March 06, 2024 | Matt Kucinski

From Alaska to Michigan: Saundra Moeller trekked 3,000 miles southeast to study at Calvin University.

In high school, Saundra Moeller did a lot of thinking about what she wanted to do in life.

“I have many interests such as history, music, science, language, and psychology. I also grew up with a love for cars and other machines, so for a long time I had been thinking about going to school for engineering.”

Picking a path

Though her interests were many, it appeared that her path was starting to come into focus. And with her parents’ encouragement, she started down that path, taking as many math and science courses as she could at a college near her home in Alaska and earned her associate degree in general studies.

Then, after taking a gap year to save up money, she was ready to finish up her bachelor’s degree. Her college wish list: a school with a good science or engineering program and one where she could study abroad. She said she also liked the Midwest, because she needed “to have wintertime as well.”

So, in 2021, she packed up her truck, put her motorcycle in the back bed, and started her trek 3,000 miles southeast to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“Calvin University was my first choice and they accepted almost all of my credits from my previous institution,” said Moeller. “I came to Calvin originally for their Mechanical Engineering Program.”

Moeller was attracted to the program because it also would allow her to study abroad. “I was intrigued by the Summer in Berlin that they offer for engineering students, so I figured I would start my first semester with German 101 to get a head start and see where it led me.”

Coming to a crossroads

But after her first year at Calvin, Moeller quickly came to a crossroads.

“At the time, I was stretched too thin already because I worked full-time during the week and so I couldn’t manage more than 15 credits comfortably, and the engineering schedule is consistently 17-18 credits per semester.”

What Moeller recognized in this moment is she didn’t want to leave Calvin and she didn’t want to stop learning German.

“Something in my heart told me that I needed to stay here and pursue what makes me happy. Learning German makes me happy,” said Moeller.

Asking for directions

So, she reached out to her engineering adviser for advice.

“She suggested that if I really like the science side of engineering to go speak with someone in the geology, geography, and environment department,” said Moeller.

So, she did. Moeller met with Dr. Bjelland, chair of the department, and found the curriculum to be much more manageable and one that would allow her to both finish within four years and take German classes.

Finding a faster, more fulfilling route

“So I switched [my major] and started taking classes and was having so much more fun. I could see myself working outside rather than in an office doing CAD drawings all day. This felt more suited to me,” said Moeller.

Not only is Moeller able to take German classes alongside her major, but she is also starting to see how the two can become integrated into a future career.

“The career path that sticks out to me most right now is one with the Bureau of Land Management or the National Parks Service,” said Moeller.

The job would be a ranger position where one learns the historical, ecological, and environmental aspects of a given park and then serves as the park guide. In this role, Moeller sees how her German Studies experience could add important value in the area of interpreting.

“As a park ranger or guide, when I have a group of German tourists who come to ask about the park, I can apply my German language and cultural studies knowledge there and clarify for them in their language what they are looking at and the purpose of this place they are visiting,” said Moeller, who says that it is fairly common to have German-speaking tourists at U.S. National Parks. “If I can find a job that blends my love of language and environmental science, it would be a dream come true.”

At Calvin, Moeller has not only been able to pursue both passions, but she’s developed her capacity to dream bigger.

“Three to four years ago if someone told me I’d be tutoring German 101 and 102 students, I would not believe them,” said Moeller. “Doing so has shown me that I am capable of doing things I never thought I could.”

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