Best friends since their days on the Power of the Pen team at Wyoming Middle School, Cambray Smith and Erin Engelhardt moved far apart after high school - Cambray to college in North Carolina, Erin to Minnesota.
But they didn’t let distance disrupt their relationship. “Writing has been such a huge part of our friendship,” Cambray says. “We used to journal together, still regularly write each other notes and letters, and encourage each other to read and reflect all the time.”
After her 2018 college graduation, Cambray accepted an offer for a biomedical ethics research position in Minnesota, allowing the friends to reunite. For two years, they have explored their adopted state and celebrated being a part of each others’ lives again.
Erin is a first-grade teacher in Saint Paul, where 90 percent of her students are new to the English language. “I love teaching the foundational grades because it is when reading and writing come to life in young minds,” she says.
Cambray has been conducting research that explores ethical questions related to medicine and science. “My current job consists of reading, asking questions, thinking, and writing, which is a perfect match for a Power of the Pen alum,” Cambray notes.
In summer 2020, Cambray moved away again to join an M.D.-Ph.D. program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is focused on public health. Cambray and Erin plan to remain close, and both look back fondly on their Power of the Pen experiences.
Erin credits Power of the Pen with giving her a place to belong. “Finding a community that affirmed who I was and cultivated something I loved was a gamechanger for me,” she says. Cambray will take the lessons learned in Power of the Pen into the medical field. “By learning how to find my voice and communicate with others through narrative and fiction, I emerged with the ability to more empathetically engage with others,” Cambray says. “Over time, I’ve realized that each person’s story is as powerful to them as my own lived experiences ... This perspective will be especially important for me to remember when interacting with my future patients, who I aim to always treat with dignity, compassion, and respect.”