Olivet The Magazine | 16 Transformation Stories

Students, faculty and staff reflect on the concept of transformation as it relates to their Olivet experiences.

The college experience results in profound spiritual, mental and emotional alterations for many students. Academic challenges stretch the mind and social interactions strengthen the ethos of campus culture. The following are excerpts from the "16 Stories" feature in the spring 2020 issue of Olivet The Magazine. To read the full version, click here.

"My freshman year at Olivet truly was a transformative one for me. I entered the academic year as an unhappy and purposeless person, and I really wasn't looking for ways to change that state of mind. I made sure to structure my first year in a way that wouldn’t allow for much connection on campus, but, nonetheless, I had staff members and students reaching out and seeking to connect with me. I finally gave in and began to foster a relationship with two staff members: Jorge Bonilla and Jennifer McClellan ’91/’14 M.A..

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Together, they reached into my experience and invited me to be open and vulnerable with them. In March of my freshman year, I had the opportunity to travel on a missions trip to an orphanage in Mexico. That trip and the time spent serving with my team pushed me to be real and honest with myself about how much I was craving a new purpose and a new beginning for my life. My heart grew with the reality that I had a God who was inviting me to find that in Him. Upon returning to the U.S., my life began to take new form. I began to actively search for ways in which I could learn more about this new beginning in Christ and how I could live more fully in that transformation. I can now see the incredible people God surrounded me with that year — incredible friends, staff members and mentors — had a hand in my transformation, and for that I am incredibly grateful."
Jonathan Gonzalez is a senior majoring in biology.

"When I think of the word transformation, I think of a change of heart or a process one might go through. As a faculty member, I continually witness the change and transformation of our students as they mature here over four years. What is most exciting to watch is not only their physical maturity but also their spiritual maturity.

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The department aspires to bring practical application and hands-on learning to the classroom by providing experiences for students including mock trials, mock crime scenes, arson demonstrations, tactical police training, field trips, guest speakers and role-play opportunities at the Illinois State Police Academy. By utilizing these experiences, we are able to bridge the gap between theory and practice and provide practical application opportunities. These techniques provide our students with a balance between what they will encounter in the field and how they will address these situations in the future. We also encourage our students to become servant leaders. I believe this is what sets our graduates apart when they seek employment after graduation. They not only have the intellectual knowledge required to do the job, but they also have the heart of a servant. By holding them to a higher standard both ethically and morally, we are helping to mold and transform the future leaders of our communities."
Dr. Shelly (Mendell) Stroud ’90 is an assistant professor of criminal justice.

"Jesus told stories. Lots of them. He told stories about lost sheep, good Samaritans and prodigal sons. In all of these stories, Jesus sought to teach us to be better humans and to love more deeply. I like to think that the stories we have brought to life on the ONU stage transform in these same ways. The Crucible teaches us the consequences of letting falsehoods run rampant. Cotton Patch Gospel and Godspell remind us that the truths taught by Jesus are timeless and universal. Anatomy of Gray teaches us to guard against prejudice. These Shining Lives and A Piece of My Heart show us the courage required to make a difference in our world. Our Town teaches us to appreciate life while we live it — the painful, beautiful life it is. When we sit in a theatre and watch a story of universal themes acted out, we are transformed.

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Again and again, I see students get involved in theatre and be transformed. Students are cast in roles which push them beyond their own experience and force them to walk in another’s shoes for a time. This invariably leads to transformed hearts which grow in their capacity to love, to empathize, to care about those who are different from themselves. One particular student transformation stands out in my mind. Ashley Sarver ’15 first took the Olivet stage in 2012 as the comic and haughty Queen Aggravain in Once Upon a Mattress. It was a lighthearted musical and very much in her wheelhouse. She had never even contemplated performing in a serious drama that dealt with weighty issues. But for the previous decade, I had been waiting for a student with the maturity and gravitas to pull off the role of Vivian Bearing, an English professor with stage 4 cancer in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Wit. As Ashley embraced that role she was transformed, both externally and internally. She gained an understanding and empathy for her grandfather, who was dying of cancer at the time. As audience members simply remained in their seats after the last ovation contemplating the play’s powerful message, the trajectory of Ashley’s life was transformed. She realized that telling stories from a stage is transformative for both the actors and the audience, and she resolved to be involved in telling those kinds of stories as her life’s work. This spring, Ashley will graduate with an M.F.A. in directing and will continue the tradition of transformative theatre at Olivet. I applaud that."
Jerry Cohagan is the theatre director and associate professor of communication.

