Anna Sugg is one of the most hardworking, positive, and enthusiastic people you will meet. Since graduating from Westminster in 2008, she attended Furman University, where she double-majored in political science and communications, worked the Romney presidential campaign in 2012, landed a position at Fox News in the booking department, and became Director of Television at the Republican National Committee. Her extensive experience, combined with her drive and tenacity, also landed her a spot on the Huffington Post’s list of Most-Influential Women in 2016 Election Media. She now works with CBS News as a producer for their digital streaming network CBSN. It’s a full plate, to be sure. The motivation behind everything she does, however, is her faith, says Anna. “I’m a firm believer that work is worship. I also believe that it’s not what job I have but how I do the job I’m given. Work matters. What we do with our work matters. Most of the jobs I’ve held have a relatively large sphere of influence – but for me, it’s more than that. I stay faithful in how I do my work, focus on glorifying God through my work, and keep perspective on the impact of my work,” she says. When reflecting on 2016, Anna clearly identifies it as one of the most challenging and growing years to date for her.Read more about Anna
Back at RNC, her work last year encompassed two sides – the campaign side and the media side. “It was incredibly interesting and humbling,” she says. “When people talk about ‘the media’ or ‘political operatives,’ those are more than just abstract terms to me. I know these people. It gave me an extremely interesting, personal, and complicated perspective – one I believe is an incredible gift.” The days were grueling. Anna had to institute a personal rule not to accept any producer calls before 7 a.m. She worked long hours – most nights getting no more than five hours of sleep – and her limited free time did not allow for as much connection and community as she would have liked. To top it off, she found herself in an extremely challenging and unique political situation. “It’s no secret that this was an extremely divisive and difficult election,” she says. Despite the hardships, Anna says she learned a number of valuable lessons during that time. “I learned that I am stronger than I think I am, and a lot of that isn’t me. There were several situations where I felt very weak and ill-equipped, and I had to remind myself that God will never put me in a situation that I could not handle without His help.” Reminding herself each day that God was at work – in the people and circumstances she found herself in helped, too. “Remembering that every single person is made in the image of God was essential for me and still is,” she says. “I think this goes a long way in our political culture. Every person is extraordinary, and every child of God deserves grace. Reminding myself that elections aren’t out of God’s control and my career isn’t out of God’s control helped me have perspective. Everything works to His good.”
While her Starbucks Coconut Milk Mocha Macchiatos helped her survive most mornings (“It’s God’s gift to mankind – especially really tired mankind!” she says), her church family supported her through the thick and thin of the 2016 presidential campaign. “My church family would send me emails and texts, take me out for coffee, go for walks…I even had one friend that volunteered during the Republican National Convention and made it her mission of the week to ensure my sanity. I was never without a hot cup of coffee, a snack, or a cell phone charger – I don’t think I could have made it through without her,” says Anna. Spiritual support from her church community group helped ground her as she immersed herself in the political world. “Politics and media aren’t exactly known for being rich soil for the Christian life,” she says. “A life of faith is extremely counter cultural. It’s one reason I was thankful former Westminster teacher Mr. Talley had us memorize Romans 12 back in 8th grade. The Christian life can be isolating at times in the world, but it’s worth it to hold fast.” From 8th grade and on through her high school years, Anna sees Westminster as having played a significant role in shaping how she lives out her faith in everyday life. “Westminster gave me a great faith foundation,” she says. “I was in Mr. Boesch’s AP Government class, and I learned more about civics, government, and the philosophical basis of our country than I thought possible. I wasn’t told what to think, but I was taught to use my faith-based foundation to come to a well-thought out and researched opinion.” At Westminster, she learned by example how to apply her faith to every aspect of her life, says Anna. “I learned how to look at everything with a Christian lens. Being a Christian is more than church on Sundays, and at Westminster, it was more than just Bible class. I had excellent role models, from Mr. Knerr who taught me to think critically as a Christian, to Miss Woodall, who taught me what it’s like to be a faithful and strong woman of God.”
The road from Westminster to college and career has, at times, put that faith foundation to the test. “Post-graduate life has been challenging for my faith, but I made a personal decision of faith my sophomore year of high school and have never looked back,” says Anna. Throughout her career, work has demanded a significant portion of her time and effort. “I was constantly traveling, always exhausted, and honestly, my quiet time really struggled. I was also immersed in a culture and industry that doesn’t prioritize faith in the same way I do. It took – and continues to take – a lot of learning experiences, disciplined time management, and some pretty frank accountability sessions with friends and family to continue to grow in my faith.” However, her faith in Christ is worth fighting for, says Anna, and she wouldn’t trade that growing experience for anything. “Yes, I would have loved to learn lessons without having to go through valleys, but it’s a challenge that has given me such a rich and personal experience of my need for Christ as well as the beauties of grace. It’s a walk that’s still continuing to grow, and I’m under no impression that I’m finished being stretched. Not even close.” In her new role at CSBN, Anna is already stretching herself professionally having just helped launch a show in January. It’s been an exhausting but rewarding experience to watch the show grow, she says. “It’s also an amazing time to be involved in covering presidential politics,” says Anna. “Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, everyone can agree that it is constant. My skills as a journalist and producer have gone through a crash course, and I’m excited to see how they improve in the months to come.”
