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The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

Leaving a Nelson legacy

After serving as Resident Director for 16 years, Kendall Engelke Davis concludes her time living in a freshman hall.
Maggie Holland
Nelson Hall Resident Director Kendall Engelke Davis looks over to see what Resident Assistant Chloe Smith paints. For her weekly 8 p.m. staff development meeting in Nelson Shack April 16, Engelke Davis held a watercolor event to relieve stress. “It’s a unique opportunity to get to really invest and be in [RAs’] lives,” Engelke Davis said, “which I consider such a privilege.”

Kendall Engelke Davis handed out watercolor paints and paper in the shack space of Nelson Hall. Leading her resident assistants in a staff development meeting, Engelke Davis included something to relieve stress. They had shared their highs and lows, but Engelke Davis wanted something more for their meeting.

This is Engelke Davis’ last of 16 years as Nelson Hall Resident Director. She has mentored more than 120 RAs, been a leader for other RDs and gotten to know her residents at Bethel University. After this semester, Engelke Davis is moving five minutes away from campus into a family home. Her sons Camden and Kasen are getting older, and have had to share a bedroom for the past five years.

“This opportunity to get to create a sense of community leading to a sense of belonging and helping students feel like they had a place was really important to me and something God laid on my heart,” Engelke Davis said.

In 2008, one year after graduating from Bethel, Engelke Davis came back as an RD. She knew she wanted to work with freshmen after spending two years as a Getsch RA during her time in undergrad. 

“I became an RD because I love working with first-year students,” Engelke Davis said, “but I stay an RD because I love working with RAs.”

On Valentine Patio April 25, Nelson Hall Resident Director Kendall Engelke Davis holds end-of-the-year handouts. Leading the resident assistants, Engelke Davis explains the check-out process. “There’s actually a ton of work that we do behind the scenes,” Engelke Davis said. (Maggie Holland)

Each year, Engelke Davis plans the annual Nelson slip and slide, mini golf event and spring break luau. These all-hall events bring in more freshman attendees than the nightly shack programming that the RAs plan. For these bigger events, Engelke Davis does the planning, provides the food and decorations and keeps the annual traditions going. 

Along with event planning, Engelke Davis leads weekly staff business and development meetings so her RA team has the support and skills to serve residents. With snacks, discussions and some sort of activity, her RA team knows they can go to her for whatever mentoring they need. 

“She is definitely someone I want to keep around,” Nelson RA Chloe Smith said. “She’s a mentor, mom, friend and sister.”

Smith is one of six RAs in Nelson Hall. She met Engelke Davis in February 2023 when the RA teams were announced and started working with Engelke Davis during staff training in August. Following the normal RA schedule, but putting in extra support, Engelke Davis made sure her team finished door decorations the first week, went through practice training on potential problems RAs deal with and had each share about their strengths and skills. 

“[She is] very organized and passionate,” Smith said. “She knows what she’s doing [and] genuinely cares about her job.” 

After the August training, Engelke Davis’ RA team created deeper connections through a staff retreat during fall semester and a team night out in April. On the October retreat at Trout Lake Camp, the group got to share stories and testimonies. They spent the whole weekend away from campus and talked more about their own experiences than the problems that arise in the job. 

For the team night, they went to Topgolf and then Engelke Davis’ new house, which she had just purchased and will be moving into with her husband and sons after the academic year ends. The team shared stories over dinner, another space where the team has the opportunity to bond outside of their job and away from residents. 

“I tell my RAs, ‘I will be your biggest cheerleader,’” Engelke Davis said. “I don’t pretend to be somebody who has it all together, who knows it all. I’m happy to share advice and strategies, but I want them to feel heard and listened to and supported.”

With bonding activities during meetings, Engelke Davis also talked through her RA team’s StrengthsFinder and Myers-Briggs personality test results. Those tests showed the RAs how each member of their team processes things differently and why it’s important to know someone before judging them.

“She’s very intentional at getting to know us as individuals, but as a team as well,” Smith said. “I think she knows me better than I know myself.”

After her RAs leave Nelson, they are invited back for an annual Nelson RA barbecue in August. This past year, more than 20 former RAs and their families attended. Engelke Davis even officiated for two of her past RAs at their wedding last summer. 

“She is always there for former staff members to talk with if they’re going through tough times or joyful times,” Engelke Davis’ husband Derrick said.

