The Softer, Gentler Side of Sgt. Julu

Darrell Julu, Park U social work major, takes a quick study break.
Darrell Julu, Park U social work major, takes a quick study break.

For many years, Darrell Julu was a standout in the military and in pop culture (but more on that in a minute …), known for his physical prowess, strong work ethic, and uncanny ability to influence wayward teens to straighten up and fly right.

Today, Darrell appreciates the importance of physical, mental and emotion wellness in the journey toward development and transformation.

Darrell credits his mother for establishing strong standards—particularly with education. At her insistence, Darrell was enrolled in one of the most rigorous Catholic high schools in New Jersey. When school was finished, Darrell attempted to rebel against his mother’s collegiate expectations. “I was sick of school and told her I was joining the military. The Army was my first choice.”

But she found a way exercise her influence there, too.

“My mother told me, ‘Unless you want to go to another strict Catholic school, you will join the Marines.’”

Darrell in 1991, as a newly-enlisted U.S. Marine.
Darrell in 1991, as a newly-enlisted U.S. Marine.

Although initially assigned to the role of postal clerk as a new enlistee, Darrell showed his superiors at Fort Benjamin Harrison that his strength and agility might be better served in training others. Early into his military career, Darrell was sent from Indiana to California to attend drill school. While there, he became part of the Light Armored Reconnaissance unit and soon after joined the original group of military members deployed to Somalia. After Somalia, he was deployed to Bosnia.

While Darrell’s military service took him to dangerous places all over the world, his mother remained concerned about a journey he hadn’t finished: pursuing higher education.

“Throughout my time in the service, my mother kept asking me, ‘What about school?’” Darrell. To appease her, Darrell enrolled in a military-friendly institution that accommodated his very hectic schedule, but he was never able to gain much ground because of his assignments.

“I’d take a semester of classes here and there, but it was hard to get any traction,” he reflects. “I never felt like I had the time to finish what I started.” 

After eight years of active duty as a Marine, Darrell enlisted in the U.S. Army National Guard. Additionally, Darrell always knew that he wanted to help rehabilitate and guide troubled youth, so he joined the New Jersey Department of Corrections as a Juvenile Correctional Officer. Darrell’s unit was known as a “no-nonsense” operation, as well as for the head of the division: Joe Clark, subject of the popular movie Lean on Me, who was famously portrayed by Morgan Freeman.

Sgt. Julu gets up close and personal with an unruly teen on The Sally Jessy Raphael Show.
Sgt. Julu gets up close and personal with an unruly teen on The Sally Jessy Raphael Show.

Due to the popularity of his boss, The Sally Jessy Raphael Show (a popular, syndicated talk show that ran from 1983-2002) took interest. Producers from the show filmed a segment at the Department of Corrections and quickly became interested in Darrell’s style of instruction. They were so impressed that the initial invitation for him to appear on the show as a boot camp instructor became a full time commitment. He left the Department of Corrections and stayed with the show for seven years. 

Darrell, as a member of the U.S. Army.
Darrell, as a member of the U.S. Army.

After his time with Sally ended, Darrell became active duty in the U.S. Army and was deployed to war-torn parts of the world, including Afghanistan and Iraq. During Darrell’s nine years of service, he sustained physical injuries and, for the first time in his military career, began dealing with the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Through his challenges with PTSD and recovery through therapy, “Sgt. Julu” has an evolved philosophy about rehabilitation.

“I still believe that the correctional aspect of behavioral rehabilitation is important, but through my own challenges, I have learned that treating the whole person matters so much more. It’s the awareness of mind, body and soul that puts people on a real path to wellness.”

Having previously studied criminal justice, Darrell is now exploring his new perspective as a social work major at Park. He also continues to work with youth, although not as “Sgt. Julu.” These days, “Coach Julu” volunteers as the head football coach of Kansas City, Mo’s University Academy lower school football program. He has also coached for Della Lamb Community Services’ football league in Kansas City for fifteen years. 

Darrell studies hard in the Global Warrior Center.
Darrell studies hard in the Global Warrior Center.

Darrell is optimistic about the path on which Park has placed him.

“Earning my social work degree will allow me to pair the credentials with my experience,” Darrell believes.  “I’m finally finishing what I began and will be able to help so many others in a more meaningful and lasting way.”

Comet Trails and Changing Stars

by Bridget Locke, Director of Strategic Communications, July 2020

Rachel (left) with Edwin “Ed” James, Park University’s Grand Forks AFB Campus Center Director, after graduation in 2014. Since earning her A.S. in Management, Rachel has earned a Bachelor of Science in Management / Health Care in 2020 and is currently pursuing an MPA with Park.

Although Rachel Borjas, ’14, ’20, and current graduate student in Park University’s Master in Public Administration program, didn’t realize during childhood that she was living in poverty, her adult perspective is very different.

“I came from very little. My parents were U.S. born but did not graduate from high school. They chose migrant work because that’s all they could do,” said Rachel. “We lived in housing projects and in shacks while we worked the fields. Education was not something my family emphasized.”

Still, Rachel, a San Benito, Tex., native and youngest of four siblings, knew that she was destined for something different … something more.

“My life today is a complete 180-degree turn from the life I had as a child.”  

Stability and motivation
Though it was a challenge to complete school due to the migratory nature of her parents’ work (“I was always enrolled late and withdrawn from school early,” Rachel recalled), she completed high school. Later, she married an airman and adapted to military life. During that time, Park University provided a sense of stability.

“Park was one of the only consistent universities throughout our military life that I saw,” she said. “So, I enrolled and stuck with Park.”  

