Hamline News

Hamline Graduates who help their community

Hamline Heroes

Alumni devote their careers to helping people in crisis

By Shannon Prather


After two young boys slipped under the swiftly moving water of the Black River, Phil Hansen MNM ’13, then a teenage counselor at a nearby camp, participated in a search and rescue. Sadly, both boys drowned. It was in that moment, with adrenaline and grief surging through his body, that Hansen vowed to do everything in his power to avert future tragedies.

“I found the Red Cross,” said Hansen, who trained as a volunteer and later joined the staff, rising to regional CEO of The American Red Cross, Minnesota Division.

He’s one of several Hamline graduates who have dedicated their careers to preparing for and responding to disasters.

“The American Red Cross responds to about 60,000 disaster events in the United States each year.” Hansen said. “That ranges from a single family house fire on up to a hurricane.”

In Minnesota, the most common disaster is a home fire.

“We respond to 500 to 600 fire events here in Minnesota alone,” he said. “That’s two or three a day.”

When Red Cross volunteers arrive after a fire, shell-shocked families and individuals are usually standing on the front lawn. Oftentimes they’ve lost everything, including their eyeglasses and wallets.

The Red Cross provides survivors with food, clothing, shelter, and medication. The next day, case managers meet with families to build a recovery plan that includes replacing vital documents, finding a place to live, and connecting with other community agencies that provide resources.

In the last year, highly trained Minnesota Red Cross volunteers also assisted victims of wildfires in California, Hurricane Michael in Florida, and Typhoon Yutu in the American territory of Saipan. They provided food, shelter, mental and physical health services, and casework, plus all of the infrastructure to support that work.

“It’s tantamount to creating a Fortune 500 company in 72 hours,” Hansen said. “For Hurricane Sandy, we had 16,000 workers on the ground.”

That’s a lot for a leader to manage.

After becoming Red Cross CEO, Hansen enrolled in Hamline’s Master of Nonprofit Management program to grow his leadership skills and pursue his dream to teach at a collegiate level.

What impressed Hansen the most was the caliber of his fellow classmates.

“I can’t emphasize enough how much I enjoyed the interchange between people in the program,” he said. “It was nice to have a program where you went every week and shared and sometimes defended ideas to other people. There’s a real virtue in that.”

Cool under fire

That eagerness to help people in crisis also pulses through the veins of B.J. Jungmann MPA ’13, who grew up watching his father save lives as a volunteer firefighter.

“It drew me in, their passion for helping people,” he said. “It could have been 2 a.m. when they got a call. They never really batted an eye to get the job done.”

Jungmann now serves as Burnsville fire chief, leading a team of 43 firefighters and paramedics. He’s also a member of a regional incident management team that helps communities affected by crisis.

Jungmann started his informal training to be a firefighter and paramedic as a child. His father served with the Oakdale Fire Department for 33 years, and Jungmann often accompanied him on ride-alongs.

He was a firefighter explorer in high school, then an EMT, paramedic, and volunteer firefighter before being hired by the Burnsville Fire Department.

Jungmann and his team are often the first on the scene of house fires, auto accidents, and medical emergencies. In May 2008, after a tornado tore through Hugo, he was part of the rescue and recovery team that sifted through debris in the search for survivors.

The job requires ample technical skills and near constant training.

“But we are most judged on our people skills,” Jungmann said. “It’s being the calm and collected one, coming in and making their emergency better, being honest but being compassionate and understanding their needs.”

Jungmann said his master’s degree from Hamline has helped him navigate his role as a municipal manager dealing with the city council, staff, and members of the public.

“It’s up to me to be the subject matter expert and provide them options,” he said. “I need to frame our work through a policy lens: What are the issues and influences? Who are the stakeholders? Is this sustainable? And what are the long-term outcomes?”

A world of good

As a junior disaster operations specialist with the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), an arm of USAID, Jamie Johnson Thomas ’07 travels around the world making sure that U.S. government resources are deployed to help vulnerable communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from crises.

When disasters strike, OFDA sends regional and technical experts, including Thomas, to affected areas. The teams assess needs, identify partners on the ground, and provide financing and other resources to fulfill OFDA’s mandate to save lives, alleviate human suffering, and reduce the social and economic impact of disasters.

Thomas has spent the last three years focused on helping people in Iraq and Syria, who are recovering from ISIS’s reign of terror.

“USAID partners have reached more than 3 million Iraqis with emergency food rations, shelter, health care, water, and hygiene kits since 2014,” Thomas said.

Thomas said she chose Hamline for her undergraduate work because of its strong Model United Nations program, which, she added, solidified her dream of working internationally and helping others.

That, coupled with an internship at a human rights organization, opened her eyes to her career possibilities and the good she could do.