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Culverts, Crosswalks, and Creeks

Physics alumna and civil engineer Rachel Hagen ’14 in front of one of the projects she’s helped complete on campus. (Photo Credit: Kurt Jarvi ’18)

“Bethel University—what city is that located in?”

When Rachel Hagen ’14 overheard that question posed near her desk in fall 2016, she couldn’t help but chime in with a hearty “Arden Hills!” The physics alum—and a new Civil Engineer in Training (CEIT) at Minneapolis-based BKBM Engineers—had already been assigned to her share of projects, working on drainage and infrastructures “from the ground down,” as she explains her field. But the die-hard Royal jumped at the chance to get back to campus and serve her alma mater.

The project? Fix a sinkhole that was caused by significant underground erosion, leaving an unsightly pit in front of the Lundquist Community Life Center (CLC) and Benson Great Hall. As a violinist in Bethel’s Philharmonic Orchestra—and the 2016 Festival Orchestra—she was intimately familiar not only with Bethel’s campus and community, but also the urgency of preparing for one of Bethel’s signature events, Festival of Christmas.

“That was stressful—we kept saying, ‘We have to get this done in time,’” Hagen recalls, noting that a sinkhole brings a lot of unknowns, with constant reassessment as the scope of erosion is explored. “To not be able to decorate for Christmas—for Festival? Not okay. We needed it to be done on time and look nice.” Hagen, BKBM Principal Tom Cesare, and Project Manager Joel Maier worked with Bethel’s facilities and grounds teams to quickly design and install an updated stormwater system, with new culverts in a material that would work long term with the unique soil and challenges in that part of campus.

Timely success with that project led to BKBM helping design a natural stone retaining wall along the creek through campus during summer 2017 improvements. Now, they’ve almost completed design of a brand-new Bethel Drive thoroughfare through campus. That project, which will be completed in summer 2018, will include new sidewalks, shoulders, gutters, crosswalks, signage, and drainage. Along the way, Hagen has used her experience as an alumna to help prioritize purchases, providing insight about what spaces students would or wouldn’t use, where to splurge or save money on the project, and how pedestrian traffic tends to flow on campus.

“[Rachel] gets the Bethel culture and what students care about,” says Mike Lindsey, associate director of planning and projects in Bethel’s Office of Facilities Management. “She represents everything that Bethel would hope graduates would be: excellent in their field, professional, teachable, and focused on customer service and solid values. Plus, she has this big smile and bubbly, friendly personality—she’s really a delightful person.”

Hagen wasn’t sure at first where she wanted to go to college, much less where she wanted to end up after she was done. She saw a Welcome Week video on an overnight campus visit in high school, and she was sold on the kind of place Bethel was and the type of high-quality science programs she could find here. She declared biochemistry and chemistry majors but quickly learned they weren’t for her. Once she took a few more courses, she landed on a path toward engineering, completing a B.A. in Engineering Science at Bethel and a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering at the University of Minnesota through the dual-degree engineering program. She loves the unique way civil engineering brings together different materials and processes, providing the foundation for so many spaces people know and love.

Now, as the only female and one of the youngest members of her team, she spends a lot of time using AutoCAD and HydroCAD stormwater modeling software, developing several projects at a time for diverse sites across the greater Twin Cities area. Hagen says Bethel’s top-quality academic experiences, tailored mentoring and advising from physics faculty, being on Welcome Week teams, and playing violin on a music scholarship all shaped who she’s turned out to be as a person and a professional. But on this particular jobsite, she’s tapping into a whole new level of experience that’s helping to bring a tangible project to fruition.

“It’s cool having all this knowledge that I never thought would be useful—being able to recognize areas of campus that are underutilized or that aren’t worth investing in,” says Hagen. “I know where students hang out, where freshmen cross the roads. You never know what experiences you’re having that are going to play a huge role in your life or career a few years down the road. Bethel really helped lay the groundwork for my values and the type of person I want to be—outside of what I want to do. And it’s so cool to be a part of the work that’s going on here—it’s a blessing to work on this campus, just to be back on this campus.”   

Learn about physics and engineering at Bethel or see Hagen in action at an upcoming performance by the Bethel Philharmonic Orchestra

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