Category Archives: Alumni Profile

Alumni Profile: Marnie Breckenridge, Performing Thoughts, Hopes, & Dreams

Marnie Breckenridge is an internationally acclaimed soprano from St. Helena. Growing up, she loved singing and was a natural performer, and her teachers throughout high school and college told her that she could do this professionally. While attending PUC, Marnie majored in music and performed solo many times for vespers and church, which helped her understand what it takes to perform. Since graduating in 1993 with a BS in music, she has been traveling the world working in opera and theatre, performing at Carnegie Hall, and winning the prestige’s San Francisco Conservatory of Music Alumni of the Year award in 2013.

Tell us about being an internationally acclaimed soprano. What do you enjoy most about what you do? What’s the most challenging? 

There’s something truly exhilarating to me about embodying a character in an opera or theatre work— singing their thoughts, hopes, and dreams — being an advocate and vessel for the music as well as for the journey of the specific character and the overall gestalt of the opera — it really floats my boat! When I’m on stage, in costume, making LIVE music with a huge group of people within the machine (takes so many people to make it happen – from costumers, makeup designers, set designers, director, lights, orchestra, conductor, other singers, etc.) it feels as if we, together, can stop time and offer insights on how to change the world with our intentions and vibrations for that moment/hour/performance time. I believe in theatre as a way to enlighten us and awaken us to the many and varied ways in which we can evolve to be better, more empathetic, and loving humans.

I also truly enjoy traveling and seeing the world…but only for about 3 days solo (having my thoughts to myself (silence) and sleeping in — skipping the 6:30 AM wake up and carpooling to school). But after a little time alone to get the lay of the land in the new city, I miss my husband (Alex) and two children (Gus, 12, and Alexa 10) way too much. The biggest downside to traveling and being away for long periods of time is the loneliness. However, when the kids aren’t in school and have a moment to join me, there are many wonderful educational experiences for them to soak up.

What inspired you to become a singer?

I’m not sure exactly what inspired me to become a singer. I think I have just always been one. Like it’s just who I am. Marnie the singer. My parents tell me that I was always singing. I used to line my stuffed animals up in my bedroom as a 7-year-old and sing to them for hours and hours. I would make up stories and sing those stories to them….tears streaming down my face in dramatically imaginative moments and all. I wanted to be “the next Barbra Streisand” when I grew up. Haha! But as I went to PAJA (Pomona Adventist Junior Academy) then MBA (Monterey Bay Academy) then PUC – my dear teachers always encouraged me to sing solos…and a few of them here and there even said little things like, ‘you could do this professionally’, etc. But instead of Contemporary Christian or Broadway, I leaned more towards Classical as I came from the liturgical world of singing in church. Mom was an organist and also sang (beautiful mezzo-soprano voice). Also, my mom’s cousins (a few times removed) were the Hooper family as well as Maurita Phillips Thornburgh. Wayne Hooper wrote such beautiful songs. Maurita sang a lot of his music. She inspired me to think about classical singing as that was the style she had mastered so beautifully. And I was more moved and got more goosebumps while listening to classical music and opera, so that’s the direction I went. I had studied pre-med for like 5 minutes my freshman year then realized quickly I needed to succumb to my own natural talents and leave o-chem, phlebotomy, and biology tests to someone else.

You’ve performed at Carnegie Hall. Can you share with us what that experience was like? 

Carnegie is a great hall. The acoustics are just splendid. Easy place to stand and express knowing the sound will carry in that perfectly reverberant place. When I was a sophomore at PUC, our Pro Musica group sang in a large choir (with other schools) at Carnegie Hall in John Rutter’s “Requiem”. I remember sitting in the audience while another choir was rehearsing, and I said to myself, “I’m going to sing solo in this hall someday”. When it finally happened, it was for the soprano solos in Mozart’s “Coronation Mass”, and mostly it was a really fun experience. I got the new gown, did the hair and nails, took cheeky photos in front of my dressing room with my name on the door…the whole deal. But a funny thing happened- in that the conductor forgot I had a long cadenza (a florid addition to the end of a phrase) towards the end of my first aria, and he just sped on through to the next music as I was singing my cadenza! I had to stop singing it mid-vowel and jump to the new spot in the score. My heart SANK in at moment. Here I was making my Carnegie Hall debut, and the conductor jumped on my line! He made it look like I messed up! It was so sad! So I just kept going — which has been my motto: JUST KEEP SWIMMING (thanks, Dory). But let’s face it, Carnegie Hall is just a HALL. We assign so much ego attachment to things. Yes, I am a professional, and I “deserve” to sing in big important HALLS throughout the world. But would I be any less of a pro singer and actor had I not sung there? Consider, if you will, all of the amazing people who never get to sing in Carnegie or Davies Symphony Hall or at the Metropolitan Opera but they deserve to! It is a numbers game for sure. It’s who you know/where you are in that moment, etc. I only say all of this because although it did feel special to sing at Carnegie, and I’m happy that my life goal came to fruition, I’ve actually had much more artfully fulfilling experiences in little churches at the end of dirt roads, out under the stars by a campfire, or in a teeny theatre with no budget to pay their singers, etc. than at that big important hall. Were those other experiences any less important? I don’t think so.

What opera have you enjoyed the most performing? 

My most performed operas are Cunegonde in “Candide” (Based on the Voltaire) and Lucia di Lammermoor. Both have special places in my heart. They are challenging to sing, and both tell interesting stories about young women who were subjected to their ‘lot in life’ without choice. Cunegonde experiences every embarrassing and belittling thing in life yet emerges on the other side a more wholesome and evolved human. Lucia di Lammermoor is forced to marry a man she doesn’t love so the insanity of it all drives her to murder him then she dies immediately afterward — not before the townsfolk and her family realize they should’ve been nicer to her. 

How did your time at PUC help prepare you for your career? 

We had great fun singing all types of songs and styles of music in Pro Musica with Dr. Jim Kempster and even performed a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, “Trial By Jury”, while I was there. The many times I was able to get up in front of the whole school to perform solo for vespers or church really helped me get a strong foothold in understanding what all it takes to perform. I was also fortunate enough to be able to tour with Dr. Leroy Peterson and a string quartet to Norway and Sweden (which included current PUC orchestra conductor Rachelle Berthelsen Davis).

What did you enjoy the most about your time at PUC? 

I enjoyed just about everything about PUC. What fun years those were. The combination of independence driving myself around in a car in the gorgeous Napa Valley filled with fantastic friends having hilarious adventures with a home base of an excellent institution of higher learning whose teachers were supportive, kind, and encouraging? That’s what I would call an exquisite combo!

What are your hobbies? 

For many years, I have said, “I don’t have any hobbies” because I truly didn’t have time to! With everything I had to learn about how to be an opera singer, it felt like I was continuously reading books on opera, studying languages (Italian, French, German), memorizing the next pieces, etc. My hobby was STUDYING! But now, I like to include attending my children’s sports/theatre performances, hiking, ballet barre workouts, interior design/decorating, letter writing, and practicing calligraphy as hobbies! 

Alumni Profile: Brenda Mohr, Serving Through Music

Brenda Mohr graduated with Music Education in 1985, and was the first organ student to present her senior recital on the mighty Rieger Organ. She loved PUC because of the beautiful location, spiritual environment, caring professors, and the wonderful people who became lifelong friends. She is now the Director of Choirs at Loma Linda University Church and loves serving through music ministry. We are grateful for the time Brenda gave us to share about her time at PUC and working at LLUC. 

You were the first organ student to present your senior recital on the mighty Rieger Organ. What was that like for you? 

I felt very proud! It was such a thrill to play the mighty Rieger! I’m grateful to my organ teacher, Dr. Del Case, for all the opportunities he gave me to play the organ for church services, accompaniment for choir and brass and my junior and senior recitals. 

What did you enjoy the most about your time at PUC?

Weekly trips to Giugni’s in St. Helena, dorm life, and time spent with friends attending Friday night vespers; and Sabbath morning worship services.

Tell us about being the Director of Choirs at Loma Linda University Church. What do you enjoy most about what you do? 

Being the Director of Choirs at the Loma Linda University Church is an honor. I love serving God’s people through music ministry in a nurturing and thriving work environment. I get to collaborate with a lot of extremely talented musicians who have a heart for worship. The LLUC Music Department staff are a joy to work with. Each person on our team are professional musicians; who strive for musical excellence week after week. I am truly blessed to be a part of the LLUC Staff.

How did your time at PUC help prepare you for your career? 

My student teaching experience at Napa High School was the most pivotal experience in my undergrad studies at PUC that helped prepare me for a career in teaching music.

What are your hobbies? 

I enjoy spending time with family and friends. Also camping, hiking, biking and travel adventures. 

What advice can you share with our students? 

Keep Jesus as your constant companion. He delights to do more for you than you can ask or imagine. 

