Meet our new Office Manager & Hope Alum ’12, Alison Lechner, as she shares how her experience at Hope shaped her career.
How did your Hope education shape you?
I feel very blessed to have earned a liberal arts education, and that has absolutely benefited me in my career post-graduation. I was a History and Environmental Studies composite major, which allowed me to tailor a lot of my research in a way that I know I would have never been able to do had I gone to a traditional university.
I eventually went on to work in arts administration and earn my Masters in Art History, and I know that my writing skills set me apart as a candidate in the art world. In grad school, I was much more prepared than most of my classmates when it came to research writing and critical thinking. The liberal arts do such a tremendous job at teaching you how to think, not necessarily what to think. I’ve spent a lot of my art historical research on the notion of institutional critique, and I think my interest in that topic was inspired by this innate sense of questioning that I learned here.
I also took writing courses that allowed me to be creative. I know my work in copywriting and art criticism has truly benefited from the creative writing courses I took at Hope. Heather Sellers was my creative writing professor and was my first example of how discipline needs to be a constant companion of a creative life. She often preached to us about routine, prompts, and a need to see your writing as a kind of muscle that should be stretched and challenged in order to grow.
I’m a highly organized person (hence why I love being an office manager), and I think her way of approaching the writing process really made sense to me as a creative person who also needs order to produce results. I’ve never been some bohemian artist; I thrive on strategy and timelines, and Heather was the first person to show me that there was more than one way to nurture your life as a creative. That has probably been one of the most important things I ever learned at Hope.
Favorite book read recently or in college?
I have a 3-way tie for this! Two recent choices are Michael Pollen’s How to Change Your Mind and Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World, plus one from my college days: Marion Winik’s Glen Rock Book of the Dead.
Pollan is an exceptional researcher, someone who has a real talent for fleshing out the origins of the topic he is writing about – in this case, the use of Psilocybin in therapy. I learn so much from his writing, both from a historian’s perspective and from a deep appreciation of his ability to make complex topics engaging.
Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World really inspired me to pursue work in the arts and is a refreshingly honest take on how the modern art world operates. Working with and for artists on a large scale can be both challenging and rewarding, and Thornton doesn’t shy away from the sometimes contradictory aspects of working in the arts. I re-read it usually once a year and I always take something new away from it every time.
I was really lucky to read Winik’s Glen Rock Book of the Dead in Heather Seller’s ENGL 454 class, and it quickly became my favorite book of all time (See my lovely classmate Stephanie Mouw’s similar adoration for this text in her blog post). Winik’s skill as a poet is so visible in her short stories; she creates these incredibly tender, artful vignettes of people she knew who have died. I’ve had a recent loss of someone who was really larger-than-life, and Winik’s writing always seems like the most complete understanding of grief which otherwise has felt like such an enigma.
What do you now wish you had learned or done in college?
I wish that I had been more focused on my life after college, which is something that took me longer than I’d like to figure out. My advice is to talk to professionals whose career you admire while you’re in school, and don’t stop learning even once you are out of the classroom. Stay curious about the things you love and they will never become work.
What are your goals for the History and English Departments?
I would love to gain more exposure for both departments among the student body. Both English and History are programs that are applicable to wide variety of career paths. I believe a core foundation in writing and research are so vital to success in the working world; being able to communicate your ideas effectively and creatively is truly invaluable. All of the professors that work in these departments are so passionate about their area of expertise and we are really lucky to be able to learn from them.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I’m an avid boxer and I love being active – yoga, lifting, running, hiking. Since I’ve moved back to Michigan, I spend as much time outside in nature as I can. I’m also a photographer and try to participate in the arts scene between here, Saugatuck, and Grand Rapids – my goal is to start writing art reviews, which I was lucky enough to do in Atlanta [where Alison spent the past 7 years]. I try to spend a lot of time with my family and close girlfriends here as well; it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to move back.