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Temporary Shelters: Long-term Solutions

Amy and Brady King with their architectural plan for Pallet
Amy (02) and Brady King (02) are living out the words of 1 John 3:18 with their work. As founders of Pallet, a public benefit corporation, they are helping to address a significant need: unsheltered homelessness. At the same time, Pallet seeks to employ people who have been impacted by the criminal justice system, homelessness, or addiction, giving them a new opportunity to grow and thrive. Amy is also the founder and board president of Weld, a nonprofit that helps system-impacted people with employment, housing, and resources.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

1 John 3:18
Amy King Headshot

Amy describes herself as “wildly passionate about social justice and social enterprise,” and she attributes her passion’s beginning to her time at PLNU studying with Jim Johnson, Ed.D. As a psychology major, she learned to care deeply about marginalized people and worked with Johnson to help children on the autism spectrum. While at Point Loma, Amy had the opportunity to be published as an undergraduate researcher, made lifelong friends, and met Brady.

Brady was involved with mission trips growing up and at Point Loma before he developed a passion for helping his local community. Brady was also involved in leading worship and playing club volleyball. He earned his degree in managerial and organizational communications.

The path to where the Kings are now was difficult at times. Amy and Brady married in 2003. After briefly working in Los Angeles, the Kings moved to Seattle. Brady went into the construction business with Amy’s father and brother. Together they had several family-founded companies. Amy worked in mental health and healthcare administration at several hospitals, including Seattle Children’s and Harborview Medical.

The Kings family photo

“I learned about the business of medicine and social services and started to really understand more about sustainability and service provision,” she said.

Sadly, during the middle of the recession, the family lost their construction businesses. Brady and Amy moved to Portland with their oldest daughter, Harleigh, who was around 4 at the time. While they were there, their younger daughter, Piper, was born. Brady got a job working with a company that manufactured tools. Amy worked for a private clinic. Throughout all of this time, they were learning different skill sets related to housing, manufacturing, and healthcare.

“We were working in two different worlds, but now they are smashed together!” Amy said.

In 2014, Amy and Brady founded Square Peg, a new construction company, which they just recently wound down. Although it was intimidating to take that risk again, they felt like it was where God was calling them. Like many general contractors, Square Peg built permanent housing products. What made it unique was that they chose to hire people other companies might overlook. In fact, more than 80% of Square Peg’s employees had recently exited the criminal justice system, addiction recovery programs, or a time living in homelessness. Brady served as principal and Amy as managing partner.

Two years later, Pallet was born. Amy and Brady are co-founders of Pallet with Amy also serving as CEO and Brady as the research and development lead. A social enterprise, Pallet is a manufacturing company that designs and produces rapid deployment shelters that can go up in less than an hour. They are used to address unsheltered homelessness as well as in disaster response. In addition to their speed and ease of set-up, Pallet’s products are unique in that they are not congregate units. Individuals and families of up to four people are each able to sleep in their own separate, climate-controlled shelter. The shelters are put up in “villages” where hygiene facilities, food, water, and access to support services are readily available. The idea is for these to be temporary housing communities, providing safety and services in transition to more permanent housing for residents. Pallet has put up more than 4,000 units in over 120 shelter communities around the world.

“Pallet is a manufacturing company that designs and produces rapid deployment shelters that can go up in less than an hour.”

Brady King selfie

The idea for the shelters came from Brady, who began to think about possibilities after Hurricane Katrina. When they were ready to realize Brady’s vision, Amy’s father, a mechanical engineer, helped with the product design – in fact, he was Pallet’s head of engineering for five years.

More than 80% of Pallet’s workforce has been impacted by homelessness, substance abuse, or the criminal justice system. A certified living wage employer, Pallet employs around 80 people, giving them an opportunity for not only income but also support, training, and community. At the same time, because Pallet’s employees have lived experience with homelessness and other issues, they are able to bring their experience and insights to bear on the company’s work, products, and processes.

The additional needs of their employees are what led the Kings to start Weld, a nonprofit that provides wraparound services, like housing, employment, and connection to community resources. Although Amy still serves as board president, she says she has been able to hand all of the day-to-day work at Weld to people with lived experience. Weld has just under 20 full-time employees as well as hundreds of others through Weld Works contract staffing.

Workers for Pallet building shelters

“Weld was recently awarded $9 million by the state of Washington and the federal government to create the first- ever comprehensive reentry resource center in the state of Washington,” Amy shared.

There is also a lot on the horizon for Pallet.

“We are growing very fast,” Amy said. “Of course, Pallet’s growth is bittersweet because it means displacement is on the rise and our services are more needed. But one of the things I love most about Pallet is that it is a social enterprise. We have the narrative and demeanor of a nonprofit but the sustainability and standards of a for-profit.”

To date, Pallet has mostly served the unsheltered homeless population. “Now, we are actively working with the federal government to provide community resources, employment, and shelter to people displaced by natural disasters as well as asylum seekers and international refugee communities,” Amy said. “We will definitely have opportunities to expand internationally over the next two to five years and create jobs in those communities as well.”

Also just launched are Pallet’s new upgraded shelter products, which were reengineered using feedback from people who have lived in the current models.

“The new product design builds on the successful foundation of Pallet’s previous interim shelter line, informed by feedback from residents of the over 120 Pallet shelter communities across the country and realized by a team of in-house engineers,” reads the press release on the new products. “The new line includes a 70 sq. ft Sleeper model and a 120 sq. ft EnSuite model, which is the first Pallet sleeping cabin to include in-unit hygiene facilities for populations who would benefit from this accessibility.”

Interior model of new Pallet shelters

Pallet is also in the research and development phase of looking into more permanent housing products that could eventually be made available to those historically excluded from homeownership by racism, criminal justice system history, prior evictions, or other obstacles.

“We are very interested in the housing as social justice space,” Amy said. “We want to further expand our workforce model around the country to allow more opportunities for more people and, at the same time, train the workforce we need to build housing. We are planning a new apprenticeship program for people who struggle with traditional educational environments, offering on-job training while they are working and getting paid.”

Although working with a population in recovery from traumatic life events can often be challenging, Amy and Brady are so grateful for the opportunity. For those they have lost to suicide, recidivism, or other heartbreaking situations, they have seen so many more overcome their past to build lives of meaning and purpose.

“For me, the biggest, most rewarding part is the workforce development side,” Amy said. “I love working with our people. Everything we do is to provide living wage jobs in our community. It is so rewarding to see hundreds of people in our local community as they go from ‘I don’t know what to do next’ to building careers, getting married, buying cars, and houses … Being present for that change is the best part.”

Brady agrees. “When we had our first Christmas party, we realized that our employees’ children that they had not met or seen for years now had fathers and mothers back in their lives, and some of them were getting their first Christmas presents because we employed [their parents]. They have clothes; they can eat; they have a place to live.

Pallet shelters exterior

The ripple effect is gigantic. And these people are so dedicated to helping one another. They continually give to each other.”

In addition to being inspired by their employees, the Kings draw strength from their faith.

“Early on when it was really hard and stressful – being an entrepreneur is really hard and draining – I wanted to dig in and understand what this calling was all about,” Amy shared. She took three days to fast and pray and ask God for direction. “At the end of three days, I was starving of course, and there was no magic epiphany. Then that night, I had a dream, one of the most vivid of my life.” In the dream she was standing with Brady and people in leadership in their companies, and they were all linking arms and kneeling.

Behind them was a sea of people who all had chains around their ankles that had been broken. “I thought maybe this was God trying to tell me we are on the right path. This was seven or eight years ago. Now I can see the faces of thousands of people and their children and children’s children [who have been impacted by our work]. It may seem small to us at times, but this work has a generational impact.”

Their belief in their calling helps the Kings through the hard times and the incredible amount of work it takes to run their businesses and advocate for others. With Square Peg recently wrapped up, Brady has more time to invest in Pallet as well as at home with Harleigh and Piper (he finds the time to coach both their volleyball teams as well).

“We need to keep going,” Brady said. “We are not done yet.”

The Rise of the Loman Empire

PLNU women's soccer team celebrates winning national championship
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was the Loman Empire.

