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Career Profiles
Malia Meiser
Graduated: 2002
Major: Family Studies
Abstinence Education Director, Capital Area Pregnancy Center

Malia Meiser working with a studentChoosing a Major
Malia's process of choosing a major reflects the difficulty many first-year students experience as they search anxiously through course catalogs and take inventory of interests and hobbies. How is it possible to channel your interests into a career path that you love while juggling the new concerns, commitments, and relationships of the first-year college experience? Malia struggled with this question at Messiah as she entered her first year armed with a mental checklist of qualifications for her future career: she wanted to work with people; she liked math and English in high school; English teachers spend too much time grading papers; and she lacked the patience for elementary school children. High school math seemed to be the logical choice, so she settled on a math education major. "After two weeks of Calculus III, I said 'no way'," Malia explains. "I knew I could do it, but there was no way I would want to work with numbers all day. I wanted to be a teacher so I could work with people, not numbers. So I dropped out of calculus and I was undeclared." With help from the Career Center, Malia reassessed her interests and passions, enabling her to declare a family studies major by her second year.

The Messiah Experience
Although Malia was wrestling with the daunting task of finding a new major, she still found time to be active in campus life. She ran track, hosted prospective students, and became a peer group leader, but she maintains that her most valuable experience at Messiah was being a part of I'm Worth Waiting For, an initiative in which student volunteers present abstinence education programs to area high schoolers. As a peer group leader during Welcome Week, Malia was guiding her first year students throught the mandatory introductory seminars and presentations when IWWF's presentation caught her attention.  The program's engaging blend of candid anecdtoes, humurous skits, and valuable information spurred Malia to offer her services as a volunteer. Without realizing it, she established an essential networking opportunity in her program director, and she stepped strategically toward her future career.

Messiah's strong emphasis on student participation in service projects and volunteer-based organizations encouraged Malia to become an integral part of I'm Worth Waiting For. "Service, service, service," she says is an accurate description of Messiah's campus atmosphere. When Malia was seeking employment after graduation, her early experience in abstinence education placed her several steps ahead of competitors in her field. Her first post-college interviews, which would be intimidating ordeals for many new college graduates, were stress-free: the connections she had made in her job field, combined with her experience and qualifications, spoke for themselves.

Career Center Experience
Malia was able to take advantage of a variety of Career Center services that proved to be invaluable in her search for a major. She was first introduced to this campus resource through a class for undeclared majors conducted by the Career Center staff. The class offered a series of exercises and inventories, such as the Myers-Briggs personality test, which allowed her to form a clearer picture of her own personality and interests. This self-awareness reinforced her desire to work with people while the class opened her eyes to other career possibilities, besides teaching, that would provide her with the person-to-person contact she craved.

After her first year, Malia continued to visit the Career Center - after dropping off her resume to be critiqued by a career counselor, she eventually began to realize that these services were at her disposal for whatever job-searching assistance she might need. She frequently made use of the search engine on the Career Center website as well as job-searching resources in the office.

Malia Meiser working with a studentWhat to Do Next
Immediately following graduation, Malia had a summer position with a recreation program at a home for boys that she had also held the previous year. "The plan was at the end of the summer to look for a job; then I realized just how little I knew about job searching," she explains. "Because I had a summer job lined up, I didn't panic." After scanning the classifieds in The Patriot News and using job-search engines through the Career Center website, Malia had an epiphany: "I realized that I could turn down a job simply for the hope of something better. Finding your career is a process that doesn't always happen right away. There's a misconception that it happens quickly." Refusing to settle for anything less than the career of her dreams, Malia continued with her summer position and the tedious process of job-hunting.

Because communication is the cornerstone of Malia's career, she highly values the public and interpersonal communication skills she developed as an undergraduate. These are skills she can rely on as she stands before classrooms full of young people with IWWF. Messiah courses on marriage and family, adolescent psychology, and marital relationships also provide an overall knowledge base for her initiative as she outlines the advantages of waiting for sex until marriage to teenagers and young adults.

