Editor's Note: Steven Grudda is the 2016 CCCU Young Alumni Award winner.
As a freshman in high school, Steven Grudda dreamed of playing professional soccer. He was on his way: he’d just made the varsity team at his high school and was looking forward to his first big game.
That game never happened. Grudda’s family served as missionaries in Ivory Coast (also known as Côte d’Ivoire), and when civil war broke out, they were forced to evacuate. His high school closed down; some of his childhood friends were forced to fight. The war changed everything.
“That whole bubble burst,” Grudda says. “Giant wheels of government policy and geopolitical events had just ruined my world. So that made me start thinking on a much bigger scale.”
When Grudda became a student at Houghton College in Houghton, New York, several years later, he took some introductory classes with professors who had extensive experience in international relations and with international aid groups. It cast a new light on his experiences in Ivory Coast and on what he wanted to do with his college career.
“I began to realize I could actually study the problem that so upset me in high school,” he says. “Those questions became very meaningful for me, and I began to see the academic pursuit as far more meaningful than just, ‘What job am I going to get after [graduation]?’”
Grudda majored in international relations and French, and he took every opportunity he could at Houghton to put his studies into action even before he graduated. On campus, he developed leadership skills and experience through involvement in student government, as captain of the soccer team and as a resident assistant.
Off campus, Grudda took advantage of other opportunities to learn and develop his skills. He was one of the students that Ndunge Kiiti, professor of international development at Houghton, took to a number of symposiums organized by the Institute for African Development. “Steve was always inquisitive and asked questions at the symposiums,” she says. “I get inspired when I see students [like Steve] connect theory and practice and really take action on current issues and challenges in our world – even while they are students.”
Grudda did just that, spending every summer during his college career working in Africa. The first two summers he served on mission trips to Ivory Coast. He spent the next two summers working and researching in Sierra Leone with Houghton and partner organization World Hope International (WHI).
That experience led to him back to Sierra Leone after graduation to continue working with WHI and Houghton in coordinating the Mango Out-Growers Project, which connected farmers to Sierra Leone’s first fruit concentrate manufacturer, Africa Felix Juice. The project helped farmers gain income from mangoes that would have otherwise gone unharvested.
“Students [like Steve] that approach international development with a faith mindset are typically motivated by something more than just getting experience or getting paid – they’re fulfilling a higher cause directed by God,” says John Lyon, WHI’s president and CEO and a fellow Houghton graduate. “That makes those candidates really appealing to work with because they’re much more motivated – and for the right reasons.”
Today, Grudda works as an associate at Endsight Consulting, based in Washington, D.C., where he serves as the lead on African agribusiness. It’s a role that allows him to continue to empower and support small farmers and communities throughout Africa.
It was his education at a Christian college, Grudda says, that helped him recognize how his faith and his upbringing as the child of missionaries could fully incorporate into his calling in business and economics.
“The preparation I had at Houghton helped me realize I need to be able to do good, but I also need to be able to articulate my own motivation for why I’m doing that,” he says. “I’m here to do good, and do good business; I’m going to make money and they’re going to make money. But my motivation is because Jesus wants us to take care of each other and look out for people who need some extra support, and I think I can be part of that solution. If I had gone to another institution, I don’t think I would have exited with the same kind of worldview or the same sense of that servant-leadership role.”
Morgan C. Feddes is the managing editor of Advance.