Trial and Error
By Matt Morgan
After calling for a do-over on her first college decision, transfer student Caroline McInerney ’21 says Santa Clara let her embrace all of her interests.
Caroline McInerney ’21 thought everything about the college experience was supposed to be big.
Big campus. Big classes. Big football games and tailgates. The high school she went to in Chicago was competitive and as a result, most of her friends just picked the school with the best reputation without thinking about fit. So when she was accepted to the University of Michigan, she did the same and headed to Ann Arbor.
It didn’t take long for her to realize that bigger wasn’t better for her.
“I didn’t feel like I was developing as a person,” McInerney says. “I wasn’t thriving. My personality wasn’t fitting in there.”
Midway through her first year, she decided to try something different for year two. Her older brother Patrick McInerney ’19 had gone to Santa Clara and she’d always felt at home during visits. She applied as a sophomore transfer and hasn’t looked back.
“Santa Clara really allowed me to embrace my favorite parts of myself and in a lot of different ways,” McInerney says. “It was trial and error but I’m really glad I got to experience both because it makes Santa Clara even more special to me.”
This Spring, we’re celebrating the Class of 2021 who have accomplished amazing things while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. We recently sat down with McInerney to talk about her unique three-year experience at Santa Clara.
You’ve said Santa Clara helped you embrace your favorite parts of yourself in a way you weren’t able to at Michigan. How did that happen?
I remember I had a psychology class at Michigan with like 450 people and I couldn’t tell you the professor’s name. Coming to Santa Clara, the professors here are so hands on. They want to learn about you and what you’re interested in and tailor assignments that make you excited. Like, I always enjoyed writing and wanted to be a communication major, but I wasn’t sure. The projects I’ve done here allowed me to explore that passion in a real way that helped me determine if it’s something I actually wanted to pursue after graduation.
Also, there’s a community of people at Santa Clara who like to live life alongside school. I’ve met some of the smartest people here. They care about their academics and have career aspirations but they are really well-rounded. People at Santa Clara enjoy seeing their friends succeed. On the weekends I’ll go on hikes with my friends or go to the beach or explore San Francisco or go to Santana Row. I’ve just really enjoyed exploring the area and finding out California is where I want to stay.
Can you talk about some of the professors who have taken an interest in you at Santa Clara?
Professor Barbara Kelley in journalism and communications is one. She wasn’t afraid to give tough love, which I appreciated. That’s how I am, too. She is so connected in the industry and was always wanting to share what she knows. She’s helped me with cover letters and getting my foot in the door career wise. It’s been awesome to have her as a resource. I’ve learned so much.
Marie Bertola in Italian studies is another. I was in her class and one day she pulled me into her office with my test in her hand and she was like, “This is so good I'm taking a photocopy of this. You need to be an Italian major!” I didn’t have the time to be a major but I did pick up a minor and I’ve been a peer educator for intro courses. She teases me sometimes about not becoming a major, we banter back and forth. It’s been awesome having those fun relationships with faculty in subjects I’m interested in.
You’ve taken a lot of journalism courses here but said you’re likely to go a more marketing and communications route after graduation. What have those classes taught you that you think you’ll use in your career?
The first thing that comes to mind is that truth matters and, not to get too political, but democracy matters. In the past, I was never really interested in politics. I was never interested in going to school in D.C. or anything like that, but journalism taught me it’s not just politics, it’s life and everybody should be involved in it. My journalism classes were also centered around giving voice to those who sometimes aren’t allowed to have a voice. That’s something that I’m passionate about whether it be through journalism or working for a nonprofit. I believe there’s power in words.
Tell me about a project from your time at Santa Clara that makes you proud.
I took a radio documentary and podcasting class called “Special Topics in Journalism” taught by Gordon Young. The final project we had was called “A Day in the Life.” It could be about anyone but I decided to do it on my mom who works at the O’Hare Airport in Chicago as a customer service representative for American Airlines. We did a cool piece about how she was working during the peak of COVID and how it affected her and my dad’s life. It was really special because it was something I was academically interested in, but I also got to ask my parents questions I would have never asked otherwise. I got to learn more about what my parents were actually feeling. COVID was an interesting time because we got to see adults actually be afraid with us because they didn’t know what was going to happen either.
People at Santa Clara talk a lot about making a difference in the world with their jobs, but that can vary depending on the job. How do you see yourself making a difference?
I’m doing an internship right now with the North American Marine Environment Protection Association, which is a nonprofit that helps set best practices for shipping companies to preserve marine life. I was hired as a marketing and development intern and I work on a small team of almost exclusively women, which has been cool. My job is to collaborate with the education team to create videos for elementary, middle school, and high school students to teach them about different ecosystems and marine life. One video we made was for elementary students about native people in the Arctic and another was about climate change and how it affects polar bears. So I’ve been able to use my journalistic skills to create the scripts for those.
I don't know what I’d like to do to change the world, but I think something that's cool about journalism is you can use it to give voice to those who need it or to uncover injustice in the world. Again, I definitely think there’s power in words. What this whole experience at Santa Clara has taught me is the best way to make a difference is living authentically— being genuine—and caring about others.