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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Andrew Emrich (’93) Andrew Emrich (’93)

Alumnus attorney Andrew Emrich (’93) returned to the California campus last week to offer advice to students who hope to pursue careers in law or public policy.

In a presentation that covered topics ranging from choosing the right law school, to law-school admissions, and how to remain grounded as a lawyer, Mr. Emrich shared how, despite his early plans to enter criminal law, he made a career, first, in public service and, later, in representing corporate clients. “You can have a perfect idea of what your trajectory is going to be, and it may not turn out that way — and that’s fine,” he advised. “Sometimes those experiences you don’t expect and don’t chart out turn out to be the most valuable.”

A partner at Holland & Hart LLP in Denver, Mr. Emrich earned his juris doctor from the University of Wyoming College of Law in 1996. He then went on to serve for four years as legislative counsel for Sen. Michael Enzi, followed by four more as counsel to the assistant attorney general at the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. In 2005 he left public policy for private practice.

In the course of his discussion, Mr. Emrich outlined six “traits of good lawyers” — all of which happen to be among the common fruits of liberal education: integrity, good listening, problem-solving, good judgment, effective advocacy, and resilience. “You are getting one of the finest educations, really, in all of academia,” he said. “I practice in a field where many people went to the most prestigious schools in the United States, and I have found people much brighter than I am, to be sure, but I haven’t yet found any one who, I would say, had a much better formation than I did.”

As students plan their careers, Mr. Emrich urged, they should meditate over the words of Jeremiah 1:5 — “Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you” — and consider the verse’s implications for both their spiritual and professional lives.

“As you are trying to discern your own profession and what steps you take to advance in it — all these other life choices — realize that you are here because the God of the universe intended you to be here from all eternity,” he advised. “You are willed to be here by the Creator of the universe, and that should give you some comfort. All these other things will work out. Make good choices and be prudent, but always keep that in mind.”


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.”

 


Aaron Dunkel (’06) Aaron Dunkel (’06)“There is something beautiful about local politics: When you are focused on very tangible decisions — whether to fix a road, or hire a new police officer — ideologies that can become very distracting in state or national politics are minimized,” reports Aaron Dunkel (’06). A newly appointed member of the Planning Commission for the City of Santa Paula — hometown of Thomas Aquinas College, California — he appreciates the municipal emphasis on the common good. “While people obviously bring opinions to any discussion, everyone is seeking something good. That has been very motivating for me.”

A native of Northern California, Mr. Dunkel made Santa Paula his home shortly after graduating from the College in 2006. For two years he worked at an advertising business in neighboring Ventura and got to know his fellow Santa Paulans while tending bar at a local restaurant during off hours. In 2010 he began working for his alma mater, first as the Development Office’s database manager, then in alumni relations, and now in the IT department.

All the while, he has developed a greater interest in the workings of the city, its roads, its zoning decisions, and its governance. A few years back he began attending City Council meetings and, inspired by the potential to do good, ran for one of three open seats on the council in 2018. “I entered the race about six months too late, in a field of six dominated by two lifelong residents with widespread name recognition,” he says. Not surprisingly, he lost the election, but he made many meaningful friendships with the city’s residents, including his fellow candidates, which convinced him to deepen his involvement in local politics.

That involvement came to a head last winter, when the city considered a proposal to permit the sale of medical and recreational marijuana within its boundaries. Although most observers considered the initiative’s passage an inevitability, a community-wide group called Safeguard Santa Paula — which included a large contingent of Thomas Aquinas College families — rose to oppose the measure. Uniting a broad swath of the city, Safeguard Santa Paula overcame the well-funded and coordinated efforts of the commercial cannabis industry, persuading the City Council to defeat the measure.

“During that time I realized, through the many great testimonials that people made before the Council, that there really is a strong idea out there of what Santa Paula is and what it could be,” says Mr. Dunkel. “Safeguard Santa Paula wasn’t a movement against something; it was a movement for something, for a stronger vision of community. That inspired me to look for ways to do more.”

So when an opening arose on the Planning Commission this spring, Mr. Dunkel put in his name for consideration. After interviewing with the council, its members — including four who had not long ago been vying with him for a council seat — voted unanimously to award him the position.

As a member of the commission, he works with his colleagues to ensure that development in Santa Paula, such as the placement of streets and the permitting of businesses, is carried out in an orderly fashion and in accordance with the city’s General Plan and Development Code. The commission also advises the Council and makes policy recommendations.

In working through complicated issues, Mr. Dunkel says he finds himself harkening back to lessons learned in classroom discussions at the College. “Sometime in politics, when you choose something, all the other possible choices that get passed over are cast in a bad light,” he says. “But most people are honest and of good will, and in most cases, many or all of the options we consider may be good, but we can only choose one. My education here trained me to approach situations and my neighbors charitably, and that helps me to do this work for the community.”


Katrina Trinko and Rob Bluey

Five years ago, this blog reported that an alumna journalist, Katrina Trinko (’09), had been named the managing editor of a new online publication of The Heritage Foundation. Five years later, The Daily Signal now attracts 26.8 million site visits per year and boasts 400,000 subscribers to its “Morning Bell” daily email blast — and Miss Trinko has been named its editor-in-chief.

“One of our first decisions was to hire Kate,” says Rob Bluey, Heritage’s vice president for communications. “It’s because of her leadership and commitment to outstanding journalism that The Daily Signal is a must-read source of news and commentary. I congratulate her on this promotion and look forward to working with her to continue growing our reach and influence.”

In her new role, Miss Trinko is responsible for directing The Daily Signal’s editorial content. She also continues to co-host The Daily Signal Podcast and produces commentary for the publication. Additionally she is a member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors, writing columns on a wide range of topics such as culture, technology, and education.

“I’m honored,” she says, “to become the editor-in-chief of an outlet focused on illustrating how Washington’s policy decisions affect the lives of everyday Americans.”


Nnadozie Onyekuru (’17) Nnadozie Onyekuru (’17)

This spring Nnadozie Onyekuru (’17) completed his studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School, where he earned a master’s degree in global affairs. His time at Notre Dame “was a continuity of God’s providence,” he writes — a period during which he thrived and grew in many ways. “I had the privilege of interacting with contemporary policy shapers, including a former White House Chief of Staff, an international statesman, a Nobel Peace Laureate, and the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States.”

For the last year Mr. Onyekuru served as one of the university’s International Ambassadors — “one of my favorite communities at Notre Dame” — a select group of undergraduate and graduate students who welcome international students and help them adjust to campus life. In April, the International Student and Scholar Affairs program honored him for his efforts, naming him a co-recipient of the ambassador team’s service award. “I truly did not deserve it,” he writes with characteristic humility of the honor. “And I am immensely grateful to my teammates and the International Ambassadors who welcomed me to Notre Dame two years ago.”

Recently Mr. Onyekuru has been published in two university publications: In May he penned a brief essay, New Nigerian Bishop is Peacemaker, on Arc of the Universe, a blog edited by Notre Dame Professor of Political Science Daniel Philpott. Then, in June,  he wrote A Subscript in Global Education for the school’s Policy Pulse journal, describing the promise of a new, online tutoring service — and how it can be leveraged to improve educational outcomes — in his homeland of Nigeria.

“I am deeply grateful for all the opportunities I received at Notre Dame,” writes Mr. Onyekuru, “and for my formation at Thomas Aquinas College, which helped me to enjoy them thoughtfully.”


 Siobhan Heekin-Canedy (’18) Siobhan Heekin-Canedy (’18)When she competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Siobhan Heekin-Canedy (’18) witnessed firsthand the spectacle and grandeur of the games. “Athletes enjoyed palatial bedrooms, a cafeteria fit for a tsar, and a larger-than-life atmosphere that matched Russia’s geopolitical ambitions,” she writes for the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs.

Yet there was a dark underside to the games, which she — as an ice dancer for Ukraine — was acutely aware. “Before the Closing Ceremony had begun [Russian President Vladimir Putin] took steps toward annexing Crimea,” using the Olympics to shield international attention from his crime. “What better way to keep up appearances and distract the world from the events taking place farther up the Black Sea coast?”

After the games, Miss Heekin-Canedy retired from ice dancing and enrolled at Thomas Aquinas College, graduating in 2018. She now pursues a master’s degree in international relations — with concentrations in Russia, Eastern Europe, and international public law — at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where she is fulfilling her “longtime dream of a career in international relations, which began when I was figure skating for Ukraine and traveling all over the world.”

At Fletcher she has become involved with the school’s Initiative on Religion, Law, and Diplomacy, for which she will be the student leader next year. Last month she arranged to bring in papal biographer George Weigel to speak about the role of religion in Russia-Ukraine relations, she reports, “which was fantastic.” Over the summer she will work as an intern at the Holy See’s Mission at the United Nations, and then return to Massachusetts to complete her degree in the fall.


Upon graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 2017, Brandon Ristoff enrolled in Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy. He was confident, he said at the time, that the College had prepared him well, giving him a strong philosophical foundation such that “when you actually do policy, you know what is going to work and you understand why it will work.”

His confidence was well placed. In April Mr. Ristoff was the student speaker — an honor reserved for “exemplary students at the top of their cohort” — at the school’s 2019 graduation ceremony, where he formally received his Master of Public Policy degree. (See video, above. Mr. Ristoff’s address begins at the 9:38 mark.)

