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Faith in Action Blog

Faith in Action Blog

Thomas A. Alexander (’99) Thomas A. Alexander (’99)Thomas A. Alexander (’99), whom this blog profiled last month, is the subject of a new story on the Cardinal Newman Society’s website, Pentagon Leader: Faithful Catholic Education Provided ‘Fundamentals to Succeed.’

“Thomas Alexander is a top leader in the Pentagon who is the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense on special operations, counterterrorism, and more around the world,” writes Kelly Salomon, the Newman Society’s director of education and advocacy. “He credits his education at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, which is recommended in The Newman Guide, with preparing him with the ‘fundamentals’ he needed to ‘succeed’ in his work.”

In the story, Mr. Alexander refers several times to the College’s program of Catholic liberal education. “Thomas Aquinas College,” he says, “gives you the ability to quickly analyze, break down a particular issue into its parts, put it all back together in a way that makes sense, reach a conclusion, and then go forward.”

The full story is available via the Cardinal Newman Society.


Alex Potts (’14)

Having recently completed his flight training for the Apache helicopter, U.S. Army Warrant Officer Alex Potts (’14) is now stationed in Katterbach, Germany, where he will spend the next three years training with European forces before his first deployment. “Germany’s been great so far!” he writes. “Beautiful farmland and pleasant locals. I’m living in the very center of Europe, so I’m excited to travel to see the different areas where the authors we read at TAC were writing from.”

Mr. Potts joined the Army through its Street to Seat program, through which servicemen quickly move through boot camp, warrant officer school, and then flight school. He spent most of the last year on flight training, culminating in the arduous task of mastering the Apache.

“The Apache is the helicopter with all the attack systems, so you not only have to learn how to fly, you have to learn how to fly and operate all the systems on board,” Mr. Potts explains. “You have to be able to manipulate all four of your limbs in a coordinated manner, while at the same time looking at your intended spot of landing, doing mental calculations about how far or how close you need to be; you’re trying to manage your altitude, your airspeed; you’re listening to five different radios at the same time; and you have a helmet-mounted eyepiece over your right eye showing all this information, such as your engine torques, your direction, where the aircraft is heading, the velocity you’re going at, what your copilot is looking at. It’s like a circus. It’s like juggling ten balls at once.”

In other words, it’s his dream come true. “I love it. I thrive on it, I really do,” he says. “It’s a fantastic experience, and when you get out of that cockpit at the end of the day, it’s a real sense of fulfillment.”

Serving his country, Mr. Potts adds, likewise fulfills a longing he has had since his first encounter with the dialogues of Socrates. “Reading about the duties that Socrates placed on man to one’s God, to one’s family, and to one’s country — that really stuck with me,” he says. “I thought to myself: I’m an able-bodied man, a healthy young man. I should put in that service to my country as a duty or an obligation, a form of justice for everything that my country gives me. That may sound a little bit cheesy, but it’s actually the truth.”

Indeed, his philosophical background informs the notion of duty that drives his service. “It helped me to better understand the rights, the freedoms, the values that we’re fighting for in America, and I think that makes you a more effective soldier in the end,” he argues. Likewise, he has found the intellectual life of the College to be an ideal preparation for the demands of the Armed Forces. “There was a sense of discipline in the intellectual life at Thomas Aquinas College which I think very much carries over into the military, which has discipline permeating throughout the entire structure.”

Those years of learning “sparked a love,” Mr. Potts continues, which will remain with him for life: “I still read the same books, and I still pray to the same God.” A philosopher as well as a pilot, he has recently begun an online graduate degree in philosophy with Holy Apostles College and Seminary — to occupy whatever time he has left when not flying helicopters.


Thomas A. Alexander (’99) Thomas A. Alexander (’99)

After serving for two years in the Department of Defense as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counter Narcotics and Global Threats, Thomas A. Alexander (’99) was recently appointed to a new role: Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.

In his new position, which he assumed in November, Mr. Alexander is the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense and the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy on all counterterrorism, special operations, counter narcotics, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, and stability operations. He also provides oversight of all organizational, training, and equipping activities for United States Special Operations Command and oversees a $14 billion budget.

“I rely on the College’s training each and every day,” Mr. Alexander says of his undergraduate education. “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.”

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. He also formerly served as National Security Subcommittee Staff Director for the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the U.S. House of Representatives. 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.

The book from his liberal education which he credits as having made the most lasting impression? Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.


Pat Cross (’14) Pat Cross (’14)

Earlier this month, Thomas Aquinas College bid farewell to an alumnus who has been instrumental in establishing the New England campus, and who is now leaving to devote his energies to his next professional pursuit — editorial cartooning.

“Pat Cross (’14)  has been a mainstay in our office through extraordinary times at the College,” says Admissions Director Jon Daly. “He was the first Admissions counselor — and for that matter, the first and only employee — on the New England campus for nearly two years. He brought the place to life when he first set foot there.”

Mr. Cross joined the Admissions Office shortly after his graduation in 2014 and worked on the California campus until 2017. He then headed to his home state of Massachusetts to help establish the East Coast campus, where he welcomed and gave tours to prospective students and their families. “For a year and a half, I was pretty much all alone here, before students arrived this summer,” he remembers.

“It was edifying to see how people back in California had a vision for this place, and how members of the local community were praying to make that vision a reality,” says Mr. Cross. “And it is inspiring to see how all those efforts and prayers have been realized. I am so impressed with the students out here, how they have risen to the occasion, and how devoted they are to the success of the College. I really admire them, and I am optimistic. I think TAC has a bright future in New England.”

While living on the New England campus, Mr. Cross worked only part-time for the Admissions Office. In his spare hours, he busily launched a successful career as an editorial cartoonist and illustrator. In just two years, he has established a foothold at the National Catholic Register, First Things, CatholicVote, Townhall, and The College Fix, where he is published regularly. Yet to keep progressing in his line of work, he needs to start giving it all of his time. “It’s hard to make it in a field like this,” he says, “unless you’re really giving your full attention.”

So, much to the disappointment of his erstwhile colleague and the College’s students, Mr. Cross has left Admissions work behind, and now works fulltime as a cartoonist. “I’ve always been very interested in the state of our country and the Church,” he reflects. “When I was younger I wanted to be Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but I very quickly learned you need to use the skills God gave you. For me, that’s always been art.”

Complementing his artistic talents, he says, are the analytical skills he developed at his alma mater. “There’s no way I would be able to approach the issues that we’re facing today without the foundation that I approach them with — the Catholic Western tradition — which I try to bring to bear on every issue,” says Mr. Cross. “That’s what TAC is all about: establishing the universals and hopefully giving us the wisdom so that we can apply them to the particular circumstances of our lives.”

Before he departed, the New England students — many of whom he had personally introduced to the College — threw a party in his honor. “Pat is a great man and we will miss him just as greatly,” says Mr. Daly, “sure though we are that he is fulfilling an even greater purpose in his work.”


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.


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Isabella Hsu (’18) on discussion method

“In our classroom discussions, we are responsible for our own education. We have to get our hands dirty, to figure out the material, to let it become part of us and make us better people. That is real learning.”

– Isabella Hsu (’18)

Redondo Beach, California

NEWS FROM THE COLLEGE

“May God bless Thomas Aquinas College for its excellent performance as a Catholic college since its foundation in 1971, a college where parents can send their children and be sure that this college is maintaining the best ideals of our faith and is giving not only information but formation.”

– Francis Cardinal Arinze

Prefect Emeritus

Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments