Class of 2018 profiles: Crystal Harper Fallesen doesn’t let life get in the way


Seven years ago, Crystal Harper Fallesen was finishing up vacation Bible school at a church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she was working. The day after she finished, she learned she was pregnant. The day after that, she started her online program for a Master of Arts in Christian Education degree at Union Presbyterian Seminary. She took a couple of semesters off to raise her child and then took another couple of semesters off when she decided to adopt two more children. Union gave her the flexibility to do all that.

Fallesen chose Union over University of Dubuque Theological Seminary and Iliff School of Theology after hearing Union President Brian K. Blount speak. “I was sitting at a table listening to Dr. Blount speak next to Don Griggs, a prolific Christian education writer,” she recalled. “He was so friendly and his wife was a graduate of Presbyterian School of Christian Education (now Union Presbyterian Seminary) and he ended up encouraging me to think about Union.

Given her family situation, the Blended Learning Program was the only option. It turned out to be a great decision all around — and that included the community that she became a part of. “I have made lifelong friends who have walked beside me as I had a child and adopted two daughters,” she said. “The community of the Blended Learning Program is just phenomenal. There’s a ton of support there.” She said the online community was also very supportive when she switched jobs. She is currently the director of Christian education at Harrison United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Crystal Harper Fallesen with some of her fellow graduates. From left, Annie Arvin, Fallesen, Pamela Fusting, and Christopher Manunyo-Nyonyoh.

During her time taking online classes, she has learned many things that she can use at her job. “A big chunk of the educator I am today, I have Cindy Kissel-Ito to thank. I can see a lot of her educational theory woven into my own educational theory and how I teach.” Fallesen said that Kissel-Ito treats herself as a co-learner in her classes.

As a whole, the experience at Union challenged her in ways that she hasn’t been challenged before. “I remember sitting in some of the classes in New Testament and Old Testament thinking ‘Why have I never heard of this before? Why isn’t some of this information being shared in congregation?” She wants to take some of that into the classroom. “Hopefully, it doesn’t take going to seminary for some of those people who sit in one of my classes to say they haven’t heard of that before.”

Fallesen said the best advice she can give is the same advice she once received from a Union alum. “Time is going to pass one way or another. It’s up to you if you’re going to have a degree or not. And even if life gets in the way and gets crazy, it’s all worth it.