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Kari Plog '11

Personal Journey 150 150 Kari Plog '11

Personal Journey

I entered Pacific Lutheran University in 2007 as a first-generation college student who grew up void of a faith tradition. I never really struggled with my lack of religious identity.

As recent as six months before graduating high school, it didn’t cross my mind that I’d attend PLU. I was a Spanaway native who always assumed the “L” excluded me from consideration.

Then I toured campus and stayed overnight. I learned PLU’s middle name wasn’t a label, but rather a philosophy — a philosophy that energized me. I didn’t have to be Lutheran. The Lutheran in PLU means “come as you are, leave a better version of yourself.”

I returned to the university in similar fashion earlier this year. An unexpected vocational shift landed me in charge of a magazine showing others the value of Lutheran higher education — the commitment to big questions, inclusion and thinking within and beyond yourself that fundamentally changed who I am.

I still don’t identify with a faith tradition, and yet I’m here writing a story about an illuminated, handwritten Bible that inspired me from the moment I first examined its pages in Collegeville, Minnesota.

The Saint John’s Bible captivates me for the same reasons I was pulled to PLU. It’s beautiful. It’s accepting. It’s a vehicle for bringing people together to ignite collective spiritual imagination, to reflect on what matters most in the world.

My journey with PLU is not a journey of faith or lack thereof. It is, instead, a journey of embracing the values of Lutheran education. I am a champion of those values for the same reasons I am a champion of The Saint John’s Bible.

My story about the Bible describes its creation, purpose and connection with those who interact with it. The stories that follow embody the intersection of the book’s primary themes — hospitality, transformation and justice for all people — with the core tenets of Lutheran education. Each themed story is paired with an illumination from The Saint John’s Bible, as well as a related Martin Luther quote.

So, while I’ve never been profoundly affected by any religious traditions, I continue to embrace PLU’s middle name religiously. Once you learn more about the values that prop up the middle name, I believe you’ll embrace it, too.

Listen 150 150 Kari Plog '11


Students, faculty, staff and alumni share experiences, offer insight on improving sense of belonging for all

Josh Wallace ’19 already knew that growing up black meant his life experience was strikingly different than that of his white roommate.

And Wallace also knew that both Pacific Lutheran University students likely viewed the narrative behind recent cases of police brutality differently, as a result. He used their conversation about the nation’s racially charged incidents as a teaching moment for his roommate, who Wallace says never needed to think about how their upbringings contrast.

“We’re taught two different things when we’re growing up,” Wallace recalled explaining to his friend, who he fondly calls “the best guy.” As a white kid, he said, his roommate never needed a talk from his parents about interacting with police officers. “I had to have a special conversation.”

For people of color, Wallace stressed, reaching for vehicle registration during a traffic stop isn’t just a silent, standard procedure — it’s a carefully calculated process that involves telling the officer every move you plan to make.

“We have to do these special things to make sure our lives aren’t in danger, that our lives aren’t at risk,” Wallace explained at the time. “And sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do.”

Wallace believes his roommate took the new-found perspective to heart. He credits it to a practice that is often taken for granted — listening.

“Listening and hearing are two totally different things,” Wallace said. “Hearing, you’re talking to me.”

But listening, he said, is processing that information. And doing something with it.

Conscious listening often means being uncomfortable. It means struggling to set aside biases and being open to the opportunity to learn something.

Listening is active, says Tolu Taiwo, outreach and prevention coordinator for PLU’s Center for Gender Equity. It’s about asking questions and reflecting back, she said.

“Listening isn’t just a one-and-done process,” Taiwo said. “There’s something really powerful about being able to tell your story. It makes you more human. Often times, we don’t allow people to do that.”

Amid divisive, vitriolic rhetoric that is poisoning public discourse in recent months, PLU is launching an institution-wide educational campaign to promote active listening in academic spaces and beyond. The university’s primary goal for this academic year, to be carried throughout the years that follow, is to move PLU’s campus from a place of welcoming to a true place of belonging for students of all backgrounds.

PLU strives to be a place where people of color, people of all sexual and gender identities, people of all faiths, no faith and more feel a sense of belonging. Honest introspection is vital to achieve this goal.

