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April 9, 2021 at 3:22 pm

Class of 2021 | Eli Wanner Topped Off His OHIO Bucket List Despite COVID

Eli Wanner, portrait

Eli Wanner

Eli Wanner, who is headed to Duke Divinity School after a gap year, graduates this spring with a bucket full of memories and a true sense of accomplishment, along with a healthy dose of how to manage his time and wellbeing.

Wanner is earning an Honors Tutorial College History degree and a Certificate in Law, Justice, and Culture here at Ohio University.

Q: What was your ah-ha moment at OHIO—that point where you said to yourself, “I’ve got this!”

A: That’s hard to say as well. It could’ve been my freshman year when I was hired as a research scholar at the Voinovich School (the job started at the beginning of my sophomore year), which has been a really eye-opening job opportunity and helped me build some great connections. Or it could have been the same year, when I went on my first backpacking trip with Outdoor Pursuits (we went to the Red River Gorge) and discovered a new hobby.

Or it could have been my sophomore year, when I studied abroad in Northern Ireland during spring break and got my first taste of transatlantic travel (I also started dating my fantastic girlfriend, who is also a Bobcat, that year).

Or it could have been my junior year, when I completed the requirements for the Certificate in Law, Justice, and Culture and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.

Or it could’ve been this year, when I got really involved in a local church and started to grow my connections with the broader Athens community off campus. In short, my time at OHIO has been full of “I got this” moments — those moments when I felt like I was really taking major steps in my personal growth and preparation for the future.

Q: What stands out in your mind as you think about graduating despite COVID?

​A: I wasn’t expecting to graduate in the midst of a global pandemic, and it is disappointing to end my undergraduate career this way. On the other hand, I feel a special sense of achievement from completing my senior year despite the challenging conditions imposed by COVID-19. And, since I’m going to grad school, it won’t be my last chance to experience a “normal” graduation ceremony.

Q: What are your next steps/future plans?

​A: I plan on taking a gap year here in Athens to build up some work experience, and then I will be attending Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C., to get my Master of Divinity. I plan on being ordained as a pastor in the United Methodist Church, and I’m really excited to take the next steps toward that goal at Duke.

Q: Who were your favorite professors and how did they make an impact on your life? 

A: This is a really difficult question; I’ve had so many good professors during my time here in Athens. The History Department at OHIO is full of great professors who truly care about their students, and it’s been a privilege to earn my degree under their tutelage. If I had to pick a three, though, it would be Dr. Kevin Uhalde, Dr. Miriam Shadis, and Dr. Paul Milazzo.

Dr. Uhalde was my interviewer when I applied to the Honors Tutorial College, and I’ve taken a good number of classes with him. He and his dry wit have been a part of my entire undergraduate education. Similarly, Dr. Shadis was the best adviser I could’ve asked for, and I always enjoyed meeting with her and talking about life — she is so invested in her students. And Dr. Milazzo has been an excellent thesis adviser, allowing me to claim my thesis work as my own while simultaneously providing me with new research leads and useful knowledge — even while he was on sabbatical last semester!

Q:  What was the hardest hill you had to climb (not counting Jeff Hill) at OHIO? And how did you overcome challenges or obstacles in your path?

A: The hardest hill I’ve climbed here? I’d say the lesser-known Witches’ Hill right out of town. But jokes aside, I think the most challenging thing for me was to learn how to manage my mental wellbeing. My time at OHIO was the first time that I had to really think about my mental health; college presented me with a lot of new pressures (social, work-related, and educational) that caused some anxiety and depression.

Sometimes it was difficult to keep up with all the demands on my time and energy, and I got very overwhelmed. I went to OHIO’s Counseling and Psychological Services a couple times, which definitely helped put me on the right track, but I think what helped the most was the advice and companionship of my friends and the support and understanding of my professors and employers when I had to re-prioritize my workload to make it more manageable.

Q: What are your favorite OHIO memories?

A: One of them was “J-Lob Prom.” My freshman dorm, Johnson Hall, decided to throw a faux prom in Read’s lobby. Full disclosure, I thought it was kind of a lame idea, and I had a headache that night. But my friends convinced me to go anyway, and I’m glad I did because that’s where I met my now-girlfriend; she was still a senior in high school at the time, and she was in Athens that weekend visiting a mutual friend. We went to USD (Union Street Diner) after and then took a long night walk on the bike path, and the rest is history. So that’s one of my favorite memories now — both because of the personal story and because it encapsulates Athens life for me (campus activities, local restaurants, and outdoor activities).

Another favorite memory is taking the rock climbing REC class with some friends. Ever since then, I’ve been a pre-COVID regular at the Ping rock wall, I’ve gotten into outdoor climbing, and this year I’ve become a regular at the Blockhouse bouldering gym just out of town in the Plains.

And yet another great memory was my spring break study abroad trip to Northern Ireland. It was such a cool experience. I got to visit Giant’s Causeway (a bucket list item), have some really nuanced conversations about the Troubles, and experience a new culture and new food.

Q: What’s the one thing you would tell a new OHIO student not to miss?

A: Definitely give Outdoor Pursuits (headquartered in Ping) a shot. You may find that outdoor hobbies aren’t for you, but on the other hand you might find a new hobby that you love. Their programs are definitely more oriented toward beginners — now that I’ve been climbing and backpacking for a few years, I find they’re a bit below my level. But I’m still a huge supporter of OP’s camping trips because they’re what got me to take outdoor activities more seriously, and I would wholeheartedly recommend trying out a program to any new students.

And I know you said “one” thing, but this is really important: build good relationships with your professors. I promise your education will be 10 times better if you connect with the people teaching you (and it helps when it’s time for recommendation letters, too).

Editor’s Note: The Happy Beginnings series features recent College of Arts & Sciences graduates who are getting started in careers, graduate school and service.

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