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Preparing graduates for success in their careers and lives

by Jennifer Langham and Katie E. Ismael
Pacific Review, summer 2016

Student success is a focus of every institution of higher education. But at University of the Pacific, it means more than just earning a degree. 

By the time Pacific sends its students out into the world, they are prepared for a lifetime of achievement and leadership in their careers and in their communities. 

Meet just a few recent Pacific graduates who are poised to make a lasting and meaningful difference in all aspects of their lives. 

Aroosa Ahmed Aroosa Ahmed '16 took advantage of Pacific's support services and programs — and its faculty — and in turn has helped dozens of other students be successful. She is going on to the No. 1 graduate school in the country for social work, the University of Michigan.

Aroosa Ahmed
Success born from struggles

Within her first week as a student on Pacific's Stockton Campus, Aroosa Ahmed '16 had experienced the benefit of the university's small class sizes. The sense of community they created was a big source of comfort for the soft-spoken Stockton woman who would be living at home.

By the end of her first year at Pacific, the psychology and sociology major had been invited to participate in two research labs, a rarity for an undergraduate student. And by the time she graduated in May, Ahmed, who had helped support her family through several on-campus jobs, had been accepted to the No. 1-ranked graduate program in the country for social work, the University of Michigan. 

While Ahmed openly says that Pacific wasn't her first choice (UC Berkeley, which granted her admission, was), she needed to stay in her hometown because of family and financial circumstances.  

Today she says that attending Pacific was the best choice she could have made. 

The key to her getting into the top graduate program in the country was the individual attention she received, Ahmed said, and she is quick to give credit to the resources she found at Pacific. Her professors in the sociology and psychology departments were instrumental, in particular Susan Mannon, an associate professor of sociology, and Carolynn Kohn and  Scott Jensen, associate professors of psychology. They discussed in-depth with her different graduate program options, helped her with her personal statements and told her their personal stories of going through graduate school. 

"Their mentorship and guidance paved the way for me to achieve my dreams," she said.

Then there was the help she received from several other Pacific programs and departments, the Career Resource Center among them. Throughout her last year at Pacific, she met with the center's staff to discuss her future goals and how to reach them. They reviewed her resumes and cover letters for graduate program admission and for graduate assistantships.  She also received tutoring and guidance from Student Academic Support Services and from the SUCCESS TRiO Program, a retention program for first-generation, low-income students. 

In turn, she has given back to other students. She became a student representative for the SUCCESS TRiO Program and worked with campus and community leaders to improve outreach and retention services. She also helped launch the SUCCESS TRiO peer mentoring and tutoring program and assisted disadvantaged students facing financial and other issues. 

"The ability to provide hope for these students and a sense of belonging gave me deep joy and fulfillment," Ahmed reflected.

As a Pacific student adviser, she worked with more than 30 first-year students to help them successfully transition to college life. Though not always easy, it's work that has made a difference in the lives of Pacific students. Her most challenging — and rewarding — experience came when she helped a student who became homeless get connected with resources and find housing. While some aspects of the student's situation had been out of Ahmed's control, she later realized how she had become a vital support system for the student just by comforting her and listening to her. 

"Pacific is known for its small classroom sizes and as a place where professors know your name, however, I have come to appreciate that it is so much more than this."

— Aroosa Ahmed '16

Ahmed's future plans will allow her to continue to help others, in particular first-generation college students and Muslim-American women, of which she is one.

"Ensuring an accessible education for vulnerable communities is a particular passion of mine since it has been such a struggle of my own to pursue a college education," she said.  

And now she is off to fulfill a personal ambition to pursue not only a degree but a meaningful career as well. 

"Pacific is known for its small classroom sizes and as a place where professors know your name," Ahmed said. "However, I have come to appreciate that it is so much more than this."

April Nguyen


April Nguyen '16 was named California Pharmacists Association Student Pharmacist of the Year, in part for her work to increase awareness of the role of pharmacists. She is going on to a highly competitive fellowship program at Biogen in Massachusetts.

April Nguyen:
Taking an active role

Pharmacists can play a vital-and a greater-role in keeping patients and communities healthy. And April Nguyen '16 wants more people to know this. The new Doctor of Pharmacy graduate has spent her time at Pacific working to make that happen by forging new paths in the legislative arena. 

As a student in Pacific's accelerated pharmacy program, Nguyen became inspired to serve as the inaugural student trustee with the California Pharmacists Association  (CPhA-ASP). She was able to bring together all 12 California schools of pharmacy supporting three new statewide initiatives: the CPhA-ASP Legislative Week, California Pharmacists Outreach Week and a professionalism summit in Sacramento. And that meant she was representing more than 2,500 student pharmacists across the state, working with national and state pharmacist associations to build strong relations with decision makers in Congress. 

"As student pharmacists, we have the power to impact the patients we serve on a greater level, but students often feel too constrained by politics to consider themselves as advocates," she said.

