Before Kathryn Brainerd stepped foot on the University of Minnesota Crookston campus, she spent five-and-a-half years traveling the world.
After graduating from high school, Brainerd, who is from Corcoran, Minnesota, attended Rochester Community and Technical College to pursue a degree in law enforcement and to continue her collegiate soccer career. But being in school didn’t feel right, so she joined the U.S. Navy.
“I wanted to see the world but didn’t have the money to do it,” she says. “I learned about the opportunities to travel from my twin sister, Sarah, who joined the Marines right out of high school.”
Brainerd served from March 2015 to August 2020. Her first command was on an aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. John C. Stennis.
While on deployment in 2016, the Stennis made port visits to Guam, South Korea, Singapore, Manila in the Philippines, and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
One of Brainerd’s favorite spots was Busan, South Korea, because of the beautiful temples and history. “Their people are very dedicated to preserving the beauty of the country,” Brainerd says.
During her seven-month deployment, she says she learned how to layer clothing. South Korea, she says, was “colder than Crookston!”
After serving her country, Brainerd was ready to come back to school. She says the U of M Crookston was always on her radar. “Crookston had it all, small classes, small campus, soccer, a natural resources major, and they offered the most VA housing assistance.” She also received the John Zak Memorial Scholarship as well as one from the VFW Post 1902 Endowment.
Brainerd graduated in December with a degree in natural resources with an emphasis in park management. She hopes to one day work at a state park in or near Minnesota.
Soccer and studies
Brainerd began her studies at Crookston in the spring of 2021 and played goalie and defense for the soccer team. After maxing out her eligibility, she returned in fall of 2023 as their student assistant coach.
“When I stepped foot on campus, a lot of the soccer team thought I was going to be big, mean, and scary because they heard they had a new teammate joining the team from the Navy,” Brainerd recalls.
The team embraced her as the “team grandma.” Brainerd lived up to the name by going to bed at 8:30 p.m. every night and baking cookies for the team. She also worked as the student manager of the Wellness Center.
After graduating, Brainerd plans to spend a month in Australia. New Zealand and Tasmania are also on her bucket list. “I hope to keep traveling as much as I can,” she says.
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