Tag Archives: PUC alumni

Alumni Profile: Alex Chang, Publisher of ‘Your Corner’ 

PUC alum Alex Chang (B.S. in Chemistry with a Biochemistry Emphasis ‘19) recently published a book titled, Your Corner. The book is about his experience with missions- including stories from his time as a PUC student missionary. After Alex’s first year as a missionary, he received great advice, mentors, teachers, lessons, and experiences he felt might be beneficial to share- so Alex started writing during his first year of medical school and finished writing after three years. Your Corner shares Alex’s experience as a student missionary and is intended to inspire people towards the global and local mission, as well as a closer walk with good.

Tell us about your book. What inspired you to write and publish it? 

Everyone has a corner. It may be comprised of friends, family, church members, classmates, local community (even including the cashier at your grocery store), or a global community. I believe that God has called everyone to be missionaries. All are local missionaries. Some are called globally as well. In this book are stories from the mission field, thoughts on how to optimize a local or global missions experience, and inspiration to follow God’s calling and purpose for our lives.

This book can be used as a devotional book to prepare student missionaries for their service, to help guide local and global missionaries, or for those simply interested in reading about the experiences and lessons a student missionary on the island of Pohnpei learned after two years of service.

Additionally, I wanted to create a book that would help both local and global missionaries in each season as they prepare for their ministry, while they are involved with it, and once they are done with their ministry or time abroad. At the end of the day, my hope is that this book is an inspiration to embrace our God-given calling to be missionaries, either local, global, or both.

You include stories from your time as a PUC student missionary. Who encouraged you to be a student missionary? 

I believe it actually started multiple generations ago. My great-great-grandfather on my mom’s side and my great-grandfather on my dad’s side were missionaries. My grandfather on my dads was a missionary for multiple decades in Southeast Asia, and my father was a mission trip leader for our local church. Missions have always been engrained into our family identity and culture. The seed for serving as a student missionary was watered early from stories shared by my youth pastor in 4th grade, Garrison Chaffee. He shared stories of his time on the islands as a student missionary. This in combination with mission spotlight at church, church presentations of recent mission trips, student missionary presentations at Leoni Meadows, and eight short term-mission trips my family took me on really grew my passion for missions. 

What are your best memories of being a PUC student missionary? 

The exciting memories I love to share are swimming with manta rays, breathtaking sunsets with colors I feel like I had never seen before, racing dolphins on our boat, drinking fresh coconuts on screensaver beaches, and experiencing bioluminescent water while stargazing with basically zero light pollution. The deep, meaningful memories that come to mind are moments laughing with my students, playing ocean tag on an island with my senior class, being a human jungle gym at recess for the elementary students, singing songs with the high school for chapel, and hanging out with the 16 or so student missionaries every single day.

How did your time at PUC impact your spiritual life? 

PUC had a massive impact on my spiritual life. I always share with others that one of PUC’s greatest strengths was its support of its students in ministry. PUC made it very easy to get involved with worship music, spiritual leadership, or even start new programs or churches. A couple of faculty come to mind that played a big role in my spiritual development such as Jim Roy, Pastor Jonathan Henderson, Pastor Kent Rufo, Pastor Mark Witas, Pastor David Carreon, Fabio Maia, and so many other faculty. We had incredible support during the time we started the student-led church, “The 12”, and I had incredible support and mentorship not only in my spiritual life but also in my academics and how that affected my decision to be an SM. I used to meet with Kent Davis with ideas of finishing college a year early so I could go as an SM and finish in four years. Dr. Davis always responded with a wise, personally life-changing phrase, “What’s the rush?” I ended up staying an extra year in the mission field, met my now-fiancé that second year, and made even more lifelong memories and friendships. My time at PUC was filled with an amazing culture of passionately pursuing God together as a school. Vespers, church services, dorm worships, and the faculty all were very influential for me.

What advice do you have for students interested in being a missionary? 

