When Alena (Buczynski) Guenther ’18 was attending Olivet College, a pin from the Opening Convocation ceremony found its way to her with the phrase “Be Challenged, Be Changed.” It was that phrase that stuck with her during the rest of her college and graduate school career, pushing her to grow and be the best version of herself.
Alena is originally from Marshall. She said, “I chose OC because it was close to home and it had the small town charm and friendliness I’ve always been used to. I loved the small class sizes, the opportunity to work more closely with faculty, and how welcoming OC administrators and faculty were.”
Alena recalls her first semester of college at Olivet, back to when she was still new and hadn’t made many friends yet. She said “Once I walked into the library, I remember Judy Fales smiling at me and welcoming me in as she always does to students. No matter what building you walk in to, there is always someone smiling at you and they are genuinely happy you are there. Sometimes the feeling of comfort is all you need to ease the anxiety of starting college and the faculty and staff at OC certainly understand that.”
With a goal of teaching history at a college level, Alena knew that Olivet College could give her a good start to the “long road of schooling” that was ahead of her. “Dr. Craig Korpela, Dr. Nikki Magie and Nancy Beers are just a few incredible faculty members from OC who pushed me to my best and taught me how to navigate primary source documents, write with clarity and purpose, and to always put everything I had into each assignment. It all pays off in the end,” said Alena.
Dr. Craig Korpela, associate professor of history and political science, was one of the people that helped Alena throughout her entire time at Olivet College. She recalls how she was very unsure about her transition to becoming a college student, but Dr. Korpela helped her achieve every goal she set for herself. Not only did Dr. Korpela help Alena in the classroom, but he also helped her prepare for graduate school. “Craig has invested so much time into my success and I owe so much of it to him. He is an outstanding professor and an even better friend,” said Alena.
After graduating from Olivet College, Alena began a master’s program in North American history at Western Michigan University (WMU). Graduate school was a big challenge for Alena, but now nearing the end of her program she can look back at all the great work she has done and feel a sense of accomplishment. She said, “I got used to reading somewhere between three to six books per week in graduate school, which was not fun at the time, but now appears to be quite a feat that I can smile about. The rigorous coursework to complete a master’s degree is difficult but extremely rewarding. Once you make it through, you finally see how much the quality of your work has changed and how much you have improved as a scholar.”
While attending graduate school, Alena brought a little bit of Olivet College with her. She said, “When I began grad classes at WMU, I found there were not as many close friendships between faculty and students like there were at Olivet; however, the OC Comet in me couldn’t help but chat it up every day with the professors and ask how they have been. Olivet made me incredibly outgoing and it now comes natural to speak with others and welcome them just as OC taught me.”
Alena has come a long way from the new first-year student who was hesitant about college. Currently, Alena is working as the museum coordinator for the Marshall Historical Society, and she recently married her husband, Tristan Guenther. She will defend her master’s thesis in spring 2022 and will begin a teaching position next fall.
Many people Alena met at Olivet College are the people she calls her lifelong friends. Not just other students, but staff and faculty as well. Alena said, “I am still connected with faculty members whom I speak with regularly. Whether it be a serious question about grad school or a fun article we found online, we are always in contact. The impact of OC on your life doesn’t have to end after graduation, and it shouldn’t. I have gained so much knowledge and friendship just by staying connected with faculty, staff and friends from OC. “
Alena would encourage high school students to consider attending Olivet College because of the tight-knight community with people who genuinely care about students, and because of the small class sizes that allow for unique learning experiences.
In the future, Alena hopes to further her education by obtaining a Ph.D. in North American history and to be teaching at a college level. She would like to stay local in Michigan, and hopes to purchase a home in the area. She has plans to continue her volunteer work and serve her local community.
Learn more about Olivet College by contacting the Office of Admission at 800-456-7189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This feature was written by Audrey Helfrich, a senior majoring in media production and communication. She serves as an intern in the marketing and communications department and is especially interested in photography. After graduation, Audrey plans to continue her work as a freelance photographer, specializing in wedding, senior and family portraits. She also hopes to work in a marketing department for a small business or nonprofit organization.