A Lens to See the World

Melissa Shackelford ’11 took full advantage of the opportunities she found at Bethel, including the Humanities Program, the Bethel Choir, and study abroad. Now, the holistic lens she developed through those diverse experiences is serving her well in a unique role at Upper House, a place for Christian faith exploration and education that serves students and the surrounding community at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

By Michelle Smith Westlund ’83, S’21, senior content specialist

June 13, 2022 | 11 a.m.

Melissa Shackelford

Melissa (Haunty) Shackelford ’11 is director of program curation and community impact for Upper House, a center for Christian gathering and learning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Melissa (Haunty) Shackelford ’11 chose Bethel so she could be involved in a wide variety of experiences and activities. And she took full advantage of the wealth Bethel had to offer. A communication arts and literature education major, Shackelford reveled in her involvement in the Humanities Program, with faculty who were supportive and accessible. She found a sense of community through the Bethel Choir, exploring her leadership gifts by serving as its business manager and prayer chaplain. And she had a life-transforming study abroad experience. “Through all my college experiences, I felt like I was developing a lens by which to see the world,” she says. 

Today she’s bringing that holistic lens to her role as director of program curation and community impact for Upper House, a center for Christian gathering and learning located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Upper House offers a place for Christian faith exploration and education—serving undergraduate and graduate students, faculty/staff, clergy, ministry leaders, marketplace professionals, artists, and the Madison community. “We seek to integrate faith, ideas, and communities with academics, the marketplace, and the church,” explains Shackelford. “We focus on the integration of Christian faith with different fields of study, questions in culture, and individuals’ callings in the world—helping them see the connections that deepen their sense of identity and purpose and increase their understanding of how the kingdom of God is at work in their professions and daily lives.” 

A typical day for Shackelford is a mesh of creativity, program development, personnel management, and community outreach. She might supervise and mobilize a team, plan an event and draft a program description, chat with a speaker, partner with another organization, or lead a strategic planning meeting. In Upper House’s dynamic programming environment, she describes her role as “transforming creative energy into practical next steps,” and says it balances her love of both creativity and structure, allowing her to use the breadth of her skills and abilities. “I have a passion for mining a speaker’s expertise and crafting a program experience that showcases the best of what God is doing in and through their work,” she explains. “Other times, I discern a community need that inspires a particular program idea. For example, last spring I co-curated a month-long art exhibit called UNVEILED, featuring the work of local artists, designed as a prayer walk for community members to gradually get reacquainted with coming to our space after a year of the pandemic. It’s an honor to be able to serve the church broadly in the city of Madison and to champion the kingdom of God at work in all spheres of culture.” 

It doesn’t really come as a surprise that Shackelford is also involved in multiple other areas of community service and creative initiative. Prior to joining Upper House as just its third staff member in 2015, she managed her brother’s art business, Inspiring Art by Alex, and together with her family founded the nonprofit Alex Haunty’s Theater and Arts Fund, Inc., to create access to the arts for people with disabilities. She currently serves on the organization’s board, as well as on the board of Inspiring Hope Ministries. “The arts have always been a meaningful avenue of growth and joy for me—including my time in Bethel Choir,” she says. “There’s nothing like creating something in community—like choral music—that you can’t accomplish on your own. And I think it’s important to make that opportunity available for others who haven’t had a chance to explore their creative gifts.”

Shackelford is also passionate about connections. She sees the myriad connections God was making during her Bethel experience that prepared her for a future she couldn’t have imagined. “When you start college, it’s easy to think and hope that the path forward will be linear,” she says. “But that’s usually not the case. It’s also easy to feel pressured to produce and perform, but I think God delights in our process much more than the product. I’ve seen God connect back to my Bethel experiences in humanities, choir, and study abroad and weave them into my life today. God doesn’t waste anything. Trust God that what you’re investing in now is worth it even if you can’t see where it’s leading. You don’t have to be the one who makes it all connect. You’ll be surprised at how God makes those connections for you at just the right time.” 


Your journey starts here.

Your Bethel education prepares you to excel in your chosen career path—and so much more. Music, study abroad, and leadership development are just some of the many opportunities that await you. And with a Christian perspective integrated into every experience, you’ll learn what it means to own your faith and live for something more, wherever your journey leads.

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