Kai Gansner

Kai Gansner

May 7, 2019

Kai Gansner

Kai Gansner is a husband, brother, son, uncle, cousin, and friend who is working towards opening a brewstillery in St. Louis, MO.  After starting his career in the non-profit sector, he is venturing out on his own with the hopes of providing the community with a place to celebrate life.  He is an avid hiker/backpacker, FCC licensed ham radio operator (KE0QEJ), hunter, home cook, certified welder, and DSLR photographer.

What year did you graduate and what was your concentration?

I graduated a semester early in December 2005.  My concentration centered around Communication Science — a combination of psychology and group process.  I also had a minor in Business Administration.

What extra-/co-curricular activities did you do?

I actually almost transferred from Truman because I didn’t feel like I belonged.  That changed when I decided to apply for the Student Advisor position (Truman’s nomenclature for “RA”) and received my assignment in the soon-to-be shuttered Dobson Hall.  I worked as an SA until graduation.  I traveled to several conferences where I gave presentations about my philosophy of Residence Life. In addition to working as an SA, I was highly involved in University Swingers — Swing Dance Performance Team.  We traveled to the American Lindy Hop Championships in Stamford, CT.  I was “adopted” as an honorary member of the African Students’ Association where I made friends and participated in cultural group meals.

Kai (far left) and the rest of the University Swingers (2003).

Did you go to grad school? If so, where?  Was it immediately after you left Truman or did you wait?  Why?

Several of my professors recommended that I continue with graduate school.  I did not attend.  By the time my studies at Truman were wrapping up, I experienced the famed “senior-itis” and decided that a break from formal schooling was the best route for me.  With that said, my experience at Truman reinforced the concept of being a lifelong learner.

What was your first job after graduation?

Kai receiving his certificate for Neapolitan pizza in  Naples, Italy (2017).

I worked as a K-12 substitute teacher in the Mehlville School District, peaking with a long-term position in the business department (my minor at Truman).  At nights, I worked as a sales associate at Dillard’s Department Store.  I soon was offered multiple opportunities with Dillard’s and moved to Columbia, MO to commence my career.  I discovered early that I didn’t find joy in that type of work, so I moved back to St. Louis, finding a job at a large international non-profit.  I swiftly rose to the role of Director of Member Services  — traveling internationally delivering high quality presentations,  managing graphics and print media, contributing to board meetings and creating a coordinated group of online learning, membership, and marketing programs focused on UI before that was the popular mode of interactive learning.

What work do you do/What are you doing now?

Currently, I work as a manager at one of the big craft breweries in St. Louis.  I have worked at this brewery for a little over five years.  My original plan was to make this a short-term act before opening my own brewery, as I had been home-brewing during semester breaks in college (after I became of legal age) and had developed the hobby into something bursting at the seams and ready for the market.  However, my dad fell into some poor health and I decided to maintain my current position.  This allowed me the flexibility to help take care of him — a decision I’d make over and over again.  My dad passed last year and I am moving towards next steps in an ever evolving market.  One of the last phrases my dad said to me was, “You’re not done yet.”

Kai and his wife Elyssa touring a balsamic Vinegar estate in Modena, Italy (2016).

How has your Liberal Arts/COMM education helped you?

Kai adding a little humor to the world (2015).

Wow.  This is a loaded question.  Studying at a Liberal Arts university helps you see beyond the tip of your own nose.  If you’re open to it, it fosters a critical thinking process which encourages gathering information from interdisciplinary sources before making an educated decision.  There is nothing more scarce than time and nothing more important than understanding people.  The scope of my COMM studies at Truman assisted a long game approach to life.  Even though you might have a target in mind, it’s important not to be myopic.  In other words, the professors and curriculum in Truman’s Communication Department teach how to gather information and filter the noise for the signal.

Because my studies involved courses like Mass Communication, Rhetoric, Public Relations, Argumentation, Group Process, Race Class & Gender, and Persuasion Theory, among others, I think I am a measured and balanced citizen who can draw from perspective.  Honestly, in all of my varied work experience, I thought I understood people.  Managing at a craft brewery has shown me more grit in understanding in relation to my coursework.  I am grateful to have had both refined, elevated professional experience and a “street-level window” to society at my brewery role.

Which class did you dislike at the time you took it, but now you’re grateful you took it?

