Steve Strom ’07 Pays it Forward to Bethel by Saying, “Yes!”

As a Bethel student, Steve Strom ’07 benefitted from a community of support that helped him build a network and start his career in commercial real estate. Strom continues giving back to Bethel and its students as one of the founders of BethelBiz, a business alumni group that connects students to business mentors and brings alumni together. Strom is one of the first recipients of the 4 Under 40 Alumni Achievement Awards.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

December 14, 2020 | 10 a.m.

Steve Strom ’07

Steve Strom ’07 poses with his wife, Sam ’09, and their four sons (from left): Ben, 3 months; Jackson, 6; Peter, 6; and James, 2. Strom, one of the founders of alumni and mentoring group BethelBiz, received one of Bethel’s first 4 Under 40 Alumni Achievement Awards.

Steve Strom ’07 has a simple message for fellow members of the Bethel community. “Say ‘yes,’” he says. “Try to get involved, find ways to get plugged in because most of us are a product of this great place.”

When he looks back at his own time at Bethel, Strom sees how people saying “yes” opened doors for him and his career. Professors and coaches helped him secure informational interviews, forge connections with business leaders, and eventually get his first job. “People are starting to just understand the power of the Bethel alumni network and the importance of having a network,” he says. “I didn’t realize that when I was 19, 20 years old, but we all know now that most jobs are found through networking.”

In fact, Strom has been instrumental in bolstering Bethel’s alumni community in recent years. He is one of the founders of BethelBiz, a business alumni group that connects students to business mentors and engages alumni to promote excellence. For his leadership and achievement, Bethel recognized Strom with one of the first 4 Under 40 Alumni Achievement Awards.

Strom remains involved as a mentor with BethelBiz and has since joined the Bethel University Foundation Board of Governors. Linda Goodwin ’79, the director of BethelBiz’s mentorship program, commends him for the fresh perspective he brings to the board and for the wisdom he continues pouring into students as a mentor. “As co-founder of BethelBiz, Steve has been instrumental in its success,” Goodwin says. “His vision of providing an opportunity for alumni to connect with each other and to give back to Bethel University through mentorship laid the foundation for us to create a program that has lasting influence on the lives of our alumni and students. I am so grateful to Steve for his leadership.”

But Bethel almost wasn’t a part of Strom’s journey. Strom grew up close to Bethel’s Arden Hills, Minnesota, campus, he attended another college during his freshman year, but he soon realized he was missing something. During that time, he worked with a nonprofit that partnered with Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, a faith-based recovery and treatment program. Strom remembers people from the program asking him, “How is your walk today?” At 18 years old, Strom recalls with a laugh thinking, “I’m walking just fine. What do you mean?” But deep down, Strom couldn’t shake the question. “I realized I was just not getting that faith foundation, that development,” he says.

Strom knew some Bethel basketball players, and he found that people at Bethel carried themselves differently.

“There was something different there, and I wanted to be a part of that at the university—and it was faith."

— Steve Strom ’07

Wanting that, too, he transferred to Bethel and found the community to grow in his faith—and as a person. “I just developed into a more whole, grounded person, and I don’t know how I would have done it any other way. It was a perfect fit for me,” he says.

After transferring to Bethel, Strom played basketball and says the team brought him into the family, serving as his connection point across the university since he, unlike most students, lived off campus during his time at Bethel. “Basketball was just a critical part of it, and those relationships with the players and with the coaching staff were huge,” he says. “And you spend so much time together.” Strom, who earned a business degree with an emphasis in marketing, soon formed relationships across campus, and he recalls many people who changed his trajectory. His basketball coach and professors in the Department of Business and Economics introduced him to business leaders and helped him form a network. Some of those people remain mentors and friends today. Such relationships, along with class discussions, helped draw Strom to leaders with a strong moral compass and integrity. His professors also stressed skills that weren’t included in essays or quizzes, such as how to present yourself well in the business world by introducing yourself, shaking hands, smiling, asking good questions, and active listening. Strom found them to be critical as he has developed relationships and advanced his career.

After graduation, Strom started a career in commercial real estate. He is currently a developer with Ryan Companies, exploring opportunities for senior housing investments across the country. Throughout his career, networking has proved vital. In 2011, he met fellow Bethel alum Anthony Barthel ’99 at an event. The two connected, talking about how a business alumni group could bolster Bethel’s reputation and benefit alumni. The two recruited other business leaders and contacted leaders with the Department of Business and Economics. BethelBiz was born.

Along with forming relationships, a simple goal of BethelBiz was for alumni to meet each other, talk about themselves, and share their successes. To Strom, Bethel’s humble but confident nature often meant it was easy to overlook alumni’s success.“The other colleges and alumni were getting all the recognition,” Strom says. “It drove us crazy. Our alumni were doing incredible things, we just didn’t have a platform to share and encourage others on their career journey.” Now BethelBiz is changing the narrative by hosting events and making space for business alumni to gather and speak with pride about their accomplishments. Along with hosting events, BethelBiz started a program to mentor Bethel business and economics students. Today, business professionals mentor 75 to 100 undergraduate students each year.

Steve Strom '07

Steve Strom '07

Strom loves the opportunity to pay it forward as a mentor, especially when he recalls the help he received as he approached graduation and wondered what he’d do next. While he continues to be humbled and impressed by the quality of Bethel’s students, he enjoys helping them grow as a sounding board and voice of encouragement as students begin their careers. Mentors and mentees strive for constructive, honest relationships that help students harness their gifts and realize their calling. “I just see so much of myself in them,” Strom says. “I probably get more out of it, frankly, than they get out of it, but that’s why I’m so passionate about it. Because I was there.”

Strom is thankful for the business connections he makes through BethelBiz and the network of Bethel alumni. It’s helped connect him to numerous Bethel alumni, including Kristi Piehl ’96, the founder of Media Minefield. Strom helped Media Minefield find commercial office space, he introduced her to BethelBiz, and the two have remained in touch.

“Steve is passionate about raising Bethel's profile as a school that produces women and men who are ready to step into the local business community and make an impact. He also understands the most effective modern-day business tactics are about old-fashioned values like relationships, honesty, and integrity."

— Kristi Piehl ’96
Today, both are heavily involved with Bethel. Piehl is now on the Board of Trustees and was 2015 Alumna of the Year, while Strom works with the Foundation Board of Governors to award annual Strategic Growth Awards aimed at boosting enrollment and making a Bethel education more affordable. Past projects have looked to reduce the cost of textbooks, fund graduate assistants to help coaches expand athletic programs, and support marketing efforts to recruit military-affiliated students.

Strom is thankful for his time at Bethel for many reasons. He also met his wife, Sam ’09, as a Bethel student. The couple lives near Bethel and is raising four sons, ages newborn to 6 years old. Strom is starting to coach his sons, and he looks forward to sending them to Bethel sports camps. “I’m really blessed to be going through life with my best friend, and I’m just indebted to Bethel in that way that I had the opportunity to meet her there,” Strom says.

Looking ahead, Strom is excited for more in-person BethelBiz events after the pandemic, but the group continues to have strong effects across the Bethel community. Along with the business department, BethelBiz is looking for ways to include students in other departments. Strom remains committed to Bethel—and committed to urging the community to get involved and say “yes” to helping one another. “I just think we never can stop supporting our community,” he says.

Nominate Someone for the 4 Under 40 Alumni Achievement Award.

Bethel University’s National Alumni Board annually seeks and accepts nominations for the 4 Under 40 Alumni Achievement Award. The selection is made from Bethel University graduates 40 years of age or younger who have had outstanding achievements in career, public service, and/or volunteer activities.

Learn more