When not in the classroom, you may find her at her favorite spot on campus (Sunset Cliffs), enjoying some Thai food from Supannee House of Thai, or even having a conversation with co-workers and students in Culbertson Hall. In the classroom, you’d know her as Professor Arianna Knowles. Knowles is an adjunct professor at PLNU and has been working here since 2019. However, 2019 was not her first time in classrooms at PLNU.

“I came in declared as a psychology major, but I don’t know that I necessarily could even give a reason why at that point in time,” said Knowles (13). “I knew I was interested in people. I really didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do for a career though.”

Her time at PLNU was heavily influenced by volunteer work at juvenile halls with PLNU ministry groups and her time as a teaching assistant (TA) in the psychology department.

“In the psychology department, it’s such a personal study and so the professors really bring themselves into the classroom,” said Knowles. “I got to know them very personally, and it just felt like home.”

When graduation came around, her sense of home and an inclination towards what was next was shaken.

“I had a little bit of an existential crisis after I graduated,” said Knowles. “I felt like what I needed to do was go into a doctoral program and get my Ph.D. in clinical psychology, but I felt so torn about that. The thought of spending the next six years of my life dedicated to a doctoral program freaked me out. There was a part of me that felt like this was something I needed to do, this is what I ‘should’ do, but another part of me wasn’t sure.”

Knowles took the next two years off to figure out her game plan. During that time, she made a trip to Europe, worked in PLNU’s Community Classroom program, and as a result, felt another unexpected career nudge.

“In training for that job, I got to sit in on one of the classes in the community,” said Knowles. “It was a sociology class called Race and Ethnicity that Kevin Modesto teaches. Just sitting in on it as a staff member really rocked my world. I had a crisis of whether I wanted to stay with psychology or go into the legal field to work with the issues highlighted in that class. I took some time off and finally decided I wanted to work with people on an emotional level. I felt really solidly that I would enjoy clinical work, so chose that route.”

“I had a crisis of whether I wanted to stay with psychology or go into the legal field to work with the issues highlighted in that class.”

The awaited epiphany struck and instead of a doctorate degree, Knowles set her eyes on her master’s degree.

After receiving her master’s degree in 2018, she worked on her practice of therapy while helping kids on the Autism spectrum; she then worked for a county mental health clinic and simultaneously joined a group private practice.

Once COVID-19 hit, however, her career took a turn toward teaching.

While in graduate school, a professor mentioned she might be a good fit to teach a psychology course for freshmen. Knowles said she was excited by this idea, but that she also experienced a voice of doubt, wondering if she had anything to offer. A few years later, when Kendra Oakes Mueller, Ph.D., became the chair of PLNU’s department, she asked if Knowles would like to teach.

“It was kind of a perfect season of life where I had the time and space, and it just felt like such a huge honor to be asked.” Knowles shared that she continues to feel that honor, and finds a lot of meaning in teaching in the department that shaped her own journey so personally.

After getting through Zoom classes in her first year of teaching, Knowles got to experience in-person teaching last semester. She teaches Psychology of Personal Development (an introductory psychology class). Sharing her knowledge and expertise with her students has been a meaningful experience for both Knowles and students.

“This class is so deeply personal, and it’s almost like a jumpstart in therapy,” said Knowles.

“Soak up every minute. There’s no time like these years in college that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life.”

With her career of both teaching and also maintaining a private practice, Knowles mentioned that some of her previous students have reached out after taking her class and become her clients.

“To make it super clear, I do not do therapy with anybody that I am currently working with as a student. But I do let folks know afterward [about my practice if they reach out]. It’s a huge honor [to have students reach out].”

Knowles recently decided that this will be her final term teaching due to her growing private practice. However, she will guest-lecture within PLNU’s M.A. in Clinical Counseling program. Her advice to students as they navigate their time at PLNU is, “Soak up every minute. There’s no time like these years in college that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life.”

Fun Facts About Arianna:

What is a fun fact your students don’t know about you?
I live on a 34-foot powerboat.

Where are some places you have docked at or cool places you’ve traveled to?
Catalina Island

What is your favorite spot on campus?
Sunset Cliffs

What is your favorite food and restaurant in San Diego?
Supannee House of Thai

Favorite podcast and book?
On Being (Podcast)
Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (Book)

Lainie Alfaro is a student at PLNU studying journalism and international studies. She’s currently opinion editor at The Point, PLNU’s student-run newspaper.