“PUC Is Home to Me”

Alumnus returns for music and education

by Becky St. Clair

Malek Sheen graduated from PUC in 2019 with degrees in English and Spanish. Though it was his intention to return and earn his master’s in education, the pandemic convinced him to wait a year. When he came back to PUC in the fall of 2021, he enrolled in both the education and music programs.

“I chose my areas of study based both on what I could give to others, and what would make me the best version of myself,” he says. “I wanted to be a well-rounded person, and I wanted marketable skills that I could use to give back to the world. PUC was the best choice for me in that regard.”

Sheen, who was not raised Adventist, was born in Los Angeles, and lived with his mom and grandpa. He attended public high school, and after his sophomore year his mom could see he needed a change. She told him he could choose to go to the Army and Navy Academy or he could attend Monterey Bay Academy. Sheen chose the latter, and as a result, was introduced to Pacific Union College.

“Knowing what I know now, I see that God’s hand was in that move,” Sheen says. 

Despite never having access to a piano growing up, Sheen’s grandfather was a pianist and had a small keyboard he let him use. Sheen was determined to learn the instrument, and has now been playing for eight years. Upon arrival at PUC, Sheen signed up for piano lessons, and though he eventually decided to work toward an associate’s degree in music, he wasn’t able to finish while working on his first two degrees. So, when he returned for his master’s, he was determined to also complete a music degree.

“Once I get my credentials I should be able to teach English, Spanish and music in public school, private school, or abroad,” Sheen says. “But there’s a lot of room still for God to show me my path, and I’m open to wherever he leads.”

Though he knows he could have gone elsewhere to get his master’s degree, Sheen says it was never a question that he would return to PUC.

“PUC has been home to me, and I’m tethered here,” he explains. “I grew up attending public school and it was so easy to get lost in the crowd there. But here, it’s possible to be someone. There are so many opportunities to grow as a person, not just academically, but spiritually, as well.”

Sheen says he’s learned a lot at PUC, but when asked to name one thing he’s learned that will really stick with him, he responds without hesitation: “God.” 

His college roommate was a friend from MBA, and Sheen says his roommate gave him space to question things, and opened the door for him to explore who God is. 

“He did it without trying,” Sheen adds. “He wasn’t trying to push Christianity on me; it was just who he was, and honestly, that made it an even stronger pull toward God. It just felt natural. I can thank PUC for giving me many opportunities to develop myself, but none, in my opinion, are as valuable as giving me the chance to learn to walk with God. That’s something I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.”

For more information about music at PUC, visit puc.edu/music.

Allen

Something to Contribute: Alumna speaks on Black music

by Becky St. Clair

The history of American music is infused with African influence, and it covers a multitude of genres, styles, artists, and composers. In an article on the Smithsonian Institute website, Steven Lewis says, “Describing the African-American influence on American music in all its glory and variety is an intimidating–if not impossible–task. African-American influences are so fundamental to American music that there would be no American music without them.”

And yet the standard music course at most American colleges and universities rarely, if ever, touches on Black Music.

“I’ve spent my life listening to classic jazz, gospel, spirituals, and oldies, but I didn’t tap into the juggernaut of African-American classical music until I got to PUC,” remembers Christina Allen, 2019 PUC music and visual arts alumna. “When I started looking for recital pieces in my voice lessons, I realized there are so many classically trained African-American composers, lyricists, and artists, and I’d never heard of them.”

Allen has always been a singer; her father, also a singer as well as a trombonist, began teaching her jazz harmonies when she was five years old. She was handed a mic and soloed with her church choir as a young child, too.

“When I got to PUC, though I was focused on film and television, I couldn’t help but find my way over to the music department,” she says with a grin. 

Allen found her way to a practice room and began singing. She was overheard by a professor, who encouraged her to try out for choir, which she did. At first it was just something she was adding to her course lineup for fun, but she quickly realized it was more than that to her. 

“I loved it,” Allen admits. “I knew I had to get a degree in music because I just love it, it’s part of who I am, and I wanted to study it properly.”

During her senior year, as she prepared for her senior recital with Dr. Eve-Anne Wilkes, her voice instructor, Allen knew she wanted to include music by Black composers in her lineup. So she chose a couple of pieces by William Grant Still: “The Breath of a Rose,” with lyrics by Langston Hughes, and “Grief,” music set to a poem by LeRoy V. Grant.

“Still’s music has been instrumental in my journey as an African-American female vocalist,” Allen says. “There’s something really incredible about the storytelling in it. The way he brings together the music just has such a powerful way of emoting stories that are really relevant to our culture. He gets under your skin in a good way, with room for thought and consideration.”

