An Interview with Serena Christianson(’10)
Q: What do you remember about your decision to attend University of Jamestown? How did you know it was the place for you?
Oh my gosh, this is quite a story. When I was a senior in high school, I had no idea where I wanted to go to school. I was getting letters from all kinds of schools from across the country, which made the process even harder. I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of Jamestown until they contacted me. I was asked to apply for the Character in Leadership Program, which was launching the next year. What an opportunity to be a part of something brand new! That fall, I was also solicited to apply for the Wilson Scholarship, which I ended up winning in the fall. My admissions counselor, Michele Kramlich, is hands-down the reason I chose JC. Since day one, she was so sincere and genuinely interested in my future. I remember talking with her on the phone, weighing my other college choices. Did she have to do that with me? No, and not once did she ever push JC towards me. I accepted the Wilson, but wasn’t fully committed to going to JC just yet. All senior year, I applied to other schools and had narrowed it down to Briar Cliff University (Sioux City, IA) and Jamestown in July before my freshman year. I visited BCU’s campus and I’ll admit that they did not welcome me with as open arms as when I visited JC. Michele let me stay at her house, and when I arrived on campus, she gave me a huge hug. She even lined up for me to work as her assistant in Admissions; I knew after that trip that I had to go to JC. I could tell that the people there really cared about me and my success.
Q: What were some of your best memories from University of Jamestown? Favorite class, professor, extra curricular or social activity?
Tough questions! I honestly had no “bad” memories at Jamestown. Sure, there were tough times, but what got me through them was the sense of community on campus. I never felt alone. I learned a lot as a Student Admissions Assistant all four years at Jamestown; I had the opportunity to be an Ambassador as well, which was incredible. One of my most memorable tours was when the ND School for the Deaf were on campus to give a presentation to the education department and wanted a tour afterwards. I was lined up as the Ambassador – here’s the kicker – I don’t know sign language. However, there really wasn’t a language barrier because of the interpreter, who made it such a fun tour. The students were so engaging and hilarious!
Other fun memories include the adventurous band tours, PBL competitions, band concerts, theatre productions, the list goes on. A highlight of my time at Jamestown was being a part of the very first class of the Character in Leadership program. We felt so honored to be a part of something so monumental. I’ll never forget when we tried to throw a junior high dance on campus and it completely failed. Most of the classmates were Type-A personalities, not used to failure, so this was a great bonding moment for us, along with a learning opportunity. I grew so much as an individual because of that program and also because of my favorite instructors, Dr. Mort Sarabakhsh, Dr. Irene Paasch, Ben Schneider, Myra Watts, and Mary Reed. They really pushed me to be the best individual I could ever be; not best student, but best person. They each had their own individual ways of teaching, but all were incredibly effective. Now that I’m a college instructor, I freely admit that I have used similar practices from them in my classroom because of the impact they made on me.
Q: After graduation, what were the first steps you took towards your career?
Again, another interesting story! I originally planned on attending Boston University to receive my MA in Arts Administration in Fall 2010. However, because of the poor economy at the time, I decided to stay back in Williston, ND, my hometown. I was working for KLJ, an engineering firm, when I become restless and enrolled in Grand Canyon University’s online MBA program. Why GCU? Because Michele Kramlich, my mentor through college, left JC to work in Admissions there. If she thought this was a good place to work, I knew it was a good school. Also, I loved that the business program was housed in the Ken Blanchard School of Business; Blanchard is very well known for his management and leadership theories. Last, but not least, I connected with how GCU focused on servant leadership, which I knew was my passion. Leadership was my concentration for my MBA. Back to the story J That fall, I saw flyers at Anytime Fitness to hire a personal trainer; I inquired about it and was hired as a Group Fitness Instructor instead. In Spring 2011, word got out that I was going to be certified in Zumba, and my name was forwarded to Williston State College as a possible instructor. When I walked in the room for my interview, I saw the VP of Academics, who was my calculus teacher in high school. She said “I know this is unprofessional, but can I give you a hug?” It was assumed that I was hired for the job. We then discussed my MBA program and how WSC was looking to revamp their business program. The VP asked if I would be interested in teaching, which I hadn’t considered until then. After that interview, I kept in touch with her, and in July 2011, I went through three interviews in one week and was hired as the Program Coordinator and Instructor of Business at WSC. One of my main tasks in 2011-2012 was to write WSC’s first bachelor’s degree. When redesigning my program and writing this degree, I looked to Jamestown’s curriculum and value system along the way. The degree didn’t pass, but I didn’t see it as a failure, but a learning experience.
