Kurt Finkenstaedt image



Written by Anna Christensen, ('23)

From the Air Force tags on his backpack to the sticker proclaiming he’d given blood, Kurt Finkenstaedt is the picture of on-campus involvement, joking that he aims to have “more jobs than Barbie ''. The Junior History major from Falls Church, VA, joined the Honors College in his sophomore year and continues to grow his extracurricular involvement in clubs such as the Red Cross, the Alternative Break Program, Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps (AFROTC), Student Athlete Tutor, and more. 

His involvement in ROTC began in high school, and today he trains cadets as well as being both a Deputy Flight Commander and Joint Resource Officer. In addition to his formal ROTC class and Leadership Laboratory, Kurt has curated his Honors Seminar classes to better inform his leadership style, taking Honors 300: Gender and Leadership to emphasize that anyone can be a leader, and that he is using his position to “make sure everyone is being treated equally and has opportunities to step up and learn how to lead”. He’ll also be joining the Air Force after graduation, with ambitious dreams of world-wide travel. 

His love of travel also motivated him to join the Alternative Break Program (ABP), which he describes as “service trips - either for a weekend or longer - anywhere from a local community to another state or country”. His first trip was to Cumberland Island, Georgia, and this year he led his own trips, including one to Luray, where the group worked with an organization dedicated to community gardening. Kurt admits that “I would not have found out about (ABP) - it’s a pretty well-kept secret here at JMU, but it’s a great way to broaden your horizons while also helping your community”. He explains that “the goal of the organization is to foster active citizenship and an awareness of social issues: homelessness, climate change, poverty, food insecurity… a lot of that stuff can feel so far away”. COVID-19 brought a lesson on community impact when ABP was bound to in-state trips, where Kurt says the group learned that social issues are often closer than one may think. “It really opens your eyes to how unaware we are of people's struggles,” he said. “Service doesn’t need to be far away.” Although looking forward to traveling abroad, Kurt still values the opportunity to be an active citizen of his community, both local and JMU.

Kurt’s mission to extend his love of JMU is embodied through his commitment to Student Ambassadors, giving tours to prospective students and serving on a committee dedicated to organizing social events to foster a sense of community among the Ambassadors. He also recently was awarded the “Hand-in-Hand” honor, to recognize his exemplary tours in the first few weeks. He speaks highly of the Honors program on every tour he gives, explaining that he aims to “expose people to opportunities I wasn’t aware of when I joined JMU… “[the Honors College] gives me that exposure to new things.” 

And what sort of opportunities has he found? Naturally, an endless amount. “My favorite part of it is the seminars - getting to meet and talk to people of other disciplines, subjects that don’t come up in my other classes.” Calling the Honors program the “active citizenship heart” of JMU, he feels as though the Honors College is the “embodiment of [active citizenship] in that we are the people who are very involved, very interested, not just in improving ourselves but our community”.  Kurt also isn’t afraid to push past his comfort zone: in addition to his leadership seminar, he enrolled in an Into to Creativity seminar, where he felt “very welcomed” despite not being an arts major. “It was interesting, dealing with people who were a lot more well-versed in that, but still feeling valid and as though I had a place at the table.” By curating his own interests and keeping himself open to new ideas, Kurt hopes to become a well-rounded citizen of the world who is able and eager to solve the problems of years to come. “If not me, then who?” He asks. “As JMU students, as the aspiring leaders of America and the world, we need to be able to step forward and say, ‘send me’.” 

His current Honors ambitions include applying for a Fulbright Scholarship to go to Northern Ireland, stating that, “I just want to travel and see the world… there’s so much I want to learn and experience. There’s still so much to see in America, but then there’s… the Imperial War Museum in London, the Terracotta army in China… I really want to see Egypt!” Citing the movie The Bucket List, he asks: “‘Have you found joy in your life? And does your life bring joy to other people?’ I feel like that’s something I live by.” 

This busy fall semester comes on the heels of a summer spent at Mount Vernon, an internship he found through his courses with the History Department. “It was a great experience,” he recalls. “Every day was an adventure. I encourage people to find internships! Raise your hand, get involved, take risks…. My motto is to give a great story.” 

Through his interactions with the public, Kurt was able to convey his true passion for history every day, bringing life to the United States’ origins. “The professors [at the Honors College] have been wonderfully engaging, and it helped me to be excited about teaching others. Attitudes are contagious; the key to success is being passionate!” 

When it comes to his final project within the Honors College, Kurt is exploring his options within the realm of his passion for history. “Throughout my time at JMU, my idea about what I would write about has changed… I never thought I would change this much… These experiences, classes, meeting new people [have changed me].” His advice to those just beginning to think about the conclusion to their Honors journey? “Don’t close yourself off to new possibilities - you never know what’s going to come into your life and catch your interest.” 

So how does somebody as involved as Kurt get it all done? He attributes it mostly to prioritizing and multiple reminders, as well as only committing himself to things that he is truly passionate about. “I’d rather be out with my friends, improving myself or learning something.” 

His goals for self-improvement will continue after graduation as he joins the Air Force, and Kurt states his goals as: “to see all the continents, and hopefully make some good stories along the way.”

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