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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

K. E. Colombini (’85) Ken Colombini (’85)The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) recently announced that it has named Ken Colombini (’85) as its new communications director.

“Ken brings an impressive depth of experience in communications leadership to the association, including previous work with corn growers and the ethanol industry, Fortune 500 companies, and state government,” says RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper. “I know Ken will have an immediate and positive impact on our association’s work.”

A former newspaper reporter, editor, and columnist, Mr. Colombini transitioned to public affairs in the 1990s with positions in California state government, where he ultimately served as deputy director for communications at California State Parks. He moved from Sacramento to St. Louis in 2000 to take a position at Anheuser-Busch, culminating in work as the company’s director of governmental and environmental communications. Now as the RFA’s communications director, he is responsible for the development and implementation of a broad range of the national trade association’s communication strategies.

Mr. Colombini is also a prolific writer in Catholic and related media, having published numerous essays in First Things, the National Catholic Register, Crisis, Inside the Vatican, The American Conservative, and other online outlets. He and his wife of 31 years, Beth (Milligan ’86), are the parents of five children, ages 30 to 16, and five grandchildren.

 “My four years at Thomas Aquinas College served as a great preparation for a career in journalism and public affairs for three reasons: the curriculum itself, the seminar methodology, and the devotional life the school encouraged,” Mr. Colombini reflects. “The Great Books coursework was instrumental in providing not only a foundation in logic and rhetoric, but in storytelling, crucial to this line of work. The many debates and conversations we enjoyed (both inside and outside the classroom) provided lessons in preparing arguments or position statements and in understanding and dissecting those of others, such as political or policy opponents. Most importantly, however, the spiritual life we lived helped foster humility and charity, and the importance of a rightly formed conscience.”

Beyond the preparation for his career, however, Mr. Colombini credits his alma mater with something far more significant: “I also take great joy in the fact that, more than three decades later, many of the friendships fostered on campus have lived on and inspire me still today, even in ways we could not have imagined back then, such as through social media.”


Dr. Samuel Caughron (’96) talks to TAC students

“It’s really strange to be back here giving a talk,” confessed Dr. Samuel Caughron (’96), who visited the College’s California campus last week to deliver a presentation for the Career Service Office, “So You Think You might Want to be a Doctor?” Yet the president and CEO of MAWD Pathology Group, which serves 18 hospitals in the greater Kansas City area, returned to his alma mater nonetheless, because, as he put it, “The world needs more TAC graduates in healthcare.”

Dr. Samuel Caughron (’96) Dr. Samuel Caughron (’96)Over the course of the 90-minute discussion, Dr. Caughron took students’ questions, described what the life of a physician entails, and offered advice on applying to medical school. He also spoke about how his Catholic liberal education informs his work. “I think that an education at Thomas Aquinas College is the best education you can have going into medicine,” he said. “All the technical science — you can get that later. What you are doing here for these four years is incredibly important to be the complete physician.”

Indeed, Dr. Caughron continued, the longer he works as a doctor, the more he appreciates that a medical education, while essential, is insufficient for the true practice of medicine. “As your career progresses, the importance of your TAC education magnifies,” he said. “Our understanding of politics, of human nature, the nature of man, the nature of the world, is tremendously valuable as you get further into practice and you are asked to be on hospital committees to sort out complex questions, you are asked to be involved in regulatory discussions. ‘What is the role of government in the life of man?’ Such questions come back and have an application of relevance which you, as a physician, are going to have the opportunity to shape in your community.”

Moreover, “on a practical level,” he continued “the discussion style of classroom learning that we have here actually is tremendously useful. I’ve ended up in numerous leadership positions because of my ability to sit with a group of peers in a community and assimilate and summarize the ideas being discussed.”

Dr. Caughron’s advice ranged from a discussion of how the College’s students can best complete their prerequisites for medical school to simple tips about how to make the busy, harrowing life of a medical student most palatable. (Hint: Take a gap year, and don’t “put life on hold” — that is, delay marriage and family — just to complete professional training.)

