CPE Alumni Spotlight with Myiah Smith

Myiah Smith joined CPE’s program in 2012 as a 9th grade student attending the SEED School of Washington DC. She joined CPE to connect with aspiring DC youth leaders and to find a mentor. Throughout high school and into college, her mentor, Ellen, and CPE supported Myiah’s personal growth and academic achievement. Myiah currently works as an ESOL educator with Baltimore City Public Schools through Teach for America and she looks forward to becoming a CPE mentor in the future.

What’s one memorable moment you have of you and your mentor?

I remember when I first met Ellen. We both managed to miss the usual mentor-mentee meet-up and went to the make-up session with a handful of others. At the particular event, everyone’s nametag had a pair item. For example, peanut butter would be on one while someone else’s name tag had jelly. Each mentee and mentor had to find their counterpart. My nametag said rice, and as I saw macaroni find cheese and Batman find Robin, I began to feel discouraged. Who was my mentor in the group of dwindling adults and where were my beans? To my surprise everyone quickly paired up within two minutes. Then, from the small group emerged my mentor: sushi. Being both Asian women of color, we shared a laugh over our cultural commonality. To this day, we still share many laughs and fondly remember our first meeting over sushi-rice.

How did your mentor help you with the college application process?

Ellen’s guidance during my college application process was invaluable. Having another set of eyes evaluate my essays and applications made my profile that much stronger. Ellen also witnessed my growth as a pre-teen and throughout high school. She was intimately familiar with my academic accomplishments and other involvements. She helped me write a narrative that celebrated these accomplishments. This was during a time when I found it challenging to describe and celebrate myself. Ellen taught me not to shy from my narrative but to have confidence, be proud, and still maintain humility.

What college did you go to and what career path did you choose?

I attended Georgetown University on a full scholarship thanks to financial assistance through several programs, including CPE. Without this assistance, I would have been unable to attend a higher education program.

I received a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service, having majored in Culture and Politics (CULP) with a concentration in Ecology & Fine Arts, paired with a minor in German Language and Culture from Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service! I know, a mouthful! I am pursuing a career in service, sustainability, and creativity. I currently work as an English as a Second or Other Language (ESOL) Educator with Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) through Teach for America (TFA). I am also a candidate for Johns Hopkins Master of Science in Education program.

How did COVID effect your last year of college?

Graduating from college is a privilege. Don’t forget it. I am immensely grateful that I was able to finish in four years, and during a pandemic!! However, my final year was abrupt, leaving my peers and me in a state of limbo. Our rite of passage never happened; no celebrations, no goodbyes, no grand graduation. Concluding my undergrad experience in this manner feels…. disappointing and that doesn’t even capture the word. There is a generation of people who will never have this momentous experience because the most momentous event in our lived history was occurring. Not only this, but we didn’t get the classic career center bombardment of job search, application preparation, interview support, and the security of employment following our four years. We are a generation of the forgotten working class. It is a privilege to have graduated during this time, but the highest privilege is securing work during this period.

How did CPE and your mentor help get you through that challenging time?

Ellen remained accessible. It is so easy to feel isolated and alone, but Ellen endured alongside me. As a public worker with the U.S. Department of Health working in epidemiology, Ellen is acutely experiencing the hardships of the pandemic. We’re getting through together. All of us!

CPE has continued to host programming for its current participants. They’ve hosted virtual professional development, junior board meetings, and social events. CPE remains committed to the community, supporting both its mentor volunteers, and high school and collegiate level mentees. They’ve even maintained contact with alum, such as myself, to support the program and the CPE community.

Has the pandemic made it hard to secure employment as a recent graduate?

Entering into the pre-professional world following undergrad is a feat in itself. This pandemic has placed what feels like an impossible barrier in front of the foundation of young adult lives. Not only is it harder than ever to secure employment immediately following undergrad, but life-building has been put on hold. I am so grateful to be a TFA Corps Member and work as an educator. However, the work I’m doing puts my life at risk every time I step foot into a class full of students. Lives are at risk, but young adult foundations are being shaken to their core. We can’t make friends from work, we’ve moved to new cities and remain isolated in our homes alone. We crave the parties that were stolen from us, the drinks we were meant to enjoy, the places we were going to visit with our peers, the love, joy, and conversations we were to have next to and in proximity to one another. The pandemic has stolen our careers, but it has also stolen our livelihood.

What do you enjoy doing with your free time?

I love being in empowering communities with others. I’ve joined boards of organizations alongside other leaders to help cultivate positive communities for ourselves and others during this pandemic. More importantly, I use my privilege to create equity and opportunity for those traditionally denied access. I enjoy building bridges between silos of separation, to create connected networks so systems can function more harmoniously for the benefit of all. That, and creative arts and performance. I’m a bit of a poet, orator, and thespian. I am a creator.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Close your eyes and think for a moment the highest level of happiness you could attain. Now open your eyes. Realize there is a level of happiness for which you cannot imagine. This is infinitely true, and that level of happiness is available to you.” – A random encounter