In all the work that lies ahead, Anna is passionate about being a positive contributing factor in changing the way people talk about politics. “I firmly believe that Christians need to be leading by example – to be able to have these conversations with people that do not agree with them and engage on a personal and compassionate level. It’s tough. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. If anything, it’s a call to engage the world around us, and through the work I’m doing now, I get to be a part of that national conversation. I am so honored to be working in this field.”
In His perfect timing, God always places the right people and the right opportunities in our paths to help nudge us toward bigger and better dreams than, perhaps, we have imagined for ourselves. Ben Walker, 26, credits his Westminster teachers for coming alongside him during his formidable high school years and pushing him toward excellence, leadership, and confidence in his natural skillsets and abilities.
Today, Ben works as an account strategist for Google Marketing Solutions at the company’s corporate campus in Ann Arbor, Mich. It’s a life path he says he never could have imagined himself on, had it not been for the constant encouragement and mentorship he received during his years at Westminster. “I adored the teachers I had at Westminster and still think about the ways so many of them made an impact on me,” says Ben. During his sophomore year in particular, he remembers the profound influence Larry Birchler had on him. “I was entering advanced courses for the first time, and I grew overwhelmed early in the year and tried to transfer out of the honors versions of the classes [Mr. Birchler] and Dr. Shaw taught.”Read more about Ben
Ironically, at the time, Mr. Birchler served as both an upper school math teacher and the school’s registrar. In other words, Ben had to request course selection changes, including dropping Mr. Birchler’s honors classes, from Mr. Birchler himself. “He wouldn’t let me and expressed that I should be demanding more of myself. It turns out I ended up doing just fine in those classes, and the confidence I gained from seeing I could succeed in those challenging environments served as a major propellant in countless endeavors ever since. It was a small decision on his part, but I can’t imagine my life path looking the same without it.”
Following graduation from Westminster in 2008, Ben attended Indiana University, where he studied marketing, international business, and Mandarin Chinese. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 2012, Ben looked for an occupation outside the business and marketing industry for his first few years out of college. “I decided instead to commit two years to Teach for America,” he says. “I ended up teaching language arts and remedial reading at a middle school in Oklahoma City.”
Ben found himself in the shoes of the very individuals who had made such an impact on him in high school. “I got more than a little repayment for the hard times I occasionally gave teachers at Westminster,” he says. “But I cherish that experience and appreciate the many teachers who inspired me with their commitment to the craft. Many come to mind, but Mr. Snyder, Dr. Shaw, Dr. Holley, and Dr. Gibson all stand out.”
In 2014 and following the completion of his two-year teaching commitment, Ben began working at Google. The transition brought a lifelong dream of his into reality. “It’s always been a dream of mine to work for a tech company like Google, given their commitment to innovation, outstanding work culture, and global impact,” says Ben. “As my time with Teach for America wound down, it felt like the right time to pursue that dream through connections I had from Indiana University and Teach for America. I eventually connected with people from a handful of tech companies and found a particularly appealing role in sales at Google.”
Today, as an account strategist, he specializes in consulting and strategizing with mid-sized businesses in Canadian markets. While his role focuses primarily on sales, Ben says he enjoys the consulting aspect of his job the most. “My role requires understanding each company’s business model and offering advertising strategies that help them achieve their goals as efficiently as possible.” Working toward successful solutions is a key component of Ben’s work, and he sees it as an especially rewarding part of his job.
“Working at such a large scale company exposes me to nearly every industry imaginable,” he says. “It’s so satisfying to finally figure out a strategy that makes a business successful, especially when we’re able to massively cut down on previous inefficiencies. Digital advertising is often much easier to measure than traditional forms like TV and print, meaning the impact of various changes is often extremely clear. It’s always rewarding to see a company’s sales numbers improve by degrees once a winning strategy is found.”
In addition to his client work, Ben also invests time in training new employees within his department. This year, he received a Googler to Googler Award for North and South America for his work onboarding new company hires. Although Ben mostly trains ‘Nooglers’ (Google terminology for new company employees) at the Ann Arbor office where he works, he has also had opportunities to onboard hires in various locations around the world. “I primarily onboard people in Ann Arbor,” he says, “but I’ve also led trainings for new employees in Mountain View, Calif. Most recently, the [Googler to Googler Award] allowed me to train a large start class of Nooglers in Dublin that will be serving markets across EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa).”
In all of his work with Google employees and clients, building strong business relationships can be both the most rewarding and most challenging aspect of his job, Ben says. “Managing relationships can be a major challenge given the scale at which we work,” he says. “It can get difficult when I find myself getting pulled in a dozen different directions with extremely diverse needs.”
Despite the challenges, however, Ben loves the opportunity to help others. Reflecting on his years as a teacher with Teach for America, Ben says he’s always had a knack and a passion for helping others learn and succeed. This same drive is evident as he trains new hires at Google. “I love what I do at Google, but I quickly found myself craving a classroom environment, too,” he says. “[Training new employees] allows me to help others succeed while constantly sharpening my own product knowledge. It’s also a refreshing change of pace and a great way to stay connected to the ever-changing group of people who work in the Ann Arbor office.”
When thinking back to his years in high school, Ben has no doubt about the influence his time at Westminster had on him. He sees the academic preparation he received at Westminster as helping him springboard into the professional world. “[Westminster’s] curriculum did a fantastic job of giving me complex assignments and a ton of freedom in how I approached them,” says Ben. “The autonomy we possess at Google means success is impossible without a self-starting mindset around ambiguity, and I’m grateful I was exposed to these types of challenges so regularly in high school.”