She also saw the need to increase the awareness of the services that pharmacists can provide to the community. On a personal level, Nguyen was able to combine her passion for advocacy and her Vietnamese and English interpreting skills to organize the first American Pharmacists Association (APhA-ASP) health fair at Sacramento's Midtown Farmers Market. More than 400 community members received information and consultations in Hmong, Spanish and Vietnamese at the event.  The event marked one of the first collaborations among multiple schools of pharmacy in the state, she said. "

"It was so inspiring to see how strong and unified California students and pharmacists are in pushing our profession forward," Nguyen reflected. 

Beyond developing a penchant for politics, Nguyen had the opportunity to be part of a research team with Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice Sachin Shah in his study on energy drinks and their safety on the cardiovascular system. The research was presented in March at a meeting of the American Heart Association and was covered in major media outlets, including CBS News. All of those roles have led Nguyen to another inaugural role as a fellow in a new and highly competitive regulatory affairs fellowship program at Biogen, one of world's leading biotechnology companies. She will be managing clinical trials during the two-year program, which is in collaboration with the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston where she will also be an adjunct faculty member. 

"Pacific gives you all these opportunities to find out what your passion is." 

— April Nguyen '16  

She said the involvement with faculty, in particular as part of Shah's research team, was instrumental in her getting into clinical research and a fellowship in industry. While many of the school's faculty are involved in research,  "they all have time to talk to us and mentor us."

"My experience in pharmacy has been defined by so many opportunities: to help patients, outreach with other health care professionals, and engage and empower students," Nguyen said. 

"Pacific gives you all these opportunities to find out what your passion is," she said.  

 

Aaron Brieno

Aaron Brieno '14 was selected from a pool of 500 applicants for one of 18 spots in the California Senate Fellows program. He wants to continue helping the small Central Valley farming community where he was raised.  

Aaron Brieno:
Inspired to serve

The values of hard work and education have guided Aaron Brieno '14 through completing his law degree at the McGeorge School of Law to becoming a fellow in the prestigious Capitol Senate Fellowship program. 

And through the examples of his family, Brieno has been moved to find ways to serve his community, especially through politics. Growing up in the small Central Valley farming town of Hanford, Brieno found inspiration in his grandparents, who were migrant farm workers, and in particular his grandmother, who enrolled in adult school at the age of 40. 

When Brieno was a young adult, his father served on the city council and as interim mayor in their hometown, showing Brieno how public service could help those, like his grandparents, who were disenfranchised.

"I saw the opportunities for social change that the American political system provided," Brieno said.

He learned even more about the political process when he served as his father's campaign manager in his bid for the Kings County Board of Supervisors. Seeing firsthand the problems of working families in his region made Brieno want to speak up for them. 

"I quickly realized, though, that to help people effectively, I needed to refine my advocacy, writing and speaking skills," Brieno said. 

Law school seemed the obvious path to get these skills, and Brieno said he was particularly drawn to the Capitol Certificate program the McGeorge School of Law was developing as well as the school's close proximity to the Capitol. At McGeorge, Brieno found classes that helped develop his ability to communicate on behalf of disenfranchised groups, notably the Global Lawyering Skills class that taught him practical research, writing and speaking skills. And he took advantage of being near the Capitol by landing a summer internship with Assemblyman Henry T. Perea. 

He also found mentors such as Adjunct Professor Rex Frasier '00, himself a McGeorge graduate, to guide him toward success. Frazier started McGeorge's Public Policy Clinic, and Brieno was part of the first class. 

"This was truly a unique opportunity," said Brieno. "Students got to work on ideas for bills and then learn how to present the ideas to lawmakers. Many students found lawmakers who were willing to author their bills, and some were even signed into law." 

Then Frazier recommended Brieno apply for the California Senate Fellows program — an extremely competitive program that received some 500 applicants for its most recent class of 18 fellows. Considered one of the most distinguished service-learning programs in the country, it is jointly sponsored by the California State Senate and the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento. 

"My journey began in a small Central Valley town, and I'd like to continue helping families with difficulties." 

— Aaron Brieno '14

While he's still deciding what career path he'll take when the fellowship ends, Brieno wants to continue serving his community. Reading an article in Forbes that listed Kings County among the 10 least-educated regions in the country led Brieno to research how to improve the educational prospects of young people in the region. 

"I am laying the groundwork for a nonprofit community-based organization that will provide college, career and life counseling to low-income high school students in the Central Valley," said Brieno. 

One way Brieno wants to accomplish this is through mentoring, and he has found several graduates of his former high school who have gone on to career success and are now willing to come back and work with area youth. 

"My journey began in a small Central Valley town, and I'd like to continue helping families with difficulties," he said. 

Nabeel Cajee

Nabeel Cajee '11, '15 opted to do a residency in general dentistry at Highland Hospital in Oakland because he wanted to start his career on a note of service.

