Christen Pentek2017 Rising Alumni

Christen Pentek

Christen Pentek has a bachelor’s in youth studies and is currently pursuing a master’s in social work. She has a focus on improving programs for young people, and wants to encourage youth not to settle for anything less than the best relationships and opportunities. Christen works at the Search Institute, which disseminates research to partners working with young people. She emphasizes experiential learning and reflection to highlight what’s important to youth.


Graduate Research Assistant, Search Institute

CEHD Degree

B.S., Youth Studies, 2014

Please list any past or current volunteer activities.

  • GradSEHD, University of Minnesota – Vice President, Equity and Diversity, Curriculum Council Rep (August 2015 – June 2016)
  • E.D.I.T. (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Together), Minneapolis, MN – Board Secretary (January 2015 – January 2016)
  • Youthprise, Minneapolis, MN – Y2 Committee Member (December 2014 – January 2016)
  • Courageous heARTS, Minneapolis, MN - Creative Guide and Evaluation Team Leader (January 2014 – May 2014; January 2015 – June 2015)
  • Youth Studies Student Association, University of Minnesota – Co-President (November 2012 – May 2014)
  • Brian Coyle Community Center, Minneapolis, MN – America Reads Literacy Mentor (October 2012 – May 2013)
  • St. Francis Cabrini Church, Minneapolis, MN – Confirmation Teacher and Facilitator (August 2014 – Present)
  • Girls on the Run, Minneapolis, MN – 5K Race Days Volunteer (May 2014 – Present)
  • Celeste’s Dream Community Garden, St. Paul, MN – Community Gardener (April 2014 – Present)
  • Music Ministry, Various Churches – Cantor and Choir Member (November 2002 – Present)

What professor(s) or course(s) were most influential during your time in CEHD?

YoSt 3001: History and Philosophy of Youthwork: This course redefined mainstream history with a critical lens of social movements and politics.

PA 5421: Racial Inequality in Public Policy: If you only take one course, I recommend this one. It is challenging, invigorating, angering, systemic, and relational.

Who has inspired you the most during your career?

On scholarship: Katie Johnston-Goodstar. I have learned from Katie about constraints in the language and thinking process of building critical scholarship. I want to retain that balance of critical thinking about the constraints on intellectual work as I continue to choose and work with various community partners and research groups.

On writing: Shout outs to the local spoken word community, who taught me how to write like fire and heart. I also am inspired by Mike Baizerman, who sometimes is like the wind when he is writing. Present in words, with short breaths and concrete examples for use. I admire his ability to take complex topics and distill them into four or five easy words that capture the essence without losing the layers.

On life joy: Jean King. She has managed a career in academia without losing her love of teaching. I will always remember her top four rules.

On systems navigation: Joanna Daggett, Cara Deanes, Naomi Silseth, Megan Mueller, and Heidi Barajas. On keeping the people at center and persistence to success.

On work ethic: The support staff in the School of Social Work. They always seem to have the time to be interrupted, and understand student and institutional pressures in insightful ways due to their tasks setting up and notetaking during meetings, fielding prospective and current student concerns, and working with faculty and administration on strategic plans. The university literally could not continue to function without their (oftentimes invisible) labor. Conversations with these staff have allowed me to better understand the political basis of the programs.

What skills are important to succeed as an emerging professional today?

Inquiry. Shared Power. Critical History. And Love. My interests gained a lot of momentum when I was able to share them with people; the tactic I have found most useful for doing this is by seeking where my interests align with other people. This allows for us to build teams that amplify each other’s work, instead of duplicating conversations that have already taken place.

I also think a little bit of strategic rebelliousness is necessary. Not every rule that was created with good intentions continues to function in the way it was intended, and we need to be conscious to act on this.

When you have 30 minutes of free time, what do you do?

Every moment we have is free: to knit, to run, to breathe. When I have unexpected openings in the day, I write.

How do others describe you?




Hard Working


What's a good book you'd recommend to others?

Mit Liebe und Mut by Gisela Konopka

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

The Thunder Before the Storm by Clyde Bellecourt, as told to Jon Lurie

If you could have coffee with anyone from history, who would it be?

Well, it would be tea. I would love to meet Henia Karmel, Ilona Karmel, Sophie Scholl, Paulo Freire, and Myles Horton.

What gets you excited about work?

When I get to have a conversation with someone, and the way they engage with the world changes because they processed experiences about reality in new ways. That, to me, is work worth doing.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A dictionary editor.

I also wanted to be Carolyn Keene, and was totally crushed when I learned their books were written by multiple ghostwriters.

What is a "fun fact" about you?

I have never finished a cup of coffee; pass the tea!