My Professional Statement

by Travis Hellstrom
I am currently in graduate school at SIT Graduate Institute and hope to graduate this summer with my masters degree. One part of our final thesis portfolio is a biographical professional statement, which I really enjoyed writing. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I thought you might like it too.

I've always believed in helping people. Maybe it's because I'm the oldest child in my family, maybe it's because I grew in a community where people take care of each other, maybe it's that it brings me joy, or maybe it's a natural state for all of us. Whatever the case it's always been a big part of my life and motivated everything that I do.

When I was young this inspired me to become captain of my safety patrol. I took this responsibility much more seriously than our coach probably would've liked. Analyzing the assignments of all of the other safety patrol officers was probably not something he ever thought you'd be doing after school with a fifth grader. I also suspect me running small drills with my fellow safety patrollers and spot checking them on their ability to respond to first aid situations would've come as a surprise as well. But that's who I am in that's who I've always been. I was always the cop when I played cops and robbers with friends. I was a police explorer wearing the uniform and running through drills with my local police department. I was the Boy Scout becoming an Eagle Scout, promising to always be prepared. I was the pre-med student who got all the right grades and passed all the right tests to get into medical school. But after hundreds of hours shadowing doctors and hospital executives I didn't have the answer I wanted to the question I'd been asking since freshman year, “Is this really the best way for me to help people?”

A slightly better answer, I thought, was going into the Peace Corps. I had met volunteers when I studied abroad in Costa Rica for three months and Peace Corps felt right. Medical school would always be there if I wanted to come back to it. But as it turns out I didn’t.

Peace Corps exceeded my expectations in every way. For instance, I had no intentions of being romantically involved with anyone during the Peace Corps. I met my future wife Tunga within the first few months. I thought I would volunteer for the required 27 months and have an amazing time. I stayed 50 months and wrote two books about it. I was never interested in business and in fact for quite a long time thought it was the devil. I've helped start two Certified B Corporations in the past 2 years on two continents.

My journey to SIT Graduate Institute as a Peace Corps Fellow has been an adventure. It's funny how we can end up happier and healthier than we ever imagined by going down path that we never knew was there. I suspect the line from Robert Frost about going down a road less traveled is famous for a lot of reasons. When we take the road less traveled we find ourselves alone more often, able to peer into our own souls and discover what we really believe. We learn and grow and end up somewhere that we chose. Instead of plotting a course using someone else's map, we hold our own compass and go our own direction.

SIT has been a wonderful mixture of so many things that I love: Leadership, Social Business, Nonprofit and Social Business Management, Social Entrepreneurship, Service and more. I've met wonderful colleagues, made wonderful friends and help synthesize years of learning from both my American and Mongolian lives. Just like my practicum experience with Woodland Balance, I intend on consulting for many years to come with organizations ranging from nonprofits to social businesses and governments.

My dream has always been to be a humanitarian. Even when when I was too young to know what that meant, I knew who I wanted to be like. Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama: great men and women who dedicated their lives to helping people and making our world a better place.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Picasso, “My mother said to me, 'If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.' Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.”

To become truly oneself is our life's work. I feel lucky to have done so much of that work here at SIT.