Allen points out that Still was extremely thoughtful about the lyrics of his music and about who he had write them. 

“His music speaks to the experience he and everyone around him was having, and that’s meaningful to me,” Allen adds. “Even with current artists in popular genres, the ones I gravitate toward are those who are using their talent for more than just entertainment. They have something to contribute to the time they’re in.”

Ambassador Status

It isn’t just Still that speaks to Allen; she also proclaims a deep and abiding love for the music of Florence Price, George Walker, Robert Nathaniel, and Margaret Bonds. And though her counterparts at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) studied these and others in every music class they took, Allen points out that at most colleges and universities, you have to search out specific classes about Black or African-American music. 

“It’s just not common literature,” she says with sadness. “There are brilliant composers from every ethnicity and we simply don’t hear about them. If we as a society want to heal in some of these areas in which we’ve been wounded and broken, we have to rethink how we educate. Because education is how we cultivate our values and mindsets and it shapes our perspectives of the world.”

Allen is a classically trained African-American female vocalist. Though there are many others who fit this description around the world, she knows she is still a rarity. And she feels compelled to be an ambassador for her culture–specifically for women of her culture–in classical music.

“It would be an injustice if I didn’t,” she says. “If someone is moved by the fact that the music I sing was made by someone who looks like me, I’ve done what I’m supposed to do. My voice is a gift and I have a responsibility to share that gift. I’m not just singing when I perform; I’m telling the story of African-American music–of classical music–and I want to share that story because if I don’t, I don’t know if anyone else will.”

Allen quickly points out, however, that she and her African-American brothers and sisters are not the only ones who can tell this story. For example, white people are not the only ones allowed to tell the story of Mozart or Bach or Debussy; Allen herself has told their stories and others throughout her musical career.

“We should be able to tell each other’s stories,” she says with feeling. “Anyone of any race, creed, shape, size, color, or whatever should tell whatever story they resonate with and that resonates with them. In telling the story and sharing, it’s a fight for equality. We have importance just like everyone else, and there’s value in that.”

It is, however, a special honor for Allen, as a Black musician, to honor the legacy of those who have gone before her. And it’s not just about singing music; it’s also talking about it.

Sharing Culture

Allen shares a story of chatting with a nurse at a doctor’s appointment. The nurse happened to mention that he’d been to Scotland, going back to his roots. Allen’s immediate response was, “That music is so soulful! I love it!” The nurse was taken aback by her description of Scottish music, surprised that she had not only listened to it, but had thoughtful things to say about it.

“We started talking about music and how it impacts our lives,” Allen recalls. “It turns out he has a radio station and loves music, listening to everything under the sun. I started sharing about composers I love from my own culture that had impacted me and he said he’d play some of them on his station.”

Intrigued and inspired, Allen tuned into the station later and found the nurse had kept his word. He even gave her a shout-out on-air.

“It’s so important that we share each other’s culture,” Allen emphasizes. “All of it shapes each of us, and if we claim to want equality and do away with racism on every level, we need to walk that talk.”

And it starts with education.

“We have to integrate our history courses,” Allen says. “Branching out and offering the history of Black music not just as a separate course, but as part of the history of music we already take.”

She continues by saying that classes shouldn’t just talk about African music in world music courses, but in all of them, and when studying composition, professors should be thoughtful to include a diverse range of cultures and styles. Lectures should Include Black composers and musicians, and ensembles should perform music from all over the world.

“For many–myself included–college is the first time we truly experience classical music,” Allen asserts. “If not for some awesome teachers, I may not have had the experience I did with classical music. There’s something to be said for performing music from people who look like you, and being able to represent your culture. What we’re exposed to matters.”

It’s not just higher education, either, Allen points out; it’s a societal issue as the country tries to play catch-up and heal the brokenness garnered through past mistakes. And every little step forward matters–especially in education.

“What we learn in school shapes our perspective and we can’t make progress if we’re leaving out pieces,” she says. “I was greatly impacted in a positive way by the education I received with my music degree at PUC. I was completely cultivated in unexpected ways, and it’s forever shaped me as a person and as a musician.

“Music is a universal language and it has a special and unique way of helping you understand another culture outside of your own,” Allen concludes. “Understanding is valuable. If we dare to not be angry, and to be gracious and willing to continue the conversation, we’ll move forward.”

