Student Spotlight: John Benz

If you know John Benz, you know that there is no one else quite like him. Perhaps the most joyful, sincere, and loving man on campus, John strives to follow God's will in all that he does. As a major in both business and humanities, John has a lot on his plate. However, you can still find him chatting with students in the RA office when he is on duty, working passionately for the development of Champions of Charity, and hanging out with the members of his household. As John would say, "You've just got to let the spirit work...he won't lead you astray".

What did you do last summer?

I spent most of my time last summer working at Barton Hills Country Club, which helped me to make some great professional connections. For example, I met the president of Ford Motors, the head scout for the Chicago Black Hawks, the head rep for Nike, and many other men and women that hold high positions in the business world. It was really great to be able to network while I was working. I still am in contact with some of those people, actually. I just had a phone conversation with a man who is the President of an insurance agency, and I talked with him about the insurance world and what his agency does. I’m trying to get a feel for all of the different opportunities that will be available to me with a degree in business. 

In addition to working at the club, I also took a few online classes. I came to Ave with the intention of being a doctor, so I was a Biochemistry major up until the second semester of my sophomore year. Now, as a double major in business and humanities, I have quite a few classes to catch up on, so it was nice to be able to do that over the summer.

Do you have any advice for people that are hesitant about switching majors?

It took me a year and a half to make the decision, but I switched from Biochemistry to a double major in Business and Humanities in the middle of my sophomore year. It was a great switch for me and the combination of the two majors works my brain in a number of different ways. Undergraduate education is all about reading, writing, and speaking, so if you can focus on those things throughout your education, all of the classes that you have taken will still have formed you as a person and had an impact on your mind. 

For example, I am really grateful that I took some biochemistry classes. Because I did, I am able to talk with people about different medical issues and understand the terminology as well as what is going on in the medical world. Even things that I have learned outside of my major still have a large impact on the way that I can communicate with people and understand the subjects of my own major. 

There are so many good things to do in the world, and so many working professionals switch jobs throughout their lives. We change and are constantly developing, so changes aren't bad. If you are at peace with making a switch, go ahead and make it! Don’t be tentative about it. Trust that Jesus is going to take care of you with the whole process. He’s molding you and walking beside you and leading you where He wants you to go. You ultimately can lead people toward Jesus through whatever you do, whether that is medicine, law, business…so many fields can have such a deep impact on people. You have to let the Holy Spirit move. 

Some decisions we make are nerve-racking but that’s okay! Jesus was fearful about a variety of different things. He understands human emotion. Ultimately, if you feel an underlying peace toward something, go ahead and do it!

Where do you see yourself after you graduate?

I certainly want to get involved in business. I think it can have a great impact on people, especially in insurance, real estate, or accounting. I’m drawn to business because there are quite a few options. It is a great way to truly encounter people and get to know them. Human beings are meant for relationship and it is through that relationship that you can grow as a person and help other people to grow with you. 

What do you plan on doing this summer to help you toward your goal?

This past weekend I was offered a position to do financial analysis work as a summer intern at McKesson, which is a fortune five company in the US that is now global. There are many pharmacy technology services, so I will be doing financial analysis work for that department. To be able to get into the corporate world and have that experience is something that I am really excited for. It's going to be a great opportunity and a good exercise to put what I have learned into practice. I had a few interviews with them, and the people who work there are really genuine individuals who I am looking forward to work beside. This is a company that has a great mission and a great vision. I know that it is large, but the branch that I will be working for is much smaller, so they have more of that team feel, which will be a great benefit for me. I can see it in the people who work there as well, that they enjoy working in smaller groups. Instead of having the individualistic feel of a large corporation, it is very team oriented. What they are doing is phenomenal. They are able to drive the prices down for a variety of pharmaceuticals and basic drugs because of the efficiency of the services that they provide, so that’s one thing that I really love about the company. To be able to tie the medical healthcare side of things in with the business side of things is something that I am really looking forward to doing.

What have you learned about yourself from being an RA?

It has been a great opportunity to interact with people and love them, even when they are not at their best sometimes. It takes a certain amount of confidence and faith that you can help someone out and also the ability to realize when you can’t. Certainly the team aspect of the job is critical and one of the most important things. Communication is key, and that is true for any real world position too, whether that's with your boss or your team. From being in the disciplinary role, I've learned that people want the truth and want to understand that you respect them to the point that you can notice when they are doing something wrong. People love to be communicated to in a very pointed way…not beating around the bush. Especially guys. Realizing that you are not right all the time too, is huge for me. You have to be willing to be critiqued to be willing to listen to other people. Ultimately it helps to form us as people. Teamwork, communication and humility are the three things from this job that have really been important to me.

