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American Studies graduate embraces the faithful life in D.C.

Kelley in D.C. corrected crop
Kelley at the top of the Capitol dome, with the Library of Congress visible in the distance

Kelley Griffin of Greenville, a 2013 graduate, spent a semester of her junior year in the American Studies Program (ASP), a BestSemester program in Washington, D.C. This summer, she took a job as program administrator for ASP and another BestSemester program, the Washington Journalism Center (WJC). BestSemester programs are offered by the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).

Finding her feet, keeping her faith

As she makes her way in a new job, Kelley is also moving from integrating faith and learning as a college student toward living out her faith as a professional in the nation’s capital city.

In some ways, she is still finding her feet this time around in Washington.

“Life has been so fast-paced since I got here that I’m still figuring out where I am. It helps a lot, though, that I already knew the ASP/WJC faculty and I’d had good relationships with them two years ago,” she said.

“I have also reconnected with one of my friends who was in the program with me and who is now back working in D.C.,” she said, adding, “ASP/WJC is really a family, and I am so glad to be part of that.”

On Kelley’s desk is a quote from a devotional given by Dr. Peter Baker, director of ASP, about “being called ‘not only to have faith but to be faithful.’”

“I am reminded that I am called to have more than just head knowledge and even to do more than just integrate my faith with my work—I am to incarnate my faith, to live it out wherever I am and whatever I do,” she explained.

“Seeking to be faithful to Christ and the gospel changes how I see everything, from the debates in Congress taking place a 15-minute walk away to the homeless person next to me on the bus.”

Handling ‘air traffic’

Kelley grad at podium
Kelley takes the podium at Erskine’s 2013 college commencement.

An American Studies major at Erskine and one of seven co-valedictorians in her class, Kelley is delighted to be back in Washington.

“I honestly studied too much when I was here two years ago,” she said. “So this time, I enjoy having more opportunity to explore and take advantage of all the amazing things D.C. has to offer, from arts to museums to lectures to architecture.”

Kelley said her position with the American Studies and Washington Journalism Center programs has been described as the ‘air traffic controller’ for ASP and WJC, and she has found that this is accurate, though she would add to the description ‘travel agent’ and ‘flight attendant.’

“The faculty are like the pilots, taking the students where they need to go in their education, but I book the flights, make sure none of the ‘planes’ crash into each other, and ensure that the faculty and students have all they need,” she said.

In addition to recruiting and enrolling students, handling communication among APS and WJC faculty and staff, and performing general office duties, Kelley lives on-site and plays big sister to students, supervises student workers, and helps plan student and alumni activities for the programs.

“Kelley is well-positioned for her new work,” Grady Patterson Professor of Politics Dr. Ashley Woodwiss said. “She brings a love of and keen experience with D.C. and how it works, a desire to help students better understand our nation’s capital through quality academic programs and internship opportunities, coupled with outstanding organizational and leadership skills.”

Experience recommended

In her big-sister role as well as in other aspects of her job, Kelley can draw on her recent experience as a BestSemester student. “Being part of ASP changed my life in an amazing way,” she said.

“Since the American Studies Program is designed to get us ready for grad school, we were responsible for our own food, for securing internships, for maintaining relationships with the other people in our apartments, and for getting around the cities.

“We had internships three days a week, and I interned for Congressman Trey Gowdy,” she said, adding that she and the other students attended public policy classes two days a week.

“We also learned about being Christian public servants and about caring for the city where God placed us,” she said.

“As a 20-year-old junior, I loved the taste of responsibility and the experience of going to my congressional internship, buying groceries and cooking for myself, living in an apartment, and learning my way around the city,” she recalled. “I got to practice being an adult, and I am so glad for that experience now!”

Everybody’s got a story

Washington JC logo

Kelley has found that she really loves city life. But there’s more to it than the lure of a lively cultural scene.

“Washington Journalism Center’s tagline is ‘Everyone in this city knows more stories than you do,’ and the chance to interact with ‘everyday’ D.C. citizens who have such beautiful stories is one of my favorite parts of living here,” she said.

“It’s very different, of course, being here as a professional rather than as a student, and learning to live alone is challenging, but it’s also a great adventure!”

Kelley does her best to help students make the most of CCCU’s BestSemester programs, and she is eager for more Erskine students to take such opportunities.

“Erskine students are eligible to participate in any of the BestSemester programs, and I would really love to see more attend,” she said.

Kelley fell in love with Washington about nine years ago, and is glad to be working there, but she is a little surprised to find herself in her current post.

“I have wanted to live in D.C. since our family field trip here when I was in the 8th grade,” she said. “My time in ASP as a student only reinforced that passion.”

She imagined herself “in a think tank or as a Hill staffer,” she said. But working for the two BestSemester programs that are based in Washington?

“I definitely thought about how much I would love the opportunity to work for ASP/WJC, but I didn’t think I would actually get it!”

Inspiration plus preparation

Kelley, center, flanked by her sisters BLANK.
Kelley, center, with sisters Elinor, left, and Laura

Kelley’s work as an American Studies major at Erskine helped to prepare her for her new job as well as for future study.

“One of the best and most important parts of my time at Erskine was my relationship with my professors,” Kelley said.

Serving as members of the American Studies colloquium at Erskine during Kelley’s student days, in addition to Woodiwiss, were Professor of English Dr. Brad Christie (now serving as Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Acting President); Younts Professor of Bible and Religion Dr. Bill Evans; and Assistant Professor of History Dr. John Macaulay.

Kelley is grateful for all her professors.

“Without them, I would not have had the chance to attend the American Studies Program in the first place, much less get this job,” she said. “They invested so much in me, believed in me, and gave me the tools to grow.”

The American Studies major was attractive to Kelley in part because of “how flexible it is,” she said.

“Since the major encompasses the American parts of history, English, government, and religion, I was required to take one or two core classes in each of those disciplines,” Kelley said. “But after that, I could choose among a lot of different classes.”

Owing in part to the pattern of her studies and classes she took, Christie, Evans, and Woodiwiss became special mentors.

Evans, who supervised her American Studies thesis, noted that the major also requires that students “‘drill down’ and explore a particular topic of interest.”

“Kelley wrote a splendid thesis on American civil religion that engaged key issues of how religion relates to American culture and society,” Evans said.

She plans to continue ‘drilling down’ in graduate school.

“I am so glad for the opportunity to live and work in D.C. for a few years, but when I’m done here, I plan to get my Ph.D. in American history and teach on the college level,” she said. “I would particularly like to focus on the intersection of politics and religion in the course of America’s history.”

In the meantime, Kelley Griffin concentrates on the opportunity she has been given to live and work in D.C., dedicating herself to serving the two BestSemester programs based in Washington.

“I am blessed to be surrounded by people who love this beautiful, complex city and who want to live faithfully in it.”


BestSemester offers 12 off-campus and study abroad programs around the world through the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). For more information, visit



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