The Class That Changed My Life

Alums remember their days as students

NOTE: Despite the headline, the following stories are not all about classes. When we asked alumni about what courses made their Messiah experiences transformational, many drew in professors, extracurricular activities and, in some cases, entire majors. A life-changing class, after all, isn’t confined to one room two or three times a week. It plays out after hours, on weekends, sometimes for years after it ends. In some cases, it goes to a Hawaiian rainforest.

That said, Messiah has some great classes.

“It freed me up to think of new possibilities of making,” Brozyna said. She started to work with fabrics, dyeing them, printing on them, ripping them apart. “It loosened up my art. Because of that class, my work became more abstract.”

The admiration went both ways.

“Tegan asked a lot of questions,” said Forsythe. “She’d do something again and again to get it right, rethinking process and idea and then marrying them. That’s what art-making takes.”

The art world took note. For seven months, Brozyna’s geography-centered exhibit “Re-Mapping the World” was on display in the Philadelphia International Airport. For the exhibit, Brozyna worked with paper maps to create landscapes and terrains out of hundreds of circular forms.

“She cut them up into little bits and created new three-dimensional forms,” said Forsythe. “What she did was beautiful.”

Now a New York resident, Brozyna is finishing up her MFA at Brooklyn College. And she’s keeping her future plans as open as her art.

“As an artist, you have to be creative about piecing together a career,” she said. “It’s not something like engineering, where you get a degree and work your way up. Ideally, I’d like to be a practicing artist and complement that with teaching.” To that end, she’s a graduate teaching fellow at Brooklyn College, where she helms a drawing workshop about — not surprisingly — new materials. “We’re exposing them to everything they can use to add meaning to their work.”

From stage manager to project manager

Candy Mastorovich ’83 also finds meaning in her work because of Messiah — not from a class, but from her theatre major and favorite professor, Norman Bert. While at Messiah she worked as stage manager and prop master, ensuring that what went on behind the curtain facilitated everything in front of it.

“I learned a lot about what goes into a performance,” she said, singling out a play called “Macbett”—a satire of “Macbeth”—she remembers as an impressive and slightly unorthodox Bert choice. “Everyone dreams about going to New York and becoming famous, but Dr. Bert helped me realize my real talents lie backstage. I continue to use those organizational skills to this day.”

After graduation, Mastorovich worked with the Christian Arts Company in Pittsburgh before marrying and changing career paths. She’s now a project manager with Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, a data and telecommunications company, but says she still applies lessons from those backstage environments.

“Stage managing a show is very much like working on an IT project,” she said. “It’s a matter of organizing and managing schedules, budgets and deadlines in order to produce a completed product.”

Making a difference in the world

David Wilson ’16 encountered his transformational moment halfway across the globe. Messiah’s three-week wilderness encounter in Hawaii is open first to adventure education majors before opening wide to others such as Wilson, a mechanical engineering graduate.

“I saw an email that said I could get credit for a trip to Hawaii,” Wilson laughed. “That was about all I thought about it.”

The setting was Kauai, and the structure involved daily hikes through the island’s Alkali Swamp and Waimea Canyon, the latter so vast it was dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” by Mark Twain. But, the class had heavy matters in mind. There were three goals: 1. Encounter God, 2. Encounter the wilderness and 3. Encounter other people. Students led each day’s hike and decided all starts, stops and rests. Reflection was key.

“On a daily basis, we had some form of meditative time,” Wilson said, “and then a group discussion about faith. It impressed me that there was that much curriculum.”

The trip’s centerpiece was a hike through the Na Pali Coast, the island’s mountainous, largely untouched western edge. Reaching the beach at trail’s end required an 11-mile hike over rugged terrain, with each participant carrying 40 lbs. of backpack and supplies. It was challenging and restorative. It was also long and rainy. As gorgeous as the vistas were, there were more of them than expected.