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What will you take from this job into the real world?

Interviewing with companies these past few months and bringing those three things up, specifically the importance of teamwork, communication and humility, has shown me that it is something companies love to hear that you value. They want to know that you see the big picture and that you realize that you aren’t always right. They love to see young people with a desire to learn more who understand that they don’t rule the world. It is also very important to them that you can communicate well, especially in real world situations and in a corporate environment. 

How did a company like McKesson react to the fact that you went to a small liberal arts school?

A big company like this certainly looks at your resume to see where you come from. I had a great personal connection going into my interview who was someone I knew from back home, which certainly helped. The things that they said stood out about me, though, was the service that I have participated in since I have been at Ave. They love seeing young people that are willing to be part of something bigger than themselves that give of themselves more fully. They also really enjoyed seeing that I was invested in Champions of Charity and that I am motivated to be a part of an initiative that serves so many people. The interview was mostly a reflection of my character and that is really what I wanted to portray to them…who I am as an individual and what I am able to bring to their company. It’s about creating value for them. They were pretty astonished about the things that I was able to talk about with them, such as the importance of integrity, honesty, and work ethic. Students here at Ave, in particular, learn those qualities in such a special way because we are in a unique environment that emphasizes them. I think that most employers respect those things beyond belief because they are the things that drive and motivate people and create value. 

What are some tips that you would give to people going into a interview? What kind of questions do you ask when you go in?

I always ask what I will be doing on a daily basis. Based on the feedback that you get from your employer about what you’re going to be doing, you’ll get a good sense of whether or not you’ll like the job. If you aren’t going to want to be doing what they’re asking of you, why are you doing that job? Definitely ask them about the daily tasks, but also ask their personal opinion about the company - how they got to the position that they are in, what they love about their position, why they chose the company. These are the questions that I have asked all of my employers. These people love talking about their company! They have a certain sense of pride, and to be able to bring that out from them will give you a lot of personal feedback from them about what the company is all about and how it has formed them. 

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you bring?

The first thing would be a bible, I think that that goes without saying for me. The second would be a picture of my family, and third, my notebook from this past year that has notes from the great thinkers. Descartes, Paschal, Niche, Hobbes, JPII…it’s a great collection of thoughts. 

What’s your best quality?

I think that it is my ability to listen. I want to hear about other people and what they are up to. You can really learn a lot from listening and refraining from speaking.

When have you been most satisfied in your life?

Honestly, right now. I think that that has a lot to do with my faith and entrusting everything to Jesus and what He wants to do with me. I am very open to where He wants to put me and because of that He has given me some amazing opportunities, like the job this summer. He’s given me my family, and my family is the bread and butter of who I am as a person…my dad in a special way. He has given me this university and the opportunity to educate myself and practice my faith, which is a very fragile gift. I am satisfied right now because I am starting to see what God wants for me in my life and not pushing anything on my own accord. I want to influence people in a positive way, trying to be joyful and humble and honest and a man of faith, as a whole. I always want to be in a position that I am ready to die. Jesus orders everything properly and critiques and humbles me when I need to remember that He is in charge of everything. The fact that He is in charge of all 46 billion light years of this universe and that he has also made the smallest cell in my body and keeps it all together is pretty cool. Entrusting everything to Him will always make me most satisfied. 

What is your proudest accomplishment?

It's an ongoing accomplishment, but Champions of Charity. Andrew Nussbaum, Alex O’Conner, Hunter Rose, Matt Eichorn and myself have been working a lot together and have been able to see it start to grow and get a lot of support. The positive impact that it is having and is capable of having on a large scale is something that we are starting to see the fruits of. Definitely that project is something I am very proud of. It is a project that we have entrusted to the Holy Spirit, and that has brought a lot of peace. Right now, we are finalizing a contract to enhance our mission. This opportunity has come along in a very sudden way and we know that the Holy Spirit is in charge of this whole thing. I am confident that it will bring a spirit of generosity and giving into the lives of so many students.

Would you like to give a shout out to any professors that you have had?

Oh my, there are so many amazing faculty members here that have had a lasting impact on me. Dr. Curtright’s course on Thomas More was a life-changing one for me, and the work that he does is certainly very unique. Michael Sugrue is also an incredible man and has done amazing work with the humanities, being able to really educate me as a whole person, especially to see trends throughout history in the way that man has thought and acted. All of the great works that I have been immersed in have helped me to see where we are today and how we got here. Those are two professors that I admire greatly.

