Her Campus Graduating Cutie: Shannon Exley '18

As the year comes to an end, Her Campus American is getting ready to say goodbye to some of our best. Shannon Exley will be graduating from American University in just a few weeks. Shannon has been an amazing addition to the Her Campus AU team since her Sophomore year, serving as everything from a writer to Editor in Chief and member of the social media team. We're excited for this girlboss' bubbly future, yet still sad to see her go. I had the chance to sit down with this fun-loving, energetic cutie before she graduates and talk about her favorite HCAU experiences, plans for the future and more!


Major/minor: Psychology major with minors in Education Studies and Special Education.

Her Campus American University: Where did you grow up?

Shannon Exley: I was born and raised in Oceanside, California which is in San Diego.

HCAU: What are some of the things that you’re involved in on Campus?

SE: I’ve been involved in athletics. I was on the swim team for four years but now I’m retired. I’m in a mentorship program for athletes and I am a member of the student-athlete advisory committee for NCAA at AU. I also conduct research in the child anxiety lab at AU

HCAU: What have been your roles in Her Campus over the years?

SE: My sophomore year I was a feature writer and wrote weekly articles. The following semester I wanted to become more involved and so I applied to be a section editor and did that for a semester. The following semester I became the managing editor and was able to work closely with the Editor in Chief. Then the EIC left and I stepped up into that role. Within four semesters I was able to move up through multiple positions. Then this past semester I was a social media editor, live from Instagram!


HCAU: Which role did you most enjoy?

SE: Instagram is really fun, don’t get me wrong! But being Editor in Chief was amazing. People who know me know that I like to micromanage things so being able to work with the organization at multiple levels was great. I loved being able to guide and influence the organization through that position. It was fun and exciting to work with the organization in that way. I also enjoyed working closely with Chelsea, the Fall 2018 president, and Arielle, the president for the Spring 2017 semester.

HCAU: What has been your favorite part of being part of the Her Campus AU team?

SE: One of my favorite parts was being able to work on the menstrual hygiene products project with Chelsea. It was great being able to meet Fanta Aw  and work with her while completing this project. Then being able to see the project come to fruition was pretty cool. It was awesome to be able to use our platform to see something happen. It was very exciting!

I’ve also enjoyed Women of the Year, especially last year since I was able to work on the detailed planning of that event. I enjoyed getting to know all of the women, hear their speeches, and learn more about their stories.


HCAU: What are three words to describe yourself?

SE: I’m going to say bossy but in a good way. I like to think back to one of the Women of the Year from last year who gave the the speech with the anecdote about her mom saying how her daughter wasn’t bossy because she was outspoken and loud, she was a leader. So I would describe myself as bossy but with a leadership mentality. I would also say determined because I always have a goal I’m set on, which probably comes from all the years of swimming. And curious. The science/psychology part of me is very curious and I think that’s why I like to do research and ask all of these questions and try to find answers.

HCAU: Who’s a woman that inspires you?

SE: Well first I have to say my mom. Just knowing that she supported me and gave up her career to take care of my sister and I, and to just be a really good mom who always supported us.

Another woman would be my best friend/roommate who’s on the Volleyball team. She’s gone through a lot of challenges, especially this year, in all three domains of her life. But at the end of the day she’s still the happiest, nicest, and kindest person. Just knowing that she goes through hard days, especially with her work as a student-athlete on the volleyball team, and comes home with a smile on her face is just the most inspirational thing to me.


HCAU: What are your post graduation plans?

SE: I actually have some! I am going to be working at Uniformed Services University for the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD with their department of Psychology. They’re associated with Walter Reed, which is a military hospital, and they have a center for the study of traumatic stress. I plan to stay in the area, work with them and conduct psychology research, and then after two years I hope to go on to pursue my PhD in Clinical Psychology. After that I hope to go on and work with the military! There’s just so much that you can do with both the military and civilians in that area.


HCAU: How have you changed since freshman year?

SE: When I came in freshman year I was about 20 lbs lighter than I am now, haha.  My freshman year I was thrown into the AU weight room for the first time ever, and I gained muscle so much faster than I ever would have expected (I’m not kidding, I gained this muscle in a matter of 3-4 months).  So first of all, I’m a lot stronger physically (shout out to my strength coaches, Mario, Phil, and Sean). I also have more direction in my life. I generally know what I would like to do, with some more confidence. I have also met a lot of the goals that I set for myself, especially in terms of swimming. You come in to any division 1 sport in college with so many goals for yourself and you don’t really know which ones you’ll achieve. In terms of dropping time and things like that, I definitely think that I exceeded a lot of these goals.

In terms of my personal development goals, I really think I achieved a lot of those as well. Getting to a point in my senior year where I had a pretty bad injury, but I was still able to keep a level head about it and coming to terms with it was a big thing for me. Being able to talk to the people I needed to talk to in order to get better and get the help I need was really important. I was able to advocate for myself and get people to listen to me.

In terms of academics, I think I am a little less of a perfectionist and a little more laid back. I’ve become a little more relaxed; I’m fine if things don’t go exactly as they’re supposed to or as I wanted them to, because in life everything won’t happen as you want it to. It’s good to be able to learn now how to deal with things that don’t go perfectly and develop the skills to be able to deal with them.

HCAU: What has been your best experience at AU?

SE: Without a doubt it has been swimming. From my coaches and teammates, to the whole experience. Seeing the incredible people who came before you and what they’ve done and how they’ve shaped and influenced who I am has made this the experience of a lifetime. A coach who believes in you and is doing everything he can to make you better and make sure that you have the best season that you possibly can and finish your career the best way you possible can has been amazing. Nothing compares to working out for 4 or 5 hours a day and putting your heart into the pool. Then getting to the end of the season and seeing all your hard work pay off is a feeling I can’t even describe. From the friendships and the relationships and being able to see results from endless hours of hard work was an irreplaceable experience.  I look back on the moments where coach has given us the hardest workout you could possibly imagine, or the moments where you’re in a race and your body was on fire because you’re giving it everything you’ve got and you have no idea how you’re going to finish it because that’s how tired you are. I think about the times when you’re dying to take a breath at the end of your race but you know that if you do, it means your time will be slower. Fighting through all of these moments has made me a better person and a great swimmer. Swimming has brought so much light to my life, and has made me who I am today, and for this I will always love the sport and what it has taught me.

HCAU: What’s your all time favorite movie, song, and TV show?

SE: My favorite movie is V for Vendetta. I absolutely love Natalie Portman. Oh no, I can’t pick a favorite song. That’s not possible! I have to say I have a soft spot in my heart for Grey’s Anatomy.


HCAU: How have you felt as a woman in STEM?

SE: As a woman in the social sciences I’m actually very lucky to be in psychology where there are a lot of women. Basically all of your classes are filled with women, so I think that’s a really good part of being in my field. However, a lot of men tend to still hold higher up positions. The place I’ll be working at, there are about 8 people in positions of leadership and only one is a woman. Fortunately for me she’ll be my mentor so I’m really excited to work with a strong woman who is very well established in her field. It’s cool that women are breaking into these higher positions in this field! Today there are far more women than men in graduate programs in Psychology. I look forward to seeing a movement of more women to high-ranking leadership positions in this field. There’s nothing stopping us!