Megan Reynolds is currently the executive director at Student Caffé, but she hasn't always been working in website management. In fact, Megan graduated from Emerson College in 2009 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting. She had to work hard as a student, maintaining a certain GPA to retain her financial aid package, but her persistence paid off. Though she doesn't act every day, the skills she learned in college are applicable throughout her life.
Q. What was it like going from a high school in Louisville to a college in Boston?
It was a tough adjustment. Boston’s culture is very different from Kentucky’s. People back home are openly friendly all the time; strangers hold doors for you, ask how you’re doing when you walk past them, and strike up conversations in the check-out line. In contrast, Bostonians are determined to get from point A to point B and rarely stop to interact with others. At first, I thought that everyone there was just plain mean, and it affected me a lot. I didn’t feel like I belonged there, especially with my pastel shirts and purses. (Yeah, everyone wears earth tones in Boston).
I dealt with it by striving to blend in. I bought a bunch of dark clothes from Urban Outfitters (like everyone did in 2005) and kept my head down when I walked down the street. However, I didn’t really appreciate Boston culture until I befriended a few of my classmates who were locals. They taught me that honesty and integrity are more important than polite conversations with strangers. People in New England don’t have time to stop and chat with everyone; it’s just too cold. When they do talk to you, it’s meaningful. When I began to recognize this as a positive, my entire opinion of Boston changed. I liked it enough to stay—I was there for seven years in total.
Q. Did you take any alternative routes (e.g., special programs, study abroad, volunteer work, internships, etc.) that moved your education forward?
My pursuit of supplemental resources was the best thing I did for myself in college and after. I studied abroad in the Netherlands, volunteered at a women’s shelter, and interned for a theater company after my graduation. Each experience helped me better understand my strengths, the roles in which I excelled, and my goals for the future. However, the most important decision I made for my education was in high school when I applied early action to the Emerson College Honors Program.
Q. How did the school’s honors program affect you as a student?
At 17, I knew I wanted to be an acting major, but I also had an interest in other subjects. I was determined to challenge myself in those areas and become as well-rounded as possible. It was important that I didn’t limit my job prospects after college. When I found out that I had been accepted to both the acting and honors programs at Emerson, I knew that the college was the best school to support my artistic and intellectual endeavors.
In exchange for a half-tuition scholarship, I was required to take all the honors seminar classes, maintain a 3.3 cumulative GPA, and create a senior thesis project and paper. Right from the beginning, the program was incredibly challenging, and I struggled to keep up with the work. I had not taken AP English classes, unlike the majority of my classmates, and I regretted that decision. I had excelled in high school, but I received a C- on my first honors paper. It’s not an overstatement to say that a serious freak-out ensued.
I knew I had to earn a B in the class to remain academically qualified for my scholarship. I couldn’t afford college without it, so giving up was not an option. Thus, many hours were spent rewriting one paragraph at a time and humbly asking my peers for editing advice. I received countless writing comments from my professors and reviewed them every time I wrote a new paper. Eventually, I learned what was expected of me, and all the stress and tears paid off. By the end of my freshmen year, I earned an A- on a 20-page research paper and was thrilled.
Before Emerson, I took my straight A’s for granted. I worked hard but didn’t know what it was like to overcome adversity to succeed. Had I not received a low grade in the beginning, I would not have learned to question every argument and support my opinions in my writing. I would not have taken the time to understand all perspectives on a topic in order to be as thorough as possible. I would not have learned how to persist. A bumpy road led me here, but I credit the honors program for giving me the tools needed to fight my way to success and undertake the job I have today.
Q. How did you adapt to the high standards of the honors program?
I’m not sure I ever quite adapted. It was a struggle from freshman year all the way through my senior thesis project. I appreciated the challenge and chose topics for my papers and thesis that I enjoyed. Even if the work required me to stay up all night, I cared about what I was learning, and that kept me motivated.
But there were many times when I broke down and cried because I didn’t think I would get a paper finished before the deadline. I had a horrible habit of waiting until the last minute to start writing. I was such a perfectionist that I couldn’t move through material until I was under extreme pressure. If my roommates were asleep, I would work in our dorm basement by the vending machine. It wasn’t glamorous, but the caffeine from multiple sodas got me through. Can’t say that it was a great technique, but it somehow worked for me.
Q. What was your greatest challenge throughout college and how did you overcome it?
Anxiety. I learned to use it to my benefit. Sweaty palms, fast heart rate, and hyperawareness weren’t bad if they were viewed as a sign that I was ready for anything. I could go onstage and perform in front of hundreds because my adrenaline was in full force.
Q. What is your current occupation and how did you find yourself here?
I am the executive director of Student Caffé.
After years pursuing acting in Boston and LA, I became disillusioned with the industry and decided I didn’t want to take part in it anymore. I moved back home to Kentucky to self-reflect and evaluate my job prospects. I applied to grad school for theater education but realized I couldn’t afford to take out $70,000 in student loans. I saw a career counselor who told me I should be a doctor or therapist. I went back and forth on a vocational path every day, but I vowed to take advantage of any viable opportunity.
A few months into my stay in Kentucky, a family friend, Randy Gervais, called me to ask if I might be interested in helping him with a project. He wanted to create a website for his daughter that provided financial and admissions advice for prospective college students. He needed someone to research relevant topics and write articles for the site. Eager to invest my time in something worthwhile, I accepted his offer to write part-time from home.
Over the course of a year, I moved from research to writing, to editing, to supervising, to managing a staff of four. I have an amazing team and feel so lucky to be in a position where I am constantly learning new skills and overcoming my uncertainties. I love offering my support to my writing and IT staff and facilitating conversations that encourage creativity and cooperation. Had I not been open to new opportunities or if I had limited myself to acting, I would not be where I am today.
Q. What is your favorite memory from college?
My favorite memory is when school was canceled due to weather in the middle of an acting final. Afterward, my entire class walked through the snow to one of the girl’s apartments in the North End of Boston. All the brownstones, Italian storefronts, and neighborhood squares looked majestic in white. We watched the snow pile up from her window and celebrated the end of the semester. Lots of hot chocolate and pizza was had by all.
Q. If you could give high schoolers your advice, what would it be?
Choose a school that will challenge you to think for yourself. Look for discussion-based classes, a diverse student body, and a campus in the middle of a city or town that is very different from your hometown. Make sure you feel welcomed by the staff and your peers, but know that your anxiety can be a good sign. You’ll learn from what is unfamiliar. Also, don’t shy away from a challenge. Apply to an honors program if you can. You’ll be happy you took on the extra work to expand your mind and you’ll learn to cope with stress. Developing a strong work ethic, learning to appreciate the viewpoints of others, and making stress your friend will help you succeed in the workforce.