A Bethesda College Graduate Thrives in a Meaningful Career
When Christian Burkee of Cedarburg, Wis., was growing up, his family noticed he had a deep love of aviation. He drew intricate renderings of different airplane models from varying perspectives, could identify airlines and models of planes he saw overhead, carried on informed conversations with pilots and enjoyed watching planes take off and land at the local airport. What his family could not have predicted then was this passion would eventually lead Christian to a thriving, successful career in the travel and tourism industry. After graduating from the Bethesda College of Applied Learning at Concordia University Wisconsin where he received career preparation, Christian now works for The Mark Travel Corporation in Bayside, Wis., and lives out his passion for air travel every day.
“I always hoped that Christian would find his passion and be able to find work he enjoyed—I had the same hopes as any other parent,” Susan Burkee, Christian’s mother, said. “I knew he had so much to offer. He’s kind, honest, insightful, and has a unique approach to problem solving. But unemployment statistics for individuals with cognitive disabilities are appalling. That’s why I’m so grateful to the people at Bethesda College and at Concordia. They created a unique program to serve young men and women like Christian who can thrive in a college setting but need some extra support to be successful. They really care about the students and work with them as individuals to help them fulfill their unique potential.”
According to recent research, only 16 percent of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have paid, integrated employment; however, Christian’s tenacity, giftedness at networking and support from people he met at Bethesda College and Mark Travel have supported him in reaching his goals. He takes pride in his work and his ability to live independently in an apartment he shares with a roommate he met while he was a student on Concordia University Wisconsin’s campus.
“The fact that I have earned my own money and have worked hard to earn something rather than just taking it from others and the government makes me feel very proud,” Christian said. “Working at Mark Travel helps me live independently and have more choices.” Christian’s connection to the company began as an internship he found through Bethesda College Instructor Gail Kochelek, who said the program’s career preparation focus propels students into meaningful, long-term employment. Gail learned about Christian’s love of aviation and supported Christian at a career networking event for Concordia students where Christian first met Lindsay Britton, Mark Travel’s Corporate Recruiter.
“One of our core values here at The Mark Travel Corporation, is ‘be unique.’ We recognize that every one of our team members has their own unique skillset and abilities and we work to embrace that every day. I met Christian and loved the passion and excitement he had for aviation and travel, his big personality and his determination to not only work, but to work hard.” Lindsay said. Lindsay connected with leadership at the company as well as other members of the human resources team before starting conversations with Gail Kochelek and Christian about potential internship opportunities.
“Christian went through the same interview and hiring process that not only our intern candidates, but all of our potential candidates go through. He completed an online application and resume, multiple interviews and finally a background check,” explained Lindsay. Christian held his internship at The Mark Travel Corporation throughout his final year at Bethesda College before transitioning to a full-time role there, where he now works as an Administrative Coordinator supporting four different teams. His duties include running reports, data entry, assisting the air teams with schedule changes, supporting the human resources team with filing, and working within many different systems daily.
“Christian is a wonderful cultural fit here at Mark Travel,” Lindsay said. “Everyone here loves having Christian around and respects his work; he’s always smiling and seems very happy.” Christian agrees.
“Mark Travel is a great company and I love the people and the job. It is a good fit for my skills and I am proud that I can earn a living working there. The people are there not just to supervise me, but to help me as well. They’re supportive and it feels like they’re on my side.” Though Christian said transitioning from college life to adulthood has its challenges, he said every year growing up gets easier. Christian said he is thankful the support he received at Bethesda College helped lay the foundation for getting the career he wanted.
“At Bethesda College, I learned about the process of how to get the job I wanted, learned more about financial management and I learned compromising skills for being an adult. For example, I love to walk everywhere and used to think it was alright to walk over 16 miles in the snow; my Concordia professors didn’t agree. But you know how kids are, I was stubborn. We compromised so I would only walk outside if it was above 40 degrees. It was all part of becoming an adult, they helped prepare me for that,” he said, smiling. Christian’s father, Dr. Jim Burkee, said watching his son mature into an independent young man has been the joy of his life.
“I didn’t always have hope it would turn out like this. There were some very rough stretches with Christian over the years and like most parents of children with autism, I feared he may never be able to live independently,” he said. “But thanks to the helping hands of so many angels along the way – teachers, family, friends, and the team at Bethesda College – Christian made the turn, developed the skills he needs to live independently and is living out his dream! I am so grateful to God that he is now able to do so.” Gail said she also takes great pride in the success Christian has had and hopes many more students will benefit from Bethesda College.
“It is my hope that when students leave the Bethesda program, that they are all ready for the employment market and do as well as Christian,” Gail said.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month
During October, we celebrate the contributions of workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities and witness how they add value to the workforce. This year’s national theme is “America’s Workforce: Empowering All.” At Bethesda, we promote employment in a variety of ways, and work one-on-one with businesses and job seekers. To learn more, click here.