Erin Beal (B.A. ′16, Rhetoric and Writing Studies) is capable of much more than some might think. She’s not only authored a children’s book and founded an autism wellness center, but is also pursuing a master’s degree in developmental disabilities at Teachers College, Columbia University.
While her path to success hasn’t been free of thorns, it’s led Erin to become the person and the professional she’s meant to be. “I've been homeless, made a survivor of intimate partner violence, and was recently detained for over an hour by TSA and Dallas police over a button-fly,” she said. “Roses and poison ivy have both flourished in my garden. Thankfully, more roses.”
Today, Erin is the director of communications and sensory design with Sensory Health, a Dallas-based company whose mission is to improve health equity for people with sensory processing challenges associated with autism, ADHD, anxiety and PTSD. Since graduating from WMU, her life has taken many turns.
“It could be a novel to be quite honest,” she said. “I was accepted into and then expelled from a graduate linguistics program, diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, began studying developmental disabilities at Columbia University, became a personal trainer, opened (and closed) the Autism Wellness Center of Southwest Michigan, published a children’s book, and was hired by Sensory Health.”
As part of Sensory Health, Erin recently designed and helped direct the installation of an enchanted forest-themed, sensory-modulated waiting room at a Jackson, MI dental clinic. Two treatment rooms were also outfitted with soundproofing materials, ceiling projection lights, and personal sensory items such as earmuffs and fidget toys.
“I’m really proud of that work. It's such a beautiful space that feels so relaxing to spend time in,” she said. “The enchanted forest has soundproofing materials from floor to ceiling, six unique LED features, custom firefly curtains, a butterfly display and an LED willow tree.”
“Having sensory issues myself, it means a lot to me to be able to create sensory-safe spaces for people to decompress and self-regulate,” she continued.
In her latest role, Erin has been putting the undergraduate degree she earned at Western to good use, too. “I also use my professional and digital writing skills from my undergraduate program to create communications materials and disseminate information,” she said.
During her time here, she interned as a communications assistant at WMU’s Extended University Programs (now WMUx). There, Erin gained a lot of valuable field experience that increased her credibility and fueled her career trajectory as a communications professional. In addition to having this opportunity, she feels fortunate she was recommended for and received various departmental scholarships.
University faculty made a big impact on Erin, too; specifically, Dr. Brian Gogan (Associate Professor in Rhetoric and Writing Studies and Director of First-Year Writing) and Dr. Maria Gigante (Associate Professor in Rhetoric and Writing Studies). “Dr. Gogan is one of the single most helpful and influential figures of my entire career. From his perspective, he's simply doing his job the best he can, but when compared to virtually anyone else, his intentionality, wisdom, and support show he really goes above and beyond for his students,” Erin said.
“Dr. Gigante was also extremely helpful and informative for me as I transitioned from undergrad to graduate student,” she said. “Drs. Gigante and Gogan are both incredibly generous with their time and knowledge. If they don't think something will work, they'll tell you.”
After leaving WMU’s English program, Erin decided to major in rhetoric and writing studies. The technical writing courses appealed to her from a career skills standpoint and the department leads provided her with the flexibility she desired. “They allowed me to take linguistics electives versus literature,” she said. “Because I was applying to graduate programs in linguistics, I minored in speech and hearing sciences and was able to tailor my coursework directly to my short- and long-term goals.”
Although she didn’t complete her master’s degree in linguistics, her love for and dedication to writing has endured.
“I just wanted to find a career path where I could be myself and help other people,” Erin told MLive in January 2022. “Unfortunately, the center [Autism Wellness Center of Southwest Michigan] had to close due to COVID. So, I began doing a lot of creative writing and art in my free time, and that’s when the story came together.”
This “story” is Erin’s children’s fable titled “I am Enough: Little 1’s Journey.” The book is geared toward all ages and “anyone who feels a little different.” Erin wrote it to help instill confidence in others who may be facing challenges like her own.
“I hope people will be inspired to keep going, and accept themselves as they are, but also accept other people as they are,” she said.
As far as encouraging current Broncos, she offers this advice: take full advantage of all the knowledge and support professors can provide. “They are the single greatest resource you have as a student. Don't hesitate even for a minute to approach them for anything you need, school- or career-wise, she said. “I've had assistance from WMU faculty members whom I never even had as a professor. That's the great thing about going to a University as large as Western: there are a lot of different leaders with diverse work styles and academic priorities.”
Beyond academics, she also added, “Attend concerts and classical performances at Dalton. I went to quite a few concerts but didn't truly appreciate being able to attend a pro-level, live musical performance, for free, and within walking distance from home. The world beyond college doesn't offer many opportunities like that, so take them while you can!”
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