Kara Skarda ('09, Politics)
Politics major Kara Skarda (minor in Anthropology) came to Messiah from High Point, North Carolina. She was homeschooled during her freshman year of high school and attended her local community college the following year. Kara had the unique opportunity to serve as a Page for the U.S. House of Representatives during her junior year of high school, while attending the Page School. Her senior year of high school was spent as an exchange student at the Freie Evangelische Bekenntnisschule Bremen in Germany.
Studying at various schools throughout her high school years, Kara was delighted to see all of Messiah’s opportunities to study abroad, as well as Messiah’s commitment to service. She was also impressed with the College Honors Program, and the academic potential she witnessed when she visited campus.
Fluent in German, Kara co-founded Messiah’s German club during her first year on campus. Kara was heavily involved with the College Democrats, particularly during the presidential election season, and also enjoyed other activities on campus, such as swing dancing, and “Who’s Zooming Who” at Isaachar’s Loft.
What Kara enjoyed most about Messiah was being challenged by professors and other students. “My beliefs have not simply been reinforced,” Kara stated. She was "challenged not to accept the status quo but to see how my beliefs could and should impact my life, and how my faith interacts with social justice issues.” Since many upper-classmen at Messiah had studied abroad, Kara appreciated what these students had "brought to the table,” incorporating their experiences in other cultures to conversations in and out of the classroom.
Kara herself took advantage of Messiah’s overseas opportunities, spending the fall of her junior year in the Middle East. Volunteering at a prison in Cairo, writing extensively on issues such as solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict and what our Christian faith means in other cultures, as well as travelling throughout several Middle Eastern countries, were part of what Kara called “an incredibly intense experience -- academically, culturally and emotionally.”
The following semester, Kara studied in Thailand, a more culturally immersive experience than the Middle East. Living with a Thai family for 8 weeks, who did not speak any English, taught her how to communicate cross-culturally without the use of language. While based in Chiang Mai, Kara interned as a 7th grade English teacher for a class comprised predominantly of ethnic minorities. As most of these students would not continue beyond the 7th grade, Kara felt a special need to teach them all she could in their last year of formal education. After Kara’s spring semester ended, she chose to stay in Thailand an additional week at a Burmese refugee camp.
Following graduation, Kara accepted a position as a Teach for America corps member and a special education teacher for 13 fourth and sixth graders in New Roads, Louisiana, a very rural community about 45 minutes from Baton Rouge. Kara writes about her work with these children:
My kids have a variety of exceptionalities, from dyslexia to mild mental impairment, from intermittent explosive disorder to autism. They are frequently two or more years behind their classmates academically who are at least two or more years behind national averages. My school is a typical Title I school, failing in so many respects, just barely hanging on to survive. Low expectations plague these children. Few expect kids coming out of my school to ever succeed in life, and they are given far fewer opportunities than their suburban white counterparts. Moreover, the tiny town is plagued by drugs, violence, and gang rivalry. Yet, so many of them are really trying hard to make it, and I know they can, but we need others to know they can too. It's about raising expectations/hope across the board, among the students, parents, teachers, and friends -- that they can do better than statistics seem to doom them to. One way we can do that within my class is to grow two years in reading in one year. So far we're on target to meet this goal, and I know success in this area will go a long ways to proving to the kids and others that they are capable of learning.
Laura Beechy ('07, Nutrition and Dietetics)
Each year at Commencement, the Alumni Merit Award is presented to a graduating senior for outstanding representation of the college’s ideals of intellect, character and Christian faith. In May 2007, the faculty chose Laura Beechy, a Nutrition and Dietetics major – and College Honors Program participant – from Sugarcreek, OH.
When asked why she chose dietetics as a vocation, Laura responded, “Because everyone has to eat! The field of nutrition reflects all the different ways food affects our lives. From biochemistry to counseling to economics, I really have the freedom to pursue my ever-changing interests.”
One of these interests involved traveling to Thailand during the summer of 2006, where Laura assisted in food distribution and assessment of food preparation, nutrition education and nutritional needs of Burmese refugees in Northern Thailand. Laura Beechy won the first Paul and Elaine Wengert Humanitarian Service Award to support this work with the non-profit organization, Empowering Women of Burma. For her Senior Honors Project, Laura studied the nutrition status of 29 3- to 5-year old children living in Mae La Oon refugee camp in northern Thailand, specifically evaluating the effect of a preschool lunch program on diet quality.
Not only is Laura an outstanding scholar, but she is athletically gifted as well. Laura appears on Messiah’s Outdoor Track & Field Women’s All-Time Top Ten List for her record in the 3000 Meter Steeple Chase, as well as being named MAC Female Track Student Athlete. Her favorite memories of Messiah include not only running, but also swimming, wading, soaking, icing, and floating down the Yellow Breeches (see graduation photo for one last wade!).