Q: What are you up to now?
– Program Coordinator and Instructor of Business at Williston State College since July 2011
– completed MBA (Leadership concentration) from Grand Canyon University in May 2012, graduated with 3.97 GPA
– established dance studio (Kay Michael Lee Studio) with my sister in July 2011, opened in June 2012
– Group Fitness Instructor and in the process of training and being hired as a Personal Trainer at Anytime Fitness in Williston since September 2010
– named NAPW Woman of the Year 2011-2012
– President-elect of Williston Rotary Club 2012-2013 (President 2013-2014)
– interned with CEO of Mercy Medical Center in Summer 2012 – lead developer for Family Medicine Rural Track Residency Program, in conjunction with Trinity Hospital in Minot, ND and University of North Dakota
– President of Williston Area Chamber of Commerce Partners in Education and Leadership Committee
– involved Miss North Dakota Scholarship Organization; Rotary International; National Business Education Association; American Marketing Association; Williston Area Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors Committee; Williston Young Professionals; Upper Missouri Relay for Life; North Dakota Phi Beta Lambda; Junior Achievement; American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; American Fitness and Aerobics Association; Williston Community Builders; and Williston Community After School Club.
Q: Has there ever been a moment when you knew that your education from University of Jamestown put you ahead of others or gave you a leg up in your life?
Every day I do. Jamestown College didn’t teach me how to be a good student, but how to be a good person. I am so thankful for my time at JC, because it really strengthened my own acceptance of who I am as an individual. I wouldn’t say I’m “ahead of others,” but am more confident and modest in my own talents and abilities. When I mentioned I went to JC, not once has the conversation gone sour. Usually, the tone of the conversation changes to “Oh wow, she went to Jamestown College.” The alumni have worked hard to build up JC’s reputation, and I am so honored to be in that group of individuals. JC showed me that it is OK to be humble, yet driven. JC didn’t change who I was as an individual; rather, it enhanced and refined my skills and values – including valuing others and their ideas, enjoying the small things in life, being grateful for what I have, the list goes on.
Q: What does your day look like now?
There is no “typical” day. I have three jobs – instructor at WSC, co-founder of Kay Michael Lee Studio, a dance studio in Williston, and Group Fitness Instructor/Personal Trainer at Anytime Fitness. JC reinforced my foundation of being driven and sensible. I truly love giving back to my community. I live in Williston, ND, which is bursting at the seams with opportunity. I really enjoy living here, probably because of my JC background of finding the good in everything. I have really been able to leverage my abilities and connections in Williston, ND, which is incredible.
Q: You are involved in many community organizations. What drives you to stay connected to your community?
It definitely is not about me; my motivation has nothing to do with recognition or accolades. Rather, I am involved because nothing beats seeing someone prosper, succeed, or even smile because of something I did. My purpose in life is to serve others, not make a paycheck and go home, but to use my talents and gifts to improve someone else’s life. Being a servant leader was never a conscious decision on my part, it is embedded in my character.
Q: You were involved in pageants throughout your youth. How did pageants help you prepare for your life and career now?
Great question! Pageants provided me the opportunity to learn how to accept and love myself instead of comparing myself with others. It was never about beating other people, but improving as an individual. I know that I handle curveballs a lot better, because I’ve had many situations where I’ve had to think on my feet and adapt quickly. My confidence has improved along with my public speaking abilities. All of these are so applicable to me as an instructor in all three of my jobs – I do not get nervous in front of the classroom, even if they ask me a question I’m unsure about. I’ve had many instances where the technology crashed on me for some reason, so I had to modify my lesson plan instantly. Instead of comparing myself to other faculty, I compete with myself – how can I improve my own program, what can I do to grow as an individual?
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add about your time at University of Jamestown or your life now?
Words can’t express how grateful I am for my time at Jamestown College. My professors balanced challenging and supporting me, never settling for anything less than my best. I would do anything for the College because of how it molded who I am today.