Some Black composers to explore, recommended by Allen & department of music faculty:

  • William Grant Still
  • Florence Price
  • George Walker
  • Margaret Bonds
  • Ulysses Simpson Kay
  • Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges
  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
  • Jessie Montgomery

Caleb Pudewell, Graphic Design Major

If you love the posters pictured as much as we do, let us introduce you to the artist who designed them! Caleb is a senior graphic design student in PUC’s accredited department of visual arts, as well as a design intern in our Marketing & Communication office. His illustration work is inspired by his passion for nature and the outdoors and when he graduates this June, Caleb plans to pursue a career with an outdoor company or creative agency in the Pacific Northwest. With his portfolio of projects that also includes identity branding, publication, and clothing design, we are confident he’ll be another PUC success story!

To see more of Caleb’s work, visit behance.net/calebpudewell.

Alumni Profile: Robert Quiroz, Born For Service

By: Dana Negro

Robert Quiroz’s grandfather, Robert Moreno, served in the U.S. Army for 20 years; executing combat jumps in Korea with the infamous 187th Rakkasans, two tours in Vietnam, and was a purple heart recipient. Quiroz was named after him and knew at an early age he wanted to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and serve his country. Just months after his grandfather passed away, Quiroz lost a close childhood friend to an IED in Afghanistan. As he grieved the loss of these two important people, he realized now was the time for him to take action. After a lot of prayer, Quiroz joined the California Army National Guard on March 29, 2011. 

Quiroz knew of PUC but it was only while reading Fearless, by Eric Blehm, the biography of Adam Brown, a Navy SEAL who died in Afghanistan, that an idea began to form. The book mentions a young man from Angwin, Calif., and that caught Quiroz’s eye. The thought of completing a college degree was very appealing and it seemed like he was meant to be at PUC. Once he returned from military training, he and his wife moved to Angwin and began attending PUC.  

Quiroz graduated from PUC with an associate’s degree in health sciences, ’16, and a bachelor’s degree in health communication, ’19, and spent this past year working as a staff member in the public relations office at PUC. Towards the beginning of the pandemic, Quiroz received a call from the National Guard informing him he would need to report for duty immediately. He left his wife and baby daughter and headed out to help serve his country and community during some of the greatest times of uncertainty. We talked with Quiroz to learn more about his experience serving on the front lines. 

What kind of regular training do you have to do to be ready to serve at any time?

The National Guard is unique. We are dual purpose, meaning; we train for our units’ federal mission and our states mission in case we called in for a state emergency. Different units have different responsibilities and roles in case of an emergency, and it depends on your MOS or Military Occupation Specialty. My first is 88M or Motor Transportation. I joined a unit that was being deployed to do route clearance in Afghanistan. A job where you find IEDs and save lives. I transferred to that unit and became a 12 Bravo or Combat Engineer. That deployment didn’t end up happening so I switched my focus to our state mission and trained CERF-P which stands for Chemical, Biological Radiological, and High-Yield Explosive Emergency Response Force Package. It is a homeland response to a disaster, natural or man-made. The unit I was a part of was Search and Extraction. We trained to enter collapsed structures and rescue people. It was hard work, but we were able to train with Urban Search and Rescuer Task-4 firefighters from the Bay Area. It’s very important for the National Guard to work with other agencies because we augment their abilities. In the end, we are citizen soldiers and are a part of the community we serve. 

You served while you were a student and a staff member at PUC. You are also married and have a young daughter. How do you juggle your responsibilities at home, in the classroom, and work with the potential to be called in to serve with little notice?

It was tough. Especially when I first started school at PUC. My unit was always training and sending me places during the quarter. I really had to make one-on-one connections with the faculty and explain my situation. Most were understanding and really helped me out! My commitments really made me learn to plan things out. I always knew I would be away at least one weekend a month and that was the week I really needed to get all my school word done. There were numerous times I was called away for duty and it interrupted school. Those connections with the professors really saved me. 

It also helps to have a wonderful partner. My wife is amazing. It’s tough on her at times. The military has given so much to my family, but it takes time in return. I’ve missed birthdays, weddings, and special occasions. When I was deployed for a year, I missed everything! Even her graduating from PUC in 2017. That was tough. She is a champ and I am blessed to have her in my life. 

This spring towards the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic you were called in. Tell us about that.

It was chaotic at first. We had warnings that we may be called up. My unit first tapped eight people for a mission to support the Department of Public Health doing what they called “symptom screenings.” Our jobs were to screen the workers for any symptoms of COVID-19. If anyone showed symptoms, they were sent home. It was important because our locations were vital data gathering hubs that tracked resources and numbers relating to COVID-19 in the state of California. These were operating centers that couldn’t afford to be shut down, due to an outbreak, because lives depended on correct numbers to allocate resources according to the most severe areas. It was long days, but I felt like I was contributing to the fight. We were put up in hotels in Sacramento for two months. It was weird being the only people driving around since Sacramento was shut down. It was the longest time I had been separated from my daughter. I saw her twice during my activation. In the end, I was grateful to be home safe and COVID free.

