Comets Trek to Anchorage, Alaska

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Left to Right: Dominique Giroux ’18, Professor Laura Barlond-Maas ’88 and Noah Keefer ’16

This summer, three unique Comets trekked to Anchorage, Alaska together, thanks to a pact made between a student and his adviser. Dominique Giroux ’18, Noah Keefer ’16 and Laura Barlond-Maas ’88, associate professor of English, collectively agree stepping outside of your comfort zone is the best way to learn and grow, but doing it with friends, mentors or classmates creates an even more incredible experience.

Alaska Bound

Professor Barlond-Maas has taught at The University of Olivet for nearly 30 years, teaching a variety of English, literature and composition courses. Beyond her typical subject matter, Professor Barlond-Maas emphasizes two things – one, she will always support her students, and two, students should see the world. As English majors, Noah and Dominique experienced this firsthand and built strong relationships with Professor Barlond-Maas.

During his time on campus, Noah embraced Professor Barlond-Maas’ encouragement to see the world, sharing that Alaska was his ultimate destination. For Professor Barlond-Maas, Alaska had been on her travel wish list for years and she made a pact with Noah that whoever got to Alaska first, the other would come visit. Noah made sure Professor Barlond-Maas was the first to know when he learned of an opportunity to make it to The Last Frontier.

“I have always been drawn to Alaska because of its beauty, its adventure, and it being completely different from everywhere else,” Noah explained. “I learned about an opportunity to work a few days a week in a hostel and get free room and board in return. I was talking with Professor Barlond-Maas about the opportunity on the phone, and she encouraged me to go for it. I hadn’t forgotten that Alaska was somewhere she would love to experience as well. She even tried to back out, but I wouldn’t listen. I’m glad I didn’t!”

For Dominique, the opportunity to tag along was too good to pass up. She’s stayed connected with Professor Barlond-Maas since graduating in May, and says the whole English program is like a big family – and the perfect travel companions.

“I am still excited that we got to explore the world together because Professor Barlond-Maas always tells her students, ‘Go out and do something! See the world!’ So, it’s pretty cool to be able to do that with her,” Dominique explained. “It’s pretty incredible and speaks volumes to the kind of person and professor that Laura is, to have her students stay connected in this way even after they graduate.”

Now Exiting Comfort Zone
Ruth Benson ’69 (center) helped Comets explore Alaska near her home

Once landing in Anchorage, Dominique, Noah and Professor Barlond-Maas dove into the local culture, sightseeing and soaking up the Alaskan beauty. The trio planned a summer dog sled tour, cruised through Seward and Fox Island, visited zoos, museums and cultural centers, dined in local restaurants and enjoyed countless conversations on novels, authors and teaching styles. They even connected with fellow OC alumna and Anchorage resident Ruth Benson, ’69 for a hike and to exchange stories of Olivet with one another.

“It means a lot to have a connection with people from The University of Olivet because Olivet is not an ordinary place,” Noah said. “I find myself trying to communicate how tight-knit the community of The University of Olivet is, and it is really hard to explain. Whenever I see someone from Olivet, I get really excited because people from the outside don’t really get it.”

A mountain climbing experience particularly sticks out in Dominique’s memory as the moment she truly left her comfort zone. “There is power in stepping outside of your comfort zone,” Dominique said. “It is challenging, but I think it is where the most growth will happen. I experienced this climbing my first big mountain while in Anchorage. No one really warned me what I was about to endure. It was a tough hike up, but the views were so incredibly rewarding once I got to the top.  In a cliché way, I can say that stepping out of your comfort zone is a lot like climbing a mountain – you want to quit often, it is hard, but once you’ve completed it, you gain an entirely new perspective!”

Just Go

Professor Barlond-Maas echoed that experiences like this are exactly why she encourages students to travel. “I think stepping out of your comfort zone enlarges your life, widens your viewpoint, and gives you opportunities to meet people – and to get to know yourself better,” she added.

“I always encourage students to go places, but usually I’m talking about moving somewhere to live for a while, not just traveling. That’s exactly how this all started: I told Noah if he truly wanted to live in Alaska, he needed to go do it, and a summer was the best way to start. Then we bounced around ideas to make it real. It’s easy to get stuck in our corners of the world. I had my first baby right after I graduated from college, and then I had four more. I tell students that before they have kids, they should go somewhere, try a different way of living where they’ll have to find their way around. They can always move back to their hometowns and be near family if that’s what they want. But first they need to go.”

Dominique’s love of travel has not faded, and she’ll even be heading to Ireland this fall to volunteer in a Camphill community, where people with special needs can live, learn, and work with others in healthy social relationships based on mutual care and respect. Now, she wants to serve alongside Professor Barlond-Maas and Noah, a teacher and coach, inspiring other students to step out of their comfort zones and travel. The trio agree – it’s the best way to gain new perspectives, learn about yourself and become a global citizen.

“The most important adventure I take is staying in Olivet to encourage my students to take risks, both here and elsewhere, so they can become the people they want to be. And then maybe I can go visit them!” Professor Barlond-Maas concluded.

Learn more about The University of Olivet and connect with outstanding professors yourself by visiting campus or attending an upcoming admissions event. Contact the Office of Admissions at 800.456.7189 or admissions@uolivet.edu for questions.


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