Olivia Fessler Braaten '05


Favorite Courses

Favorite Professor
Political Communications and History

Small Group Communication with Dr. Randy Hollingsworth and working on The Triangle

Col. Ron Petitte

"There was no doubt about what I wanted to do," Olivia said. Having grown up in political circles, Olivia transferred to Bryan knowing she wanted to major in political communications and history. She became involved in extracurricular activities on campus—serving as editor of The Triangle her senior year, founding the Bryan chapter of College Republicans, and winning awards on the Mock Trial team. Olivia especially enjoyed her interaction with Dr. Ron Petitte.

Olivia and Jason pictured
with a "Bryan Lion" on
their wedding day
"It's difficult not to put Col. Petitte on a pedestal. He is clearly among Bryan College's finest," Olivia said. "I always found him encouraging, never ill-tempered, and his integrity and graciousness continue to stand out in my mind. I always felt that the instant I stepped in his classroom, it was like someone stopped the hamster wheel and, finally, my mind had 50 minutes to function, fully composed, fully focused."

Another highlight for Olivia was representing Bryan College at a program held along with one of the national political conventions and the 2004 presidential inauguration.

“Students in the program represented just about every point of the political spectrum, so very quickly I began to see firsthand the value of listening well and responding persuasively,” Olivia explained. “The experience was, in fact, an introduction into that larger political world for me. Though I grew up in a politically active family and pursued the book knowledge to go along with it, I had been largely surrounded by like-minded individuals. But to be face-to-face with someone who believes very strongly about abortion rights or population control or whatever is the hot item of the day...that's far more personal.

“Many times, those intimate conversations revealed that what appeared to be a mere policy issue was, in fact, a moral issue. I remember being in the middle of an intense discussion about homosexuality and thinking, ‘So this is 'engaging the culture.' Overall, the trips were a huge practical lesson for me. I owe Col. Petitte a lifetime of ‘thank yous.’ Had it not been for his thoughtful recommendation, I wouldn't have known about the opportunity and ultimately found myself in the center of history in the making.”

Olivia and her daughter Nora
Mr. John Carpenter, Triangle and Commoner faculty advisor, also had a significant influence on Olivia's life because he referred her to the World Journalism Institute. After graduating from an eight-week program, Olivia was awarded a fellowship that allowed her to move in the fall of 2005 to Washington, D.C.  She spent four months in DC working as an editorial page assistant at The Washington Examiner, the second-largest newspaper in the city. She also spent time at The Heritage Foundation doing administrative and research work.

In December 2005, she realized she was ready to leave DC and find an organization where she could do more issues-related work behind the scenes. She moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to work with the Life Issues Institute as executive producer. She created and oversaw the production of Facing Life Head-On, a half-hour weekly television program on life issues and medical ethics, now aired in more than 90 million households.

A February 2008 reunion between Olivia and her
Bryan College "suitees": Joanna McBride, Olivia
Braaten, DeAnna (Stolzfus) Smith, Janell Wright,
Kari Wright, Eva Holder, Virginia Macha
While Olivia worked in Cincinnati, her Bryan beau, Jason Braaten, was at seminary in New England. They were married in the spring of 2007, and moved to Boston, Mass., the following year, where Olivia got a job as manager of business development and client relations at Whittenberg Knudsen, LLP.

Olivia remained at Whittenberg Knudsen until the birth of their beautiful daughter, Nora, in December 2008. Now the Braaten family lives in Connecticut on the same hill where her husband grew up. In addition to spending time with Jason and Nora, Olivia has returned to her journalistic roots and is a correspondent at Villager Newspapers in Windham County, Conn.

Olivia recognizes that her Bryan degree prepared her for the wide array of jobs in which she was successful. "Communications is not too broad of a major! It is important to consider it as a foundation," Olivia said. "Build your own niche for the market and it will propel you into a world of potential."