After reaching at least the second round of the NCAA Tournament for four-straight seasons, including playing in one regional championship game, PLNU women’s soccer broke through in 2023 to win Point Loma’s first-ever NCAA national championship in any sport.

PLNU team in control of the ball while running on the field.
PLNU’s game against Concordia University Irvine in the NCAA West Regional.

The team was able to draw from those previous postseason experiences to help push the Sea Lions over the top and make history.

“There’s been so much learning since we’ve been here, seeing years impact years and one year impact the next one,” said Head Coach Kristi Kiely, who just finished up her sixth year in charge.

Notably in 2022, Point Loma lost in the NCAA second round for the second-consecutive year to Western Washington, who went on to win the national title that season.

“We are process-oriented and believe in growth, so last year was part of that process,” Kiely said. “Last year was very, very frustrating. Other teams were scoring goals with one or two looks at goal. We were tying or losing, or games were tight, and that’s a part of the process.

“All that learning, all those moments of disappointment. Last year in particular I remember being at Western and feeling like that year we were going to do it. Then we lose 1-0 again, and I remember telling them, ‘Remember how this feels right now, and I want you to make sure you don’t feel it again next year.’

“And here we are not feeling it.”

However, winning a national title, let alone making the postseason, didn’t seem particularly likely after four players suffered season-ending injuries during the spring, and the team started PacWest play 2-2.

Those two conference losses were as many as the team had in the previous five seasons combined.

Photo of Naomi Ellis, and her quote, which says: “When we started out on not the greatest foot, we just completely turned it around after the last loss of the season. We were forced to play to our absolute highest potential. We were playing with the utmost desperation, but we banded together instead of breaking
apart. It was really defining. That’s when we knew this was something different from any season prior.”
Naomi Ellis, outside back
(defender), graphic design
major with a concentration in
marketing, Elite 90 Award
winner for having the
highest cumulative GPA
(4.0) of any player at the
NCAA Championships

“In that moment, they just made a choice that it has to be better, or we won’t go to the postseason, that our season would end now,” Kiely said.

That was just the latest choice in a string of choices that Kiely said helped the team accomplish what it did.

“There were many moments to choose something else and this particular group never did,” Kiely said. “They chose this vision, and that means we’re going to have high standards. We’re going to hold each other accountable to those, and we’re going to care about each other in deep and meaningful ways. That’s what we’re choosing.

“There are a lot of choices you make in college athletics and a lot of sacrifice. Along the way they made a lot of choices. None bigger than the Covid moments and Africa.”

For eight seniors on the team, they began their PLNU careers in 2020 in the middle of a global pandemic, choosing to stay on The Point amidst tremendous uncertainty.

“They started their college careers in a dorm room by themselves during Covid with only 400 people on campus,” Kiely said. “Many of them were thinking, ‘Should I quit? Is this really what college sport is? The world is really in a different spot right now. That means for four months I have to be in a dorm by myself in this strange world of Covid.’ Honestly, it feels like it started back then. All those moments of choosing.”

Another key choice was the group’s decision to go to Africa this past May, serving alongside nonprofit organization Sports Outreach for nearly two weeks in Uganda and Kenya.

“To choose to spend your time and money with people you don’t know doing whatever is asked of you is wonderfully selfless,” Kiely said. “Then you jet off on many planes to another part of the world that you’ve never been to. They had the courage and willingness to do that.”

The bonding that occurred during that Africa trip helped the group rally together, even when results weren’t going PLNU’s way.

“This group just enjoyed being around each other, and Africa played a role in that,” Kiely said. “Even those who didn’t go knew exactly what was going on when we got back. They were invested and watched every video. When stories were told, they were able to participate. That storytelling, that respect for each other’s experiences and what they’d experienced together, all of it just helps. It helps with the familiarity.

Photo of Julia Pinnell, and her quote, which says:
“There are so many different things
we do together when we are traveling
versus when we are home. We make a
point of being together, playing mafia,
having team dinners. We connect off the field and hang out in those different ways.”
Julia Pinnell, goalie, applied health sciences major,
NCAA All-Tournament Team

“My grandpa was a college coach, and he always used to say, ‘You see a person best when they’re cold, tired, and hungry.’ Nothing gets you more cold, tired, and hungry than travel. Being around people when you’re tired of them and still being able to look kids in the face and play soccer with them or swing a hammer, whatever you’re being asked to do, that does something to you individually and collectively.”

The camaraderie of the group was evident in its response to its 2-2 start to PacWest play, as the Sea Lions closed out the trip to Hawaii with an emphatic 5-1 victory over Hawaii Pacific followed by an even more impressive 3-0 win over No. 5 Hawaii Hilo.

Those two wins began a six-match winning streak to close out the regular season, which was enough to earn the Sea Lions a fourth PacWest championship in five seasons.

“When a couple conference games went our way, on the last one, I woke up to texts from my players which is shocking because I’m usually the first,” Kiely said. “They were never out of it, and I don’t know if doubt is the best word, but there was a lot of uncertainty of can we even make the tournament?

“I think we lived in that uncertainty for a couple weeks and then a couple matches went our way, but nothing changed in our training or matches. They were still locked-in; they were just more and more locked the more the results went our way.

“We had dreams at the beginning, moments of uncertainty in the middle, and a lot of belief at the end.”

That belief carried over into the postseason, which Point Loma hosted for the first time as the No. 1 seed in the NCAA West Regional.

This group of seniors was finally able to get over the hump of the second round after beating PacWest foe Concordia, who’d won the last three matchups in the series.

Kiely said: “When we beat Concordia in the postseason, I turned to a captain and said, ‘You know we can do this right?’ And she said, ‘I know we can; we just have to get out of the West.’”

That 2-0 win earned the team the right to play the regional final and ultimately the national quarterfinals in Colorado, where they had played just a couple months prior.

Bethany Arabe, posing with a soccer ball, and her quote, which says: “We couldn’t have done it without the
group that came before us. Alumni
would text us and wish us luck and
the best. I would respond, ‘We are
doing it for you guys. We couldn’t
have done it without you.’”
Bethany Arabe, forward, biochemistry
and Spanish double major, NCAA All-
Tournament Team

A primary motivation for that non-conference trip to Colorado was the possibility of playing there again in the NCAA Tournament, which Kiely outlined to the team in a PowerPoint presentation during training camp.

“In that preseason slide was a picture of the Rockies, and in the postseason slide was a picture of the Rockies,” Kiely said. “We didn’t know if we were going to end up in Texas or Colorado, but part of the divine nature is I just wanted to do something different than the Pacific Northwest. I wanted to face a different opponent.

“DII is so regional that I wanted somebody else to expose something different for us to grow in a different way and that happened.”

After beating Seattle Pacific in the regional championship, 2-0, PLNU advanced to once again face off with UCCS, the team that gave the Sea Lions their first loss of the season.

“It’s divine that that’s who we ended up playing,” Kiely said of playing both Concordia and UCCS in the postseason. “Sometimes you need that extra motivation in a particular moment in a match, and you get to draw from those experiences.”

But that wasn’t the last divine moment for the Sea Lions, as after a commanding 3-0 victory over Florida Tech advanced Point Loma to the national championship, the defining moment of that final game was decided on a corner kick routine, one in which the team executed to perfection earlier in the season.

In the team’s impressive win over Hawaii Hilo, starting center back Jensen Shrout was nursing an injury, meaning All-PacWest midfielder Mara Sovde moved to the back line and freshman Grace Nelson entered the lineup. Nelson was then responsible for taking the corner kicks, one of which the team scored on.

So when Shrout, an All-Conference player, exited the national championship game through injury, Nelson stepped in once again and delivered a pinpoint corner kick for All-American Emma Thrapp to score what proved to be the winning goal.

“You practice all of these things that you never know when they’re going to show up or when you’re going to have to reach into the toolbox and grab out those experiences,” Kiely said. “It’s incredible that what we practiced in Hilo was going to show up, not by our own choosing, but that it showed up in the national tournament final.

“So much so that I could go to a captain and say, ‘We’re good; we’ve done this before’ and her response was, ‘I know coach; you don’t have to tell me.’ That’s remarkable to be able to draw from that, knowing we were successful before and we’re going to do it again. And then they did.”