Being an SM was hands-down the best two years of my life. My time as a student missionary gave me purpose, passion, direction, growth, lessons, experiences, and friendships that have filled my life to the brim and overflowing. In my opinion, the question is not “whether or not to be a student missionary”, but “where are you going to serve as a missionary.” Other than choosing to follow Jesus, I don’t believe there is a better decision than to choose to be a missionary. I would encourage anyone interested and those who had never considered it to pray about potentially serving as a student missionary.

What have you been up to since graduating from PUC? 

I am currently in my last year of medical school at Loma Linda University. I am applying to an Orthopedic Surgery residency this year, and I have dreams of returning to the mission field to serve as a doctor. I am getting married in the spring of 2023 and am excited for what God has in store for the next chapters of my life!

Life After PUC: An Interview With Alum Nephtali Marin

Nephtali Marin graduated from PUC in 2021 with a B.F.A in Film, and decided to stay on our beautiful campus to continue his passion for videography by helping out the PR department. Having worked at PUC’s PR office since his freshman year of college, he shares that being a part of the Pioneers family is a beautiful thing and a relationship that lasts a lifetime. 

How did you decide to work for PUC?

I decided to work at PUC for many reasons, and being a broke graduate is one of those, but jokes aside, I kind of just fell into it. To give you some context, I have been working for the PR/Enrollment office since I was a freshman. Although I mostly answered phones, got coffee, and ran other errands, I did do some content creating. Occasionally I would get asked to take photos for Instagram or the website, which was way better than walking 20 miles (that’s what it felt like) to the mailroom to promptly be told that they had nothing for me to pick up. As the years went by, I began to take on bigger projects, until I pretty much was the President, okay that’s false but you get the idea. So when I graduated, I already had experience working in that office as a videographer. It only felt right to come back, one because I love PUC and creating content but two because it was familiar, it was family (someone put that on a sticker).

What do you enjoy most about creating videos?

My favorite part of creating videos is interacting with students and capturing a variety of reactions from “I am a star” to *hides face. People are funny when there’s a camera present and it makes my job a lot more fun. 

Can you walk us through your creative process of making videos?

You want to know my creative process? That’s a secret kept down through hundreds of generations…but I guess it wouldn’t hurt to share. It really depends on the project but if I’m shooting an event, I’ll usually let the event guide me. If it’s energetic, then I want to bring out that energy, so that’ll sway the way I capture it, but if it’s peaceful then I probably won’t be running around doing backflips. Also, I always try to remember that people are the key. Sometimes I get caught up in the small details, and making them look cinematic that I forget to capture what really matters, the students! Taco night is fun and all but it’s not about the tacos, it’s about the experience those tacos bring to the students. I try to keep this in mind when filming and editing. Plus our audience is parents, alumni, and students, videos of tacos will get pretty boring without people. 

How did your experience at PUC prepare you for the job you have now?

PUC overall pretty much molded me into this job as I talked about before but as far as how my degree prepared me, well that is a different story. My degree prepared me for this job by presenting me with a wide range of knowledge and it was my duty to decide what I wanted to do with that knowledge. Because we are such a small college a lot of us here take on multiple roles, and being the videographer, there are times where I’ll need to do a lot on my own. This means I need to know a little of everything. The visual arts department did a really good job pushing me into multiple directions, which allowed me to do a lot on my own when I needed to.

What is the most valuable lesson you learned from the film department? 

The most valuable lesson I learned at the film department was trying it on my own first before approaching professors. We want the easy route, just go ask our professors or the TA but I was always encouraged to figure it out on my own. Although I didn’t always find the answer, it helped me practice learning things on my own. Once you graduate you might not have your professors available 24/7. 

What was your favorite class at PUC, and why?

I had so many favorite classes but I really enjoyed Typography I with Milbert Mariano. It has completely changed the way I look at type usage in the world. It’s everywhere! Not only is it a great class for creatives but for anyone.

What advice do you have for students who want to pursue film?

Use these few years here to grow and learn as much as possible, so jump on every project you can, get outside your comfort zone, and gain experience. Be kind and make connections, they’ll last you a lifetime. 

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

Bon appetit, that’s a no-brainer! Just kidding, although I do like their food most of the time. I personally really enjoy sunshine market sandwiches. 

What are other things that you are passionate about?