Ben sees the communications skills he learned through various writing and speech classes and through his involvement in Westminster’s We the People program as directly benefiting his work at Google. “It was impossible to graduate from Westminster without spending countless hours developing diverse written and verbal communication skills,” he says.
“Westminster granted me so many opportunities to research a subject, carefully develop an argument, and defend it in writing and speech. The school’s language arts program was, without exception, outstanding in this regard, as was Mr. Boesch’s We the People program. My day-to-day at Google requires learning about countless businesses in every industry imaginable and turning that knowledge into actionable recommendations I can defend. The stakes are different, but I’m lucky to have experienced many similar situations well before I graduated high school.”
Ultimately, Ben is thankful for the spiritual preparation and growth he experienced while at Westminster. “Westminster did an outstanding job preparing students to answer a watching world with ‘reasons for the hope we have’ (1 Peter 3:15) and showing us how much sense the world makes through a Christian lens,” he says. Both in the classroom and on the athletic field, Ben says Westminster teachers and coaches provided him with a consistent model of what it looked like to own his faith and talk about his faith with others. “Westminster exposed me to so many outstanding Christian role models, along with countless opportunities to examine and sharpen my faith in preparation for college and beyond.”
This commitment to spiritual and academic preparation is at the core of a Westminster education. It profoundly impacted Ben’s life, beginning his sophomore year at Westminster and continues to influence the high-impact work he accomplishes at Google. Westminster defines excellence as the individual and collective pursuit of becoming better than we once were. It’s this excellence – reflected in Ben’s story and the stories of over 3,000 Westminster alumni – that propels our graduates into the world, into kingdom work, to engage the world and forever change it for Jesus Christ.
In 2011, Sarah Moore, 27, a second-generation Westminster alumna, started at Americans for Prosperity (AFP) as a development assistant, eventually began fundraising for the group, and was appointed as director of development in December 2014. The conservative advocacy group operates chapters in 35 states where it advocates for free enterprise and limited government, especially in the areas of healthcare, energy, and economics.
While Sarah was an engaged member of the We the People team at Westminster and pursued a political science degree from Wheaton College, she never had a desire for a career in politics or even fundraising. “I hate politics,” she says. “So many in D.C. view politics as an end in and of itself, instead of as a means to help others.”Read more about Sarah
Her interest had always been in political philosophy – specifically the intersection of politics and faith, government and church, power struggles and human nature. “Thought leaders like Kuyper, Aquinas, Rousseau, and Machiavelli piqued my interest in exploring where political philosophy meets policy, but it was ultimately civitas, love for one’s neighbor, that led me to this work,” says Sarah. “The political industry is a really dark place. So to work for an organization that seeks to positively disrupt a broken political system by advancing free market policies that help those our government has alienated instead of harming the poor, is an incredible gift. This is the work that God has called me to at AFP.”
When she first joined the development team, Sarah supported a group of major gift officers, helped plan events, and assisted with logistics and the planning – a diverse set of experiences that would be invaluable when she was promoted to lead the team a few years later. Although she initially felt unqualified, her track record has proved otherwise. She has raised more money than anyone else on the team.
“I had to start from scratch and build my own caseload,” says Sarah. “It was a numbers game – ‘how many meetings can I get?’ I traveled constantly because I wanted to figure out how to build as many relationships as possible. The numbers themselves are just a byproduct of relationships that are functioning well.”
From a young age, Sarah has worked hard with a healthy dose of integrity – two reasons she was promoted so quickly. “Authentic production doesn’t occur if you don’t exhibit humility and respect for one another,” says Sarah, noting how her own growth in these areas was encouraged by her family, church, and mentors at Westminster. “There were so many people focused on challenging me. My coaches’ and teachers’ willingness to make investments in me always humbled me,” she says, noting Scott Vonder Bruegge’s poignant journalism lessons and Mark Hearne’s deep love of history, passed on to many of his students. “Papa Hearne’s class is the only reason I remember key dates in history!” she says. “Westminster always made me hungry to learn. It’s rare to be in a Christian school where you actually get sound doctrine and a strong education.”
That education, like the one she received at Wheaton, she says, helped shape her worldview and, in turn, her political viewpoints. “God has called me to work for an organization that shrinks the scope of government in order to allow the church and other institutions to do their jobs, in turn allowing humanity to thrive and flourish the way God intended.”
In her role at AFP, Sarah manages 34 people, including the major gifts team, events team, support team, and communications team. She spends about a quarter of her time fundraising with the group’s high-level donors. How does she convince people her grandparents’ age to give? “At first, I thought my age was a disadvantage,” she says. “But then I realized I was the product they wanted to see. When they see a young person who shares their vision and values — who understands the threats
politically and culturally to our society — they get really excited.”
For Sarah, the most challenging part of the job is being the coach and the player at the same time. “It’s finding a balance between building out my portfolio and leading the team well,” she says. “People are the most important thing. Making time to invest in those people, to cultivate their talent and leadership, is my priority. In all organizations, it’s either ‘I’m here to serve you’ or ‘you’re here to serve me.’ Unfortunately in the political space, it’s usually the latter. But for me, my faith informs the way I want to lead. It’s about pouring into others so that they might succeed.”