PLNU soccer team running accross the field celebrating after their win.
The PLNU Women’s Soccer team celebrates their victory in the NCAA Division II Championship game.
Emma Thrapp kicking the ball.
All-American Emma Thrapp (defender) scored the winning goal in the national championship game with the help of freshman Grace Nelson.

Dr. Brower and Bethany Arabe posing with the NCAA trophy.
Dr. Brower with Bethany Arabe

The win meant Point Loma tied a program record with an 11-game winning streak, capping off a streak of five straight shutouts in the postseason, as goalkeeper Julia Pinnell didn’t concede a goal in her last 915 minutes and 35 seconds played.

“Julia was sharp when she needed to be at the end and that helps,” Kiely said. “Our backline was tremendous, but some of that is the ball just has to bounce your way. It was a bit divine.”

Achieving the ultimate goal in Division II women’s soccer was just another experience the team can continue to learn from.

“Experience after experience they get to draw from and it doesn’t just stop in the championship game,” Kiely said. “They get to do it for life. Life gets harder in many ways, and you have to pull from these moments.

“Whatever it is that we learn from this sport, we get to apply in life. Now they get to do that. A lot of talk about process, growth, experience and choices and drawing from those. That was wrapped up into what we did.”

And with only one player graduating from last year’s team and every senior coming back for their final season of eligibility, that process is far from over.

PLNU Women's soccer team, friends, and family in a crowd posing with their congratulatory signs.
Friends and family welcomed the team home after their big win.

PLNU Faculty Spotlight: Elda McGinty Peralta

Elda McGinty headshot
Elda McGinty Peralta still remembers walking into the sanctuary at her friend’s church at the age of 9 and hearing the worship band practicing.

“I was just overcome,” she said. “I felt God’s presence, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”

Peralta’s family moved to San Diego when she was in high school. She graduated from PLNU in 2006 with her B.A. in music with a concentration in music education, but she didn’t expect to end up back at her alma mater teaching at the college level.

“I’m originally from Tijuana, and I was still attending church there,” she said. “My thought was to go back and teach and be a worship leader.”

Peralta has, in fact, served as a worship leader throughout her career and in multiple locations. However, she has also spent a lot of time teaching and is currently a part-time voice professor in PLNU’s Department of Music.

When she came to Point Loma as an undergraduate, Peralta didn’t have much experience singing classical music — in fact, she had previously avoided attending a conservatory in Mexico because she wasn’t interested in classical training. However, God had other plans.

“I had not had much exposure to that genre,” she said. “It was very hard my first semester, but God granted me favor, and I was encouraged by my voice teacher to do a competition in my second semester as a freshman. I did really well, and it was a snowball effect from there.”

“I had the privilege of helping translate repertoire that had not been heard in public for 300 years… As a Mexican singer, it is a great honor for me to be part of bringing to light this cultural treasure that had been forgotten.”

Starting her senior year, Peralta was in the San Diego Opera Chorus for three seasons. After graduating, Peralta served as a middle school choir director before she felt God calling her to apply to graduate school. She received a full scholarship to Northwestern University for her master’s in vocal performance. While she was in graduate school, she married fellow alum Joel McGinty (05).

One of the highlights of Peralta’s career came while she was in grad school and had the opportunity to perform recently rediscovered galant music from the time of the New Spain.

“During my graduate years, [I worked] as an assistant to Dr. Drew Edward Davies, a musicologist specializing in 17th- and 18th-century music in Latin America,” she said. “I had the privilege of helping translate repertoire that had not been heard in public for 300 years. Today, with the help of Dr. Davies and the Chicago Arts Orchestra, among others, we have been able to revive this repertoire in various cities throughout the United States, and in the cathedrals where the music was originally composed, like the Durango Cathedral and, most recently, Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral in November of 2017. As a Mexican singer, it is a great honor for me to be part of bringing to light this cultural treasure that had been forgotten.”

After earning her master’s, Peralta stayed in Chicago. Joel worked in film, and she sang for the Chicago Symphony Chorus and Lyric Opera House as well as freelancing for other orchestras. She also served as the assistant to the director of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship’s national arts ministry, taught voice and piano lessons, and worked at a gym. Eventually, Peralta accepted a full-time job at a Presbyterian church in Evanston as a worship director. She continued singing with the Chicago Symphony Chorus and coaching singers as well.

In 2018, the couple felt God calling them back to San Diego. Peralta returned to PLNU as an adjunct professor and became a part-time faculty member in August 2022. She also serves as an adjunct professor at Chula Vista Christian University, teaches privately, and leads worship at her church. For the past couple of years, she has been a soloist and the vocal director for a show called Night of Christmas produced by Awaken Church at San Diego’s Rady Shell.

Even as she maintains additional roles, being back at Point Loma brings Peralta full circle.

“I have loved my job here,” she said. “I am honored to teach alongside faculty who taught me when I was a student here.”

As a voice teacher, Peralta says the most difficult part of her work “is motivating students to try something new they’ve never done before.” She frequently prays with her students during lessons as a way to encourage them and to ask the Holy Spirit to help them overcome their weaknesses or fears. This most challenging part of her job is what leads to the most rewarding part.

“We have such a diversity of students,” she said. “They come from all kinds of backgrounds and with all kinds of interests — commercial music, worship, classical. My favorite part is when I watch a student realize they can do something they thought they couldn’t do. When they discover, ‘there is freedom in my voice,’ there is a spiritual parallel.’ When we believe what God says about us, His power is made perfect in our weakness.” 

Family photo of Peralta with her husband and their two kids.
Peralta with her husband, Joel, and their two kids, Ezra and Katya.

For Peralta, having singing as her profession is a tremendous blessing. When she isn’t working, Peralta enjoys spending time with her family. Her parents, siblings, and in-laws all live near her. Joel and Elda also have two children: Ezra, age 7, and Katya, age 4.

Grand Opening: PLNU and the San Diego Padres Unveil New Biomechanics Lab

Baseball player in PLNU Biomechanics lab
On Feb. 5, 2024, executives of the San Diego Padres organization joined PLNU and community members to celebrate the grand opening of a new state-of-the-art Biomechanics Lab at PLNU’s Balboa Regional Center. 

The lab features 28 cameras with motion-capture technology, force platforms, and ball and bat tracking equipment and sensors. The technology comes from leading-edge companies such as Theia Markerless, Qualisys, Trackman, Edgertronic, and AMTI. The unique new space will allow kinesiology faculty and graduate students to evaluate players from throughout the Padres organization as well as PLNU athletes and others. The situation is a win for everyone involved.

Leaders from PLNU and the Padres in front of the new biomechanics lab cutting the ceremonial ribbon.
Leaders from PLNU and the Padres cut the ceremonial ribbon.

“We intend to use the lab for player development,” said Josh Stein, Padres assistant general manager. He went on to explain that modern player development involves the coordinated efforts of coaches and measuring technology. The data from the lab can be used to improve or maintain players’ health as well as to enhance their performance.

Padres pitching coach Ruben Niebla was in attendance at the grand opening. “The lab is important to us as an organization because of where baseball is going with data collection and technology,” he said.

Niebla mentioned that around 30 players from the Padres organization have already been analyzed during the off-season. During the season, players can be brought in if they have performance dips or are returning from injury. He also mentioned that the Padres have already hired several PLNU biomechanics alumni, and the joint lab should strengthen that pipeline.

PLNU graduate student Tori Lucht, who is pursuing her Master of Science in athletic training (MSAT), said, “As an MSAT student, this biomechanics lab will provide me access to a state-of-the-art education in the physics of human movement. Biomechanics will be my concentration of study within the MSAT program, and with this new lab, I will be able to get an in-depth study of this topic and further my interest in human movement.”

Lucht and her fellow graduate students are not only benefiting from the new lab but also from the expertise of PLNU faculty, including Dr. Arnel Aguinaldo, associate professor of kinesiology. Aguinaldo was instrumental in bringing PLNU into partnership with the Padres on this project.