Along the way, Rachel has met several faculty and staff members who have collaborated with her and made her feel like “more than a number.” Grand Forks AFB Campus Center Director Edwin “Ed” James, in particular, has left a very meaningful impression.

“I will forever boast about Ed,” Rachel said.  “He didn’t know, but my dad passed a long while back and I never had a father figure to guide or motivate me. When I had self-doubt or saw that I was hesitating, Ed encouraged me. He couldn’t have known how much it meant.”

Ed is just as big a fan of Rachel’s:    

“Rachel is a wonderful young woman who has worked hard to get to where she is,” he said. “She has always been very appreciative but I remind her constantly that I have just provided some direction and support. She is the one who has done the work and earned what she has achieved educationally and professionally.”

The end product
Today, in addition to continuing her education as a graduate student, Rachel works for the Department of Homeland Security at the Houston Field Office. Although she is currently a member of the Tactical Terrorism Response Team, she was initially drawn to a career with DHS because she hoped to help stop drug trafficking—also a remnant of her challenging childhood.

“I chose DHS because I wanted to make a difference. I was raised around drugs and have seen what it does to people and families. I wanted to do something to prevent drugs from coming across the border and reduce the amount of drugs available to young people.”  

Oftentimes, when speaking about the importance of pursuing and finishing a degree program, Park University President Greg Gunderson talks about education’s power to influence and change the trajectory of an entire family’s destiny. He calls it the “comet trail” of higher education.

Rachel sees her pursuit of higher education and a better life as functioning in a similar way: “I changed my stars,” she said.

And her family has followed suit.

“My oldest sister earned her bachelor’s degree at 38,” she said.  “My kids are enrolled in college now.  My nieces and nephews are attending universities, too. They are being taught the importance of education and that it is now a necessity.”

No matter the circumstances or challenges, Rachel says, the power to change your life lies within your mind’s capacity to believe and your willingness to work hard.

“You can do whatever you set your mind to,” Rachel said. “Work hard and carry the sentiment both in your mind and heart that failure is not an option. You are enough. You can do it. You are not a product of your environment, but rather, an end product of what you decide.”

Led to Lead, Here to Help

by Bridget Locke, Director of Strategic Communications, June 2020

Ask Park University Director of Military and Veteran Student Services Sarah Weygand, ’16, what she wants people to know about her, and she’ll give a simple answer: “I’m approachable and here to help.”

Brandy Madrigal, a Park University student and military spouse, agrees:

“I reached out to the Warrior Center to find out why the GI Bill® was not covering my tuition. Sarah explained that there was a possible mix up and advised me to contact the VA. I did, and to my surprise, Sarah had also reached out on my behalf, knowing that this can be a lengthy process. Her service speaks volumes to the military community. Any student who is lucky enough to work with Ms. Weygand is in great hands. She puts in every effort to help us succeed.”

Helping students succeed is simple, from Sarah’s perspective. She understands that honoring students’ personal experiences is key to providing the best level of support.

“Military-connected students come from all over the world,” Sarah shared. “Park serves veterans who have survived combat situations; disabled veterans; reservists who have been deployed to help those affected by natural disasters; and spouses and children of service members who have moved multiple times … you name it. They all have different experiences, and each one brings their own culture and history with them. Our military students are influenced by the military, but there’s so much more to their stories.”

Proud to serve: Seaman Recruit Weygand, at the beginning of her military career.

Like many other students
Sarah’s own story began in North Attleborough, Massachusetts. After high school, she attended a four-year University, but left after the first year. She felt lost.

“I just didn’t have direction,” Sarah reflected. “Like many other students who are unprepared for the lack of structure and feel uncertain about their plans for their lives, I failed out of school my first year and went back home.”

Still, she had a sense of the type of roles that excited her. Sarah, raised around water, had served as a lifeguard and emergency medical technician. “I loved the responsibility of emergency service and helping people.”

She attended Community College of Rhode Island, got fit and took the ASVAB test and enlisted in into the Coast Guard Reserves. Sarah was stationed at Port Security Unit in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where she became qualified as a Boatswain’s Mate and a combat medic, and advanced to Petty Officer 3rd Class (E-4). All the while, she prepared for a chance to serve full time. Then, in 2008, an active duty slot opened up.

Sarah on the water in Clearwater, Florida, practicing tactical maneuvers in a joint training operation with Port Security Unit 307.

“I jumped at the opportunity,” she said.

Sarah was stationed at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, New Jersey, where the Coast Guard houses their basic training. Later, she became qualified as a fitness and swimming instructor for Coast Guard recruits in basic training.

Love at first (web) sight
Sarah and her husband Aaron, whom she met while serving in different units at the training center, left the Coast Guard in 2011. After living in Roanoke, Virginia, for two years, Sarah and Aaron moved to his hometown of Leavenworth, Kansas, to be closer to his aging grandparents. During this time, Sarah found Park University—by accident.

“An acquaintance heard me lamenting about another university that wouldn’t accept my GI Bill® for out-of-state tuition and told me to check out Park. I visited the website and fell in love! I saw that Park was military- and veteran-friendly, and offered the degree I was looking for. The rest is history.”

Sarah earned a Bachelor of Science in Fitness and Wellness from Park in 2016.

Serving those who serve their country: Sarah (front row, left, with hands on her knees), serving alongside other Park U faculty and staff at the Heart of America Stand Down, 2016.

“When I graduated from Park, it had been 10 years, start to finish, to get my degree. I graduated Magna Cum Laude,” she said, proudly. “If I can do it, other veterans and non-traditional students can do it.”

Around the same time, Sarah joined Park’s staff. In 2019, she was promoted to Director of Military Services.

In addition to managing full time staff and work study students in the Global Warrior Center, Sarah ensures timely processing of VA educational benefits, collaborates with interdepartmental staff on programming and training, and creates connections with outside veteran service organizations.

“One of my favorite aspects of the job is collaborating with so many different people and departments,” she said.

Sarah continues to sharpen her tools. On May 14, she graduated from the 2019-20 cohort of Pirates Rising, Park’s internal leadership development program; plans to enroll in Park’s Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership and Adult Learning this fall; and is thriving in her mentor/mentee relationship with Colonel Andrew Shoffner, Director of the Department of Command and Leadership at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and a Park trustee.

“He’s been really helpful in pushing me to prioritize my actions and organize my life,” she said. “Col. Shoffner is the perfect combination of efficiency, directness and kindness. He’s the type of leader I aspire to be.”

But ultimately, all roads lead back to helping people. It’s what she loves to do. And in that regard, she wants to help everyone understand: military-connected and non-military communities have more in common than not.

“We face barriers to education, are often older than traditional students, and may sometimes use different phrases, but military-connected students are like all students. We’re seeking education to achieve our goals, and to better our lives and the lives of our families,” Sarah said. “We are trying to learn and grow. Take the time to engage with us. The interaction might be more meaningful and enlightening than you realize.”

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at

Work, Wisdom and Worldwide Connections

by Bridget Locke, Director of Strategic Communications, June 2020

Park University alumnus Jake Fichman.

As a competitive high school athlete and student graduating from Kansas City’s prestigious Barstow School, Jake Fichman, ’11, had lots of options for college—but he approached his choice sensibly. After connecting with the Park University’s distance running team, he believed he’d found a good fit.

“Park was the right choice for a number of reasons: it was a smaller, more intimate campus; close to Kansas City—which I love; close to my parents—whom I love; had a beautiful landscape; and generous scholarship options.”

As an undergraduate, Jake formed a good rapport with his teammates, coaches and professors—particularly William Venable, who served as Assistant Professor of Marketing/Management during Jake’s time at Park, and Park’s Professor of Economics, Dr. Stephen Bell.

“Professor Venable and I clicked on a personal level. He inspired me to reach high and set myself up for a great future. We are still in touch. Dr. Bell taught economics in the clearest, and most interesting manner, with a real passion for the topic. I would have conversations with him after class about deeper areas of econ and really enjoyed his attitude and encouragement. Outstanding teacher.”

While Jake was learning, he blazed his own business trail. Throughout his time as an undergrad, Jake ran Precision Cuts, the landscaping business he’d founded at age eight (yes, eight) on the weekends.

“I would knock on doors in my neighborhood and ask if I could cut their grass, trim bushes, and clear snow in the winter. It was my weekend job for most of my life.”

In addition, Jake co-founded a second business before graduating as a Marketing and Finance double major: The Hummus Company.

“One night, I had dinner with my Park roommate and his aunt. Our waiter became my business partner! We built the business up nicely, had a factory and many customers—grocery chains, restaurants, etc. I sold my part of the company after about two years, and it still goes strong today.”

Fail and try again
Although entrepreneurship is a trending topic now, Jake recalls that this wasn’t necessarily the case during his formative years.  Still, becoming a business owner was practically coded into his DNA. Several members of his family, including his grandparents, parents, uncles and cousins, were business owners. Jake credits his father, Rich Fichman, with having the biggest influence on him regarding vocation and business.

“During most of my early years, we spent hours each week discussing the stock market, management, profit and loss, accounting, taxes, employment, profitability, et cetera. His support gave me the confidence to fail and try again.” 

Jake’s business mindset sometimes made it tough to be a student. He was eager to get out into the real world and apply himself and learn through failures and successes. He put himself on an accelerated timetable and graduated in three years by testing out of a few classes, using Advanced Placement credits, and taking summer courses.

And yet, after graduating from college and selling his business, Jake felt a shift in his purpose.

“I wasn’t so excited about the ‘American dream.’ The idea of making more money to buy bigger, nicer things only to need to make more money to pay for those things…it just didn’t make sense. I really sought the direction for my life at that point. I grew in my faith and wanted to go on a Godly-adventure. So, I learned more deeply about Israel and went to visit.”

On that journey, Jake found himself amazed by what he learned about the Israeli culture (“Warm, family-friendly, passionate people,” Jake marveled), and the history of the land. In the months to follow, the pull to change the direction of his life grew stronger. Jake decided to voluntarily serve as a member of the Israel Defense Forces.

Jake applied to serve in a one-and-a-half-year program. It took a while to get a response, but once he heard back, the urgency was jolting: he qualified for IDF service, but because of his older-than-average age (23 years at the time), he was instructed to make a final decision in three days, buy a ticket within the week, and move to Israel in two weeks.

“I hadn’t yet talked to my family and friends about the idea, which made it tough,” Jake recalled. “But as I’d waited for their response, I had become completely committed to the idea.”

Jake’s time in the military was inspiring … and humbling.

“Encouraged by my loving mother, Suzi Fichman, I was confident that IDF would be impressed by summa cum laude education. Nope! I ended up in an infantry unit as a combat soldier and was given combat medic training. I also had a challenging time connecting with other soldiers. I was 24 and they were 18—and I didn’t know Hebrew.”

An engaging speaker and insightful thought leader, Jake speaks before a rapt audience.

Eventually, Jake found his way. He became so enamored of Israel that he decided to stay and become a dual-citizen … which, not surprisingly, led Jake to consider his next entrepreneurial venture.

