Kailey Thomas ’25 | Puyallup, Washington
Majors: Healthcare Leadership, Spanish

PNW Beginnings

The state of Washington is known for its luscious forests, rainy days, beautiful coastlines, stunning mountain views, various film locations, national parks, and tasty cuisine. For Kailey Thomas ’25, though, this popular Pacific Northwest state is home. From working for Cobber Athletics to meeting strangers in “DS” (dining services) lines, and even studying in Norway for a summer, Thomas is a dedicated Cobber with big ambitions.

Located about an hour away from Seattle, Thomas grew up in Puyallup, Washington. Her interests include spending time with friends and family, traveling, and participating in outdoor activities such as kayaking and hiking.

Challenging Comfort Zones

Moving to college brings enough challenges as it is, but Thomas took her step into adulthood to a whole new level by moving halfway across the country. Not knowing anyone else at Concordia, Thomas had to assert herself in situations where she would turn strangers into best friends.

“Coming to Concordia, I was extremely nervous about making friends, but I had nothing to worry about,” she reflects. “Everyone was so welcoming.” 

Thomas shares that her biggest tip for meeting new people in college is to not be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone and also attend as many events as possible.

“A fun story I like to share on my campus tours for Admission is that I went to DS alone for dinner one night and, after grabbing food, I asked two random people if I could join them,” she says. “Of course, they said yes, and now they are my best friends and roommates!”

A Desire to Give Back

Thomas’ campus involvement includes being a student ambassador for the Admission Office, a student worker for Athletics, a member of the Hollstadt Women in Leadership mentorship program, and a member of clubs such as the Student Healthcare Management Association (SHMA) and Women in Business. In prior years, she was involved in the Campus Events Commission (CEC), Colleges Against Cancer, and Students and Alumni Linked Together (SALT).

Thomas was a senior in high school when she visited campus and met Dr. Shelly Gompf. The director of healthcare leadership allowed her to sit in on a class, where she distinctly remembers getting to know the students whose lecture she observed. Thomas recalls that the main topics demonstrating the importance of hospital rounds for an administrator included checking patient satisfaction and ensuring a well-running facility. After that lecture, she knew that she wanted to pursue a career in hospital administration and, with its strong healthcare leadership program, Concordia would be a great place to do so. Having a strong desire to help others, Thomas wanted to give back to the healthcare system that has supported her throughout her life.

Expanded Opportunities

From a healthcare professions standpoint, Thomas believes that having language skills in Spanish is pivotal in her career development. The impact she can make by providing care to a large variety of communities, or maybe even create a career abroad, is what drives her. She added a Spanish major and took the Spanish for Health Professions course, which combines her second language specifically into the field she wants to enter.

This summer, Thomas has gained hands-on experience and valuable insight serving as an administration intern at Beatrice Community Hospital and Health Center in Beatrice, Nebraska.

Transformational Dialogue

Imagine yourself walking up a long gravel road, surrounded by tall evergreens, under a picture-perfect blue sky on a warm summer day. This practice of experiencing the outdoors for its various health benefits is known in Norway as friluftsliv. Little did Thomas realize, a summer in Norway would teach her more than the value of becoming immersed in nature.

In the summer of 2023, Thomas and fellow Cobber Anna Kronbeck ’25 were chosen to represent Concordia as Smaby Peace Scholars in Oslo, Norway. Concordia is one of six colleges in the U.S. that participate in the program. Thomas and Kronbeck completed seven weeks of study at the University of Oslo’s International Summer School, with 500 students from 75 different countries.

Thomas and Kronbeck worked on individual research projects during their time in Oslo as part of the Smaby Peace Scholar program. As part of the project, they attended the Norwegian Welfare State and Peace Seminar. The course covered topics within the welfare state including healthcare, education, public transportation, and prisons. They also had the opportunity to attend guest lectures and visit organizations around Oslo, such as the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Islamic Cultural Center, Peace Research Institute of Oslo, and many more. The last phase of the program is sharing their experience by presenting research at a conference the following year.

A key takeaway Thomas learned from the experience is that dialogue is intentional and purposeful. The process is often more valuable than the results, as it can remove hierarchical status. Most importantly, dialogue can aid in both parties understanding each other in transformative ways.

A Relational World

The strength of the relationships Thomas built during her time abroad is a priceless gift that she will forever cherish. She developed friendships with others from around the world and feels as though she can count on them for the rest of her life.

“It was quickly obvious that we all came from different backgrounds. We attend various schools, all have different hometowns, a huge variety of majors, extracurricular activities, and so much more,” she says. “But, in the end, none of that mattered. We found our commonalities, explored our differences, and quickly became the best of friends.”

We found our commonalities, explored our differences, and quickly became the best of friends.

Thomas’ favorite memory from her time abroad was a weekend nature getaway with fellow Peace Scholars. She shares: “We hiked up to a cabin and spent the following two nights experiencing the beauty and growing closer as a group. After our hike on Friday, we had an incredible meal with the best homemade focaccia bread ever, followed by a short hike to a local lake. On Saturday, part of our group departed for a long hike after breakfast. We hiked near a lake again before heading up to where we saw unbelievable views of the surrounding nature and the Oslo fjord. A few people in our group love bird watching, so we also took time with binoculars along the way. Eventually, we returned to refuel at lunch for the second part of the day, where we went on a shorter hike to a café in the middle of the woods. Here, I went swimming, met some people from the Netherlands, and then enjoyed a traditional Norwegian waffle with brown cheese and jam. We spent the rest of the night together as a group playing a combination of card and couch games, where the laughter was contagious and the memories unforgettable.”

Peace Scholar Reflections

Being able to apply her experiences to both studies and everyday life, Thomas reflects on her summer abroad.

“I am filled with nothing but gratitude while reminiscing on the memories of joy and growth during my time as a Peace Scholar,” she says. “I returned to school with a new outlook on life, new perspectives on challenges locally and globally and, ultimately, the realization of the power of dialogue.”

Thomas encourages other Cobbers to apply for any opportunity that interests them because they have nothing to lose. It may seem like a long shot at first, but she believed she could, so she did, and it led to one of the best experiences of her life. Concordia has many unique experiences to help take your education outside the classroom, a crucial aspect for any lifelong learner.

A Community Beyond Borders

While wearing a Cobber sweatshirt on a layover in Europe en route to Norway, Thomas was approached by a Concordia graduate. The Cobber took time in the airport to get to know Thomas, which made her realize that even halfway across the world the Cobber community stands strong. With mentorship programs and an alumni network that supports your job and internship searches, the supportive community at Concordia is an aspect of college that Thomas values most.

Encouragement for Out-of-State Students

As much as Concordia feels like a home, the emotions of being so far away from home in Washington are extremely real. Despite dealing with windy and cold winters, Thomas does not regret moving out of state in the slightest. She has taken her college experience into her own hands to create a life she loves. Moving on her own taught her about independence and life skills.

“If you are considering making the move to Concordia from out of state, do it,” she says. “I will say that over and over again.”

What’s Next?

Thomas says she has had a remarkable Cobber journey so far and is looking forward to starting her last year at Concordia this fall. She will be the incoming president of the Student Healthcare Management Association (SHMA) and a 2024-25 intern in the Admission Office while continuing to work in Cobber Athletics.

“I will forever be grateful for the opportunities I have had through Concordia, especially as a Smaby Peace Scholar studying in Norway,” she says. “I have loved every moment as a Cobber, and it is going way too fast!”

Published June 2024