Dr. Arnel Aguinaldo, associate professor of kinesiology in front of the new biomechanics lab, giving a speech.
Dr. Arnel Aguinaldo, associate professor of kinesiology

“Arnel is a leader internationally in biomechanics and kinesiology,” said Padres CEO Eric Gruepner during his opening remarks. Not only is Aguinaldo internationally known for his work understanding the biomechanics and physics of baseball athletes, but he is also an outstanding educator who won a teaching award this year.

Padres players Yu Darvish, Yuki Matsui, and Daniel Camarena were on hand at the grand opening. Camarena joined PLNU baseball team member Austyn Coleman in demonstrating the equipment.

Coleman was first up to demo the technology. In addition to playing for the Sea Lions, Coleman is also a biomechanics graduate student at PLNU. He previously played baseball for Cal State San Bernardino but still has a year of NCAA eligibility due to the pandemic year. Already the winningest pitcher in CSUSB history, Coleman’s breaking ball has achieved an even higher level of success with the information he and his coaches have received from the biomechanics lab at PLNU. The key was the technology’s ability to analyze how Coleman’s grip affects the break of his pitches — and then to make the data visible to him in a way he could apply. According to PLNU baseball head coach Justin James, once Coleman applied what he learned to his grip, he gained an additional six to nine inches of break on his pitches.

“The real magic of this lab is that it is a world-class space to meet the Padres’ player performance needs while also being a learning lab to train our 750+ students in the College of Health Sciences.”

As Camarena took over demonstrating, Niebla shared that a big part of his and his staff’s role is to distill the data they receive into such “bullet points” for the pitchers to work on. The result is that a multidisciplinary team of strengths and conditioning experts, athletic trainers, biomechanists, and coaches individualize feedback and training plans for each player.

When asked how different all of this is from when he started as a pitching coach, Niebla laughed. “So different,” he said. “We used to just say, ‘That looks good.’”

Now, Niebla can offer his players so much more information to protect their health and enhance their performance.

Padres pitcher Daniel Camarena pitching a ball.
Padres pitcher Daniel Camarena gives a pitching demonstration during the grand opening.

 Dr. Jeff Sullivan, dean of the College of Health Sciences at PLNU, said, “This lab is a dream come true. We have two incredible partners who came together a year ago to make it happen. The real magic of this lab is that it is a world-class space to meet the Padres’ player performance needs while also being a learning lab to train our 750+ students in the College of Health Sciences. All of our students will train in this lab, and our goal is to send them out to impact the well-being of this community.”

The new biomechanics lab is now an important part of helping the College of Health Sciences achieve that goal.

Pets of Point Loma: Savonia & Sisu

Savonia and her dog Sisu
Adjunct professor of child development Savonia Guy loves nature and understands the value of time outside for self-regulating and managing stress.

In addition to teaching at PLNU, Guy is a Kindergarten teacher at San Diego Cooperative Charter School, which uses a constructivist approach to education. At work, Guy loves to have her students spend time outdoors. There, they notice the details of what they feel, hear, see, and smell. Their nervous systems regulate, and they feel a sense of peace and calm. Quoting Childcare Exchange, she said, “Children need opportunities to slow down and pay attention to the world around them. Don’t we all?”

This is a lesson Guy’s miniature dachshund Sisu understands instinctively. Guy and her family decided to adopt Sisu as a new companion for their long-haired dachshund Woody after the family’s other two dogs both passed away from old age. Since Sisu joined the family in June 2020, during the stress of the pandemic, they chose to give her a Finnish name that can be translated to mean grit, determination, or resilience.

“We hike at 10,000-feet elevation, and she goes nonstop,” Guy said. “She’s a complete outdoor dog. For her size, she’s underestimated.”

They soon found that Sisu would live up to her name. She is a dog with a deep passion for adventure.

“We hike at 10,000-feet elevation, and she goes nonstop,” Guy said. “She’s a complete outdoor dog. For her size, she’s underestimated.”

One of Sisu’s favorite outdoor pastimes is paddleboarding, which she had done in many backcountry lakes and rivers with her family. About a year ago, Woody passed away, and now Sisu has a new puppy companion of her own — a little Chesapeake Bay retriever, who is sure to join the family on many new outdoor adventures soon.

Emmy Award Winner Dana Williams Displays Journalistic Grit 

Dana Williams reporting live
Dana Williams (‘19) sat on the floor of the ABC7 San Francisco newsroom. As a high school student, a counselor invited her to attend a tour of the station. Students, like Williams, watched as the broadcast was produced live. There was a breaking news moment and a scramble during a break to adjust the rundown. But once it all settled, the journalists did their job with poise and confidence: They reported the news. 

The name Cheryl Jennings would be printed into Williams’ mind as a key motivator for the rest of her high school (and college experience).

“We got to sit there on the floor and watch them navigate that breaking news,” Williams said. “The anchors had like 30 seconds to consume it. 

“Then the lights went on and they were right back on air with this poise that just blew my mind. After the broadcast was over, I went up to the anchor, her name was Cheryl Jennings and I was like, ‘how can I get involved in this? What’s the earliest opportunity to be here? I will get your coffee. I just want to be involved and I want to learn from you.’”

Often, the moment of clarity when someone realizes their future aspirations arrives at the least expected time. For Dana Williams, it was just that. Originally thinking she would follow in her father’s law enforcement footsteps to become an FBI agent, Williams’ abrupt realization that she didn’t want to go down that career path led her to find a new one: journalism. 

But the tenacity to make it happen is something she’s had since the beginning. A trait that seems generational in the Williams family. 

“My mom is one of my role models,” Williams said. “She is an executive at a company in Silicon Valley, [and] I grew up watching her work her butt off. She is the definition of a woman leader and I really really look up to her in terms of her grit and ability to balance work and life.”

“Similarly, my dad also worked full time in law enforcement. Watching both of them work toward their goals together and as individuals was really inspirational because growing up I didn’t know anybody who worked in journalism.”

“Watching both of them work toward their goals together and as individuals was really inspirational because growing up I didn’t know anybody who worked in journalism.”

However, after that one newsroom tour, she now knew one person and was set on making ABC7 remember her too. 

“I was determined then to do everything I could between that visit and the first opportunity I had to apply to make myself as attractive as a candidate as possible,” Williams said. “I did every opportunity with journalism on campus.”

When it was time to decide where she would go to college, Williams continued with that clear vision for the future. But she had two dreams in mind for college: getting an education that would allow her to return to the ABC7 San Francisco station and playing volleyball for the school.

“[Point Loma Nazarene University] really was the best of both worlds between both journalism and my sport that I loved,” Williams said. “Thank god that’s how I looked at it because I ended up having to stop playing volleyball. I landed in such a great safety net because I was able to dive right into journalism.”

During her first year on campus, an injury benched her indefinitely. That’s when she realized she would really need to lean into that future goal for journalism and make it happen because this part of her college experience that she envisioned was closing. She had to rally to overcome this loss and make that other dream come true.

“Being an athlete is all about grit,” Williams said. “You have to have grit if you want to succeed. You have to have grit if you want playing time. You have to have a positive attitude if you’re going to be a good member on a team. I always tell people: playing a team sport is exactly the same as being an employee on a team.”

Her sophomore year she became more involved in the scholastic side of PLNU by joining the school newspaper. She became the news editor and eventually the editor in chief her junior year. Alongside the newspaper, she also got involved in Point TV and Point Radio because that goal for ABC7 San Francisco remained locked in and focused. Williams explained she feels all the gratitude for journalism professors Dean Nelson, PhD., and Stephen Goforth because of their investment in her as a student.

“A lot of schools teach from books but I feel like in our program, a lot of it was learning by experience.”

“A lot of schools teach from books but I feel like in our program, a lot of it was learning by experience,” Williams said. “Write an article. Go do an interview. Look at this story. Tell me what you think of the ethics and legality of it. I sincerely think I owe a lot to Dean Nelson and Stephen Goforth. They really helped shape me into who I am as a journalist. I consider them as close mentors.”

During her time at Point TV, she worked as the assistant producer/floor director and eventually worked her way to being an anchor and then sports reporter. 

“Being part of the assembly line was critical,” Williams said. “It was such a great opportunity that Point Loma has that for students because I was able to learn and understand some of the minutiae of it while I was a student.”

