Leadership Spotlight: Ann Merrell, Corinne Smith

Leadership Spotlight: Ann Merrell, Corinne Smith

By Chris Neary

ann-merrell-and-corinne-smith_book_msheadlines.jpgThe following story was originally published in the MSHE Alumni Newsletter in July 2022.

Ann Merrell (MS ‘16) and Corinne Smith (BA ‘13, MS ‘16) graduated from the MSHE program and both ended up in the college access world — Corinne in college admissions at Yale University and Ann advising high school students in the Collegiate Scholars Program at the University of Chicago. Their ideas and friendship never stopped blossoming and, in 2020, they decided to combine their expertise to create the College Essay Journal: A Mindful Manual™ for College Applications.

Graduate Assistant Sami Fleischner: Can you tell us about your background and how you two met?

Corinne Smith: I am a double Northwestern grad— I graduated in 2013 with my bachelor’s in political science and sociology. After, I worked at an accounting firm and realized that I needed to go back to school.

Ann Merrell: I went to undergrad at Ohio Wesleyan University and then worked for two years at Habitat for Humanity. It was the fall of 2014 when we first met, and we had a lot of classes together in that initial quarter. It was in Proseminar where we had a project together.

Smith: I found my way into that group where Ann said we were going to be best friends, and we all went to dinner after we completed the group project. The rest is history!

Fleischner: Can you share what your book is about, who can benefit from reading it, and how the two of you initially got the idea of writing a book guiding students and families on college essay writing?

Smith: During COVID, in December 2020, everyone was experiencing a lot of burnout in the field. I decided to take a full week off and I am terrible with downtime, so 24 hours into my week off, I was folding laundry and had this idea for a journal. At the time, I was really getting into mental health, mindfulness, and journaling, and I was wondering if students could use that type of platform to write essays in a much less stressful way. I called Ann and told her that I had this idea and she should come over the next day.

Merrell: We had always been chatting about how to make this process better, and instead of focusing on applications being groundbreaking, we wanted to help students to do some meaningful reflection and draw out stories that are true to them. This is something that is accessible and approachable for students, who are looking to apply to college and for families to have uncomfortable and important conversations about college. We try to provide some guidance for conversation starters, how to approach your counselor, how to ask for letters of recommendations, and asking for help throughout this process. Hopefully, this is something that really engages families, students, and educators, and it’s a helpful tool for everyone.

Fleischner: How did your time in MSHE impact your career journey?

Merrell: The program provided such a solid foundation to understanding like how institutions of higher education function. I also want to add that the internship piece and those hands-on experiences were really transformative to thinking about future careers and the skills we have gained.

Smith: Since the day I graduated, I know I wouldn’t have my job, I wouldn’t have my friends, we wouldn’t even have this book without the program.

To read the full interview transcript, click here.

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