In many cases, students’ talents, strengths, and ambitions are identified early on in their high school careers. For that reason, Concordia Cohorts are designed with advanced curricula to further develop and stretch the minds of our students.
In the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine, we have developed our STEM curriculum. Students inspired to achieve in the area of fine arts will be interested in our Emerging Artist Curriculum. Humanities Scholars study what it means to be human and what it means to think thoughtfully about who we are and why we are here.
Cohort Conversations provide students with an opportunity to come together with like-minded students during extended lunch periods on specific Fridays to pursue their passion in the areas of STEM, Arts, and Humanities. New in 2022-2023, Cultural Conversations are being added to our rotation of Friday conversations, allowing students to learn about a variety of cultural perspectives.
Most Cohort Conversations will include an outside speaker presenting a topic related to the particular cohort emphasis. Previous guests have included individuals from 3M, The Guthrie Theatre, Concordia University, Thrivent, Frauenshuh Inc., Bethel University, and Ryan Companies, as well as visual artists, musicians, farmers, medical professionals, and humanitarian aid workers. Click here to read about past speakers.
Although Friday Cohort Conversations are designed to appeal to students in our STEM, Emerging Artist Curriculum, and Humanities Scholar cohorts, they are open to any student with an interest in the topic being presented. Students may attend any Cohort Conversation without committing to one of the more demanding cohort tracks. While the Concordia Cohort programs are primarily for juniors and seniors, freshmen and sophomores are encouraged to participate in any (or all) Cohort Conversations. Bring your lunch to the Study Hall Room (106) and feed your hunger while feeding your mind.
Details about both upcoming and previous Cohort Conversations can be found below.
2022-2023 Cohort Conversations
The ministry of the early Christians was remarkably city-centric. As churches that Paul planted in urban areas grew, more and more people experienced the Gospel message because it spread from the urban center to the surrounding countryside. A similar dynamic is taking place today. At this Humanities Cohort Conversation, join Dr. Mark Koschmann, Associate Vice President of Faith and Ministry at Concordia University, St. Paul, as he discusses how proclaiming the Gospel in metropolitan centers gives Christians the opportunity to engage and shape the wider culture and proclaim the Gospel to people from all over the world.
Joy Donley is a director, producer, publicist, stage manager, and actor who has worked in and for many theaters across the Twin Cities throughout her career. Covering the spectrum of professional to non-profit, Joy’s journey has taken her down numerous fascinating paths, including directing plays and musicals at CA from 2004 to 2008. At this Emerging Artist Cohort Conversation, explore with her the joys and challenges of being a freelance artist in the creative world of theatrical storytelling.
Sena Dagaga, Twin Cities City Director for LINC Ministries International, was born in a small rural town in Ethiopia when the country had a Marxist ruler. Her powerful story includes a father who was a spy for a resistance group, an imprisoned pregnant mother, and a God who took scattered pieces from a dark prison dungeon, a Sudanese desert, and a small German town. Join Sena at this Cultural Conversation as she shares her incredible testimony about God’s redemptive love and faithfulness.
Earning a law degree opens up a world of varied opportunities that support many different gifts, skills, and interests. Megan Schlueter graduated from college with an English Literature degree and planned to be a teacher. However, when teaching jobs were hard to find, God led Megan on a path to law school, where she applied for an internship with the Minnesota Public Defender’s Office and found her true calling. Since passing the bar exam in 1996, she has continued to pursue her passion for working with youth as a lawyer representing and advocating for children in juvenile court. This Humanities Cohort Conversation will give students a glimpse into what earning a law degree requires, the many possible career paths a law degree can lead to, and what it is like to be a public defender for children.
Visual artist Montana Marie Becker attributes her fascination with landscape to growing up on a farm in Princeton, MN. While earning her BA in Studio Art and Political Science at U of M Morris, she began to test the boundaries of objectivity and abstraction, incorporating drawing, fiber arts, and semi-sculptural techniques into her paintings. In this Emerging Artist Cohort Conversation, Montana will discuss her work and how it reflects the struggles she faces in her own walk with God. She will also explain how her work sets landscape/environment as a metaphor for human experience and how our journey through life is a landscape we create as we live.