Junior year came and this was the first opportunity she could finally apply for ABC7. The moments leading up to this one were brimming with opportunities on campus and the grit to follow through with them. Would it be enough?

In the interview, she shared a photo she took with Cheryl Jennings back in high school. 

“On that first opportunity, they gave me the position,” Williams said. “It was incredible. They said it was, in large part, because I kept checking in. I would send them a note periodically with some of my work. I endlessly pursued it, and it was a full circle moment.”

From there, one could say nothing could really stop Williams.

In between her junior and senior years, she was hired at NBC7 in San Diego. Balancing the editor in chief role, classes and her job at NBC7, she had to find the rhythms of a new balancing act. 

“My secret is that I just loved all of it. I just felt so in the zone that it was rewarding,” Williams said. “It was a lot to do; it was a jam packed schedule. But I felt like I was contributing. I was really proud of having all those different roles and being trusted with that opportunity. I loved it.”

“I felt like I was contributing. I was really proud of having all those different roles and being trusted with that opportunity. I loved it.”

Moreover, she also realized she no longer wanted to go back to the Bay Area. An even greater love for San Diego (and her now fiancé) kept her rooted at NBC7.

She started out as a story producer, then worked her way to the assignment desk. She later became a digital multimedia journalist and now she’s in her current position as a full time reporter. 

“It’s a pro and a con of working in the industry that what you do everyday is very intertwined with your life experience and the human experience as a whole,” Williams said. “That’s a pro because what you’re doing, it feels very relevant.”

“It feels very motivating to be in the know about what people are actually talking about day to day.”

Along the way, she also became the internship coordinator, being the person who could find and select the current students who, like herself, exhibited the drive and grit to make it in the newsroom. 

“One of my favorite things about being a journalist is being able to share it with other people,” Williams said. “It’s never been more important to be a journalist and so part of being in the internship program and helping to be the internship coordinator for these four years was so much of my passion for sharing the industry and how to do it correctly with the next generation.”

She was also an adjunct professor during the fall 2023 semester at PLNU; a dream she said she had since her time as a student. 

“I was so eager to return to contribute back to the same exact program that I owe so much of my career to,” Williams said. “The internship at ABC7 felt like a full circle. This is a bigger, bolder, better full circle than I ever could have anticipated.”

Through her reporting at NBC7, she’s won a variety of accolades, including an Emmy for her reporting on the Black Lives Matter protest that happened in 2020 in La Mesa. She said holding the weight of celebrating her coverage of what was a life changing day for many is a constant reminder of the impact and seriousness of journalistic work. 

“Oftentimes, our work shines the most and is needed the most in times of tragedy.”

“The difficult thing about being a reporter and working in news is that sometimes your most celebrated day as a journalist is somebody else’s worst day of their life,” Williams said. “It is a very delicate balance between those two things because while you may get to go live on national or get to win an Emmy, someone else has been hurt.” 

“Somebody else’s world came crashing down. Somebody else lost a loved one. That’s not always the case when we’re celebrated, but, oftentimes, our work shines the most and is needed the most in times of tragedy.”

And the weight of these stories, at times, catches up to her. 

“The con of it is sometimes it feels like it’s always there. It’s difficult to escape it per say,” Williams said. “I think a big part of it is drawing that balance. On my weekends, I try my best to be disconnected but still keeping up to date on push notifications or anything big that happens. I do keep my work phone with me, but I try really hard when I’m home, when I get home, to make that mental transition as quickly as I can.”

What she holds onto and is reminded of in the hard times and the moments of triumph is simple:

“You don’t get rewards for things that are easy,” Williams said. “It is extra satisfying that you were able to take a difficult, less than favorable scenario and you could be rewarded for that. That is the journalism that people really turn to.”

As for the future of the journalism industry that is increasingly becoming centered on streaming and social media, Williams has hope and is undaunted. 

“I think that the core of what it means to do great journalism will always stay the same whether it’s for radio or TV or computer or a cellphone,” Williams said. “Great journalism is great journalism. It’s balanced. It’s visual. It catches your eye.

“It keeps you entertained but informed. If we could just translate that great journalism to something you’re just going to scroll through where you already are there instead of having to seek it, that would be so exciting to see that come to fruition.”

Heather McClure’s Climb to the Top of Entertainment

Heather McClure headshot
There’s a scene in the 2000 movie “Almost Famous” when rising high school journalist William Miller sneaks his way backstage to get an interview with a rock band post-performance.

“Ah, the enemy,” the lead guitarist said. “A rock writer.”

Heather McClure (09) would tell you she knows almost every line from this movie. The charming story of a young small-town writer who gets his big break and becomes a writer for Rolling Stone taught McClure that even in competitive entertainment spaces, with some hard work and dedication, you can make your way to the top.

Almost Famous came out when I was in middle school,” McClure said. “I [thought], ‘this is perfect. I’m going to write for Rolling Stone magazine.’ That’s what I want to do. That was the start of it.”

McClure began her journalism journey as the editor in chief of her high school newspaper, and in her senior year she was invited to attend a national journalism competition that was taking place in San Diego. 

A sports medicine teacher at her high school, who graduated from PLNU, was actually the first one to spark McClure’s curiosity in sunny San Diego, and when she attended the national competition, she knew this was the place to be.

“It just sort of felt like, ‘Yes of course, why would I not make that a goal and something I can go do?’” McClure said. ‘All of that to say, Point Loma was the only place I wanted to go.” 

As someone who always loved writing, McClure found PLNU’s journalism and liberal arts education to fit her desires and goals for her time in college. However, that dream of becoming the next William Miller shifted to something different, something a bit more tangible.

“The more I took creative writing classes alongside journalism classes, the more I sort of got to know what was entailed in both types of writing, [and] the less I was actually interested in journalism,” McClure said. “I definitely found myself more interested in creative writing and visual storytelling; the more colorful art of writing. 

“It was a bit more of a creative, free flowing space that resonated with me.”

“It was a bit more of a creative, free flowing space that resonated with me.”

After an impactful LoveWorks trip to Rwanda and the Congo during her junior year, she decided to do a research project on western news coverage of genocide. And this led her to want to pivot from journalism into working for a nonprofit. 

However, following the 2008 recession, McClure struggled to find a job as she graduated in 2009.

“It sort of felt like, when I was coming out of school, the things I wanted to do in communications and the sectors of nonprofits, your options were you could be an intern for free or have 20 years of experience,” McClure said. “What do you do in the middle? How do you get in?”

Heather and her husband at the Emmys.

Still interested in making an impact through a nonprofit and wanting to retain opportunities to be part of storytelling and writing, she did what most recent graduates do. She worked at a coffee shop. And when she felt herself getting lost in the grounds of coffee and endless orders, she reconnected with a friend who was moving to Los Angeles to become an actress.

McClure took the train to Los Angeles, leaving the coffee shop on Talbot St behind and setting her sights on what Los Angeles could offer. Perhaps, it was time to revisit the William Miller dream?

“I remember walking into the Capitol Records building and thinking I could hand my resume and cover letter to somebody and they’d read it, listen and give me an interview,” McClure said. “I walked into the building and they were like, ‘What are you doing here?’ I was like, ‘I’m just applying for this job here.’ They were like, ‘Yeah, use the internet. We don’t care. Go away.’”

Moments like this and the continual struggle to find employment were the reality of LA, but McClure decided to keep sending out applications, and she says, perhaps by luck, something landed. Though, it wouldn’t be the music industry and Rolling Stones. It was an entry level production assistant role at a trailer house—a company that cuts together trailers for movies. 

McClure explained she would drive hundreds of miles per day to transport the movie trailers you see on the big screen in DV cams, which are like little mini VHS tapes, to and from the creative agency in West LA to the San Fernando Valley and put it in the hands of an executive who watched and approved the trailer.

“Before I even got back to my side of town, that executive would probably be calling my company in creative roles and say, ‘Okay I got the cut and we need to make these changes,’” McClure said. “Your editor makes the changes. By the time I got back, I had a DV cam ready for me to go back around.”

McClure spent roughly eight years working for this trailer house and realized her spot at the top would only be secured by working her way up. Though she no longer desired to make it as a rock writer, her love for music and storytelling stuck with her. 

