Our occasional series of alumni interviews continues with Meloni Rudolph ’94, the Dean of Student Life at the Community College of Denver (nearly 13,000 students strong). While many of our majors have held positions in student and residence life during their studies at Bethel, Meloni suggests that full-time work in student affairs is a great fit with a History major. And make sure to read closely enough to learn how she circumnavigated the globe twice!
This is your 20th reunion year — what’s your favorite memory of the Bethel History Department of the early Nineties?
I have vivid memories of “Communism in the Modern World” with GW Carlson in my first year (1990-1991). Despite the fact that it was an 8am class and I was still regulating my sleep patterns of living in the residence halls, the class was fascinating. The reading list was extensive (typical of a GW class, am I right?) and continued to change throughout the semester because it was within a year of the fall of the Berlin Wall but before the collapse of the Soviet Union. I remember GW’s enthusiasm for the topic being demonstrated in how grandly he would gesture with his hands while holding a coffee mug full of coffee. He’d take a sip and continue to talk uninterrupted. The more impassioned he became, the more he would gesture and I noticed that he seemed to gesture more with his coffee mug hand than the other one, but I don’t remember any coffee spills. That takes some skill.
One of my top three favorite classes at Bethel had to be “The Reformation” with Neil Lettinga in the fall of 1992. I loved how all the elements of what I had studied up to that point had come together. There was theology and history combined which is fun enough, but then there was economics, politics, technology, and philosophy as well. Awesome! I remember being changed by the readings of Luther, Calvin, and Erasmus in a much deeper way than from CWC (do they still do CWC at Bethel? [ed. – nearly thirty years and going strong]). I experienced the feeling of being a scholar for the first time. It changed my focus as a student.
Did you come to Bethel planning to major in History? If not, what led you down that path?
When I started at Bethel, I was a Music major. Then I realized that there is a necessary combination of talent and discipline for a career in music that I did not have. I ended up minoring in music while changing my major to Social Studies Secondary Education with the goal of working in an inner city school. By the time my senior year rolled around, I had been an RA in Edgren and Getsch and was really good at it. My favorite RD Jeff Snyder suggested I consider working in higher education in student affairs. I remember asking “I can do that as a career?!” So I dropped my student teaching and already had enough history credits to complete the History degree, so there we go.
Tell us a bit of your post-Bethel story: how did you get from George Brushaber handing you a Bethel diploma to being Dean of Student Life at the Community College of Denver?
I graduated in May of 1994 and worked at Caribou Coffee for a while. Everyone makes jokes about the best baristas being history, political science, or philosophy grads and as a history grad, I made a mean double decaf skinny vanilla latte! I started my Master’s program in March of 1995 and completed it in June 1997. My degree was a Master of Science in Counseling and Student Personnel with an emphasis in College Student Affairs. I loved my Master’s program! I was a graduate hall director gaining invaluable residence life experience while being thoroughly immersed in an academic environment. After getting my Master’s Degree I worked at Middle Tennessee State University, St. Olaf College, Semester at Sea, University of Colorado at Boulder (where I was also able to teach undergraduate classes), Metropolitan State University of Denver, and now am the Dean of Student Life at the Community College of Denver (CCD). I am also about two-thirds of the way through a Doctoral Program in Higher Education/Student Affairs Leadership at the University of Northern Colorado. My research has been in higher education policy around marijuana in the state of Colorado, perceptions of student safety on an urban campus, moral development in college students, and college student homelessness.
Let’s backtrack a second… Semester at Sea?
Semester at Sea is a study abroad program that is essentially a university on a ship that goes around the world each semester. My biggest regret as an undergrad at Bethel was that I never was able to study abroad, so I made it a goal to try to do so as a professional. I was lucky enough to sail in Fall 2002 and Spring 2004 as a Student Life Staff member on the S.S. Universe Explorer. Largely through Semester at Sea I can now say that I have traveled to thirty-eight countries and five continents and have circumnavigated the globe twice. It was a life changing experience… It changed the trajectory of my life and affects how I see the world and consider news and information. It cemented my desire to actively be a lifelong learner and has opened many doors of friendship, experience, and opportunity.