How do you prepare yourself for a future career? And in an ever-changing world where trends come and go so quickly, how do you stay marketable in whatever field you choose? Those are questions that will be explored by Esther Vuong, Career Advisor in the Office of Career Development at Concordia University, St. Paul. At this Cultural Conversation, join Esther for an interactive session focused on marketing and branding ourselves so we can know ourselves better, looking at popular fields, and discussing the top skills employers seek.
Morgan Kerfeld’s current start-up, Telo, is developing the first significant innovations to mobility aids in over 40 years, starting with an activity-tracking posterior rollator walker. Morgan will discuss Telo and the experiences that led to her founding this company, including earning her MBA at U of M, starting two international organizations, leading new-channel development for an internal start-up within UnitedHealth Group, and working in Perú as a consultant for a non-profit that developed an education platform for children with learning disabilities. Come hear how Morgan has formed a career focused on entrepreneurship, social enterprises, and healthcare at the STEM Cohort Conversation.
Andy and Kathryn Karg, active recording artists and performers, are owners of 2gether Productions in St. Paul. Combining their extensive musical backgrounds, their company helps clients achieve their musical dreams by offering music lessons, recording services, performance coaching, and more. In this Emerging Artist Cohort Conversation, Andy and Kathryn will share stories of their professional journeys, which involve stages around the country, including A Prairie Home Companion and the Miss America pageant.
Some people are prisoners of their past. But not Jordan Borer Nelson. He’s a Minnesota man who turned his life experiences into lessons for the next generation. From ages 20 to 28, he served time in federal prison. But prison changed his heart and showed him a new path forward. Now an ordained minister and the founder of Foundations Church, Jordan will share his powerful story during this Cultural Conversation and explain how, after making poor choices as a young person, he is now committed to sharing the gospel with youth and those in need, one life at a time.
Cancer immunotherapy is a revolutionary new class of treatments that harnesses the power of the body’s immune system to fight cancer. Joe Vallin (CA ’14), a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in Chemical Engineering at the University of Minnesota, will share some of the challenges and rewards of conducting cutting-edge research in a graduate program. This STEM Cohort Conversation will give students a glimpse into the exciting world of cancer research and the career opportunities available for those interested in pursuing a graduate education in STEM.
The world of nutrition is growing exponentially as people seek to better their health, and the options for a career in nutrition are incredibly widespread, including working in community and corporate spaces or doing private or group consulting. Emily Meade (CA ’07), a registered dietitian, saw her priorities shift when she became a mom over four years ago, and her heart longed to be home with her little ones. She will share her story of landing in the nutrition field after pursuing other career paths, discuss how she’s been able to blend managing a career with being home full-time with her kids, and explain more about the work she does with clients. If you have an interest in nutrition or related health fields, this STEM Cohort Conversation is for you!
Spiritual entrepreneurship is the place where faith, innovation, and leadership intersect. Pastor Ben Griffin has been on the innovative side of ministry for over 20 years. In churches, he has served as an outreach pastor and church planter. Currently, he is the CEO of a national nonprofit (LINC) that helps people build successful ministries, nonprofits, and businesses in hard-to-reach communities. Join Pastor Ben for this Humanities Cohort Conversation as he shares stories from his years of ministry and offers insights on spiritual entrepreneurship and nonprofit leadership.
Dan Roe has nearly 20 years of involvement in the Roseville community and city government. After being elected to the Roseville City Council in 2006, he was elected Roseville mayor in 2011, 2014, 2018, and 2022. Mayor Roe will share about the responsibilities, challenges, and opportunities of being mayor, including how mayors must be representative of and responsible to all—not just those with whom they agree or affiliate. He will also discuss the importance of civic engagement and the power of individuals to influence decisions made at local, state, and national levels. Finally, Mayor Roe will speak about what he believes to be the most important qualities of all elected officials: ethical leadership, honesty, and genuine care for all the people and community they serve.
Growing up in Apple Valley with two music teachers as parents, Alan seemed destined for a life in music. He began playing the trombone at age ten. After high school, Alan joined the U.S. Army Band and performed in Bavaria and the Persian Gulf. He has performed and collaborated with numerous rock and swing groups, including Vic Volare’s Fabulous Volare Lounge Orchestra, Martin Zellar, Steve Millar, Laura Schlieske, Boogie Wonderland, Jupiter–A Tribute To Earth Wind & Fire, the Minnesota Jazz Orchestra, Transit Authority–A Tribute to Chicago, and the Riverside Swing Band. For two years, Alan also taught music in the Philippines at a school for orphans. He has also been the music director for numerous CA musicals. Join Alan as he discusses his life in music and shares stories about being a working musician.