“In order for us to better serve others, we can’t only understand the quantitative side of public policy, but we must also place public policy into a historical and philosophical context,” said Mr. Ristoff, calling to mind his liberal arts background. “Great policies come from great ideas, ideas about how the world works and how people work and communicate with each other … by understanding these ideas, how they developed over time and how they are being used. This is the most powerful tool in public policy.”

In concluding his address, Mr. Ristoff offered inspiring words that invoked the Prayer of St. Francis. “This is not the time to meander through our careers, moving up the corporate ladder,” he said. “When there is fear, we must bring hope; when there is injustice, we must bring integrity; when there are falsehoods, we must bring truth. This is the time to face our fears and to engage with the problems and conflicts of our times.”

Next up Mr. Ristoff will enroll at Loyola University Chicago, where he plans to pursue a second master’s degree, this time in applied statistics. “I want to use big data and statistics in analyzing different fields, especially politics,” he says. “I find it interesting using big data and statistics and combining it with the political philosophy I learned at Thomas Aquinas College and Pepperdine.”

 


Dr. Thomas A. Cavanaugh (’85)

At its upcoming national convention, University Faculty for Life will award its Rupert and Timothy Smith Award for Distinguished Contributions to Pro-Life Scholarship to a graduate of the College, Dr. Thomas A. Cavanaugh (’85). The organization, which presents the award annually to honor “scholarly achievement and service of the pro-life movement,” chose Dr. Cavanaugh for his work on medical ethics, particularly as it pertains to euthanasia.

A professor of philosophy at the University of San Francisco, Dr. Cavanaugh is the author of  Hippocrates’ Oath and Asclepius’ Snake: the Birth of the Medical Profession, which Oxford University Press published last year. The book examines the Hippocratic Oath through a broad survey of Ancient Greek myth, drama, culture, and language. Drawing on extensive research, it addresses the subject of physician-inflicted harm, particularly doctor-assisted suicide, which Dr. Cavanaugh finds to be antithetical to medicine’s therapeutic ethic.

Over the last year, Hippocrates’ Oath and Asclepius’ Snake has received critical praise from a wide range of sources. Writing for America, Dr. Christopher Kaczor called the book, “required reading for anyone interested in the ethics of medicine.” In Commonweal, Mary McDonough declared that Dr. Cavanaugh “has recovered the root of medical ethics.”

As a recipient of the Smith Award, Dr. Cavanaugh will find himself in select company. Past hnorees include such luminaries as Dr. Robert P. George, Dr. Hadley Arkes, and Rev. Robert Spitzer, S.J.


Thomas A. Alexander (’99) Thomas A. Alexander (’99)Earlier this month, this blog featured an update about Thomas A. Alexander (’99), who is currently serving as the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for counter narcotics and global threats. Since then, Mr. Alexander has written in with some kind words about his alma mater:

“I rely on the College’s training each and every day,” he says. “Foremost is the ability to quickly analyze and methodically resolve complex matters; then, to prioritize sound facts and morals in my decision making. I am never afraid to defend a position rooted in these fundamentals.”

And a postscript: The book from his liberal education that has made the most lasting impression? Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.


Thomas A. Alexander (’99)Back in June, the U.S Department of Defense announced that a graduate of the College, Thomas A. Alexander (’99), had been named the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counter Narcotics and Global Threats. In that capacity he is a member of the Senior Executive Service, overseeing a budget of $1.1 billion and leading the Pentagon’s global counterdrug, counter-transnational organized crime, and counter-threat finance policies.

Mr. Alexander holds a juris doctor from the Ave Maria School of Law. Prior to joining the Department of Defense, he served as chief counsel to the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives. As senior advisor to the chairman, he led the committee’s efforts to oversee programs and policies pertaining to a wide range of issues, including counterterrorism and foreign assistance, as carried out by various federal agencies, such as the State Department and USAID.

Mr. Alexander also served as National Security Subcommittee Staff Director for the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the U.S. House of Representatives. There, he formulated and led numerous hearings and investigations of programs administered by the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, and USAID. Topics ranged from reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq to combating trafficking and illicit cross-border networks into the United States.

Earlier in his career he worked in the Department of Defense as the Director of Congressional Investigations in OSD-Legislative Affairs and, prior to that, as Counsel to the Oversight Subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Please pray for his work in service of the country and the world!


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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

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“Thomas Aquinas College is a small college, but its reputation has spread far and wide. Because it lives off the masterpieces of thought and literature emanating from the Christian tradition of the Western world, it provides a first-rate education for a select body of talented undergraduates.”

– Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J (†)