Empowered by service

Editorial Note: What’s life like on the campus of a Presbyterian Church-related college or university? Who better to ask than a recent graduate? The three winners of the 2012 Presbyterian Outlook Church-College Partnership Award have written about how their respective schools have prepared them for a life of significant service and leadership.

In the fall of 2008, I arrived at Grove City College as a freshman, bursting with feelings of excitement about finally being “on my own,” anticipation about what the next four years would bring, and apprehension about making new friends and finding the right classrooms on my first day of classes. Now, in my final semester at Grove City College, I find myself once again experiencing feelings of excitement, anticipation, and apprehension as I prepare to leave Grove City College and enter the “real world.” However, despite these mixed emotions, I know that I am leaving Grove City well-prepared to not only live in the world but rather to engage with it in an informed and intentional way that seeks to create an inclusive community and to share God’s message of love and compassion.

When I think of my time at GCC, I cannot separate the different activities and areas of involvement that have occupied my time into distinct spheres such as academic, extracurricular or community service. Every activity and class has been anchored in two things — my faith and a calling to engage in service, which comes from my faith. Growing up, I was deeply involved at the local church where my family were members and attended weekly; however, it was at GCC, that I found a safe space and caring community that was willing to gently hold me as I explored and grappled with my faith. Over the course of my time at GCC, I was encouraged to take time to wrestle, to reflect, and to pray. It was during this time that I was able to clearly hear God calling into the field of education. Although I still do not have all the answers, I know that I have heard God’s call and seen and felt his presence in myself and in the work I have done in community and partnership with others.

Through tutoring struggling students, teaching at an English camp in Costa Rica, counseling at two different camps for urban/foster children, and working with the mentally and physically disabled at a local state center, I have had the opportunity to not only lead and serve but to also engage with many local communities. Although throughout my life, it has been my faith that has called me to serve others, it was GCC that taught me the importance of not only serving a community but rather engaging with it. GCC has helped me to critically examine traditional models of leadership and service and to instead develop leadership skills that recognize that every individual possesses his own dignity, strengths and resources. This approach taught me that it is not leadership that empowers others, but service. It is helping individuals recognize their own strengths, resources, and ability to empower themselves and their communities and then supporting them as they expand upon on these strengths. From these experiences, I have also learned the importance of trusting people, listening intentionally, sharing power and resources, and working from a place of love and compassion. In addition to these experiences, my academic courses at GCC have also helped prepare me for service and leadership in the world. They have fueled my vision to serve children. Through taking these courses, I have been equipped with the skills to help each child realize their own potential and give them the tools to be successful in the classroom and in life. My experience at GCC has taught me that teaching is more than equipping students to pass tests. It is an opportunity to be Christ.

Now, as I prepare to graduate, I know that I am not only leaving with fond memories of friends and professors or a collection of more term papers than I count. Rather, I am leaving with a more nuanced understanding of the world, a sense of service and community engagement, a tenacious faith that is anchored in prayer and community, and a calling to be a leader in the field of education and in the greater world.

Brittainy Herrmann, of North East, Pa., earned a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa.. This summer she served as lead counselor at Allegheny Center Alliance Church’s Kids’ Camp in Pittsburgh. She also participated in a mission trip to Ecuador. After that, “I’m not sure exactly what God’s will for me is,” she says.