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Q&A: Scott Kirchoff

Q&A: Scott Kirchoff

Scott Kirchoff ’04, S’17, assistant dean for leadership development, Office of Student Life

Bethel’s Office of Student Life has a new assistant dean position and they found a familiar Royal to fill it. Scott Kirchoff ’04, S’17 worked at Bethel as an enrollment counselor, football coach, and custodian—and now he will help Bethel students discover their leadership potential in his new role as assistant dean of leadership development. Kirchoff discusses how he’s come full circle and hopes to build up the Bethel community he loves so much.

How did you end up at Bethel?

My path here as a student and my path onto the staff are really connected. Going through the football recruiting process in high school, I was looking at a lot of places but never felt at home at the other, bigger schools I toured. Coach Chris Meidt and Coach Steve Johnson invited me for a Bethel visit senior year, and I had never experienced that kind of Christian culture before—ever. I mean, within the first half hour, Coach J sat me down and told me he loved me and cared about who I was as a person. Two football guys took me to vespers; we played video games, went sledding, and stayed up and talked about life until late into the night. The next day, I cried the whole way home because I knew Bethel was where I was supposed to be. Personally—in every way, shape, and form—it was somewhere I could just see myself thriving, a place that would affirm who I was, and not just because I could throw a football.

I love this place—it has absolutely transformed my life in so many ways. And that’s the reason I wanted to pursue this job. Leadership is just influence, and every single person influences. So many people here have had a huge, positive impact on me: the coaches, Jason Holm ’02 and Hans Bengston ’02, who first let me stay with them, countless professors and staff members, and now my coworkers. So I want to turn around and help young people understand that their influence is a big deal—and then help them hone that.

How has your past experience prepared you to take on this new position?

Working in admissions, I gained an understanding of what students are looking for coming out of high school and into college. At the core, they want to find a community where they can be themselves and be affirmed, with a sense of belonging, in who they are—regardless of talent, where they’re coming from, or where they’re at in their faith walk. For a time I worked specifically with transfer students, and I learned that most students transfer because they can’t connect in their dorms or with faculty. Basically, they weren’t recognized for their uniqueness. In athletics, it’s the exact same thing. Even working in facilities management—cleaning toilets—you recognize that a clean toilet makes a difference. That’s leadership right there! I learned that no task—and nobody—should be overlooked. So in every role I’ve had, I’ve learned about what students want and need at their core, as well as how to help them gain it.

So…where will you start? What will this job look like day to day?

First, I think it’s important to recognize that every person has leadership potential. My first priority will be holding up a mirror, so to speak, and helping students see their potential and abilities. As students begin to see that, they grow in confidence and live differently. On the football team, we’d have the guys think about the man they want to be, and imagine it written on a rock. And then we’d tell them to put that proverbial rock somewhere prominent to remind them to go be that man every single day.

I’m taking that same message and getting it in front of as many students as possible. I’m meeting with representatives from student government, intercultural programs, athletics, every possible partner across the university—so that we’re all on the same page in creating atmospheres where students can be recognized for who they are. Every student matters. Every story matters.

There are a few existing structures, including a fall leadership retreat for about 200  student leaders. I’m also planning monthly leadership meetings with guest speakers—internal ones, local leaders, and national names—for our established student leaders and the Bethel community. And we’re looking at combining academics with this co-curricular leadership initiative. In the leadership minor, for instance, we’re asking what it would look like to partner on some things. Leadership doesn’t happen in a box or a vacuum. It happens everywhere—on playing fields, in classrooms, and even talking in Brushaber Commons. The more we can partner and invest in leaders in a consistent way across the campus, the better.

So, we’ll start with self-assessments so students can understand who they were created to be and how they can uniquely influence others. We’ll piggyback onto the university-wide wellbeing initiative to help students build healthy habits that reinforce and support healthy leadership. And we’re even talking about developing a summer leadership program for high school students down the road.

If we only meet once a month, we’re in trouble—that’s like going to a weight room once a month and expecting results. The goal is regular, integrated thinking on leadership—so students can lead in every context across the university and beyond.

What will success look like?

Bottom line? We want to see more students who are affirmed in who they are—and willing to take that and serve others with it. 1 Corinthians has a lot of “so that,” statements, and they show a greater purpose for things that happen to us. We want students to learn who they are, be affirmed in who they are—so that they can serve someone else and make a difference in our world. That’s the goal.

Find out more about the Office of Student Life, student leadership opportunities, and Bethel’s leadership programs.