Spring 2012by USD Magazine Staff

Gazing Skyward



Gazing Skyward (Part 2)

Professor Barton Thurber relishes the moment when his students understand the truth, beauty and power of literature. Junior James Wykowski’s Semester at Sea proved to...


Gazing Skyward (Part 3)

Getting sociology students fired up about their field is what Professor Erik Fritsvold lives for. Well, that, family, and surfing. Political Science Professor Del...

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Facets of the Same Jewel

There are people who transform those around them by simply being themselves. They’re not necessarily famous, nor do they want to be. They don’t make a big fuss about their successes, and they always seem to learn something from their mistakes. If you watch and listen closely enough, an example is being drawn, simply by the graceful way they go about their work, their play, their lives.

Each of those who stories we bring you were singled out due to their profound impact on the people around them. Whether students determined to carve a niche in the global community, faculty members who inspire and elevate, or alumni quietly working to make the world a better place, we celebrate their journeys, their accomplishments and our 
certainty that their best work is yet to come.

Inspiration is precious, and with each flash of brilliance, of humility, of ebullience, of abiding curiosity and lifelong love of learning, we are all just a little richer, a little wiser, a little bit closer to becoming the best possible version of our best possible self.

The Big Thinker

Bringing a different kind of unity to campus is Gabe Adibe’s current mission critical.

by Trisha J. Ratledge

big thinker

Following the unimaginable devastation of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, Gabe Adibe helped deliver nearly a half million pounds of food, water, clothing and other supplies to the survivors. A logistician for the Marines who made sure cargo and aircraft for the mission were swiftly stocked and precisely packed, those numbers astounded even him. But what made the massive humanitarian effort possible, he says, was simple: synergy and teamwork.

“It was a joint effort between different countries,” he says. “There were all these people who didn’t know each other 24 hours prior and they were planning, sharing meals, working through the night, providing aid.”

Fast forward eight years, and Adibe, a senior sociology major at USD, is still the logistics manager for a larger cause. As the founder of USD Think, Adibe brings students, faculty and local community members from all backgrounds together for free-form discussions on social issues to promote positive change and action, much like he experienced off the coast of Indonesia.

“I’ve traveled the world a bit and have seen what happens as a result of war, and I’ve seen what happens when people work together,” says Adibe, an active-duty Marine with 10 years of service. “I’m trying to get people to come together because it’s so positive.”

Adibe’s mission to get people to think began with a Contemporary Social Issues class, which led to a leadership course and thought-provoking group exchanges. Looking around campus, Adibe saw a number of discrete groups working on individual social issues; he wanted to bring all of that creative energy into one room.

As Adibe spreads the word, USD Thinkers are squeezing in a little closer at each meeting while they explore such issues as racism, gender or class inequality. On a campus charged with possibility — USD was recently designated an AshokaU Changemaker Campus in recognition of its extensive social innovation efforts — Adibe and his fellow organizers have big plans, such as a USD Think jamboree for social action groups campuswide. He emphasizes that he’s not alone in his dream, and that USD Think is growing with the hard work and support of many people at USD.

Creating change in the local community, or, in fact, the world, is quite possible, says Adibe, who hopes to encourage innovation in city planning in his post-military career. “If you believe in something and you want it to change and you take action, the rest follows,” he explains.

This February, Adibe takes his message to a national audience as he leads a three-hour workshop at TEDxAshokaU, a conference at Arizona State University designed to inspire deep dialogues among changemakers. Originally in a wildcard runoff for a 10-minute student speaking slot, Adibe garnered 3,034 votes on the conference’s website, a close second-place finish. Impressed by his spirited campaign, the conference organizers invited him to run a workshop, and, in the process, provide more exposure for USD Think. Perfect, says Adibe, since he envisions expanding the USD Think concept to other college campuses, even to the military, where he will return to service as an officer after graduation.

Embracing each new challenge with a singular work ethic, Adibe has the tranquility of one whose direction in life is guided by faith.

“I feel like God has put me here for a specific reason,” he says. “One day you start drawing something and the next day you add onto it and you don’t really know why you are doing it and then all of the sudden you look and you say, ‘Whoa, I drew this crazy masterpiece.’ That’s how I feel God is working in my life.”

The Altruist

When Julie Novak set out to reinvent herself, the benefits far outweighed the challenges.

by Mike Sauer


The life of an NFL kicker is downright terrifying. Imagine the crushing weight of expectation from 52 teammates — not to mention the legions of fans poised on the edge of their stadium seats, sofas and barstools — as you line up a potential game-winning field goal. Maintaining poise under that type of pressure requires a level of focus that few of us regular folk can muster. Luckily for San Diego Chargers kicker Nick Novak, there’s an ample supply of it in his DNA.

“My mom has been such an inspiration to me for a variety of reasons,” he says. “I hope I’ve inherited some of her focus. She’s committed to helping people, and can handle anything you throw at her.”

