David Swenson ’11 Receives 4 Under 40 Award

As co-founder of both a church community and a tutoring company, David Swenson ’11 is passionate about identity formation and helping others live meaningful lives.

By Jenny Hudalla ’15, GS’21, lead communications specialist

August 16, 2022 | 11 a.m.

David Swenson

David Swenson lives in Denver, Colorado, with his wife, Kaity, and children, Harvi Emmaus (2) and Cruz Malakai (3 months).

David Swenson ’11 entered college with a plan. He would major in physics, go on to earn a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, and land a well-paying job at one of the world’s leading medical technology companies. By the time he began junior year, the plan was progressing nicely—and then the questions came.  

Who am I? What is my purpose? Do I actually believe in God? It was, in Swenson’s words, a classic coming-of-age existential crisis that led him down a road of deep thinking and reflection. From Bethel’s campus to the grounds of Oxford and Cambridge, where he visited while studying abroad, Swenson asked himself big questions about the substance of faith, identity, and fulfillment.  

Answers came, but not in the way he expected. Around the same time that Swenson was accepted to five doctoral programs with full funding, one of his friends—a fellow student named Matthew Hulst ’09, who had taken time off from Bethel to serve in Youth With a Mission (YWAM)—invited Swenson to a missionary retreat that ultimately led him to consider joining YWAM as well. “I remember wrestling with the decision,” Swenson says. “I just had this deep gut feeling that if I didn’t give it a shot, I’d regret it.”

In a matter of months, Swenson deferred his admission to the University of Minnesota’s biomedical engineering program, committed to a six-month term of service with YWAM, and boarded a plane bound for Cambodia, where he taught science to middle- and high-schoolers. One night, as the sun was setting on his outdoor classroom, Swenson used a flip-phone flashlight to illuminate the veins in his forearm as he explained the inner workings of the circulatory system. His students drew closer to him, eyes filled with wonder. “In that moment, I completely lost track of time,” he says. “I realized I loved teaching, and I wanted to do it for the rest of my life.” 

David and Kaitlin Swenson

The Swensons spent six years serving in Youth With a Mission (YWAM), traveling to more than 30 countries.

As Swenson’s vocational calling came into focus, he felt another revelation bubbling to the surface. For the first time in his life, he felt a real, intimate awareness of and connection with God—and he knew there was no going back. He dropped out of the doctoral program and signed on for another term with YWAM, which lasted six years. Swenson and his wife, Kaity ’13, moved to Kona, Hawaii, to lead training programs for young adults. They lived in an eight-person dormitory, ate communal meals, and eventually began to provide pastoral teaching and care at outreach locations around the world. 

During a trip to Nepal, where they were considering a more permanent move, Kaity broached the topic of going back to school—at a university in Denver, Colorado. Like the prospect of deferring his admission to graduate school, the prospect of leaving YWAM was not a line item in Swenson’s plan—but, by the time the electricity surged on the next morning, Swenson had received an email that led him in an unexpected direction once again. It was from Hulst, who wanted to know if they would consider joining him and his wife to plant a church in Denver, Colorado. “I just started laughing,” Swenson says. “I looked at Kaity and said, ‘I guess we’re moving to Denver.’”

Reminiscent of their YWAM days, the Swensons joined four other adults living in a single house. Not long after, the Coram Deo church community was born. Latin for “in the presence of God,” Coram Deo aims to empower people to live their lives as expressions of church and ministry. Its calendar is divided into gathered seasons, with Sunday worship and teaching series, and scattered seasons, with cohorts that promote dialogue, questions, and processing. Those spaces remind Swenson of his discovery-filled class sessions with students in Cambodia—and they’re the spaces where he feels most alive.

That’s part of the reason why, shortly after founding Coram Deo, Swenson agreed to co-lead a second venture with Hulst: the creation of Thrive Tutoring, a homeschooling, tutoring, and academic coaching company that supports students who have lost confidence in themselves. While Thrive isn’t explicitly Christian, Swenson says it’s as much a ministry as his work at Coram Deo. “For us, the theological and gospel imprint manifests in the anthropology of how we view these students,” he says. “They need academic support, but more than anything they need a mentor who believes in them.”

At the core of both Thrive and Coram Deo is identity formation, a pursuit that is now comfortably familiar to Swenson. In both of his roles, he works to create spaces of safety and belonging—much like the spaces he encountered at Bethel and YWAM—so that others feel empowered to ask questions, take risks, and grow into the people they were created to be.  

"Real depth of faith and intimacy with God comes as the collateral effect of risk. If we remove risk-taking from people’s faith journey, then we relegate them to cognitive ascent and rational theological knowledge. Something about that is fundamentally antagonistic to spiritual growth and maturity.”

— David Swenson '11

In the years to come, Swenson still hopes to earn a doctoral degree—not in bioengineering, but in education or theology. He hopes Thrive continues to hire more tutors and reach more students, and he hopes Coram Deo will fill Denver with scattered communities committed to serving God and others. More than anything, he hopes both ventures will encourage people to pay attention to the stirrings of their heart—even when it leads in unexpected directions. 

“Don’t let safety and security steer the ship,” Swenson says. “Choose pathways that embrace risk, learn who you are, and use failure to develop the resiliency that will lead to a purposeful, passionate life.”

Nominate the next 4 Under 40 award recipient!

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 their career, public service, or volunteer activities.

Learn More