In a rare public acknowledgment of institutional oppression, Hillary Clinton recently called for that sense of belonging on a national scale.

When Clinton made history and became the first woman to formally accept a presidential nomination for a major party, she underscored how to mend the dire state of this nation:

“I refuse to believe we can’t find common ground here. We have to heal the divides in our country. Not just on guns. But on race. Immigration. And more. That starts with listening to each other. Hearing each other. Trying, as best we can, to walk in each other’s shoes. So let’s put ourselves in the shoes of young black and Latino men and women who face the effects of systemic racism, and are made to feel like their lives are disposable.”

Clinton’s words echo the goal of PLU’s Listen campaign — confronting the important question, “what happens after laying out the welcome mat?”


The difference between welcoming and belonging is distinct. It’s the difference between being invited into someone’s home and feeling comfortable enough to walk into the kitchen and pour a glass of water, in the words of Rose McKenney, PLU’s chair of geosciences.

Wallace said welcoming invites students to come to campus. Belonging means checking up on students after they’re invited to come to campus.

“PLU could do a little bit more outreach,” Wallace said. “PLU could have staff and faculty check up on students a little bit more often.”

Belonging is about all students from all walks of life feeling ownership over their spaces on campus, said Angie Hambrick, PLU’s assistant vice president for diversity, justice and sustainability.

She said students of color at PLU are “hypervisible” and sometimes they want and need to be in a space where they are like everyone else. It’s how they recharge, she added, in order to bear some of the big questions about social justice that they have no choice but to confront on a daily basis.

PLU is having an ongoing conversation about trying to create more of these spaces, Hambrick said. In addition, Taiwo said PLU must hire more staff and faculty of color who understand students’ struggles.

“To truly feel that I belong or students belong, it isn’t just welcome to PLU,” she said. “It is ‘welcome, we’ve carved a space for you.’”

Kiana Norman-Slack ’17 echoed Taiwo, stressing that PLU must have professors who can facilitate discussions about race in the classroom.

“Multicultural sensitivity is a big thing to possess as faculty,” Norman-Slack said. “PLU is predominantly white, so it’s harder to have these discussions when there’s only one or a few people of color in the classroom.”

Jes Takla, director of residential programs, said it’s important to use students’ first names to build a sense of belonging. Authentic listening must be the goal.

“Listening is the act of receiving the information with an open heart, open ears and an open perspective,” she said. “Being heard is the acknowledgment that comes back.”


Many people from diverse backgrounds at PLU recognize the systemic challenges that minority groups face in society and on the university’s campus. They also recognize the need for change.

Confronting microaggressions remains a primary challenge. Microaggressions are subtle, often unintentional, comments or actions directed at a minority or marginalized group that may cause offense or reinforce harmful stereotypes. Some examples from the mouths of PLU students, faculty and staff include:

“You’re pretty for a black woman.”

“You don’t look or sound Hispanic.”

“You look like a girl.”

“What are you?”

Wallace says he always reminds himself that microaggressions aren’t intentional.

“When I respond to microaggressions, I try to educate,” he said. “A lot of times, people aren’t trying to send microaggressions on purpose.”

Still, the impact is there, Hambrick says. She describes microaggressions as “death by 1,000 papercuts.”

“The intent doesn’t diminish the impact,” she said.

Hambrick said microaggressions exist in all spaces on PLU’s campus, just as they do in all spaces off campus, most prominently around race and gender identity. For example, the refusal to use preferred pronouns when talking to transgender students.

The silver lining at PLU is the university’s commitment to caring for others, Hambrick said.

PLU has always touted a mission of inclusion; the next step is making real progress toward modeling the type of inclusion it describes in its mission, Hambrick said. In other words, moving from a campus that welcomes diversity to a campus that creates an authentic sense of belonging for all students, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Tyler Dobies ’16 said it is difficult to face microaggressions every day. As a person of color at PLU, Dobies felt as though he had to raise his hand to be heard in class discussions, despite fellow white students “speaking out of turn, half raising their hands or interrupting people.”

“That’s not to say they’re rude people,” Dobies said. “But I think that they’ve grown up with the idea that everyone who speaks will be heard, but that everyone does not include everyone. It only includes a certain group of people.”

While it made college more challenging, Dobies says he tried to avoid letting it dictate his student experience.

