by Hannah Johnsen ’16 Raycraft
It is funny now as I look back on my 18 year-old self about to start college. I was under the impression, as most soon-to-be college students are, that I had to know what I was going to study for the next four years as soon as I stepped foot on campus. Then after graduation, I was supposed get a job in that field and work at it for the rest of my life. I mean, who can blame me, or most college freshmen, for thinking this way? Every adult I encountered, after all, was asking, “So, what are you going to study?” This really means, “So, have you figured out what you are going to do for the rest of your life?” At least, it felt that way to me. I was supposed to be able to make this important decision before I even took a college class, right?
Well, no, of course not. My 23-year-old self knows that my 18-year-old self didn’t have to feel this way. But even though I fell victim to the overwhelming pressure of having to figure my professional life out back then, there were a few things I knew to be true about myself. I have always been creative, stubborn and independent. I am passionate about health and wellness, and I am curious about anatomy and nutrition. But, if I am being completely honest, a lot of these passions stemmed from insecurities I had. Like many young girls, I struggled with body image and lacked self-esteem. So when I had to pick a major, I chose exercise science because I figured that would help me understand how I could control my body better, and then when I graduated, I could help other people too.
That was the plan. I wasn’t sure how to make it happen, but I was going to stick with that plan, God willing.
So, I majored in exercise science, as I said, and enjoyed my classes very much, but I struggled with what I wanted to do when I graduated. I was in a constant battle between trusting God and His plan for me and my own fears and insecurities about my life. In the deepest part of my heart, I always knew that I was going to do something great, and that God was going to open doors at the right time. But how would I know when and where to find them?
The summer before my senior year, I went on Hope’s Vienna May and June terms. Before I returned to the U.S, I decided to extend my trip and went to visit my father’s cousin who lives in Germany. It was here that I discovered the tiger nut. This common food item to my distant family was completely foreign to me, but I fell in love with it so I brought some home for my family to try. Everyone loved it. The tiger nut breakfast porridge I had in Germany turned into a channel for my passion and dreams. You see, the tiger nut isn’t actually a nut; it is a small root vegetable that is high in iron, magnesium, and potassium. A powerhouse food, to say the least. But I had a problem when I got back home to Michigan. The tiger nut is not readily available in America.
Fast forward two years and I am now a small business owner at age 23, an unexpected and unordinary outcome of my exercise science degree which obviously did not include classes on how to run a business. But this is the beauty of a degree from liberal arts college. I discovered one goal of a Hope College education is to expose me to more than just my major; Hope allows me, encourages me even, to acquire knowledge and skills in other disciplines too.
It was during the second half of my Hope College career, I started taking a few leadership classes. Ultimately these additional courses helped lead me to where I am today: as the proud owner of Spera Foods. (Spera, as you may know, means hope!) I gained my passion for the human body and my understanding of the importance of nutrition for human function during my exercise science studies. However, it was my time in Hope’s Leadership program and HEI (Hope Entrepreneurial Institute) where I gained knowledge and confidence to create a small business.
Without one or the other academic experience, my journey may have looked significantly different, but thanks to the depth and breadth of coursework at Hope, I am here today looking at my past with a smile and a sigh of relief that I couldn’t have taken when I first started school. I am so glad I had the opportunity to study abroad and discover the tiger nut. It was a missing piece to the puzzle I started to solve my junior year. My schedule had more flexibility then and I started taking classes outside of the kinesiology department. My senior self strategized and found a class that fit in my schedule, that I heard was fun and interesting. That class was Leadership 231: Leading the Startup Process.
Senior year came with the perfect combination of peace and fear. I had no idea what I was going to do when I graduated, but I also knew God had a plan. During my time in my leadership class, I started to use my creativity to solve a problem: how to find access to tiger nut products and turn that access into a business. All the pieces started to fall into place when I created Spera Foods. What started a college major, and then as a class project due to a liberal arts education, has now turned into my career. And it is the perfect channel for my passion.