Alumni Spotlight: Ryan Cowden
By Marissa Carpenter, CVC Director of Marketing
“When I first came to CVC, I knew two people.”
From there, Ryan Cowden (’05) told me about his experience going from neighbor and bandmate of Michael (’06) and Brian Kornelis (’03) to IMPACT worship leader, ASAPH tenor, Honors English student, and student council member (not necessarily in that order).
Ryan recalled for me the first moment he remembers at CVC: he walked into first period (Mr. [Ryan] Tos’) English class, and took the closest available seat to the door. When Mr. Tos addressed the class, asking if there were any students new to CVC, he dutifully raised his hand, realizing in that moment that not only was he the only new kid, but he had also, somehow, chosen the unofficial girls’ section of Freshman English. So much for blending in.
Throughout his high school experience, Ryan didn’t really fade back into the crowd. He confessed that he had initially come to CVC for a chance to lead our chapels in worship, since he was keen on getting more “band practice” in with Michael and Brian. What the Brothers Kornelis hadn’t told him was that CVC already had a chapel leader, and Ryan would have to get in line behind Kyle Compaan (’03), and wait for two years before being able to fulfill that role. When he finally did get his opportunity, he and another 2005 graduate, Steven Blevins, made up the inaugural members of IMPACT–the planners, leaders and set-up/tear-down crew for the weekly Thursday chapel at the high school.
In addition to leading chapel, Ryan also participated in every theatre production during his time in high school: “I was strong-armed into it, I was a male and I could sing. So….” he played Fagin in Oliver Twist, among a handful of other roles in the CVC plays and musicals. Ryan also joined the basketball team, and ran with cross country, finding that the jocks vs. rockers battle existed only in his mind, and that friends could be found anywhere on campus–a realization he wished he’d come to earlier on.
Ryan’s involvement in the different facets of CVC’s offerings, proved to be just the beginning of a life-long relationship with the community at CVC, including both staff and students. He casually mentioned that Mr. Ruiter had given him a guitar upon his graduation.
From CVC, Ryan went on to Azusa Pacific University in Southern California, starting off as a music major. After freshman year, he declared philosophy “immediately” and studied Atheistic Existentialism at Oxford University, through New College. After relaying that I, too, had studied at Oxford for a semester through Wycliffe Hall, confessing that it “nearly killed me”, Ryan nodded in agreement, and we both sighed at the thought of the dreaming spires and the grandiose library access that was ours for a brief moment.
After Ryan graduated from Azusa, he joined the crowds of job-searching hopefuls, and landed 10 youth pastor interviews and interviewed for three internships, and although he reached the final stage for many of these prospective positions, the doors closed, one after the other. He attended a job fair, put his name down for Pasadena Child Development Association (PCDA), interviewed the same day, and started work shortly thereafter. After a year of working with students with autism, and taking on a host of responsibilities there, Ryan returned to APU to obtain his one-year teaching credential in 2010, which was the start of his personal journey on the philosophy of teaching.
After I pressed him about how this or other credentialing programs could improve–whether it was more focus on classroom management or lack of attention to school culture, Ryan pointed out that it simply needed more of everything, and the focus on lesson planning and curriculum was not nearly enough. The way that teachers were getting trained wasn’t sufficient; he began to find this out for himself when he ventured into the educational workforce as a long-term sub, and then a 7th grade World History and 8th grade Current Events teacher at Sandburg Middle School.
I couldn’t let the name of his middle school go without a comment. “Ah, Carl Sandburg, the poet!”
“You know who that is?”
“I graduated with an English degree,” I explained.
“Ah. Ha.” With a voice calm to the extreme, and a serene, yet jolly way of accepting my terrible jokes, I was reminded that a middle-school teacher needs to offset the ever-present wiggles and activity of a 7th grade boy during 6th period. (Side-note: This American Life had an episode on Middle School, featuring various experts, including Linda Perlstein, who noted that “[Middle school] is the time of biggest growth for a human being, aside from infancy.” With muscles growing at a faster rate than bones, middle schoolers aren’t able to sit still, even if they wanted to.)
In his very first year as a teacher, Ryan met with colleague Matt Murdock (and former podcast co-founder) every Friday to discuss the ins and outs of teaching, and the difficulties they were met with. At around the same time, Ryan began to attend teaching conferences, several of which were with his school district. After one of the speakers, Rebecca Valbuena, finished presenting, he went up to Becky and told her, “I want to be you when I grow up.” Becky trains adult educators and gives conference presentations regularly; after this, Becky took Ryan to several conferences and encouraged Ryan to start speaking there, too. He presented at Arcadia Innovation Summit, and from there he’s spoken on a variety of topics, especially “illuminating an issue that no one talks about:’ the way teachers get trained.
The conversations that stemmed from those presentations were something Ryan looked forward to, even though he raised more questions than he was answering (which I pointed out was simply his Philosophy degree coming through). Instead of looking for answers internally, Ryan was determined to keep that conversation going. And a podcast was born.
Before I could utter the words “there are so many podcasts nowadays…” Ryan guessed my next move, and laid it all out: “I was afraid of being just another guy with a podcast,” And, for a while, he avoided creating the podcast, or publicizing his project in any way. After teaming up with Matt Murdock to get the podcast off the ground, they determined a release date of January 8, 2018, and started publicizing School of Thought Podcast everywhere.
At the beginning of every podcast, Ryan introduces himself and his clear cut goal: “Our mission is to create a new school of thought at the intersection of leadership, communication, and education–because if you’re doing one of these, you’re doing all three.” During the podcasts, Ryan and [in earlier podcasts] Matt strike up conversations with professional educators and leaders, asking them about their personal experiences, their training, how they prepare for teaching, what mistakes they made early on, and most fascinatingly: what they were like as students, and who their favorite teachers were.
As we looped back around to Ryan’s time in Visalia and at CVC, he recalled for me the lasting relationships he kept up beyond graduation. He greeted Mr. Ruiter and Ms. Talsma with open arms when we briefly toured the campus–proof that he’s still connected to the Cavalier campus. And back in 2009, after well-respected and cherished Honors English, History and Bible teacher Dr. Rainbow was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he made a trip up to spend time and speak with him. When I asked him what he would tell students in Christian schools, he answered, “Take advantage of being at a smaller school, and start relationships with your teachers and professors. I was blessed to know all of these people so well.”
The most important aspect of his time as a student at CVC, has now become the best part of teaching for Ryan: the real moments of connection.
The most important aspect of his time as a student at CVC, has now become the best part of teaching for Ryan: the real moments of connection. Medieval History (his current subject) is not necessarily something squirrely junior high students can connect to, but he makes a point of finding bits and pieces in either the subject matter or through “class story time”, helping kids experience moments that will sink in and relationships that they’ll remember.
I asked Ryan about next steps, and he said he’s trying to develop work/life balance by getting outside and hiking canyons and trails in Southern California and outside of LA. He is currently exploring different career options that will allow for more schedule flexibility for him to focus on developing his podcast.
TEACHER, SPEAKER, PODCASTER, CELTIC MUSIC FANATIC
-his favorite podcast is On Being with Krista Tippett
-has five separate bagpipe apps installed on his phone
-he’s recording a music album (“indie-rock-folk-americana-alternative”)
-he’s a diehard Dodgers fan and worked with former Dodgers announcer (and current Clippers announcer) Eric Smith
To learn more about CVC’s challenging academics and our strong, loving community rooted in Christ, click here!