AMS Distinguished Graduates: Kerri Cavanaugh

We are very pleased to announce that two American Studies Students were named as honorable mentions to the Dean’s Distinguished Graduates list. Over the next two days, Kerri Cavanaughwe’ll profile both students. Today, we’re featuring Kerri Cavanaugh.

1. When you came to UT, what did you think you would major in?  

Kerri: When I came to UT I wanted to pursue a general Liberal Arts degree. My advisor then informed me that getting a general degree was not an option and that I had about 2-3 weeks to pick a major. I decided on AMS without knowing anything about it or having taken any AMS classes. It just sounded like fun so I took a leap of faith.

2. What was the first American Studies course you took at UT?  Why did you decide to take the course, and what do you remember about it?

Kerri: I took AMS 310 (Intro to American Studies) and AMS 356 (Main Currents since 1865) at the same time and they were my first AMS classes. I took these classes because I thought they would be a good way to get to know my new major. I remember thinking how different they were from other history classes I had taken and how I was learning about things I had never heard of before. I loved that they taught me about pieces of American history and culture that are often forgotten or pushed away. I also remember that they were my favorite classes that semester and that I couldn’t wait to get to class each day.

3. Why did you decide to major in American Studies?

Kerri: I decided to major in AMS because it seemed like the most interesting major offered by the College, but I decided to stay in AMS because I love the ways it challenges me. I love that AMS makes me look at things I have always taken for granted and break them apart to see a whole new aspect that I had never considered before.

4. What have been some of your favorite courses in the American Studies department and why?

Kerri: This is a hard question, but if I had to pick my favorite AMS courses, I would probably pick Cultural History of Drugs and Alcohol (AMS 370), Reality TV in America (AMS 311S) and Main Currents since 1865 (AMS 356). Drugs and Alcohol and Reality TV were some of the first seminar classes I took in the major. They were classes that taught me a lot, but they were also so much fun (I also loved making people jealous by telling them those were the classes I was taking). I liked AMS 356 because of the sheer amount of information I learned. I finished the class feeling a lot more knowledgeable.

5. What are some of the most important questions you’ve considered during your time in American Studies?

Kerri: Probably the most important question I have considered during my time in American Studies is, “how do I take the information I have learned in class and apply it outside the classroom?” For me the answer was my thesis, a study on how factory farming affects the self-identification of marginalized groups in American society. I had been interested in factory farming and the ethical treatment of animals for a long time and the more I learned about them in classes (like AMS 370 -Environment/Justice/Media), the more I wanted to find a way to increase awareness of the problems. My supervisor, Dr. Smith, encouraged my to write my thesis and really explore these topics more fully. Engaging in my honors thesis has helped me develop my skills as a researcher, shape my job experiences, and strengthen my relationships in the department.

6. How do you think American Studies might influence your career after you graduate? How has your time in American Studies influenced your career goals?

Kerri: One of the best things about having AMS as a major is that it’s as broad or specific as you want it to be. When I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career, I was able to take classes, like the Main Currents classes and seminars, that seemed interesting or cool. Then, as I started to realize I want to work in nonprofits, preferably with either food or animals, I was able to start taking classes that focused on exactly those things (AMS 370 – Animals/American Culture and AMS 370 – American Food). Now when I am applying for jobs, I am able to talk about the critical thinking skills I gained from AMS, my ability to look at things from multiple points of view, and my specific knowledge of the industries I want to work with.

7. What advice do you have for other students considering majoring in American Studies?

Kerri: Don’t be discouraged by the fact that there are probably not job postings out there saying “American Studies degree needed,” the same way there are jobs out there saying “Accounting degree needed.” Unless there is something very specific that you want to do after school that requires a very specific degree, like accounting or engineering, chances are you will be able to tailor your AMS degree towards your career goals. In AMS classes you learn to think critically, write well, and have difficult discussions, which are things every company will value. And if you are not sure what your career goals are, try what I did and take the required classes while you figure it out! Also, definitely get to know your professors. My professors in AMS have consistently gone above and beyond to challenge and support me, and I know they will do the same for other students!

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