When Danica Eylenstein arrived at Union College as a sophomore, she came from New Jersey sight unseen with only two suitcases and a goal: become an elementary teacher. “I became an Adventist in the fifth grade and attended a small, one-room school for two years,” she said. “I loved it so much I thought teaching was my calling.”
Now nearing her last semester as an undergraduate, Eylenstein is a communication major with an emerging media emphasis and minors in marketing and English. She switched majors as a junior after her experience at Union helped her discover a hidden passion. “Adaptable describes my entire college career,” she said. “God really led me in places I didn’t expect to go.”
Connecting to Union
Eylenstein first learned about Union from her former camp counselor, Tash Copening ’13. Hearing about their education program, she tucked the thought away. “I knew I wanted to start college close to home,” she explained. “I moved halfway across the country for academy, so I didn’t want to go so far away again for college.” She began at her local community college.
Yet when the time came to start school, Eylenstein applied to Union out of curiosity—and was accepted. Enrollment counselors tried hard to recruit her even while she completed her spring semester at the local community college. “I ultimately didn’t think I could afford a private education,” she admitted. “Ignoring God’s call would be putting it mildly. I didn’t tell them ‘no’ but I didn’t want to tell them ‘yes’ either.”
Fast forward to the end of July, and while attending a friend’s wedding, Eylenstein’s mom happened to answer one of Union’s calls. Ecstatic, she immediately called her daughter and shared her determination to make an Adventist education possible. “I was already registered for another fall at community college and I had two weeks to get to Union at that point!” she remembered. “But Union really wanted to work with me. Everything really came together.”
Learning to be a teacher
Eylenstein loved her first year in the education program. “Allowing me to observe and teach classes right away made a monumental difference in how I learned here versus at community college,” she said. She also credits her excellent professors and their personalized instruction for helping her succeed that year.
Over the summer, Eylenstein wasn’t sure if she could afford another year of private education. But she came across the opportunity to experience Union in a different way—as a task force volunteer. “The principal of Maplewood Academy, Stacy Stocks, is my friend,” she said. After seeing a post from Stocks on Facebook about prayers because they didn’t have an assistant dean, Eylenstein felt impressed to pray for her. “I messaged her that I was praying…and then I couldn’t stop thinking about the job.”
“I didn’t even like high schoolers,” joked Eylenstein. “But everything fell into place within just a few short weeks.”
While working as assistant dean in Minnesota, Eylenstein began questioning her quest for teaching. “I substituted in a lot of classes and felt I wasn’t sure this was what I wanted.”
Communicating a new mission
A mission trip ultimately tipped her toward a new path. The female sponsor dropped out only weeks before takeoff. “I already had a plane ticket home for spring break,” said Eylenstein. But after being asked by the trip’s leader and with her mom’s firm insistence to go, she spent break in Belize with a group of teenagers.
“I wrote an article for the Minnesota Conference newsletter when we returned and I loved it,” she said. “It reminded me of when I worked on the school newspaper in middle school and I started thinking that maybe I wanted more experience in communication.”
Fear made her hesitant to change her educational track. “Switching majors can be like starting over. My friends were in the education program, I knew all the professors, and I knew my graduation would be set back,” she said.
Dr. Robison, a writing and history professor, talked Eylenstein through her concerns. She saw how communication combined her interests—writing, photography, design—and switched. “Emerging media sounded like a perfect fit,” she said of the emphasis that helps communication students learn to use the internet and other digital tools to communicate effectively.
Her first semester back at Union, Eylenstein took a magazine editing class from now retired Chris Blake and knew she made the right choice. “I learned so much in that one class. I felt engaged, confident, and sure this was where God wanted me.”
Eylenstein also experienced her favorite part of being in the communication program—the hands-on experience—just as she had in the education program. “We submit work to magazines, work with organizations, and learn about general skills that apply to a variety of careers,” she said.
With her new calling also came new challenges. Between juggling classes, a social life, and sleep, Eylenstein holds several on-campus jobs to help strengthen her skills. “My jobs take me out of my comfort zone because they require in-depth application and practice of my communication skills,” she said. Currently Eylenstein works as head resident assistant in Rees Hall, the women’s residence; editor of Union’s yearbook, the Golden Cords; and as news editor for Clocktower, Union’s student newspaper.
For example, Eylenstein knew only basic graphic design when accepting the yearbook position. She had to ask dozens of questions and sought help from many mentors to make the project come to life. She originally wasn’t sure she wanted the position, but is thankful now she said yes.
Even as a head RA, Eylenstein finds her graphic design and interpersonal skills useful. “Daily I engage in complex situations, often speak publicly, and when someone needs help with various dorm publications and little things like door hangers or Christmas cards, I’m there.”
Eylenstein isn’t exactly sure where she sees herself going come graduation but she knows she’s prepared for wherever God leads. “A high school teacher once told me, ‘Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be broken or bent out of shape,” she said. “I feel God is preparing me for my future to be adaptable for any situation.” C
by Emily Wood Roque Cisneros ’17