The Comeback

As a youth ministry leader, Nick Tofteland had a fun idea for rewarding a fundraising drive that his church kids absolutely crushed: Cruising from one fast food joint to another in a Hummer limo.

“It was a horrible, horrible March night. It was one of those nasty, sloppy storms that turned cold real fast,” he recalled. “So I’m hopping out of the car—you literally have to jump out of a Hummer, they’re really tall—I swung my feet out… and that’s the last thing I remember.”

What he doesn’t remember are his feet hitting the ice of his church’s parking lot and losing his footing,  hitting his head first on the door frame and again on the concrete.

Nick Tofteland on the job at Minnehaha Academy. While overcoming a brain injury, he enrolled in the Applied Organizational Studies program.

To this day he struggles with aftermaths of the brain injury: Double vision, balance issues, vertigo, migraines and significant memory issues. For more than two years after the injury, Tofteland underwent neurological therapy for a brain injury that affected his vision, his balance and his thinking. His job as a minister was finished, given his diminished speaking skills. In pondering the future he found he qualified for a state career retraining program that would d began with a year at Normandale Community College and then to Minnesota State Mankato’s Applied Organizational Studies degree.

“You’re basically back to being a senior in high school where you’re trying to imagine what your career path looks like,” he said.

For a guy who never struggled in school, who aced tests, scored high and loved a good challenge, the new test was: Could he even learn?

“There was nothing in my life that was easy after this injury. Literally nothing,” he said. “Relationships weren’t easy. Managing my day wasn’t easy. I wasn’t able to drive. I was genuinely concerned whether or not new learning was something that was possible.”

“That’s why the purely online option was so good for me,” he said. “I was doing school 100 percent in my own living room, where I could control absolutely everything about the environment that I was learning in. And the willingness of the university to accommodate was just exceptional.”

The specific major he pursued was Applied Organizational Studies (AOS), designed largely for working adults to provide skills and qualifications needed to move forward in their chosen field or change careers altogether. Aiming at non-profit leadership, he found the answer to his question about whether he could learn.

“It was extremely difficult. I never poured myself into study the way I had to,” he said. But he hit a grade point average of 4.0.  “It just took an immense amount of effort.”

Graduating in the fall of 2017, he found a job in spring of 2018 in the development office of Minnehaha Academy, a Christian private school in Minneapolis, as director of the school’s annual fund. It was a stressful time for the school as the year before it experienced a catastrophic explosion from a gas leak.  Tofteland found himself focused entirely on the school’s multi-million dollar rebuilding effort.

Ultimately, he helped raise $20 million, which led to his current role as Director of Development, overseeing staff and tending to a number of affluent donors.

It’s been a path that wouldn’t have worked had it not been for the University’s help when he needed it most.

“Honestly, the first thing that always comes to mind when I reflect on time at school is a willingness to admit what’s hard and that you need help,” he said. “I am an extremely strong collaborator now … That was something that was learned entirely in my time of study at Minnesota State Mankato. Because the program demands quite a bit of participation with classmates. That was a huge area of growth for me that has really proved valuable.”