Lanie Steinwart came from Indianapolis to Valparaiso University (VU) as a freshman in the fall of 1984 and never left. Nowadays, her time is spent in the Communication and Visual Arts department, where she serves as the chair.
Around the time she graduated, Steinwart hopped right into working with a local advertising agency in Chesterton, passionately interested in and liking the work she was doing every day. One day, however, she received a phone call that altered the trajectory of her career.
“While I was a student at Valpo, personal computers were a brand-new thing, and I worked as a student in one of the computer labs, helping other students learn how to use word processing programs and the like. Once I graduated with a degree in communications, I started working around the area, but the person I had worked for back when I was at school contacted me and asked, ‘Would you ever consider coming back and working for IT? We need more people to do user support.’ Getting that call was interesting because I had a good experience as a student at Valpo, and I felt like I had an opportunity to give back. From that point on, I ended up taking a full-time job with the university, quickly realizing that the part I liked best about that first job was helping people learn new things,” Steinwart said.
At this point in time, Steinwart’s been with the university for 34 years, spending about 11 working in IT. In the meantime, she wound up obtaining her master’s degree in English from the school, opening the opportunity to teach and switch over to the department she’s now chair of.
Steinwart began with teaching public speaking classes. She has taken on all kinds of classes related to the overarching nature of her field of study. What’s been most compelling is how she’s found a lot of value in what she does no matter what class she teaches or what direction her career has taken her.
“The bright spot of my day is teaching students. When I look back on my day, I often reflect and ask myself, ‘Did I create a good educational experience for them today?’ If I can say yes, then I know I've done my job,” she said. “My hope is that students actually learn something from everything that happens. I've watched students change a lot over the years. There's often this goal in front of them that makes them believe that getting a good letter grade is all that matters, but I'm hoping I can help them understand that every experience they have in life is valuable. There is always something that helps a person grow that comes out of practically anything.”
Perhaps the greatest part of her job is in how Steinwart’s always sought to immerse herself in Christian higher education. It’s an aspect of life that clearly means a lot to her. Luckily for her, she’s had experiences that have assisted her in the pursuit of discerning how students value the same things she does.
“I was teaching a class on mass media when everything started on 9/11. We ended up bringing up the coverage on a large screen in the lecture hall, and it was obviously disturbing for the students. I didn't know what to do. I'm supposed to be the person in charge, and I soon found that I had no words of wisdom. I had a student stand up in the classroom, turn, and say, ‘I'm gonna go out in the hall and pray.’ I would say 35% of the students in the class got up and went out in the hall,” Steinwart said. “Seeing that made me realize why I work in Christian higher education. We can all turn to our faith in times of real tribulation.”
Outside of the sphere of academia and education she thrives in, Steinwart spent 10 years working on the board of directors for Opportunity Enterprises, an organization in the Region that presents opportunities and programs for individuals with disabilities.
“I pose questions on the first day of class every year, asking students to tell the class one fun fact that nobody would know just by looking at them. I play the game too. I grew up in Indianapolis, and I have a very long family history with the Indianapolis 500. I have an uncle who built race cars, so I’ve had the pleasure of going around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on my feet, on a bicycle, in a tour van from the museum, and in a race car at 180 miles per hour,” she said.
Besides that, Steinwart’s been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit. She and her husband have ventured to Europe, China, and Mexico. Locally, movies are the move, and she enjoys all-things arts and crafts. Finally, she certainly takes pleasure in what the town of Valparaiso has to offer.
“If you had asked me when I was a college student if I was going to live in Valparaiso, I would have laughed you out of the room. At that time, Valparaiso was so different from what it is now. My husband and I comment regularly on how amazing our city is; we’ll go out on Friday nights to downtown Valpo and say to each other, ‘Gosh, I love this little town we live in,’ because it just has so much to offer. To me, it’s everything you want it to be — it's small enough that it's safe, but it's hip enough that it has good restaurants,” she said.