Where were you sent? 

I was sent to Rancho Cordova for a few weeks. Our mission was to conduct symptom screening for the Medical and Health Coordination Center in downtown Sacramento. This center received data concerning COVID-19 from health centers all over California. Eventually, they went remote and we were sent to do the same thing but at the 115th Task Force in Roseville. The 115th were responsible for coordinating California’s National Guard response. They were receiving their information from the California Office of Emergency Response. Again, it was a logistics hub that couldn’t afford an outbreak of COVID-19.

What were you responsible for doing?

I was part of the group of eight that our company activated. I was in charge of the seven. We conducted symptom screenings at three separate locations. My job, in addition to system screener, was Non-Commission Officer in Charge or NCOIC. I handled information flowing in and out of our group. On ESAD (Emergency State Active Duty) orders many things have to be tracked daily. Food, fuel used, gallons of fuel put into the vehicle, miles on vehicles, who has the day off, who is sleeping where, among many other things. All that information had to flow up to a central person (me) and then I had to push that information up the chain of command. 

What was a typical day like?

At first, we would wake up at 4:50 a.m. to be on the road at 5: 25 a.m. Work started at 6 a.m. and went till 6 p.m. This was life for a while with no days off. During that time, we would put on some protective equipment and screen everybody who came in the MHCC. 

Once I moved to Roseville the cycle changed. I worked two days and then had one off but the actual work was the same. I also gave one of my days off to some of my crew at another location who had no days off. 

With degrees in health science and health communication, was there anything you learned in your classes or from professors at PUC that you were able to use while serving in the community?

I would actually like to thank professors Duncan, Vance, and Sung. Because of their classes, I was able to understand the various terms the personnel were using at the MHCC. My communication courses played a role in me better communicating with Army personnel. You really need to know how to approach people to effectively get your concerns understood. I was thrust into a unit where I knew nobody and only had one prior working relationship. In the end, we were part of a team, but it takes time to build that team relationship. The better you understand how to communicate across many levels and personalities the quicker you are absorbed into the team. Thank you to communication professors Rai and McGuire. Your  knowledge helped in many different ways!

What has been the most memorable part of serving during the pandemic?

I would say the people I met. They were from parts of the California National Guard I never would have had the opportunity to meet before. I met many people from San Diego, LA, Bay Area, and Northern California. It was such a diverse group that all jumped at a moment’s notice when our state was in need. It was really cool to see everyone playing a part and contributing to the success of the overall mission of helping the state function. I also got to share a hotel room with one of my buddies from my deployment. We were roomies again! 

Faces of PUC: Introducing PUC’s Newest Nursing Professor, Jenna Park

Jenna Park is a PUC nursing alum and enjoyed her college experience so much she’s back! Jenna is an assistant professor in the department of nursing. She started her position in July but is no stranger to the community. Jenna’s happy to be back in the Napa Valley, not just for the great restaurants, but being a part of the Pioneers family again. 

What brought you to PUC? Why did you decide to work here?

I decided to come back to PUC because I saw how close and supportive the faculty was even when I was a nursing student. I enjoyed my time at PUC and loved the community, so I knew I had to come back. Nursing school was the most challenging two years of my life, but it was also the most fun and exciting.

What is the best thing about being a part of the Pioneers family?

The best thing about being a part of the Pioneers family is I have the best nursing faculty team. Everyone has been so supportive and welcoming, and I feel like I adjusted fairly quickly to this new position. I also love how close I am to all my favorite places to eat!

Where is your favorite place to eat in the Valley and why?

Whenever I am away from the Valley, I always crave and miss Giugnis Deli. I don’t know what it is about them. There is so much nostalgia and that goodness just makes me want to come back for more all the time.

What is something you can do/want to do that might be surprising for people to learn?

I’m not sure if it would be surprising, but I am obsessed with Disneyland, and I usually go at least once or twice a year. So it’s been tough to be away from Disneyland for so long due to COVID-19, but I am happy that they are staying closed for the safety of our community.

What is one song you’re listening to on repeat lately?

I’ve been so busy I haven’t listened to a lot of songs recently, especially since I find it difficult to work or study with music playing in the background.

Who is someone you admire and why? 

