For four years, they worked 40 feet from each other in Voskuyl Library, Sonja de Boer ’94 in the office and Kai Schraml ’94 at the circulation desk. They greeted each other in passing but didn’t keep in touch.
In 2005, Sonja joined the Westmont Alumni LinkedIn group. Long-time friend Janice Wagner ’98, who works in the alumni office, convinced her she could reconnect with classmates, network with col-leagues in her field and mentor students through LinkedIn. Kai, who was already a member, sent Sonja a message when she joined. The two e-mailed back and forth, talked on the phone and finally met in person — Kai lived in Boston and Sonja had settled in Seattle. Both yearned for California, their home state, and in 2009 they moved to Modesto. In June 2010 they got married in the Nancy Voskuyl Prayer Chapel on campus.
Joining their professional lives has required some adjustment. An expert in early intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Sonja consults with school districts, families and other organizations on autism and trains educators and parents nationwide and overseas. She’s especially focused on helping children with ASD function and learn in regular classrooms. A biology pre-med major at Westmont, she took a year off after graduating to tutor a child with autism. She loved this work and felt God nudging her into special education rather than medicine. She earned three teaching credentials, two certifications and a master’s degree in special education at CSU Sacramento. She then did early intervention for children in California with ASD in their homes and schools. After she earned a doctorate in special education and psychology at the University of Kansas, she directed the Early Intervention Program at the University of Washington Autism Center for two years. She has written three books; the latest helps parents and administrators include children with ASD in regular classrooms. “The hope I get from early intervention keeps me going,” she says. “Even small steps can make a big difference in children’s lives.” Her books are listed at deboerautism.com.
Kai works half time for Sonja’s business, de Boer Consulting and Training, focusing on marketing and projects involving data systems. Collaborating allows them to travel together and makes the couple geographically independent. A religious studies major at Westmont, Kai is a true liberal arts graduate with a varied career. He worked in Africa with World Vision, did sustainable development on four continents through Target Earth, and served as communications director at Restoring Eden, which promoted the care of creation. After earning a master’s degree in theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, he worked for Convexity Capital, a hedge fund spun off from the Harvard endowment.
Now focused on spiritual formation, Kai is setting up a practice as a personal spiritual trainer (www.kaischraml.com). “I love helping Protestants rediscover the ancient tools for discipleship that have been present in the church for thousands of years,” he says.
Self-styled “bird nerds” who thrive outdoors, the couple loves hiking, backpacking, kayaking and exploring the wilderness with cameras and binoculars.
Sonja and Kai appreciated the academic rigor of their Westmont years and the professors who got involved in their lives. They also value the friendships they made in college — especially the one rekindled through LinkedIn.