“The way I made myself valuable in my early years at my company was I just found holes, things that maybe didn’t have someone owning them and I was interested in and help give my services to.”

“The way I made myself valuable in my early years at my company was I just found holes, things that maybe didn’t have someone owning them and I was interested in and help give my services to,” McClure said. “At the time, we didn’t have a music supervisor, so I was like, ‘Well let me learn more about this and see if I can help pull music for editors while I was still a production assistant.’”

She eventually became a creative director at the trailer house through her innovative and hard work. And after the trailer house shuttered, she landed at the top. This was it. Primetime at Amazon Studios.

Heather and her team smile in a MMA ring for the filming of the Terminalist

“I oversee marketing campaigns [with] 360 creative oversight,” McClure said. “I strategically figure out what a campaign needs, who would be best to work on it, and reach out to agencies. I see through the life cycle of that.”

She holds a role working in global creative advertising for film and television at Amazon Studios. Through forming the creative marketing campaigns for Amazon Studios, she and her team have been nominated for an Emmy and won a variety of industry recognition with the Clio Entertainment Awards, Clio Music Awards, Promax, and The Golden Trailer Awards.

While the vision has changed from her high school aspirations, McClure said she’s proud of the ways her work is bringing Amazon Studios to the forefront of entertainment. She’s worked on acclaimed films and shows like “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, “Honey Boy,” “Fallout” and “The Terminal List.” 

“I’m just excited to be part of a place that’s continually evolving, growing, adapting and putting itself on the map in the entertainment space,” McClure said. “I feel excited to be part of the creative team that’s making it all happen.”

Heather and a group of friends at The Tomorrow War film premiere.

It’s only up for this PLNU alum who has already made it to the top in this industry.

Her advice for students: “As much as this is a cliche or typical answer, it is about who you know,” McClure said. “Not to say that if you don’t know somebody or anybody, too bad, good luck, you’re not going to make it.

“But, that networking, that hustling, that grinding, is the number one thing that should be the focus. I found my way in here by luck in some ways but I worked my way up.”

Angelina Barrera Supports Multilingual Students as an ESL Specialist

Angelina Barrera and family at PLNU's graduation
Angelina Barrera (23) is making waves in the city of San Diego with her passion for students. She is an English as a second language (ESL) student advocate specialist for Southwestern College.

Through her experience with education as both a student and an educator, she became increasingly passionate about the role educational institutions have in creating spaces for students who speak English as a second language in navigating new cultures. For Barrera, home is not just in the house, but in the spaces we grow. Her journey as a student mentor began over 13 years ago.

Before starting as a student, she experienced a lifestyle change when she moved from Tijuana, Mexico.

“At the time I was 18 years old,” Barrerra said. “Despite the fact that I was born in Chula Vista, my entire childhood and adolescence was in Tijuana.” 

Angelian Barrera receives recognition from Bob Brower at PLNU graduation

She explained that as her parents pursued their U.S. residency, their family moved from Tijuana to San Diego. As she started to build her new life,  Barrera was struggling to navigate U.S. culture and language, which continued when she started attending Southwestern College. However, she soon found a deep fulfillment in education and the people who were ready and willing to help her. 

During her undergraduate years, she was accepted into a student position working in the financial aid office. Taking on this job gave her a great opportunity to learn while still growing her English vocabulary. When she talks about her experience, she makes it clear that her undergraduate career welcomed and guided into her next stage of life. 

“Southwestern College is my second home,” Barrera said. “This community college opened its doors to me when I moved to the U.S. I have learned so much throughout my journey [there] I have learned how to become a student and a professional at the same time.” 

In her years after undergrad, Barrera started studying for her master’s in higher education at PLNU. She explained that the mentors and support she encountered helped to open her up to new opportunities, including Ricardo Ramos, Ph.D., the program director for the M.A./M.S. in Higher Education.

“I feel like I have become a more compassionate person,” Barrera said. “I had amazing professors and mentors, and extremely caring directors in my [higher education] program. I am so thankful for all the support that Dr. Ricardo Ramos has given me during my time at PLNU in the [Master’s in] Higher Education [program]. He is such an amazing, caring person!”

“When I saw the opening published, I did not think twice. I knew right away that this is meant to be for me.”

During this time, Barrera had the opportunity to take on her current role at Southwestern College as an ESL student advocate specialist. In this position, she provides support to students who are trying to navigate higher education in a non-primary language and culture. She described her main goals as being to “guide, coach, and support the community of English language learners throughout their college journey.”

“It is not common to have advocates at community college level who serve the community of ESL students, which is why this position is key to the success of non-English speaking students in college,” Barrera said. “When I saw the opening published, I did not think twice. I knew right away that this is meant to be for me.” 

Having an ESL student advocate specialist is a great way for colleges and universities  to provide extra resources for students. Barrera advocates for mentors to go above and beyond in their position of leadership. 

“[A mentor for students] in a very complex society needs to be a person who is passionate about helping others and really cares about the students’ well-being,” she said. “Someone who is willing to go above and beyond to help this community of students, ESL students or any students in general.” 

Angelina Barrera receives  People's Choice Award as a Pioneer In Education

As time went on, the welcome that she experienced in her college education became a goal for each student she met in her work. Barrera continues to work as an ESL student mentor to provide the same welcome environment that she received as a student. 

Her dedication to cultivating this space for her community was recently recognized on November 2, 2023, when Barrera was awarded the 2023 Pioneer in Education award through the San Diego Magazine’s event, “Celebrating Women Summit.” This panel awarded 31 women leaders in San Diego with individual awards recognizing their impact in San Diego. 

The 2023 Pioneer in Education award is given to an individual who has and continues to carve a path to a brighter future. This is someone who is regarded as an expert in their industry, and is seen as a mentor. To Barrera, this means that she has made an impact in the field of education for her community. “I feel so flattered and honored to have been selected among other amazing, smart, and talented women,” Barrera said.

So what does a brighter future look like to Barrera? She believes that it is essential for ESL students to be considered as the world of education becomes more digitized.

“I hope that colleges and universities do not forget about non-traditional students [who] will always need extra support and motivation to continue their education,” Barrera said. “All students deserve to have the best education and opportunities.”

Specifically, Barrera points out that increasing the amount of free online resources and e-books available for students in online programs could assist them in an increasingly digital world. 

“All students deserve to have the best education and opportunities.”

After graduating from PLNU with a Masters in Higher Education in December 2023, Barrera intends to continue learning, and she plans to study Organizational Leadership at PLNU. 

Her story reflects that difficulty can be a way to become a better version of yourself, especially with the correct guidance. Barrera sees educational institutions as not just a place to attend classes, but a place for every student from any situation to have a chance to grow. The support that educational institutions give to their students carves for them the footholds to climb their way to a stronger foundation through adversity. 

“Not being able to speak the language and understand the U.S. education system has been a great challenge,” she remembers. “However, my barriers motivated me to continue learning and to push harder to be successful in college and in life in general.”

ESL group photo

The Way We Do: Faith & Science

“The Way We Do” is a series in which we dive deep into stories of how faith is impacted here at PLNU and where we invite students to come experience Jesus the way we do.

In this video, professors Mike Dorrell and Samuel Stoneburner from the Biology and Chemistry Departments share how the integration of faith and science is held both in and out of the classroom.

Navy Pilot Michael Chalfant Shares Heart for International Cultures

Michael Chalfant and his aircraft
Chalfant admits that while in high school, PLNU wasn’t initially on his radar, as he was looking to play soccer for other private universities on the West Coast. However, after being encouraged by friends from Escondido and his community at Emmanuel Faith Community Church, Chalfant’s trajectory shifted toward Point Loma.

Chalfant fondly recalls the day he first stepped onto PLNU’s campus, being in awe of the Pacific Ocean stretched before him. Visiting a dorm room filled with familiar faces from his hometown, Chalfant found a laid-back scene — surf videos playing, and someone strumming Jack Johnson on the guitar. It felt like an instant match, and Chalfant couldn’t help but think, “I love this already.”

“The atmosphere [and] the culture I found on campus was just so enticing,” Chalfant said. “I just loved the chance to enjoy the ocean views and the focus of it being a Christian school was an important aspect to me.”

