I had been 18 for exactly three weeks when I came to college. I had completed four years at an outstanding, college-prep high school. In those four years I also experienced a move to a new state (the third since starting middle school), bankruptcy and a single mom working two jobs to keep us afloat. I was a prime candidate for Berea College—and I had no idea what I was doing. But I knew I wanted my life to be different. In high school, instead of taking study hall and being a teacher’s aid my senior year, I chose calculus and biology II as electives. I wanted to be ready for college, and I was going to major in biology and pursue dental school because that path would make me money.
In summer 1999, I visited Berea’s campus for the first time in my rusted-out 1984 Chevy Cavalier that died when I parked and refused to start the rest of the day. I attended first-year student orientation and met other students, like Shalamar Stokely Sandifer ’03 (read more about Shalamar), stayed in Anna Smith residence hall overnight and got a taste for attending college two hours away from home.
I thought it strange to only have class Monday, Wednesday and Friday and that 8 a.m. was the earliest class started—I’ve always been a morning person. I sat in an information session about technology and was given my first email address, which I thought was silly and was sure I’d never really use. If it hadn’t been for my advisor, Dr. Megan Hoffman, I don’t think I would have understood anything I was doing.
Dr. Hoffman was also my biology teacher that first semester. She had a delightful way of engaging our class, and I loved studying biology with her, especially genetics. Dr. Hoffman helped me create my schedule for the next semester, moving right along the normal biology track with botany and chemistry II. After my second day in those courses, I knew this major wasn’t for me. I asked Dr. Hoffman if I could major in biology and only focus on genetics. Unfortunately, she said, “no.” I’d have to complete the core major classes—even the ones I didn’t like. But she didn’t just leave it there and wish me well. She asked me what had been my favorite classes so far; what parts of each class had I loved the most? Then she encouraged me to spend a semester taking classes in various disciplines to see what resonated.
By the end of the next semester, I had fallen in love with writing, reading and literature. So, Dr. Hoffman encouraged me to consider an English major. After each semester she met with me and asked me to think deeply about my experiences, and she was thrilled when I finally found my passion. By my junior year when I had to officially declare a major, Dr. Hoffman had to tell me she could no longer be my advisor; I had to have an advisor from the English department. I was disappointed because she had been so instrumental in guiding me through my college journey to that point.
Looking back, I realize exactly how special her attention was. She was a biology professor, and once I decided not to pursue biology, she could have had me transfer advisors then. But she spent time looking at all types of courses with me and made recommendations that didn’t benefit her in the least, just so I could find my path. That kind of selfless empathy, compassion and care doesn’t come along often. And I’m so glad that 24 years later, Dr. Hoffman is still working with Berea’s students to ensure their success—not just in her classroom, but in every area of their lives.
Abbie Tanyhill Darst ’03 | Editor
Executive Director of Marketing and Communications