In this series, Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences is shining the spotlight on distinguished members of the Class of 2020 from a wide array of disciplines.
An English major with concentrations in creative writing and literature, Braley was recognized with the English Scholar Award by the Department of English.
Why did you choose English as a major?
I came into Elon as an English major expecting to change paths as everyone says you will. As I started taking classes, though, I fell in love with the department. The coursework is exciting and the faculty are generous with their time and expertise. The English Department truly is a hidden gem on Elon’s campus and I’m grateful to be a part of it.
How did your participation in undergraduate research influence your education?
As an Elon College Fellow, I completed a two-year research project with my mentor, Professor of English Cassie Kircher, called “Mother, May I: Navigating Mother-Loss in Young Adulthood Through the Personal Essay.” I wrote a collection of essays about loss in young adulthood, a topic I have a personal connection to. I started the project out of an impulse to write myself out of grief, and as I began the research process I realized that there was an absence of young voices in the field of creative nonfiction and the sub-genre of grief narrative. The final product hopes to address that gap and give voice to the experience of bereavement in young adulthood.
I participated in SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience) last summer and had my Elon College Fellows project abstract accepted for presentation at SURF (Spring Undergraduate Research Forum). Kircher and I also applied for and received a travel grant from the Center for Research on Global Engagement. This grant funded travel to Poland, where I researched my maternal ancestry. I collected data and reflected on the experience in an essay upon my return.
The opportunity that Elon offers undergraduate students to conduct research is truly unique. Elon has given me the tools and passion to conduct research, and has reaffirmed that research in the arts is as scholarly as research in any other field.
What other experiences shaped your time at Elon?
Outside of research, Elon’s study abroad program has provided some of the most meaningful experiences of my college career. I had the opportunity to travel to Ireland with the January literature tour during my sophomore year. As an English major, it was a dream come true to study Yeats, Joyce, Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, and so many of the greats in the places they wrote about.
Last spring, I spent the semester in Florence, Italy, where I learned about art, culture, music, good food, and friendship. Traveling to Poland alone through the Center for Research on Global Engagement grant gave me a new sense of self-ownership. I gained an appreciation for family and familiarity, and also realized that I can do more than I might often believe. These experiences have been life-shaping. I now officially have the travel bug and will always be grateful for how much of the world Elon has exposed me to.
How has your relationship with your mentor furthered your educational goals or helped you grow?
Dr. Kircher specializes in creative nonfiction writing, and without her encouragement, I likely wouldn’t have had the confidence to pursue this ECF project in the first place, let alone to apply for SURE or the CRGE grant, both of which augmented my Elon experience. Cassie helped me trust my intuition as a writer and fostered my growth as both a writer and a prospective teacher.
Her course, ENG 416: Teaching Creative Writing in the Community, led me to pursue substitute teaching in my home community and ultimately to apply to the Peace Corps. Cassie is among the most generous teachers I’ve had the privilege to work with. The respect with which she treats her students’ writing empowers us to believe in ourselves and the work we can do. I surely hope to teach with as much thought and generosity as Cassie.
What are your future plans?
I have accepted a position with the Peace Corps, teaching English as a second language in Lesotho, Africa. Assuming things level out with the virus, I will leave in September and serve for a little over two years. I suspect graduate school is in my future, but I’m looking forward to taking a few years to gain experience outside of academia. I hope to continue writing, as well.
What advice would you give future Elon students?
I would advise first-year students to take advantage of every opportunity available to them. Milk this experience for all that it’s worth. Elon is unique in how well it supports student research, study abroad, service-learning and other forms of experiential learning. Believe that you are worthy of those opportunities and take advantage of them.
Apply for the things that excite you, even if you think it’s a long shot. Especially for women, don’t let the fear that you aren’t “qualified enough” stop you from making the attempt; you may surprise yourself.
What is your favorite Elon tradition?
I love the Elon luminaries. There is something so peaceful and beautiful about everyone standing together, taking the time to usher light into the darkest part of the year.