Judging by her extensive contributions to the field of health care, both as an educator and an administrator, Julie Novak, DNSc, RN, CPNP, FAANP is at her best when her workload is at its heaviest.

“I certainly wanted to be in a profession where I could help people, and nursing was a very diverse profession where you could sort of reinvent yourself,” says Novak ’89, who was the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science’s first doctoral candidate.

For more than three decades, the award-winning matriarch of the Novak clan has made it her mission to provide resources, care and support for those who need it most. A few career highlights include developing a nurse practitioner program in rural Southwest Virginia that remains the backbone of the region’s primary care system; procuring a $2.5 million research grant for the Purdue University Doctor of Nursing Practice program; coordinating child and family health promotion programs in far-flung locales like Cape Town, South Africa and San Luis, Xochimilco in Central Mexico; and even lobbying then-presidential candidate Barack Obama on the value and importance of nurse-managed clinics.

While her career path has led Novak and her family far afield from San Diego, the value and impact of her educational experience at the University of San Diego still resonates. “I had an excellent experience at USD. It really broadened my perspective on the future of nursing, and health care in general,” she says. “It was the mid-’80s, I was a nurse practitioner at the time, and realized for the next step in my career, I needed to pursue my doctorate.”

That seemingly straightforward objective was complicated by the demands of her career and growing family, but Novak is nothing if not focused, and failure was simply not an option. “Sure it was difficult, but plenty of people have to deal with those types of situations in life. I’ll put it this way: With 3-year-old twins and a 7-year-old, I definitely learned how to best utilize each minute of each day,” she recalls, laughing.

Some 22 years later, Novak is still applying her storied focus to the challenges of providing systems of care to underserved children and their families. As associate dean for practice and engagement in the School of Nursing at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, she’s spearheaded the expansion of the university’s student health clinic, orchestrated the opening of the first employee health and wellness clinic, and, in an attempt to foster family development, integrated a program that educates parents as their children move through developmental milestones.

Those accomplishments, along with myriad others, earned her the Henry K. Silver Memorial Award, which honors the achievements of individuals who have contributed to the expansion or improvement of pediatric health care and the advancement of the profession of pediatric nurse practitioners.

“It’s really a tremendous honor to receive this award, as the man who it was named for sought to improve care for, 
and empower children and families,” she says. “It’s at the heart of what we do, and something I have always strived for.”

The Motivator

Bruce Mims wants to give high-risk students what they need: attention, role models and hope.

by Karen Gross


When Rosaura Rodriguez was 16 and living in foster care for the second time, Bruce Mims gave her a reason to get up every morning. The daughter of two parents who dealt drugs while raising her in southeast San Diego, Rodriguez spent her junior year in the county’s Juvenile Court and Community Schools system, accumulating high school credit so that she could graduate. Bruce Mims was her teacher.

“I looked forward to going to his classroom every day,” recalls Rodriguez, now 23 and an undergraduate at California State University San Marcos. “He was the one who inspired me to take on the career I want to take on, and try to move forward in life.” She hopes to eventually earn a law degree and work at the U.S. State Department.

Ever since he entered the world of education — topped off with his 2001 master’s degree at USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences, which was funded by a grant from the Irvine Foundation — Mims has directed his passion and commitment at kids like Rodriguez, who’ve have had to struggle simply to survive. Many found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Some, like her, were victims of circumstances beyond their control. All of them were in desperate need of attention, positive role models and hope.

“I never looked at high-risk youth as bad kids,” says Mims, who grew up in a middle-class home outside Pasadena, Calif. “I looked at them as kids who made bad choices based on bad information. I always believed that if you give kids some different information, they’d make different choices. And in most cases, that’s been true.”

That core belief is what led Mims on a career-long hunt for under-performing schools and the students who populate them. He spent much of the past decade in the Los Angeles area, where he earned his doctorate at the University of Southern California, and served as assistant principal and principal in a series of beleaguered high schools that responded to his special touch. As part of his unique motivational approach, Mims — an avid runner — challenged a group of students to join him in the L.A. Marathon.

“I was able to reach them on a different level,” he says.

It’s that student-centered and unrelenting approach that make Mims so good at what he does, according to Kevin Riley, who taught Mims at USD and initially recruited him into the Juvenile Court school system. Mims’ infectious positivity and love of learning seems to rub off on even the most resistant kids.

“They see that optimism, that can-do attitude,” says Riley. “He gives them no excuses. He sees an unlimited capacity for life’s success.”
Now a high school principal and director of student services in Sonoma County, Calif., Mims is taking his passion in a different direction. Unlike the gritty, urban settings he is accustomed to, his new home is rural and low-key. His current school, on the campus of Sonoma State University, is one of the highest performing in California.

“The pace agrees with me,” he says, sounding almost surprised by the revelation. “Even with high achieving kids, there’s room for inspiration. There are endless possibilities, and some don’t realize how big the world of opportunity is for them.”