Grace Graduate Spotlight- Katie Maxwell

This month we want to bring to you an update on a Grade graduate, Katie Maxwell. Katie Maxwell is a bright, bold, and passionate young woman. She recently announced that she will be moving to Durham, NC this August to start her Master of Environmental Management at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. She traces her love for people and the planet back to a specific place – Grace Lutheran Church & School. 

For Katie, Grace is more than just a school. It’s a place where she acquired amazing mentors inside and outside the classroom. It gave her an excellent education and even a spiritual home. 

Katie recalls starting her first day of Kindergarten at Grace. At that time, there was a bus that took her to school. Her parents and several other parents from her class drove to meet the bus at school to make sure that they made it safely. Grace was instantly a safe home for Katie, though. She recalls each of her teachers from every grade with ease. In fact, to this day she is still in communication with several of them. Even when her family moved further away from the area, Katie told her parents she wanted to stay at Grace rather than transfer. Grace was the place she belonged. 

Grace Lutheran School cultivated a sense of care for Katie. She vividly recalls September 11, 2001. The principal at the time, Mr. Kress, made it a point to go to each classroom and talk to the teachers about what had happened. In addition, Pastor Modahl organized a chapel service that day for the students. The care and concern that school leadership had for each student and teacher, especially on that day, stuck with her. 

Katie loves Grace’s mission statement to bring in, build up, and send out disciples for Jesus Christ. It is this mission that led her family to become a part of Grace church in time for Katie to be confirmed there. For confirmation, her witness statement was centered around service. She was growing a passion for serving the environment; a passion for serving people. She recalled several experiences at Grace School which helped these passions bloom. 

Mrs. Calhoun, whom Katie remembers as the “Bug Lady”, took the 2nd grade class on a field trip to the Indiana Dunes. It was pouring rain that day. The purpose of the trip was to show the ecological progression at the Dunes. Mrs. Calhoun’s reading selections also revolved around nature, including Charlotte’s Web and the Frog & Toad series. When they grew older, Mrs. Calhoun took students to the creek behind her home so that they could clean the trash that was left there. 

The academic rigor at Grace prepared Katie for her future. Her Junior High teacher, Ms. Wolfanger, is still teaching Junior High at Grace today. Katie knows that Ms. Wolfanger’s high academic expectations set her up for success. The interpersonal, spiritual, environmental, and academic influences that Grace had on Katie continue to play a sizable role in her life. 

After graduating from Grace in 2009, Katie attended Riverside Brookfield High School. During her freshman year, she joined the SEE Team which stands for the School of Environmental Education. This was a specialized program where math, science, English, and P.E. highlighted environmental themes. Students also worked on different environmental projects throughout the year. Through SEE Team, Katie had the amazing opportunity to travel to the Galápagos Islands and experience different environments there for 10 days. On this trip, her group walked up the vegetated side of a volcano and down the other. Katie really grew in perseverance on this trip and learned to be outside of her comfort zone. 

Before graduating high school, she was deciding whether she should attend Valparaiso University or St. Olaf College. Both had great programs, but when she visited St. Olaf’s Quad filled with trees and saw the green flagstones in the narthex of Boe Chapel, the campus reminded her of the sanctuary at Grace. It felt like home. She knew that St. Olaf’s is where she wanted to attend.

After completing her Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies and German with a concentration in Management Studies in May 2017, she served one year in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps at Faith in Place, where she continues to work today. Their vision as stated on their website is “People of diverse faiths and spiritualities leading the environmental movement to create healthy, just, and sustainable communities for all”. At Faith in Place, Katie first managed the Winter Farmers Market program. She even hosted a market at Grace! She later moved up to work on the communications team. She currently serves as the Communications Senior Coordinator.

Katie always knew that she wanted to go back to school eventually. She is excited about Duke’s environmental management program because of its intersectionality with community, policy, and advocacy. Her two concentrations are Energy and the Environment and Environmental Economics and Policy. She also intends to focus on Environmental Justice. 

“I have so much gratitude for Grace; for the care with which it held me”. Katie shared that Grace created spaces for her to grow and be challenged, interpersonally and faith-wise. I asked Katie what she would say to a prospective or current family at Grace today. She said, “What a gift it is to be at Grace where there is a wealth of resources, and staff that truly cares”.