Connections between academic work in MAPH and careers in service – whether in non-profits, through education, or as an entrepreneur – are essential to thinking about how the humanities function in practice as well as in the academy. Mercedes Trigos (MA ’13) graciously agreed to share some of her thoughts on the transition from MAPH to service back to academic life, and how her experiences with S.I.S.T.E.R.S., Inc inform her current work teaching writing skills at a Chicago arts school. Learn more about her experiences below!
I have two favorite things about MAPH. The first, even though it sounds trite, is the feeling of being constantly challenged. Too often we complain about being overwhelmed and having too much to do, but, at least in my experience, there are very few things more frustrating than idleness and an inactive mind. Every class I took during MAPH forced me to be aware of how I perceive the academic world and the “outside” world, and thus to really evaluate why I perceive it the way I do and how my perceptions are influenced/shaped one way or another.
My second favorite aspect of MAPH was the LRS (Little Red Schoolhouse) academic writing course. That course taught me not only how to structure arguments better and how to always write with a specific audience in mind, but also how to identify those structures in others’ writing. It completely changed the way I approach and now teach writing.
What are you currently doing (work, writing, graduate study)?
I am currently working as a ninth-grade English teacher at an arts high school. Since it is an arts school, we focus mostly on the formal analysis of literature rather than on grammar or reading skills. Thus, we spend less time discussing spelling and more time unpacking metaphors and images.
You worked with S.I.S.T.E.R.S. Inc. as part of Service Match during your MAPH year. What was this experience like? How has your work with S.I.S.T.E.R.S. Inc. informed your post-MAPH career choices?
Working with S.I.S.T.E.R.S kept me grounded during MAPH. Going to Holy Angels every week reminded me that I was graduating in a year and that I needed to find a concrete way to apply the academic skills I was learning to other environments. It also allowed me to consider different possible career paths along the lines of education. The experience just in general was incredible. The head and founder of the program is amazing—such a great person and a great role model for the girls. Volunteering with S.I.S.T.E.R.S definitely convinced me that I wanted to try being a teacher for the year immediately following MAPH.
And now for the dreaded question: What are you planning on doing next?
I am applying to PhD programs in English next year! I will continue to teach in the meantime, although I’m considering switching to a community college setting.
What advice would you give to MAPH students interested in translating their academic work into a career in service, and vice versa, for translating their service into academic work?
It sounds so simple, but I would advise students to really focus your attention on one seemingly small aspect of whatever issue you believe needs to be addressed, rather than trying to tackle the problem as a whole. I think that, too often, our immediate instinct is to help fight something as general as “hunger,” for example, and, getting lost in the abstraction of how important and prevalent that the issue is, we lose grasp of the specific, tiny sector in which we can actually, and realistically help. When we are translating academic work to a service career and vice versa, it seems tempting to create a single project that addresses all of our concerns regarding that one issue. However, at least in the beginning of the transition, there are too many idealistic, convoluted motivations and emotions working inside of us at the same time. These get in the way of our most effective efforts, and need to be fleshed out first in order to even just begin to scratch the surface of an issue. One project does not (and cannot possibly) address everything we believe could be better. A realistic view of the change you can and cannot advocate for is not a reductive view—it is a productive and challenging endeavor. No difference is too small, no impact is too small, and neither is less worthy than the other.