When I was looking at colleges, my mom made me tour an art school.
I didn’t understand why because I wanted to go somewhere that had options.
Yet, my mom knew I had a book I’d been trying to write and illustrate for years. I used to come home from school, sling my backpack onto the bench, and sit in front of the computer working on my story for hours – not heeding calls to dinner until my dad’s frustrated voice announced the food was getting cold.
I knew with certainty that if I didn’t finish the project at some point in my life, I would be sorely disappointed. But I also knew that I didn’t want to lock myself in to one field.
So I came to Concordia.
As a nutrition major, of all things.
You see, I knew that dietetics was one of the top-growing career fields and it was something I was interested in learning more about. In searching for small, close-knit schools, I found Concordia was one of the few that offered a nutrition degree in just four years. And when I met Betty Larson, Concordia’s head of nutrition, she seemed like such a cool person and I could tell it was a great program.
So I picked nutrition.
When I started at Concordia, Betty was not my official advisor but still took the time to meet with me throughout the year to answer nutrition questions. She knew I was still soul searching, so she let me take the introductory nutrition course a year early to see if I liked it – which I did. I came to realize, however, that I mostly just loved learning about nutrition – not so much the thought of trying to teach people about it. Still, I doggedly stuck with that major for two years because I knew I was smart enough for it and I wanted a clear-cut path.
But in my heart I still wasn’t sure. My wonderful clarinet teacher, Leigh Wakefield, was sweet enough to listen to me during my lessons and brainstorm options with me, unbiased. Having such genuine support away from home, someone listening to me and really caring, helped me figure some things out.
I can tell you, I certainly didn’t love the idea of persuading people to change their eating habits. And when I took the Strong Interest Inventory from the Career Center, the results listed nutrition as one of the jobs I would be the least happy in.
Seriously, it was at the bottom of the list.
What I did love, though, was stories. Books.
Bill Snyder, my Inquiry Written Communication professor, kept asking me why I wasn’t an English major. I remember walking through the atrium one day, seeing him at his Rwanda May Seminar booth with his yellow rain jacket, and telling him that I kind of wanted to do writing.
Fall of my sophomore year I took a Foundations in Creative Writing class with Bill and he required us to meet with him one on one to talk about our writing.
During my conference with Bill, he told me I could still fit in an English major.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah!” He reached into the stacks of papers on his shelves and retrieved a little booklet, which he gave to me. What I now held in my hands was an English handbook with the requirements I’d need for that major. It was the first time I seriously opened my stubborn eyes to the possibility of an English major.
When I got back to my dorm, I looked through the booklet at what classes I would need for English writing. A grin spread across my face as I realized that all of the classes I’d need were things I’d love to learn anyway. I felt a wrenching pull in my gut; it was scary but exciting at the same time.
At my next meeting with Betty, I told her I was toying with the idea of an English major. When she asked about my love of writing, I told her I had a series of books inside of me waiting to come out but I didn’t know what to do. I felt bad because I didn’t want to disappoint her.
But she said she’d support me in whatever I chose and said to send me a copy of my book when I got it published. That was another eye-opener. The faculty here will support you, even if you switch out of their field? Wow.
I took a one-credit class called Vocation and the Health Professions, which I would really recommend to any uncertain science majors because it gave me the time to think about what I was doing. We read “Let Your Life Speak” and the book said you can actually end up doing damage in a field you don’t love. It’s not selfish to follow your passions – it can be harmful not to. Well, this was the first I’d heard of that! I certainly didn’t want to do damage in the nutrition field.
I talked to my family about it and my mom repeated what she’d been telling me all along – that I have a “creative spirit.” My dad told me if I was going to go for it, to go for it all the way and to put in everything I had.
So, during the spring semester of my sophomore year, two things happened: I finally got the courage to officially change my major at the registrar’s office, and some Cobbers started a creative writing club. I found a group of students who loved fantasy writing as much as I did and I loved it.
This year, thanks to my experience from David Sprunger’s editing class, I edited for The Concordian mentored by Catherine McMullen and when I took a feature writing class with her, I discovered another kind of writing I love. The whole career center team has also been so supportive of me this year, helping me find a summer job in what I’m passionate about. Seriously, go talk to them – they’re awesome!
The great thing about Concordia is that we have those people here – professors, staff, peer mentors – who will listen to you and help you find what’s right for you. And with its liberal arts education, Concordia gave me those options. It gave me the chance to try going for nutrition and the flexibility to change my course.
And now I know I’ve made the right choice.
As a writing major at Concordia, I’ve received the support that I need to succeed in the field of my true passion.
Karis Baerenwald '17 studies English and art at Concordia.