Following graduation, Laura completed a nutrition dietetic internship at Massachusetts General Hospital Dietetics in August 2008, where she was given responsibility over projects that impact the hospital's nutrition services, becoming a registered dietician. She completed her M.A. in nutrition at Tufts University, and now works for the Pacific Rim Institute in Washington State.
Jennica Sehorn ('07, Spanish)
A native of Portland, Oregon, Jennica Sehorn (pictured third, with friends in Turkey) wished to go to college on the east coast to experience living in another part of the country. As a Spanish major (and Human Services minor), she was excited to learn of all the study abroad options that Messiah offered, and was sure she would thrive here after visiting campus.
While at Messiah, Jennica spent two semesters abroad, studying in Mexico and England. She returned to Mexico during a J-term, and then spent a May term studying in Nepal. During her semesters at Messiah’s Grantham campus, Jennica was heavily involved in various volunteer ministries, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Danzante after school program, ESL tutoring through the City of Harrisburg, Catholic Charities refugee services, as well as participated in Women’s Choir and recreational sports.
“The campus has a unique culture,” Jennica stated, “and since graduation it has become more and more apparent to me how special my four years there were. I loved the commitment to service, to bringing positive change to society, and to challenging and stretching one another as we learned what it meant to be followers of Christ in the world.” Jennica affirmed that the classes she took, the ways she was able to serve, and the study abroad programs she completed all gave her a sense of calling and direction, and prepared her for experiences that have followed.
These experiences included winning a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship for the 2007-08 academic year, which allowed her to teach English conversation classes at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. In addition to this assignment at Bilkent, Jennica indicated that the most rewarding part of her year as a Fulbright Scholar in Ankara was working with Iranian refugees in the city. She helped create English classes for the Iranian community and spent two nights a week with them, teaching them as much “survival” English as she could so that they would be better prepared for resettlement in another country.
Following her year in Turkey, Jennica returned to her hometown of Portland to work as a bilingual aide at a middle school. She worked predominantly with first or second generation Mexican immigrants, learning much from them about the experiences of newcomers to our country.
In May 2011, Jennica completed an M.A. in Latin American Studies at the School for Foreign Service at Georgetown University, with a concentration in Refugee and Humanitarian Emergencies. She earned a certificate in this area through the Institute for the Study of International Migration.
Aaron Dahlstrom ('03, Engineering)
Aaron Dahlstrom came to Messiah from Upper Merion Area High School in King of Prussia, PA. In search of a Christian college with an excellent engineering program, Messiah’s engineering faculty impressed Aaron with their approachability, vision, and creativity.
While at Messiah College, Aaron helped start a student organization that addressed the humanitarian hazards caused by landmines abandoned in conflict zones. His team created an educational minefield that sounded an airhorn when entrants triggered simulated mines. This project was then used as an educational tool with students at Messiah and with diplomats in Washington, D.C.
Aaron took advantage of Messiah’s study abroad opportunities by spending five months as an exchange student in Ecuador studying, exploring, and camping in the Andes. He also lived in Messiah’s SALT House for two years, a service-centered community house where residents eat common meals, study scripture and pray together, and live out a service vocation.
Currently working as a mechanical engineer with In Posse (www.in-posse.com), an independent environmental consulting firm in Philadelphia, Aaron recalls how Messiah provided a broad technical foundation which was easy to build on as a practicing professional. “The best part of my academic preparation was developing a relationship with the engineering faculty where I could observe their vision, integrity, and creativity; these characteristics shaped how I would use my academic skills and continue to influence my practice today.”
Aaron has used these skills to analyze and design heating and cooling systems for various buildings, including a cancer care center for Memorial Sloan Kettering, the USA headquarters for GMAC Mortgage, and a new high-rise dormitory for Drexel University. With an expertise in low-energy, environmentally-friendly design, Aaron is currently working on two projects that expect to generate as much energy as they consume, one of which intends to compete in the Living Building Challenge (www.cascadiagbc.org/lbc).
Aaron attends Circle of Hope, a network of congregations built on a cell group structure (www.circleofhope.net), where he can connect with like-minded friends and authentically practice his faith.
Kevin Driver ('03, Biochemistry, Philosophy)
In the spring of 2007, Messiah College Honors Program alum Kevin Driver received his medical degree from Columbia University's highly regarded College of Physicians and Surgeons. Kevin grew up in suburban Philadelphia and came to Messiah from Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. He chose to attend Messiah largely because of the College Honors Program. "The honors program at Messiah," he says, "was a place where I could feel comfortable but would still provide social, intellectual, personal and spiritual challenges as well as opportunities to grow." During his four years at Messiah Kevin was involved in a host of academic and co-curricular programs. Besides double-majoring in Biochemistry and Philosophy, he performed with the Messiah College Singers and in the Mainstage Theatre. He also helped to design and implement an cancer-immunology project through the Department of Natural Sciences. Kevin's Messiah memories are full and extend beyond the lab and library. When asked about his fondest memories, he cites "cheering and throwing marshmallows at the E-town soccer game, working one on one with faculty like biologist Dr. Larry Mylin and philosopher Dr. Robin Collins, and engaging in many late night discussions with roommates and friends about history, religion and Christian faith."
