Unmatched Opportunity: The Valpo Experience Draws Students from Around the World

The irony was not lost on Claire Ehr ’19. The day she made her official visit to the Valparaiso University campus it was raining, which meant she was not able to do a full walking tour. But maybe that was a sign. Claire grew up in London, known as much for its foggy and overcast skies as landmarks like Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.

“I remember running from building to building because of the rain,” Claire says of that day in the spring of 2015. But that visit made an impact on Claire and stands out in her mind for many other reasons.

“The people were very nice and friendly,” she says. “I was able to sit in on a class, and I remember it was such great conversation academically. I was excited to participate in that kind of environment.”

A Valpo legacy
Born in Spain and having lived her preschool years in California, Claire moved to England when she was 3 years old. A few years ago, when it was time to look at post-secondary education, she began to investigate universities in the United Kingdom. According to Claire, the British system of higher education drives student down a direct path. This didn’t quite jive with Claire. She was interested in taking a wide range of courses in diverse areas, something students of all majors are able to do at Valpo.

Claire broadened her search and began to look across the pond in the United States. Once that decision was made, it was natural for Valpo to be on her list. While Claire’s trip to Valpo was her first, she had reason to be familiar with the school. Her mother, Susan Jenny ’82 Ehr, is an alumna.

“I can remember my mom telling me stories about her college days here and how great it was,” Claire says.

Susan, currently head of legal for the United Kingdom and European Union for Westpac Institutional Bank, graduated from Valpo with degrees in economics, English, and French. During her time at Valpo, she was a Christ College Scholar, president of Mortar Board, member of Valpo’s varsity tennis team, a Phi Beta Chi sorority member, part of the Student and University Senates, and member of the freshman honor society, Alpha Lambda Delta. Susan remains critically involved at Valpo as a member of the Christ College National Council.

“I am delighted that Claire is attending Valpo!” Susan says. “My fondest memories of Valpo are the scintillating and thought-provoking courses I took. I loved being in Phi Beta Chi sorority as well as playing on the tennis team. I am grateful that the Chapel of the Resurrection is the center of campus, and my Christian faith was challenged and nurtured by professors, friends, and the University itself.”

Despite her self-proclaimed love of her Valpo experience, one characterized by a wide array of experiences both inside and outside the classroom, Susan cautioned her daughter to remain focused on her studies and avoid the unnecessary distractions that a busy out-of-the classroom schedule may create.

“One piece of advice I gave Claire as she embarked on her Valpo adventure was to stay focused on her studies and not be enticed by distractions and the plethora of extracurricular activities,” Susan says. “She did focus on studies. By contrast, she ignored my suggestion to limit ‘distractions,’ and her Valpo experience has been greatly enriched because of it.”

No looking back
Claire has embraced the American college experience, and while she may not have taken her mother’s advice, she has taken after mom in her extensive campus involvement. Her list of activities includes being in Christ College — The Honors College, a member of the Chorale, the English honor society Sigma Tau Delta, Gamma Phi Beta sorority, Mortar Board society, and selection as a Kemper Scholar. Now a junior, Claire is an English and humanities major and is also pursuing minors in both psychology and education.

“It’s just harder to do at a university in England,” Claire says of being involved in a variety of activities, “because you can’t pursue more than one discipline.”

Like many of her classmates, Claire has certainly taken advantage of all that Valparaiso University has to offer both inside and outside the classroom. That involvement has led to the formation of relationships with a diverse group of students across campus.

“I enjoy being involved with various organizations,” Claire says. “I get to see and know other students who are involved. I feel connected.”

Putting words into action
When it came time to select a major, that, too, was a relatively easy decision. Claire chose English as a means to develop skills in communications. And, the field of humanities was important to her as she desired to take as many of those classes as she could.

Claire saw firsthand how she could put her communications skills into action as an intern for the Metropolitan Planning Council last summer. This valuable experiential learning opportunity helped Claire learn how writing for academia differs from writing for a business.

“Throughout my college career, I have had a passion for words and how they influence people. My college work has provided me with a love for writing to convey complex ideas in literature and society,” Claire says. “My internship changed the way I thought about writing and its uses. As a communications intern, I used my writing skills to help people understand the mission of MPC, getting them interested and involved in improving Chicago.

“Instead of writing for an elite academic audience, namely my professors, I had to change my writing style to help people of all levels of involvement understand intricacies in storm water management or housing segregation. This versatility that I began to employ has made me want to further explore and hone my skills, to effectively convey messages through the medium of text.”

Ready for the next chapter
Claire is scheduled to graduate in December 2019, which gives her time to complete the additional work needed for her minor. She eventually plans to pursue a master’s degree in the U.S., but first she intends to teach English in Japan.

“I will see where the wind takes me,” Claire says. “After grad school, I’ll see what happens and where opportunities take me.”

Wherever that is, Claire will have a story to tell and the skills to tell it. When it comes time to tell that story, she will do so with a mix of creative writer and reporter.

“I do connect with both,” Claire says, noting that she enjoys sorting through facts while also adding her own flair. “While I’m more of an essay writer, I know there is a mix that needs to happen with interpreting facts. There’s an artistry in it.”