As Pacific Grows Into a New Century, Alumni Stay True to its Mission
Pacific University, born of a widow’s aim to shelter orphans from the Oregon Trail, has enjoyed a rich and storied history since its founding in 1849. As the university entered the last decade of the 20th century, it entered its prime years.
Programs were added and expanded; enrollment grew. The vast majority — about 80 percent — of Pacific’s living alumni attended the university in the last 30 years. Now scattered from Washington County, Oregon, to points around the planet, they represent an increased diversity of disciplines and experiences, as well as after-graduation achievement.
For some alumni, Pacific provided the technical education they needed to practice a skilled craft, such as optometry. For many others, Pacific was the place where they learned to respond to opportunities for which they couldn’t plan, but were empowered to embrace. Their careers since graduating have been rich and rewarding, but didn’t travel in a straight line.
The increases in enrollment, despite changing demographics and turbulence in the economy, have continued through the decades. In the 1990s, Pacific had 4,418 graduates. In the 2000s, 8,080. And in the 2010s, 10,089. While the university has retained its signature low student-faculty ratio, programs have expanded. The College of Health Professions, the College of Business, the College of Education, the College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Optometry all have added majors or degrees, attracting students into disciplines that weren’t imagined in the 1980s.
The constant thread that connects the university’s alumni is the Pacific mission: to inspire students to think, care, create, and pursue justice in our world.
Gustavo Morales '12 Cares for Underrepresented People
Gustavo Morales ’12 always thought he would be a doctor. And maybe he will be someday. But he’s now going into his ninth year as executive director of Euvalcree, an Eastern Oregon-based nonprofit that provides services, training and advocacy for underrepresented populations in eastern Oregon and southeastern Washington and southwestern Idaho. His career is an example of the way skills, interests, opportunities and education can lead to unexpectedly rewarding destinations.
He graduated from Pacific University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a neuroscience emphasis, entered naturopathic medical school in Portland, with the intention of practicing natural medicine. A year-and-a-half from graduation, his career took a detour.
When he went home to Ontario for the holidays, and then again in the summer, he found himself drawn to the idea of working with others to build an organization that would represent and advocate for Latinos and others in the region along the Oregon-Idaho border.
“I found myself with a very high affinity for it,” Morales recalled. “I found myself thinking more about that than about medical school.”
Euvalcree was launched in November 2014, and Morales was appointed its first executive director. The organization’s scope envelopes a broad spectrum of daily life in the region, with programs ranging from providing access to healthcare to promoting energy savings to fostering entrepreneurship. The nonprofit advocates for policy improvements in Salem, trains youth to become leaders, and provides legal assistance, among other things. It runs more than 30 programs in eight counties, has a staff of 28, and is hiring more.
“The work I’m doing, I feel excited about,” he said. “It’s constantly changing. It’s constantly adapting. I’m not standing still.”
Impulse to Create Drives Dana Weir '01 and Brian Kay '01
It’s hard to know where the creative impulse will take a person.
For Dana Weir ’01 and her spouse Brian Kay ‘01, it has led to Port Townsend, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, a matchless place where Victorian architecture surveys the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and mountains stand on two horizons.
The couple moved to Port Townsend from Portland without jobs: “A leap of faith,” Kay called it.
Today, she is a working artist and art teacher. He applies his artistic skills as the coordinator of marketing and development at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.
Weir’s preferred medium is encaustic painting, in which pigments and selected elements are blended with hot wax. She took up the method after graduating, but her work as an art student at Pacific foreshadowed her technique today, in that it incorporated texts, found objects, paint and other things into a unified whole. She displays her work in galleries and online at danaweir.com.
She also teaches elementary school art, as well as courses for adults. She contributes visual art experiences to young people in The Benji Project, a nonprofit that teaches mindful self-compassion to teens. She also teaches art and art history through the Clemente Course, a nonprofit program that provides free college classes to underprivileged adults.
“In some alternate universe if I didn’t need to work to earn an income, I would still be teaching,” she said. “The experience of engaging in imaginative work with children and adults, that exchange of creative thought … is a great joy. It is something I need to do. It’s a calling.”
Kay, who handles the marketing efforts at the marine science center, also shows his photographs at brasskimono.com.
For Peg Achenbach OD '90, It's Been Think, Then Act
Peggy Achenbach OD ’90 says she would tell young people “If there’s an opportunity, take it. Do it. Just go for it.” The education you’d get from taking a plunge, she said, “is invaluable. Even if it has nothing to do with your own profession, per se.”
She knows better than most how seizing chances can pay off. She has traveled the country and the world as a researcher, educator and entrepreneur. Her current title is executive director global ambassador strategies, ophthalmology and optometry for MJH Life Sciences, a global healthcare consulting and service firm based in Cranbury, N.J.
Achenbach, who lives in Florida, is the firm’s most visible vision care expert, representing such MJH brands as Ophthalmology Times, Modern Retina and Optometry Times.
She enjoyed her experience at Pacific, forming relationships with faculty members, classmates and others that she still maintains today. After graduating, she went to work for Bausch & Lomb, the contact lens conglomerate, then launched her own optometry practice. Then her career veered in a direction she couldn’t have foreseen.
She and two others came across an opportunity to acquire some promising HIV research at no cost. While the possibility had nothing to do with optometry, it appealed to her love of research, and she leapt, becoming cofounder of a biotech company, which she helped run for eight years.
A similar opportunity later turned her into a lecturer. She was living in France, conducting independent research, when she saw the European Academy of Optometry was calling for papers for its impending conference in Amsterdam. She submitted a paper examining the interaction of certain pregnancy medications with ocular treatments, addressing what she described as “a gap in knowledge.” Her paper was accepted, and she began to submit more papers for other occasions, over time becoming well known as a voice for ocular research.
“The world is your oyster,” she tells students and young professionals. “We have so much opportunity.”
John Lowrey '05 Pursues Justice Under the Law
For John Lowrey ’05, his career in the legal system is not a crusade.
“Representing the government means that I’m enforcing the rules, so to speak,” he said. “I’m making sure that everyone is working on a level field, that people are not receiving advantages they’re not entitled to, nor disadvantages.”
When he entered Pacific in 2002, Lowrey had his sights set on a triple major in philosophy, physics and business. But romance and other factors led him to sharpen his focus so he could graduate in three years and begin building a life with Allene (Callen) ‘05, who later became his wife.
After he got his bachelor’s degree in business administration and took a logistics job in Oregon, Lowrey turned his focus to law school, ultimately entering and graduating from the Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law.
His life since has been a far-flung journey mostly within governmental justice departments, including in American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands, before returning last year to Indiana, where he is deputy chief litigation counsel in the Indianapolis Office of Corporation Counsel.
“The great thing about our civilization,” he said, “is the idea that the law applies the same to me as it does to you as it does to the man down the street as it does to the corporation as it does to a congressman as it does to the president.”