A conversation with Meghan Smith, English alumna
Meghan Smith graduated from Catholic University in May of 2015 with a major in English and a minor in Theology & Religious Studies. While at Catholic U she served as President (and just about every other role?) of the English Society. Meghan also served as a Student Minister her senior year, and acted as Student Coordinator for Orientation another year. Meghan enjoyed playing Ultimate Frisbee team, was a DC Reads tutor, an undergraduate fellow, and worked both at The Office of Campus Activities and Catholic U Fitness Center. She slept very little and enjoyed too much coffee during this time as well as reading, babysitting, and exploring DC. After graduation, Meghan went on to complete two years of service with Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest in Tacoma, WA and Covenant House in New York City. She remained in NYC and completed her Master in Social Work at Fordham University. Meghan now works at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City, where she has been for the last 4 years as an intern and employee serving patients on inpatient psychiatric units, in both the adult and child/ adolescent psychiatric emergency rooms, the medical ICUs during the initial COVID-19 surge, and currently in an adult outpatient clinic.
What is your current job/title?
I am a social worker at Bellevue Hospital Center in our Chemical Dependency Outpatient Program, an intensive outpatient program which serves individuals with mental health and substance use diagnoses. I provide individual supportive counseling, group work/ counseling, and crisis management for a client list of about 30 patients - and I'm being trusted with my first intern this fall!
Why did you choose to study English at Catholic U.?
I wanted to be an English teacher since 8th grade, so I actually entered Catholic U as a double major in English and Education... but I dropped the Education track by sophomore year so I could take more English classes. The English Department has always been the hidden gem of Catholic U.
What was your path from graduation to your current job like? What advice can you give senior majors and recent grads about life after graduation?
I learned about long term service my sophomore year at Catholic U, and initially believed I would go the ACE/Teach for America route before I found Covenant House. Covenant House is an agency in the Americas providing shelter, food, immediate crisis care, and other services to homeless and runaway youth. They once had a year-long community focused program that I was lucky enough to be a part of in New York. When I learned about the model, I knew I was headed down that path.
I am forever grateful for the privilege I had in completing two years of full-time service after graduation before returning to school for my masters. I would have never gone into social work if not for those two years. That being said- I recognize not everyone can, or knows how, to navigate such opportunities with student loans and adulthood hovering ominously overhead (please don't hesitate to reach out though if you have questions!), and that in choosing to volunteer one should reflect deeply on your desire to serve the communities you're assigned to. In serving underprivileged communities for two years, I had to examine not only my own privilege, but how I might be trying to serve myself in these experiences too. Since then, I've read up a lot on themes of volunteer tourism and savior complexes, and I encourage anyone looking into the social services field to do the same. We should always remain open to challenging our perceptions, and the learning doesn't end after graduation.
How has your English background served you professionally?
My typical answer to this question has always been that my English background helps me write incredible notes on patient interactions and sessions, which is true, but also potentially annoying for my supervisor since she gets to read every detailed encounter I write up. Recently though I came across a few online articles that show a correlation between the life-time experience of reading fiction and the ways a reader feels 'transported' by the narrative and how they are associated closely with an increase in empathy. By remaining open to exploring older eras, new worlds, different perspectives, and fictional lives we can actually increase our overall emotional intelligence and gain a better sense of how to understand and empathize with the feelings of other people. I couldn't agree more with this perspective, and I do believe my English background and education at Catholic U serves me every day in the work I do.
What do you like the most about your job?
The people. I'm an empathetic extrovert with a big heart and a deep desire to hear other peoples' stories. If I can also provide a safe, healing place for individuals who struggle with addiction in a world where it is still seen as taboo and not thought of as the disease and health crisis that it is. I'm grateful. Also- I never realized how much I'd enjoy a 9-5 job. I do not miss late shifts in the ER one bit.
What did you learn as an English major at Catholic U. that has stayed with you?
To read everything, think critically, and write carefully. I will never forget getting a C on my first English 101 paper (thank you Dr. Rulo), and the lessons I've learned since on how to write efficiently, edit closely what I write, and then actually read aloud again whatever I am trying to communicate.
Do you have any advice for current English majors?
Never stop reading. Obviously try your best to read everything they tell you to at Catholic U, but don't stop reading on breaks, during the summer, and after you graduate. The first few months after I graduated and realized I would likely never leave the social services field after my work in JVC I joked that my BA in English was just an excuse to turn a hobby into a degree; however, reading has proven to be much more than just a hobby as I grew into the social worker and woman I am today. Reading provided an escape during graduate finals on statistical research, acted as an ice breaker and bridge between myself and countless clients, and it kept me grounded during my time providing hospice and end of life counseling in the ICUs to COVID-19 patients and their families during the height of the pandemic.
Plus, my love of reading even opened my life to a whole lovingly, nerdy, world of readers online through instagram - bookstagram! I've been reading, reviewing, and helping market many, many books over the last 5 years over at @book.hang.o.ver . I've even attended fun author book premier events, been invited to film screenings and promotional events, and gifted hundreds of books. My UPS delivery people cannot stand me.
Photo credits: Meghan Smith