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Q&A: Kendall Engelke Davis ’07, GS '11

Bethel’s residence life staff has a deep focus on creating community for students. Kendall Engelke Davis—resident director for Nelson Hall—loves that community so much that she and her young family have called it home for 12 years.

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

October 04, 2019 | 8 a.m.

Kendall Engelke Davis ’07, resident director in Nelson Hall

Kendall Engelke Davis ’07, resident director in Nelson Hall

From #FlapjackFriday to Homecoming cheer night, the exuberance of Welcome Week to the stress of finals, there’s a certain rhythm to life on a college campus. Kendall Engelke Davis ’07, GS '11 loves that rhythm so much that she returned to Bethel as resident director of Nelson Hall in 2008 and—despite getting married and having two sons—never left! Here’s what she has to say about their unique lifestyle, the new-and-improved building, and the ups and downs of caring for college students:

What was your path to becoming a resident director, and what makes it such a great fit? 

I majored in early childhood and elementary education at Bethel. I taught at a St. Paul charter preschool for a while, managing the budget and developing curriculum. It was a great experience! But I was a resident assistant for two years as a college student, and I loved it so much that I saw being a resident director as my dream job. 

Taking on this role was going to be short-term; we never planned on being here for year 12! There are some unique things about living on a college campus, for sure. But it’s awesome having all these great students for my sons to look up to. Kids ease the tension around students, and they instantly take away titles and bring in a different element of relationship. My husband Derrick is a teacher in Osseo, and he also has to be completely on-board, or we couldn’t do this. I’ve always said—as kind of a joke, but also kind of for real—that my early childhood degree has served me well in this role. It’s a lot to learn how to be independent and share and live with others. We’re all still those little kids, with big kid emotions! Now I just get to walk alongside college students and my own sons, Camden and Kasen, as they do those things. We really view this as a ministry, and we take this commitment year by year.  

Kendall Davis with her husband Derrick, sons Camden and Kasen, and step-daughter Veronica. Photo by Sparrow & Crown Photography.

Derrick and Kendall Davis with their sons, Camden and Kasen, and step-daughter, Veronica. Photo by Sparrow & Crown Photography.

What’s it like living on campus?

Most college students haven’t lived life alongside young married couples with kids, and we have a great opportunity to model real life to them. Sometimes that’s awkward. Students have seen my kids cry. They’ve heard me yell. But my team and I are on a mission of creating a home where students can grow and thrive in connection with God and others. We do that through programmatic things, and sometimes people think our job is just about parties. Yes and no. We focus on getting students out of their rooms and interacting—and that involves spending a lot of our budget on food—but if students feel a sense of belonging, studies show they’ll have better retention, better academic success, greater spiritual development, and more regular access to campus resources. It all starts with knowing who our students are, deep down. And if they can know me and my family on that level, too, that process goes so much better. 

Camden Davis at Homecoming 2018 with Roy the Lion, Bethel's mascot

Camden Davis at Homecoming 2018 with Roy the Lion, Bethel's mascot

How has the renovation of Nelson Hall supported what you and your team are up to? 

Obviously there were a lot of hopes and goals for the remodel! It’s simple, but air conditioning has already improved the student experience as the school year has begun. There are new bathrooms, and when you’re building relationships with roommates and floormates while you brush your teeth and get ready each morning, it’s significant to have a beautiful space to do that! Another major goal was to reimagine the common spaces and how students utilize them. Even though the outside of the building didn’t change, the facilities team was able to create an open floor plan, with a kitchen that looks into a seating area with a fireplace. It feels more like a home living room for students. We have a dedicated area for pool, ping pong, foosball, and another for homework and quieter group meetings. And while many may not see the accessible rooms on the third floor, it’s so important to Bethel's mission to be inclusive of all learners. This provides a traditional dorm-living experience for individuals who need extra accommodations. 

How do you support students’ social and spiritual growth while they’re on campus? 

I tell my staff that we should imagine students wearing invisible signs that say “Do you see me?” Everything we do should show them that, “Yes, we see you. We know you.” If you’re not familiar with Homecoming week on campus, it can seem absurd. That week we come together and wear orange and dance our hearts out and paint posters and play dodgeball, and all those things are fun. But getting students excited about being a part of something bigger is so significant. There’s always something going on in the community area, whether it’s a football game or The Voice on the big TV or a board game tournament. We do #FlapjackFriday each month, so students can end their week with delicious pancakes and community. Resident assistants (RAs) might plan Macaroni Monday or Toast Tuesday during their “shack” hours. Once we did a Walking Taco Night, where students had to get a different dinner ingredient in each RA’s room, and we strategically put the forks in the last room so they had to walk to each floor and meet people. Yes, there’s a lot of food, but I believe there’s a deep biblical value in feeding people’s bodies and souls at the same time. At our core, we’re about challenging students to step outside their comfort zones, and supporting them once they get there. 

Why should students choose to live on campus?

There’s a lot of research that shows student success is higher when they live on campus. There are tons of opportunities to build meaningful relationships in a dorm. When you live life with people, you get to see the good and the bad. It’s vulnerable, it’s hard sometimes, but it means more meaningful relationships. Being right here on campus means students can more easily take part in clubs, study groups, and office hours that happen at night. Plus, we’ve done studies and it’s actually cheaper to live on campus than off! The price of campus housing might seem high, but it includes utilities, wi-fi, free laundry, and simple things like toilet paper and snacks. Plus, even if you choose to have a car on campus (which you wouldn’t need because of our free shuttle and public transportation), you’ll save a lot of gas not having to commute each day. 

What would you say to parents who are adjusting to having a student in college?

First, keep loving your kiddo. They still need you, even if they’re acting like they don’t! And we’ve got ’em. We care about them here, too. But we also acknowledge the significant growth that’s going on in them as they transition to college. Instead of trying to fix things for your student, ask “how do I help them access resources on campus?” Students will be more likely to continue to engage in those resources if they connect to them independently, but with support and encouragement from home. 

And for students? Take advantage. Step out. Try something new each day. It will be hard, but you’ll reap significant rewards.

Residence Life at Bethel University

Kendall and her team work within the Office of Student Life to provide a well-rounded, positive college experience to every college student. In addition to residence life staff who support students in eight distinct residence hall communities, Bethel offers on-site health and counseling services, tutoring, and spiritual support to ensure students thrive in a holistic way. 

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