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Ed.D. Students Enter International Leadership Roles

Laura Berntson GS’17 (left), Timothy Aderinkomi GS’18 (center), and Shaun O’Rourke GS’17 (right) are international leaders and students in Bethel’s Ed.D. program.

At Bethel, students are called to be world-changers—leading, giving, and evangelizing on a global scale. But for three of Bethel’s Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) students, global-minded leadership isn’t an ideal, it’s a reality. In the past year, Laura Berntson GS’17, Shaun O’Rourke GS’17, and Timothy Aderinkomi GS’18 have all entered leadership roles at international American schools.

The first of the three, Berntson, transitioned into her role as the high school vice principal of the American School of Warsaw for the start of the 2016-2017 school year. A Minnesota native, Berntson never planned on leading a school overseas. When she and her husband, David, decided to move with their 4-month-old to Kuwait in 2003 for an experience abroad, they anticipated they would be gone four years at most. But what began as an extended adventure soon turned into an overseas career. After two years in Kuwait, the family moved to Dubai, where Berntson taught AP economics, accounting, and psychology at the American School in Dubai. “Here, we got the bug to continue to live abroad,” says Berntson. “We had a great lifestyle, and were able to travel all over the world with our kids.”

Four years later they moved again—this time to the American Community School of Abu Dhabi, where Berntson taught for one year before completing her M.S. in School Counseling online and transitioning into a counseling position at the same school. With the switch, Berntson began to take on additional administrative tasks and soon became interested in pursuing leadership. From across the world, she stumbled upon Bethel’s program online. “I liked the philosophy of the program,” she says. “It has been very convenient for me as I am from Minnesota, but there are some other international educators that are in the program as well [who] have said wonderful things about it, too.”

One such person—and the second of the three students—is O’Rourke, who became the middle school principal of the Taipei American School (TAS) in Taiwan in August 2016. Unlike Berntson, O’Rourke’s roots are not Minnesotan—or even American. O’Rourke was born and raised in Australia, where he earned undergraduate degrees in psychology and geography, a master’s in educational psychology, and worked as a child educational psychologist. But in 2001, when a friend suggested he look into work opportunities at international schools, O’Rourke set his sights on living overseas. “It’s nearly a rite of passage in Australia,” he says. “When I found out that I could actually work while also traveling overseas, I thought that was a pretty cool opportunity.”

O’Rourke landed a job as a psychologist at TAS, where he and his future wife, Katie, would continue to live, work, and raise their three children—“made in Taiwan and born in Taiwan”—for the next 15 years. In that time, O’Rourke continued his career at TAS, transitioning from his first role as a school psychologist to a dean and then associate principal. When it became clear he wanted to continue pursuing a career in leadership, O’Rourke took the advice of two of his colleagues and enrolled in Bethel’s Ed.D. program. “What was really attractive about it was that it was really geared toward teachers who were working fulltime,” he says, going on to note how the program’s use of Moodle has made for easy communication with instructors and peers despite the distance.

Now, as the middle school principal of TAS, O’Rourke is using valuable lessons from his time at Bethel to influence the already prosperous school. “We call ourselves an American school situated in southeast Asia, but we also think that we offer the best of private school and the best of public school systems as well. We try and steal from everyone so we have the best of everything,” he says. “I’m very lucky that I came into a division that works so well, so I’m just really trying to learn it and understand it…try and see what we can do to change and move forward.”

For Aderinkomi, the third Ed.D. student, change and progress are two motifs that have marked his time as the executive director at Bethel American International School (BAIS) in Fiditi, Nigeria. “You know it’s sometimes difficult to get people to see what you’re seeing and to run with the vision,” he says. “It was a challenge for me initially. What helped me greatly was that I enrolled at Bethel University and the first two years prepared me for the challenges ahead.”

BAIS was founded in 2012 by Aderinkomi’s brother, Elder Michael, as the educational arm of The Good Samaritan Society of America (TGSSA). Aderinkomi himself has been a member of the Nigeria mission outreach of the society—The Good Samaritan Society Mission—since it’s inception in 1998, and he felt called to get involved in the school after it opened. His brother, who has held connections with Bethel University since 1999, referred Aderinkomi to the Ed.D. program. A little more than two years later, Aderinkomi entered his current role.

“I became a leader in the school when it was obvious that many of the people recruited into leadership positions did not understand the vision and mission of the school,” he says. “Our mission at BAIS is to be different. We do not want to do what every school in Nigeria is doing. We want to raise young adults that are conscious of their place in the world and strong in faith.” As a part of that mission, the school came on an excursion to the United States, where they visited Bethel University in the spring of 2015. “Bethel University remains a model of an institution we intend to build here in Nigeria,” Aderinkomi says. “My experience at Bethel has been wonderful…the curriculum is rich and relevant to my situation. I have been able to go this far because of the support and encouragement I have received from the faculty and [my peers].”

The appreciation is mutual for Bethel faculty. “The incredibly diverse perspectives these international educators bring to the Ed.D. program have enriched classroom discussions through a global examination of relevant issues,” Program Coordinator and Enrollment Counselor Erica Hering says. “We are humbled and encouraged by the new opportunities these individuals have been afforded, and look forward to seeing how their influence will continue to shape education across the world.”

Whether that influence grows and enhances one school, as has been the case with O’Rourke and Aderinkomi, or extends to many different schools and countries as Berntson’s has, these leaders will draw on lessons learned at Bethel to better the educational experience for students around the world. “I appreciate how much the program allows for us to integrate our own experiences, which allows us to really reflect on our own leadership styles and challenge areas,” says Berntson. “The biggest takeaway has been how to be a servant leader and how to manage change.” 

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