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Studying Shyness Eventually Lead Student to Social Work

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Initially wanting to join the circus, Whitney Laas recalls how her Southwestern experience enabled her to pursue a Master’s in Social Work at the University of Texas

In her own words: “The circus! “I want to join the circus,” I said. My parents brought me to Southwestern—almost literally kicking and screaming—instead. Now, there is nowhere on earth I would rather be.

I knew I wanted to study psychology. What I didn’t know was that psychology would become my life or that my fellow research assistants would become like family. I spent my last year at Southwestern studying ways to improve misperceptions of shy people—something I’ve struggled with myself—in (Professor of Psychology) Dr. Traci Giuliano’s research lab, where we managed to design, run and analyze six different studies.

Don’t get me wrong; it was hard work, but I certainly wasn’t chained to the lab the whole time. In my free time, I took photographs at countless skate parks in the area. And, if schoolwork ever got overwhelming, I’d combat it with a healthy dose of “Fort Awesome”—thankfully, Southwestern is probably one of the few institutions of higher learning where you can commandeer a library study room, build a blanket fort and have a marathon homework party. It has to be the only college where it’s possible to meet at a coffee shop for (Associate Professor of English) Dr. David Gaines’ famous “Dylan” class, run into the President of the University, and convince him to join the group and divulge that his favorite movie is Legends of the Fall.

You’d never know it by looking at me, but I’m a nerd to my very core. On top of research, I piled on the extracurriculars. The most noteworthy was The Megaphone, Southwestern’s official newspaper. I began as a writer and photographer and snagged a section editor spot as a sophomore. Not only was The Megaphone a great work experience, it was a source of constant entertainment. It’s the only on-campus job where you have impromptu raves while Photoshopping pictures of President Obama in an apron. It also allowed me to attend a newspaper conference in San Diego, Calif., and to obtain a press pass for Austin’s 2009 FunFunFun Fest, where I photographed the bands Ratatat, Danzig, Astronautalis and Of Montreal.

As an intern for the Williamson County Public Information Office, I wrote press releases and helped prepare for the launch of their new mental health website—a job I found through Southwestern’s Office of Career Services. In summer 2009, thanks to Dr. Giuliano’s great connections, I interned at LifeWorks, an Austin nonprofit social services agency and an amazing place that inspired me to pursue a career in social work. I saw the inner-workings of an agency that was making a difference in people’s lives and I knew that I wanted to be part of something similar. As a result, I’ve headed just south to The University of Texas at Austin for the Master’s in Social Work program.

UT’s program is one of the best in the country, but somewhere in the back of my mind I think I’m here because I’m not yet ready to be too far from Southwestern.