Back to business
After his time in the Israeli army, he was asked by Israel’s largest travel agency to serve as a consultant. Jake saw an opportunity to capitalize on his Midwest-honed customer service sensibilities, business experience and education.

“I became a sole proprietor, dealing mostly with a few clients in marketing consulting. I quickly saw the need to become service-focused, as there were always staffing issues at organizations, which didn’t allow these entities to apply the advice I gave.”

In 2015, Jake began hiring freelancers, sold some retainer packages for ongoing digital platform development and content creation, and began building another business, Goldfish Marketing. In a short period of time, Jake’s firm began serving niches of need in the Israeli market. As his business grew, Jake spent considerable time learning new digital skills, hiring experts, and bringing in new and bigger clients.

Goldfish Marketing’s high-profile client roster includes Vogue (Goldfish Marketing leads digital marketing for Allure’s new “Anywear” line); CBN (Christian Broadcast Network); the Shalva Band; Israel’s biggest tour company, Sar-El; members of Knesset (Israel’s “congressmen” who serve in the legislative branch of the Israeli government); and the Prime Minister’s Office of Israel. The firm was also asked by Israel’s Ministries of Defense, Homeland Security, and Health to produce digital strategies for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Landing the longshot: beyond blessed
Jake and Maria manage the production of the annual three-day Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast for the Israeli government, hosted by Israel’s president. While in attendance in 2019, Jake met the director of the Government Press Office, who offered Goldfish Marketing an opportunity to apply for a tender (which, in laymen’s terms, is a formal process by which a supplier submits a bid to provide a good or service). The application process was arduous, but ultimately, Jake was invited for an interview with the Government Press Office’s board and main director.

Jake (far right, front row), with GPO President Nitzan Chen (far left, front row), President of Israel Reuven Rivlin (second from left, front row), and others.

“They asked for an intro, presentation of our work portfolio, and a Q and A—all in Hebrew, of course,” Jake laughed. “It was a longshot in my mind.”

After a few weeks, Goldfish Marketing received confirmation from the Prime Minister of Israel’s Office that they had been chosen to provide foreign correspondent service, and Jake had been named Media Advisor to Israel’s Government Press Office!

“I spoke to a member of the board and admitted that I was amazed we were chosen,” Jake said. “There are dozens of very successful marketing companies in Israel, with many more years of experience, and here we are, a small startup company, led by a 30-year-old. The manager said to me, ‘The director and the board all agreed that Goldfish Marketing is the best digital marketing company in the entire country. That’s why we picked you.’ I was so proud of my team that day, and knew that we were headed in the right direction.”

Jake’s role as Media Advisor to the Prime Minister’s Office allows him a variety of interesting roles with the government. One week, he may work with a governmental ministry to advise on a new digital campaign for citizen awareness; the next, he might be asked to develop a network of global influencers who would be inspired to visit Israel with the promise of a press event and meeting with the Prime Minister.

Jake has learned a lot about leadership in his current role. Leaders must inspire teams to want to follow in good times and tough times, and must give 110 percent when client demands and timelines get overwhelming, he believes.

Wedded bliss: Jake and Maria on their wedding day.

But more than anything, Jake said, it’s important to love what you do, and love the people you do it for and with. The “for” and “with,” primarily for Jake, are his wife, Maria, and their baby daughter, Yael. 

“Maria has been monumental in all that’s happened since 2016,” he beamed. “She is my partner, my support, my counselor, and my sounding board. She interviews new workers with me, manages a few clients, directs some of the team, and helps me make core decisions—all while studying physical therapy at Tel Aviv University and raising our daughter.”

At age 30, there is likely a long road ahead for Jake in life and business, full of lessons and opportunities. But as he looks back on his experiences, and considers his great fortune to be surrounded by people who inspire and motivate him daily, he again approaches it sensibly:

“I am beyond blessed.”

Three weeks, one day and a lifetime of purpose

by Bridget Locke, Director of Strategic Communications, June 2020

Jason Roy, ready for duty at the Bronx Zoo.

In 2018, Jason Roy, a licensed Emergency Medical Technician living in California, made himself a promise.

“I enjoy what I do, but couldn’t see myself in a 20-year career as an EMT,” Jason said. “So I promised myself that in 2020, I would become a student.”
The son of two nurses, Jason decided that a career in nursing was his logical next step. He researched several schools, including a few larger institutions closer to his home on the West Coast, but found himself drawn to a private liberal arts institution in the Midwest with smaller class sizes and friendly admissions representatives.
So, Jason kept his word. He moved to Missouri and, in January 2020, began taking classes at Park University.

Then the pandemic hit.

Set up for service
Jason has been serving others for a long time. After high school, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps—albeit as a bit of a fluke. 

“I intended to join the Navy,” Jason said. “When I arrived at the recruiting station, everyone on the Navy’s side was gone,” he laughed. “But the Marines were still there and asked, ‘Why don’t you talk to us?’ So I wound up joining the Marines instead.”

As a Marine, Jason became a radio operator and eventually, his post-military career aspirations came into focus. 

“When I left the Marines, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had the tools to do something great if I applied myself, but I struggled trying to find that purpose. Health care wasn’t even on my radar until a friend invited me to do a ride along in an ambulance. That invitation was the match that lit the spark.” 

Jason became a licensed EMT in 2015. He has also volunteered for disaster relief efforts all over the world. Over the past three years, he has helped with Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, for which he was awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award; volunteered during the California wildfires; and traveled to Indonesia with a non-profit organization called All Hands and Hearts to assist with earthquake relief. 

So, when Park’s classes moved online as a safety measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Jason was well-prepared to serve on the front lines of the pandemic.