I admire my mother because she came to the United States and provided for the family, even though she barely spoke any English. She was a nurse in Korea before I was born, and she came back to the career almost fifteen years later in a whole new country with different rules, cultures, and languages. She is now a veteran nurse, and she has gained respect from all her coworkers, and many nurses come to her for advice. She is the definition of perseverance and hard work, and I aspire to be like her.

Favorite movie to watch? 

It depends on my mood. If I want something adventurous or fun, I’d watch something on Disney Plus. Maybe it’s Moana or maybe it’s The Avengers. But if I want something classic, I love to watch Pride and Prejudice.

Finish this sentence: On Sunday mornings you can find me… 

Sleeping in or grabbing brunch at Gillwoods or Grace’s Table in Napa!

Alumni Stories: Working Through A Pandemic

We have been living through this pandemic since March which means the last eight months of our lives have been very strange! We have been dealing with virtual learning, working remote, wearing masks, physical distancing, and finding new ways to communicate and socialize. We decided to reach out to some of our alums to find out how things have been going for them.

Larissa Church graduated from PUC in 2008 with degrees in History and English. She worked for PUC for many years as an admissions counselor and as the director of public relations. After years of volunteer work, she decided to pursue her passion for helping animals, full-time. We asked Larissa how her ner job was going and how COVID-19 had changed life at an animal rescue.

I’m the communications manager at House Rabbit Society in Richmond, Calif. I manage donor relations, fundraising campaigns, and social media. I’m also the editor of our biannual magazine, the House Rabbit Journal. I started in late summer 2019, and to say my first year has been a whirlwind is an understatement!

I was fortunate enough to already be working from home a week before the state’s shelter-in-place order came in back in March. My work had the foresight to close early.

Like every industry, COVID-19 has significantly impacted the animal rescue and sheltering industry. We’re also facing a second virus, specific to rabbits, called Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV). For the first time, it’s spreading in North America in both wild and domestic rabbits. At HRS, we’ve had to change everything because of both viruses. We’re now indefinitely closed to the public. We shut down our boarding services and are no longer offering grooming services, like nail trims. Our adoption process has moved completely online, with adoption counseling done over Zoom and a contactless curbside pickup. I have an app on my phone that makes it look as though I’m calling someone from HRS when in reality I’m sitting on my sofa at home!

Since the pandemic started, we’ve had an increase in adoptions and foster applications, which has been amazing to see. Our donors have been very generous too, despite everything going on right now. In July, we had a successful matching campaign where we $20,000 in just four days! It’s strange to realize I have now worked more remotely for HRS than I did actually in the office and I’ll be remote for the foreseeable future. It’s been difficult to navigate this new normal, both personally and professionally, but I’m so grateful to be working for an organization and a cause I deeply care about. I can’t imagine being anywhere else!

For more information or just to see cute bunny pics, follow HRS on Instagram at @houserabbitsociety.

Larissa and Craig Church adopted Pepper, this sassy queen, from House Rabbit Society on Nov. 9, 2019.

His Passion, God’s Plan: How one alum followed his calling

By Becky St. Clair

Darrin Thurber graduated from PUC in 2007 with a degree in music performance on guitar, and a student missionary year in Pohnpei under his belt. He went on to earn a master’s degree in music from San Francisco State University, but ultimately, he felt God calling him in a slightly different direction. Today Darrin is a pastor with a wife and two daughters, and we ran into him again because, after several years in the midwest, Darrin is back in California, taking on a new experience as senior pastor of the Calimesa Church in SoCal. 

Let’s start with an easy one: Why music? 

I’ve always been very passionate about music, and I love performing. I also come from a musical family; my grandfather was a wonderful musician and sang with the King’s Heralds back in the 60s. My dad is a guitarist—he’s the one who taught me to play, actually—who loves to arrange and compose music. I grew up playing for church often, and I enjoyed it so much I would sit on my own at home and just play and sing. When I got to PUC, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, but I signed up to take a music theory class, and I was hooked from day one. It was so much fun and exactly what I wanted to study. 

So how did you make the jump from music to pastoring?

When I was studying for my master’s, I was the interim worship pastor at the PUC Church for about half a year. That experience changed my life because I discovered I could use my music skills while also serving in a leadership role in the church. I learned a lot about what goes into planning a worship service, including how to collaborate with various entities, people, and groups, and exploring a variety of music styles. It felt perfect to me, but God had other plans. He closed that door and instead called me to Ohio to be a preaching pastor.

What did that look like for you?

