Coca-Cola Academic Team Silver Scholar 2024: Carsten Berend

Phi Theta Kappa vice president of scholarship transferring to University of Kansas

Carsten Berend, 17, is graduating from Inver Hills Community College this spring with his Associate of Arts (A.A.) and a 4.0 GPA. A homeschooled PSEO student, Carsten has been named a 2024 Coca-Cola Academic Team Silver Scholar and will receive a $1,250 scholarship. The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation sponsors the Coca-Cola Academic Team program by recognizing 50 Gold, 50 Silver, and 50 Bronze Scholars with nearly $200,000 in scholarships annually. Each scholar also receives a commemorative medallion.

Carsten was recognized on April 19, 2024, during the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) All-Minnesota Academic Team luncheon in the Bullard Rainforest Auditorium at the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“I was absolutely shocked when I saw the email that I was selected for this award,” he said. “I never thought I would actually receive it when I applied, but I am very thankful that I did.”

A member of the PTK All-Minnesota Academic Team, Carsten serves as PTK vice president of scholarship at Inver Hills. He was also a member of the Student Senate. He started taking classes at the college in 10th  grade, making the Dean’s List spring semester 2022, fall 2022, and spring 2023. In fall semester 2023, he earned a 4.0 GPA, but took only 11 credits, one short of the 12-credit minimum required to make the list.

Carsten with Connie Vait and Tanya Smutka

In 2020–2021, Carsten participated in JuiceMedia, FilmNorth’s after-school filmmaking collective. His volunteer experience includes working with the National Marrow Donor Program, formerly Be The Match, as part of PTK community service. He also volunteered with the VEAP (Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People) Food Shelf.

Carsten plans on transferring to the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, with the goal to earn Ph.D. in History. He was awarded a KU Excellence Merit Scholarship that begins fall 2024. He has centered his career goals on becoming a college history professor.

“I would like to impart my excitement for history to students,” he said. “I also think the research portion of being a professor is really exciting. I want to inspire people to want to pursue and understand history. It saddens me that so many people see it as boring.”

Carsten explained that no matter what a student pursues academically, something in history will prove highly relevant to that pursuit.

“Knowing and understanding our history makes us better citizens and stewards of the world,” he said.

Staff perspective: Kimberly Swinney

Kimberly Swinney

“It has been exciting to watch Carsten grow in his leadership and confidence over the past two academic years. He was one of the first people to join our PTK officer board when we were in a complete rebuilding phase, and I am extremely grateful for his consistency, care of his peers, and dedication to informing our members about scholarship deadline and opportunities.

“His heart for promoting mental health awareness has left a lasting impact on our campus. I am beyond excited for him to take the next step in his academic journey. He is destined to do amazing things!”

Kimberly Swinney
Director of Student Life
Inver Hills Community College

The Griffin Project

Kimberly shared the tragic news that Carsten lost his cousin to suicide last spring.

“Carsten took that loss and grief and put it into a sucide postvention program called the Griffin Project,” she said. “Phi Theta Kappa has been working closely with members of the college’s Behavior Intervention Team (BIT), which provides interventions and assistance to students who exhibit concerning behaviors with the goal to support students and assist faculty and staff.”

Along with fellow BIT Team members, Kari Rusch-Curl, vice president of student affairs, and Rob Harris, counselor, Kimberly has been collaborating with Carsten and the college’s PTK chapter to implement the Griffin Project on campus while promoting mental health awareness.

More about the Griffin Project

The Griffin Project is a suicide postvention program that aims to be proactive in reaching out to students, faculty, and staff who may be impacted by the death. The program also provides resources and affirmations to students and faculty at the school level as well as to members of the community.

“Phi Theta Kappa started this initiative after Carsten’s cousin, Griffin Berend, a 21-year-old college student, lost his life to suicide,” Kimberly said. “We knew we needed to create a plan of action in case this unfortunate circumstance occurred on our campus.

Below is the acronym that honors Griffin and outlines the project’s action plan:

G: Give support to students
R: Report death to Inver Hills community
I: Inform students of available resources
F: Forms for requesting additional time
F: Future prevention steps—postvention never ends
I: Ideas for students to volunteer or donate in the deceased student’s memory
N: Notes of affirmation to give students

Watch for an Inver Hills News story about the Griffin Project in the near future.