Jason works part time as an EMT for an ambulance company that has a contract with FEMA. When the Fire Department of the City of New York City needed more ambulances for the overwhelming onslaught of emergency calls brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, they called FEMA for help. In response, 50 health care professionals from Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio left for New York City in March. Jason was among them.

“We traveled together, stayed in the same hotel and were all assigned to task forces,” Jason said. “I was part of Task Force 7, which was assigned to cover Central Brooklyn, one of the hardest hit areas in New York City. My radio and unit name was 870-Nora.”

Jason, second from left, with some of his fellow Task Force 7 crew members in New York.

Their assistance was greatly needed; when Jason arrived, the FDNY was responding to 6,000 emergency calls a day—double their 3,000-a-day, pre-pandemic average. His shift was officially scheduled from 2 p.m. – 2 a.m., but the real workday stretched to about 18 hours. 

“All of FEMA’s ambulances were dispatched from the Bronx Zoo. I’d start there in the ambulance around 11 a.m., work my shift, return to the hotel sometime after 4 a.m., and do it all over again,” Jason recalled. 

Most of the people they encountered were extremely sick and, in many cases, required CPR. The stretchers were too big for the elevators, so if they were stable enough to be moved, the patients were carried down many flights of stairs to the ambulance.

“Imagine being dressed in full gloves, a gown, mask, and face shield, with a 30-pound medical bag, and using the stairs to bring a person down six flights of stairs,” Jason said.

“We still had to respond to other emergencies, as well,” he continued. “People were still getting shot, stabbed, into car accidents, having strokes, giving birth, and the coronavirus just added to it. We did our best, and I can think back to a few of those emergencies where we made a big difference.”

Those who were deployed to New York through FEMA were assigned three weeks on, one day off. Although the schedule was grueling, Jason rarely heard complaining and saw no fear. The spirit of teamwork was apparent as soon as he arrived, and as the days went on, the task forces became more like family.

“We all signed up in the middle of a pandemic to do what we do best. Healthcare workers from all over the country came together to help others, no matter the risk to ourselves. We had no manual for what we were doing; we were effectively writing that manual in real time. All of us were proud to make that contribution.”

When one sleeps, the other is on the radio. Jason (r) and his partner, around midnight.

Ready for what’s next
After his volunteer assignment was completed, Jason returned to Riverside, Mo. to rest, recover and settle back into life as a college student.  

“I was happy to be home and sad I couldn’t stay longer,” said Jason. 

Now, he’s getting geared up for his next semester at Park with a new perspective on life, a refreshed confidence in his chosen institution (“I believe that Park the best-equipped school to get me to where I need to be and I’m going full sprint until I reach my goals,” he said), and renewed faith he is on the right career path. 

“I didn’t have all the answers growing up,” Jason reflected. “Seventeen-year-old me in high school would never have guessed that I’d end up going to school to become a nurse. My parents tried so hard to make me want to be a nurse, but I ran away from it. Over the years, I made my own path, and through living life, I discovered what my passions were.”

Jason knows that there are other students searching for answers, too. He wants to assure them: finding your purpose is possible.

“Students go to college to find out what they should do. While some don’t have a hard time finding these answers, others struggle. I want to encourage the students who might be having a tough time. You might not have the answers now, but as long as you live your life and stay true to what you believe, the answers will become as clear for you as they became for me.”

Servant Leadership: Get It and Give It

by Bridget Locke, Director of Strategic Communications, May 2020

Senior Master Sgt. Hawkins, just before retirement, in Oct. 2017.

Retired Senior Master Sergeant Marvin Hawkins, a Class of 2020 Park University graduate, is accustomed to servant leadership.

Over the course of his military career, Marvin (as he prefers today) served in the U.S. Air Force as a Dental Assistant, later advancing to Dental Squadron Superintendent and Medical Operations Squadron Superintendent, a role in which he managed personnel while operating as principal advisor to the Squadron Commander. The position taught him the importance of being a flexible leader who inspires collaboration and trust.

“I observed, listened to others and sometimes found that the old ways were not necessarily the best ways,” Marvin said. “I would often ask, ‘How can we do it better?’”

Leading by serving is also the common factor that drew him to Park. He was immediately impressed by the staff and faculty who were willing to serve students with a tailored experience, focused squarely on their development and success.

“I was previously enrolled in another institution,” Marvin shared, “but felt very comfortable with Park’s staff during my initial visit at Goodfellow Air Force Base. The University’s reputation, course outlines, enrollment processes and guidance made switching an easy decision for me.”

Marvin enjoying the shade (and making plans for the future) on a sunny day in South Carolina.

Pivotal people
Though Marvin was fulfilled in his military career, he felt led to establish stretch goals for himself and had military mentors who encouraged him to lean into this instinct. While stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, Marvin’s Squadron Superintendent and mentor, Senior Master Sergeant Edward Breen, often nudged him to pursue his degree. Another mentor, Chief Master Sergeant Scott Thompson, a Group Superintendent for whom Marvin worked while stationed at Goodfellow, checked in each semester to make sure Marvin took classes.

“I was a late bloomer when it came to starting college, and there were a number of times when I had to take a break from classes due to deployments and other commitments—but I kept moving forward,” Marvin said.

Once he enrolled at Park, Marvin encountered another pivotal person: Wendy Medina, Park’s Goodfellow AFB Campus Center Director.

He initially pursued studies in business management, but eventually realized that his heart and interests leaned in a different direction—or perhaps, more accurately, in the direction they always had. After consulting with Wendy, Marvin decided to pursue a Bachelor of Public Administration degree with an emphasis in public service.