“I don’t go home after class and mope. Not because I don’t feel bad,” he said. “I have to set aside those feelings so I can continue to learn and grow.”

Still, Dobies said people must not remain silent and allow microaggressions to continue.

“If we don’t take the time to educate,” he said, “it won’t necessarily get better.”

Hambrick said the university is trying to take proactive steps to get ahead of national conversations surrounding social justice. That shift in philosophy creates an intentional, proactive approach to improving students’ sense of belonging, particularly those who have felt marginalized in the past.

“It’s not something we’re whispering about anymore,” Hambrick said.

Widespread participation is key, Hambrick added. Issues of inequity, such as the use of microaggressions, aren’t just for marginalized people to bear. Privileged people created systems of injustice, she stressed, and therefore they need to be actively involved in tearing them down.

“The default is always for people of color to solve the problems,” Hambrick said. “We didn’t create this system of privilege.”

In order for people from all backgrounds to work in coalition to dismantle institutional inequities, people must not fear their privilege, she said. Too often people are scared of saying or doing the wrong thing, she said, so they don’t speak out at all.

Hambrick said that must change. “All I care about is that the effort is there,” she said. “The learning will come. This work is hard and it’s messy.”

Wallace welcomes the messiness. He says if the learning feels forced one day, he saves the conversation for another day.

“I don’t like to give up on people and I don’t like to give up on things,” Wallace said. “It all goes back to listening. Growth requires you to listen.”

Jonathan Adams ’16 has worked hard to help improve the university’s approach to inclusion. Among other efforts, he was heavily involved with a video project as part of the Listen campaign, documenting people’s raw feelings about confronting microaggressions and how to overcome them.

Adams said this campaign is PLU’s chance to get it right.

“This is it,” he said. “Nobody’s asking for perfection. It’s asking for active acknowledgment. We need to actualize our ‘now what?’”

The Saint John’s Bible 150 150 Kari Plog '11

The Saint John’s Bible

The Saint John’s Bible comes to PLU for a year, shares inclusive and universal message that will live for centuries

I wanted to carry it.

You know the feeling you get in a museum, surrounded by beautiful things — the overwhelming urge to touch what’s in front of you and experience history in a tactile way.

But this was different. I wanted to be close to The Saint John’s Bible. I wanted be a part of it.

I quickly learned that I already was, along with everybody else in the room at Saint John’s University on a hot Midwestern day in June. The Saint John’s Bible is for everyone, made by a diverse community to share with an even bigger one.

Rich community was the only way such a project was possible, says Suzanne Moore, a Vashon Island-based book artist who served as one of just two American illuminators for The Saint John’s Bible.

“It’s the only way it could get done,” she said in a sunlit art studio, reminiscing about her contribution to the most ambitious book-arts project of our time.

Moore was one of 23 artists who worked on 160 illuminations throughout the book, the first handwritten Bible since the invention of the printing press in the 15th century.

The 1,165-page manuscript, which has yet to be bound, and its authentic reproductions are massive — seven volumes, 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide when open. It takes 14 people to carry the whole thing into a church.

So, I couldn’t carry it. But I can tell its story. For me, the story mirrors Pacific Lutheran University’s mission — a deep commitment to liberal arts learning, care for others and social justice.

(Video by Rustin Dwyer, PLU)

“The goal was to make it absolutely ecumenical,” Moore said. “They wanted an open-arms book.”

That’s exactly what The Saint John’s Bible is, in size and philosophy. PLU will use it to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation as part of its yearlong Re•forming series. The university is hosting a volume of the Heritage Edition — part of a series of 299 authentically reproduced versions designed to be shared more widely than the handwritten original.

The folks who commissioned this revolutionary Bible for the 21st century understand what I’ve always known PLU to understand: a commitment to a faith tradition that doesn’t leave anybody out, an understanding of the beauty behind faith and reason in one place — not in spite of each other, but in unison.

The Rev. Michael Patella, who led the Committee on Illumination and Text that guided the theological thinking of the project, said it best on that hot summer day in Minnesota: “Faith and reason are not at odds.”

A Look Inside

Gazing at the book feels like looking into history that hasn’t become history yet.