Krista Barnett is a local Minnesota potter who owns and operates Alabaster North Ceramics out of her garage studio. Inspired by redemption, whimsy, and finding joy in the little things in life, all her art pieces are lovingly handcrafted and often show the hand of the maker. Join Krista for an Emerging Artist Cohort Conversation as she discusses her passion for pottery, her pathway to this “dream job,” and the role that her faith plays in her craft.
Life is a miracle! New Life Family Services has provided practical support for clients facing unexpected pregnancies for almost 50 years. In this Cultural Conversation, join Tove Sweet, an Assistant Nurse Manager for New Life Family Services, for an interactive time to discuss what the Bible says about the sanctity of life, learn facts about pregnancy, and see a young life still in the womb – LIVE! A guest mother model who will be 14 weeks pregnant will join Tove.
Using biologics to improve patients' lives has been evolving since the late 1700s, and modern technology has led to using native immune response to create engineered lymphocytes. These lymphocytes can be changed to target a wide variety of cancers and diseases. At this STEM Cohort Conversation, Jake Buchholtz (CA' 03), Director of Cell Therapy Science and Operations at Atara Biotherapeutics, will talk about his passion for science and improving patient outcomes. He'll also highlight how allogeneic Epstein-Barr virus (EVB) T-cells are used to combat illnesses.
Mychal Thom, Chief Diversity Office of Concordia University, St. Paul, loves connecting with students from diverse backgrounds as they journey through school and take on the challenges that sometimes arise along those journeys. In our debut Cultural Conversation, Mychal will share stories and discuss how, in both high school and college settings, he has developed authentic relationships that offer safe places for students to discuss their successes, challenges, and dreams.
Information Technology (IT) uses computers, storage, networking, and other devices to create, process, store, secure, and exchange electronic data. For over 25 years, Pam Flint has done IT work in project management, consulting, software development, and engineering and is now a Senior Engineer in Target’s IT organization. In this STEM Cohort Conversation, she’ll show what a career in IT and Engineering can look like and offer suggestions on building one for yourself.
Chef Brian Ingram has opened restaurants around the world and been featured on shows like Man vs. Food, Guy's Grocery Games, and Live with Kelly and Ryan. But his life changed when, in 2019, he and his wife Sarah opened Hope Breakfast Bar and began to focus on restaurants that could not only serve food but also serve the community. In this Humanities Cohort Conversation, Brian will discuss his incredible journey, the important mission of his growing portfolio of "Purpose Restaurants," and how his faith led him to Hope.
Kim Schmidt started Design Details, a Twin Cities residential design firm, in 1995. Today, Design Details partners with R&R Construction to provide homeowners and new construction clients with top-notch design and construction services that incorporate current trends reflecting each client’s unique style. In our first Emerging Artist Cohort Conversation of the year, Kim will discuss the details of being an interior designer, small business owner, and project manager and explain the fine art of guiding and supporting clients.
2021-2022 Cohort Conversations
Tim Urban (CA ‘00) has followed a career path from mechanical engineer to product engineer to his current role as Director of Product Management at Northridge Home, a furniture and home furnishings manufacturing company. In this STEM Cohort Conversation, he’ll touch on the vast range of engineering opportunities, provide guidance to help students determine if engineering might be of interest as a career option, and discuss how he tries to honor the Lord with his work.
Herbert Johnson, Professor of Music, teaches piano, piano theory, and piano pedagogy at Bethel University. He is also an active solo and collaborative pianist in the Twin Cities, participating in chamber music recitals, worship services, and sacred concerts. Join Professor Johnson for this Emerging Artist Cohort Conversation as he discusses his training, career path, and experiences with sacred and secular music, both in classrooms and concert settings.
With over 45 years of experience in commercial real estate, David Frauenshuh’s name is synonymous with honesty and integrity within the industry. His company, Frauenshuh Inc., specializes in developing and financing medical facilities. While you can see the Frauenshuh name on numerous Twin Cities buildings, it also extends to properties throughout the country. Join David for this Humanities Scholar Cohort Conversation as he discusses his company and career, explains the importance of giving back to others across the globe, and shares how humility, hard work, family, and faith are at the core of his company...and his life.
