Editor’s Note: As we countdown to the nomination and selection process for the 2017 Young Alumni Award, we will be highlighting the finalists from the 2016 Award and the work they are doing in the world. The text for each finalist is courtesy of their respective alma maters.
Read about Katelyn Beaty (Calvin College), David Bowden (Oklahoma Christian University) and Chad Bullock (Nyack College) here.
Read about Stephen Copeland (Grace College), Jared Freeman (University of Mobile) and Kenton Lee (Northwest Nazarene University) here. (Bethel University, ’11)
Alex Potter (Bethel University, ’11)
Alex Potter has a heart for social justice. A 2011 graduate of Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, Potter majored in nursing, but from an early age she had set her sights far beyond a medical career in the Midwest.
“I was a nursing major, but I knew halfway through school that I wanted to do something with photojournalism. That said, I’m glad I stuck with the nursing major. Most of the photojournalists I admire studied something else. It gave me a knowledge base in something different,” says Potter.
Originally from Windom, Minnesota, Potter launched her career in photojournalism by taking on a variety of unpaid jobs and raising travel expenses through Kickstarter. She quickly gained a reputation in the photojournalism world, capturing life in areas of unrest, mostly in the Middle East. She views her photojournalism career as akin to nursing, using images instead of medicine to break the grip of injustice and poverty.
Potter has worked on assignment for The New York Times, Associated Press, Stern, Human Rights Watch, and Reuters. She has been selected for the LOOKBetween Fellowship, the NYTimes Portfolio Review, the Eddie Adams Workshop, and the Chris Hondros Student Fellowship. She also spent a year in Lebanon as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. Most recently, she was interviewed on National Public Radio and her work was featured in a special “Look at This” report about Yemen.
“Yemen is a complicated place. It’s plagued by Al Qaeda, a fragile new government, an insurgency in the north, malnutrition, and an economy highly controlled by qat, a leaf that a lot of the population chews because it’s a stimulant,” says Potter. “But it’s also a beautiful country with people passionate about their land, their families, God, and each other. We actually have a lot in common with them. I was welcomed like family into so many lives. That’s why I want to go back. There are very few photojournalists working in Yemen, and little to no coverage of stories that aren’t related to Al Qaeda.”
Potter first went to Yemen after visiting a friend in Jordan. At the time, Yemen was holding a presidential election after 33 years of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule. She was trying to break into the world of photojournalism and figured it would be a good time and place to connect with other journalists.
During her time in Yemen, daily routines were often punctuated by violence and unrest. “One day we have bombs; the next day we have fireworks,” says Potter. It’s within this landscape that she finds the resilience of normal people most striking. Just hours before a campus presentation to alumni and students at Bethel in January 2015, Potter had heard of the Yemeni government resigning. “There’s no president, no prime minister…it’s essentially a failed state. But [the Yemeni’s] faith in God astounds me,” she says.
“I love building bridges and spreading knowledge. I think the Middle East is misunderstood. I love the people there. It’s hard to convey the human aspect of a conflict or situation, but the more we understand each other the less we fear each other. Less fear means less hatred,” she says.
She often gets asked whether women should go into conflict situations, she says. “But in conservative countries like Yemen, male journalists don’t have access to half of society. Men wouldn’t be allowed to go into homes, they wouldn’t be able to talk to women. I’m really interested in how conflict affects women and families. When I did the story on malnutrition I went into people’s homes and hung out with their families and their kids,” she says.
Middle Eastern women—one of Potter’s favorite subjects—live in a world of stark contrasts. Says Potter, “Even if they’re covered, they’re some of the most powerful women out there,” something that’s not often understood by Western media or cultures. She hopes that storytelling through photos like hers will help Middle Eastern women, “to be judged for what’s in their head and not what’s on their head.” When asked why she would give up having a family and a home in the United States, Potter insists, “it’s worth it to give up a lot of what would be comfort to raise the profile of those who are struggling, those who need a boost to get their stories told.”
Potter hopes that one day she can inspire someone else like others have inspired her. “Not my face or my name,” she says, “But the stories that I’ve told or the photos I’ve taken. I hope they can awaken curiosity in someone. I hope they can highlight struggles and injustices to prevent them from happening in the future.”
Adam Ristick (Warner Pacific College, ’13)
Having lived his entire life in the often tumultuous streets of inner Southeast Portland, Adam Ristick has had to overcome adversity since he was a small child. Raised in the chaos of situational poverty and addiction, Adam persevered and was the first in his family to graduate high school. With an insatiable desire to learn and a natural gift for loving others, Adam cultivated a deep connection to his community which ignited a dream that seemed impossible to others in his situation; Adam wanted to go to college. Through hard work and determination, he was awarded a spot in the inaugural Act Six Scholarship cadre to attend Warner Pacific College. Today, his passion for the transformative work of Christ has developed a longing within him to see his city flourish.