Student Spotlight: Anna Kunza

Anna Kunza, a senior from Burbank, California, is a shining example of what it means to be an Ave Maria student. Her love for God is not only the most important thing in her life, but is evident to all that she comes in contact with. As a double major in both Music and Humanities, Anna plans to go on to graduate school to pursue a career in either Human Resources or Public Relations.

What did you do last summer?

This past summer was amazing! I spent the summer in Europe, working for two different companies as an intern. In addition to my internships, I traveled to Slovakia to attend the Free Society Seminar, which is a society that was founded by Ambassador Novak. 

The first half of the summer, I was an intern for the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. The GMF is a non-partisan American public policy and grant-making institution, dedicated to promoting better understanding and cooperation between North America and Europe on transatlantic and global issues. The particular department that I worked for provides grants to companies and corporations who have shown leadership in civic society. Each summer, GMF selects a few citizens from America to come to Germany and spend six weeks traveling throughout European countries, getting to know the policies, politics, and the people, while interns from Germany go over to America and do the same. In addition to grant making and diplomatic efforts, GMF also does think tank work and research into political events which focus on issues going on in the political atmosphere. For example, when communism was prevalent in Eastern Europe, GMF worked to help create democracy by encouraging civic participation at a high level. It is a really interesting program! I would highly recommend that Ave students with an interest in pursuing careers in Politics and International Relations apply. 

After a stop in Croatia to see my family, I went to Bavaria for my second internship, where I led a work camp. It was a two week camp for youth from all over the world, designed to encourage them to come together, speak English, and work collectively on a project, while setting aside their differences. Together, we renovated a youth room and helped plant a field. We were able to explore castles in our free time and go on picnics in the park. It was a such an eye opening and rewarding experience!

How did your experiences from this past summer help you to shape your goals for the future?

They helped me to realize, even more so, what I am interested in, as well as what my most marketable skills are. For one, I really fell in love with Germany. If I could go back there for grad school, or a job, that would be great! What I loved most was the contact that I had with so many different people, both through the work camp, as well as through the German Marshall Fund. To have conversations with people coming from all different walks of life was not something that I had ever done, but it is such an important thing, especially with all of the cultural tensions going on right now.

What do you want to do after you graduate this year?

I plan on taking a gap year, hopefully abroad. During that time, l will be looking into possible options for graduate school.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Part of me could see myself in Germany, doing something like what I did at the German Marshall Fund, because it was an experience that I really loved. I could also see myself having a career in singing. I don't have a distinct “dream job”, honestly. I have a feeling of what I want to do with my life, and if it comes through my job, great, but if it comes through who I am as a person and the interactions that I have with people, that is great too!

What do you think are your three best qualities?

Insightfulness, articulation, and the ability to see and communicate beauty. These qualities have brought so much peace and joy into my life. In the book by C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, the artist was told that he could see things that other people couldn't because it was his job to help them see it. That is what I want to do for other people, whether it is through my work, my singing, or the way I live my life.

If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you go?

I would love to travel through all of Europe! I’ve been to Europe quite a few times before because my mom is from Croatia, but I would love to keep going back. Every time I’m on a train over there I feel like I'm in a fairytale!

What brings you the most joy?

Taking time to see beauty. Watching sunsets, walking outside and talking to the people I pass by, listening to good music, and sitting outside in nature.

How would you like to help out our world?

I think there needs to be so much more dialogue about what causes the division and labeling that is going on in society right now. You hear people say things like, “I don't understand how people could think…” and that is the problem. When someone talks like that, it is a sign that they need to learn how to understand why someone is thinking that way. If society began doing this, rather than passing quick judgements, we would have dialogue, rather than blatant disrespect and hot headed disagreements. I think that is really important. I want to be able to help people see things more clearly and to desire to learn about all of the perspectives that go into an argument. 

What is your favorite book?

Lord of the Rings. There is so much depth and beauty in the books and the characters. What I really love is the overarching theme of light and hope and good versus the evil and despair and darkness that is encroaching on it. It is so important to realize that you have to fight for what is good and that it is worth fighting for, even in the darkest moments. One of the most difficult things is to see good things destroyed, but there is a deeper beauty that comes out from it, and I think this series really captures that.

What is your best study habit that you can pass on to the student body? 

I have been taking quite a few philosophy classes, and recently, I stared dialoguing with the book by writing in the margins. I know it sounds like a small exercise, but it has really helped me to get a deeper understanding and appreciation for the text, even if I disagree with what is being said. When it comes to our education, we need to shift our mentality about how seriously we take our studies. Schooling is not about the grades, it is more about growing as a person, especially because we came here to get a liberal arts education.

