The Top Stories of 2023

As the year draws to a close, let’s take a moment to revisit the top Bethel highlights that shaped our vibrant community throughout the year.

By Macey Heath, social media content specialist

December 31, 2023 | Noon

Top 10 Bethel News Stories

2023 has marked a year of academic excellence, notable retirements, a fresh wave of new students, and the achievements of our distinguished alumni who continue to change the world. Let’s take a moment to look back at the year. 

#10 Act Six Scholar and First-Generation College Student’s Remarkable Journey from a Refugee Camp to Bethel

Pawlay Htoo ’26, a pre-nursing major and Act Six scholar, has led a remarkable journey from a Myanmar refugee camp to pursuing higher education. She arrived in the U.S. as a first-generation college student and has found support within the K’nyaw community in Minnesota. Htoo, driven by a passion for healthcare and cultural preservation, aims to become a nurse, representing ethnic minorities in the field. Htoo’s story not only highlights perseverance but also Bethel’s commitment to cultural diversity and spiritual growth.

 #9 Meet the Newest Royals!

Bethel’s Welcome Week 2023 saw 991 new students embark on their college journey, welcomed by dedicated volunteers and a diverse array of activities. This year, Welcome Week activities notably included filling 640 backpacks for the Kids in Need foundation, with the goal of helping others have access to an education. The incoming class comprised 392 traditional and PSEO first-year students, 70 transfers, over 22% students of color, and 35% legacy students, signifying a vibrant, diverse new class of Royals.

#8 Travis Sinclair ’22 Looks to Break New Ground for Bethel in the NFL

Travis Sinclair ’22, a standout offensive lineman from Bethel, aimed to make history as the first former Royal in the NFL. Following a remarkable college football career, Sinclair underwent intensive training at the elite facility, Training HAUS, in preparation for the NFL draft. He appeared at the University of Minnesota Gophers’ pro day, impressing scouts and catching the attention of NFL teams. While Sinclair was not drafted this year, his run serves as inspiration for future Royals who hope for a breakthrough in professional football.

Travis Sinclair

Travis Sinclair '22

#7 Jesse Phenow ’14 Receives 4 Under 40 Achievement Award

Jesse Phenow ’14, co-founder of The Urban Village, received the 4 Under 40 Achievement Award for his impactful work with the K’nyaw and Karenni communities in St. Paul, Minnesota. His journey began in 2011 as a volunteer with a refugee resettlement organization during his time at Bethel, where he formed a deep connection with a K’nyaw family from Myanmar. Inspired by their resilience, Phenow delved into their history, spending a year in Thailand and Myanmar. Upon returning, he became a mental health practitioner, and in 2019, co-founded the Urban Village to support K’nyaw and Karenni youth. Beyond providing resources, the organization has initiated a scholarship program that helps fund a Bethel education for K’nyaw and Karenni youth.  

#6 From Prison to Helping Others Find Their Second Chance

Brent Selge CAPS ’26, once incarcerated for a decade, transformed his life and now aids others at FreedomWorks, a North Minneapolis nonprofit. Bethel’s partnership with FreedomWorks helps empower men, including Selge, to pursue education and healing. Selge’s journey, marked by redemption and spiritual renewal, led him to his current role as a reentry coordinator. He actively guides men through the program, emphasizing a Christ-centered approach. Selge, a Bethel student, encourages others at FreedomWorks to consider pursuing education, emphasizing the impact of Bethel’s partnership and commitment to providing transformative opportunities for individuals seeking a second chance.

Brent Selge

Brent Selge

#5 The Story of Quadruple—maybe Quintuple—Major Michael Opheim ’24

Michael Opheim ’24 defies convention by pursuing an extraordinary four majors—neuroscience, history, computer science, and chemistry, with the possibility of adding a fifth in mathematics. While 30% of Bethel students pursue more than one major, Opheim’s quadruple—perhaps quintuple—major stands out as a rare academic feat. His journey reflects an evolving college plan, shifting career goals, and a profound passion for diverse subjects. Coming off a summer spent in Washington, D.C., for a high-performance computing internship, Opheim encourages others to consider multiple majors, emphasizing the value of a broad knowledge base for an uncertain future.

#4 5 Things to Know About KFAN/iHeartMedia’s A.J. Mansour ‘07

A.J. Mansour ’07 is well-known to KFAN FM listeners for his dynamic radio appearances on “The Power Trip” radio show, and victories in “The Initials Game.” After graduating with a B.A. in business marketing, Mansour has devoted over 15 years to iHeartMedia/KFAN FM, shaping his career from advertising to content production and podcast leadership. As the inspiration behind “The Initials Game,” now available as a physical game and podcast archive, Mansour’s influence extends beyond radio. Transitioning to a significant role as vice president of digital sales at iHeartMedia, he embraces new challenges, emphasizing adaptability as crucial in the mass media landscape.

#3 Head Football Coach Steve Johnson Announces Retirement

Bethel’s head football coach, Steve Johnson ’79, retires after an illustrious 34-season career, leaving an enduring impact on the football program and the lives of countless athletes. With 250 wins, the most among active Division III coaches, Johnson’s coaching journey transformed Bethel’s football program into a regional powerhouse. Beyond accolades, his legacy lies in the profound influence he had on the young men he coached, fostering a team culture built on faith, teamwork, and a commitment to personal growth.

Steve Johnson

Bethel Head Football Coach Steve Johnson ’79 will retire after the football season.

#2 Sam Steadman ’16 Receives 4 Under 40 Achievement Award

Sam Steadman ’16, recipient of the 4 Under 40 alumni award and co-founder of Team Steady, has carved out an impactful niche in the real estate industry. To him, work extends beyond simple business transactions—he intentionally integrates faith, community, and biblical values into his business. Starting as a side hustle during his time at Bethel, Steadman’s passion for real estate grew, leading to the formation of Team Steady in 2016 and the establishment of Steady Management in 2018. Embracing a mission mentality, Steadman and his team prioritize their shared faith, creating a unique approach that integrates faith, ethics, honesty, and high-quality service into their work.  

#1 Francis Chan is Named Inaugural Karlson Scholar of Newly Established Seminary Scholar Program

Renowned pastor and author Francis Chan was named the inaugural Karlson Scholar in Bethel Seminary’s newly established seminary scholar program. Chan, recognized worldwide for his emphasis on applied theology, will contribute his insights to Bethel Seminary, engaging in activities like teaching classes, delivering lectures, and even participating in podcasts. As the first Karlson scholar, Chan’s visit to campus in the fall of 2023 has marked a significant milestone in the program’s mission to enrich seminary education and highlight evangelical scholarship.
Francis Chan

Francis Chan

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