Alumni/CCE Staff Highlight: Devin McGrath-Conwell

By Devin McGrath-Conwell

I talk about stories a lot. Possibly, depending on who in my life you ask, too much. This is nothing new. Growing up, I quite often had my face buried in the newest book I could get my hands on. I was an equal-opportunity reader. There was a lot of fantasy, but always matched by a dose of historical fiction, The occasional sci-fi, and of course, how could we forget reading all of James Patterson’s Alex Cross novels under the covers because I wasn’t supposed to. It wasn’t too long after that when I realized movies scratched the same itch. No, I didn’t quite realize what a screenplay was when I was young, but I did know that I could sit down in front of something on ABC Family or Turner Classic Movies and feel just as transported as one of my books.

You may be asking why I am rambling on about this. Well, the fact is, it was all that young love for storytelling that brought me to Middlebury College. Junior year of high school I took a class with Barbara Barklow that provided me with a life-changing realization: I could study movies in college. Once I got some to Midd, I didn’t waste much time before becoming a joint-major in English & American Literatures and Film & Media Culture. My courses allowed me to develop how I thought about stories as well as how I told my own. Poetry workshops, writing seminars, and all manner of critical essays supported my development as a procurer and analyzer of narrative. Stories are all around us, whether we’re writing them, listening to them, watching them, or even struggling to remember what happened last weekend when you’re at dinner with your friends. It is all of that which feeds into my work at Projects for Peace. 

I am not an international politics scholar by any means. Yes, The West Wing was a formative show in my teenage years, but it’s not quite like Aaron Sorkin delivered a whole lot of actionable policy to work from.  I came into this position as Digital Media Coordinator for Projects for Peace knowing that I had, and still have, a great deal to learn about the topics and issues wrapped into peacebuilding and changemaking. What has been so wonderful about this position, is that it has allowed me to apply my expertise in narrative pacing, story beats, and identifying themes to the remarkable true stories of what Projects for Peace grantees accomplish every summer. Every week, I get to dig into proposals and reports to try and boil down these incredible stories of peacebuilding into formats that get them in front of new people.

It is, admittedly, a challenge. The hard work here is done by the college students furthering the cause of global peace. My role is to make sure that their work is documented and broadcasted so that more folks are inspired to pick up the torch. This can mean creating Instagram posts, LinkedIn articles, profiles for our reading room on the website, or assets for Campus Liaisons at other institutions to better prepare them for any and all communications needs. Each task carries along unique challenges, but I see all of them as orbiting around the central idea of telling stories as profoundly and directly as possible. Because of this, I draw on my work as a Middlebury student every day. No, I’m not writing screenplays or doing literary analysis at Projects for Peace, but my work calls upon the same creative muscles that drew me to the college in the first place.

The point of all of this, if there is one, is that moving from college into the workforce does not mean dismissing those passions and curiosities that delivered you to that transitional point. Did I think that I would be working in communications and media for a grant program focused on global peace? Absolutely not. But, what I hoped for was a way to continually engage with storytelling and the creative aspects of the craft that I love. As a result, I have been able to learn an incredible amount about peace work in a multitude of communities and through a patchwork of approaches. I am constantly inspired by the stories I am able to encounter because of Projects for Peace, and I enter each day hoping that I can do justice to the work our grantees accomplish.

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