As told to Caroline Mangan
A single sheet of paper with multiple scribbles that had accumulated within one hour. It traveled from building to building across campus. It was my change of major form declaring that I would no longer become an Engineer, but a Political Scientist. I had gathered all of the necessary signatures and just needed to turn it in to the Registrar to officially make the change. I was hesitant, yet relieved at the same time. Now I could be on a track that would allow me to go to law school and I no longer had to question my Engineering capabilities. My life was going to be a lot less stressful.
When my older sister was looking at colleges, I tagged along for the visits. She wanted to become an Engineer and I was in awe of that decision. At one particular campus we were told about a group of Engineering students who had researched a village in Africa, and then designed and built a water pump that they personally set up to benefit the African community. I had never envisioned Engineering students having such an impact on the world until I heard that story, and it piqued my interest in becoming a Civil Engineer. So, when it was my turn to look at colleges, I knew that I needed an Engineering school where I could also play softball.
I’ve been a part of sports activities for as long as I can remember. Any opportunity to be outdoors was a good one. Although I had many different interests growing up, once high school started I began feeling truly confident in my abilities as a softball player. I made the JV team as a freshman and continued to prove myself through sophomore year as well. It wasn’t until my junior year that I started having doubts. My batting wasn’t as great as it once was, and I was starting to wonder if this was something I was meant to do. I started to think that I would not continue on with softball after high school. Before I fell in love with softball, I had always thought my life plan included becoming a collegiate equestrian. Riding horses was something that I was good at. Something that I had a true passion for. While I still have dreams of owning my own horse someday, I’ve truly realized why softball has taken over my heart—it allows me to connect with others in a way that riding simply could not. See, riding is an individual sport. It’s just you and the horse. It doesn’t give you the opportunity to bond with others as much as a group sport does.
My options of schools were narrow, as not many Division III colleges also offer Engineering. My personal expectations for myself were high—I felt that I could accomplish anything. I wasn’t sure if I was considering college softball because I actually wanted to, or whether I was just too scared to give up something that I had been doing since the age of five. After a lot of thought and discussion with my high school coach, I made the decision to seek out Division III athletics. I knew that this was an opportunity I was blessed to have, and I was not willing to pass that up. Four more years of softball was something that not everyone had the option of doing, so there was no way I could take this opportunity for granted. I was very lucky that Ohio Northern, while an expensive option, had sought me out for softball. I ultimately made the choice to make ONU my new home.
Starting out as an Engineering student made me feel confident. I had high hopes for myself. Becoming an Engineer meant that I was actually becoming something important. I knew my family would be proud, and I was proving that I was capable. However, I started wondering if I was actually going to contribute to society as an Engineer. Was this my true passion, or did I just want to make others proud of me? It was weighing heavily on me. I was starting to realize that I had a love for writing, and that my heart just wasn’t in Engineering. As a new semester began, I made the quick decision to switch my major to Political Science. I felt that these classes were going to be a happier fit for me. I enjoyed analyzing problems and seeing multiple sides of an issue—traits that I believed would make me a good lawyer someday. So, I picked up the change of major form and did what was required of me.
The switch ended up causing me just as much stress, because I then questioned whether I was just throwing in the towel with Engineering. When you have an interest in a lot of subject areas and you add that with a sense of pressure and societal expectations, it makes for a lot of second guessing and low self-assurance in your decisions. I initially made the decision to become an Engineer because I thought it was what I needed to do to make my parents proud and to have a successful, high paying career after graduation. My parents supported me in the switch to Political Science, but were also frustrated that I just couldn’t make up my mind. I was conflicted about my decision, but didn’t really know who to turn to for support.
There is one group of students on campus who has always been there for me: my softball team. For me, softball means being a part of something larger than myself. It has connected me to so many people, and connected me with myself. My love of softball doesn’t come from the game itself, but from the lessons I’ve learned. On multiple occasions, my softball team has shown me a love greater than I could even imagine. During my freshman year at ONU, I started struggling with odd medical symptoms. Every time I stood up I would feel dizzy and sick. My illness was preventing me from doing well in softball, so my life outside of athletics started struggling as well. On top of my conflicting thoughts about my major, issues like my eating disorder and depression that I had fought in my younger years started to resurface.
Just when I thought I was at a low point, my teammates came through. The assurance that I was meant to be a part of the team made me feel like they wanted me. I knew that this group of girls supported me for who I was, and wanted what was best for me. They didn’t like me because of what I was majoring in or what I was going to do after graduation, but because of who I am as a person and what I can contribute to a team. They are reminders that life is unpredictable, and I am one piece of a much greater puzzle.
Decisions can be made in many ways, and in many different environments. The support groups in your life make a difference in the outcome of your choices. My first impactful support group was my softball team, the second was my Dominican Republic group. Every year, students from Ohio Northern University travel to the Dominican Republic to assist with local needs. I was fortunate enough to be offered a spot on the trip, and knew that it was an opportunity for me to discover more about myself and my purpose.
The students on the trip varied in major; Engineers, Pharmacists, Business students. We all worked together throughout the week and got to try new tasks. For the first two days I spent most of my time in the Pharmacy. I needed a lot of assistance from the Pharmacy students at first, but eventually got the hang of it and felt excited that I was able to make a difference in the community even though I wasn’t doing things directly related to my major. Seeing the pure joy on the faces of the locals made me feel so good about the work we were doing. I had an incredible conversation about my life goals with one of the workers who told me that as long as I was caring for people, I could be happy. This was so touching to me because a total stranger saw the goodness in me. I realized that as long as I put my all into whatever I was doing, I could accomplish greatness.
A piece of paper with similar scribbly signatures. This time switching me back to Civil Engineering. Although I may not know if I am destined to make water pumps as a career, I know that I can take my passions and make something great of myself regardless of what I studied in college. This time my decision was made with confidence. All I needed was a larger team of supporters encouraging me.
This story originally appeared in Facing Our Futures Beyond High School, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.