Bethel mascot Roy the lion holds Camden Davis at the Nelson reunion during Homecoming week 2018. Camden has connected with students by living on campus and working with various PCAs. “PCA is a really great opportunity for students to have a really flexible job,” Engelke Davis said, “and there’s the opportunity to build a meaningful relationship with somebody with a disability.” (Submitted photo by Kendall Engelke Davis)

Since her two sons — Camden, 10, and Kasen, 5 — live in Nelson, many of her RAs have also had the chance to connect with them. Camden has an intellectual disability, and some past residents and RAs have become personal care assistants. 

Smith is currently one of Camden’s PCAs. She connected with him right away and now works three days a week getting meals, walking around campus and playing games in the Underground with him. 

“It’s been really sweet on this campus, the way people have embraced [Camden] and wanted to get to know him,” Engelke Davis said. 

When senior Shelby Kate Christopher-Henry lived in Nelson as a freshman, she knew she wanted to help Camden. She’s worked with people with disabilities before and constantly had questions for Engelke Davis about Camden. As soon as the flyers went up that spring, Christopher-Henry applied and has been a PCA for the past two years. 

“[Engelke Davis] is one of the most caring, understanding and accepting people I have ever met. She really sees the giftings and uniqueness of each person,” Christopher-Henry said. 

Christopher-Henry has had a lot of guidance from Engelke Davis in the past two years. She’s gotten marriage advice after getting married last summer, learned different ways of thinking — like how Camden approaches the world differently than others — and even received a recommendation for a hairdresser.

Although most of her RAs leave Bethel after graduation, some come back, like Nick Cedergren, who is now Engelke Davis’ boss. Cedergen, Associate Dean of Residence Life, has known Engelke Davis since 2008, when he was one of her RAs. He then served a year as Assistant Resident Director, a position Bethel removed last year. Cedergren has seen her as a mentor, and though he is her supervisor now, he knows she’s a valuable team member and has experience to spread to others in Student Life.

“She’s a very calming presence on campus,” Cedergen said. “She’s just so grounded in this work and very confident in what she does.”

The Student Life office has had a lot of transition in the past three years, with staff leaving or changing positions, and Engelke Davis was the only one in Student Life who stayed in the same position. With her 16 years of experience, other RDs often look to her for guidance. 

“Her giftedness to reach freshmen is really apparent,” Cedergren said. “She cares so much for individuals and how they speak into the collective.”

Engelke Davis is willing to stop and listen even when she isn’t working, and will help anyone who needs it. In Nelson, she is intentional by making sure events are wheelchair-accessible so that everyone can be present, as Nelson is the only wheelchair-accessible freshman hall on campus. 

As a part of the RD position, she also makes sure to help residents get involved around campus and find academic and mental health support.

I’m trying to be open-handed with the Lord and what he’s got planned next.

— Kendall Engelke Davis, Nelson Hall Resident Director

Living on campus is also all her family has known. Engelke Davis married her husband Derrick after two years of being an RD. Camden, Kasen and Engelke Davis’ step-daughter, Veronica, have all grown up walking around and playing on campus. 

Living on campus, the family has easy access to the Dining Center, the Wellness Center and Royal Grounds. Derrick left the decision of leaving up to Engelke Davis. Derrick found it easier as time went on to connect with students in Nelson, especially now feeling like he can walk into shack anytime, and everyone knows who he is. 

Even after this transition, Engelke Davis will teach Introduction to Wellbeing, a general education freshman course that she has taught sections of for the past two years. The fusion of Engelke Davis’ passion for the classroom with her passion for first-year students helped her choose to teach Wellbeing. Engelke Davis has a degree in elementary education and was able to touch on that passion by teaching this course. Even though RD is a full-time job, she was cleared to teach. 

After Bethel, Engelke Davis doesn’t have a full-time job lined up. She will continue to teach Wellbeing and see what else might come up. 

“I’m trying to be open-handed with the Lord and what he’s got planned next,” Engelke Davis said.

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Annelise Raisanen
Annelise Raisanen, Staff Reporter
Annelise Raisanen, 20, is a Communication Arts and Literature Education 5-12 major. She enjoys her long walks to campus from North Village to the E&J department, hammocking every chance she gets (even overnight) and painting her favorite book covers to hang throughout her apartment.  [email protected] | 612-406-7758

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