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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Educational Entrepreneur Margaret Walsh (’15) recently appeared on consecutive episodes of EWTN’s At Home with Jim & Joy to discuss her company, Secret Garden Educational Pathways, which offers tutoring and remediation service for students with special needs. In the course of the interviews, she spoke of her time at the College, as well as the way her faith and her education have informed her ministry, which she likened to a vocation.

Margaret Walsh (’15) Margaret Walsh (’15)“After high school I went to Thomas Aquinas College, which was very foundational and formative for me,” Miss Walsh told hosts Joy and Jim Pinto. “That’s where I gained some of my inspiration for working with these students.”

Her work, which aims at helping students learn to learn, is predicated largely on Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophy. “Seeing the connection between special education and the philosophy and theology I was doing in college was really eye-opening for me,” she said. “Aristotle and St. Thomas talk about the way that we come to know and understand; we interact with the world around us through our senses, and through the pathway that connects our senses to our mind, and then through the different pathways in our mind.” Even though “students who have special learning needs might learn a little differently,” she added, “it still follows a pattern that Aristotle saw long ago.”

What’s more, when special education is taught under the light of faith, educators can more readily recognize the innate dignity and value of persons with disabilities, which is all too often lost in more worldly contexts. “When you see the person as a valued individual who has infinite worth in the eyes of God, it changes your perspective on how you work with them and where you want to see them go,” Miss Walsh explained. “This [disability] is something that God has given this family and this student as a gift, in a sense, and learning to see it again from a Catholic perspective is really important because there is so much that you can offer up from any of this and so much joy that you can still find within the individual person. And, yes they have struggles, but they also have beautiful qualities within them that God has blessed them with — He hasn’t blessed someone else with that. He has blessed them.”

EWTN hosts Joy and Jim Pinto seemed sincerely impressed with Miss Walsh’s love for her students and the success she has achieved with them. “As a parent, this might be just what you’ve been praying about, to help you along with your child, to give you a little more help, a little more aid,” said Mr. Pinto. “Or maybe you’re a principal at a Catholic school, or a teacher at Catholic school, saying we could use a little bit more, somebody pulling up alongside of us, sharing how best to teach this young person — and doing it together.”

“A small biotech company, based in Kansas City, is making a major contribution to local hospitals and healthcare workers during the coronavirus pandemic,” begins a recent Fox 4 news report. “MAWD Pathology Group is redirecting its resources to ramp up the production of testing kits for COVID-19.”

Dr. Samuel Caughron (’96) Dr. Samuel Caughron (’96)The physician and executive responsible for this act of public service is Dr. Samuel Caughron (’96), MAWD’s president and CEO. “What we saw is, in our hospitals, these patients who were being admitted, who were coming in for care, as well as the healthcare workers in the hospitals, needed a quicker turnaround time,” Dr. Caughron told reporters at KCTV News 5. So he and his team began offering expedited testing for those who are ill. “We had the equipment, we had the expertise,” Dr. Caughron said to Fox 4. “We decided we could help out by making that testing available to those hospitals.”

Whereas testing with standard kits takes days to yield results, MAWD can deliver them in hours, accelerating diagnoses and sparing hospitals the need to waste scarce personal-protective equipment (PPE) on patients who are not, in fact, infected. “The huge benefit is the resources,” says Dr. Caughron. “We can save the PPE for the patients who do indeed have the disease, and we can take care of them.”

Thanks be to God! Please continue to pray for Dr. Caughron, for his good work, and for all who are afflicted by COVID-19.

Maggie Tuttle speaks to students on the California campus.

Alumna Maggie Tuttle (’10), who works as a Senior Customer Success Manager for Talent Solutions at LinkedIn, returned to her alma mater last Sunday to present a workshop about how students can use the professional-networking site in their career searches. “Many people who come from Thomas Aquinas College, because of the things that we study, the way that we study, the way that we are expected to show up in the classroom and with our friends — you just bring something unique to the table,” she said. “Keep that in mind.”

