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Living Adventurously

Meet a few adventurous alumni who’ve taken the broad learning they did at Bethel, found their niche, and soared.

By Monique Kleinhuizen ’08, GS’16, new media strategist

August 05, 2019 | 9 a.m.

Illustration of people climbing ladders and looking at the stars.

Adventurous alumni take the broad learning they did at Bethel, found their niche, and soared.

This year, one in 13 new Bethel undergrads listed their major as “exploratory”—meaning they hadn’t decided what to study quite yet. Students switch or add majors with ease—and some do it frequently. As they study abroad and dabble in clubs and hobbies and jobs, their learning happens in contexts far beyond the classroom. And even their mix of courses is meant to be broad and exploratory. The liberal arts learning environment teaches graduates to be nimble and adaptable, ready to embrace changes in the job market—and their own unique callings—to excel in today’s world.

Meet a few adventurous alumni who’ve taken the broad learning they did at Bethel, found their niche, and soared:

 Illustration of an underwater archeologist

Christopher Olson '87: Deep-diving to understand our past

Christopher Olson ’87, underwater archaeologist
Major: History

When I was young, I was fascinated with maritime and military history. I developed an interest in programming, so at Bethel I took computer classes. At the encouragement of Professor of History Neil Lettinga, I eventually found my path toward history and anthropology. I learned the basics of historical research, how to analyze sources, and how to write clearly and analytically. Professor of History Emeritus Jim Johnson’s senior seminar stands out as a favorite as I realized my passion for research.

After Bethel, I did underwater archaeology in Jamaica and conducted terrestrial archaeology in Red Wing, Minnesota, and England. I spent three field seasons working on prehistoric sites, and my master’s thesis focused on research and documentation of the CSS Curlew underwater site in North Carolina.

Once back in Minnesota, I volunteered as an engineer on the steamboat Minnehaha on Lake Minnetonka. I was then hired to maintain its mechanical systems as well as the rolling stock at the Jackson Street Roundhouse in St. Paul. This series of experiences led to my current work at Maritime Heritage Minnesota, a not-for-profit organization my wife, Ann Merriman, and I launched in 2005. As the only two licensed underwater archeologists in the state, our mission is to identify, document, preserve, and—when necessary—excavate Minnesota’s submerged wrecks and maritime sites using sonar and scuba.

“Wrecks serve as windows to our past, both historically and technologically. Even the smallest, nondescript watercraft has a story to tell. While those stories may not be a part of the big social or political stories of the day, they are part of the fabric of our ‘everyday’ past and affect our shared maritime, economic, and transportation history.”

— Christopher Olson ’87
Illustration of man looking at a laptop in a baseball locker room.

Ben Beecken '10: serving and communicating in the sports world

Ben Beecken ’10, Oklahoma City Dodgers front office and freelance writer
Major: History

My tentative plan in college was to find a high school teaching job that would allow me to coach baseball or basketball. And once I’d picked a history major, I became used to hearing the assumptions that I was either going to go to law school or grad school or teach. I began to realize there was an entire business world behind my top passion: sports. Legendary Bethel Professor of History and Political Science Emeritus G.W. Carlson was patient with me and encouraged me as I discovered that passion.

I was turned down for my first internship and thought I would never get the proverbial “foot in the door.” I eventually found a temporary job with the Minnesota Twins and began looking at the minor leagues. While interviewing with the Oklahoma City RedHawks, I emphasized my customer service experience and the communication skills I developed at Bethel. I landed the job and spent three years in group sales, got promoted to management, and then the team was purchased by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now I manage a team overseeing the service and activation of all of our corporate partners—from season-long promotions to ballpark signage and events. I also freelance for Grandstand Central, writing about the intersection of sports and politics, money, culture, tech, mental health, religion, sexuality, and science.

“At Bethel, I had great advisors and professors who encouraged me to take a variety of courses to round out my experience and allow myself to see the world from a variety of viewpoints.”