The art bursts with life. Butterflies and other insects, based on species native to Wales and Collegeville where the book was conceived, look as though they were plucked from nature and adhered to the pages. The detail is stunning. Inspecting the original pages with a magnifying glass in the Saint John’s University archive feels more like looking at colorful fossils in stone than paintings of bugs in a book.

Light glistens on the gold leaf, dancing around the illuminations with every slight pivot. The sparkling accents throughout the book represent the presence of the divine.

Women and marginalized people can see their faces in the artwork. Science, anthropology, history, multiple faiths and more stand on equal ground, from the subtle use of DNA strands in the illuminations to the recurring use of Hebrew and Arabic text throughout the book.

For the illumination “Genealogy of Jesus,” Moore said it was an “extraordinary stroke of genius” to depict a menorah as Jesus’ family tree. “Those spiritual traditions often have more in common than things that divide us,” she said.

I always come back to the first illumination in The Saint John’s Bible when people ask why I was in Collegeville learning about a Bible; it summarizes the book’s narrative in a neat little package.

The story: Creation.

The task: creating an image of the story without making anyone mad.

No easy feat, but it seems the artists got it right.

The Saint John's Bible

Illuminations (select for full view)

Seven panels denote the seven days it took for God’s creation. The image juxtaposes light and dark, chaos and order, all peppered with the familiar gold leaf, symbolizing the divine.

What is most striking, though, is the incorporation of multiple disciplines: satellite imagery of the Ganges Delta; prominent rock paintings that include one of the oldest depictions of a woman on the planet, a huntress from Nigeria; and fractals, geometric shapes that encompass never-ending patterns.

“That’s just the first page, folks!” exclaimed Tim Ternes, director of The Saint John’s Bible program. But he didn’t need to underscore the significance; the book already had my full attention.

Then comes the illumination “Adam and Eve.” It is an image that helps me reconcile my long-held criticisms of Eve’s depiction in the Bible, a story I’ve always interpreted as placing the fall of humankind on a woman’s back. The pair in the illumination look androgynous (intentionally, I later learned) and have painted faces, inspired by photographs of the Karo tribe of the Omo River in Ethiopia — a beautiful nod to current anthropological theories that humankind evolved from our predecessors there.

For the first time, I saw an image of the beginning of humankind that made sense to me, an image that didn’t ignore what I’ve learned from textbooks. More importantly, it made me believe someone who looks different than me could see themselves in the story, too.

The Book of Psalms adds another layer of enchantment. A computer program recorded visual patterns of sound waves, drawn from audio recordings of psalms, chanting and sacred music from various religious traditions. Those visuals transform into a marriage of fluttering lines that dance on the pages, illuminated with gold trimmings and vibrant colors.

The sound waves of psalms run horizontal; those of the other traditions — Islamic, Jewish, Native American and more — run vertical. Together, they create an inclusive tapestry of sound that you see rather than hear.

The idea is to honor the physics of sound, which reverberates through the universe forever. For me, thinking about sacred music from all religious traditions coming together to represent the infinite nature of sound is a beautiful ode to universality. It’s unclear where the psalms end and the sacred music from other traditions begins. That’s poetic.

“These Guys Get It”

Donald Jackson, the official scribe for the queen of England, wanted to create a handwritten Bible since he was a boy.

In 1981, Jackson visited Saint John’s Abbey for the first time and knew right away that its partner university could be a contender to commission his lifelong dream. And eventually, it was. “Immediately he said to himself ‘these guys get it,’” Ternes said.

I understand the reaction. The church itself embodies artistic vision, with striking architecture that includes a breathtaking floor-to-ceiling wall of stained-glass cells that resemble a beehive.

The project was formally commissioned in 1998, thanks to an ambitious multimillion dollar fundraising effort. The first words were penned on Ash Wednesday in 2000.

The Committee on Illumination and Text communicated digitally with collaborators. Committee members included theologians, scholars, artists, historians and more. They researched passages and held visual brainstorming sessions, then sent their work to the international artists.

“They were never in the same room,” Ternes said.

The artists did their own research on the text, too, and after four to eight months of back-and-forth feedback, an illumination was born. “It was not an approval process,” Ternes said. “It was a discussion.”

