Discovering the possible with Emory campus leaders

Part of being human is to make mistakes and missteps.

With faculty, staff and alumni sharing their personal stories, Emory introduces “Reframes: Discovering the Possible,” a student-facing project seeking to ignite a campus-wide conversation about embracing the power of reframing unexpected moments in life.

Watch an overview of the Reframes campaign.

Part of being human is to make mistakes and missteps.

With faculty, staff and alumni sharing their personal stories, Emory introduces “Reframes: Discovering the Possible,” a student-facing project seeking to ignite a campus-wide conversation about embracing the power of reframing unexpected moments in life.

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Kristina Odejemi sits in front of a camera and lights

Behind the scenes: Kristina Bethea Odejemi, Campus Life

Behind the scenes: Kristina Bethea Odejemi, Campus Life

 Ed Lee III surrounded by lights, microphones and cameras

Behind the scenes: Ed Lee III, Emory College of Arts and Sciences

Behind the scenes: Ed Lee III, Emory College of Arts and Sciences

Munir Meghjani surrounded by cameras and lights

Behind the scenes: Munir Meghjani, Oxford College and Emory College alum

Behind the scenes: Munir Meghjani, Oxford College and Emory College alum

Growing up, Joanne Williams was fascinated with the field of medicine. When she entered college, she set her sights on becoming a doctor.

She carefully curated her path, taking all the necessary courses and co-curricular activities to make it into medical school.

Until she stumbled.

“I kept taking the MCAT, and my scores were too low for admission,” says Williams 18PH, director of student engagement at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. “There was a feeling of failure, and there was a feeling of disappointment and even a little bit of an identity crisis that I experienced.”

After several exam retakes and continued disappointment, Williams was forced to pause for a moment and reflect on what truly filled her cup.

She remembered back to her time in college when she enjoyed engaging in student organizations, working in resident life and advising students as a peer mentor. She found joy and purpose in engaging with students, and this realization sparked her to redirect her goals and ambitions.

“After getting more experience in community capacity building and understanding what is required of the field — and also getting more experience advising students — I found my way,” Williams says. 

Williams reframed what she initially thought was a defeat as an opportunity to explore her real passions and find a fulfilling career.

“What I learned from that experience is that when a door closed for me, and when I figured out that there was something that just wasn’t meant for me, a window opened. I crawled out of the window and found the job and the role I was supposed to be doing all along,” she says.

Williams shares her story, along with several others, as part of the “Reframes: Discovering the Possible” project. Emory invites students to do the same: embrace the power of reframing the unexpected moments in life.

a photo of Joanne Williams' hand holding a card that reads: "Mistakes taught me to allow grace for myself and others"
a portrait of Joanne Williams

Reframing the narrative

Mistakes and missteps are part of being human; so is recognizing that no one is perfect. Though it’s inevitable to stumble, people can find themselves stuck in fear or regret and miss the opportunity to find incredible new journeys and develop greater resilience.

To counter this, it’s necessary to embrace the power of reframing life’s unexpected moments. The Reframes project seeks to ignite a campus-wide conversation about the challenges and self-doubt everyone carries.

During each week of the project, a different campus leader will embrace being vulnerable and share their story of perseverance in a video on social media. These individuals represent diverse areas across campus and exhibit a variety of important experiences. All information can be found on the Reframes website, along with resources available across campus.

In a video describing the Reframes project, James Raper, associate vice president for health, well-being, access and prevention in Campus Life, highlighted the need for these conversations to occur in order to create a community at Emory that supports student flourishing by allowing each individual to be their true selves. He notes, though, that societal barriers can make authenticity difficult.

“That can be because of bias, racism, classism. But it also can be because many of us share a fear of failure and an intense sense of competition,” says Raper. “Because of that pressure that many of us feel collectively, we can feel like we have to hide or put on a mask that we’re okay.”

