Alumni Feature: Barbara VanHeest

Young adulthood may be the most exciting time in life.  It is also the only time in your life when it seems acceptable for everyone, including complete strangers to ask “What do plan to do after graduation?”

When I arrived at Hope in the fall of 1983, the question was the same, and my answer was very vague.  I had no particular career in mind, and pictured a future where I would wear nice clothes, carry a briefcase, and go to an office every day to do “important” work.  So, with that plan in mind, a Business Major seemed like a good idea.

Turns out that was a popular choice of major with incoming freshman that fall.  My schedule filled up with many core classes and no business classes, and one of those was Modern European History.  That class changed everything for me.  I quickly left my intended Business Major behind and pursued a degree in History instead, which included a May term abroad, and working as a teaching assistant to Dr. Baer in his freshman level courses.

Fast forward 4 years to spring of 1987.  As a graduating senior I was trying to figure out how my History Major skills – which included filling endless blue books to overflowing, long research hours at the library,  piles of notecards with original source citations, and lots and lots of reading – were going to translate into a real job.

What I know now, that I did not know then, was that the skills and preparation I’d received as a History Major translated very well into the business field I’d originally imagined.  I took an entry level management position at a bank, and quickly learned that the ability to sort through a tremendous amount of information quickly and isolate what was relevant to the matter at hand was a skill that most of my peers did not have.  As I moved into different positions, again the experiences as a History Major proved valuable as it was often necessary to make a decision based on thoughtful review of relevant facts, draw conclusions, and write persuasively to an audience I may or may not meet.

My time as a History Major at Hope shaped the way I see and approach the world around me with tools that I put to use daily to further my career in my chosen field.  I learned perspective, thoroughness, curiosity, decision-making, effective communication.  As the years go by I realize how important these things are not only in my professional life, but also in preparing me for all the other important roles I play…student, graduate, wife, mom, mentor, encourager, activist, leader, and teacher all come to mind.

I’m celebrating my 30th year in the banking industry this year.  If you had told me this when I arrived at Hope in the fall of 1983, it would have seemed as unlikely as a car that drives itself, or having a digital assistant named Siri.  But that is just the point.   Here we are in a future that we may not have ever imagined 30 years ago, but the preparation  received as a History Major at Hope has proven timeless.

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