How To Find the Major That’s Best For You

“What’s your major?”

This question is probably the #1 most FAQ at any university and Ave Maria is no exception. It’s a foolproof way to break the ice and make small talk when starting at a new school and meeting new people. But it’s not an easy question to answer, and a lot of thought needs to go into making the decision.

Personally, finding the best major for me was a bit of a roller coaster. As a freshman, I declared a Literature major with minors in Music and Shakespeare in Performance. My passions truly lie in music and acting. For as long as I can remember, both have been a very important part of my life, yet, by the end of the year, I was in a crisis.

I was persuaded into thinking that music, or any impractical major, wasn’t worth it. I was surrounded by a world that believed practicality was the road to success and anything else would surely lead to failure. I did well in math and science, so I knew I would do well if I pursued the “practical” path and became a doctor or a physician’s assistant.

If I studied that it would get me a real job and, therefore, a secure future.

So as my sophomore year began, I changed my major to biology and threw myself into biology classes. Simultaneously, I found that there were other areas where I could pursue music without having to be in the music department, so I dropped the minor.

Lastly, I registered for the Sophomore Success program.

The program helped me immensely. Through it, I discovered my top five traits, or strengths, and received advice on how to pursue a career path suited for me. These tools helped me better understand myself and how to search for a career (you can find a link to the “Choose a Major” page, which talks about the Sophomore Success program).

Following the Sophomore Success program, I took advantage of a lot of opportunities. I attended an intensive workshop for a Shakespeare graduate program, I spent ten days travelling through Italy, I was a costume intern and performer for a three week community theater camp, and I was part of a logistics team at a conference for Catholic thinkers and artists. I loved all of it, and the experiences led to a sudden realization.

I realized that I had been having the same conversation over and over again. For the last two and a half years, I had been speaking with mentors, teachers, and friends to help me figure out what to do with my life, and the one thing they kept saying was this:

“You’re definitely talented in the area of science, but it doesn’t seem to be what you’re passionate about.”

In the end, what mattered was what I was most passionate about, and that would be performance—whether it’s singing, dancing, or acting—literature, art, philosophy, and just people in general. As it turns out, Ave Maria has a major that includes all of those things: Humanities.

Interestingly enough, Humanities kept coming up in these conversations about my future, but I didn’t know anything about Humanities. I grew to learn more about the major and the people who studied it, but kept pushing the thought away. It wasn’t until a conversation I had with a friend that reality smacked me in the face: I am that kind of person. My passion and interest was drawing me in that direction, it just took me a while to catch up to them. Everyone else saw it but me.

This tale is not meant to convince you that Humanities is the best major. Rather, it’s how I came to find the best major for me. Yes, it takes some time, exploration, (a couple of mental breakdowns!), and a lot of discernment. But there is a process involved in choosing your major, and the work is completely worth it.

So here I am, a junior at Ave Maria pursuing a Humanities major and a minor in Shakespeare in Performance and I am happy

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of tips based on my experiences.

1. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it. You, and your strengths, will flourish if you pursue your passions. They will form you to be the best version of yourself.

2. A major is not a career. There are careers that require you to study a particular major (accountants, nurses, psychologists, etc.). But no major requires you to get a certain job. Consider your career choice and your major choice at the same time, but view them as separate issues.

3. Get involved. Sit in on classes you don’t take that are on subjects you’re interested in. Pay a visit to clubs you find intriguing. It’s hard to decide where to dive in if you haven’t at least dipped your toes in the water.

4. Talk to mentors, teachers, and friends so they can help you find yourself. Sometimes they will have insights into your character and interests that escape you. The Sophomore Success program is an excellent outlet for this discovery, and if you are a junior or senior you can still participate in the strengths assessments and mentoring that comes through the program.

5. It’s okay if you don’t have a particular career in mind when you start out. That’s part of the discovery. A major that best forms you as a well rounded person will naturally lead you in the direction of a career best suited for you.

6. Take advantage of opportunities! I cannot stress this enough. Look into internships, jobs, and other programs—whatever you can get your hands on. Pursue and persevere, and you will see doors opening (and sometimes closing, but that’s okay) all around you.

7. It’s okay to pursue what you want to. It’s okay to be happy with what you’re pursuing. If you can’t get rid of the nagging feeling that you want to try something else, you are better off looking into it.

8. Visit the Career Office in the Library Room 160 to find people who will walk you through your major choice.

9. Pray about it. Discern it. God will never lead you astray, even if it seems like he is sometimes taking you on a detour.

It’s my hope that you apply at least a couple of these to your own search!

So let me ask you: what’s your major?