“I needed to change direction. I was very close to finishing—just a few classes short—and Wendy audited my degree progress. In the process, she identified a few other degree programs that more closely mirrored my previous job. Sometimes we just need a little help finding the educational path that supports our aspirations and educational goals. I can’t thank her enough for her patience, time and effort,” Marvin said.

Get it and give it
Marvin, who now resides in South Carolina, completed his program in March 2020 and is currently contemplating his next career move. He knows he is called to serve, as well as to continue learning. Marvin has plans to begin graduate studies in Park’s Master of Public Administration program.

“But first, I’m going to take a breath,” he joked.

On a more reflective note, as he looks back on his time in the military and his journey through college, he understands the importance of building mentoring relationships and wants everyone else to understand it, too.  

“Taking college classes can be difficult. Family and work obligations can make it challenging to focus on your goals. Look to your mentors for help and guidance. Sometimes a simple course correction is all you need, like Wendy did for me,” Marvin said. “Now, I can proudly say I graduated Magna Cum Laude. It can be a constant juggle, but never give up.”

Marvin also believes that the power of mentoring flows both ways. Giving back what you receive is just as important.

“Learn, and then pass on your experiences to others. You never know how you may influence someone on his or her journey to completing a significant milestone. When you help other people become better at whatever capacity, it seems to circle back in a positive way. It’s incredible the relationships you can build when you’re able to encourage and empower others.”

Reflections on our Students, Reflections on a Career

Editor’s note: When Walter Kisthardt, Ph.D., Professor of Social Work at Park University, acknowledged the resilience of his Master of Social Work students during the COVID-19 pandemic on a social media post, we asked him to expand on his thoughts. Dr. Kisthardt, who will retire at the end of this academic year, offered the following words. 

Walter Kisthardt, Ph.D.

The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated changes on many levels, not the least of which has been shifting our teaching from face-to-face to online distance learning mid-way through the semester. Our faculty and students did an excellent job of transitioning, especially with utilizing Zoom meetings for synchronous gathering and learning.  But, the hardest part for our students was adjusting their experience in their Field Practicum Agency. The students were in the process of developing their capstone project, where they are expected to develop an intervention, deliver the intervention, evaluate the impact of the intervention, and write a paper where they demonstrate an understanding and ability to apply the nine competencies of social work practice.

Many of our students were no longer able to go to the agency. This, quite naturally, created much worry and concern about how this crisis would impact their capstone experience.  Students did their best to maintain communication with their Field Instructor, with people with whom they had been working, with their course instructors, all the while attending to many other responsibilities including work and family demands. They also needed to be sure they completed the minimum number of field hours as required by accreditation. Many of the students completed additional learning modules online, writing additional reflection papers, and engaging in other creative alternatives.  The graduating students transcended their sadness and disappointment regarding cancellation of May graduation and adjusted and adapted in a professional manner.

Having taught at three universities over a span of 35 years, I can truly say that Park’s students are very special. Our students are driven. They are often the first in their family to earn a college degree. They are proud, they are hardworking, and they are loyal. Between 2006 and 2014, many of our Bachelor of Social Work graduates stated that they would have preferred to remain at Park to pursue their Master of Social Work (MSW). Many actually waited until we developed our program to come back to Park to earn their MSW. I often thanked that first graduating MSW class of 2015 for taking the “leap of faith” on us. Full accreditation could not be awarded until we had a graduating class where we could assess their attainment of the nine competencies of social work practice.

 The social work profession provides graduates with the opportunity to pursue their passion to help others in many diverse ways; as behavioral health clinicians, supervisors, administrators, working with diverse populations as well as working to inform and influence the development of social welfare policies that are inclusive, and which promote social, economic and environmental justice. Our social work graduates at Park University have gone on to make a significant difference in the lives of individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities.

Career reflections
Over the years, I have experienced many invigorating challenges and gratifying rewards at Park. I developed and submitted a proposal to offer a Master of Social Work  degree, and after seven years of proposing the MSW, the proposal was approved.  I served as the founding Director of the Center for Research and Training in Integrative Behavioral Health, which was established in collaboration with Truman Behavioral Health, to provide training for persons with the lived experience of mental illness, assess the impact of this training on quality of life and provide continuing education workshops for community behavioral health partners. I served as co-chair of the President’s Commission on Shared Governance. I was honored to serve as a faculty representative on the Presidential Search Committee. Fortunately for Park, an outstanding candidate—Dr. Greg Gunderson—accepted the position.

I leave the University with so many wonderful memories, so many special friendships, and with such affirming feelings. Over the years, I have been driven by my love of social work as a profession and my love of teaching and learning from students. I am blessed to have had supportive family, friends and mentors who have contributed, each in their own way, to all I have experienced and all I have accomplished.

Front Line Pirates: Denzil Ross

Park alumnus Denzil Ross, MBA, MHA … and COO.

by Nuno Alves Primo, Graduate Assistant, University Engagement

With the world trying to adapt to a new normal due to COVID-19, new heroes have emerged. Those heroes are the essential workers who are putting themselves in harm’s way to make sure that everyone else has access to food and health services. One such hero is Park alumnus Denzil Ross, Chief Operating Officer at Lovelace Health System and Lead Administrator of the Heart Hospital of New Mexico. In the Q & A below, Denzil shares the precautions he is taking to keep his family and hospital staff safe, discusses how COVID-19 affected his job as a hospital administrator, and gives tips on how we can help our local health providers during these challenging times.

Nuno Alves Primo: How has COVID-19 affected your personal life?

Denzil Ross: COVID has given us [Denzil and his wife Dr. Dionne Ross] some early mornings and late nights. As employees who are critical to the business, we both are still working. We have had to change the way we interact with each other. We now exercise from home versus the gym. We are finding innovative ways to keep our kids busy and having fun at home with home scientific experiments.