By sharing the lessons learned over the course of his career, Dr. Caughron explained, he hoped to facilitate the careers of future fellow alumni. “Getting into and through medical school is a complex path,” he said. “As with any road, knowing the journey ahead is helpful.”

Sarah (De Laveaga ’14) Ellefson presents a talk in the Dillon Seminar Room

Alumna entrepreneur Sarah (De Laveaga ’14) Ellefson returned to campus in the waning days of the fall semester to deliver what she billed as “the talk I wish I heard” while still in school — “Five Tips for Starting a Creative Business after College.”

Sarah (De Laveaga ’14) Ellefson Sarah (De Laveaga ’14) EllefsonA successful wedding, family, and travel photographer based in Santa Barbara, Mrs. Ellefson discussed how students can begin preparing now — even amidst their studies — to launch their own businesses post-graduation. Her tips included finding a mentor, learning about the market, developing a brand, and pursuing summer internships. Moreover, many of the skills required to become a successful business owner, she observed, can be developed as a student. “If you can set up good habits and discipline now,” she advised, “when you start your own business and you have a huge task list of things to run down, you’re going to know how to manage your time.”

Although encouraging, Mrs. Ellefson’s comments were also prudent, warning students that creating a business demands hard work, a significant investment of time and resources, and — more often than not — a day job to cover the bills until the business is self-sufficient. “I think if you’re a student here, you’re not used to things being easy, so I don’t expect you to be intimidated by this,” she said. “I want you to get excited about it and know that the hard work and diligence you’re putting in here can also transfer into starting your own business.”

A liberal education, she added, is especially valuable for entrepreneurs. “You are learning the art of critical thinking,” said Mrs. Ellefson. “That’s something that a lot of people who start a business don’t have, and then they fail and they can’t figure out why, because they were never taught how to think critically and analyze thoughts and ideas. So this time here, your education here, is very worthwhile.”

Photo of the Hilol Rojo program, taken by David Trull (’15) Photo of the Hilol Rojo program, taken by David Trull (’13)


David Trull (’15) David Trull (’13)Early this year David Trull (’13) took three months from his career as a financial-services professional to serve as a volunteer for Hilo Rojo, a Peruvian nonprofit that aids communities afflicted with extreme poverty. There he worked on the outskirts of the city of Trujillo, where, he says, “government services do not reach,” and many of the residents “do not possess official documentation of any kind … and thus find themselves perpetually locked out of productive activity and participation in the larger society.”

Although he was initially brought on to assist with fundraising and development, he quickly found himself “teaching both music and English in the elementary school,” he says. He also assisted physiotherapists in aiding the local disabled population, which ordinarily struggles to get by with little or no medical care.

“Though trying at times, the experience illustrated to me the importance of human connection, and of attempting to make this connection whenever and wherever we are able,” says Mr. Trull. “Though many of the sources of poverty in the Third World are structural, the examples of many other volunteers and those who run Hilo Rojo have convinced me of the power of simple love and friendship to effect change. Though my time there was short, I feel humbled to have been part of such a wonderful operation, and plan to participate again in the future.”

As a Christian and, particularly, as an alumnus, he considers such service to be something of a calling. “There are many people in the world who feel that they have been forgotten,” he says. “Those of us privileged with a formation from Thomas Aquinas College are in a perfect position to spread the message that that is not the case.”

Beau Braden, D.O. (’00) Beau Braden, D.O. (’00)“IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Not long after Beau Braden moved to southwest Florida to open a medical clinic, injured strangers started showing up at his house. A boy who had split open his head at the pool. People with gashes and broken bones. There was nowhere else to go after hours, they told him, so Dr. Braden stitched them up on his dining room table.”

So begins an extensive feature story in the New York Times about the efforts of Beau Braden, D.O. — a member of the Thomas Aquinas College Class of 2000 — to establish a hospital in this impoverished rural community. The owner and managing physician of the Braden Clinic in nearby Ave Maria, Dr. Braden studied medicine at Midwestern University and holds two masters degrees in public health from the University of Southern California. Since leaving a faculty position at the University of Colorado in 2014 and coming to Ave Maria, he has observed serious, unmet medical needs in the region — which, he tells the Times, has “fewer hospital beds per person than Afghanistan.”