“I loved the community of the track team and Point Loma … pulled me in as soon as I came on campus with its atmosphere and values.”

The Escondido native initially tried out for the PLNU Men’s Soccer Team, but after being redshirted, he was approached by head track and field Coach Jerry Arvin, who heard Chalfant ran track in high school. This prompted Chalfant to join the Men’s Track Team and run throughout his four years at PLNU.

“I loved the community of the track team and Point Loma … pulled me in as soon as I came on campus with its atmosphere and values,” Chalfant said. “Every class I had, I knew the professor, and I was able to feel like I was included. My relationship with God grew at that time [and I had] a lot of good spiritual growth.”

From Poli Sci to Navy Flight

After his first few years at PLNU, Chalfant declared a political science major emphasizing international relations by virtue of his love for the subject matter and thriving academically in related classes. This got him thinking about shaping his career toward an internationally related item.

A faculty member who helped foster this interest was the late Ron Kirkemo, Ph.D, who began the political science major and founded the Institute of Politics and Public Service at PLNU.

“He was the teacher for my first political science class and was really good about challenging me to take a focus and an area of expertise,” Chalfant said. “He presented a lot of political science subjects really well and indiscriminately and was someone who encouraged me to grow in that area.”

Chalfant had also always harbored dreams of engaging in creative work that would take him around the world. Initially, he envisioned contributing to renowned organizations like National Geographic or writing for World Vision; however, there was a lingering thought rooted in family influence — the possibility of joining the military.

Tracing back on his paternal family tree, Chalfant’s great-grandfather served in the military during WWI and his grandfather served as a doctor for the Army during the Korean War. While Chalfant’s father never donned a military uniform himself, he was deeply passionate about WWII history, and immersed himself in the defense industry as a contractor for a company similar to CACI (Consolidated Analysis Centers, Inc.) International — where Chalfant is employed today.

Chalfant next to a sign that says "Program Executive Office: Aircraft Carriers."

“I ended up thinking, because of my political science background, maybe I could go be an intelligence officer for the Navy,” Chalfant said. “It turns out the Navy that year had a shortage of pilots, and they [were] like, ‘Hey, come fly for us. You can be a pilot, You can fly aircraft jets.’ And I was just thinking to myself like, I saw the movie Top Gun. That would be awesome. So I ended up signing up for the Navy.”

After graduating from PLNU in 2006, Chalfant took on the role of a recreational and event coordinator for the City of Escondido. Concurrently, he enrolled in Officer Candidate School (OCS). The following year marked a significant shift as Chalfant embarked on his Navy journey, starting with boot camp and subsequently attending Navy Flight School in Pensacola, FL.

Once he earned his private airplane license, the Navy sent Chalfant to Texas, where he trained on a T-34C Turbomentor, a small double-seater, fixed-wing airplane. 

Following flight school, Chalfant faced a pivotal decision regarding his specialized focus as a Navy pilot. Some opted for the high-speed realm of Top Gun-style jets, while others gravitated towards larger aircraft handling cargo and diverse missions. In Chalfant’s case, he chose to become a helicopter pilot, steering his aviation career in a direction that embraced the versatility and distinctive challenges of rotary-wing aircraft.

“One of the things about being a helicopter pilot, besides the surf report, was that you’re also involved in a lot of humanitarian issues.”

“When I was at Point Loma, I would see these Navy helicopters fly past the school, in and out, and think to myself, ‘Oh, that’s the best place to get the surf break report … so they [helicopters] would be perfect,” Chalfant said.

Chalfant ended up moving to Naval Base Coronado (North Island) for four years, with the initial two years dedicated to aviation school. During this time, he had two deployments on the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) aircraft carrier, and earned Helicopter Aircraft Commander (HAC) and Pilot Qualified in Model (PQM) certifications.

“One of the things about being a helicopter pilot, besides the surf report, was that you’re also involved in a lot of humanitarian issues,” Chalfant said. “That’s part of the thing that I loved about it. You really do get that international engagement, where you’re engaging with cultures all over the world, and hopefully making things better for people.”

In 2013, Chalfant enrolled in the U.S. Naval War College to pursue a master’s in National Security and Strategic Studies, a degree designed to train junior officers to understand and operate in a strategic environment. He did so through the College of Distance Education, which let him take classes while working full-time. He graduated from the college with honors in 2020.

Also in 2013, Chalfant was assigned as the Navy’s Midwest Director for the Navy’s Wounded Warrior Program in Chicago, IL. During his nearly three-year tenure in the Midwest, he managed over 75 wounded warrior cases, organized an inaugural Warrior Care Month “Captain’s Cup” event, and crafted a regional web resource model. This model served as a blueprint, contributing to the integration of resources into a redesigned Navy-wide Fleet and Family website.

“Working with a lot of those folks was a great experience and rewarding,” Chalfant said.

Afghanistan Service and Cultural Understanding

Chalfant with military group in Afghanistan.
Chalfant (center, left) in Afghanistan with Ktah Khas

In 2016, Chalfant took orders away from aviation to enter a program that captured his interest in international affairs. The program, known as AFPAK (Afghanistan-Pakistan) Hands, aimed to prepare individuals to serve as advisors to the Afghan or Pakistani military.

Within a year of joining AFPAK Hands, Chalfant earned a master’s degree in Strategic Security Studies from the National Defense University in Washington, DC, which had an emphasis on South and Central Asian studies and the geopolitical events of those regions.

“My class probably had 20 to 30 different nationalities,” Chalfant said. “That master’s was more of a senior-level officer program [with] officers from around the world. We had people from India, Pakistan, Singapore, England, Australia, various African countries, [etc.]. Basically, anyone who might be a military partner could probably send representatives to programs like that. It was a great way to connect with people in a way where you kind of have a standing invite to multiple different countries.”

Concurrently, he completed the Diplomatic Language School, where he became proficient in Dari, the primary language spoken in Afghanistan. Following his graduation in 2017, Chalfant spent a year in Afghanistan, where he was embedded with an Army Ranger Regiment. This U.S. regiment focused on training Afghan Special Forces and providing support for their operations targeting high-level terrorist threats.

“I was really surprised to find out that I spoke the best Dari and kind of understood the culture the best of anyone there,” Chalfant said. “It was interesting because I would get Afghans engaging me on all kinds of topics and questions, from housing situations to remedy pay situations. A lot of Afghans would come up to be personally and say ‘Thank you so much for respecting our culture, we know that you actually care about us, our culture, and our values — I thought that was actually valuable.”

While Chalfant’s time in Afghanistan was rewarding, Chalfant admits that it brought its challenges. 

“There were times when we had rockets shot at us … [and] unfortunately, one of the advisors I was with was shot from an insider attack [and] we lost him,” Chalfant said. “Despite all these hardships and some of the tragedies, I enjoyed … being able to form the relationships I have to the point where I still keep in contact with some of the Afghan internationals.”

Right before he went on deployment, Chalfant married his wife. Upon his return, Chalfant took the opportunity to leave active duty and found employment as a defense contractor, leveraging his experience in aviation. CACI International, a company with a Navy contract, recognized Chalfant’s unique skills — his expertise in flying on and off aircraft carriers and his understanding of air operations. 

Chalfant with his wife and kids at the beach.
Chalfant with his wife and kids

Since 2019, Chalfant has worked as an aviation integration support manager, collaborating with the Navy’s PEO Aircraft Carrier Program Office to integrate new aircraft technology into the existing U.S. aircraft carrier fleet. Chalfant remains connected to his military roots as a reservist for the Navy.

“On occasion, I come out to San Diego for some training and conferences because my base is Third Fleet,” Chalfant said.

Landing Back to his Roots

Although infrequent due to work and often coinciding with the holidays, Chalfant cherishes the opportunities he has to return to his alma mater, as he gets to reconnect with political science professor Rosco Williamson, Ph.D., history professor Bill Wood, Ph.D., and Coach Jerry Arvin.

“I always try to stop in their office, say hi, and see how they’re doing,” Chalfant said. “And then actually, this past year [2023], when I was in there to see Coach Arvin, I ended up seeing Professor Rosco Williamson, and … he had asked, ‘Oh, if you’re ever back, I’d love to have you chat to the class.’ So [in Spring 2023], I came to his class and shared a lot about government jobs and positions, my career path, and some other things.”

