To some, Ethan Penner would seem like the busiest person on campus.
As a senior youth ministries major, he serves a variety of roles on campus as assistant resident director of J. Alvin and as a former captain of the university’s men’s ultimate Frisbee team.
Even so, Penner also engages with the community by helping lead the youth at Siloam Springs Bible Church.
The University, although Penner’s made a vast amount of connections while being here, was not his only option during high school. He had a desire to play sports while in college and received athletic scholarships to other universities.
“God does stuff for a purpose and he ultimately does it for your good,” Penner said. “I could have gone anywhere else but I felt like God was telling me to come here.”
After coming to the University, Penner found interest in the ultimate Frisbee team. The team was one of the first places where he started connecting and committing his time to people.
“He’s always putting a hundred percent, he’ll go on the defensive line and the offensive line, which is amazing and he really pushes himself a lot when a bunch of us aren’t doing well,” Jonnie Rothfus, junior construction management major, said. “He makes sure we’re doing it for the right purpose, for Christ.”
After his freshman year at the University, Penner’s resident assistant of his suite in J. Alvin encouraged him to apply for the position. Penner felt that he would be able to do it because he enjoys helping people develop at the University as well as he himself being community driven.
Jeff Branson, senior worship arts major, as well as Penner’s high school classmate and his roommate freshman and senior year, mentioned one instance where their suite had gotten into a discussion over racism. Penner came in a little later when the conversation got heated. After listening awhile, Penner told the people in the conversation that it would be good to stop talking over each other and listen and understand each side of the discussion by putting themselves in each other’s shoes.
“The way he did it was really helpful and really brought a sense of empathy and unity,” Branson said.
Branson also said that even though Penner has a busy schedule, he always finds time to help out students that are in need. He said it wasn’t necessarily that he was thrown into the position but he is a natural born leader.
Penner was a resident assistant for both his sophomore and junior years, then was encouraged by a past resident director of J. Alvin, Eric Gingerich, to apply for the assistant resident director position this year.
Penner said that there were definitely other people that were more capable than he to take up the task. However, he felt he was up for the challenge because people get him going and his balance between being able to have a good time with anyone and having deep conversations with people.
He also said that it is always hard to learn from a person underneath you.
“That’s when you learn where your heart is,” Penner said.
Penner said that he believes when you’re a leader, one of the focuses is on the group and not just the individual. People need to be needed along with help to find and build up their strengths, and leaders can help with that.