Well, I originally went to be a campus ministry director on state college and university campuses for the Ohio Conference. Shortly after I got there, though, I felt God tugging me toward the seminary, so I went. What followed was a one-year stint pastoring a four-church district in rural Ohio before we settled in Mansfield where I served as pastor for five years. A month ago, in June 2020, I followed God’s lead to fill the senior pastor role at the Calimesa Church, and we’re just starting to get settled here.

How do music and pastoral ministry fit together in your life now?

Music is such an important, central part of church worship. Having a background in music has allowed me to be able to dialogue and collaborate with worship leaders and church musicians to plan services, and I’ve also been able to use my passion for music to connect with youth in my churches. Because of my experience being involved in several different ensembles at PUC, and during my time as worship pastor there, I can relate to a lot of people’s church music experiences and preferences, and it helps me as a pastor be able to meet their worship needs in a meaningful way.

How do you feel your overall experience at PUC prepared you for your life after college?

Oh man, PUC prepared me in so many ways. I had numerous opportunities to really grow my leadership skills and grow in my areas of interest—namely, music and sports—in a spiritual environment. Both of these things took a lot of my time in college, but they also taught me work ethic, commitment, and hard work. Both music and being on the basketball team taught me success doesn’t just come magically; I have to put in the time and effort to see results. All of that has benefited my pastoring a lot, as I’ve learned to prepare church services and sermons and help coordinate ministries and outreach programs.

Let’s take that a bit further: How do you feel the spiritual environment at PUC was beneficial?

Practicing these skills in a spiritual context prepared me to continue doing so as a pastor, and showed me that the best way in which to apply my passions and gifts is in a spiritual context. Music, leadership, and working hard toward something mean the most in a spiritual environment where you impact people for the Lord. I developed a lot of spirituality at PUC.

Today, as an adult, a pastor, a husband, and a dad, where or when do you feel closest to God?

The process of writing a sermon and preaching week after week is grueling, but it forces me to really depend on God in a way that’s so unique from other parts of my devotional life. Almost every week I tell God, “I can’t do that again. I have no more ideas. I’m spent.” And every week, without fail, he gives me something. He shows me his word is powerful and that he can use me even though I feel inadequate. The call to preach was never something I’d considered as a career, but the process of studying with God and being in prayer with him week after week are the moments when I feel closest to him. 

Darrin Thurber '07

PUC’s Newest Admissions Counselor​: Nicholas Borchik

Nicholas Borchik graduated from PUC in 2019 and has recently found his way back to our favorite College on the Mountain only this time, his role is a little different. After receiving a degree in social studies, Nic decided to join the Admissions team as a counselor. Now Nic spends his days sharing his love for PUC and higher Adventist education with future students, helping them make intelligent decisions about their college journey.

Note: If you’re interested in attending PUC or have any questions, you can reach out to Nic at Nic@puc.edu or any of our other counselors at admissions@puc.edu.

What brought you to PUC? Why did you decide to work here?

I initially came to PUC as a student because I had already built such a strong community here through my brother and some of my best friends who were a little bit older than me. I have chosen to stay in the area because I have grown to care so much for this school and what it can do for students looking to grow their education and their faith, and I am looking forward to seeing how God will use me in this position.

What is the best thing about being a part of the Pioneers family?

For me, it has always been the relationships that you can develop across pretty much every aspect of life, from education to food, fun, and faith.

Where is your favorite place to eat in the Valley and why?

Gott’s Burgers will always be one of my favorites. Nothing beats a Gott’s burger and shake after a long day!

What is something you can do/want to do that might be surprising for people to learn?

I have always been really into DIY projects. One of my goals for the future is to build most of the furniture in my house!

What is one song or album you’re listening to a ton lately?

I have been listening to an album called Living Room by a band called Lawrence quite a bit recently. Musically it is a super rad album with genius lyrics, giving you something different to focus on each time you listen!

Who is someone you admire and why?

I have always admired Jon Foreman guitarist and singer for the band Switchfoot. First off as a musician and lyricist he influenced me greatly in the way I expressed myself through music when I was first learning to play music. More importantly, as a man of faith, he uses his art and his platform to advocate and stand for things he believes in.

What’s the last book you read for fun?

Recently I have been rereading Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.

Favorite movie to watch?

I love tons of different movies, but one that I am able to re-watch quite a bit and that has become one of my favorites is Knives Out. It is probably one of the best movies I have seen in a long time!

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Finish this sentence: On Sunday mornings you can find me … 

Honestly probably sleeping in and trying to figure out something delicious to eat for lunch!