This challenge also happens to be the reward. “I love seeing authentic, transformational growth in others – whether a donor, a peer, or someone on my team,” says Sarah. “There are two things that ‘sell’ in politics: crisis and hope. There is a great need, in both the private and public sectors, for Christian leaders who are able to expose others to the hope we have in Christ. I believe in exposing people to the gospel without smacking them in the face with it. This means loving people well. It is the greatest blessing to see others’ lives changed when they are exposed to the benefits of living a Christ-centered life,” she says. “Regardless of your industry or job title, because of this hope, we can see and encourage a better version of a person than he/she might ever have for himself/herself. The same for a team, the same for a country.”
“My time in D.C. has been characterized by learning God’s faithfulness as He consistently (and lovingly) nudges me outside of my comfort zone, giving me new responsibilities and opportunities for leadership, even when against my will,” says Sarah. “I would have never picked this job for myself, and frankly didn’t even know jobs like this existed! But the desire that God has placed on my heart is to build teams, inspire others, and cultivate leaders. It just so happens that in doing so, I get to work at a place where I can advance free market policies that allow for human flourishing. What could be more fun than that?”
As director of the theatre program at Chattanooga Christian School (CCS) in Chattanooga, Tenn., Mary Catherine Drexler Schimpf has been directing musicals and plays, teaching acting classes, and running a full-time musical theatre camp for children in the summer for a decade. She teaches all ages (kindergarten through 12th grade) but primarily focuses on high school students.
After graduating from Westminster in 2001, Mary Catherine moved to the Chattanooga area to attend Covenant College, where she received a B.A. in music in 2005. Her passion for theatre began and grew at Westminster and blossomed during her time at Covenant – not because she had a wealth of theatre opportunities in college but rather because of the lack of opportunity. “The music and theatre I had been immersed in at Westminster suddenly dropped out of my life, and I missed it deeply,” she says. “It wasn’t because of the performances; I missed the beautiful process of collaborating, problem-solving, and working together on a giant project bigger than any of us! I quickly came to realize that theatre was my life’s passion. So I went off in search of it.”Read more about Mary Catherine
Mary Catherine says former Westminster theatre director Susan Hauser Maynor ’86 originally gave her the idea for a musical theatre camp for children, which she has been running since 2002, first in St. Louis and now in Chattanooga, in an effort to build performance technique and inspire interest in the arts.
For her senior project at Covenant, she directed the school’s first musical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, having played Sally in the same show at Westminster in 2001 under the direction of Mrs. Maynor. “Westminster equipped me with experience and a set of tools I could suddenly pull out and use!” she says.
Since moving to Chattanooga for college, the city has been home. After graduation, she was hired to choreograph the musical at CCS and has worked there ever since. While at Covenant, Mary Catherine met her husband Jon. “He helped paint sets for my very first musical and has helped me get through non-stop directing from that point on,” she says. The two have been married nearly nine years and have two sons, Max (6) and Luke (4).
Mary Catherine’s parents – Jim Drexler (former Westminster head of upper school) and Sara Drexler (former Westminster leadership coordinator) live nearby but have spent recent years in Indonesia working to start a Christian teachers’ college there.
“I credit Westminster and my parents with every bit of inspiration and preparation for the job and life I lead now,” says Mary Catherine, who, at age 5, acted in Westminster’s production of The King and I under the direction of Betsy Tyvoll. “It was a formative experience for me, and I was looking for theatrical opportunities from then on,” she says. “Growing up around Westminster meant that I was very familiar with high school life; those big kids might as well have been celebrities to me! I used to sneak into musical rehearsal in the ‘old gym’ and watch Kathy Eichelberger or Betsy Tyvoll direct the students. My mom would help with productions, and I would tag along every chance I got. So even before I was a Westminster student, I had found my niche – the arts.”
Mary Catherine says she learned about music and theatre as well as how an art form can be used to build one another up from a few special teachers. “Kathy Eichelberger, Tim Wilds and Susan Maynor are my heroes,” she says. “They taught me about collaboration, excellence and devotion to your craft. They inspired me beyond what I could explain in words because I draw on what they taught me every day. They changed me,” she says, also expressing gratitude toward her parents, who enabled her to have these experiences and continually pushed her toward excellence. “The reason for all of this rigor was perpetually clear to me: we are created in the image of God; we enjoy creating things because we are like Him in that way; and the arts provide an excellent platform for beautiful creation, which we can give back to Him as an offering of praise.”
On a sweet note, Sara, Mary Catherine’s mom, taught and mentored Susan when she was a student at Westminster. “Mrs. Drexler was a huge part of my story growing up,” says Susan.
Reflecting on her teachers at Westminster, Mary Catherine says she hopes she can have a fraction of their impact on her own students. “It’s about relationship – finding potential in kids and building it up in them,” she says. “Nothing brings me greater joy than seeing a show thrive because students are placed in their perfect roles. Watching students excel in theatre at Westminster gave me great confidence in taking the bold steps I have taken at CCS.”
Brad Tubbesing ’99 first noticed Caroline Taylor Tubbesing ’00 his 8th grade year at Westminster. Little did he know then that a couple decades later, she would be his wife and working alongside him with Reformed University Fellowship (RUF), a ministry that seeks to help college students be transformed by the gospel of grace. Having first served in the campus ministry at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and now at Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington, much of their desire to work with college students stemmed from their own college experiences.