Networking & Job Hunting
Emily Chase, a staff member at Capital Area Pregnancy Center and I'm Worth Waiting For's program director when Malia was a volunteer, proved to be an invaluable networking resource after graduation. Emily provided a recommendation for Malia's first job in abstinence education in Millerstown. Eventually, Emily also recommended Malia for her current position as abstinence education director at the Pregnancy Center.

Dynamic Process
As she began her position in Millerstown, Malia also picked up another job as a Big Brothers/Big Sisters school-based program director for Mifflin and Juniata Counties. Holding down both positions to make ends meet, she never quit hoping and searching for her dream job. When Emily suggested that she interview for the position at Capital Area Pregnancy Center, Malia found that once again her volunteer experience and networking from Messiah paved the way to an interview that was a mere formality. Immediately after the interview process, she was introduced to the rest of the Pregnancy Center staff as the new abstinence education director. Amazed and a little bewildered at her own success, Malia quickly acclimated herself to the idea of doing what she loved on a daily basis.

A Typical Day

There is certainly never a dull moment in Malia's typical day. "I schedule 400 abstinence programs at 30


• "There's a difference between a job and a career. After graduation, it may be easy to get a job, but the process of settling into a career may take several months at least."
• " Be financially prepared for a few months of job-hunting after you graduate."

• "Don't be afraid to turn down a job for the hope of a better one. You can't fear losing a meaningless job to get a career. If your employer won't let you have time to pursue your career, quit."

local schools yearly. I recruit 100 volunteers to assist with these programs. I present roughly one-third of the programs yearly at schools, churches, and community events," Malia lists. "I also assist with miscellaneous Pregnancy Center duties." These "miscellaneous duties" include coordinating this year's Walk for Life, a $30,000 fund raiser, and playing a key role in the organization of the Capital Area Pregnancy Center Banquet that took place earlier this year.

A "Why" Moment
It was a memorable conference in Texas that convinced Malia to pursue the field of abstinence education. "I knew before I even got the job that it was right. I did a purity weekend for a church in Texas; it was the first time I was on my own doing it. I mean, I had been a lead presenter before, but this time I was out on my own in Texas," she explains. "I loved it! I couldn't believe they paid me to do it! I realized how much I enjoyed public speaking and I have a passion for abstinence education. At that point I decided that I was going to find a job that would pay me to work in abstinence education. Even if it was a part-time job and I had to get a second job as a waitress to make ends meet." Malia decided to do whatever it took to make this passion her vocation.

In addition to this early defining moment in Texas, Malia is able to see on a regular basis that this is the right career path for her: "When I'm actually in front of students and I know that I'm connecting with them, when I'm reading the evaluations afterward and seeing the program made a difference in their life, even when I'm hanging out with college students in the car on the way to or from the programs . . . I know that this is right, and that I'm where I'm supposed to be."

Malia's career presents a unique opportunity to serve others: "I'm encouraging them to pursue a lifestyle of purity that the Lord is calling them to, and I help keep college students accountable by using them in the program." She believes the services provided by the program extend far beyond abstinence education - they dramatically affect the student volunteers as well.  Some students initially struggle with communication and relational skills, but "by the time they leave the program their confidence has been built by being in front of a classroom. It's so much more than changing the lives of high school students and others struggling with purity. We need those college students, and they need us too."

Dreams Still Dreaming
As the director of abstinence education at Capital Area Pregnancy Center, Malia finds a great deal of fulfillment in her vocation.  Confident that she is exactly where she is supposed to be in life, she is content in her current position.  Her only aspiration for change is to increase awareness of her initiative enough to make her position more economically viable: "I'm not really looking to change what I'm doing at all," she relates, "but I'd like to be more financially secure."  With her initiative reaching more and more students every year, she is well on her way.

Find out how other Messiah grads work with children in their career:

Kate Binder, social worker

Katie Lebhar, high school theatre director

Elizabeth Imboden, pediatrician

Karen Willis, pediatric research dietician

Profile by Brianna Davidson, Summer 2005


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