I really enjoy playing music, not very good but it’s fun! So if any of you are reading this, please join Wind Ensemble or Orchestra cause we need musicians! I also love dancing, socializing, and making people laugh. 

What is the most important thing you learned during your time at PUC?

It’s going to sound cheesy but PUC taught me to be me. Just be yourself and you’ll find people who genuinely care about you, and I found those people here.

Alumni Profile: Elijah Morar, Founder of Bedouin Games

When Elijah Morar was a student at PUC from 2009-2012, he was pursuing a nursing degree and took art and design classes. With a passion for art, he also had an interest in board games and would spend hours playing with his friends in Newton Hall. One day, Elijah realized that there weren’t many Christian Bible-based games available- so he decided to create one. While looking through different Bible stories, the Flood fascinated him on what the world could have looked like before the Flood. Now, he is the creator of the board game The Flood and the Founder of Bedouin Games.


Tell us about Bedouin Games. What was the inspiration behind starting
your company?  

I have always had a passion for tabletop games. I played Checkers, Scotland yard, and the Game of Life in the 1990’s when I was in elementary school. During my teens, I took a pause from playing games until I started college. While at PUC, I majored in nursing, took some art/design classes, and lived in Newton Hall. Most of my friends in Newton were business majors, and I thought to myself I could be a business major too, seems a lot less stressful. Yet, I continued my nursing degree and enjoyed those few art/design classes. I did not know that those art/design classes would pay off and that I would end up creating a board game in the future. When we hung out with our friends in the hall, we would play very competitive Uno and Monopoly games. The games would last 3-6 hours nonstop. Sometimes we would play through the night and try to keep it quiet so that dean Granados won’t come checking on us. He did sometimes 🙂. Part of his house was right below the room we played in. After leaving PUC, my interest in board games did not fade. One day while playing a board game with family, I realized that there are not many Christian Bible-based games out there. This is when I got the idea to create one. My wife and I sat down and went through the different stories in the Bible, starting with Genesis. We paused on the story about the Flood because I was fascinated with what the world could have looked like before the flood. I ran the idea by my brother and his spouse and started concepting the design and engineering of The Flood board game. This is how Bedouin Games was formed. We were blessed to have incredible artists help us with this project. Some of them have worked for famous titles like Star Wars, Skyrim, and more. Today I realize running a business is not as easy as I thought, and business majors face their own challenges.

What do you enjoy the most about what you do? What’s the most challenging? 

I enjoy seeing the excitement on people’s faces when they start playing the game. To me, the most challenging part of creating a game is bringing all the aspects like design, publishing, and logistics together.

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

I have always had a passion for art. During one of my quarters, I was looking for an Art class I could take as an elective. I noticed a photoshop class that was offered that quarter with professor Milbert Mariano. I fell in love with that class and remember doing extra assignments on top of what I was required to. This truly helped me in the board game making and design because I was able to learn how to use Photoshop effectively. I have spent hundreds of hours using photoshop to create the game design as well as the art for our Instagram and Facebook pages. Overall I really enjoyed my time at PUC, and it brings back very good memories.

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! 

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

What I Should Be Doing: An Interview with Music Alumnus Brennan Stokes

By Becky St. Clair

Brennan Stokes graduated from Pacific Union College in 2013 with a degree in piano performance. Having discovered a love for composition while studying with Professor Asher Raboy in the department of music, Stokes chose to continue his education at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, graduating in 2019 with a Master’s of Music in composition. Today he maintains a teaching studio in San Francisco’s Sunset District, passing on his love of music to the next generation of pianists. 

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How did you discover your love for music?

My parents are both musically inclined; they both sang in the church choir, Mom took piano lessons as a kid, and Dad plays the trumpet. They started me in piano lessons when I was in kindergarten, but there was always music in our house. I just took it and ran with it.

How did you settle on the piano?

It was the first instrument I learned, and it was a match from the start. I really liked it, and according to my teachers, I showed some promise for it, so I kept playing. Piano just made sense to me. 

How did composing become part of your musical life?

I always assumed I was going to be on one side of the page. I knew I was going to learn it, research it, analyze it, but I never considered creating it myself. When I found out I had to take a composition class for my degree, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but after our first assignment I realized how magical this process is and I fell in love with it. I continued to take classes with Professor Raboy even after the requirements were done. Creating new music was incredibly exciting for me. 

Tell us about your studio.

I teach 30-35 students a week, all between the ages of 5 and 13. My schedule is very flexible; since most kids are in school, I am relatively free during the day. I start teaching around 3 p.m. three days a week and teach until 8 p.m. I enjoy what I do. I consider myself very fortunate to be working in my field, teaching young musicians.

When you’re not teaching kids to create music, you create music yourself. Describe your approach to practicing.

Really, it starts slow. Paying attention to fingerings becomes essential; training my hands to do smaller tasks automatically. Then I focus on rhythm, hand by hand, figuring out what each part of the piece sounds like, then I put it all together. A valuable tool Dr. Wheeler gave me is reverse practice. If you only ever start your practice at the beginning of a piece, that’s always going to be the strong part. But if you start at the end, which is often the hardest part, you ensure the end is also strong. Then you feel even more comfortable with the piece. 

What is the difference between hearing a piece and playing it?

It’s a totally different experience to hear a piece than it is to see what the hands have to do to make the piece happen. You may feel like you know a piece after listening to it multiple times, but when you sit down to actually play it, you realize there are little rhythmic or harmonic nuances you didn’t realize were there. For example, the harmonies in some Chopin and Rachmaninoff pieces are super crunchy. It sounds like you’re playing something wrong and you check the notes three times, but that’s really what it is. You learn it, and suddenly it’s not crunchy anymore; it works. 

Aside from providing a way to make a living, how has studying music contributed positively to your life?

The last several years I’ve been getting into poetry and it has turned into a cycle of self-enrichment. I read poetry and feel like it was meant to be an art song, so I create some vocal music to go with the poem. Also, music allows me to meet really incredible people from all over the world. Music is the most universal thing; it doesn’t matter where you come from or what language you speak, you can bond over music. I love how it brings people together.

Who is your favorite composer to play, and why?

I’d say Chopin and this relatively new 20th century English composer named York Bowen. Chopin changed the game for solo piano. Yes, it’s technical, but once you get it in the fingers, it becomes so fluid and so natural. There’s playfulness, there’s sadness, and the composer’s intentions are really clear. Bowen utilizes really rich harmonies and has a bit of a jazzier feeling. I don’t think he’s well known but he’s written a ton of music; in particular, his preludes and ballads feel really nice to play.

Who is your favorite composer to listen to, and why?

There are two to whom I constantly return: Ravel and Beethoven. I have yet to encounter a piece by Ravel I’m not stunned by. He was a wizard of music and his chamber and orchestra music is stunning. Every instrument’s shape and technique is magic because he thought about more than the obvious ways to use the instrument. He utilizes every aspect of shading to get different tone colors and sounds.

Beethoven takes his time with his surprises. What he did to change musical form is a reminder that if you feel like doing something, you can. He’ll pull a fortissimo out of nowhere or move through his harmonies in an unexpected way. His sonatas are really rich; one movement is fiery and passionate then another is lyrical and serene. It’s incredible to realize you don’t always have to do the same thing all the time. He reminds me to come back to things that are good and innovate. I’m still looking back to these masters and finding ways to influence my music-making process. 

What is something you want to improve about your musicianship, and what are you currently doing to move in that direction?

Right now, rhythms and the finer points of notating what I want, maintaining my ear to get the intricate harmonies I love. I constantly have to work at how I put the complicated pieces together in the way I want them. During my first year of grad school, I took a musicianship class, and it was insane but incredible. Walking out of that class, my ear was so much sharper than it had been walking in. I still use techniques from that class to keep track of what has happened in a piece and what I’m doing next. 

What is the highlight of your career thus far?

Definitely my first composition recital in November 2017—the first time I heard one of my pieces performed. I had composed two songs for mezzo soprano, violin, cello, and piano, and I was terrified. I’m so used to being in the driver’s seat, and it was terrifying to be the composer just sitting in the audience watching four other people do my music and having zero control over what happened.

It was an immense learning curve handing my music over to other musicians; what I think works initially may not actually work after a second pair of eyes looks it over, especially when I’m composing for instruments that are not my primary. I also learned that how performers interpret music is also a part of the creative process.

A lot of people came up to me afterward and said it was amazing. It was a moment when all of my fears of not being good enough vanished. To be positively received by an audience was wonderful, but for my music to be positively received by the musicians playing it was even better. It was confirmation I was doing what I should be doing.

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If you could change one thing about society’s perception of classical music, what would it be?

I wish more people understood if you have the context of 20th century music, it will make more sense. The 20th century saw a lot of horrible things happen, and that’s reflected in dissonant 20th century music. It’s not necessarily pretty to listen to, but if you understand what they’re trying to say you don’t necessarily disagree with it. It takes a moment to transcend what you’re hearing and realize what the composer is saying; for example, a minor key with shrieking strings can express how a Polish composer feels about the Holocaust. If you understand what it is they were experiencing or reacting to, it contextualizes their voice and makes the music more accessible. 

How do you deal with performance anxiety?

I read a book on performance anxiety and the author said if you don’t get nervous, if you don’t feel anxious or get a boost in energy (whether positive or negative) before a performance, it’s apathy. You don’t really care. If you’re nervous before you perform, it means you want to do a good job and perform to the best of your ability to make sure what you put out there is wonderful. That really changed my way of thinking. I’ve learned to recognize what happens to me and where my nervousness affects me the most, then find a way to adjust. I try to fully relax my body and tell myself I’m going to give a wonderful performance. I reassure myself I’ve practiced, I’m ready, and I’m a good enough musician to find my way through the performance. This is music and music is fun, and sharing it with others should be enjoyable. That nervous feeling just means I’m doing the right thing. I’m doing something that matters to me. And that’s how it should be. 

 

Where Passion and Profession Unite

Every Pioneer has a unique story. Each one is different, but they all started at the same place. Here! An education at PUC prepares students for more than just a career. Graduates are equipped with the practical knowledge and the spiritual nurturing to succeed and serve and are ready for whatever the future brings. 

PUC is a place where passion and profession unite. Our grads know the combination of a beautiful and perfectly located setting; dedicated professors; and a hands-on approach to Adventist education, all play a part in starting your future. At PUC, you find more than just a major—you find your calling.

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Cameron combined his love of surfing with graphic design and is thriving as a senior designer at RipCurl.

“PUC gave me a lot of opportunities to work one-on-one with my professors. Under their guidance, the skills and techniques I developed and perfected helped me land my dream job at Rip Curl.” Cameron Mitchell, Senior graphic designer, Rip Curl

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As an animal lover, Mindy dreamed of doing more. Now she’s a vet performing surgeries to help save the lives of horses.

“Reflecting on my undergraduate education at Pacific Union College, I can’t imagine better preparation for my career as a veterinarian. The biology program gave me the foundation needed to transition into veterinary course work with ease. My professors were not only wonderful instructors but ensured my academic success through personal mentorship and course flexibility. The smaller class sizes afforded many opportunities for leadership and teaching roles that greatly enhanced my application in a highly competitive pool. PUC influenced my transition from student to educated professional equipped to face the challenges and triumphs of my chosen career as an equine veterinarian.” Mindy C. Smith, DVM, cVMA, Associate Veterinarian, Equine Medicine

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Alex is a self-proclaimed “people person” with the singular focus to one day make a positive impact. Following her passion for education and service drove her to a career in public health. 

“PUC was not only where I received an education, but also where I received the opportunity to be an enrollment counselor. That experience has trained me to be successful in my field when it comes to working with the community in countless ways.” Alex Dunbar, community education specialist

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Stefaan combined his love of the outdoors, sports and photography into a double degree in photography and business here at Pacific Union College!

“I’ve always been an athlete and I’ve always loved photography. In my junior year, I studied abroad in Spain and I spent a lot of time traveling and finding what my passions were and I came away from that year seeing photography as a very viable career for me.” Stefaan Dick, adventure photographer

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Julie found her path around the world through global service. 

“I never imagined that my degrees in English and psychology would lead me to a job in missions that takes me around the globe. Yet my professors at PUC celebrated the diversity of people, culture, and ideas. They taught me to look beyond the surface and dig deeper for new perspectives. They showed me how compassion and dialogue can build community, wherever you are. By teaching me how to think, PUC prepared me for the world.” Julie Lee, Vice president of marketing, Maranatha Volunteers International

If you’re interested in joining our amazing alums and becoming part of the Pioneers family, apply today!

 

Alumni Profile: Dustin Baumbach

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PUC alum Dustin Baumbach is a Ph.D. student researching the hawksbill sea turtle. While documenting these endangered animals, Dustin and his research team found the documentation process frustrating. Instead of letting a small setback stop them, they developed an app to solve their problem, called TURT (Turtles Uniting Researchers and Tourists).

We asked Dustin to share about his experiences and how PUC helped give him the tools he needed to become successful.

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Dustin Baumbach, a nature enthusiast, and academic. I enjoy scuba diving, snowboarding, and taking hikes through the forest. During the week, I enjoy working with colleagues to understand the ecology of hawksbill sea turtles and on the weekends, catching up with friends. I also enjoy the pursuit of learning something new and will never pass up the chance to do so, especially when it involves hands on learning. I am a technology geek and thus, enjoy technology based decision making using Geographic Information Systems. However, my interest in technology is not limited to this and also expands to any tool I can use to benefit my research or personal life.

What was your major at PUC?

I originally started off my first year as a biology major with a minor in computer science and then transferred into the environmental science program which was brand new the start of my second year and then realized chemistry would be a better minor to add with it.

What have you been up to since graduating?

After graduation, I immediately started graduate school at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine in the department of Earth and Biological Sciences. During my first year, I spent most of my time learning about hawksbills throughout the world and spent that summer in Honduras collecting data. I now spend my summers in the Caribbean, scuba diving, collecting hawksbill observation, and morphological data.

Where did you get the idea for your app?

We originally started distributing turtle sightings sheets to the dive shops within my field site but quickly noticed they only filled them out while we were in town and not there during the school year. This prompted us to create a web-based map the various dive shops could upload turtle sightings to on a regular basis. However, we realized those dive shops and tourists may not have access to a computer immediately after a dive and therefore would benefit from the creation of a smartphone application.

Describe your typical workday.

A typical workday is highly variable. I am currently working on assessing the caloric value of sea turtle food items at Cal State University San Bernardino two days of the week, working on mass spectrometry the other two days of the week, then I head home to read the current literature about hawksbill foraging behavior. When I am not doing any of these activities, I frequently help teach classes for my advisor, help other students, and write various grants and papers.

What is the most enjoyable part of what you do? The most challenging?

The most enjoyable part of my graduate study is by far my summer research. Doing three dives per day, getting to interact with hawksbills knowing we will aid to help its population recovery by understanding more about this critically endangered species. However, the most challenging part of this is understanding how to work with, and educate, the general public, who may be against the project. This has been a challenge we have been working on for the past four years, but plan to continue in order to promote awareness of sea turtles and the importance in understanding more about their ecology.

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

The time I spent at PUC was extremely valuable to help prepare me for graduate school. Several of my science classes taught me the self-motivation I needed to persevere in graduate school. Along with this, my biology and environmental science classes taught me the concepts needed to understand how to do research and how to think about an organism’s interaction with its environment. I appreciated how PUC required us to take a wide breadth of classes to increase life skills and general knowledge, helping me to deal with the non-biological portions of conservation biology.

What is the most important thing you learned during your time at PUC?

The most important thing I learned was the reward of self-motivation and hard work. I had to learn this the hard way (not meeting my expectations during my first couple of years), but with a little hard work and motivation, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. I know this sounds cheesy, but starting out with a GPA under 3.0 and then graduating with over a 3.0 is an example of this. A little hard work goes a long way.

Who was your favorite professor while you were at PUC and why?

This is a hard question, I had so many professors I feel were influential in my life but if I had to pick, I would have to choose Dr. Floyd Hayes. As one of the few students in the department of biology interested in attending graduate school in the natural sciences, he taught me how to do research by involving me in hands-on projects and helped me understand the joy of teaching by hiring me as his laboratory teaching assistant. I enjoyed learning in his classes and have always thought he deserves the Educator of the Year award! If students are struggling and come to him for help, he is very willing to work with the you, which is always something I have appreciated. To this day I still write to him asking for advice.

What is your favorite memory from PUC?

I have so many fond memories of PUC. However, my favorite memory from my time at PUC was watching the ‘pumpkin chuck’ during MOGtoberfest (Grainger Hall’s club). Living in the dorm and being a part of the Men of Grainger was such a fun experience. I met a lot of amazing, friendly people and have remained friends with some of them even after graduation. Other fond memories include going on hikes in the back 40, experiencing the beauty of fields of mustard and the blossoming trees, and, as every PUC student knows, eating at the amazing restaurants in the Napa Valley.

What advice would you give to young students?

My advice to students would be to never give up and to rely on your friends for support. Even though life may seem difficult and frustrating, keep your life goals in mind and know, as I stated earlier, with a little hard work and determination, it will all be worth it. Also, never pass up the opportunity to learn something new, you never know when it may become useful.

Dustin has also been featured in several articles by Loma Linda University. Read “Sea turtle app developed by student creates citizen-researchers” and “Loma Linda University researchers expand sea turtle research smartphone apps” to learn more about his process and how this app can help researchers around the world in their study of sea turtles.  

TURT (Turtles Uniting Researchers and Tourists) is available on iOs as well as on Android.

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Alumni Profile: Katie Aguilar

Katie Aguilar, who graduated in 2013 with a BFA in graphic design, currently works as a graphic designer on the creative services team at Netflix in Los Angeles, Calif. Below, Katie discusses her job at Netflix, her time at PUC, and advice she has for students wanting to follow in her footsteps.

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What is the most important thing you learned during your time at PUC?

What stands out the most is learning to listen. Whether it was in a class, a meeting, or somewhere in the stillness of the Back 40, if I just listened, I learned something. There’s always someone with a different perspective or approach I would miss if I didn’t just quiet down and listen. I need reminding of that now and again.

Who was your favorite professor while you were at PUC and why?

That’s hard because I grew very close to my professors in the department of visual arts. Most of my PUC experience was spent in Fisher Hall, where my professors were really easy to talk to and always willing to help me through a project and oftentimes, life. So there isn’t just one, there are four. Shout-out to Milbert Mariano, Cliff Rusch, Haley Wesley, and Brian Kyle!

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

It’s the little efficiencies I picked up along the way from my teachers or peers. Keyboard shortcuts, organization, timeliness, the importance of prioritization. It was really surprising when I got out into the “real world” how much those small things played such a big role in my day-to-day and made things run smoother.

What is the most enjoyable part of your job? The most challenging?

The most enjoyable part of my job is knowing I bring value to my team. We use these buzz phrases like “freedom and responsibility,” and it’s true, I have the freedom to work in a way that makes sense to me, the freedom to grow, to learn, to test new ideas and ask questions. My responsibilities to my team are for me to perform at my very best and I really enjoy being in an environment where I can thrive. That’s also the challenging part, I have the freedom to take my career where I want to, so it’s up to me to use my time wisely and make the most out of every opportunity.

What advice would you give for other young aspiring designers?

Some advice I’d give any aspiring designer:

  1. Talk to your professors! Get to know them! They’re such a valuable resource and can help you get through the creative fog you’ll inevitably have during projects.
  2. Be aware of what’s out there. Find out what other designers are doing, what new software is coming out that could improve or change the way you think about design.
  3. Don’t be afraid to try crazy ideas.
  4. Don’t limit yourself to one area of design. Lately all the job postings I’ve seen are looking for a jack of all trades. You don’t need to be an expert in every Adobe product but knowing some fundamentals can come in really handy later on.

Go for it! The only real limit to how far you can go is often set by you. Don’t be afraid of messing up or not getting the exact result you wanted. Just keep going for it. You’ll surprise yourself how far you really go.