February 25, 2022

Shelby Smith ’12 says she is as close to doing the work she was put on earth to do as she will ever be.

As a specialist in the homicide unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, Smith writes mitigation reports that a judge or jury can use to consider a defendant’s life experience when sentencing.

“While this is a researched-based document that is submitted to the court as evidence, it has to be compelling,” Smith said. “It highlights those life events that shaped the defendant and accounts for how the defendant came to be where they are today. Someone has to read this report and actually care about the defendant.”

“The crux of what I do is storytelling,” Smith said. Smith, along with Anastasia Ballasy ’21 and Alison Cerri ’19, participated in Susquehanna’s annual Break Through student-alumni professional networking conference.

Smith is a unique example of the many ways Susquehanna graduates use their degrees in creative writing.

Ballasy is a compensation analyst with Hershey Entertainment and Resorts where she drafts and edits job descriptions.

“When working with job descriptions you want to make sure that the language you’re using makes sense within the industry and is interesting and appeals to applicants,” Ballasy explained.

Cerri is an associate publicist for HarperCollins Publishers where she promotes books that span across genres, from memoir to self-help to literary fiction.

“Book publishing has always been an interest of mine, but book publicity became my passion as an intern with Wunderkind PR, a boutique book publicity company,” Cerri said. “I began my journey with HarperCollins as a publicity intern with William Morrow the summer after graduating from Susquehanna and I joined the HarperOne Group as an assistant publicist in 2020.”

Speaking to a group of more than 60 students, Ballasy, Cerri and Smith encouraged them to pursue classes outside of their major that support their future career goals — like taking business courses if pursuing a career in publishing or political science classes if they want to work within the criminal justice system — while also ensuring their writing and editing skills are sharp.

“My writing degree has made me indispensable in my current role,” Smith said. “I have to write in such a way that I can compel a judge and jury’s humanity and that has made a massive difference.”