The Road to Success

Two teachers’ perspectives on how to determine a career, and the role that college plays in the path to it


Ava Hollmann

College as the path to an uncertain career.

For months, seniors are focused on standardized testing, writing, and then, once everything is submitted, waiting. In every class, “Where are you applying?” and “Did you get in?” are questions that make regular appearances in conversation. And every day, nay, every hour, e-mail inboxes are impulsively checked, then impatiently refreshed, repeatedly, in hopes of receiving notification of their acceptance to their dream school.

In this stressful season of expectation for seniors, it seems that college is not just a next step in life, but the next step that will define their future. Whether there be a focus on the major they intend on studying, or the prestige of the school that they want to study it at, seniors zero in on the details that they believe will make or break their adult life. However, these only make up the visible tip of the iceberg; below the surface lies the heavier, deeper thoughts. These ones are existential, and include “What kind of contribution does God want me to make in the world?,” “Have I done enough in high school, and am I doing enough now, to prepare for adulthood?,” and “What kind of quality of life do I want to give myself and possibly my own family some day?.”

College itself may or may not quell these deeper crises, but for those who do think that college is the right next step, it does have the potential to offer an education in a subject area that they can have a career in. With this career, though, comes the purpose that it is serving in one’s life. Will it be a job that the person is incredibly passionate about, but does not offer a large income? Will it be a job that is less fulfilling to one’s passions and gifts, but does offer a larger income? Or, will it have both? In these circumstances, the student must ask himself if he wants a fulfillment of his calling, financial safety, or maybe the best of both.

At Westminster, students are blessed to have passionate, relational teachers that strive to make their subject matter engaging and possibly pique their interest in the subjects for college. Jeremy Irwin, senior worldviews teacher, is one such of these teachers, but he did not predict this career for his life.

“[Going into college, I chose to] study biology because I thought I wanted to be a doctor. This was because I highly value success and the appearance of success, and being a doctor is very prestigious,” said Irwin.

However, this study in biology did not last long; after partaking in an internship the summer after his sophomore year, his plans changed.

“The end of my sophomore year of college, I got converted [to Christianity]. I Started attending college ministry, really liked the people, got super involved. But I also had an internship at a pharmaceutical company that summer doing cancer research on goat blood proteins. And it was me, in a lab, by myself, ten hours a day doing the exact same experimental protocol over and over again, all summer. I got paid a ton of money… but I hated it,” said Irwin.

After this mundane awakening, Irwin dove into what he was really passionate about — church ministry.

“I realized that what made me alive was the college ministry — leading small groups, asking deep questions, planning and preparing talks, writing songs, and leading worship. I was good at that stuff, and I liked that stuff. My natural interest was shifting, and I was starting to be curious about what made me come alive, and it was not the science — it was theology, and to a certain extent, psychology. So, in my junior year, I went to school as little as possible, and volunteered 40-60 hours a week in my church ministry. I was on every team they let me be on, and I loved it.”

After Irwin graduated, he became an assistant pastor at a small local church, but quickly realized that he needed to be trained at a seminary before pastoral work. Once he completed seminary, he began working at The Journey. He worked his way up the leadership ladder there, and eventually was in contention for senior teaching pastor.

“I went into ministry because I really enjoyed studying and talking about the Bible, and I just had compassion, empathy, and curiosity about people. And I loved the work of pastoral ministry, which I view as bringing God’s grace to the struggle. [But,] the higher I rose up in the ranks [at The Journey], the less of that I got to do, because I was making higher decisions and felt farther away.”

Irwin continued to stray further from his original intention for preaching, and “ended up getting really burnt out.” So, he quit his job, with the tentative plan that his next job may involve “teaching, high-relational contact, and contributing to the glory of a worthy institution.”

Soon enough, he received a text from Jason Wilkins, the other senior worldviews teacher at Westminster, asking if he would like to shadow Wilkin’s class. Irwin did, and he soon fell in love with the prospect of teaching here.

Today, Irwin feels he has a much better work-life balance because of his job. His advice for students who are seeking this balance in their career, or just any sort of path to a career, is to reflect on three things.

“[First,] your calling: a deep self knowledge that is corroborated by others who know you well in which you understand and embrace your unique desires, drives, and possible contributions. [Second], competencies: what are you actually good at and enjoy being good at? And what do you have inherent curiosity for? [And third,] circumstances: what opportunities are available to you in areas of interest, but also what are the needs of the marketplace currently?”

Luckily for WCA students, Irwin is not the only teacher that is an example of listening to God’s calling for one’s career; Scott VonderBruegge, yearbook and newspaper teacher, has also experienced some twists and turns on his career path.

“In high school, I didn’t particularly like science, but [going into college,] I wanted to be a doctor. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life; I was just part of the system and doing what I thought you were supposed to do,” said VonderBruegge.

In college, though, he “started thinking through the cost benefit” of studying to be a doctor. After watching his pre-med roommate study, as well as take classes such as organic chemistry, he realized that he “would have to give up a lot of life” in order to continue pursuing medical school. So, he changed his trajectory radically and decided to major in business.

“When I started to look at things that actually brought me some sort of sense of fulfillment, I started looking toward the business end of things. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was trying to figure out first what I was good at, second what I liked to do, and third what I felt were the perceived needs of the world. I couldn’t articulate that then like I can now, but I sort of felt the gist of that,” said VonderBruegge.

Having realized this, VonderBruegge spent the remainder of college studying business, as well as involving himself in the Young Life ministry at a local high school. He realized that he loved youth ministry, yet did not want to become a youth pastor. So, he decided to become a teacher, as that would encompass interacting with high schoolers, business, and the three values he held for choosing a career. With this in mind, he is able to give advice to high school students.

“Figure out what is fulfilling to you… and the three things will come along those lines… Run like hell from the standard track that defines what success is supposed to look like. Don’t be afraid to take the road less travelled. You don’t necessarily need to find some perfect career, because that doesn’t always work. If you can find a career that will allow you the lifestyle you want; there’s a difference between making a lot of money but not having the life that you want. Power, money, and time don’t go together,” said VonderBruegge.

Vonderbruegge and Irwin each had ideas of what they might want to study in college and pursue as a career, but were awakened to what they came alive for and how that did or did not match up with the current career track. Their radical change in job paths, even after college, show that college is certainly not the end-all-be-all for finding what career one is going to pick. And while their main focus in choosing their careers was not the income, that does not mean that they have still not been immensely blessed.