Q&A with Winter Revival Speaker Aren Rennacker

By Becky St. Clair

Aren Rennacker is currently the youth and college pastor at the Calimesa Seventh-day Adventist Church. After graduating in 2007 from Sacramento Adventist Academy, Aren went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in PR and journalism from PUC in 2011, then his master’s in theological studies from La Sierra University in 2017.

One of four kids, Aren has myriad stories from his childhood, during which he dreamed of winning a spot on an NBA team.

He will be speaking during PUC’s Winter Revival, Jan. 22-25, and his theme is “Authentic.” We caught up with Aren so we could all get to know him a little better (how did he go from basketball star to youth pastor?) as we prepare to receive his insights on authenticity and God next week.

Why did you choose “Authentic” as your theme?

It’s such a unique time to be alive right now, and particularly to be in college. Students are forming their identities in the midst of a lot of distrust, competition, pressure, and confusion. These can all contribute to misunderstandings about oneself and what it means to be human. My hope is for one week, we can practically examine the journey of growing as a child of God, and how that actually is meant to allow for more authenticity in our lives, not less. I truly hope our time together is engaging, practical, and genuine to the students’ experiences.

What was your experience with church and worship as a college student, and how has that affected your life today?

Friday night vespers at PUC were always a highlight. I spent most Sabbaths with Kidz Reach, a group that mentored at-risk youth in Napa. Also, the religion classes were outstanding. Truly, the entire spiritual environment at PUC helped me grow in a lot of ways and led me into pursuing ministry. I remain grateful to this day for the teachers and leaders I had as guides during those years.

What’s something that challenged you as a young adult, and how did you handle it?

At the end of my freshman year, I was asked to take a year off to serve as the youth leader at a local church. At that time I still wanted to be a sports journalist and had no desire to be a pastor; however, I felt saying “no” would upset God.

I met with a mentor of mine to process the decision, and he helped me see God was not for me or against me based on my decision, but both “yes” and “no” could be the right or wrong answer based upon how I chose to spend the next year. That took a lot of the pressure off and helped me see God in a healthier way.

I decided to return to PUC that year recommitted to serving God on campus. And, what do you know, by the end of that year I decided I wanted to pursue a career as a youth pastor instead of as a journalist.

What were you like as a kid?

I was the youngest of four and I’m sure I acted like it. Fortunately, my mom and siblings were patient and helped create a great childhood for me. Sports were my passion, and I always wanted to be watching, playing, or reading about them. Reading the sports page in the newspaper every day helped cultivate my love for writing, and obsessing over the Sacramento Kings helped me acclimate to taking losses. Despite that, I was a generally happy kid who enjoyed school and loved my family.

What is your favorite food to eat?

My favorite food category is ice cream. (Is that a category?) Seriously, though, if I were to have one plate of anything, it would be my mom’s French toast. She’s the only one in the world who can make it her way.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I still enjoy playing basketball, and I’m hoping to play some while I’m up at PUC. I’m currently in the middle of several good books, including Under the Overpass, an account of two guys who chose to become homeless for five months to better understand what others experience. But my favorite free time activity is spending time with my girlfriend, Paige, which usually means a game of Uno, an episode of The Office, or a bowl of acai. Better yet: all three.

What are some items on your bucket list?

This is a timely question because I turn 30 this summer, meaning I should probably do some life reflecting. Some of the things I’ve done are travel the U.S., work at a job I love, and see the Giants win the World Series (three times). I’d still love to run a half marathon, write a book, and star on Broadway. Dream big.

What would you say is your main goal for Winter Revival?

My ultimate goal for the week would be for those listening to be willing to process or wrestle with at least one new idea or perspective they hear. Living within a faith community can often numb us to yet another message (myself included), so if any student or staff actually feel something they hear is worth consuming and thinking over, perhaps even discussing with a friend, I’d be honored and grateful. I simply long to be a small part in the journey of growth for anybody who will allow me to be.

If, in the course of said discussions or ponderings, a student has questions or just wants to connect with you about things, how can they reach you?

I would love to talk in person while I’m on the hill, or they can reach me at asrennacker@gmail.com.

A Conversation with Fall Revival Speaker Josue Hernandez

By Becky St. Clair

Josue Hernandez is in the middle of his third year of ministry as associate pastor at the Modesto Central Seventh-day Adventist Church. He graduated from Pacific Union College in 2015 with a degree in theology and will begin MDiv classes in January. “I wanted to be a pastor to ensure the voices of young people are heard in the life of the church,” Josue says.

Beginning Oct. 8, Pastor Josue will be sharing some spiritual insights and food for thought during Fall Revival at PUC. Join us every evening Oct. 8-12 at 8:00 in Dauphinee Chapel in Winning Hall, and at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11, in the PUC sanctuary for Colloquy, to hear him speak on PUC’s Student Association’s theme of “Beyond.” Pastor Josue adds, “This theme really resonates with what I believe to be part of life’s most rewarding elements: Our ability to grow, step out of our comfort zone, and embrace the stress and tension that growth thrives on.”

We chatted a bit with Josue to get an idea of the kind of guy he is, and the verdict is he’s pretty great. We look forward to hearing what he has to say for Fall Revival.

You’re still experiencing the “new” of your career; what has surprised you about being a pastor?

In my experience, churches can be very open to new ideas when they line up with a fresh, well-communicated vision of what the church could be. For example, instead of having an extended evangelistic series we offered a one-weekend presentation on the power of hope to our community, wrapped up by a Sunday morning project where we partnered with Rise Against Hunger to package thousands of meals for families who needed them in the Philippines. Seeing the full spectrum of ages, including a few non-Adventist community members, working together toward the same goal was inspiring.

I’ve also led out in a 2-month sermon series called “Messy Church” while preaching in jeans and a t-shirt, purchased a drum set for our church, redesigned our youth room, and launched a teen leadership program. All new projects our church has fully embraced as part of our new identity. This has been a refreshing revelation because it shows churches are willing to step out of their comfort zone to share the Good News.

Tell us about your college years. What was your experience as a PUC student?

I thoroughly enjoyed the three years I spent at PUC. I was involved with SOL Club, joined the soccer team my senior year, and loved being a part of intramurals. My favorite class was beginning Greek (shoutout to Dr. Winkle for making that class such a positive learning experience) because I’ve always been drawn to different languages. I changed my major once from mechanical engineering to theology when I transferred to PUC, but If I had spent a little more time at PUC I would’ve picked up a second major in communications or business.

I had several roommates at PUC. Each one of them very different. I never really had any issue getting used to having a roommate but for some reason, they never stayed the whole year, not sure if it was them or me, except for Timmy Baze who I roomed with my first year—what a brave soul. PUC embraced me as family, so being away from home was probably tougher on my parents than on me. I missed the homemade food the most. My favorite meal in the cafeteria is still Friday morning bliss—biscuits and gravy! To get away from campus, I’d take trips down the hill to In-N-Out, Giugni’s, Sherpa … my mouth waters just thinking about those places! And of course, the back 40! Great place for a hike or a run to Inspiration Point with friends to burn off the calories from the cafeteria food.

What job did you have in college?

My first and only job at PUC (aside from Religious VP for the Student Association) was working for the alumni and advancement office as a student caller to our alumni, keeping them in touch with the latest on life at PUC and assisting with any other projects the office had, including the Maxwell Golf Tournament and Homecoming events.

Life didn’t start in college, though. Where did you grow up, and what were you like as a kid?

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I played a lot of sports; soccer and basketball were my favorites. I also took a couple of years of piano lessons and began playing guitar.

How many siblings do you have?

Many people are surprised when I mention I have a sister, Dalia, who was at PUC during my last two years there. She graduated from PUC with a degree in biology this summer and I’m super proud of her!

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I honestly don’t really remember! But I enjoyed playing with fire trucks and legos, so maybe a firefighter or architect.

What was your experience with church and worship as a kid?

I rarely missed a weekend at church growing up. My parents were intentional about ensuring we had a positive experience getting involved with a variety of church activities such as camping trips, family events, social gatherings, etc. Church is actually where I began to develop a joy for service and fellowship. Worship has been a source of great inspiration for me through all these years and has helped me tap into a clearer picture of God’s vision for my life.

We all have defining moments in our lives—moments we can’t forget and have shaped in a significant way the person we are today. What are two of your defining moments?

The first was definitely transferring to PUC from UC Davis. A lot was happening during my freshman year at UC Davis I had to deal with personally. I was beginning to grapple with who I really wanted to be in life, questioning whether or not I belonged at UC Davis, and dealing with high school relationship baggage. There were times where I felt I didn’t have what it would take to be a successful person on such a competitive campus. If you’ve heard of Impostor Syndrome you understand there are times when we second-guess our accomplishments. We feel if we accomplished something it was because the bar was set lower for us or for any other reason other than our own effort, especially as a Latino.

Transferring to PUC was a breath of fresh air. It reminded me I did belong. My achievements were meaningful and the community on this campus helped cement my identity. I ran for and served as RVP from 2014-15 which turned out to be one of the most positive learning experiences I’ve had in life. I am the first in my family to graduate with a college degree here in the United States and PUC will always have a special place in my heart for helping me get there.

And the second: Accepting the call to be a pastor in Modesto. Taking the next step after college is never an easy thing to do. After spending three years at PUC I fell in love with Northern California. I really wanted to stay close to campus because of all the friends that still remained there. It was a Friday evening before Vespers that I accepted the offer to serve as the associate pastor at Modesto Central. I thought I’d be at peace but I wasn’t. A couple weeks later the leadership team of the Southeastern California Conference reached out to me for a second round of interviews to meet the rest of the team. I began to wonder if I had made the right decision. Fast-forward three years, and looking back I am glad I made the choice to come to Modesto.

The fall after I graduated from PUC was the toughest because I missed the PUC community, friends, Vespers, classes—everything but the homework, ha!—and everyone seemed to be posting about moving back in for the start of the new year while I was in a new place with only a couple of people I knew well, I was thankful to be doing meaningful work with lots of potential. I spent one year out of the three I’ve worked here serving as the interim lead pastor when our senior pastor at the time took a call to a different church. I’ve been challenged to grow in so many areas and the people in this community have been so supportive and generous with me. I’ve made many meaningful relationships with the young people here including several who are now PUC students. I’ve discovered God works out all things for good. Learning to trust the process has given me a new awareness about my own boundaries God wants me to go beyond.

Being a pastor is a 24/7 job, essentially, but when you do find a few moments of free time, what do you enjoy doing?

I put a team together to play in a community co-ed soccer league that plays all year ‘round, and it’s been a blast! I also enjoy a good workout in the gym while listening to podcasts ranging from Revisionist History to the Bible Project, and reading anything by Malcolm Gladwell. And let’s be honest: Netflix after a long day is just icing on the cake.

Where is your favorite place in the world and why?

Anywhere with friends. This year I’ve spent some time in Spain, France, Bolivia, Israel, and Mexico. On all these trips, I’ve gone with different groups of friends and family. Each of these trips has had their challenges but the time spent being present and savoring the moment in front of us while sharing it with people we care about has been priceless. No matter where you go, you are surrounded by extraordinary people. Sometimes it just takes a readjusting of our attitude toward the world to see the opportunities to make meaningful memories around us. Then we pause to realize we are only just scratching the surface and dive deeper into the present.

If you could dream up the best possible outcome of this year’s Fall Revival at PUC, what would it be?

My goal is to remind the students of truths they know deep inside, truths they may have lost sight of along the way, and to challenge us all to go beyond surface level living into the depths of life that await us. The best possible outcome, from my perspective, would be for students to walk away with a better understanding of what it means to be human.

Why do you think events like this are important for college campuses?

I think they really help to recalibrate our purpose and vision in life. They inspire us to be the best version of ourselves and remind us of truths about ourselves and our relationship with the Divine we often forget with all the things vying for our attention.

If you’re interested in chatting with Pastor Josue about his talks or just about life in general, feel free to catch him after the Revival meetings or even stop him along the sidewalk. He’s on-campus all week and happy to chat with anyone who’s interested.

Telling Stories: Spanish, English Honors Grad Gets Personal with Stanford University

By Becky St. Clair

As Midori Yoshimura, ’12, stood at the front of Stanford University’s most iconic entrance, watching the then-crown prince and princess of Spain step out of a black vehicle best described as “secure,” she focused on the same thing as many students in Spanish class: “Don’t use the (informal) form of verbs with this group.”

“After studying in Spain for my third year in college, I was very used to addressing almost everyone using the verb conjugation, since I spent most of my time with peers,” Yoshimura says, laughing. “In more formal situations”—such as talking with a more senior family member or VIPs—”you would use the verb conjugation for Usted (Ud.).”

Yoshimura, who graduated summa cum laude with majors in English and Spanish in the Honors Program at PUC, was working as an editorial assistant in Stanford’s Office of University Communications when the royal couple visited the campus. Although Yoshimura was relatively new to the job, her then-boss asked Yoshimura to join her in accompanying the Spanish press delegation traveling with the royal couple, on the off chance the journalists spoke mainly Spanish. (As it turned out, using the form with them was fine.)

Now, Yoshimura works as a digital media associate in Stanford’s Office of University Communications, where she and her colleagues manage the university’s official social media channels and, individually, various units across the campus. Yoshimura handles digital media for the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, and the Stanford Neurosciences Institute.

“Regardless of the topic, sharing insightful research in a way audiences are most likely to connect with, and understand why it matters, is very fulfilling,” Yoshimura says.

In this role, Yoshimura leads strategic and ad campaigns, produces Facebook Live interviews with faculty and students, live tweets events, manages social media communities, and more. One project Yoshimura particularly enjoyed managing was Stanford’s #MeetOurFaculty campaign. In it, she combined her interviews with faculty members with creative photography to highlight the personal stories that inspired them—and the diverse paths that brought them to teach and conduct research at one of world’s top universities.

Yoshimura never imagined her own career path would bring her to Stanford.

“I didn’t even have Instagram in college,” she admits. “The only filters I really paid attention to were the ones on job search websites likes Indeed.com, Glassdoor, etc.—I was pretty worried about finding a job after college. So, I certainly never imagined in a couple of years I’d be sitting in a dim, packed auditorium and tweeting quotes from Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

But what Yoshimura has realized from her career experiences as an assistant editor, freelance writer, and more, is that stories—listening to, writing, and sharing them—have been the driving force.

“Stories, broadly defined, are what shape our perspectives, inspire new ambitions and hopes, and help us better understand one another. And, the stories we tell ourselves can determine our future,” Yoshimura says. “One of the things I love about working in communications is the chance to share stories about topics that affect our lives and those of others—to be better aware of our biases, how our brains work, how we’re taking care of our planet—and to do so in a way that makes these stories most likely to resonate with audiences. I may not be the main character in the plot, but that’s fine. I care more about turning people into an important story in the first place.”

PUC’s Honors Program was a chance for Yoshimura to examine—and rewrite—parts of her own story, including her beliefs and goals.

“The Honors Program was a highlight of my time at PUC,” she says. “The nature of the program is to help you learn how to think and question what you thought before. You learn to defend or criticize your own viewpoints, while discussing questions that have perplexed humanity for centuries.”

Yoshimura continues: “Discussing these topics in a place where it felt safe—where classmates were engaged and not out to disparage each other’s views, made me stronger in my faith, yet more willing to challenge it. My experience at PUC improved my ability to reason and to be constructively critical of myself and my worldview, without demolishing everything I held true or leading me to stubbornly cling to what I simply wanted to believe.”

Aside from the philosophical, there was also the practical: “I learned how to skim,” says Yoshimura with a laugh. “The assigned reading was a heavy lift.”

If you ask Yoshimura what the PUC chapter of her life story looked like, she’d say it was a choose-your-own-adventure, undertaken with the motto: “I don’t know exactly what I want to do, but I’m going to try a bunch of things to figure it out.” The good news, she added, is in five years you can fit in a lot.

What she most recommends to students now is, unsurprisingly, studying a year abroad.

“Time spent in another culture, learning how to live vividly outside your comfort zone, is an empowering experience,” says Yoshimura. “The capacity you develop to adapt to and creatively resolve unfamiliar situations is invaluable. You can add so many new stories to this chapter of your life—and enjoy new opportunities to hear those of others.” And, Yoshimura added, conjugating the formal and informal varieties of verbs gets easier with practice.

Proactive Learning: PUC Chemistry Grad Researches, Treats Pediatric Oncology

By Becky St. Clair

From the very early years of her childhood, Holly Lindsay knew she wanted to be a doctor.

“I have no idea why I was so sure that’s what I wanted,” she says, thinking back. “I had no chronic health problems, so I wasn’t going to the doctor a lot, and neither of my parents were doctors. But I knew. I just knew.”

Today Holly spends a majority of her time doing research in a lab at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, also doing clinical care in pediatric oncology, specifically dealing with brain tumors in children. In addition, Holly is an assistant professor through Baylor College of Medicine.

“I was drawn to the field of pediatrics in particular because the diseases are so pathophysiological,” she explains. “That is, the kids don’t do anything to cause the problem, something just goes wrong in their bodies.”

Holly’s passions for serving not just the patient but the entire family, as well as for dealing with a variety of situations—inpatient, clinical, very ill, mostly well—led her into oncology. When she shadowed in a pediatric oncology clinic in her first year of medical school, she knew she’d found her calling.

“The amount of hope I encounter on this job is surprising,” says Holly. “I was expecting my field to be constantly emotionally draining, but even in the setting of recurrences and patient death, the hope and strength of the families has surprised and inspired me immensely. This is most definitely the work I wanted and needed to do.”

Holly’s experience at PUC prepared her for medical school in two notable ways.

“First and foremost, it strengthened my Christianity,” says Holly. “I rely heavily on my faith, especially with all the loss I experience in my field.”

Additionally, the smaller class sizes at PUC allowed her to interact closely with her professors, and the one-on-one experience helped her feel comfortable asking questions of her med school professors.

“At bigger schools, you ask other students or your TAs,” she says. “PUC helped me be proactive in my learning.”

Holly works in a lab focused on treating and eliminating pediatric brain tumors. She and other researchers do drug testing, with the end goal of eventually bringing the drugs to clinical trial for kids. One day a week she sees her patients in the clinic.

“Make no mistake: I’m certainly one of those people who get upset over animal experimentation, and I was extremely nervous coming into the world of animal research,” she admits. “But the mice here in our lab get amazing care. The experiments are incredibly humane and if there are any signs of distress they are euthanized immediately. On the flip side, I see the suffering children who need these drugs. The mice are serving a wonderful role to help us bring drugs safely to children.”

Most drug companies have developed products that don’t get into the brain through the bloodstream. This is because the possible side effects there are, to say the least, undesirable and risky. But in order to fight brain tumors, certain drugs are needed in the brain. This is why Holly and her fellow researchers implant tumors in the mice in the same place in the brain where the kids are getting them, as opposed to inserting the tumor into the animal’s leg or other body part. This allows for more accurate testing and experimentation.

Just as much as the other aspects of her work, Holly very much enjoys teaching medical students.

“Teaching allows me, specifically, to preemptively correct things I see wrong with communication in the medical field,” she says. “I give a lecture on the delivery of bad news. For this class, I made a video where I interviewed families and asked them to share what doesn’t go well in medical communication. I very much enjoy finding the next generation of medical providers committed to the patients and families they serve.”

Mentoring is a role to which Holly commits herself just as much as she does to her patients, research, and teaching. She actively engages with her students outside of class, inviting them out for small group get-togethers, working hard to avoid stifling her mentorship in the context of work by interacting in a less formal, social environment.

“In my own life, I have appreciated mentors who don’t hesitate to talk about their mistakes,” she says. “So, when I talk to my students, I highlight my own mistakes and talk about the things I wish I had done better, in an attempt to have them avoid those same errors. I want them to know it’s possible to fail at something and still move forward.”

As most of us know, the medical field isn’t all joy, success, and fulfillment. Death follows most medical practitioners in some way or another, and pediatric oncology is not exempt. The death of children can be particularly painful and difficult, and Holly understands this all too well.

“Everyone deals with the loss of patients differently,” she says. “I find it helpful to go to my patients’ funerals. It’s a good way to show the parents how much our team cares about their children.”

Her experience in the medical field has also given Holly the opportunity to explore her faith from a different perspective.

“One of the things I find most challenging is when I hear people praying for healing,” she admits. “I see so many families deserving of healing and it’s just not always granted. My biggest struggle in this field has been coming to terms with the fact that I don’t have understanding of who is granted cure and who is not. It’s taught me to change the way I pray from ‘please do this specific thing’ to ‘please let me accept your plan for me and to be appreciative even in agony.’ Even in a setting I would do anything to change.”

Holly’s long-term goal is to have her research lead to a clinical trial. Although she is currently writing a clinical trial, she realizes having her work directly impact her patients is still a long time out.

“This is probably a 20-year goal at this point, but I’m slowly transitioning from lab to clinical research,” she says. “The particular tumor I work with sees only about a 30 percent survival rate five years from diagnosis. I really hope to bring that number up over the course of my career.”

In her free time—which she swears she has, despite her long list of responsibilities—Holly enjoys traveling. Most recently she visited Costa Rica. She also volunteers at the Houston Zoo as an animal handler, bringing snakes, armadillos, and other wondrous creatures out into the open to show them to children.

“Despite all the naysayers I heard during medical school saying that this field is ‘too depressing,’ my work is very rewarding, with an immense amount of room for growth,” Holly says. “I encourage anyone considering oncology or any aspect of medicine as a career to have an inquisitive mind and push themselves into opportunities to learn.”

She also encourages science majors to expose themselves to fields outside of science.

“It makes you a much more well-rounded and accessible physician,” she says. “Being able to connect with people is incredibly important in any field, and I have found it crucial in my line of work. Don’t underestimate the power of relationships to serve you well in all aspects of life.”

Alumni Profile: Manny Peralta

Meet Manny Peralta, who graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies. Manny also completed an associate degree in graphic design in 2017, and currently works at the California Department of Food and Agriculture as an agricultural technician.

We talked with Manny and asked him to share about his senior thesis, “Wildflowers of PUC,” a guidebook he created that features flowers found on the college’s property.

Tell us about your “Wildflowers of PUC” project. What was the inspiration for it?

Most of my inspiration came from my constant exploration while hiking or biking out in the back 40 while I was a student at PUC.

How long did it take you to complete the book?

The project took me about seven months to complete. Most of the time was spent researching, identifying plants, editing photos, and designing the book’s layout.

What was your favorite flower that you photographed? Why was it your favorite?

My favorite flower that I photographed was Mimulus angustatus (pg. 82). I came across it while biking one day. I wasn’t expecting to find any flowers that day since it was early in the season. As soon as I saw it, I nearly fell off my bike trying to avoid riding over it, ruining my chances of photographing it. This is a flower I would come back to over and over to see how it was doing. Every time I would find more and more of the same kind.

What did you learn about yourself during the project?

I guess one thing I learned about myself was how much I can handle without breaking down from stress. I was able to manage my time wisely to balance going to class and doing homework while planning enough time to go out and explore the back 40 for hours on end.

We’ve heard there are plans for a second book. What are you planning to include this time around?

My second book idea is a bit ambitious but I believe it can be done. I have been planning to work with different national parks to be able to put together a comprehensive flower guide book to California. This is still in the developmental stage of  figuring out all the logistics and trying to put together a team and a group of sponsors that will be able to help me achieve this project.

What’s your typical workday like?

I’m currently working for the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture as an agricultural technician. A work day for me begins early in the morning around 6:30 a.m. and ends around 5 p.m. Each day I have a route that contains a variety of fruit fly traps I have to service and relocate onto different fruit trees. Some of the fruit flies that we trap are the oriental fruit fly, the Mexican fruit fly (mex-fly), melon fruit fly, and the infamous Mediterranean fruit fly, commonly known as the medfly. Many people might remember the early days when the state would implement radical solution like spraying pesticides over large residential areas in order to control the medfly. Besides monitoring traps I also interact with different homeowners to educate them about the different traps we place on their trees and the negative effects these flies have on our agriculture.

What are your hobbies?

Some of the more consistent activities I do are hiking and cycling, but I have recently started getting into rock climbing as well.

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

I have to say the most important thing I learned was that with God, anything is possible.

Editor’s note: PUC is on a quest to permanently protect, preserve, and manage over 850 acres of the college’s forestland by purchasing a conservation easement. The PUC Forest Fund was created to help raise money for the easement, and if you feel compelled to donate, please visit  puc.edu/give.

From PUC to the Friendly Skies

We asked Matthew Gheen, ’98, who currently works as an airline pilot for United Airlines, to share about his experience at PUC and his journey from tragedy to success.

How a forest fire changed my path…
I started college in August 1992, at Shasta College in Redding, Calif. That same evening, a large forest fire started and burned down our family home, along with almost 400 hundred other homes. I did not return to class the next day and instead, over the course of the next three months, helped my family pick up the pieces and get back on their feet. It was during this time, I started to re-think my decision to attend Shasta College. I was invited to visit some friends of mine who were attending PUC. While there, I met Dr. Russell Laird, head of the department of industrial technology and Reinhard Jarschke, the director of the flight school. These conversations changed my decision (they were so convincing) and I decided God wanted me to go to PUC. I signed up right away and started in January 1993.

I chose industrial technology and management with an emphasis in aviation as my degree. My experience in construction and mechanical things led me to this degree, but my true passion was with the emphasis in aviation. It was the department of aviation that excited me the most. I wanted to fly for a living.

Financially, however, it wasn’t easy. As I look back, I realize God was always there, but I had to work hard, working about 30 hours per week in-between classes, making sure I always had summer jobs, and applying for school loans each year. I even had to pause flying for a while to focus on school but was able to resume after four years, in order to complete the classes I needed and graduate with an aviation emphasis.

PUC’s foundational emphasis on God allowed me to keep a close relationship with Him while I was there. The opportunities for academic growth and character development are also a big reason why it is such a wonderful school.

What I am most thankful for…
As I think back, I am most thankful God led me to my wife, Melissa. In October 1993, I went on a PUC Business Club camping trip to Yosemite Valley and expected to hang out with my two close friends that weekend. Melissa and I were in the group that chose to hike Half Dome and I noticed her at the start of the hike. We ended up talking along the way and throughout the remainder of the year, we dated. I found out later that although she is scared of heights, she forced herself to climb the last part up the face of the rock to the top of Half Dome, just to impress me. She still continues to impress me to this day. We are just about to celebrate 21 years of marriage and have two daughters who are excited about attending PUC when the time comes.

Matt and his wife Melissa in an airplane at PUC.

Where flying has taken me…
After college, I started accumulating hours by flight instructing. I then flew freight and had just landed when the 9/11 tragedy rocked the world. This unfortunate event, along with the recession a few years later, brought commercial aviation to its knees. This time period is often referred to as the “lost decade” in the pilot world because there was very little movement for most pilots. I intended, after PUC, to fly for a commercial airline but instead found myself flying for an air ambulance fixed-wing company. This job was extremely rewarding; it brought a chance for me to see the first responders at their best, and to give people, at their most vulnerable point, a fighting chance to live. I believe God lead me to this position and am so grateful to have had this type of experience.

I flew air ambulance for seven years. During this time, the regional airlines (the small commercial airline carriers) started to pick up hiring. (The major airlines were still not hiring very much and some still had thousands of pilots on furlough.) In order to be more competitive for the major airlines, I chose to start applying for a regional airline job. Flying at a regional level was going to take a huge financial sacrifice but it would give me some additional experience the major airlines would likely want to see, considering the competitiveness of the industry.

We took on a cross country move and was at a regional airline for two years. We then spent a short stint at a low cost carrier and God, to our excitement, landed us a major airline job. In fact, we had multiple offers, multiple doors were opened, and we were faced with a big decision. Truly, a tough but a good position to be in.

As we all face our journeys, it is important to realize how our foundation in God is so key. There’s twists and turns along the way, but God always has a plan. God is always there leading.

A recent photo of Matt in his “office.”

This entire road began at PUC. I credit the college for:
Helping further solidify my Seventh-day Adventist religious beliefs,
Starting my path in aviation,
Placing me in an environment of similarly-minded religious individuals,
Giving me the opportunity to meet my wife and best friend,
Many friends,
4 ½ wonderful years with many fond memories, and
Expanding my horizons.

Every time I fly into San Francisco International Airport and we arrive from the north, I am looking down out the window for PUC. On those clear days when I do see the campus on the hill and the little runway in the trees, it brings back such a rush of memories. I had so many great times in the short years I was there.

Thank you PUC!
Matt Gheen

Matt and his beautiful family on a recent family vacation.

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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