It’s OK to change your mind.

For Carly Rettie, this is one of the key lessons she learned at Virginia Tech.

“I entered college thinking I wanted to be an elementary-school teacher,” said the senior human development major. “I have since had experiential learning opportunities that opened my eyes to careers in education I didn’t even know existed.”

Rettie recalls a pivotal moment in her academic journey.

Freshman year. An introductory course in human development. Rettie’s teacher sent the class to observe Virginia Tech’s Child Development Center for Learning and Research. The center provides a model preschool program and leadership for early childhood communities in teaching, learning, and research.

“I remember sitting by the playground with my notebook, watching the kids play and thinking — this is what I want to do. This is the college experience I want, being able to work with kids in this type of setting,” said Rettie. “It was exciting for me and I don’t think I will ever forget that introduction to human development.”

From that moment, Rettie dedicated herself to personal growth and serving others. In one of her first acts of service, she volunteered at a local elementary school.

Then came another “I changed my mind” moment that led her to an extraordinary opportunity. She had planned to begin a new field study position in elementary education. But at the last moment, she decided against it.

“Instead, I decided to find an internship related to education that didn’t take place in a traditional classroom setting,” she said.

She found another field study position with the Literacy Volunteers of the New River Valley, a local nonprofit that aims to support and advocate for adult learners through literacy.

“I had never worked with adult learners and, honestly, I was pretty nervous initially,” said Rettie. “But I learned so much from the adults I tutored. I learned that everyone has a story. Some of the students I worked with were immigrants learning a new language. Another student had lived 50 years without knowing how to read. The adults I worked with inspired me and led me to think about education on a broader level.”

Through the internship, Rettie explored grant writing, marketing, lesson planning, and volunteer coordination in addition to tutoring. Her experience led her on a new path: education policy.

“My internship benefited me in countless ways,” she said. “It allowed me to try just about every job a nonprofit professional can handle. It also provided me with insight into the flaws of our education systems and how I can help promote positive change.”

Through her human development major, Rettie learned the crucial skill of grant writing. As part of a Jobs for America’s Graduates internship, Rettie drafted a successful grant application for up to $1 million. She also gained skills in program planning, leading to the creation of a program for the National Children’s Museum in Washington, D.C., to implement a field trip curriculum.

As a researcher, Rettie participated in two major projects. One considered the role of experiential learning in a student’s academic journey. She presented findings to fellow college students, encouraging them to engage in experiential learning.

Through her second project, she conducted research on mental health stigmatization. The project centered on creating and launching an implicit assessment for marginalized people.

Rettie dedicated herself to service in more ways. One of her favorite memories at Virginia Tech was serving as outreach executive for The Big Event, a student-run community service initiative. She helped recruit more than 8,000 students to participate in a range of projects.

“I have been on staff for The Big Event since my freshman year and just love getting to see the Hokie community come together,” said Rettie. “One of my favorite parts of Virginia Tech is the community atmosphere, and The Big Event amplifies that.”

Rettie also assisted the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences as an ambassador and intern. She played a critical role in supporting virtual operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, organizing and leading daily sessions with prospective students and training fellow members of the ambassador team.

“It’s so exciting to speak with high-school students who are making their college decision, and then learn that I helped them choose Virginia Tech,” said Rettie.

As she starts a new chapter, she leaves behind a strong impression on faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Monica Kimbrell, assistant dean for undergraduate recruitment and experiential learning, describes Rettie as intelligent, versatile, and goal oriented.

“I’m confident she will excel in her future endeavors and will be a great representative of Virginia Tech,” Kimbrell said. “She has a big Hokie heart, and she will make a difference for other people throughout her career.”

This fall, Rettie will begin pursuing a master’s degree in politics and education at Columbia University.

Written by Andrew Adkins