In the four years since her Huntington University graduation, Heather (Hirschy) Gonzales’ life reads like a fast-paced novel — backpacking through Europe with friends, working in Congressional offices, serving as a missionary in Africa, getting married and attending graduate school.
After experiencing new places and milestones, Heather found herself happily situated in Washington, D.C. With the help of her Huntington University education, Heather has made a smooth transition from growing up in Indiana to now living, working and studying in the nation’s capital.
Upon graduating in 2000 with degrees in history and business management, Heather headed off to Congress making her mark in the Washington, D.C., office of Congressman Jim DeMint (R-SC) and later, in the District Office of former Congressman Mark Souder (R-IN). She then decided to follow God’s call to service in Namibia, located in the southwestern part of Africa. In connection with African Inland Mission, she spent three months tutoring and leading Bible studies in schools, also helping to create a mission training manual. However, Heather soon found herself drawn back to the nation’s capital where she landed a position working at the International Republican Institute, a non-profit and non-partisan organization dedicated to advancing democracy worldwide.
In addition, Heather took on a part-time position in the Government Affairs Office of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). And if two jobs weren’t enough, Heather completed a master’s degree in Liberal Studies at Georgetown University in 2005.
Though busy, Heather took on the position at NAE to combine her passion for advocacy with an interest in the political role of the evangelical community. “I am excited about what God is doing through the NAE,” said Heather, who worked on a NAE grant proposal in the area of improving relations between Muslims and evangelicals. “It serves as a vital advocate for the concerns of the growing evangelical community, while at the same time pushing that community to take notice of issues that are too often ignored.”
The NAE helps ensure that the concerns of evangelicals are thoughtfully presented on the national stage. Working for an organization that strives to represent evangelical Christians makes integrating faith and work a natural part of the job. And Heather could not picture it any other way.
“I can’t imagine living without having faith integrated into all parts of life,” Heather said. “Our faith is intended to be an all-pervasive faith; it isn’t checked at the door when I enter the office, the secular classroom or a friend’s party. That doesn’t mean I am handing out tracts or having revival meetings over lunch. But that does mean I live up to the ethical standards that my faith demands. I find that if you work hard, if you are considerate of those around you, and if you articulate your beliefs with grace and wisdom, people can’t help but be drawn to the hope you represent.”
Having a chance to offer that hope to co-workers and friends in Washington, D.C., may not have ever been possible for Heather without her participation in an off-campus study program through the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).
“I wouldn’t be in Washington today if I had not first come to the city as an off-campus portion of my Huntington University education,” said Heather, who spent the fall of her senior year at Huntington in Washington, D.C., taking classes through the American Studies Program and interning with the Congressional Hunger Center. “The Huntington faculty and staff went out of their way to help me adjust my schedule so that I could have an off-campus experience and still graduate on time.”
Heather urges other students, particularly those interested in fields of public service, politics or advocacy to take advantage of off-campus programs offered at Huntington University through the CCCU. “An intensive semester abroad or a semester in a city like D.C., along with a quality internship will add considerable value to your college experience,” Heather said. “Off-campus experiences allow you to put into practice the principles you have learned at Huntington while still in an educational setting.”
And while Heather learned important principles and gained a top-rate education at Huntington that helped her find success in the world of big-city politics and business, she says the real value of what she learned at Huntington was found in the relationships with fellow students and professors.
“From my relationships with an amazing group of close friends to the instructive relationships with professors, it was in those interactions that I gained the skills that would serve me best in a city like Washington,” Heather reflects. “In this city, it is so easy to become focused on power, money, titles or even on seemingly good things like advanced degrees, important public policy or worthy causes. Yet, the lesson I have learned over and over in my workplace, in my church and in my graduate work in Washington is that what lasts and what matters at the end of the day are the lives that you have touched and the relationships you have built. Huntington University instilled in me the primary importance of relationships and the need to focus on the people in your life rather than simply the ends you are trying to achieve.”
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