Scientist, Artist, & Entrepreneur: Jennifer Spencer ’23 Uses Psychology Background and Small Business to Spread Compassion

Jennifer Spencer '23

Even though Jennifer Spencer ’23 decided to switch her major from art to psychology, she never left her creativity behind. In fact, now it’s stronger than ever.

“I initially thought I couldn’t do science,” she says. “I’ve always been into art. I chose to take an art class every year throughout elementary school and high school. That’s why I wanted to study art in college. But once I got into science, it just brought art to life in a whole new way. There’s art in all the little things in science. Even in chemistry — you can find things that look just as beautiful as if you went to an art museum.”

After her graduation from Hollins, Spencer hopes to go into neuropsychology, which focuses on how certain brain conditions affect human behavior and cognitive functions. Her ultimate goal is to obtain a Ph.D. and work in a hospital with patients who have mental illnesses. She’s particularly passionate about helping patients with schizophrenia.

“Those with schizophrenia don’t have a lot of options. They don’t have a lot of medications and therapies to choose from. There’s so much happening within their brains, and I just feel like I have a need to help them. It’s so sad to see people suffering, and you can’t help them unless you study really hard to become the person who can.”

Spencer is even more sure about her calling ever since she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) a year ago. “I wanted to help people who have problems with their brains even before doctors told me that I had a problem with my own brain,” she says. “But now I have this other side of my life where I live with a chronic illness, which I want people to know about, just so there’s representation of it in the world.

“I’ve gone blind once a day for the past nine months, which is related to my MS. It’s a brain and spinal cord disease where you get lesions on different parts of your brain, but it has over 50 symptoms, so it affects people in many ways. The biggest thing for me is my vision. I’ve had full-blown blindness, partial blindness, double vision, blurry vision, I even lost my colored vision once — which was actually pretty cool because it was like a black-and-white movie. I saw everything in blue one time, and I have to go to physical therapy twice a week because I can’t walk down stairs anymore.”

Spencer is open about how her health condition has impacted her own mental state. “When I was first diagnosed, it was kind of like a big slap in the face. I thought I wouldn’t be able to graduate. Doing art projects has become a very therapeutic thing for me.”

Last spring, she started taking medication that required her to stay home for two months, and she used the time to teach herself how to crochet. After watching YouTube tutorials, she began making her own stuffed animals, eventually launching her own small business. “I don’t know what it is, but I’m just really into activities that I do with my hands. I sit down and don’t have to think about anything else except making this stuffed animal,” Spencer says. “Everyone loved the animals, so after a while I decided I would try to sell them to friends and family. Now it’s become a second job for me. I have an Etsy shop, TikTok, and Instagram, though I mostly get custom orders from people I know personally or from people who my friends and family know. You’d be surprised how many 30-year-olds want to buy a stuffed animal.”

Spencer hopes to continue to grow her business in the coming years. “I want to make tiny stuffed animals and donate them to children’s hospitals, but I just don’t have the time right now. Hopefully after I graduate college I can visit hospitals and ask kids what they want and make it for them.”

While the joy that Spencer’s creativity sparks in others is important, the joy it sparks within herself remains unparalleled: “Sometimes my dorm room looks like a Build-A-Bear Workshop exploded, but honestly, there’s something so empowering in that.”

To learn more about Jennifer’s business, visit her Etsy shop, @HookedOnJen

 

Marin Harrington is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. She is pursuing her M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.