NAP: You are managing a hospital and your wife is a medical doctor. What precautions are you taking to avoid infection?

DR: We are:

  • Making sure we are wearing the appropriate Personal Protected Equipment (PPE) when we are at work;
  • Washing and sanitizing our hands frequently;
  • Monitoring our vitals, temperature and other known symptoms of COVID;
  • Changing our clothes and shoes in the garage before going into the house;
  • Depending on how the day goes and what areas we worked in, we are taking showers as soon as we get home before interacting with anyone.

Some may consider these measures to be drastic, but we believe it’s what we have to do to keep each other and our family safe.

NAP: As a hospital COO, what are the major issues that you have seen and experienced with the current crisis?

DR: A major issue we have with the crisis is that it was not something we were preparing for. Because of that, we had to take strict measures, we have had to make decisions on:

  • How we distribute Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs),
  • How and who enters the facility, restricting access,
  • Types of surgical patients we need to cancel or postpone, and
  • Making the necessary facility alterations to accommodate the possible influx of COVID-19 patients.

Along with all of those activities, there are financial impacts that we have to be mindful of as well. We have been planning for the worst and hoping for the best.

NAP: How has COVID-19 changed your role as a hospital administrator?

DR: Since the early days of March, we have activated our Incident Command Center, of which I have been the Incident Commander. Since then, every day and night, we have been in crisis mode, which essentially means re-writing the way we do business. All of the facilities’ alterations, rerouting of patients, re-designing of the units, and just about everything else was run through and approved by the Incident Command Center. I have a great team that helps balance the workload, but it’s a lot. The biggest challenge has been communication. With information changing so frequently, sometimes hour by hour, trying to keep everyone educated and having one source for the information has been a true challenge. A lot of what I do now is change management.

NAP: How badly were your hospitals affected by the shortage of PPEs and ventilators?

DR: We have not been affected to the level of other hospitals in other cities. We have had a shortage of PPEs, and while I think we have done a really good job of keeping our staff and patients safe, the initial shock to the hospital was dangerously scary. However, through support from the Albuquerque community, the NM Department of Health, and our corporate partners, we have been able to sufficiently supply our staff with the PPEs needed to continue their work safely. As far as ventilators go, we have had a sufficient number to meet our needs at this time.

NAP: What operations, responses, and precautions are you implementing long term because of the pandemic?

Since we have been forced to find new ways of doing business, some of those innovations have showed us that we could do things easier, faster, and cheaper. For example, all of our clinics started doing telemedicine. Until now, we utilized it at a minimal subset of our outpatient business. Moving forward, telemedicine may make a large footprint in our care delivery models. We created two Emergency Departments out of one; one side for possible COVID positive patients or patients with respiratory distress, and one for all other patients. During the flu season, we may be able to execute this model and be more efficient in how we treat patients. We have also made alterations in the hospital to created negative pressure units that we now can flip back and forth as we see patient needs increase. I believe this has given us the ability to expand our ICU bed count easily, and it’s going to give us a great option to use if ever needed again.

NAP: How can Park students, faculty, staff, and alumni help you and other hospitals?

Denzil does his part: recently, Lovelace held a blood drive for non COVID-19 patients who needed blood.

DR: We have been getting support in several different ways from the community. We have received donations of everything; from pizza, donuts, coffee, energy drinks, etc. for the staff, to N95s and people donating face masks that they stitched and sewed themselves. The cloth masks played a big part in prolonging the life of our other masks. It has also helped by adding a light touch to an otherwise scary and tough situation. My mask displays the Kansas City Chiefs. I am still repping Kansas City in New Mexico.

More than anything, please continue to keep us in your prayers and send us positive energy.

NAP: What message do you have for Park students, faculty, staff, and alumni?

DR: Take heed to the precautions instituted by the CDC and what most states have now executed. Stay at home if you can, and practice social distancing. If you have to go to work, be cautious of your surroundings, and follow the 6-foot rule. Wash your hands and refrain from touching your face. Let’s put all these actions in place so we can flatten the curve and return to normal life, maybe in a new way. Keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

NAP: What lessons have you learned personally from working through this crisis?

DR: One of the things I have learned or maybe I knew it before, but this validated it for me: I strive in the midst of chaos. My personality fits it. My CEO mentioned to me a few days ago that he was able to notice the different personalities of the various leaders and how we were perfect for different times of this pandemic.

Phase one was total crisis mode. We had something that was actively affecting us and we needed leadership during that time to get us to stop the bleeding. Information was changing, sometimes by the hour and we had to create standard work on the fly. There was no blueprint for the task since everything was new or changing. I am a laid back person and during this phase one, I think a lot of people needed a leader who was calm, thoughtful and methodical in their processes and communication.

As we moved into phase two, how we get back to work after we stopped the bleeding, and phase three, planning for how do we operate once this is all over, some of my other leaders have stepped up to take bigger roles. While I am still leading the charge, I have enjoyed watching leaders develop in new ways in the midst of the unknown.

New York State of Mind

by Bridget Locke, Director of Strategic Communications, April 2020

Aneisha Ford, ’18, enjoying a sunny day in Kansas City.

Park alumna Aneisha Ford, ’18, had so many reasons to stay home: a fiancé, two dogs, a house to maintain, a future wedding to plan, family and friends who love her and would worry about her health and safety. Heading to New York in the middle of a pandemic to join the first responders didn’t seem logical … but she just couldn’t shake the idea.

