Courtney Nielsen, a senior from California is graduating as an interdisciplinary major with an emphasis in graphic design and communications, reflected fondly on her time at BYU–Hawaii. She said here she has met her husband, started her business, made lasting impacts on individuals, and has made the most out of living on a tiny rock in the middle of the ocean.
Looking back, what are some of your favorite experiences at BYUH?
“I think BYUH is the best school ever. The diversity and different cultures offered at this school is something we could not get anywhere else.” Nielsen returned from an internship in Ghana in August, and she said she feels she wouldn’t have had an opportunity like that anywhere else.
Along with the cultural diversity of BYUH, Nielsen also enjoyed life outside of Laie. She said she enjoys exploring the island, swimming with the dolphins, going to the Polynesian Cultural Center, spending time on the beach, and making the most of living in Hawaii. “The school is a great place and is really diverse- but outside of campus there is a lot to do and enjoy here.”
What is next?
“Our plan is to move to California and take our business there.” Nielsen and her husband, Ben Nielsen, both love the outdoors and are looking forward to moving from Hawaii and experience life somewhere else. “I’m going to miss it here, but I am ready for the next adventure.”
In February of 2017, Courtney and Ben began Sand and Stone Media, a content marketing, photography, and videography business. Ben studied broadcast journalism at the Utah State University, and Courtney is graduating with a background in communications, graphic design, and photography. “Now that I’m graduating, my focus is going to be my business. My husband and I really want to get more into content marketing- we want to spread goodness and positivity, as well as add a little bit of the gospel and our love of God into our work.” Courtney also said she feels the good thing about her business is she can take it pretty much anywhere.
Courtney has been in Hawaii since 2012, when she came to BYUH with the intent to serve a mission. On the first day of Winter Semester 2013, Courtney met her now husband, Ben. The two became friends and Courtney then left on her mission in Mozambique, Africa. She came home and didn’t marry her husband until 18 months after coming home from her mission.
How has it been being married and in college?
Courtney said, “I feel that being married while in school has made my experiences more fun. It is so awesome having someone to come home to, to always talk to, and be there to support you.” Courtney explained being a married student allowed her to be less concerned with socializing and her image.
Courtney said she was glad she took her time to go on a mission and get married. “Sometimes I feel there is a lot of pressure, especially from the church, that we need to get married young. My advice is take your time and don’t rush everything.”
What are some tips for underclassman?
Courtney encouraged students to take their time. “I feel we need to relax and take time to enjoy life. Students shouldn’t give in to cultural pressure and rush through marriage, life, and school. Life is to be enjoyed.”
What are you most grateful for at BYUH?
“I am most grateful for my past professors and for their examples. All of my past professors, especially Dr. Chen, Sister Lambert, and Dr. Sharp, have been really solid examples for me. They are realistic as well as laid back.”
Courtney said she is going to miss the laid-back nature here at BYUH. “I truly feel that being here, the gospel is not a burden. I have learned you can be real with people here, and I’ve been blessed to have pretty solid examples here. I’ve met a lot of people here who have shown me the type of person I want to be.”
How has Courtney impacted you?
Throughout her time at BYUH, Courtney has met hundreds of students and faculty. A few of the people she has come into contact with impacted both Courtney and the other person.
Gavin Baker, a sophomore from Colorado studying math education is Courtney’s cousin. Baker is a transfer student from Colorado State. “Looking back, I can’t remember life without Courtney. I served my mission in the Pacific. And while I was there, Courtney was emailing me and really encouraging me to come out to BYUH.”
Baker said he took the leap of faith and ended up in Laie as a new BYUH student. Baker explained how he did not have many friends out here, but Courtney was always there for him. “She is always positive and encouraging. Even when people are making different life choices than her or what we believe in as members of the church, she is not judgmental at all.”
Baker said he has been to a few photo shoots with Courtney and her husband. He shared how he liked the way she and Ben worked with their clients. “I am honestly super jealous that her business is her passion. It is obvious she loves what she does, and she is super talented.”
Baker added, “I know Courtney can do whatever she wants to do with her life, and I wish her the best of luck after graduation. I am very grateful and thankful for everything she has done for me.”
Along with her cousin being impacted by her example, Brooklyn Redd, a senior from New Mexico double majoring in graphic design and communications, said she has also been greatly impacted by Courtney.
“Courtney is the most non-judgmental person I have ever come into contact with at this school. Both she and her husband are super understanding and humble individuals."
Redd, Courtney, and Ben all participated in an internship together in Africa during summer of 2018. While in Africa, the trio began working on a documentary on whether or not non-profit organizations do more harm than good in poor countries.
Along with interning with the Nielsens in Africa, Redd has also had the opportunity to be a part of some of their photo shoots with their company. “Being a part of their photo shoot was super fun. They help you to feel comfortable, and it is easy to be yourself. You can tell they really care about their business and are passionate about their work. They are genuinely good people."
Redd said she enjoys being friends with the Nielsens. She said she is grateful for their example of humbleness and gratitude. “They are my hippie friends- Courtney and I do yoga together and drink kombucha.”
Redd explained she is super close with both Courtney and Ben, and she will miss them when they graduate and leave Oahu, but knows they will make it far with their business. “Courtney is one of my best friends. She has helped me through some of the most difficult situations and has been so patient with me as well as a great listener.”