Transform, Learn, Lead

The proposed WSU Center for Transformational Learning and Leadership (CTLL) could not have been launched without the support of two generous alumni and a corporate partner, CoBank. These major donors are extraordinarily committed to helping prepare students for success.

Ken & Sue Christianson and Chuck Olsen.
Donors Ken & Sue Christianson and CoBank representative Chuck Olsen.

Ken & Sue Christianson: The gift of alums

Ken (’74, Agron.) and Sue (’76, Food Sci. & Technol.) Christianson are as dedicated as alumni get. After graduating from WSU, they did two things right away—marry and purchase a WSU Alumni Association lifetime membership. “We could hardly afford our rent, but we paid for that membership,” Sue recalls with a smile.

Through the years, the Christiansons have supported WSU and CAHNRS programs not only financially, but also by giving of their time, energy, and expertise. The Christiansons now serve on CAHNRS’ National Board of Advisors. They participated in early discussions about the CTLL and later made a generous donation that was essential to launching the program.

The Christiansons own and manage Chrishaven Trees, a wholesale nursery in Burlington, Washington. Prior to that, they ran the company started by Ken’s great-grandfather in 1926, Alf Christianson Seed Company, an international seed producer and distributor. That experience helped foster their interest in international learning and development. Their son Eric (’12, Field Crop Mgmt.) had the opportunity to experience hands-on international learning when he was in CAHNRS. The trip to Gashora, Rwanda, that Eric participated in created a new model for CTLL experiences.

“It was a real eye-opener,” said Sue, describing the effect the trip had on her son. “It was truly a multidimensional learning experience. [Students] learned how to brainstorm effectively and to solve problems in new ways. And, they got to create something really positive.”

“Experience is a big factor, irrespective of the field,” said Ken, adding that it’s not just about study abroad. The experience needs to be hands-on. “Our agriculture industry is huge internationally, so I want students to get experience with it as part of their education.”

Ken and Sue “see a strong enterprise and leadership in CAHNRS” and want that positive reach to continue. “We hope our story inspires others to give.”

CoBank: An opportunity to give back

CoBank has its roots in rural America. As a provider of banking and financial services for U.S. agribusiness, rural power, water, and communications, the company is giving back to the industries and communities it serves through donations to land-grant universities. CoBank recently announced the creation of a $5 million fund to support agricultural research and education at more than 30 of these public institutions. The CTLL is among the programs to benefit.

CoBank views its support of agricultural research and education as a corporate responsibility, said Chuck Olsen, lead relationship manager in CoBank’s Agribusiness Banking Group. He added that the company recognizes how much it relies on research institutions like WSU to develop new technologies and plant varieties that continue to improve the agriculture industry.

CoBank also recognizes the value represented by CAHNRS students. When they heard about the CTLL, the company decided that the program would be a great one to support.

“It’s not just about the dollar donation,” Olsen said, referring to CoBank’s participation in mentored internships and other training facilitated by the CTLL.

“What you do with your profits is a huge part of who you are as a company and as people,” Olsen concluded.

To learn how you can help support the CTLL, visit CTLL.