Wood’s lectures on the Middle East and Arabic history and culture, according to Chalfant, played a significant role in developing his cultural awareness during his deployments on the USS Abraham Lincoln.

“The first few deployments, we were out in the Middle East, stopping in port cities like Bahrain and Dubai, and in Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran,” Chalfant said.

Chalfant also expressed gratitude for Arvin, who honed into the track team’s spiritual life and growth.

“I think he sent me a birthday card, probably for the first 10 years after I graduated from Point Loma,” Chalfant said.

Reflecting God’s Heart for All

A quote that Chalfant holds close to his heart comes from the theologian and Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner, who stated: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

“I see that as some kind of international capacity,” Chalfant said. “Coming from Point Loma, you have that relationship with Jesus and with God, and in my mind, God’s children are all around the world; they’re not just in California, not just in the United States.”

Motivated by a sense of privilege that comes with being American, Chalfant recognizes the abundance and opportunities available in the United States. This recognition fuels his conviction that the military, often perceived differently by many, holds a significant role in extending help to others.

For Chalfant, the military is a channel through which assistance and support reach beyond national boundaries; a service deeply rooted in empathy and a global understanding of empathy.

“Initially, [some] think the military is just engaged in armed conflict, but I’ve done more humanitarian [work] than actual armed conflict,” Chalfant said. “When I was in Afghanistan, we were working with Special Forces, which was very intense on the concept, but a lot of the work we did was not just focused on capturing terrorists, it was also trying to train the first all-female Special Forces group, and giving females the opportunity, if they wanted to, to take roles that were unheard of in Afghanistan. We [also] trained a lot of their medics on basic first aid, like understanding basic sanitation and basic medical needs that they could pass on to their communities.”

Empathy through Experience: Curtis Hicks Supports Cancer Patients at Their Most Vulnerable

Curtis Hicks graduation photo
Curtis Hicks, MBA, (22) knows that life can take people in directions that they never imagined. Hicks seeks to provide support for people experiencing some of their most difficult moments.
Hicks wearing personal protective equipment.
Hicks before observing an urological laser surgery procedure. 

Hicks is a radiation and laser safety officer for UCI Health. In this position, he educates hospital staff on proper radiation safety and meets with cancer patients afraid of the treatment path that is in front of them. 

Connecting with people at their most vulnerable isn’t easy, but almost two decades into his career, Hicks feels like he is doing exactly what he should be doing. 

“It’s very important for me,” Hicks said about his career. “I’m talking to people who are already scared of cancer and already scared of radiation treatment. Dealing with people like that all the time has changed my mindset on life, death, and God.”

Growing up in a military family, Hicks constantly moved from place to place. In the U.S., he lived in Ohio, South Carolina, Florida, and Connecticut. He also lived in Nabih Saleh, Bahrain; an island country on the Persian Gulf. Everywhere Hicks lived, he strove to listen and learn from people and cultures that were around him, including people from different walks of life.

“I think I have a fairly high emotional IQ because I’ve been able to know different types of people, where they come from and what they’ve been through,” Hicks said. “ When we lived in Bahrain, we lived out in town and we interacted with a bunch of local people. That really opened my eyes and helped me out with what people go through and how they live. I think it really trained me to be able to look at people from a different perspective and be more empathetic.” 

“…I think no one really cared to know what I needed to succeed.” 

Listening to people is important to Hicks, because when he was in high school, he didn’t feel like the educators in his life did that for him. Despite constantly moving, Hicks was a good student in elementary school and into middle school. But when he settled in Connecticut, he felt like his education was becoming more regimented and teachers didn’t make much of an effort in engaging with him. 

“A lot of it was just getting us ready for tests,” Hicks said about high school. “I had no clue how good I was or how much I liked math because no one ever challenged me. I could have been better and gotten better grades, but I think no one really cared to know what I needed to succeed.” 

Going into college, Hicks was prepared to study early childhood education so he could be the type of teacher to kids that he didn’t have. But just like his living situation growing up, Hicks’ college education wasn’t straight-forward. 

After high school, he studied early childhood education at Norfolk State University in Virginia, but his parents eventually pushed him to switch his major to something in STEM, so he started studying computer science at the university. 

Although Hicks had previously had little faith in the education system,  that changed once he stepped onto campus at Norfolk State.   Once he got his first bit of experience learning in a college environment, his curiosity in the subjects he was studying was unlocked in a way that it had never been before. Hicks finished his freshman year at Norfolk State with a 3.8 grade point average. 

“​​It was very surprising to me that I got those grades,” Hicks said. “And very surprising to my parents that I got these grades.” 

Although he excelled in the classroom, Hicks missed his family back in Connecticut. After a year at the university, he applied for a nuclear engineering scholarship and was selected, leading him to move back to the Northeast and attend Three Rivers Community College in Connecticut. 

Hicks earned an associates degree from Three Rivers and went on to earn a B.S. in Physics and Radiological Sciences at UMass Lowell. 

Since graduating from UMass Lowell in 2006, Hicks has worked with over a dozen different organizations across the country in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Michigan, Connecticut and California as a laser safety officer, physicist and project manager. 

Hicks has enjoyed his work for the last decade and a half, but in the last few years, he started feeling like he was reaching a ceiling of what was possible for him in his career. Despite his extensive work experience, Hicks noticed that the people in management positions in his field had master’s degrees — something he didn’t have. 

“Every time I looked, I was the only black person in my office.”

Additionally, he started to recognize that there weren’t many other black people that work in his industry and wondered what type of effect that might be having on his ability to work in more elevated roles. 

“Every time I looked, I was the only black person in my office,” Hicks said. “As of right now, I’m the only black person in all of environmental health and safety at UCI. There’s maybe 70 people. I’m the only one. That’s really how it’s always been.” 

While working at one of his previous jobs, well-intentioned co-workers approached Hicks privately and told him that the current management team probably wouldn’t ever give him a chance to take on more of a senior role.

“They’re going to say they’re going to give you a chance, but they’re not,” Hicks’ coworkers would say. “They have to make it seem like they’re diverse.”

After years of hearing the same thing, Hicks decided that he was going to force the hand of hiring managers. 

Hicks decided to get a Master of  Business Administration (MBA), all while raising a family and working a full-time job, and make it as difficult as possible for hiring managers and supervisors to turn him down for promotions and new roles. 

Hicks in his cap and gown standing with his family after graduation.
Hicks and his mother, wife, and three of his four children after graduating from Point Loma with an MBA.

In 2020, Hicks and his family moved from Massachusetts to California and lived close to Point Loma’s campus in San Diego. One day, he decided to set up a meeting with Jamie Hess, the current Dean of the Fermanian School of Business at PLNU, for an interview about acceptance into the university’s MBA program. 

Hicks initially felt self-conscious about going back to school 15 years after he graduated with a bachelor’s degree, but Hess immediately put him at ease. 

“Talking with her made me very comfortable in the program,” Hicks said. “She made me feel like this is a good program.” 

Hicks graduated from the master’s program in 2022 and now lives in Los Angeles with his four children and wife Shanelle. 

Hicks knows from experience that life isn’t a straight road. He knows that the valleys we experience can make people feel alone and helpless, but when he’s with children, patients or whoever it is, he tries to be the type of person that can put them at ease and let them know that everything is going to turn out fine. 

“I just want people to be OK,” Hicks said. “That’s why I chose hospitals. I want to work in a hospital where I can help patients, but I can also help the staff. It’s a major part of my life to walk in the path that Jesus walks and to do the things that I’m supposed to do as a Christian. I just want everyone to be okay.” 

PLNU Homecoming 2024: In Pictures

The PLNU 2024 Homecoming Alumni Awardees
This year we gathered on campus on February 15-18th to celebrate Homecoming, a time for alumni, students, staff, faculty and families to gather and celebrate the community and traditions that shape PLNU’s history. Check out some of the photos from a fun-filled event!

Photos courtesy of Marcus Emerson, Anessa Chirgwin, Jimmy Galt, Stuart Gardner, Bauman Photographers, Lauren Farer, and Anna Ivanov.