No matter where they are on their spiritual journey, God is at work in the lives of students at CUWAA.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the fall 2022 edition of Hearts Together, a Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor special magazine edition.

On a January day at the start of the spring 2022 semester, Stephanie Jondahl (’25) made her way to the back of Rev. Dr. Daniel Paavola’s Religion 100: The Bible classroom. Even though she was a junior at this point, she still had a bit of the “new girl” jitters given that it was her first official year as a Concordia student. Having heard of the repute of Concordia’s Batterman School of Business, she had transferred from UW-Green Bay the semester before to challenge herself academically and open herself up to more internship opportunities. Far less important to her was Concordia’s Lutheran identity, and so for this particular class Stephanie was keen to fade into the background.

Paavola began the semester as he always does with a visual exercise meant to build rapport.

At first blush, his get-to-know-you exercises may seem trivial, but Paavola will readily and compellingly defend his methods if asked. Above all, says Paavola, they’re essential to set the right tone for the semester.

The “right tone” is especially important for classes like the one Stephanie found herself in that day. The Bible is one of three religion courses every Concordia undergraduate, regardless of major, is required to take before he or she graduates. For that reason, there’s always an array of students with a wide variance of faith backgrounds in the classes.

If Stephanie were to be frank, she’d tell you that the graduation requirement was the only reason she was enrolled in Paavola’s class. She otherwise had no experience with God’s Word. In fact, she had never even cracked open a Bible.

I think I just thrive in this environment. I’ve felt comfortable participating, asking questions, and staying after and talking to my professors. I’ve always known how to take the steps to get to where I need to be, but it’s all about the environment.

Stephanie Jondahl (’25), business major

On Day 2, the class began to dive into Scripture. Overwhelmed, Stephanie tried to seek help from the person next to her but to no avail. Paavola had sufficiently proven his affability on Day 1. Still, she waited until the end of the class period to approach him: “How do you read this?

From that day on, Paavola continued to win her over with his effervescent positivity. Other professors did too. Stephanie was stunned at the difference between the environment at Concordia compared to previous schools she had attended.

“I absolutely love the people here; not just the students but the faculty as well,” she says. “When I first came here, my mom and I walked around to find classrooms. A few students stopped us and asked if we needed help. At Green Bay, they don’t do that.”

Stephanie quickly found that with the right environment she could excel. For the first time in her life, she ended the academic year with a 4.0 GPA. It wasn’t that she lacked the ability to earn As before. Ultimately, it came down to having someone care enough about her participation.

“I think I just thrive in this environment,” says Stephanie. “I’ve felt comfortable participating, asking questions, and staying after and talking to my professors. It’s like I’ve always known how to take the steps to get to where I need to be, but it’s all about the environment.”

The Concordia environment has continued to inspire her faith walk as well. While enrolled in Paavola’s class, she began a weekly Bible study with one of her friends. With any remaining time, the two would go over assignments for class and then would also spend additional time digging into the Word freely. They continued the weekly meetups even after the class ended.

“There’s always something for me to learn from the Bible, and that’s what makes it so interesting. It’s always something new.”

Whether it’s by God’s Word or her coursework, Stephanie likes to be challenged. It took coming to Concordia to fully realize it.

“If I could do it over, I would have definitely started here,” Stephanie says. “They challenge you here. You earn your degree. And I believe that’s how it should be.”

Want in?

More students choose to major in programs within Concordia University Wisconsin’s Batterman School of Business than any other academic school within the university. Learn more about Concordia’s business offerings by clicking on the link below.

—The fall 2022 Hearts Together magazine hit mailboxes in early October. View a PDF version of the magazine here. If you are not on our mailing list, but are interested in receiving a free copy, email