“Sometime after lunch, it started raining,” he said. “People were falling. It was a miserable time of walking. Finally, I had to stop to rest.”

That break, he says, is where something switched. Wilson was there to prove himself. He wanted to grow his spirituality, see the world and bond with his peers. But he also wanted to do it himself.

“Finally, at that stop, I asked the group to take my weight for me,” he said, redistributing supplies from his backpack to theirs. “And they were great about it, just really affirming.

It felt good to be valued even though it was, in my mind, failing at my goal.”

By the time they reached the final descent, Wilson needed bodily support.

“[Assistant Director of Student Involvement and Leadership Programs] Wendell Witter was leading, and he waited for me at every step. I’d basically fall into him, he’d take my weight and I’d keep walking,” said Wilson. “It became one of my favorite memories, coming down this big hill made entirely out of this red dirt to the beach.”

Wilson’s group remained on the beach for five days, talking and journaling and going through selah, a reflection time mentioned in the Psalms. And he readied for the final, which involved spending 24 hours alone in the woods.

In that time, he says he arrived at a few understandings. “I understood the concept that God loves me at a heart level, as opposed to a head level. I guess that happens in a 24-hour period off by yourself,” he said with a laugh.

Something else came out of it, too. Wilson had originally mapped out a mechanical engineering career, something linear, expected and traditional. The walk in the woods changed that plan.

“It got me so much more in touch with my faith,” he said. “I don’t think I’d be satisfied living a 9-to-5 life.” Living out his faith, he’ll start a short-term appointment with the international Christian mission organization SIM (Serving in Mission). “I can use my engineering background on these projects,” he said, tying together all he learned at Messiah. “It’s the best plan I could have.”

The Messiah family

For Eric Clancy ’83 memories of Messiah center on his family — specifically his son Kevin ’13 and the offices and staffers who handled a series of challenges to make his time at Messiah memorable and productive. As a junior in high school, the younger Clancy had fallen while volunteering with his church, suffering a traumatic brain injury. He entered Messiah in 2009, just one year after leaving the hospital.

As the Director of Disability Services, Amy Slody offers students such as Kevin Clancy individual coaching and support. She has dealt with psychological issues, financial troubles, depression, anxiety and autism. But this case was something different.

“Brain injuries are different than the disabilities we often encounter,” Slody said. “They’re entirely new. Students haven’t had to deal with it their entire lives. There are psychological components to deal with, in addition to the academic issues. So we developed a compensatory strategy to work with faculty and organizations on campus.”

Slody and her group are neither tutors nor counselors. The office isn’t equipped to edit English essays or decipher chemistry equations. Their approach is bigger picture; they’ll connect students with resources that can ultimately help. When she arrived five years ago, Slody and her office coached 18 students; today they’re up to 75.

“I’m not sure she may get the recognition that is so deserved,” Eric Clancy said. “She was an incredible support to Kevin as he navigated school, life and classes.”

As you see, it’s tough for alums to pinpoint one class as a life changer. Each memory, each person is just one piece of the larger, collective Messiah experience.

Tegan Brozyna ’07

Tegan Brozyna ’07 pinpoints a specific Messiah course that changed her life: Textiles Surface Design, taught by Professor of Art Christine Forysthe. Brozyna, now a painter and mixed media artist, says the class opened up her definition of “materials.”

Candy Mastorovich '83

Working backstage during a Messiah production of "Macbett," a parody of the Shakespearean classic "Macbeth," Candy Mastorovich '83 employs the organizational skills she learned as the theatre major in her job today as a project manager at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise.

David Wilson '16

Hiking the Na Pali Coast in Hawaii Kauai, Assistant Director of Student Involvement and Leadership Programs Wendell Witter helped David Wilson '16 navigate rain and exhaustion during an 11-mile trek.

Eric Clancy '83

Eric Clancy '83 credits Amy Slody, director of disability services, with helping his son, Kevin '13 persevere after a brain injury

Kevin Clancy '13