— Ben Beecken ’10
I wasn’t as receptive to broadening my horizons back then, but I’ve grown to value that opportunity. The sports world has exposed me to people from all walks of life, and having that seed planted in my mind at Bethel has been vital to my professional development.
Illustration of a farmer

Kjersten (Swenson) Oudman '14: Providing nutritious food, a holy responsibility

Kjersten (Swenson) Oudman ’14, organic farmer
Major: Environmental Science

I was planning to be a wildlife manager in a national park. But my plans changed drastically my sophomore year at Bethel, when I took a geology class and fell in love with soil science. Classes like “Sustainable Living” and “Transforming Technology” helped me think about how to use environmental sustainability to serve people holistically. The major transformation came when I studied abroad in Tanzania and Kenya. Even though I was studying the most charismatic animals in the world—like elephants and lions—I felt my heart and interests shifting. I began to realize that agriculture could meet my two biggest desires: to serve people and care for creation.

After graduating, I interned at Plant with Purpose in San Diego—focusing on environmental solutions to poverty— and then at World Hunger Relief, learning sustainable agricultural techniques for developing countries. There, I managed an acre of vegetables for a full year, met my husband Dirk, and began dreaming about farming. I got my master’s degree in crop diseases from Michigan State University, and then God opened all of the doors for us to manage King’s Hill Farm in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. We sell organic vegetables to local farmer’s markets, grocery stores, restaurants—and more than 100 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members.

“I have a deep conviction that providing nutritious food for people is a holy responsibility, as is caring for the earth by using techniques that regenerate soil and other life. Bethel provided me with a foundation that sees every job or task—even menial farming tasks like weeding—as opportunities to serve and glorify the Lord.”

— Kjersten (Swenson) Oudman ’14
Illustration of a detective

Cory Streeter '08: Seeking truth and serving people on their worst days

Cory Streeter ’08, special agent
Major: Journalism

Early on at Bethel, I got the bug for journalism. I loved deep investigation and uncovering universal truths through story. I eventually became editor of the Clarion, Bethel’s student newspaper, and that experience solidified my desire to seek the truth. I co-led a mission trip to New Orleans six months after Hurricane Katrina. It opened my eyes to poverty, disaster, and the unpleasant aspects of the world outside of Bethel—but it was coupled with the intense hope, joy, and gratitude of residents. I felt like I wanted to serve people directly, instead of just writing about them.

I remember having a conversation with my advisor, Phyllis Alsdurf, about how I might not continue in journalism long-term. She wasn’t disappointed. Just like my other professors, she simply encouraged me to follow my passions and go impact the world.

After graduation, my wife Becky ’08 and I served in New Orleans with AmeriCorps and Habitat for Humanity for a year. It was difficult to find work post-recession, so I slogged through temp jobs and beat reporting—and eventually decided to pursue law enforcement. I worked in a variety of specialties for the Eau Claire Police Department in Wisconsin, became a detective, and today, I’m a special agent for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. While my police reports don’t start out with a catchy lead, the foundational skill set is the same as journalism: to document the facts. Police are called upon to be first responders in emergencies, but also mental health crises, domestic violence, and juvenile cases. We often see people on their worst day, so being a skilled communicator has been so important.

“Bethel refined my desire to serve my community and provided me with opportunities to lead and grow as a person of faith and purpose.”

— Cory Streeter ’08
Illustration of people in an escape room

Tony '08 and Alex Ducklow '10: Bringing people together through games

Tony ’08 and Alex Ducklow ’10, escape room owner-operators
Majors: both Youth Ministry

Tony: Growing up, we both attended and worked at a camp that had a decidedly outreach-oriented focus. We created and played a lot of games there. Not your standard “Capture the Flag,” but wide-scale games, like “Clue” coming to life with real characters. I saw what an influence games could have on ministry—as a way to break down walls. And at Bethel, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies Karen McKinney taught workshops on how to lead games well—how they could be really meaningful experiences.

Alex: Games can tell a story. They can bring people together. After a good game, you have conversation around a shared experience. We played our first escape room years ago, and we loved it, but the concept was pretty new at the time. Then we developed our own—just for some team development—and it was one of those beautiful things. We just looked at each other and said, “Could we do this?”

Tony: Alex had some background in theatre and construction, including doing tech for Bethel Theatre. We designed a game and set it up in the camp office, running a few dozen test groups through it. Even though we had other full-time jobs, we saved our money and opened our first room in 2016 in a former YouthWorks space. Now we can’t build rooms fast enough! We keep thinking of how we can do unique things within the industry, treat our employees well, and lead our business differently.

“I think about how I studied youth ministry, which I’m not really doing anymore. That transition would have been a lot more challenging if I didn’t have the broad, critical thinking skills I gained at Bethel. It wasn’t a stretch to go off and find a new direction.”

— Alex Ducklow '10

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