“In our fraternity and sorority houses, we saw how many students fill their lives with other things,” says Brad. “It was a timely opportunity to help them see that Jesus is what they truly long for and encourage them to begin a life of dependence on Him,” says Brad, who leads RUF at IU. His responsibilities include preaching at the ministry’s weekly on-campus large group gathering, leading some small group Bible studies, and overseeing the student leadership team.Read more about Ben and Caroline
Brad received a political science degree from Miami University in Ohio in 2002 and a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary in 2006. During seminary, he worked in several church- and ministry-related internships. Following graduation, Brad accepted a call to begin a new RUF ministry at UAH, where he served as the campus minister for five years. He and Caroline then moved to Bloomington in 2012 to begin a new RUF ministry at IU and help start Hope Presbyterian Church.
Caroline graduated from the University of Missouri in 2003 with a communication degree and began work as a wedding planner at St. Louis Wedding Design, where she stayed until 2005 before assuming a role as admissions administrator at Covenant Theological Seminary. Today, Caroline spends much of her time caring for their four children – Eliza (9), Adie (6), Jane (4), and JR (2) – but still devotes time to the ministry through hosting small groups of students in their home, leading Bible studies, and meeting with girls in the ministry one on one, in addition to working with their church.
At Westminster, despite knowing each other since middle school, the two didn’t start dating until Brad’s senior year at Westminster. They were married right after Caroline graduated from college, in June 2003. They say Westminster played a major part in preparing them well for the work they are doing with college students. “Westminster’s Bible courses had a very positive effect on me,” says Brad, naming Old Testament, Biblical Ethics, and Worldviews. “At a very important age, the teachers helped me form and solidify important truths about myself and the world around me. I learned that because of sin, the world is not the way it is supposed to be, but Jesus is bringing redemption. This foundation given to me at Westminster made me think about and make sense of the broken world around me – especially as I went off to college – and undoubtedly affects my ministry today.”
Both Brad and Caroline credit their Westminster teachers, coaches, and mentors who led by example and showed them the characteristics of godly leaders. Caroline appreciated how leadership was valued and encouraged at Westminster and as a result assumed several leadership positions as a student. “From leadership retreats to one-on-one talks with Mrs. [Sara] Drexler, I received much training on how to lead and care for others,” she says. “If I have any compassion for others and desire to help students see the beauty of the gospel, I attribute that to the compassion – and integrity and grace – to the example I saw in my teachers at Westminster.” Brad adds, “I remember how Mr. [Mark] Hearne and Mr. [Ken] Boesch gave me opportunities to excel in areas they know I was strong in academically, and how my soccer coaches showed me grace when I let our team down but also pushed me to play to my greatest potential,” he says. “The way they empowered me to take risks, challenge myself, and lead is something I reflect on often, as much of my job is empowering students to do the same – to lead and boldly follow Jesus where He has called them.”
Brad says they hope and pray that through RUF, many of the non-Christian students they interact with will see their need for God’s grace and come to a saving relationship with Him. For the Christian students, he says they pray that they would gain a fuller grasp of the beauty of the gospel. “Caroline and I hope that all their earthly desires – for friendships, a family, successful finances, or a certain vocation – would be lived out as a means to praise God for his goodness and grace,” he says, noting that they also pray that students would see the need to be involved in the local church throughout college and their lives. “We’re grateful that Westminster taught us many of these truths, which we now have the opportunity to teach to students today.”
A Match Made in Algebra
My senior year (Caroline’s junior year), we were a pretty new couple. During a morning class, Mr. [Rich] VanGilst told me to come to his classroom for lunch, as I would be serving a detention for talking too much in class. Little did Mr.VanGilst know that Caroline – my new crush – would be in his classroom at that same time (she was in VG’s college algebra class that took place during my lunch period).
Naturally, before the class started, I made sure I was in a seat within earshot of Caroline.The guy who just got into trouble for talking too much had no problem with whispering to Car- oline throughout the class. Finally, though, VG had had enough. “Mr.Tubbesing, do you care to share with the rest of us what you keep whispering to this young lady?” Without a mo- ment’s hesitation, I responded, “Mr. VanGilst. I’d rather not share. But let’s be honest. Can you blame me for talking to this girl? I mean, look at her!” And with that, Caroline got up from her desk and bolted out of the classroom.
Meredith believes that her Faith In Action senior service project at Westminster set her on the path to do what she does today, serving as head of school at Promise Christian Academy, an evangelical Christian school in St. Louis that serves and educates children with special needs.
Since 2007, Promise has been a Faith In Action site for Westminster seniors – 81 to date. The school has also hired two former senior service students – Sarah Dieckgraefe ’10 and Katherine Hickman ’11 – following college graduation. “I have been blessed to be able to help mold several young men and women in their journeys just as someone did for me,” says Meredith. Thirty percent of Promise employees are Westminster alumni, and 50 percent are members of the broader Westminster family.
Meredith graduated from Calvin College in 1993 with a B.S. in Therapeutic Recreation with an emphasis in pediatrics. She has served as head of school at Promise since December 2007.Read more about Meredith
By blending academics with faith and multiple therapies into each school day, Promise Christian Academy, founded in 2004, builds an “onramp for life” for its students with special needs. The school affirms the innate value of every child and works to discover and cultivate each student’s potential. While Meredith was a student at Westminster, one of the school year themes was “Walk your talk.” This particular theme has stayed with Meredith, as she strives to apply it to her work today. “I pray that I am ‘walking my talk’ and living out my faith in helping children with special needs and their families,” she says. “With Christ’s help, I am working the mission field in which He has planted me – working to further His kingdom, one step at a time.”
For the 2015-16 school year, Promise opened a fourth classroom, focused on secondary education and preparing students for life after Promise, which includes employment and higher/technical education. This particular classroom has begun participating in Westminster Chapel once a month!
