Guiding Faith: UF Alumnus Navigates Life
Life has a way of taking unpredictable twists and turns.
Take the current period of time as an example, and think about how many different paths have been taken by people as a result of the new lives to which we’re all slowly adapting. For every student, professor, staff member, friend, parent and so on at University of Findlay, there is an unfolding story, and very likely, though it might not always seem like it, a positive direction to ultimately be taken from our current situation. To achieve that positive outlook and outcome, you’ve got to have faith.
When Josh Niese ’08 began his academic career at University of Findlay, he came from Ayersville, Ohio, a small rural town with a school district population hovering right around 3,000. His parents weren’t college graduates, and he was the first in the immediate family to go to school. His background, coupled with having to pay his own way through college, required of him a lot of faith for different reasons. “It was also during a time in my life where my parents were going through a divorce,” he said. “[But] once I got [to UF], I fell in love with the place and pretty much stayed there as much as possible because of the community of friends and the life that I was able to build. My college and university family helped me tremendously with the activities and companionship.”
A part of the life that he was able to build, and the companionship that he found, turned out to be quite significant for his life going forward; due, in part, to their most important faith – their Christianity – Josh met the woman who would eventually become his wife on the UF campus. “UF helped me grow in my faith through Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Thursday Night Live,” said Kristen (Guzman) Niese, who was a member of the dance team during her time as a student at UF. “I was so thankful to meet an amazing group of friends through these organizations – ones who have stuck with me since our college years, and one who turned into much more and to whom I have been married for ten years.”
“I met her as I was walking to a TNL service,” added Josh. “What started out as a friendship through some other mutual friends became much more than I could have ever imagined. Looking back, I don’t think I could even begin to put into words the way God orchestrated everything. All I know is that it was in His plan.”
In due course, as UF was yet to have a nursing program, Kristen transferred to another college to get her degree. Josh stayed at UF to pursue his dream of being a teacher. He was drawn to Findlay, in part, he said, because of the education programs it has, and he was looking for the sort of experiential learning opportunity that is such a big part of UF’s curriculum. Several other schools he looked into didn’t have programs built around the classroom experience like Findlay has. Even as soon as his first year, he was assigned an area school where he had to do classroom time and get comfortable in front of students. “For education majors, this is absolutely key,” he continued. “Other schools wouldn’t have put me in a classroom setting until my student teaching my senior year. This gave me a chance to realize how much I enjoyed the program and the degree. Oddly enough, I never went into teaching. But I never regretted the path that I chose.”
Josh said that he got to experience his dream job scenario when he went through his student teaching experience at UF, and that it was so great that he came to a “very large realization” at the end of it that he didn’t think he would ever find an opportunity like it again. He loved the school, but the cooperating teacher with whom he worked was nowhere near close to retiring, so a job there wasn’t in the picture.
A while later, after graduating from UF and holding a few odd jobs to get by, a friend of his who worked for a local health department asked him about his degree and wondered if he would consider going into public health. It was one of those life-twisting turns. “I don’t think I would have ever realized it prior to that conversation, but having a science-based education degree [a Bachelor of Science in AYA Life Science Education] was one of the best foundations for this profession I could have asked for,” he said. “On a daily basis I use the education techniques learned in the classroom, but with the general population. Whether it is when I’m in a restaurant teaching someone about food safety, collecting water samples for analysis from a freshly dug well, or reviewing engineered drawings for a newly proposed septic system, the communication skills and organizational techniques play a pivotal role in everything I do.”
Recently, Josh said, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, his role as a registered sanitarian has primarily been working with business owners to ensure they are operating safely. Kristen, who works at Bay Park Hospital in Oregon, Ohio as an outpatient infusion RN, also works closely with those directly affected. Because Bay Park was the first ProMedica hospital to treat COVID patients, she said, her job was to continue to treat patients and also educate them. “My education at UF helped expose me to many different cultures,” she said. “This has been an incredibly valuable asset as a nurse who takes care of a very diverse population. My UF foundation provided me a spring board to propel into the world, and communicate with and care for all people.”
The couple, who call themselves blessed to have two children together [Brooklyn, age seven, and Levi, three), like to look back and remember the time they spent at UF. “From the first time we saw each other on Frazer Street, to the time we spent at Winebrenner during campus ministry events, to all the hours we spent at George House just talking and studying, UF was where our story began.”
Through twists of fate and armed with the faith that guides them through lives that aren’t ever wholly foreseeable, Josh and Kristen remain dedicated to family, to friends, to their careers, and to the University that helped set them on the path toward success.