September 26, 2016 | 4 p.m.
By Lauren Pareigat ’08, communications specialist for College of Arts & Sciences
Last fall, Bethel received a significant grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc. to develop and host a 3-year summer theology institute for high school students. Katie Friesen Smith has been named as the institute’s director to oversee the development, planning, and execution of the initiative.
Smith has undergraduate degrees in youth ministry, Christian education, and Bible from Northwestern College (now University of Northwestern-St. Paul) and M.Div. and D.Min. degrees from Bethel Seminary. Her professional career has included roles in both higher education institutions and churches that blend relational and developmental skills with biblical and theological education. She has previously worked at Bethel as a resident director and currently serves as a faculty member and thesis advisor for the D.Min. program at Bethel Seminary. Additionally, she is continuing her roles at University of Northwestern-St. Paul as adjunct faculty and director of their Leadership Program.
This education and experience made Smith the stand-out choice for a role that required such a wide range of skills. “Katie’s academic preparation, higher education career (including both a role as associate dean and extensive teaching experience), program management responsibilities, and church leadership make her the perfect choice to direct Bethel’s theology institute for high school youth,” says Barrett Fisher, dean of arts and humanities and chair of the committee for the institute grant. “The committee and I were impressed by the depth of her preparation, the wisdom of her insight, and her passion for helping young people to explore critical contemporary issues as they look and listen for the ways that God is calling them to serve.”
“What drew me to the director position was the design of the program,” says Smith. “Living the Questions is designed to connect high school students, the local church, the community and the university. At the center of that connection is a challenge to engage and live out our faith.” She also says she is looking forward to seeing the change that will take place in the students’ lives. “They will come with questions and doubts,” she says. “But they will leave with a deeper understanding of the ethical issues facing Christians, skills to navigate those issues, and a larger appreciation for how God meets them in the midst of questions.”
Smith has been meeting with churches and other community leaders to build relationships and connections for the institute over the next three years. These partnerships will connect high school students to the institute, bring guest speakers, and provide service-learning experiences for the 10-day residential portion of the program in July. She has also been planning the post-residential portion of Living the Questions. To help students apply their learning, they will be paired with a mentor from their home community, meeting regularly during the 10 months following their time on campus. With their mentor, they will find ways to serve, continue to wrestle with their questions, and seek out practical opportunities to explore their vocational calling.
The search has begun for an administrative assistant to Smith as the program planning continues. The website is live and registration is set to open in January.