Marla Urban has a Master of Nursing degree from the University of Minnesota and currently works as a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse in a level IV NICU. She’ll share her path to a career in nursing, the benefits of such a diverse occupation, and tips and tricks for those interested in pursuing a nursing career.
Halle Rittgers and Hadley Rittgers are young local artists already making their mark in the professional community. Halle is a painter and mixed media artist; Hadley specializes in ceramics and jewelry. Come and observe both the unique and the common elements found in the creativity of these twin sisters.
Tom Kuseske is a Concordia Academy legend. He shared his passion and love for history as a teacher and coach at CA for 31 years. His wonderful ability to tell a story makes history come alive to anyone who is listening, and you can experience that Mr. K. magic for yourself at this Cohort Conversation.
For 15 years, Tracy Keizer has been working in psychiatry, including ten years at Regions Hospital, where she currently serves as Lead Advanced Practice Clinician as well as the Psychiatry Advanced Practice Clinician Fellowship Director. In her STEM Cohort Conversation, Dr. Keizer will explain how she found her calling to practice psychiatry and share with students the educational pathway she took to become a Certified Physician Assistant.
Chris Fink (CA ‘96) has been telling stories for his whole career. With an extensive background in broadcast journalism, Chris currently creates and produces videos through his company, Upswing Creative. In his Emerging Artist Cohort Conversation, Chris will share his experiences in the world of video production, from freelance videographer to successful business owner, and discuss the lessons that he’s learned along the way about following your passion and making work fun.
Pastor Vue Lee grew up in an animistic home, but at the age of 23, he was baptized into the Christian faith. As he grew in his faith, God called him into the ministry of the church. He currently serves as Associate Pastor at King of Kings Lutheran Church and School in Roseville and also volunteers as a chaplain for the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department. In his Humanities Cohort Conversation, Pastor Lee will discuss his work with the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department and explain how God works through him in incidents ranging from scenes of death to search and rescue operations for missing persons.
In his career as a Building Agent and Field Specialist, Wes Tacheny (CA ’18) finds himself knee-deep in biology, sometimes literally. Wes, a HAAG Engineering-Certified Commercial Building Inspector who studied biology at Bethel University, will discuss how biology regularly plays a key role in his job and explain how his education led to his current role at BA Roofing and Construction.
Rebecca Hed (CA ’17), a member of CA’s first Emerging Artist Cohort, graduated from Bethel University with an art major and now teaches art at CA. She’s also an award-winning duct tape artist whose work has been displayed throughout the country. A recipient of the Taco Bell Live Más Scholarship, she was a featured artist at the 2021 Taco Bell Franchisee Conference in Colorado Springs. Rebecca will discuss her experiences and share practical advice related to CA’s cohorts program, being an art major, and pursuing your passions. And she’ll bring free Taco Bell tacos and swag, too!
For over 40 years, John Linc Stine has made a difference as a public servant who protects and improves water throughout Minnesota and across the Great Lakes. John will discuss how, as Executive Director of Freshwater, he connects natural science, social action, and political awareness daily. He will also look back at his time serving the MN Department of Natural Resources, the MN Department of Health, and the MN Pollution Control Agency.
2019-2020 Cohort Conversations
Join Ria Thurston, owner of [Ri&He] Photography, as she shares her story of owning a thriving photography business. Since 2009, she has photographed countless weddings, families, seniors, and other life milestones. Ria will talk about her photographic journey, serving Jesus through the arts, and her passion for encouraging others to pursue their God-given dreams. You'll be inspired by her infectious energy, real-world experience, exceptional talent, and deep faith.
Daily, Jason Campagna brings science to life for 3M customers, in ways that go far beyond Post-It Notes! In his 29 years at 3M, he has worked in product and application development and managed their Innovation Center, a place to innovate, collaborate, and experience how to improve every life, every day. During this conversation, Jason will discuss how an interest in high school chemistry and physics led to degrees in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering from University of Minnesota. He'll also answer questions about his role at 3M, a Twin Cities-based Fortune 500 Company that connects science to millions of people across the globe every single day.
