Carissa’s mother was a medical technologist and 4H leader, and her father was a cowboy who also worked with special education students. Her parents, now retired, instilled in Carissa the importance of working hard, investing in education, and giving back to the community.
Carissa is a country kid, whose family raised horses and participated in 4H. Growing up, she spent time riding the combine with her grandfather. That farm has been in her family since her great, great grandfather Carl Jonas immigrated to the US in 1866. She also fed calves with her other grandfather, a WWII veteran who left school to farm and then served his country. Education was so important in her family that her grandfather finally fulfilled a lifelong dream of graduating from high school at the age of 80. Her grandmothers did everything on the farm and also spent time in careers as a teacher and nursing aid.
After high school, Carissa graduated from Concordia College--Moorhead, a Lutheran liberal arts college. She pursued her passion for service after college by joining the Lutheran Volunteer Corps and Americorps in Washington, DC. There, she worked for the year as a volunteer with inner-city teenagers. She had been in the city for three weeks when September 11, 2001, happened. She went to work that day via the underground train system, not knowing that two hijacked planes were heading to the city above her. Her future husband Adam, a farm kid from North Dakota, was serving as a teacher in a rural village in Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer at the time. Carissa’s experiences in DC and on 9/11 affirmed her commitment to serving others.
Picture: The US Capitol after 9/11 with flags at half staff. Taken by Carissa as a Lutheran Volunteer Corps volunteer.
In 2007, Carissa took a position at the University of Northern Iowa, becoming the fourth generation of her family to teach. She is a leader among the faculty and vice president of the faculty union, United Faculty. Her husband Adam is a family doctor. They have three children, whom they are raising to value the small town and rural community, education, and opportunities they had growing up.