Thus Dr. Braden proposed establishing a 25-bed hospital to serve the 50,000 residents of the area, spending $400,000 from a family trust on legal, consulting, and filing fees. Yet his efforts have been obstructed, possibly even for good, due to unforeseen opposition. A large hospital, some 35 miles away, has challenged Dr. Braden’s petition for state approval, fearing that his startup could undercut its patient base and revenues.

The Times story describes how Dr. Braden juggles the demands of his medical practice, the herculean task of trying to establish a new hospital, and family life: He “frequently flies himself from Immokalee’s tiny airfield to pull overnight shifts at nearby hospitals.” He assembled “a 2,000-page application to Florida’s health care regulators.” And he and his wife, Maria-Theresia (Waldstein ’05), “are raising five children.”

All the while, the physician remains steadfast in his commitment to bring a hospital to the people he serves. “I refuse to stop,” he tells the Times. “They’ve been trying to get a hospital in their community for 50 years. I’ll bring all of what I can to make sure this injustice stops.”

Dominic O’Reilly (’12) bottles a batch of Anna's Cider Dominic O’Reilly (’12) bottles a batch of Anna's Cider“Anna’s Cider had only just begun making ground when the Thomas Fire hit, sparing nothing,” begins a recent story in the Ventura County Reporter. The cider house, based in Santa Paula, California, and owned by alumni Anna (Dunlap) and Dominic O’Reilly (both ’12), had begun bottling its initial run of dry and semi-dry ciders when the fire wiped out $15,000 in product alone.

“The future, however, is bright, as the couple aims to rebuild and take their shared experience on to bigger and better goals,” the story continues.

The head winemaster at Topa Mountain Winery in Ojai, Mr. O’Reilly had recently begun to expand into the hard-cider business, sensing a demand for drier varieties. “The couple’s cider appeared once in keg form at Azu Restaurant in Ojai,” author Chris O’Neal writes, “and they had plans to release more to restaurants and even bottle ‘Batch #3’ before the fire hit.”

Undeterred, however, the O’Reillys intend to press forward with Anna’s Cider. They have launched a crowdfunding campaign to help recover their losses, and they have already chosen a name for Anna’s Cider’s next batch. “As soon as we get back on our feet,” Mrs. O’Reilly tells the Recorder, “our first batch that we do we’re going to call the Phoenix Blend, the comeback after the fire.”

Stephanie (Bujnak ’07) Ward Stephanie (Bujnak ’07) Ward“Efficient, pleasant, environmentally friendly work spaces have a ripple effect in society and beyond,” says Stephanie (Bujnak ’07) Ward. “Kitchens are no exception.”

As a foodservice consultant in Henrico, Virginia, Mrs. Ward pursues the good, the true, and the beautiful in her work of designing kitchen and service space for schools, airports, retail, and specialty markets across the United States and beyond. A recent profile in the online publication of the Foodservice Consultants Society International reveals that she “was not necessarily looking to get in to foodservice consulting as a career,” but came upon it somewhat circuitously.

“She first got a taste of kitchen design five years before exploring it as a potential career,” the profile notes. “The summer after college graduation, the kitchen manager at her alma mater found out Stephanie knew the AutoCAD design software. The manager was interested in reorganizing a cook line and adding some equipment pieces to the kitchen, and asked Stephanie if she would be interested in drawing up the plans and elevations for the contractors. She laboriously drew each item from scratch based on the cut sheet data in order to put the drawing together for construction. Stephanie said about this experience, ‘Destiny was knocking, but it was going to take me another five years to answer the door.’”

The full profile and an accompanying interview are available via the FSCI website.