To accommodate a growing student body, the school has purchased 4.2 acres of property adjacent to West Hills Community Church on South Outer 40 Road, where it currently leases classroom space. They are in the process of raising $6 million to build this new school so that they can open their doors, debt free, in August 2017.
Meredith and her husband David celebrated 22 years of marriage in August and have three children: Hannah (Westminster senior who is doing her senior service at Promise), Luke (Westminster sophomore), and Matthew (Kirk Day School 6th grader). Meredith is thankful for the unique opportunity to send her children to the same school she attended. In response to a question on her admissions application about why she wanted to attend Westminster, her daughter Hannah wrote, “I want to experience everything that my mom experienced.”
Meredith says, “As Hannah walked into Westminster on the first day of 7th grade, I was confident that she was walking the same halls that I walked, being taught by some of the same teachers I had, and receiving the same incredible education rooted in biblical truth that I received. Now, as a parent of two Westminster students, I am extremely thankful for the sacrifices that my parents and the founding families of Westminster made for me and my children, who I know are experiencing everything that I experienced and a whole lot more!” Meredith says that Westminster laid a strong foundation of faith for her and every other Westminster alumnus/a working alongside her. She says, “Westminster truly shaped us in how we see children with special needs as fully bearing the image of God.”
Greg Schoenberg ’08, assistant football and strength and conditioning (S&C) coach for the past three years, recently assumed leadership of the S&C program for the 2015-16 school year. One of former S&C Coach Dave Schall’s first students, Greg was quick to grasp his vision for the program. “When I was a student, Dave told us, ‘You may think you’re working as hard as you can, but you don’t know how much harder you can work. For those wanting to play in college, you may be in for a surprise,’” says Greg. “This hit home because I was a gifted athlete in high school but didn’t really know what it meant to take it to the next level. Dave helped me realize my potential.”Read more about Greg
Greg’s background in S&C spans most of his life. From a young age, Greg watched his older brother compete in and win bodybuilding competitions and eventually own his own gym. “All my life, and particularly throughout my journey at Westminster, I was always in and around a weight room, and I spent a lot of days before or after school training,” says Greg, who had played linebacker, fullback, and kicker on Westminster’s football team. Greg even held the single season field goal record until senior David Williams broke it in 2014. “It was fun coaching David and seeing him break my record!” says Greg. “Kicking is a tough position because as coaches, we expect every kick to be good. That leads to a lot of pressure. David and I tried to focus on one kick at a time; he did a great job and has certainly left some big shoes to fill.”
After graduation, Greg went onto play on a full scholarship at Washburn University – a Division 2 school in the MIAA Conference – in Topeka, Kansas. As a fullback on Washburn’s team, Greg says, he felt blessed to be coached by a strong Christian man. “Coach’s actions always pointed to Christ,” says Greg. “He always drove home his motto, ‘FAITH, FAMILY, FOOTBALL.’” Greg’s senior year, the team made it to the second round of the playoffs and lost to the eventual national champions but ended the season as one of the top 20 schools in the country. Greg was named first team All-Region and received All-American honors while studying to become a physical education teacher, a role he will assume in 2015-16 along with leadership of the S&C program.
Before approaching Coach Schall about returning to Westminster to help coach, Greg worked at a granite company where he was able to apply his gifts. “I enjoy working with my hands and doing physical labor jobs,” says Greg. “I see it as a ministry. God has blessed me with the ability to do some jobs that require hard physical work, and it’s an act of worship when I’m able to use the abilities He has given me.”
Greg also served as physical education teacher at Covenant Christian School for one year. “It was a great opportunity because I had a chance to teach many kids who will likely attend Westminster, so I’m excited to get to see and coach them again one day.”
When working with athletes, Greg says one of his goals is to create a fun and welcoming environment. He wants all students to feel comfortable signing up for S&C or coming into the weight room to work out after school. “I want kids to know more about S&C and nutrition; I want them to take hold of the truth that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and we are responsible to take care of them to the best of our ability.”
Greg says Westminster students have a greater chance to thrive in S&C now than they ever have before. “When I was a student here, there was almost no S&C culture,” he says. “Yes, we had sports, but the athletic program was nothing like it is now. Westminster athletics have been growing and improving rapidly because many coaches like Dave have poured themselves into the program and into athletes. I’m very excited for the opportunity to do the same.”
Greg married his wife Rebekah in July 2015.
After a successful college career at Samford University with a degree in biology and plans to pursue dental school, Tony Thompson followed God’s call to make a difference in the lives of children.
The Academy of E.P.P., an acronym of its mission to “empower students to succeed, partner with parents, and partner with community,” was founded by Tony’s mother Gay Thompson in 2005. It began as a summer camp and transformed into an official private school. When he graduated in spring of 2014, Tony became the owner and head of school. “While I had developed great relationships with well-established dentists and was very interested in becoming one, I knew God was calling me to something else,” says Tony. “Dentistry is something I could’ve done, but it would not have been my purpose. My purpose and passion is inspiring youth. I’m happy to have a job that I love and one through which I can glorify God.”
As head of school, Tony oversees the teachers and administration and believes his role is to motivate his students to value education and build character, as, he says, they need both to change the world. “I recognize that every kid learns differently, so I encourage the teachers to create lesson plans that will cater to each student – not just the majority. We also over-emphasize the importance of strong character and teach them self-affirmation daily.”