More about Carsten…

Originally from Richfield, Minnesota, Carsten will be earning his high school diploma this May along with his A.A. degree. Carsten’s mom, Anna, is a research attorney and his homeschool teacher. His dad, Will, is a project manager for a software company. Carsten has one brother, Ezra, age 15. He also has two cats, Betty White, a black shorthair, and Gingy, an orange Manx, and two dogs, Ruby Lu and Arthur, both 100 percent rescues.

In his free time, Carsten likes to read sci-fi/fantasy novels and books about political theory. He also enjoys playing video games with his friends.

“Most recently, I have been playing Helldivers 2,” he said. “I have also gotten more into music lately. I really like indie rock/punk rock and some folk.”

Carsten resides with his family in Richfield.

Carsten family, college, and life gallery

Carsten Berend • Q & A

Carsten Berend
What inspired you to attend Inver Hills as a PSEO student?

I was inspired by the idea that I could gain so much experience and knowledge to prepare me for a four-year university by taking advantage of the PSEO program. I wanted to get a head start on my college education, and PSEO and Inver Hills have been perfect for that.

When I visited and toured Inver Hills, I knew right away that I wanted to be a PSEO student there. It has been much more valuable in so many ways than I could ever have imagined.

What advice would you give high school students thinking about participating in PSEO?

I would say that it isn’t as scary or difficult as you’d think—as long as you go to class and do the work. Just remember you can always reach out to your professors or faculty if you ever need help. I do that a lot. It helps to build a relationship with the professors by emailing and taking advantage of office hours. I have gained more insight and gained mentors this way.

The Office of Accessibility Resources at Inver is very helpful. Definitely get in contact with them if you have any challenges to learning, as I do! I think overall don’t be scared of the faculty—they don’t bite! I promise. They are so friendly and helpful and really want students to engage, learn, and succeed. Don’t be afraid to take all classes in many different departments, etc. I have really enjoyed exploring different subjects.

What do find most intriguing about the field of history?

People tend to view the field of history as static. I think it’s the opposite. Our understanding of the past is ever-changing. With every new archeological discovery or documentation, even the most minute detail found can change much of what we know about a certain region or historical topic. This is one of the reasons I find history to be so interesting.

Another reason is the reward of learning history, and in my mind that is the ability to connect the dots, so to speak. It is vital to understand the past to understand the present and future. You can study at an event in history and understand why and how it happened and then see the impact that it caused or is still causing in the present and understand it all much more if you learn history.

When you study history everything happening politically, economically, and socially in the present becomes clearer. For that reason, it is so rewarding to learn history.

What period of human history interests you the most and why?

It is really hard to pick just one. I pretty much find that most historical periods have something fascinating within them. Recently, I have become more interested in ancient history, and specifically that of the Middle East, especially during the Golden Age of Islam period.

As Westerners, we tend to gloss over much of Middle Eastern history. What really struck me is that what we call the “Dark Ages” was for this region the height of its civilization. For example, we talk so much about the Library of Alexandria, but rarely about the Baghdad House of Wisdom; I think that is sad.

Three words that describe you as a college student:

What are your primary duties as Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) vice president of scholarship at Inver Hills?

I promote our scholarship programs to our members. I try to let our members know how and when to apply for a scholarship and how to navigate the PTK website, along with any task that supports the other officers and our goals.

How has your engagement with PTK helped you pursue your academic goals?

PTK has definitely helped with encouragement to continue to strive to be a good student and give 100 percent effort in all that I do. I plan to get a B.A. and then a Ph.D. and so I will need the inspiration and motivation to continue to be a student for a number of years. The support and encouragement I have received through PTK has given me the confidence to pursue all of my academic goals.

What advice would you give students who meet the GPA requirements and are thinking about joining PTK?

I would say just do it. It isn’t as scary as it seems. I was very worried I would be way out of my depth, especially as a high school student, but the chapter was welcoming and enjoyable to be a part of. Additionally, I would really encourage students to not only join, but to be an active member and even an officer.

It is really a lot of fun to be an active participant in the events, activities, and meetings. I am so glad I got involved right away and got to know my fellow officers and advisors.