Rose Carlman (’17) Rose Carlman (’17)

As noted last week, on Saturday Rose Carlman (’17) ran the Hartford Marathon, her tenth 26.2 miler in the last two years. She completed the race in less than three hours — 2:59:07 — setting a new personal record and besting most of the competition. Among the 56 women in her age bracket (20-24), Miss Carlman came in first place! She also achieved the 11th fastest time among all 684 women and 48th place among all 1,618 runners, both male and female.

“It was amazing!” she writes of the race, which she ran to raise funds in honor of Luke Dunn, a 17-month-old boy — and the son of a longtime family friend — who died of a malignant liver tumor in 2015. “It’s so rewarding to run for charity,” she says. “It really motivates me and helps me to focus on others. The whole experience has been eye-opening about how one act of kindness, one race, can raise awareness and spark charity not only in myself but in others as well. It’s been such a positive endeavor, and I’m grateful to be able to put my running to good use.”


Rose Carlman (’17) Rose Carlman (’17)Less than two years after completing her first marathon, Rose Carlman (’17) is running in her tenth 26.2 miler this Saturday in Hartford, Connecticut, for a cause dear to her heart.

“I’m running for the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center,” she writes, on behalf of Luke Dunn, a 17-month-old boy — and the son of a longtime family friend — who died of a malignant liver tumor in 2015. “Luke’s parents have set up a foundation to help families who have lost children to cancer, and I am raising money for them through the hospital where Luke was treated.” To that end she has formed a fundraising team, Team Love 4 Luke.

A member of the College’s most recent graduating class, Miss Carlman ran her first marathon, in Van Nuys, California, while still a sophomore. She then immediately set her sights on larger goals: Over the next year she ran marathons in Los Angeles and Ventura as a precursor to Boston — the world’s oldest and most prestigious annual marathon — which she finished in just 3 hours and 11 minutes in 2016.

Since graduating from the College this spring, Miss Carlman has worked in the specialty running/triathlon business while also interning in the equine industry. She has recently been accepted into a the Master’s in Leadership and Management program at the University of LaVerne.

“We are so appreciative that Rose Carlman will be running the Hartford Marathon on October 14 to raise funds for Connecticut Children’s Medical Center,” says Luke’s mother, MaryJo Dunn, who calls Miss Carlman’s Team Love 4 Luke “a wonderful cause in memory of our little angel.”

Please pray for her safe running and success!

Jane Neumayr Nemcova (’98)In its newly released Catholic Higher Education issue, Legatus magazine profiles an alumna of the College, Jane Neumayr Nemcova (’98), vice president and general manager of global services for machine intelligence at Lionbridge, a global language services provider.

“In the rapidly developing field of artificial intelligence,” writes author Brian Fraga, Mrs. Nemcova “is playing her part to ensure that ethics will influence the emerging technology.” A mother of three children and holder of three master’s degrees, she specializes in linguistic support for machine learning and artificial intelligence, employing her expertise in the language localization industry throughout the world.

“Her field is extremely technical,” the story continues, but “it was her classic liberal arts and philosophy education at Thomas Aquinas College … that gave her the intellectual foundation to make sense of how future technology will impact human societies.” Indeed, studying the great books under the light of faith “has turned out to be an invaluable asset for a business career.”

Says Mrs. Nemcova of her undergraduate education, “It’s not only a nice thing to have, but it’s very important for the future,” given current technological trends. “Artificial intelligence is going to put a lot of pressure on people to learn how to learn. I think Thomas Aquinas provided an outstanding education for that.”

The full profile is available via the Legatus website.

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Sanjay Adhikari (’18)

“When I first came here, since I am not a Catholic, I was nervous, because it’s a different culture for me, but people have been so friendly, so charitable. It is such a blessing to live in this community, where people care about you. You make strong friendships that last a lifetime.”

– Sanjay Adhikari (’18)

Kathmandu Nepal


“I am grateful to Thomas Aquinas College for educating new leaders for our Church, leaders who are grounded in their personal relationship and commitment to Jesus Christ.”

– Most. Rev. George Niederauer

Archbishop Emeritus of San Francisco