Over the years, Tony gained a breadth of knowledge by watching his mom. As he grew older, he became more and more involved, from doing janitorial work and camp counseling to facilitating transportation, tutoring, and administration. When he became head of school, Tony asked his own former head of school, Westminster Head of School Emeritus Jim Marsh, to mentor him and offer some advice on successful leadership. “I’m young and he’s wiser and more seasoned, so I asked him for insight on being an effective leader, ways to use resources, and how God works through those processes,” says Tony. “He didn’t hesitate to bless me with ideas, wisdom, and encouragement.”
Mr. Marsh visited Tony at The Academy of E.P.P. this winter. “Tony embodies the Westminster vision to prepare more young people to engage the world and change it for Jesus Christ,” says Mr. Marsh. “It was a personal joy to visit him at his school and see him working so hard to provide underserved children from St. Louis with a quality education founded on biblical truth and principles. Tony has taken on a tremendous challenge at a very young age with strong faith and character, energy, and excitement. He is truly changing the world of the children he serves.”
How did Westminster prepare you for your role as head of school?
At Westminster, I interacted with so many teachers, janitors, and administrators who showed me what it means to serve. Mr. Marsh in particular led by his humble service to students, parents, and teachers. If such a well-respected head of school can show great humility, who am I to be prideful about my title? It means nothing if I am not impacting lives. Additionally, Westminster convinced me of the need for the Gospel in education. Since becoming head of school at The Academy of E.P.P., I’ve placed a great emphasis on following Jesus. We pray, praise, and create a lot of dialogue about what it means to serve Christ here.
What have you learned from your former head of school Jim Marsh about being an effective leader?
There are so many things I’ve learned from Mr. Marsh. I think the biggest is when he mentioned he was always open to suggestions from his staff. He wanted to include everyone in the Westminster vision. That’s humility. There are some leaders who have a “my way or the highway” approach. That’s not Mr. Marsh.
How do you motivate your students to value education?
I do my best to show them where education can take them. For example, I was blessed to attend college, and just the other day, I told my elementary students that the things they are learning now are the things that helped me in high school, college, and in my current job. The majority of my students’ parents did not attend college, so I try often to share my own stories or experiences with them and pray that they would become the first in their families to go beyond high school. I try to make it “cool” to be smart.
How do you hope to make an impact in the lives of kids?
Through my role as head of school, I hope to push my students closer to Jesus. A lot of my students have very unfortunate backgrounds. They see and experience things that no child should. I recognize that there are no math problems, spelling words, or science books that are going to help them deal with the storms they have in their lives. My role is simply to show them someone – Christ – who can give them peace, love, and hope in the midst of tough times. At The Academy of E.P.P., we worship, pray, and talk about God everyday. I will never shy away from promoting Jesus in education. It’s the biggest impact that I hope I can make in any student’s life.
Follow Tony on Twitter at @tony_epp.
Some people bike for the exercise. Others bike for the competition. J.D. Hartwig bikes for an entirely different reason. He and fellow cyclists, friends, and Belmont University seniors James Richfield and Brennon Mobley, ride to raise funds to build a school in Mount Olivos, Honduras. Read more about J.D.
What began as a simple idea quickly formed into an exciting reality. “I was actually in St. Louis a year ago working an internship for the summer, and Brennon reached out to me with the idea for going on a really long bike ride,” says J.D. “I told him I wasn’t going to be able to go, because I had to get a job. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that it was too good an opportunity to turn down.”
The team’s soon-to-be third member James was planning his own cross-country bike ride at the time, but due to other responsibilities, the trip never materialized. Brennon talked with James about joining him and J.D. on their potential summer trip, and it immediately sparked in James a renewed sense of adventure.
“It was really cool to see how this crazy, ridiculous adventure was slowly becoming a reality,” says J.D. “God kept putting things in our path and presenting us with open doors. He’s still continuing to work in this endeavor, and it’s been really neat to see.”
J.D., Brennon, and James formed Riding with a Reason – a team with the intent of creating awareness and support for the 147 Million Orphans Foundation. The organization was founded by two mothers who combined care for 13 children, seven of whom are adopted. Once the women ran out of physical space and resources to care for more children, they created 147 Million Orphans with the goal of extending their love and support to even more children. The mothers had no experience or prior knowledge to help them run the non-profit. They were simply driven by a desire to develop a means to love more children.
“Similar to 147 Million Orphans, our team really doesn’t have experience in cycling as a hobby or a sport,” says J.D. “We’re just riding bikes – just like other people can. It’s something everybody can relate to. We hope to make an impact by doing something simple on a big scale.”
The team began their partnership with 147 Million Orphans in December 2013. “We wanted to work with an organization that was making a tangible difference,” says J.D. “In the end, it was a no-brainer for us to go with 147 Million Orphans.” Near the end of the month of April, J.D., Brennon, and James traveled to Honduras with the organization for a three-day trip during their college finals week. The trip was short, but the impact was long-lasting.
“We served in Mount Olivos, a disenfranchised community where the money raised from our biking adventure will go to build a school,” says J.D. “While there, we spent time meeting with people and investing in others’ lives. It was a great time to build relationships and also to lend a helping hand to work that’s being done down there.” Through their work with 147 Million Orphans in Honduras, the team realized the importance of building a school and establishing an educational presence in the Mount Olivos community.
