Maeve completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) at Monash University in 2016. She is now the General Manager of Humanities21.
What did you study and what inspired you to pursue this path?
I completed VCE in 2008 and took a GAP year in 2009, during which I spent 4 months teaching English at a high school in Prato, Italy. I then spent 6 weeks visiting family and friends in Ireland and the UK. I hadn’t studied Italian at high school (it wasn’t offered unfortunately) but my parents took me to Italy for a conference at the Monash Prato Centre when I was 14 years old, and on this trip we also visited other parts of Tuscany, and Milan. I fell in love with Italy – the culture, the history, and the Renaissance art were unlike anything I had seen before. Of course the people, food, and language enchanted me too.
My degree concluded in 2016 with an Honours dissertation titled ‘Per Chi?’ (For whom?): The Origins, Construction, and Reception of Holocaust Testimonies. It examined three Holocaust testimonies, including Primo Levi’s Se questo è un uomo. My thesis explored the ways in which history is constructed for, and consumed by, different audiences.
My honours year consolidated my interest in the communications industry, which continued to appeal to me as a career path even after shifting the focus of my degree away from marketing and PR. I was optimistic about launching a career in communications despite my degree not being specific to that industry, and fortunately I have been able to do that.
What is your current occupation?
General Manager at Humanities 21.
What aspects of your role do you enjoy the most?
At Humanities 21 we have three key channels of advocacy – in schools, in corporate companies, and in the public domain. Public events are where I have the most fun! I enjoy every stage of the process – developing the event concept, engaging a panel of speakers, writing copy, executing a marketing strategy, and creating a successful discussion on the night. Every aspect of this process is rewarding, and I enjoy contributing to Humanities 21’s advocacy in this way.
Thinking back, what was a highlight of your time at university?
This answer is easy – going on exchange! In semester 2 of 2015 I went to Bologna, Italy. Bologna University is the oldest university in the world still in operation; Marconi, Petrarch, and Copernicus all studied there. For a student majoring in Italian studies and History there could hardly have been a more idyllic location. Some of my lecture theatres had Renaissance frescoes on the walls and I often climbed marble staircases to get to class. Outside the university buildings, Bologna is a medieval city and home to some of the best food in the world (it’s where spaghetti Bolognese – or as it’s really called, ragù – comes from).
I took 3 subjects per semester for a year and a half in the lead-up to my exchange so I could work a lot and save money for the trip. I spent 2½ months travelling around Europe in July-September before I arrived in Italy, and I left Bologna just in time to get home for Christmas 2015. They were a formative few months, in which I worked on my Italian language skills, developed a higher level of independence than I had previously had, and I met people who remain important to me today.
I would recommend an exchange to every university student as it’s a fantastic opportunity to see the world and meet people you otherwise might not meet. Going on exchange is also a structured way of stepping outside the comfort zone, and that’s an opportunity which doesn’t readily present itself in post-university working life. The process of planning for my trip also taught me valuable life skills – including how to budget, and how to balance work and study with a social life.
Were there any co-curricular activities you found particularly valuable while at university?
Two volunteer positions had a profound impact on me during my years at university. The first was volunteering as a tutor at the Kathleen Syme Library’s homework club in Carlton. The children who came to the homework club were mostly from refugee families that didn’t speak English at home; as a result, their reading ability was far lower than the norm for their age. Practising reading with these children and helping them with their homework, I imagined the frustration they and their teachers must have felt on a daily basis. Worksheets were difficult for them to decode due to the language barrier and the children often came to the homework club with little or no understanding of the tasks they had been asked to complete. I remembered how my own parents helped me with my reading and homework when I was at school and I sympathised with these children, who did not have that kind of help available to them at home.
This experience incited an interest in policymaking regarding immigration and education in me, and it strengthened my resolve to work in communications. Communication is a powerful tool and – having been on the other end of a language barrier when I first went to Italy in 2009 – I knew firsthand the difference a helpful attitude and a smiling face make to someone struggling to communicate in a foreign country.
The other volunteer position I found valuable was a 6-month internship at Humanities 21. I assisted with marketing and administration for the 2016 Festival of Homer, and a month after the festival ended the then-General Manager told me she was leaving for New York. I instantly applied for her job!
How do you think your humanities education has shaped you personally and professionally?
Aristotle said ‘the marker of an educated mind is the ability to entertain a thought without accepting it’ and that pretty much sums up the impact my Arts degree had on me. My education encouraged me to question my assumptions, to see things from multiple perspectives, and to consider issues in both broad and local context. These skills are fundamental to a career in communications, which requires people to anticipate how policies and events will affect various groups of people. My Arts degree also fostered an open-mindedness and a world awareness in me; qualities which no doubt make me a more insightful, less judgmental, and more interesting person.
What career advice would you give to current students or recent graduates?
Australian comedian/philosopher/musician Tim Minchin has a great comment about university – or is about life in general? – in any case, he says you should use it to ‘learn as much as you can about as much as you can’ and I think that’s a point well worth reiterating.
University is an opportunity to see the world, meet interesting people, and learn about yourself, as well as anything you might learn in a classroom. I also think it’s important to remember education is a privilege. Everyone within those walls is fortunate to have grown up in a community where university was encouraged, or at least available. So use your education to stand up for the things you believe in, to defend those who can’t defend themselves, to hold powerful people to account, and to consider the impact of your actions on others.
Success in personal and professional life means different things to different people, but a piece of advice I was once given is: to get to where you’d like to be, start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can. In my opinion, this is not a bad way to think about your career.
Tell us about a book you read recently that truly captured your attention?
At the moment I’m reading a book by James Walvin on the history of Sugar – it’s called Sugar: the World Corrupted from Slavery to Obesity. It’s fascinating! All about social and economic conditions in different parts of the world, and at various points in history. I’d highly recommend it.
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