Most importantly, Semester at Sea solidified my faith at its core. After leaving Bethel and working my way through the beginnings of my adult life, I had felt disillusioned and a little lost… But God reminded me of his constant presence in my life by showing up in every step of the journey. I saw God in the urban landscape of Japan and on the Great Wall of China; I saw God in a game of hackysack in Vietnam and in climbing the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I felt God’s presence in a Dalit village in India and on an African Safari… I saw God’s face in all those I met along the way… But mostly I saw God in the water outside the ship every day. I once heard Amy Grant say “the love of God is like the ocean, it is the greatest component of our world even though we don’t see it a lot of the time.” I have had the privilege of seeing the ocean for weeks at a time; it gave me perspective on the vastness of God’s grace.
What’s your favorite part of your current job?
My current job description as Dean of Student Life broadly states that I am the dean overseeing the areas of Student Life, Student Conduct, Student Events, Career Development, Student Government, Student Leadership, and Human Services (which includes a food bank for our students who are typically in a low socioeconomic status). The reality of my job is that there is no way to fully predict how my day will evolve.
I love that my current job is different every single day. Some days are quiet and productive, but not that often. Some days are focused on student events (for example, recently Jack Hanna came to our campus for a program and he brought his animals; last month was Constitution Day; September also included “lunch with lawmakers”) and those are fun days. My student government just got the news that the governor of Colorado will come and speak with them the week before the election. (They are excited!) Today I spent the early part of my day finalizing our annual Clery report which is a federal mandate for crime reporting on campus. Some days I have meetings all day and on those days I rarely see my office.
Other days I get to my office early and am checking my e-mail and drinking my coffee when one of the detectives with campus police walks through my door. The look on his face tells me it is going to be a rough day. As the Dean of Student Life I play a big part in our campus threat assessment team. CCD sees a lot of students with mental health issues and extensive criminal histories, sometimes a combination of both. Our team does our best to process students of concern through our Behavioral Intervention Team as well as through the student conduct process, but it is scary… Human behavior can be unpredictable and Colorado lives in the shadow of the Columbine and Aurora shootings. I also work on cases of harassment, stalking, assault, and sexual misconduct, which are always complex and difficult. People ask me why I would EVER want to work in this kind of environment with students, it is not a happy job… But I typically answer that these crisis moments are where the most profound educational interactions occur. I am an educator who uses the crisis moments to meet students where they are and help them pull themselves out of the situation. Sometimes the most educational response is suspending or expelling a student. Other times, it might be having them do community service or have an informational interview with a police officer. The most meaningful moments are when a student learns something about themselves which will help them as they move forward.
You said that a significant number of the people you work with in student development majored in History or similar fields. Why do you think that is? What, in particular, about studying History at Bethel prepared you well for your career?
I have two direct reports who were also History majors, and I posed this question to both of them to help spark my thought on this. One of them said that the study of history is learning from the past and in the area of student conduct, we are walking the student through their past choices and helping them learn from them. The other said that it is the field of study that informs many other areas in higher education… Especially that as a History major we learn how to LEARN and that makes us able to adapt into many different fields. I would say that the skills I use in my day-to-day job are not necessarily what I learned in my classes at Bethel. But my classes at Bethel made me who I am today, and who I am today is someone who knows how to use all of my knowledge, skill, and emotional intelligence to connect with students and to be an effective higher education administrator.
As I re-read what I have written here, I am reflecting on the fact that when I was 20, I wanted to teach in an inner city school. By taking a completely different path away from teaching at the time, that is what I ended up doing anyway. Granted, it is not the city I pictured and I hadn’t thought about college students as my life’s work at that time but it strikes me how I ended up being an educator in an urban setting. Hmm, sometimes life is funny… and I think God has a sense of humor.
Speaking of humor, I had GW Carlson as my advisor throughout my time at Bethel and I think he thought I was crazy for wanting to go into the student services side of higher education. He would give me some good-natured jokes about how it was a foolish choice and that I’d probably regret it but I think it made me dig deep to make sure that it WAS the right choice. And it was… I was meant to do this work. (Thanks GW! If you see him, tell him hi for me!)