Kristin Kuiken

Alumna Joins U.S. Senate Office of Montana

Kristin Kuiken had her hands full for sure.

A stay-at-home wife and mother of two, she was busy helping her kids with their studies while constantly on the move from one activity to another. But as her kids continued to grow, she began to think about a second career.

Kuiken graduated with a degree in chemical engineering from Colorado State University and worked as a process engineer in the semiconductor industry and later as an environmental engineer consultant in the Midwest, but it never felt right.

"I wanted to stay home with my kids, but I also wanted to help people on a more direct level than I did as an engineer," she said. "I got involved in local city government on the zoning board of appeals and planning commission. Then a spot on the city council opened up, so I knocked on doors with my little one in a stroller and another in preschool and was elected."

How God met Kristin where she was at

She began to look into earning an advanced degree. Kuiken wasn't exactly sure what she was looking for and started researching MBA programs at larger state schools, but she wanted to find a degree that could help her make a difference and work around her schedule.

"I was looking at other local universities," she said. "They were happy to take me into their program, but they were pretty impersonal. One afternoon, as I was researching MBA programs, I set the computer down and walked away for a few minutes. When I came back, there was an ad on the screen for the Masters of Public Administration program at Colorado Christian University, which I didn't even know existed. I was so excited after reading about the program and course descriptions. I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do. I believe it was God opening my eyes to the MPA program offered at CCU."

Kuiken met with Professor Bob Brooks, who was the architect of CCU's program, which was designed to give students actual skills they can take into the workplace with a faculty with decades of real-world experience.

"I'm a practitioner; I spent 20-some odd years in local and state government," said Brooks, who was the executive director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and cabinet member for former Governor Bill Owens. "When (former Colorado Senator and CCU President) Bill Armstrong asked me to design an MPA program, I asked city managers, county managers — people in the field — what should be in the program."

"One of the city managers in Denver told me he hires half a dozen interns every year who are just beginning their careers with MPAs from a school I'll leave unnamed. They know all about public outreach and social justice programs, but they don't know what a council-manager form of government is. A lot of people can talk about issues, but they never learn how government operates and why it was developed.

"We start with the constitution and go on to big court cases throughout the centuries. My students know where their authority comes from and what they can and can't do, and they learn the ethics behind all of it. One of the goals of our university is to create people who can make a difference in the world at all levels of government."

Kuiken concurred and enrolled to pursue her Master of Public Administration degree at CCU.

"The MPA was a perfect mix of what I had been doing from being elected and appointed to different local government positions, and I could see it would really benefit me in that field."

Faithful and flexible

And with it being offered 100% online, it gave Kuiken and her family the opportunity to uproot and move to Big Sky country in Montana, where they'd always dreamed of living.

Of course, opportunity also has to compete with challenges.

While Kuiken had to prepare for a move and to go back to school, she also found out her husband had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer after discovering a tumor on his ankle.

"His surgery was the very first day I started the program, so it was a little unnerving," she said. "It turned out to be the one surgery, and almost five years later it hasn't come back. But the flexibility of going to school online helped us make it through health issues and moving to another state."

After settling in Missoula, Montana, Kuiken got down to the nitty-gritty of zeroing in on a field.

"I really enjoyed being on the city council and being able to impact people more directly," she said. "It was fulfilling to see how decisions we made impacted people in a positive way, but I was also interested in the federal side of government."

Journey to the U.S. Senate Office of Montana

So Kuiken put in an application and was chosen to intern for United States Senator Steve Daines (R-MT).

"I appreciated how CCU threaded the concept of servant leadership through all of the classes," she said. "And when I started working for the senator — who is a Christian — I saw in his mission statement that he wanted his team to be servant leaders."

It was a great fit, and four months turned into a permanent position, one that, two years later, is continuing to grow.

"I thought being a Christian institution, CCU might dance around the hard topics, but we delved right in. We analyzed controversial issues and Supreme Court cases that were really complex and learned how to discuss them and defend our position."

Kuiken said she wouldn't have necessarily thought of going the intern route if it hadn't been discussed in her program.

"I was coming out of school with a fresh skillset, and having had hundreds of discussions with my cohort through the various classes, I felt very well prepared," she said. "I had real-world experience, and CCU helped me pull it all together with fresh insights and skill sets in the field of public administration."

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