Kai & Elyssa at Snow Lake, WA (2017).

I genuinely liked my COMM coursework at Truman.  Upon entering, I had a misconception of what a university was like.  I dreamed of a free learning environment where students could attend ongoing lectures of their choice — a quasi-Socratic style.  I adjusted and liked my classes.  If I had to pick one, it would probably be Race, Class & Gender.  It will always be contemporary because it involves humanity.  It continues to make me a better person, and I am glad I enrolled.

What was your greatest accomplishment at Truman?

My greatest accomplishment doesn’t involve coursework or extra-curricular activities and is a very private matter.  Let’s suffice it to say that I helped another human being through the aftermath of an extremely tragic event, and that was a formative experience for me because it was a continual process to which I deeply dedicated myself.

Why is Truman a good place for a student to study?

If the enrollment statistics resemble what they were when I was a student, the three main cities from which fellow students came were St. Louis, Kansas City, and Chicago.  I am from St. Louis.  After researching a lot of possibilities, I applied to and was accepted to three schools University of Evansville, University of Missouri (Columbia), and Truman State University.  The first was too small.  The second was too big and full of concrete, and Truman was just right.

Kai (2nd from left) at a Res Life dinner with fellow SA friends (2005).

The architecture and campus design provided for an edified environment in which to learn.  There were enough opportunities for activities without breaking the bank.  From student orchestra/symphony concerts and capstone performances or exhibits to the Student Activities Board bringing in big name performers… from speakers and Lyceum Series to the allure of the sunken garden. . .Truman is a good place for students from urban, suburban, and rural areas alike.  There are a myriad of clubs and organizations, too.  Class size and direct access to professors is a plus.  There’s a certain reminiscence on the buildings’ nostalgia — paying homage to the past.  The people of the time are of course what keep the University  active and moving towards the future.  It’s a living organism and it makes you feel alive.

What would you say a COMM student should absolutely do while at Truman?

Explore.  A decent portion of your college experience is learning and making connections outside of the classroom.  Be intuitive.  Learn about yourself.  Learn about others.  Listen to what your soul already wants you to be.

Kai and Elyssa continuing to learn in Rome (2016).

If my answer had to reference classes or coursework, I’d say get involved in campus media, but also computer programming — at least the basics.  Hone in on how people receive the message and information you want to deliver.  You’ll experience lots of “ah ha” moments down the road — after Truman — connecting your current experience to lessons learned while there.

What advice would you give someone who wants to go into the same line of work as you?

Well, my circumstance is different.  Choices now influence the future.  Life happens.  Many other people will tell you to start making connections both with fellow students and with professionals in your field of interest.  I agree that those connections are important, but an even more important connection is with yourself.  If you can truly know yourself while understanding that you are evolving and don’t know everything, that will help you in any field you chose or any field you fall into.  It’s about knowing about all the new shiny objects and discerning which ones are important to you to pursue.

What do you miss most about campus/Kirksville?

Of all the questions, this one is the one to which I didn’t have a visceral response.  I think my answer would revolve around the heartbeat of a university.  There was an energy at Truman.  I miss being able to knock on someone’s door and invite them to lunch or an activity.  That can still happen in adult life, but it seems there are more considerations than a quick walk down the hall and a knock on the door.

Kai (left) and Rafeal enjoying lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Kirksville (2004).

What tag line would you create for the COMM department at Truman?

I’d probably just use the title of John C. Maxwell’s book,  Everyone Communicates, Few Connect.

If you could come back to Truman and teach a class for a semester, what would be its title and what would it be about?

Returning to a Civil Society — exploring how to engage in civil conversation, listen to opposite and differing points of view, and constructively move forward whether agreement is reached or not.

What did we not ask that you think is important for people to know?

Relationships (family, friends, and connections), Resilience, and Grit are some of the most important things in life.  Time is the most scarce resource.  If you want to do something, use your intellectual faculties to make an informed decision, but also look at life in a childlike sort of way — unencumbered by adult thinking.  Take a chance.  If it doesn’t work out, bounce back.  Respect a balance of hubris and humility.  Everyone is fighting a tough battle. I believe in you.

Kai and Elyssa enjoying a sunrise on Jekyll Island, GA (2013).

If you would like to learn more of Kai’s story, you can follow him on Twitter.


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