Then there was her job. When Aneisha asked about taking leave from her nursing role at a Kansas City hospital to help the patients and health care workers in the East Coast, her manager was supportive, encouraging and candid: her job couldn’t be held for her if she left.

Still, she had just as many reasons to leave. As the COVID-19 death toll in New York City grew to exceed 10,000 (and continues to climb), Aneisha believed she was called to help.

“I just couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Aneisha said. “I have a passion for helping people, and I know the people in New York are hurting.”

So she decided to take a leap of faith. “God was tugging at my heart. I felt that I had to honor Him by doing my part during this difficult time in America. I prayed about it one night, got in my car the next morning, and the first song I heard confirmed that I was making the right decision,” she said.

After working with a medical staffing company to get assigned, Aneisha was bound for the Big Apple.

Joining a New Team
In her previous nursing role in Kansas City, Aneisha volunteered to work on the hospital’s COVID-19 floor. That experience differs greatly from what she’s experiencing in the long term care facility (which was recently renovated to accommodate COVID-19 overflow from area hospitals) where she’s been assigned.

Being safe, sharing her light: Aneisha volunteered to work the COVID-19 floor at a Kansas City area hospital.

“We weren’t wasteful with our equipment in Kansas City by any means, but we were able to abide by typical medical standards because the number of COVID-19 cases isn’t as high in the Midwest. In New York, we’re seeing about 30 new patients per day,” Aneisha said. “The rules have changed. For example, we keep the same masks for five days because we have to preserve resources.”

When she’s not working her 12-hour shift, Aneisha stays in a hotel designated for those in New York helping with COVID-19 care. There are rigid safety protocols in place at the hotel to keep everyone healthy—physically and mentally.

“We don’t touch anything as we enter the hotel, we take showers immediately, and all of our clothes are sent to a laundry facility. There are also counselors and other resources on site for us,” she said. “We all support one another. There’s a strong sense of teamwork. There’s no way we could get through this without leaning on each other.”

A skilled and competitive volleyball player, Aneisha uses what she learned about teamwork as a Park student athlete in her current role as a nurse on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Being a strong member of a solid team isn’t new to Aneisha. While at Park, she was a middle blocker on the women’s volleyball team during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. Aneisha earned a spot on the 2017 CoSIDA Academic All-America first team for volleyball in the college division and was selected to the Academic All-America team after finishing as a first team all-district selection in District 3. In 2017, she was Park’s second-leading blocker with 93 total blocks and a team-best 84 block assists.  She also moved on to coaching, serving as a student coach in 2018, and (for a brief stint, before the demands of full-time nursing made it too challenging) served as assistant coach for women’s volleyball in 2019.

Aneisha looks back on her time at Park and says her time as a nursing student and her time as an athlete and coach prepared her well for this season.

“I’m using everything I learned as a student and as a teammate,” she said. “Park prepared me to work as a skilled nurse and to work well with others.”

Hometown Hero
After her 21-day assignment in New York, Aneisha will be quarantined for 14 days upon her return to Kansas City, but knows she’ll have a strong support system waiting once she comes home.

Jordan, Aneisha’s fiancé, and other loved ones look forward to reuniting with her after her 21-day assignment in New York.

“My fiancé Jordan has been extremely encouraging; he  understands why I need to do this. Even though my mom was pretty emotional in the beginning, she’s come around. Both of my parents have been so supportive.”

Her hometown support goes beyond her family and loved ones; her trip to the front lines in New York has caught the attention of her third grade teacher, who reached out to her on Facebook (“The hotel has run out of mini fridges, and she’s offered to send me one,” Aneisha laughed), as well as the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and several media outlets.

While it’s all very flattering, public recognition isn’t why she made the decision. Ultimately, Aneisha just wants to use her skills to show compassion, assist her fellow medical professionals, and spread light in what is, for many in New York City, a dark and difficult time.

“I became a nurse to take care of people. I just enjoy being a light in someone’s day.”


Connecting, Despite Coronavirus

With stay-at-home orders in place for most states across the country due to COVID-19, in-person networking is either ill-advised or not an option. However, according to Park University alumnus James Boyer, co-founder and marketing director of Boyer Web Studios, and founder of Northland Young Professionals Network, finding new leads and sustaining business remains possible—even now.

He offers three tips:

1 – Get online!
According to research, web traffic is currently breaking all-time records due to the pandemic, so now is the optimal time to build or enhance your digital marketing strategy. Additionally, social media is teeming with community resources; leverage free community promotion with pages and groups offering to support locally. Your customers aren’t gone; you just need to know where to reach them. Right now, they’re likely online.

2 – Do what you can to help others
One of the best ways to stay connected is by showcasing discounts and special deals that your network is offering in these challenging times. In the Kansas City area alone, there are dozens of locally-run restaurants, services and businesses running promotions to adapt and survive. One shout out on LinkedIn or Facebook can help local business while widening your sphere of influence. 

3 – Use your current network to find new business leads
Through one-on-one video calls, check on individuals in your network to see how they are being impacted by COVID-19. During that conversation, ask the person to provide for you a profile of their ideal client and referral partner. Next, introduce at least three people from your network who fit the profile they’ve described, and once you have made your introductions, ask the person to return the favor. 

This is an efficient community-building process because it:

  • Adds value for the individual you are meeting with, as well as for those you recommend
  • Positions you as a thought leader and community builder, opening up your potential opportunities 
  • Generates at least three qualified leads for you with warm introductions to each.

As you engage in conversation with your network, there are simple but effective ways to impact a wider circle by creating and sharing relevant content. Consider recording your COVID-19 impact discussions for social content, similar to an industry podcast format. Don’t forget to get everyone’s consent before hitting record!