In the wake of COVID-19, many Meredith alumnae have had to adjust to a new normal in their careers. From teaching online, to working on the frontlines, even navigating the pandemic as business owners themselves – our alumnae have remained strong and found ways to adapt in the face of challenge.
Here are just a few examples of alumnae who have used the resilience and strength they gained from Meredith to navigate career shifts during the pandemic.
Kristen Stegall, ’16
Owner of Novice Studios
At the beginning of the pandemic, Kristen Stegall, ’16, had a steady job with a small branding agency in Charlotte, North Carolina, as a multimedia producer. However, as the pandemic continued, she realized how little guarantee there is of anything in this life. “I wanted to make an impact doing what I love, and I knew the best way to do that was to start my own company,” said Stegall.
At the end of June, she put her two weeks’ notice in at her agency and launched her own production company, Novice Studios. “It was scary to leave my secure, full-time job, especially with everything going on,” Stegall said. “But I’m so glad I did. I’ve already got great clients, and it’s an honor to be able to serve other entrepreneurs and business owners with my skills during this time.”
Stegall noted that if it weren’t for her experience at Meredith, she might not have had the confidence to walk away from her job and build her own business. “At Meredith, I was encouraged to forge my own path when I couldn’t find one that felt right. While the path I’ve chosen now is a risky one, I feel prepared for the challenge.”
Charis Hill, ’09
Speaker, Writer, and Disability Activist
Charis Hill, ’09, has been known for many titles in their lifetime: TedX talker, writer, activist, Meredith alum, model, even collegiate athlete. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, a particular characteristic has been at the forefront of their identity: high risk.
Hill falls into the high risk category because of a progressive chronic disease known as ankylosing spondylitis (AS). Despite this hardship, they’ve found a way to use their strengths and forge a path in their career – even during COVID-19. “My freelance activism – both paid and unpaid – which includes speaking and writing, has been more necessary than ever during a pandemic because a lot of hidden ableism in our society has been unveiled,” said Hill.
Hill has both spoken on the AiArthritis Voices 360 Podcast and written articles for Medium, AnkylosingSpondylitis.net, and CreakyJoints.org about their experience navigating the pandemic with a disability. They have banded with others in chronic disease advocacy on social media as well to bring awareness to the high risk category.
“A group of my advocate friends and I began the #HighRiskCovid19 hashtag that went viral on Twitter in March and has since become an oft-used hashtag by people across the world,” said Hill. “I’m pleased we were able to create such an impactful campaign to highlight the issues facing immunocompromised or otherwise high risk folks right now.”
Hill’s hope is that their work will help non-disabled and healthy people understand that those in the high risk category need to be fully considered and included in all plans for reopening, treatment, and federal economic relief packages.
Kim McNeill Cato, ’90
Nurse at Duke Health
Kim McNeill Cato, ’90, is a charge nurse in the Gastroenterology Clinic at Duke. But when COVID-19 made its way into North Carolina, her job changed. “Our nurses went wherever they were most needed,” said Cato. “Some helped with the COVID-19 hotline. I was trained to swab at the testing tent.”
For Cato, the greatest challenge during this time lies in the unknown of the virus. “At first when our processes at work were changing, there was an unsettling feeling that came from not knowing what we would be called to do, or how quickly the virus would spike in this area,” she said.
But like many other Meredith graduates, Cato faced the uncertainty of these times with strength.
“My time at Meredith was 30 years ago, but I credit my time there as shaping my nursing career,” she said.
“My classes were challenging but my professors believed in me and encouraged me to find my path. I learned how to speak up and ask the questions that need asking and also how to adapt in different situations. These skills are necessary in nursing, especially today.”
Mena Garcia, ’14
Owner of Mena Garcia Beauty
As a hair and make-up artist and business owner in the wedding industry, Mena Garcia, ’14, has definitely felt the impact of COVID-19.
With work featured in Martha Stewart Weddings, The Carolinas Magazine, and more, Garcia’s team is highly sought after. She was just about to begin a busy spring wedding season with her team of five artists when the pandemic hit. Now, she’s working to reschedule with engaged couples and catching up on the income from rescheduled weddings.
Garcia has been in the industry doing hair and make-up for six years and has never experienced anything like this. “Income and paychecks are not as secure as they used to be,” she said. But as a wedding vendor, she always strives to do her best for her clients – so a negative attitude isn’t an option.
“Meredith prepared me to handle difficult situations with grace and kindness,” she said. “I learned to lean on other strong women so we can help each other and lift each other up when we need it the most.”
Ashley Brittain, ’18
Math Teacher at South Johnston High School
“As a teacher, pretty much everything about my job changed,” said Ashley Brittain, ’18, who was named a finalist for the Johnston County First Year Teacher of the Year Award in 2019.
Initially, the most challenging part for her was not being able to connect with students face-to-face every day. “It almost felt like the reason I wanted to become a teacher in the first place was gone,” said Brittain, “but, I’ve learned a lot since then.”
For example, Brittain has learned that many of her students have several responsibilities at home aside from completing high school, including helping with younger siblings and working part-time jobs. “Before, my priority was to teach math. This time has revealed that my priority is students, while teaching them math along the way,” she said.
Brittain tried to stay as connected as virtually possible with students in the spring, though many times she would call and get nothing but voicemails. “But when I did get to hear from students on the other end of the phone, I was so encouraged by all the things they were doing at home to support their families.”
She also was encouraged by how well some students responded to the online format of school in the spring. Students who had struggled in class before blossomed when they could receive instruction essentially distraction free.
Brittain has been able to maintain a positive outlook thanks to a great support system at South Johnston High School, which includes a few fellow Meredith alumnae.
“I would not be teaching where I am if it were not for some fellow Meredith sisters who encouraged me to join them at their school,” she said. “These Meredith educators hardly knew me at the time, but they immediately made me feel known and valued.”
Additionally, Brittain says her experience at Meredith taught her to analyze a situation, adapt, and keep going, even when things seem impossible. Everything she learned at Meredith about resilience has served as an inspiration for her motto these last several months: “Love, collaborate, show grace, and always give your best.”