Her 45-minute talk — held on the California campus but made available, via simulcast, to students in New England — focused on how to use LinkedIn to discern a career, land a job, and stay abreast of developments in one’s career field. “I have been in recruiting and talking to recruiters my whole time out of TAC,” she said. The experience, she added, has given her many insights into how job applicants can maximize their prospects for getting hired. Among these:

  • Maggie Tuttle (’10) Maggie Tuttle (’10)“Fake it till you make it” — although liberally educated students may lack direct training in a particular field, they are fast learners who can quickly bring themselves up to speed.
  • “Have a growth mindset” — always look for opportunities for you and your company to move forward.
  • “Deliver Excellence” — never produce less than your best work. “No matter what you do, you never know when some small ask, or some seemingly minuscule task, can be something really, really important that that one critical person will notice,” said Miss Tuttle. “That can change your whole career.”
  • “Creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and time management” — these are among the “soft skills” that employers actively seek and which are often the fruits of a liberal education.

The world’s largest professional social network, LinkedIn boasts more than 660 million users, acquiring two more every second. Over the course of her presentation, Miss Tuttle showed students how to make a LinkedIn profile, explained what sort of information it should include, and demonstrated how they can engage the network in such a way as to make them attractive to prospective employers.

Upon graduating from the College in 2010, Miss Tuttle began as a recruiter for Force 10 Networks before moving on to a similar position at Balance Pro Tech one year later. She has worked at LinkedIn since 2012, where she oversees some 250 accounts, each representing as many as 15-20 recruiters.

Margaret Walsh (’15) Margaret Walsh (’15)“I enjoy working with students and seeing them have these amazing moments where they realize they can do more than they thought they could,” says educator and entrepreneur Margaret Walsh (’15). “They start moving forward, faster and faster, and get so excited about their accomplishments.”

Shortly after graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 2015, Miss Walsh founded Secret Garden Educational Pathways, an online tutoring and remediation service for students of all ages with special needs. “We work with students with reading remediation, students who have dyslexia, or dysgraphia — where they can’t get their thoughts out on paper — or students who have autism or autism-related symptoms,” she says. “There’s a whole umbrella of learning difficulties that the reading remediation and education therapy that we offer can help.”

Miss Walsh holds a master’s degree in special education and has received specialized training from Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes and Equipping Minds Cognitive Therapy. Her company, which is based in Southern California but offers its services globally via the Internet, consists of five teachers, three of them TAC alumnae.  “We’re doing remediation, which is different from what a lot of schools do,” she says. “A lot of times the mentality that I hear and see is, ‘Let’s help you learn how to live with your disability.’ What we’re trying to do is say, ‘Let’s help you increase your abilities so that you can do more than what a diagnosis is predicting you can do right now.’”

The approach is all-encompassing. In addition to academic instruction, Secret Garden offers nutritional consultation as another means of identifying students’ learning difficulties. Wherever possible, its teachers — who are all Catholic — use faith-based reading materials, such as stories about the lives of saints, to add a spiritual dimension to their students’ education. “We’ve chosen to bring Catholic materials in so that we can provide that opportunity for the students to explore their faith while at the same time increasing their academic ability,” Miss Walsh explains. “That is at the heart of why I started this business.”

The goal of Secret Garden Educational Pathways is to enable students to grow cognitively so that they can “start to enjoy school,” says Miss Walsh, and bolster their long-term educational prospects. “Wherever God takes them, we’re trying to help them improve their potential and improve their capabilities so they can do more.”

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.”

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Patrick Nazeck (’19) -- quote 2

“Here I am surrounded by other people my age who share my interests, who value their education as much as I do, and whom I can have fun with while still learning about big ideas. It is an awesome experience that I have never found anywhere else.”

– Patrick Nazeck (’19)

Ridgecrest, California


“I am full of admiration for what the College, its founders, its leadership, its faculty and staff, and its students and alumni have achieved.”

– George Cardinal Pell

Archbishop of Sydney