"The most important aspect of my time as a student was how I was able to truly make my faith my own, and how God grabbed my heart in a new way. When I look back on the transformation of my faith during my time at Olivet, I thank God for His vivid and tender direction for me to attend Olivet as a student and how He gently guided me back to Olivet to pursue a career. After graduation, I got a job in the athletic training industry. There were definitely benefits, and I really enjoyed helping patients make physical and emotional recoveries. I had some really great conversations about Christ’s love with people who were experiencing real pain. I’m confident that I learned to exemplify this mindset from my professors and mentors on campus.

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One of my greatest joys now is working with the students I get to recruit through the Office of Admissions. I pray that they will be blessed by the same gift of Olivet that I have experienced as a student and staff member. The team I work with now lifts me up and comes alongside me not only in the office but in life. They make me want to be better and do better for the Kingdom of God. There is a mission here unlike anywhere else, and I am truly grateful to be a part of such a beautiful thing!"
Alyssa (Wilkins) Groome ’13 is an undergraduate admissions counselor and the athletic liaison for the Office of Admissions.

"It may sound cliché, but I really do have the best job. I’m immersed in student life, whether it be from my home base, the Douglas E. Perry Student Life and Recreation Center, or the many campus events I get to be a part of throughout the year. I have one of the best seats in the house to see how a life can be transformed at Olivet.

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With more than 100 student workers on our team, I get to know some of the amazing stories of these young men and women. I watch students walk through the natural progression of a four-year collegiate experience, and I’ve learned during my time in this role that the vast number of changes that occur in students’ lives are constant and often overwhelming. Some of the changes are simply a function of getting older, while some are devastating adjustments to their lives. But something special happens when we allow God to transform us in the midst of the ups and downs. I often meet with students who are asking hard questions about why something has happened to them, or, even scarier, what’s next after graduation. Instead of them fearing the change that has or is to come, we often talk about the decision that they can make to allow God to use them in the midst of the chaos. Knowing that God is relentless in His desire to shape us to be more like Him is more than comforting: It’s transformational, and it’s an honor to walk with students through those moments of transformation."
Matt Smith ’00 is the director of recreation services.

"Navigating community living, engaging locally and discovering my calling at Olivet have truly transformed me and the lens through which I view the world. During the fall semester of 2018, I had the opportunity to study in the American Studies Program (ASP) in Washington, D.C. The semester was incredibly challenging, as I was interning full time for the House of Representatives and taking classes that focused on the role of religion in government, justice and personal responsibility.

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It was through this study abroad partnership between Olivet and BestSemester that I truly found my passion for public policy. I was immersed in a program with Christian values and surrounded by a community of believers living out their faith in our nation’s capital. I was deeply moved by my studies pertaining to gentrification and social justice. My time in the ASP program left me with the question, “What is mine to do?” Using the education and skills I developed during my time on Capitol Hill, I hope to transform conversations on campus regarding poverty, racism and privilege. Transformation of any kind — be that spiritually, academically or socially — leaves no room for passivity. Change isn’t simple, and it certainly does not happen quickly. It takes discipline, struggle and a lot of motivation. I’m so thankful that Olivet successfully equips its students with those necessary skills to transform the world."
Ellie Murphy is a senior double majoring in international business and political science.

For more information about life at Olivet, contact the Office of Admissions at admissions@olivet.edu or 800-648-1463.

Published 4/30/2020
LB