Although barely in her 30s, 1997 Huntington University graduate Heidi Wolfe-Palacios has already experienced traveling afar, only to return to where she started. And all that time, a clear vision of her journey lay buried in her family home.
"I recently found a response that I had written as a high-school senior, when I was running for homecoming queen, that detailed what I wanted to do with my life," Heidi said. "In that letter, I stated that I loved both art and teaching and wanted to pursue a career as an art teacher."
Nevertheless, life pulled Heidi in several directions before that would come to be.
Heidi is adamant that students are better off entering college with the idea of discovering what they want to do, rather than going with a plan in place. At Huntington, Heidi explored art education, educational ministries and graphic design before finally settling happily on a fine arts major.
She appreciates that Huntington University gave her a chance to explore many options, and helped her faith flourish.
"Everything and everyone welcomed me and pointed to a place of support and nurturing.
"Huntington provided a safe environment for questions and doubts, as well as investigating different aspects of the Christian faith," she said. "I learned who I was as a Christian through the friendships I formed there."
Huntington's Department of Visual Arts gave Heidi a broad background that allowed her to develop expertise in design, drawing, painting, 3-D and graphic design. Upon graduation, however, Heidi didn't know how she would put all that to use. She knew only that she wanted to work in art and live in a big city.
So, Heidi applied for a job as a graphic designer in the marketing and communications department at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. She landed the job and worked as part of the creative team developing concepts and doing final design work for advertisements, annual reports, direct mail pieces, calendars and magazines. After a few years, however, Heidi realized that she wanted to work less with a computer and more with people, especially little people.
She then left her graphic-design career and headed back to Huntington to earn an art-education certification, which she completed during the spring and January terms of 2000.
Ultimately, God led Heidi back to her original homecoming-queen dream: Teaching art to elementary-school children in Chicago.
Heidi began her teaching career immersed in the Latino community and culture, working with a school that was 95-percent Latino and home to many immigrant children. She has since moved on to other teaching opportunities.
"I work a block from my house and love it," she said. "My neighbors are my students and I feel like I have a greater impact on them when I live just around the corner."
When Heidi left Huntington, she knew art was her future, but she later realized that her life was lacking the human touch found in teaching. She knows now that her broad palette of art training provided her with the perfect background to teach. When she applied for the teaching job, the interviewers were impressed with her real-world experience in graphic design.
In the past, Heidi traveled to a different elementary school each day, providing instruction to about 800 children each week. Now situated at one school, she is the art instructor for 450 elementary students.
"It's a very demanding job," she said. "I'm a different kind of tired at the end of the day. When I was a graphic designer, I was sleepy-tired from sitting in front of a computer. Now, I'm worn out. The real difference is that at the end of the day, I have the feeling that what I spent my day doing was useful in God's big picture."
Heidi also finds that the time she spends smiling and laughing with her students makes her job worth it. Before she became Mrs. Edgar Palacios, Heidi says the students used to address her as "‘Miss Wolfe,’ and one boy always called me ‘Miss Woof.’ While her students now call her by her married name and pronounce it perfectly, Heidi still laughs at those earlier memories.
"My insides smiled when he said my name, and I was sure that I was meant to be a teacher," Heidi said. "It's important to know that God continues to work and will lead you where you're meant to go."
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