Christianna Nesmith doesn’t make all of her decisions at summer camp—just the big, life-changing ones. For example, she was working at Camp Wakonda in Wisconsin when she met her fiancé (they’re getting married this month). But long before that, she was at Camp Heritage in Missouri when she chose Union College.
The 2022 graduate from Calhoun, Georgia had been accepted at another Adventist university closer to home, but her summer at Camp Heritage changed her direction. “I found mentors—friends I really wanted to be like. They all went to Union. I told myself, ‘you’ve been asking God to direct you, and He’s sent you these mentors.’ So I followed them.”
Even with her grandparents, DeForest and Dorothy Nesmith, in Lincoln, the transition to college was initially rough for a shy girl far from home. However, her musical talent helped her connect to Union’s campus community when she got a job playing piano for vocal lessons. “I was terrified,” she said. “The whole concept of college was scary for me, and I felt very alone. But sitting at a piano was familiar and comfortable. Somewhere along the way, some of the older students I played for started inviting me to do things. Little things, like going to get ice cream. I blossomed from there.”
Playing for voice lessons also connected her with Ricky Little, a music professor. “Dr. Little is one of my favorite people,” Nesmith said. “I go to him for advice. I tell him things I don’t want advice on but just need to share. I really miss working for him, but he’s been a mentor consistently my whole time at Union.” For several years, Little has also been her partner for HeartScan, Union’s one-on-one spiritual development program.
“I found community here at Union College,” Nesmith said. “I found people who want the best for me and gave me what they could so I could grow. As I progressed from being a freshmen to a senior, I’ve been able to do that for other people. It’s been so organic. I love that transition of being someone who is served to being someone who serves others. And watching other people grow with me in similar ways is thrilling. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a college.”
Her advice to future students is to feel safe to explore. “The safety I’ve felt at Union was important to me,” Nesmith said. “The community is tight-knit, but not like a constricting sweater that’s too tight to take off. It’s tight-knit like a security blanket that’s there when you need it. So you can take risks. Take that class. Talk to that person. Dye your hair. At Union, you have a community to catch you and comfort you when you need them.”
When asked which classes students should make space for in their schedules, Nesmith’s list is long, but a history course sits at the top. “I took West and the World from Dr. Tyner as a summer class,” she said. “That was phenomenal. It was focused. It was driven. I’d never thought about the world in that way and with the lens we used. I approach problems differently because of that class. I approach people differently. It was amazing, and I think about it all the time.”
She also encourages future students to participate in campus events, and especially keep an open mind about the annual library fair. “Library fair is a win,” she said. “Freshmen year, I didn’t go. I thought, Library? That’s not fun. That’s where I study. Shame on me. The mini-golf, the treats, the prizes, the interactiveness. It’s always great.”
“Every Student Association event I’ve gone to has been good,” she continued. “I may not always know what’s happening, but I know I’m going.”
For her first two years of college, Nesmith thought health care was her calling. “I knew I wanted to help people, and I thought that would be as a nurse,” she said. “I took all my pre-reqs, got accepted to the Nursing Program and even spent a semester learning from those amazing women.” But teaching had always been in the back of her mind. While working as a counselor and activities director at Camp Mivoden in Idaho, the pieces seemed to fit into place. “It helped me realize I need to work with people in a consistent way,” Nesmith said. “I want to watch them grow in the long term.”
Next fall, she’ll be teaching grades two and three at Lester Coon Adventist School in Apison, Tennessee. Nesmith says returning to the South feels like going home. “That being said,” she continued, “Union really is home too. It’s been hard thinking about how to leave.”
“I’m going to miss the community here: my friends, the Education Program, the church family. There’s an understood bond here. Don’t come to Union if you’re not willing to be part of a community … that’s not the college slogan, but it fits Union so well, it probably should be.”