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“Chosen to Lead”

Yolanda Y McIntosh AA’14, CAPS’16, GS’19 is a three-time Bethel graduate. She started as a student in the associate of arts program, but decided to reach for something more. Today, despite any naysayers, she has her master’s in strategic leadership, and she’s working to make the world a better place while setting an example for young leaders to come.

By Cherie Suonvieri '15, content specialist

November 18, 2020 | 9 a.m.

Bethel alumna, Yolanda Y McIntosh AA’14, CAPS’16, GS’19

Yolanda Y McIntosh AA’14, CAPS’16, GS’19

“Growing up, they said, I would never amount to nothing—and I believed them,” Yolanda Y McIntosh says. “But Bethel confirmed what God embedded in my spirit many years ago: I was chosen to lead.”

McIntosh remembers the exact day she decided to return to school. It was December 28, 2011—the same day she decided she would be getting a divorce and filing for bankruptcy. Furthering her education represented a new chapter for McIntosh and her three children. She started by pursuing an associate of arts degree at Bethel, but a leadership course during that program inspired her to push further. She went on to pursue two more degrees, first a bachelor’s in organizational leadership and then a master’s in strategic leadership at Bethel.

Looking back, McIntosh remembers how nervous she was for her first classes—so nervous that she drove over the curb entering the parking lot on three separate occasions in the first weeks. “That was a sight to see!” she says. “But that was then.”

McIntosh soon found a supportive community among Bethel faculty and classmates, as did her youngest daughter who accompanied her to class every week for the first three years. “It was along the tedious journey of studying, working, and raising my children as a single parent, that I realized I was not traveling alone,” McIntosh says, naming a number of faculty members who encouraged her to dig deeper and traveled with her throughout her studies.

McIntosh remembers picking up her cap and gown prior to the commencement ceremony for her associate’s degree in 2014. Her then-10-year-old daughter, who’d accompanied her to each class, fittingly accompanied her on this errand, too. When the two got home, McIntosh’s daughter asked her to try on the cap and gown. She did, and tears began to well in her daughter’s eyes. Alarmed, McIntosh asked, “What’s wrong? Is it too wrinkled? Is there a stain on it?” 

“My baby’s growing up!” her daughter cried.

McIntosh laughs when she tells this story. “That associate’s degree and the bachelor’s degree—those were for her,” she explains. “I was on my own with the master’s.

“When I think of my Bethel experience, I think about the example I am now able to set for youth who are at risk, youth in foster care, youth who are homeless or living in an abusive home. Youth who are like I once was. What a difference I am now able to make in their lives, as they begin to see themselves and the limitless possibilities, through me.”

— Yolanda Y McIntosh
McIntosh has worked in diversity and inclusion for more than 10 years. She started as a compliance specialist for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, then moved on to become a corporate equal employment opportunity officer at Lunda Construction, and today she works as the director of diversity and inclusion for Associated General Contractors of Minnesota.

When she reflects on the ways Bethel equipped her for her line of work, she describes the broadened perspective she gained in her bachelor’s and master’s programs. “I learned how to work with people on a different level. I learned how to tap into my emotional intelligence, and that was pivotal for me,” she says. “Bethel taught me to look beyond just my framework and my personal experience to understand how other people think and process what they’re going through.”

Throughout the accomplishments and the growth McIntosh has experienced in recent years, there are several things that keep her going. She’s proud of her faith, which she says has kept her grounded. She’s proud that she gets to be an example to others, especially people of color and youth in foster care. She’s proud of her three children, who are now ages 27, 25, and 16. And she’s proud of the work she gets to do.

“When I think of how Bethel prepared me for serving the world, I think about how we all need one another if we are going to survive as a nation—if we are going to survive as a human race,” she says. “I envision the possibilities of the world being a better place than it is today, and the part I play in making that happen.”

Take your next step at Bethel.

Bethel’s M.A. in Strategic Leadership program is preparing the kind of competent, compassionate leaders that employers are looking to hire and promote. With flexible programming, you’ll be able to earn your master’s from wherever you are. 

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