“We want to invite the community to come together and take off the masks we often feel like we have to wear.”
— James Raper

Raper hopes that throughout the course of the project, students can normalize the experience of struggling through a misstep, tough decision or setback with one another and realize how common it is to making mistakes and still succeed — aided by the guidance of Emory campus leaders and their vulnerability. 

“We invited those faculty, staff and alumni who students see as successful to tell their own stories,” says Raper. “It’s my hope that from the entirety of this campaign, that students’ perfectionism and anxiety about failure is interrupted, that they will instead take the approach of being curious about what might be around the corner.”

Emory faculty, staff and alumni telling their own stories throughout spring semester will provide kindling for this conversation about well-being to spread to every corner of campus.

Their remarkable experiences of charting a new course after a pitfall — and being vulnerable about the challenges everyone faces — will undoubtedly strengthen the Emory community and open the doors for a new kind of transparency related to well-being.

"What I know our community needs — and I don't think this is unique to college and university students — is a community where we can bring our full selves." Learn more about the Reframes campaign from James Raper.

Connecting through common experiences

For Michael “MJ” Curtis Jr., a doctor of nursing practice student in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, the Reframes project reflects a journey he embarked on a few years before coming to Emory.

After graduating from the University of Tennessee Knoxville, Curtis was set to take his national licensure examination to become a registered nurse, but he hit a roadblock when he failed his exam.

After giving himself time to process the setback, he shifted his mindset – with help from his mom and best friend — to focus on the opportunities he gained because of that failed exam.

“I started to think about how I was thankful for more time to study so I can invest in somebody’s life. I was thankful because I was able to serve as an extern and get more experience on a unit,” Curtis says. “I got into that space and then I began to shift my energy.”

Forty-five days later, he took the exam again and passed.

Curtis says that the Reframes project uniquely approaches failure, and he believes students will benefit from this novel approach.

“Campus leaders talk about failure in an intentional way, normalizing the process and destigmatizing what it means to have failures,” he says.

“We can stop thinking of failure as a dead end and look at it as something that builds resilience.”
— Michael “MJ” Curtis Jr.

Curtis noted that this type of vulnerability is incredibly powerful to connect people who have experienced similar hardships and encourage those conversations.

“Imagine dealing with some type of failure or traumatic event and you think it’s unique to you, or you think you’re alone,” Curtis says. “It’s not that you’re alone or unheard. It’s just that other people aren’t chatting about it. I think that once we start to talk about it, it won’t be such a quiet thing, but something that can be constructive and we can bring people out of a dark place.”

Karyn Lisker, a fourth-year Emory College student double-majoring in music and psychology, agrees that it’s necessary to demonstrate vulnerability to show students that even the most accomplished leaders have stumbled.

“Something I’ve realized through talking with friends is that students are always looking for more transparency in any situation,” says Lisker. “Authenticity, truth. Whether that be because it’s been lacking in society over many years or just because that’s what we desire as human beings.”

She notes that the Reframes message will reach students at a critical point in their lives, one that is often filled with many ups, downs and uncertainties.

“A project like this at the college level is the perfect time to create such a strong message and narrative of how to practice well-being in a pivotal moment of people’s lives when there’s so much potential for growth, if you take advantage of it,” says Lisker. 

Megan Mayfield, a fourth-year nursing PhD candidate planning to pursue academia, believes that glimpsing into the past of accomplished Emory community members is a welcome perspective.

“It gives us a lens into administration and faculty that we wouldn’t normally see otherwise,” says Mayfield. “I think a lot of times students see the word ‘administration’ and it’s very intimidating. You feel like they can’t relate to you on that kind of level, but I appreciate them being so open.”

Mayfield also says the project is incredibly important in light of increasing attention to social media.

