Education professor will continue to follow his passions after leaving the field of teaching.
By Sarah Nelson
As he likes to put it, Jay Rasmussen wasn’t someone who was born knowing they were going to be a teacher. The Bethel education professor figured he enjoyed working with kids while leading them on backpacking and canoeing trips at summer camp and figured teaching was a natural way to do so.
He was still not entirely convinced about the career choice when he landed his first teaching gig, and applied to law school at the University of Minnesota while also looking at work with the Department of Natural Resources. But upon realizing halfway through the school year the impact teaching has on kids, he decided to stay.
“I saw there’s real value to this,” Rasmussen said. “I could see that my life was making a difference.”
Now, with 40 years of teaching under his belt, Rasmussen will retire this year after spending a little over 20 years at Bethel.
Seann Dikkers, who had Rasmussen as a professor almost 20 years ago, said he has influenced a generation of Christian teachers.
“Jay has been a benchmark for the education department for decades as both a visionary and modeling thoughtful engagement with ideas, effective practice and student reflection,” Dikkers said.
Rasmussen’s journey from teaching fourth and fifth graders to becoming a college professor was one of the most difficult decisions he had to make in his career, he said. He loved teaching elementary school kids, and saw the power in serving as a male role model for students who may not have one in their life. But after being invited to guest lecture at North Central University, the administration invited him to speak again and then offered Rasmussen a job.
After processing the decision with a friend, he decided to take it and “immediately fell in love with it.”
For 10 years Rasmussen taught at North Central while simultaneously working on his doctorate. And while he said he enjoyed his department and students, he desired a school with more emphasis on the liberal arts. After searching for other universities and becoming a finalist for jobs at both Hamline and Bethel, he chose to teach at Bethel and has stayed since 1997.
Besides teaching, Rasmussen also has multiple hobbies that include photography, backpacking and traveling. In 2013, after watching a documentary about two friends who went on a motorcycle trip across the United States, Rasmussen and his son also embarked on a similar trip that took 71 days and encompassed 12,000 miles.
The two traveled through Mexico, Central and South America on their bikes, with Rasmussen saying it was the best thing he has ever done in his life.
“To have an adventure where you’re really don’t know from day to day what’s going to happen, we relished that,” he said.
The trip had its ups and downs, and included a three-day period of sea sickness, lots of street food and cheap hostels.
On one particular stretch of the ride, what was thought to be a shortcut to Macchu Picchu in Peru was more of a path that went through rivers and other challenging terrain. Rasmussen and his son rode from 6:30 in the morning to 10 each night, wondering if they were going to ever arrive. Road closures would sometimes cause them to wait six or seven hours before being cleared to pass.
Despite the challenges, Rasmussen said he valued experiencing other countries, with Colombia being his favorite.
The trip inspired him to enter into the world of photography, something Rasmussen will continue to do after his retirement. His work has been featured in the Mall of America, and he has been selected as a “Portrait Equality Photographer.”
He mainly photographs landscapes, and his photography sessions typically involve buying a cooler full of Costco food meant to last a few days and sleeping in a van miles away from hotels to be where the shot will be taken.
Rasmussen’s work will be featured in both Edina and Uptown art shows this summer, as well as what he estimates to be around 20 shows.
Overall, Rasmussen said he has loved his time at Bethel and finds the hardest part in leaving will be relationships with students, something he says is the most rewarding part of teaching.
“I’ve loved my time at Bethel. I’ve got some wonderful colleagues so I’m going to miss that,” Rasmussen said. “I’m also really going to miss teaching and the students.”