that quickly faded when I began to wonder what I would do with my degree. My friends would playfully chant Avenue Q’s song: “What do you do with a B.A. in English/What is my life going to be?/Four years of college and plenty of knowledge/Have earned me this useless degree.” Some friends I have, right? But really, they made me think — what in the world would I do with this degree?

The summer before my junior year the opportunity to work as an intern for JMU’s “Be the Change” campaign fell into my hands. Soon I was interviewing Be the Changers and writing profiles about alumni, students and staff who were making a difference in the world. I continued with this internship throughout my junior and senior years and was very sad to graduate, but as my supervisor Jan Gillis told me, “It’s your time to be the change!” She was right. I began the job hunt not knowing exactly what I wanted to do. I had a couple of writing leads but didn’t get far. I had heard of AmeriCorps through friends and decided to give it a shot. I applied and ended up with my current job as an AmeriCorps instructor at Caroline Center in Baltimore, Md. My job has been a true gift to me because I feel I have found my niche. Caroline Center is a job-training program in Baltimore where we train women to become either pharmacy technicians or certified nursing assistants. We also have a GED program. My role is to teach employment readiness courses, including reading, GED courses, speech, professionalism, and computer lab.  As I watch the women grow throughout the program, I have also seen growth in myself.

When I first came to Caroline Center I was really nervous about teaching a group of women almost all older than me who were from backgrounds much different than mine . My fears quickly subsided after I met the women. Each comes to the center with a unique story but with the same goal — to better herself and create a fresh start. I have found a family at Caroline Center not just through the women but also staff members. While I was initially fearful of moving to a new area where I didn’t know many people, now I feel it is another home.

There have been so many awe-inspiring moments here, and I treasure them. During my first speech class, I gave the group an assignment to write about a person who inspires them. One of my students wrote about another woman in the class who had inspired her more than anyone else had in her life — a woman from Africa she had only known for two weeks. Her speech induced tears from many of the women and that was just my first speech class!  Each group’s program lasts 15 weeks, and at the midpoint of each session, we have an event called the Halfway Hoorah where the women reflect on their journey in the program and enjoy a huge lunch to celebrate their accomplishments. At the first Halfway Hoorah I attended, three women thanked me for being there and supporting them. I had gained so much from the women and was completely humbled that they thought to thank me.

The women have shown me so much, and they give me hope because of what they are achieving through so much adversity. Some have been through more hardships in their short lives than I probably will ever face in my entire life. They are so positive and determined to succeed though, and I absolutely love seeing them change and grow from the beginning to end. One of my favorite advisees, Rakia, came to the center unsure of herself and lacked self-confidence. At her graduation, I watched her stand in front of a crowd of her instructors, peers and their families as she gave a heartfelt speech congratulating her fellow students on their accomplishments and encouraging them to follow their dreams.

I feel like I’m “being the change” and it means something to me even if it’s to just one person. If I can help one person with a resume so she finds her dream job, or it I can give one person the confidence to stand up and give a speech in front of an audience, I feel like I have made a difference. I want to continue my work in women’s nonprofit organizations, and I am so lucky to be doing something that I love.

So now when people ask, I can say, “And that’s what I do with my B.A. in English!”

Learn more about Baltimore’s Caroline Center here:

And learn more about Americorps at Americorp is described in their literature as “an opportunity to make a big difference in your life and in the lives of those around you. Sound familiar?  It should. JMU Be the Changers have been doing it for decades.


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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