As the Assistant Director of Act Six at the Portland Leadership Foundation, Adam is responsible for annually recruiting and selecting diverse, multicultural cadres of Oregon’s most promising emerging urban leaders to be considered for the Act Six, City Builders, and Avenues to College scholarships. These initiatives provide leadership training and partial or full scholarships to selected students who want to use their college education to make a difference on campus and in their home communities. Through his work at Portland Leadership Foundation, Adam empowers 50 students each year to attend college.
Many of these scholars are the first in their families to pursue higher education and have not benefitted from intentional preparation for college. To help bridge the gap, Adam and his team intensively train students in the year prior to college, equipping them to support each other, succeed academically, and grow as service-minded leaders and agents of transformation. He also works with staff members from the institutions that award these scholarships to help provide strong campus support and ongoing leadership development.
“I’ve been engaged in urban ministry for 17 years and Adam Ristick rises to the top when considering what we hope to see as we seek to strengthen and develop leaders for the spiritual and social renewal of the city,” says Ben Sand, Portland Leadership Foundation CEO. “We asked him to direct all of our scholarship efforts at Portland Leadership Foundation because his life is coherent. Jesus said, ‘if you want to tell if a tree is healthy, look at its fruit.’ Looking at the fruit in Adam’s life, I can’t think of anyone else I trust to empower the future diverse leaders for the city of Portland.”
During his time at Warner Pacific, Adam was able to find a unique a balance between academic striving and community service, all while honoring his Roma heritage and family. Through academic achievement, leadership development, and personal introspection, he has discovered that he can be of two cultures and still follow one Christ. With his strong mind and humble heart, Adam is able to function within the many subcultures of the American city, blending his wide variety of coursework and his diverse cultural experience into a single voice for the Christ he follows.
“Adam is a prime example of how equitable access to Christ-centered, liberal arts higher education can change the trajectory of an entire community,” says Dr. Andrea Cook, President of Warner Pacific College. “Adam is a born leader who could have easily slipped through the cracks due to circumstances beyond his control as a child. Today, he is using both his academic training and his deep, personal calling to open doors of opportunity to urban and diverse students throughout Oregon.”
Of course, even with all he has accomplished, Adam’s journey is still just beginning. He is actively building relationships with employers in the region to place scholars in strategic internships and prepare them for success after graduation. He also continues to seek innovative partnerships with local organizations who share his passion for empowering the next generation of urban and diverse leaders.
One such project is a new collaborative called Portland Accesses College Together (PACT), with the organization All Hands Raised, which brings together local business, government agencies, non-profits, faith communities, parents, students, and community stakeholders to ensure the sustained success of every child in Portland and Multnomah County from cradle to career.
Kay See Tan (Messiah College, ’08)
Arriving in the U.S. from Malaysia 11 years ago, Kay See Tan has always had a passion for serving others. Now an assistant attending biostatistician at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the premier cancer treatment and research institution in the country, she first heard about biostatistics as an undergraduate at Messiah College.
“During one of the math seminars, a Messiah alum described his work with HIV at a major pharmaceutical company,” explained Tan. “What he described matched what I was interested in as a career.”
Biostatistics is a field that applies statistics to medical data in order to bridge the gap between theory and practice. In addition to two years of internships in biostatistics while at Messiah College, Tan also worked after graduation as a statistical analyst at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center Division of Biostatistics in Hershey, Pa. She then pursued a Ph.D. in biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in May 2014. Immediately after completing her doctoral work, she was offered the job at Sloan Kettering.
“My job at Hershey Medical Center made me realize the importance of biostatistics in the health field and in the lives of many,” said Tan.
Her duties at Sloan Kettering include providing statistical support to physicians and investigators who are researching the causes, prevention and a possible cure for cancer.
“My job is directly linked to a cause I believe in, and I am using my talents and skills to improve the lives of cancer patients and to serve the greater community,” said Tan.
Tan says her years spent at Messiah College built character. As a student, she traveled to Africa for ground research as a member of the Collaboratory’s Mali Water and Disabilities Studies.
“That trip changed my life and my attitude toward service,” said Tan. “As a result of that experience, I am now part of the Statisticians Without Border outreach group that provides free statistical consulting to organizations in need.”
In addition to excellent academics, Messiah provided a nurturing environment in which she could focus on her faith and integrity.
“Messiah provided me an avenue to build my character and explore my talents and abilities so that I can better serve my community,” Tan said.