You can't have "history" without "story," and Paul Hillmer loves both. While doing research for his writing, which includes several books, numerous articles, and a documentary DVD series, he has traveled throughout the US, China, Thailand, Laos, Mexico, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic, meeting fascinating people and encouraging them to share their unique stories. Dr. Hillmer will talk about the importance of people's personal stories in historical research and share anecdotes about individuals he's met during his journeys. Don't be surprised if, in addition to sharing his stories, he also shares a bit about some of his other passions: playing guitar, being a die-hard Twins fan, sailing, and serving as the Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Concordia University, St. Paul.
Marita Meinerts Albinson's career began in Nashville where she joined a record company in marketing and communications roles, eventually touring the United States as a road manager for national artists and musicians, including the late Rich Mullins. Back in Minnesota and following three tenures totaling more than 10 years at the world-renowned Guthrie Theater, she is currently managing their communication and public relations strategies. Join Marita to get an insider's perspective on the music industry, professional theatre, and the intersection of faith and the arts.
Peter Zeller is an application engineer working for Trane, an international manufacturer of HVAC (heating ventilation & air conditioning) systems. He is a 2015 CA alumnus, and he graduated from Iowa State University in the spring of 2019 with his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. In his free time, he also makes use of his engineering education as he enjoys designing and tinkering with 3D printing hobby projects. Peter will share his experience in studying to be an engineer and will offer advice to fellow Beacons who are considering becoming engineers themselves.
The Ramsey County Community Corrections department paves the way for safe and healthy communities through interventions that promote personal change and accountability. Working with and connecting with individuals is at the heart of the important work that Jason Mereness (CA '99) does as an adult probation supervisor for the Community Corrections Department. Join Jason as he shares stories of how probation, courts, and correctional institutions connect with people on a daily basis.
Anna Leigh Biedenbender works from multiple sources when creating her award-winning art. With a keen interest in exploring the human condition, her process includes photographic reference and direct observation, combining and translating this information through painting and drawing. As Anna works, she reflects on the intersections of personal identity, sanctuary, and relationship. In her Emerging Artist Cohort Conversation, Anna will answer questions about her painting process, show examples of her dynamic work, and share her feeling about being an artist who is a Christian. You can view her art at www.annaleighbiedenbender.com.
Tracy E. Berglund is passionate about inspiring generosity, and in her role as a financial advisor with Thrivent, she gets to do that on a daily basis. In her STEM Cohort Conversation, she'll discuss the educational path to her career, explain the role of a financial advisor (it's more than just crunching numbers), and share some of the benefits of working for a Christian organization such as Thrivent.
For much of U.S. history, the farm has been a key component of culture and a foundation for family life in America. Dan Kapernick, a 2005 CA graduate, and his wife Jenny are a part of that important tradition as owners and operators of Little Big Sky Farm, a diverse vegetable farm located in the beautiful Minnesota River Valley. The farm serves the Twin Cities and greater St. Peter/Mankato area by growing approximately 50 different vegetables on two acres of cultivated land. Join Dan as he discusses how working on an organic farm in high school planted the seeds of Little Big Sky Farm, the community-supported agriculture (CSA) movement, and what it means to serve...and feed...the community through farming.
Matthew Griswold (CA ’01) made the transition from US Army soldier to professional songwriter/musician in 2008, and after a short stint in Nashville and securing a publishing deal with Universal Music Group, he headed back to Minnesota and began his career of writing and producing songs for film and television. In 2018, he was even the focus of an episode of PBS’s “Prairie Musicians.” Matthew will talk about his career path, share some of his music, and explain his passion for being a “personal messenger.” Learn more at matthewgriswoldmusic.net.
As a project manager for Ryan Companies, Ashley Herman (CA ‘10) works with construction team members, subcontractors, and owners to create spaces that people live in, work in, and do life in. She’ll shed light on construction-related career paths, including architecture and engineering, virtual design and coordination, construction/project management, and field construction. Ashley will also allow students to explore a virtual building model with VR goggles.
Humanitarian Aid Worker Jen Meyerson (CA ‘03) has worked for missions groups, medical organizations, and the United Nations, living in refugee camps and areas of conflict. As the Director of Relief at Preemptive Love, she comes alongside families and creates programs that provide emergency food and healthcare in the midst of crisis. She also designs sustainable programs that offer job opportunities and support families as they rebuild their lives. In 2019, she launched programs in Syria, Iraq, Mexico, and Venezuela.