OCE Profile Series
By Daniela Sainz ‘15 | Nov 6, 2013
Katie Mitchell’s service extends both on-campus and beyond. She is dedicated to improving the welfare of animals looking for a home in addition to improving the general welfare of students through her volunteer work. Although she is passionate about all of the causes she works towards, she has a special spot in her heart for the Heritage Humane Society, which works to find permanent homes for stray cats and dogs.
Office of Community Engagement: How are you involved in community engagement at William & Mary?
Katie Mitchell: It all started before freshman year, when I went on the inaugural 7 Generations pre-orientation trip, volunteering at a sustainable farm in Lynchburg. Freshman year I was a Sharpe scholar, and helped design teaching tools for local elementary school special education programs. Sophomore year I joined Circle K International, and I’m now Executive Vice President.
CKI has at least two large-scale service projects each year—a food-packaging event in the Fall, and Strike Out ALS! in the Spring—as well as many other wonderful service opportunities. I am very active with our large-scale projects and dabble in organizations such as Campus Kitchens, but my main focus is volunteering at Heritage Humane Society, which I do approximately 10 hours a week. I am also an active member of the William & Mary branch of Active Minds, a mental health advocacy organization.
OCE: How has this work contributed to community needs?
KM: Circle K International is an amazing organization that offers so many ways to help the community, and I am honored to help run the behind-the-scenes work to support our members. The two issues I am currently most passionate about are animal welfare and mental health. Volunteering at Heritage Humane Society has been an amazing experience; the shelter is extremely well-maintained and organized, and this is largely due to the amazing staff and the dedicated team of volunteers. Recently I have been helping out mostly with negotiating adoptions, and it is a truly rewarding feeling to see these amazing, loving animals go to a forever home.
My work on Mental Health is mainly through Active Minds, and we work very hard to decrease the stigma of mental illnesses on campus, and provide access to resources to students. Last year we had our first Debunking the Myths panel discussion, where students and faculty shared their experiences with mental illness and information about the resources available on campus. We also do lots of smaller campaigns such as tabling and handing out motivational and educational materials. As a relatively new club, our presence is still growing, but I can already notice a snowball effect as members feel more comfortable discussing mental health, which encourages their friends and family to feel more comfortable discussing it as well.
OCE: What does active citizenship mean for you?
KM: To me, active citizenship means always considering the context in which your actions are occurring. It means not making jokes that stigmatize mental illness or disability or marginalize any group of people. It means pointing out problematic aspects of media, even if it is also media that you enjoy. It means being aware of political issues and taking a stand for issues that matter to you. It means always being open-minded, empathetic, and humble enough to really listen to those with different life circumstances and needs, and adjusting your actions accordingly. It means always being willing to help.
OCE: How has your experience working in the community affected your educational career at William & Mary?
KM: I am still trying to figure out what I want to do after college (which is coming up much sooner than I want to consider!), but my community engagement work has definitely helped me to come up with some ideas of potential paths to take. Working at Heritage Humane Society has really fueled my passion for working with and understanding animals, and I have considered pursuing graduate school to research animal communication or the human-animal bond.
These days it looks like that might not be the path that I follow, but it is still a topic that fascinates me and has led me to take some really interesting psychology and linguistics classes. Now I’m thinking more about how I enjoy the leadership and logistical aspects of planning service events and Circle K meetings, and I’m considering pursuing a career in non-profit management, particularly non-profits focusing on animal welfare or mental health.
OCE: How do you plan to use what you’ve learned as an engaged citizen beyond William & Mary?
KM: I know that wherever I end up, I will not feel fulfilled if I am not engaging with my community, nor do I think I can simply stop being an active citizen. As a friend of mine eloquently put it, I’ve now “tuned into the background noise of my life,” and it’s almost impossible to tune it back out. I’ll always notice the inequalities and injustices that surround me now, and I just hope that I will have the strength to not give up on the fight. Luckily, I have so many amazing, service-minded friends, and I know we will always give each other strength.
OCE: What is the most memorable or striking moment you experienced during your engagement work?
KM: Two years ago I attended Relay for Life with several other Circle K members. The remembrance ceremony and silent lap hit me incredibly hard. One of the speakers had just read the poem, “The Dash”, which talks about making the years in the “dash” between your birth and your death count. During that silent lap, this was all I could think about. About how I want to make the most of my dash, about how amazed I am by the courage of those who struggle with cancer and other chronic conditions, about how many people one life can touch, and about how lucky I am—about how so many people don’t have the same opportunities to make the most of their “dash” as I do, and how unfair that is. I want to make the most of my life and touch as many lives as I can, and I want to help empower others to reach that same goal.