Following graduation, Kevin began his medical studies at Columbia. Kevin was drawn to medicine, he says, "as a way to practically benefit other people by providing healing." Asked if he felt academically prepared for one of the nation's top ranked and most challenging medical educations, he replies, "Absolutely! I started out on an equal footing with students from many well known, prestigious colleges."
Kevin's years in medical school have also been a time of spiritual growth. He has been actively involved in New York's dynamic Redeemer Presbyterian Church where, along with other young professionals, he participates in a small fellowship group. Redeemer's commitment to diversity and service is something that Kevin's finds very appealing. Kevin has also had opportunities to put his medical skills and knowledge to work, serving with Messiah alums Drs. John Spurrier and Phil Thuma at Macha Mission hospital in rural Zambia. "Treating common global diseases such as Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and rheumatic heart disease at Macha was challenging both because they are so relatively exotic in the US and the available resources are insufficient to meet the tremendous needs in the developing world" he notes, "but it was rewarding to care for patients who have little to return in compensation other than appreciation and who can't find another doctor by flipping through the phonebook."
Kevin finished his residency in Internal Medicine at Duke University Medical Center, and is currently doing a post-doctoral fellowship in cardiology at the University of Virginia. As a Messiah College honors program participant and now as a physician, Kevin embodies Messiah's commitment to educating young men and women for lives of leadership and service.
Ryan Rich ('02, Politics)
When choosing a college, Ryan Rich, a Politics/Pre-law major from Middleboro, Massachusetts, searched for a school with excellent academics as well as an environment where he felt he could grow as a person. After visiting with professors in Messiah College’s Politics department and spending time on campus, he knew it was the right place for him.
“The opportunity to be a part of the Honors Program was a big plus for me,” Ryan states. “The financial help was significant, and participating in the Program allowed me a unique opportunity to join a small network of very bright students who also shared a lot of common experiences (lectures, seminars, etc.).” One of his fondest memories of Messiah is his first-year Honors Seminar, Cinema & Semiotics, with Dr. Crystal Downing. “The course was an amazing challenge during my first few months at college and an important time of working with others in class through the challenging issues we discussed.”
Ryan pursued various extracurricular activities during his time at Messiah College. As well as being elected Student Body President, Ryan served as a Research Assistant, Apartment Life Coordinator, Student Representative for Larson Student Union Planning, was a member of the Chapel Worship Team, and enjoyed Rec. Sports. He also spent a semester studying in England at the very challenging Oxford Honors Program.
After graduating in 2002, Ryan attended the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill. He felt that the professors at Messiah trained him very well to do the types of things that lawyers do: read critically and write persuasively. “While other very intelligent law students – who had done well as undergrads – struggled to learn how to do well in law school, I was prepared and did well right from the start (getting the highest grade in two of my first-year classes). . . . I had an advantage over other students that had nothing to do with intelligence – I had been in that kind of environment before.”
Ryan and his wife Lindsay (Hazen) Rich, also a 2002 Messiah graduate, are currently living in Charlotte, NC, and are actively involved in their church, CityChurch Charlotte. Ryan is a commercial litigator with the international law firm Hunton & Williams, LLP, and also does free legal work for a non-profit organization and for individuals who would not otherwise be able to get legal help.
Emily Ferris ('02, Elementary Education)
At the end of her junior year, Emily Ferris, a College Honors Program participant and Elementary Education major joined-up with Urban Impact Ministries and began a summer internship in New Orleans that would alter the course of her life. Living and working in the local housing projects, Emily fell in love with The Big Easy and its people. Within a month of her Messiah College graduation in 2002, Emily moved to New Orleans to pursue her vocation as a public school teacher in the inner city. Three years later Hurricane Katrina turned Emily’s world upside down. Emily reports that “working in a city where physical and human resources are scarce has become stressful beyond imagination.” However, despite the difficulties and uncertainties, Emily says that “it’s rewarding to know that this is an historic time in which the greatest American rebuilding and revitalization is taking place.”
Central City Nebraska is a long way from Grantham Pennsylvania, but Emily chose to attend Messiah because of its strong academic reputation and Christian distinctives. In addition to her Elementary Education major, Emily minored in Psychology and was active in a variety of extra-curricular activities, including service teams and Powderpuff football. She also spent a semester studying abroad in England. Emily’s fondest Messiah memories are of simply hanging out and growing with her friends. When asked if Messiah prepared her for life beyond Grantham, Emily replies that “I absolutely feel that Messiah prepared me for teaching and for graduate school. Messiah’s challenging academic environment, solid work ethic, and strong focus on servanthood are values that have helped me to be a successful teacher and grad student.”