Looking back, J.D. considers his time as a Westminster student as a launching pad that helped prepare him to take on a project of this size and intensity. “Going into my senior year at Westminster, I traveled to South Dakota for Summer Seminar, and that was the first time I really rode a bike for an extended period of time,” he says. “I rode something like 100 miles over four to five days, which is nothing compared to what we are doing on our cross-country trip, but it was the first time I rode a bike for hours on end. It was something small, but I picked it up pretty well and enjoyed it. Without that trip, I probably wouldn’t have pursued biking more.”
J.D. distinctly remembers encouragement from Westminster teachers who challenged him to have big dreams. “Dr. Timothy Gibson used to say, ‘Never doubt a small group of people that wants to change the world, because those are the only ones who ever will,’” says J.D. “Everybody can have a cool idea, but not everyone will necessarily see it to reality. I believe that the bigger and bolder your dreams are, the more responsibility you have to see them through. We may only be three college kids on this adventure, with little prior experience, but we have been amazed to see what has unfolded from putting our minds to something bigger than ourselves.”
*Update: On July 8, 2014, J.D. and teammates James and Brennon completed their cross-country cycling trip, ending their journey in Washington, D.C. The team exceeded their fundraising goal, raising over $58,000. The total amount will provide enough financial assistance to the Mount Olivos community to build a school and pay a portion of teacher salaries for up to two years.
Members of the Riding with a Reason team traveled to Honduras shortly afterward to visit the site and help with initial construction of the school. Plans for completion of the school building are scheduled for fall or early winter 2014. J.D. says the team would love to return to Honduras after the construction is finished to see the final product. “The trip was a great experience for me,” says J.D. “It taught me lessons in overcoming adversity and dealing with complex and unplanned situations. Most importantly, it helped me to realize what is really important in life and what is not.”
Service and leadership, collaboration and creativity, hard work and excellence. Susan Maynor believes these defining disciplines, ingrained in her as a student at Westminster, shaped her life personally, academically, and spiritually. In fact, it was in the midst of her high school career that Susan determined she wanted to return to Westminster one day to be a teacher, due in no small part to the impact and influence of her own teachers. “Sara Drexler taught me to be a servant leader well before senior service,” says Susan. “Her investment in me as a person, as a Christian, and as a female made a lasting impact on me.”Read more about Susan
Mrs. Drexler’s encouragement and example inspired Susan to demonstrate a servant’s heart in practical ways. She vividly remembers helping prepare for Westminster’s first Christmas Banquet, when she devoted hours to decorating for the special event for her fellow students. Experiences like this taught Susan the importance of approaching her life and work with a divine focus. “Mrs. Drexler taught me to see beyond myself, into a broken world in need of knowing the gospel.”
Her desire to impact the world for Christ was fueled by a passion for creativity and collaboration, which was also nurtured at Westminster through the many opportunities she had to participate in school musicals. “I was in Westminster’s first-ever musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in 1986,” says Susan. “I had the opportunity to be the choreographer for the first three musicals at Westminster because of the director Betsey Tyvoll.” Under Mrs. Tyvoll’s guidance, Susan began to explore the creative process and learned about the grace and perseverance involved in the preparation and production of any creative work. “I had never created anything so big nor so elaborate,” says Susan. “But Mrs. Tyvoll had faith in me, and she invested in me and helped me through the process.”
Through it all, Susan distinctly remembers Scott Holley’s influence in her life as a student, as he inspired her to always pursue excellence in everything. “[Dr. Holley] invested in me and provided me feedback both academically and spiritually – always with great insight and wisdom,” says Susan. Equipped with this drive to do her best, Susan went on to receive a B.A. in Elementary Education from Wheaton College and M.A. in Communications from Lindenwood University.
Early in her career, Susan spent several years teaching 6th grade at an independent school in Los Angeles, where she had the opportunity to start an after-school musical theatre program in which she wrote and directed several productions for students in kindergarten through 3rd grade. In 1999, her high school dream to move back to St. Louis – and to Westminster – came to fruition. “God eventually opened doors for me to return to Westminster to teach,” says Susan. “I joined the 7th grade team and taught English and geography. I also taught upper school communications classes, including creative writing, graphic design, web design, and video storytelling.” Additionally, Susan helped direct and choreograph a number of school musicals, drawing from her own high school experiences in musical theatre.
“As both a Christian and a passionate educator, I want to serve in whatever capacity God calls me,” says Susan. In 2012, that meant relocating with her husband Todd and two sons Max (11) and Briggs (9) to Kansas City, where she currently works at an elementary charter school downtown. This year, Susan has worked to build a technology-rich, problem-based learning enrichment program for students in grades 3-6. “Our students produce videos for the downtown community, design their own creative works for local galleries, and participate in competitions,” says Susan. She also recently connected with the administration of Liberty Public Schools to assist in developing a new pilot elementary school, opening in August 2014, and she is a partner in Han’s Media, a small company for which she writes and designs digital communication pieces.
With nearly 20 years of teaching experience in both public and independent schools, Susan firmly believes in the value of Christian schooling to instill in students an understanding of who God is and to challenge them to think and act redemptively. “I believe that Christian education is an opportunity for young people to not only educate their minds but also to educate their hearts and spirits – and to begin to understand the redemption story that is in the fabric of our universe,” she says. Susan says that her time at Westminster helped grow her personal faith and equip her to make a difference in the world. “Westminster provided me a solid foundation of faith and learning, upon which I experienced the power of the cross and the beauty of the gospel,” she says. “I’ve often reflected that the cultivation of my faith during my high school years equipped me to better understand and traverse the challenges and brokenness of this world.”