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Q&A: Julie Finnern

Bethel’s Dean of Professional Programs Julie Finnern will transition into her new role as the associate provost of academic affairs for the College of Arts & Sciences in June. Here she discusses her journey to Bethel and what excites her about this upcoming time.

By Aiyanna Klaphake '20

April 29, 2020 | 2 p.m.

Julie Finnern, dean of professional programs, will transition into her new role as the associate provost of academic affairs for the College of Arts & Sciences.

Julie Finnern, dean of professional programs, will transition into her new role as the associate provost of academic affairs for the College of Arts & Sciences.

Much of Julie Finnern’s life has revolved around education. As a student, Finnern eventually earned her Ed.D. in Educational Administration. As a professional, she dedicated her career to working as a teacher, professor, and school administrator. Since joining Bethel in 2017 as the dean of professional programs, Finnern has established a reputation as a trusted and thoughtful leader, qualities that will serve her well as she begins her new role as the associate provost of academic affairs for the College of Arts & Sciences this June.

We spoke with Finnern to learn more about her experience at Bethel and what she’s looking forward to during these upcoming months:

What brought you to Bethel?

Before I was at Bethel, I was working at a university in Iowa as the dean of the School of Education and Exercise Science. Coming to Bethel was really God’s timing because I wasn't actively searching for another job, but I was interested in the dean position I'm currently in because of Bethel’s mission and values. We also have family in the Twin Cities area so it was a good move in that way. At that point it was still a bit of a leap of faith to move here, but now that I've been at Bethel for almost three years, I can definitely expound upon why I want to stay at Bethel!

And why is that? What do you love about Bethel?

Although learning is very rigorous here at Bethel, it's never learning just for learning's sake. It's always learning in the pursuit of truth so that we—students, faculty, staff, administrators—can impact life for our neighbors and glorify God through that. That's why I really love being part of Bethel. I'd say that I also appreciate how Bethel wrestles with the hard challenges. Part of that is asking as an institution how we follow the Bible and what it says about being in the world and for the world, but not assimilating and being of the world. I see Bethel doing that in really practical ways, and I want to continue to be part of that.

For those curious about what your job will entail, how would you describe your new role?

I have to figure that out a little bit! As my current supervisor, Deb Sullivan-Trainor has served as such a wonderful role model in this position through her leadership and mentorship. Part of the role is providing a structure that allows faculty and staff in the College of Arts & Sciences to be able to do their jobs well. Though I look forward to opportunities to directly interact with students, I will instead often be supporting those who are in daily community with students, and doing it so well with their disciplinary expertise, passion, creativity, and relationship-building skills. Then there's an important part of the role that's related to vision. That's looking at how we think about a Bethel education and the Bethel experience. We continue to ask how we make that available for learners we aren't currently serving, those who don't have access to Bethel, or those we’re not serving as well as we could. That vision continues to be part of all of our roles, but the associate provost contributes to leadership in this area.

Is this a role you would've envisioned yourself in at the beginning of your career? What drew you to higher education?

That's a super fun question because I was a first-grade teacher—that's how I started my career—but I left my undergraduate education at a Christian liberal arts college being impacted so strongly by that experience and my learning there that I wanted to be a professor. I knew that when I left college, but it was a long time before I circled back to carrying out that dream. I was in the pre-K-12 system for quite a bit of my career, then I started in higher education in the area of teacher preparation, specifically literacy education. I was able to use experiences I had in administration and leadership in the pre-K-12 school system to start doing the same in higher education. I’ve never been sorry I made the change.

How have your past experiences prepared you for this role?

I've worked with a lot of people who have thought differently from each other, and one of the things I've learned is the importance of hearing those different voices and perspectives—and being able to learn from them and with them. That's something I carry with me. I bring it into my leadership, the teams I build, and into our work together. I've also been part of systematic change and transitions, and I have worked to think of those two separately. We can make a change, but how do we transition considering the human aspect of making that change? I've been involved in change in many different contexts. That’ll be helpful because no matter the organization, we're always looking to the future, while honoring the past, but there's always going to be change.

What are you most looking forward to most in your new role?

I enjoy the people with whom I get to continue working. Those on our leadership team at Bethel are very passionate, skilled, Christ-filled leaders who turn to God for discernment and direction. I'm also looking forward to getting to know even more faculty and staff, and being more involved in what students and alumni are doing. I'm looking forward to helping Bethel continue to strengthen our connections and deepen our partnerships. Lines along the pathway from high school to Bethel to graduate school or employment are growing a lot more blurred. This provides exciting opportunities for partnerships within and beyond Bethel as we define it today.

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