Nabeel Cajee:
Committed to help

For Nabeel Cajee '11, '15 success is defined by much more than just academic achievement. 

"For me, it's about unlocking one's potential, and so many people at Pacific helped me do that," he said. 

Cajee, a Stockton native, chose Pacific for his undergraduate education in part because he had started a nonprofit organization while in high school that advocated for reinvestment in local public libraries, and he wanted to continue this work. He also loved the flexibility that Pacific provided-he actually designed his own undergraduate degree within the College of the Pacific-as well as the opportunities for research and exploration.  

"My friends used to tease me because I was always running from one end of the campus to the other, taking organic chemistry in the morning and philosophy in the afternoon," he said. "But I believe in the importance of a strong liberal arts education, in being able to study a number of fields and develop interpersonal skills necessary for life."

At Pacific, he also had a range of opportunities that are not always common at other undergraduate institutions: he was in the Pacific Legal Scholars Program, he worked in a genetics lab, he participated in a sociology research project, and he was able to advance his Spanish-speaking skills through experiences in Mexico, Bolivia and Colombia.  

When he finished his dental degree at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, he chose to do a residency — going beyond what is required to practice dentistry in California. But for Cajee, the chance to work in the Advanced Education in General Dentistry program at Highland Hospital in Oakland was an opportunity for continued learning and to serve others.

"I felt such a sense of gratitude-going to dental school was the fulfillment of a dream-so the residency was a way to express this gratitude."

— Nabeel Cajee '11, '15  

In his work at the hospital, he has seen patients who have driven for hours to get dental care, who often have complex medical histories and for whom, in many cases, the hospital is the last option they have for treatment. In one case that affected Cajee, the parents of a very young girl in extreme pain from an abscessed tooth drove to Oakland from Modesto because they were unable to find treatment closer to home. 

"Every day in the hospital has challenged me," he said. "The experience has helped ground me and has really shaped the trajectory of my career."  

"I felt that working in the hospital would help build my skills more quickly than going directly into private practice, and I also wanted to start my career on a note of service," Nabeel said. "I felt such a sense of gratitude-going to dental school was the fulfillment of a dream-so the residency was a way to express this gratitude," he said. 

When he completes his residency in July, Cajee will be busy. Along with starting his dental career, he'll be coming full circle with his community involvement. The library advocacy Cajee initiated as he entered Pacific nine years ago is finally coming to fruition. This November, Stockton will vote to expand and improve the city's library and recreation systems. Cajee will be very involved in the campaign he helped inspire.

"Through Pacific, I obtained an incredible liberal arts education along with world-class dental training," said Cajee. "The best part? Amazing faculty mentors who inspired and encouraged my commitment to helping others."

Patrick Day

The Recipe for Success

What is unique about Pacific's approach to student success?

To start, meet Patrick Day.

Just don't expect to find Pacific's vice president for student life behind his desk. One of Pacific's top administrators, Day is often seen eating lunch with students in the DeRosa University Center, lending his support to one of their clubs or causes, or talking with them as he makes his way around campus (never getting anywhere fast, as he's stopped so often). 

"At Pacific, there is no elite level; here there isn't some set of faculty or administration that only certain students can meet with," said Day. "Students here have more one-on-one engagement with members of staff at all levels." 

When Day speaks to parents at orientation, he illustrates why their student will be successful at Pacific.

"I tell them, 'When your son or daughter tells a member of staff here that they have a paper due soon, a couple of weeks later that staff person is going to ask how the paper turned out.'" 

"At Pacific, somebody will be in front of students asking how they're doing and following up on both their challenges and their achievements," he said. People are one part of the formula for student success at Pacific, said Day. Clear milestones are another.

"Some people think it goes without saying, but I think we need to make sure that our students have powerful learning experiences and that they graduate in a reasonable time," said Day. One way that Pacific supports this goal is with a variety of services to help students with both academic and cocurricular challenges. 

"At Pacific, somebody will be in front of students asking how they're doing and following up on both their challenges and their achievements." 

— Patrick Day,
vice president for Student Life

"What we know is that students are not singular academic beings — if they have a problem outside the classroom, it can impact their learning, and conversely, academic struggles impact the rest of a student's life," he said. 

Educational coaches, counseling services and a recent increase in partnerships between academic units and student life are all resources to help students be successful at Pacific. Day pointed to another change Pacific has made in the past year to help support student success: a significant investment in the Career Resource Center. 

"We want students to start preparing for life after Pacific at the front end of their time here," he said. "If they need an internship to get the job they want, or need to take certain classes to go to graduate school, we want to help them plan for that, as well as help them work on their resumes and interviewing skills."

It's a difference that helps make student success more than just a vague concept. 

"We can see that our students are learning, and we can look at where they are going after graduation," Day said. "We have a diverse set of students, and we're working to ensure that, regardless of students' backgrounds, we can help them all be successful at Pacific."  

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