“The fear of failure is so strong with the rise of social media. There are all these portrayals of everyone’s highlight reels, and you don’t see the struggle behind it.”
— Megan Mayfield

“With Reframes, students can see that everyone’s path is not just this picture-perfect road to achievement,” she explains. “Being able to see that from people who are in these high-achieving roles is really encouraging because it makes you not feel like such a failure when you do have those setbacks. You can just see that it’s a part of the journey.”

portrait of a hand holding a card that reads "because of my mistakes I was able to grow"
portrait of a hand holding a card that reads "Life's challenges made me stronger and beautifully flawed." "

Value in vulnerability

Mayfield, Lisker and Curtis all played a behind-the-scenes role in the campaign. As members of Emory’s Student Well-being Advisory Committee (SWAC), headed by Raper, the three students were among the group that provided input about well-being at Emory. They also serve as a voice for the needs and concerns of the student body to be represented in the project.

“It’s been a really great group,” Mayfield says. “I feel like the administrators that lead SWAC are so passionate about listening to feedback from students and assessing our needs. There are a lot of things that students are facing, and each situation is unique.” 

For Raper, including SWAC in the process of creating Reframes was a no-brainer.

“It’s why even having an advisory committee is so valuable. It’s a diverse group of graduate, professional and undergraduate students who are so invested in making Emory better. They are open to learning and also have so much to teach me and all of us about student well-being,” says Raper. “Their feedback has been a critical part of what we have produced.”

Reframes galleries are on display in the Emory Student Center, complete with QR codes so you can watch videos of campus leaders telling stories of life's unexpected detours.

Lisker, Curtis and Mayfield all say they saw their own journeys represented throughout the Reframes vignettes. Hearing stories of missteps that turned into triumphs helped them feel validated and heard.

“That’s what this is all about: being heard. Even though campus leaders are the ones in the videos, you can still feel heard by hearing someone else’s story. Our experiences are validated, and we are invited to share our stories just the same.”
— Karyn Lisker

“I hope that this conversation about failure and it being a delicate thing will allow people to know that they are not alone,” Curtis says. “Students can find a friend and somebody who will listen. I think listening is the biggest thing: hearing somebody for who they are and seeing them for who they are.”

A student walks by posters showing Reframes photos and cards.

Reframes galleries are on display in the Emory Student Center, complete with QR codes so you can watch videos of campus leaders telling stories of life's unexpected detours.

Reframes galleries are on display in the Emory Student Center, complete with QR codes so you can watch videos of campus leaders telling stories of life's unexpected detours.

An invitation to reframe your own experiences

The video vignettes and vulnerable stories from Emory faculty, staff and alumni are just the beginning.

Anyone can visit the portrait galleries in the Atlanta campus Student Center. The portrait series highlights faculty, staff and alumni’s advice to students – and lessons they learned for themselves – from the reexamination of past hurdles.

Students can also share their own Reframes stories. Stop by Asbury Circle on the Atlanta campus during Wonderful Wednesday on Feb. 21, March 20 and April 17 to give peer-to-peer words of encouragement.

Lastly, throughout spring semester, students can join a “Reframes: Dinner and Dialogue” event series that will provide guided conversations on topics related to managing challenges and finding purpose. RSVP to the dinners on Feb. 21, March 26 and April 18.

The conversation doesn’t end this semester. Instead, it’s the start of a broader effort that encourages the Emory community to connect with one another about failures, missteps, successes and well-being. Raper says this project is a way to open the door to broader conversations about challenges and is an opportunity to drop the façade that so often stands between true connection.

“What I hope for is the practice of us sitting around a table, talking more openly and seeing each other as fully the humans we are, not in the performances that we try to project out there for others,” Raper says.

To learn more about Reframes, reach out to or visit the website.

Share your story:

Wonderful Wednesday | Asbury Circle

  • Feb. 21
  • March 20
  • April 17

Reframes: Dinner and Dialogue

  • Feb. 21
  • March 26
  • April 18

About this story:

Written by Anna Chapman. Photography by Kay Hinton and Sarah Woods. Videos by Sarah Woods and Corey Broman-Fulks of Emory Photo & Video. Campaign design by Peta Westmaas. Campaign directed by Sarah Woods. Story design by Laura Douglas-Brown.

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