What do you like best about attending Inver Hills?

I like how friendly and accommodating the faculty is here at Inver. They are always there to help. The community is also really great. It is such a nice and friendly school to attend. I am really happy I chose it.

What person has influenced your life the most and why?

Probably my mother. She has been encouraging me to achieve my goals and help me learn and explore, and have an open mind to people and ideas. She’s always available for deep discussion on politics, education, and any other topic. I tend to be very shy and avoid getting involved with communities, but my mom has helped me to get better about joining communities and becoming involved on campus.

If you could make one thing happen on Earth right now, what would it be?

If I could make anything happen, I would make all public colleges and universities free to attend.

One word that best describes your experience at Inver Hills:


Carsten Berend 12 Answers

Carsten Berend
  1. Favorite sport or physical activity: I like to watch soccer (Go Manchester City, Celtic FC, and the Loons! Also Shrewsbury Town—I’ve been trying to get them promoted on FM24) and Big 12 Basketball (Go Jayhawks!)
  2. Place you would most like to visit: Right now I want to visit Ireland and Canada the most, I love the cold; there are a lot of cool historical sites in both; also, they seem like beautiful countries to visit
  3. Most exciting thing you’ve ever done: The most exciting or thrilling thing I have done is probably riding a horse down into and back up Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah
  4. Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) I would try to fund public transportation in the Twin Cities to expand the light rail network; I’d like to decrease car use as much as possible for environmental reasons as well as the fact that having tons of highways in cities is so ugly 2) I’d use the money to try to house as many homeless people as possible because studies show that the best way to prevent homelessness is by giving them a low cost or free place to live; I’m not sure how I would spend money to decommodify housing, but I’m sure it could be done 3) I would probably just save whatever I have left for me and my family after I bought a house in Ireland with a library in it—I love books
  5. Best book or movie you’ve read or seen lately: The best book I have read recently is probably Orconomics; it’s very funny; I would definitely recommend it; the best movie I have seen recently is probably Oppenheimer; I know that was almost a year ago, but I rarely watch movies, so, that was recent for me
  6. Time period (past or future) you would explore if you could time travel: There are two time periods I would want to explore—first: Ptolemaic Egypt would be amazing; being able to visit the Library of Alexandria is probably any history nerd’s biggest dream; the Greco-Egyptian cultural fusion of that era is so fascinating; second: Victorian London; I just love the architecture and aesthetics of this era; also, it was such a fascinating time politically
  7. One thing you most want to accomplish in your life: That is a difficult question for sure; honestly, I just want to live in an old Victorian house in Ireland with a personal library and study history; I would also like to publish some books; also, while I don’t think will happen, but one of my dreams is to write the screenplay for a biopic about the late folk singer, Phil Ochs; please listen to his music; he was amazing; I also would like to do this for former Minnesota Governor Floyd B. Olson; he was an inspiring leader
  8. Your national bird if you were your own country: If I were my own country, my national bird would be a crow—I love crows; they’re so beautiful, highly intelligent, and quite fascinating 
  9. Dream occupation: I want to be a history professor and a writer; those are my dream occupations
  10. Person you would most like to meet: Well, the people I would like to meet are mostly dead; the only living person I would like to meet is Bernie Sanders; he seems like such a fun guy to talk to; also, I would like to meet Father James Martin, SJ, a Jesuit priest and theologian who I follow; for the dead people, I’ll just list them out: Phil Ochs, J. R. R. Tolkien, Rosa Luxemburg, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Floyd B. Olson
  11. Skill you would most like to learn and master: A skill I would like to learn is playing the guitar; I’ve never known how to play any instrument; I want to learn some Phil Ochs songs on the guitar
  12. Most important issue or problem facing humankind: There are so many issues facing mankind—my answer as to which is the most important issue changes daily based on what headlines I see; today, I think that climate change is the most important; we are running out of time
Learn more about attending Inver Hills by contacting:

Admissions Team
College Center

Learn more about Phi Theta Kappa at Inver Hills by contacting:

Kimberly Swinney
Director of Student Life
PTK Staff Advisor

Sadie Pendaz-Foster, PhD
Sociology Faculty
PTK Faculty Advisor

Tanya Smutka
Biology Faculty
PTK Faculty Advisor

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *