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Department of

Theology and Religious Studies

Alumni and Alumnae News

Julia Schiffman ('13)

Julia Schiffman PhotoCongratulations to recent THRS graduate Julia Schiffman, who has been accepted to the University of Southern California's Masters in Social Work program. Julia will be starting her USC studies on August 22, 2015. She writes: "My major and the department prepared me for this! I would love to let all students know Theology and Religious Studies is the best major to have. I wouldn't be where I am today without the department's support, amazing courses, and outstanding professors. I cannot thank you all enough!"

Bravo, Julia! (February 5, 2015)

Daniel Hernandez, Lauren Cooper, Michael Omlin ('12)

Congratulations to graduating senior Daniel Hernandez, who delivered a spectacular valedictory address at the Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony for the College of Arts and Sciences on May 29. 2012. Actually, Daniel was not only named valedictorian. The double THRS/Spanish major was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa, the prestigious national honor society, as well as being honored at the recent Honors Convocation with the "Excellence in Spanish," "Outstanding Achievement in Ancient Greek," and "2012 Student Servant (University Ministry)" awards. Daniel recently shared some thoughts on his undergrad experience in the Inside USD webzine.

Other Class of 2012 THRS majors honored were Lauren Cooper, who was likewise elected to Phi Beta Kappa and who also received the "Excellence in Spanish" and "Outstanding Work in Interdisciplinary Latin American Studies" awards, and Michael Omlin, who was honored with the "Outstanding Achievement in Latin" award. In addition, THRS major Joshua Wheeler was among those given the "4.0 GPA in Their Classes" award.

Congrats to all! (May 30, 2012; updated July 19, 2012)

Lovel Tokic ('11)

Lovel Tokic

Lovel Tokic (double major THRS & Political Science) has been accepted into the Gonzaga University School of Law. Lovel has been awarded a full Thomas More Scholarship to specialize in public interest law. He begins his Gonzaga program in September.

Lovel was honored in May 2011 by Theta Alpha Kappa, Alpha Chi Chapter, with the Undergraduate Achievement Award. Lovel held the highest cumulative average in Theology and Religious Studies among the graduating class of 2011.

Since his graduation, Lovel has been working with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) in Baltimore, MD, as a legal advocate at the Public Justice Center. The Public Justice Center works to provide legal service to people suffering from poverty and discrimination. This work has given him hands on experience that will stand him in good stead as he studies public interest law at Gonzaga. (July 19, 2012)

Mike Angell ('05)

Mike AngellMike Angell spent his first year out of college as a volunteer with the Episcopal Service Corps mission at El Hogar Orphanage in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where he took a deeper interest in Latin American theology and enhanced his Spanish-speaking skills. He spent the next two years as an Episcopal campus missioner at the University of California, San Diego, where he was selected by his fellow campus ministers to receive the Sam Portaro award, the national honor for campus ministry in the Episcopal Church.

In Fall 2008, Michael began graduate studies at Virginia Theological Seminary. In May 2011, he received his M.Div. degree and ordination to the Episcopal priesthood. Since July of that year, he has been assistant rector at St. John's Church in Washington, D.C. At St. John's, Rev. Angell provides clergy support for Spanish Speaking Ministry, Pastoral Care and Young Adult ministries.

Mike's first sermon as a seminarian was delivered October 11, 2009, at St. John's Church in Washington, D.C., which is across the street from the White House. Parishioners included President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters. (April 28, 2012)

Christina Ellsworth ('11)

Christina EllsworthChristina Ellsworth has recently been admitted into the M.A. program at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, now part of Santa Clara University. She also received a 75% tuition grant from JST, where she will begin study in Fall 2012. "Thank you so much for all of your time and dedication to my recommendations," Christina writes to her advisors, Drs. Plovanich and Babka, "I could not have done it without your help!"

On her experience in the department, Ms. Ellsworth writes, "The USD theology department will always be what sparked my commitment to serve. . . . My professors always held me to high academic standards and it’s because of them that I value education so much and fight for my students here to have the opportunities to receive the education they deserve."

Currently, Christina is teaching in Jaibon, a small city in the Valverde province of the Dominican Republic. For the full story, see Inside USD and also Christina's blog. (April 26, 2012)

Jake Schneider ('06)

Jake Schneider finished his Master of Theological Studies (MTS) in 2010 at the School of Theology and Ministry, Boston College. He's now living in Chile doing a two year term of volunteer service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Working in Santiago, Jake is teaching English in low resource elementary school and working with a social program for at risk teens in one of the rougher neighborhoods of the city. Reflecting on this experience, he writes, "I guess this is where theology meets praxis right?"

Here's a photo of Jake and friends in Chile from Jake's JVC blog.

Jake Schneider

Jake reports that he is still thinking about doctoral programs when he finishes his service in Chile, but also considering the idea of campus ministry work for a few years.

Extra: Check out this profile of Jake on the Boston College web site. Also the Jesuit Volunteer Corps' Chile album on Flickr. (April 27, 2012)

Daniel Hernandez ('12)

A May 2012 THRS grad, Daniel Hernandez has been accepted into the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. He will be serving for one year teaching middle school students at Brooklyn Jesuit Preparatory School.

Hannah Patrick ('12)

Graduating senior (and double major in Psychology) Hannah Patrick has been accepted into USD's Marital and Family Therapy Program for study toward the master's degree. She begins her graduate studies in Fall 2012.

Michael Omlin ('12)

Graduating senior Michael Omlin has been accepted into the M.A. and Ph.D. programs in Patristic Studies at St. Louis University and Boston College. He has decided to attend Boston College in the fall because of the focus there on the Eastern Fathers. It will also be possible for him to take courses at Holy Cross Orthodox Seminary. Michael reports that his interest in this field of study and research was fostered by courses he took with THRS professors Dr. Jeannie Constantinou and Dr. Dennis Krouse.

Andrew McMillin ('07)

Andrew McMillanAfter several years on the East Coast, Andrew McMillin has returned to San Diego as associate minister for USD's University Ministry, with a Master of Theological Studies from Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. The department is glad he's back on campus in this new role.

Following his graduation, Andrew served as an Augustinian Volunteer, working as a high school teacher in Lawrence, MA. He was awarded a full scholarship for the M.Div program in the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College, entering the program in the fall of 2008.

While studying theology, Andrew also served the BC School of Theology and Ministry as assistant director of admissions and switched from the M.Div. to M.T.S. In that capacity, he visited the USD campus several times to discuss opportunities for graduate study at BC with THRS majors and minors. (April 26, 2012)

Cheryl Clark ('06)

Cheryl Clark is currently teaching AVID II (10th grade) and AVID III (11th grade) courses at IDEA College Prep in San Juan, Texas. IDEA Public Schools is a charter district with the mission of sending 100% of its students to college. Cheryl is also the AVID Coordinator on campus and the 10th grade team leader. She eventually hopes to become a college counselor at a school in the region. “I feel that students down here are so under served,” Cheryl writes. “They lack guidance and direction. I am continually surprised by the stories I hear from students about their home situations, things they have seen in their lives, and the reality of life here. I know it's the United States, but it feels like a different world to me.”

Prior to her current position, Cheryl worked for Teach for America at Jimmy Carter Early College High School in La Joya, Texas, in the Rio grande Valley. She found La Joya very interesting because "it is really like not other part of the US--it really is 'la frontera.'" (April 26, 2012)

Matt Juelsgaard ('05)

Damiaan and MattMatt Juelsgaard and his wife Natcharat are the proud parents of a new baby boy, Damiaan (yup--spelled with two As), born February 8, 2012. Congrats to them both! To the right there's a photo of Matt and young Damiaan.

Natcharat and Matt JuelsgaardMatt has for the past two years been working at Sacred Hearts Academy in Honolulu teaching theology. He's currently teaching 10th and 11th graders. As he reports, " I have enjoyed my experience there and love doing theology with high school students." Matt is also in the midst of pursuing a Ph.D. in education from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His research is on the schooling experiences of minority students in Thailand. He plans on defending the dissertation during the spring semester of 2013. "I am thankful daily," Matt writes, "for the education I received at USD. It was in the theology department that I was taught to seek wisdom, knowledge, truth and understanding with both my mind and heart."

For two years after graduation, Matt lived in Thailand, working with the Lahu people, an ethnic minority group. He and and his wife began a micro-credit program in order to assist poor farmers and children of farmers. Matt would like students to know they are free to contact him if they are interested in traveling and volunteering in Thailand. His contact info is available from the department. (April 26, 2012)

Dana Gatziolis ('10)

Dana writes, "I love to think back to my days as an undergraduate student in the Theology department. The classes that I took truly formed me as a learner, and pushed me to new limits. The relationships that I formed with my professors are perhaps the most special part about the THRS department. I dearly miss the days of showing up to a professor’s office and discussing theological topics that went beyond our syllabus.” (October 28, 2011)

Charles Mansour ('07)

Charles MansourAfter graduation, Charles moved east to participate in the Providence Alliance for Catholic Teachers (PACT) program at Providence College, in which students earn Master of Education degrees while teaching at Catholic schools in the New England. After finishing with the PACT program, he stayed on for another year at the high school at which he gad been teaching, Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, MA. Following this experience, Charles joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps international program.

Charles is currently living in Chuuk, Micronesia, where he's been for almost fifteen months. Last year, he taught English at a primary school called St. Cecilia's, and this year he's teaching literature, English composition, and psychology at a high school called Saramen Chuuk Academy. "It's been an awesome experience," Charles writes, "and I'm loving it out here. I finish in June, and I have no idea what my next step is. I'll be sure to keep you posted!"

Extra: Check out the Jesuit Volunteer Corps' Micronesia album on Flickr. (October 28, 2011)

Benjamin Lee ('07)

Ben Lee is currently in his fourth term pursuing a BFA in Graphic Design & Illustration at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. He's also working as youth minister at St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church, Pasadena, where he directs confirmation and catechesis for high school youth, the Core Team of Student Servant-Leadership, weekend retreats, and social justice programs. Ben writes, "I'm also involved in several other ministries around LA for youth and young adults, and serving as creative director for the 242revolution in Southern California. I'm a worship leader as well, and collaborating with artists and musicians to create a collective that creates art focusing on faith, the human experience, and social justice. We shall see what comes of it.”

Ben reports that he is still very much considering getting an MTS when he gets settled in his design career full-time. Before moving to Pasadena in the fall of 2010, Ben served as Director of Youth Ministry at St. Michael’s Church in San Diego. (October 28, 2011)

Marcus Lopez-Scharbach ('10)

After graduation, Marcus joined Teach for America, where he is now in his second year. He is living in Oklahoma teaching in low-income areas with at-risk students. Currently, he is teaching 8th grade science as well as coaching soccer. Last year year he taught high school seniors in and, as he writes, "was overwhelmed by their developmental gaps in both writing and math." "It has been my pleasure." he continues, "to teach a younger group this year because I saw where so many students went astray that I am now able to get them on track to where a high school student aught to be." After finishing his stint with Teach for America, Marcus plans to attend medical school. (October 28, 2011)

Candice Marie Nasir ('11)

Candice Marie Nasir

Candice Marie Nasir started work this fall on her MA in Peace and Justice Studies in the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at USD. She was also accepted into a similar program at UC Berkeley, but she preferred the USD program. In October, Candice Marie's article "Contextualizing Peace in Islamic Traditions: Challenging Cultural Hegemony" was published in the peer-reviewed online journal In Factis Pax. This article originated as her THRS senior thesis. (October 14, 2011.)


Ashlee Chowen Cowles ('06)

Ashlee Chowen CowlesHaving finished her Masters in Theological Studies at Duke University, Ashlee Chowen married her longtime sweetheart, Jordan Cowles, in 2008. Ashlee and her husband then moved to Garmisch, Germany, where they spent a year working at a ski resort and traveling around Europe. After a lifetime of reading historical fiction, Ashlee was inspired to try writing it, and by the time she left Europe ended up with a manuscript for a novel set in 16th century Germany and Spain.

She and Jordan then moved back to their hometown of Colorado Springs, where Ashlee spent a year as an Americorps VISTA volunteer, working in a low-performing public school district for a non-profit organization called the PeaceJam Foundation, which connects kids with 12 Nobel Peace Laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.

After this year of service, Ashlee began teaching in the Philosophy Department at Pikes Peak Community College. Having the opportunity to teach at a college level encouraged her to continue with graduate school, and she's currently applying to PhD programs in Medieval History at the University of Cambridge, Notre Dame, and UNC-Chapel Hill. She also continues to to write fiction and was recently offered representation by a New York-based literary agent who is interested in a historical-fantasy novel Ashlee wrote for young adults. After earning a PhD, Ashlee hopes to continue working for public education reform, while also teaching at a small liberal arts college and writing fiction when she has the time. (September 14, 2011)

Gibran Chavez-GudinoGibran Chavez-Gudino ('11)

THRS Major Gibran Chavez-Gudino was the proud recipient of the 2011 Alcalá Award for his dedication to academic excellence, community service and leadership. Gibran is off to Harvard Divinity School to pursue a Master of Theological Studies (MTS) this August. Regarding his experience in the department, he said, "Professor Espín believed in me enough to help me believe in myself, and for this, I am forever grateful." See the feature on Gibran's achievements on the College of Arts and Sciences web site. (August 21, 2011)

Nicolas Estrada ('11)

Nicholas EstradaNicolas Estrada has been admitted to Loyola University in Chicago. He will be working on his Master of Arts degree in history with a specialization in Early Modern Catholicism. After completing his M.A., he hopes to move on to doctoral studies at St. Louis University. (July 7, 2011)




Amanda Quantz ('95)

Amanda QuantzAmanda Quantz went on to earn her MTS. at Harvard Divinity School and her Ph.D. at the University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto. After teaching for a number of years at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Amanda has recently taken a position in the Department of Theology and Pastoral Ministry at the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas. Amanda was offered the position the day after her interview. On the basis of her teaching experience at USD and CTU, her record of scholarship and service, as well as her recent certification in the clinical pastoral education program at St. Francis Hospital, San Francisco, she was appointed to the St. Mary's position with four years credit towards tenure. Amanda will teach courses in Church history and systematic theology, as well as courses for St. Mary’s pastoral ministry program. For the latter, Amanda will lead an immersion course at Ahousat, Flores Island, British Columbia. This course will explore care across a variety of disciplines (Catholic tradition, Native American spirituality, pastoral tools for psychiatric medicine.)

Amanda was also offered a position in theology at St. Leo University, Florida, teaching in that institution’s programs for deacons, graduates, and undergraduates at their satellite campus near Charleston, South Carolina. Although Amanda accepted the St. Mary’s position, St. Leo’s requested continued contact in designing on-line courses for their graduate programs. (April 20, 2011)

Kara Kimball ('09)

Kara Kimball, a THRS minor, is currently working as a graduate assistant in the USD Center for Awareness, Service, and Action. Kara has been accepted for graduate study at the School of Theology and Ministry, Boston College, where she plans to begin study in Fall, 2011. At Boston College, Kara will will pursue a dual-degree program in Pastoral Ministry and Social Work, leading to an M.A. in Pastoral Ministry and an M.S.W. (April 20, 2011)

Marissa Miller ('11)

Marissa MillerIn June, Marissa Miller will begin working on her M.A. in Special Education at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Her tuition and housing will be fully funded by the PLACE Corps (Partners in Los Angeles Catholic Education). PLACE Corps students live together in community where they share not only a common professional interest, but also a common dedication to growing more deeply in their faith, a faith as Marissa writes, “I have come to cherish here at USD.” After completing her degree at LMU, Marissa will be teaching in one of the schools run by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. (April 15, 2011)

Tony Krzmarzick ('08)

Tony KTony Krzmarzick has been awarded full tuition scholarships at the University of Notre Dame and the School of Theology & Ministry at Boston College. He has accepted the offer at Boston, which includes a non-working stipend of $15,000 for living expenses, and will be pursuing an MDiv starting Fall 2011. "I am sincerely grateful to USD for the well-rounded theological education and ministry opportunities that I received," says Tony, "Because it prepared me for my job in Youth Ministry and my future work at BC."

Since graduating from USD with a B.A. in Theology & Religious Studies and Music, Tony has been working as the Coordinator of Youth Ministry at St. Therese of Carmel Catholic Parish here in San Diego, where he coordinates all social, faith formation, and service activities for youth, 6th-12th grade, and directs the 3rd-8th Grade Youth Choir. "The experience that I have gained at St. Therese of Carmel is priceless, " Tony reports, "I have learned so much about myself and have discovered a true passion for teaching and preaching." (April 14, 2011)

Michael Sepidoza Campos ('94)

Michael CamposFollowing his graduation, Michael completed his M.T.S. in theology at Harvard Divinity School and pursued a teaching career. After a few years as an educator, he decided to return to his studies at the Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley, CA) where he recently earned his Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies: Cultural Studies and Critical Pedagogy. Michael writes: “I’ve always considered my time at USD as one of profound open-ing/-ness, not only to the theoretical intricacies of theology, but to the abundance that comes with learning to walk magnanimously with others. I am proud to have learned so much from you.” (March 28, 2011)

Christopher Alt ('08)

Chris AltChristopher Alt was accepted at Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry, where he is pursuing an MDiv.  Chris was awarded a full-tuition scholarship for his entire three-year program of study.  At BC, he is working as a graduate assistant for Profs. Daniel Harrington, S.J., and Christopher Matthews, editors of New Testament Abstracts.  "I really can't praise USD enough," Mr. Alt writes, "firstly for the education I received, but also for the generous letters of recommendations from Portman chairs and full-time faculty alike."

Before moving to Boston, Chris was working for Father Carr's Place 2B, a homeless shelter, retreat center, free walk-in health clinic, and food bank in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. "It was a pretty eye-opening experience," Chris reports, "with many people dealing with mental illnesses, addictions, and loneliness." (May 18, 2010)

Emily Clawson ('07)

Emily ClawsonThis spring, Emily Clawson was awarded full scholarships to Harvard Divinity School and Boston College for graduate studies in theology. "The fact that I got full rides to both of the schools to which I applied," Emily reports, "is a testament to the excellent professors I had at USD." After much thought, Emily has decided on Harvard, so she'll be off to Cambridge in the fall of 2010.

Until recently, Emily was working for Teach for America, mentoring sixth graders in English literature and social studies at Bethune Middle School in South Central Los Angeles. (May 4, 2010)

Abby Vanausdoll ('07)

Abby Vanausdoll is currently Director of Admissions and Tuition Assistance for Cornelia Connelly School, which is an independent, Catholic, college preparatory school for young women located in Anaheim.  She does all the admissions work for the school, including organizing open houses, school visits, and high school nights all with the goal of bringing more girls to Connelly.  In addition to these events and processing applications, she is also in charge of tuition assistance and marketing. (September 25, 2008)

Amanda Durkin ('06)

Ms. Durkin has been assisting her husband for the past 6 months building a business. She is now researching medical schools in New Mexico as she hopes to switch career paths and enter the medical profession. She married on October 7, 2006 (she was formerly Amanda Towner).

Matthew Meyer ('06)

Matthew Meyer is currently the Campus Team Leader of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's ministry at USD. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is a national non-profit organization that does faith-based leadership development and ministry with college students. He plans to work with InterVarsity for the next 3 1/2 years, and will begin a graduate school program in theology part-time in the near future.

Alison Purpera ('07)

Alison Purpera is in the Providence Alliance of Catholic Teachers, which is is a graduate program through Providence College for secondary education. She is currently teaching theology at a high school in Fall River, MA as part of her graduate work. She says, "Life is insane, but I am loving it."

Lynn Rombi ('07)

Lynn Rombi is pursuing an M.A. in theology at the University of San Francisco. She is also teaching religion at Notre Dame High School, a Catholic college preparatory school for girls. In addition to teaching world religions in the fall and prayer in the spring, she is in charge of campus ministry which includes organizing and overseeing all the liturgies and retreats.

Tanya Stewart ('95)

Tanya Stewart & FamilyTanya Stewart was born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles, California. At USD, she double majoring in Biology and Religious Studies.  Immediately after graduation, she headed to Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston Massachusetts, where she received her medical degree.  From Boston she found her way to the Pacific Northwest, completing her internship and residency at Legacy Good Samaritan and Emmanuel hospital in Portland, Oregon. She realized her passion for end-of-life care during her residency, and in 2004, she accepted a position as medical director for Adventist Health Hospice, becoming board certified in palliative medicine in 2006.

Dr. Stewart has a passion for teaching and has lectured at national and statewide conferences on a variety of palliative care topics.  She is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Oregon Health Sciences University, where she mentors medical students and resident physicians through didactic sessions and patient home visits.  She is also an instructor in OHSU’s first-year medical student course on patients experiencing a life limiting illness. To the left is a picture of Tanya and her family.

Michael Vetti ('02)

Michael Vetti is currently a teacher at Seton Catholic High School. He teaches US History and Philosophical Foundations of Christianity.