Many calligraphers combined their talents to write in one streamlined style. The sweeping strokes covering the pages look uniform.

The inks they used (142 black ink sticks) were made in China in the 1870s from candle smoke and egg whites. The calligraphy quills soaked for 24 hours before being baked in hot sand. The vellum on which the words were written soaked in lime and water for weeks, before being sanded down to a soft, durable writing surface.

Let’s recap: a turkey feather transferred words made from candle-smoke ink onto calf skin, all so the pages could be digitally transmitted to dozens of collaborators worldwide. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the juxtaposition of ancient and modern.

As the artists worked hard to create the intricate pages of the original Bible, Jackson and company worked simultaneously to design the volumes for each Heritage Edition.

A separate, equally meticulous process involved unprecedented printing techniques. The paper was carefully chosen to mimic the feel and weight of vellum. The transparency between pages was re-created with care, and the binding and embossing was done by hand.

Jackson penned the final word in 2011. After all was said and done, only nine corrections were made in the entire book. Not bad when accounting for the potential for human error with a project of that scope.

Even the Bible’s mistakes were beautiful, treated as artistic opportunities rather than errors, an homage to humanity’s imperfections.

A Year with the Bible

PLU welcomed the Gospels and Acts volume, as well as several framed illumination prints, Sept. 15 to begin its year with The Saint John’s Bible. The event included a presentation by Moore, the illuminator from Vashon Island.

Moore said the potential for an endless audience was the biggest draw for her participation in the project — an audience too broad to measure.

“We’re imagining an audience that’s unimaginable,” she said. “It can be very personal and hopefully universal.”

It’s clear that Moore and I aren’t alone in our deep connection to the The Saint John’s Bible.

When the volume arrived ahead of its debut at PLU’s library, where it will be displayed for a year, a group of eager professors and administrators gathered around the book. They thumbed through all of it (with squeaky clean hands, of course).

Every page sparked gasps, followed by awestruck silence. Each person leaned in closer, carefully examining every detail. They chuckled at the whimsically marked mistakes and marveled at the texture of the gold leaf.

Moore says many people have told her that the book keeps bringing them back. I understand the sentiment. I’ve yet to grow tired of looking at it.

“Can you ever see everything there is to see?” I asked Moore.

“We can’t predict that,” she said.

And that’s how The Saint John’s Bible will live forever, in spirit, well beyond its 2,000-year shelf life.

“We hope it will be something that will last,” Moore said.

Suzanne Moore

Photo of an area of the Pacific Crest Trail
One step at a time 1024 427 Kari Plog '11

One step at a time

“Mile 766 — a bad day turned to amazing campsite with a view and happy feet. I don’t want to climb tomorrow. It’s about the PCT and family.”

Elise (Boldt) Woodsmith ’09 has a lot of days like this on her monthslong journey across the Pacific Crest Trail. And she tackles them one step at a time and with a little help from new friends she’s made along the way.

“Mile 673 — Mamba just passed me, and Yardstick is behind me too. Huge morale boost knowing I’ve got some friends around.”

Wordsmith quit her job on a Friday. The following Monday, she started hiking. She isn’t doing it to “find herself” or to achieve a lifelong fitness goal. She’s doing it to learn about the beautiful region she lives in that many people take for granted. Eventually, she will share her favorite spots with the people she loves most.

“Traveling abroad (at PLU) taught me that there is so much out there to see,” Woodsmith said in a recent interview during one of a few planned breaks from hiking. “Why not see it in my backyard?”

The Pacific Crest Trail spans about 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. It snakes through mountain ranges, national parks and three states — California, Oregon and Washington. Hundreds of thousands of hikers use the trail annually, according to the Pacific Crest Trail Association. Thru-hikers — those who make the entire trek in a single trip — finish the journey in about five months on average.

Woodsmith said she isn’t a thru-hiker, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t covered a lot of ground. She had walked 1,600 miles by the end of August, documenting every step of the way and sharing it with a dedicated social media following.

Struggles are a constant: Woodsmith averages about 18 miles per day. She left her husband, PLU alumnus Nat Woodsmith ’09, behind for much of the trip. Her feet grew two sizes in just a week of hiking the trail. She can only pack what she can carry; her backpack weighs a maximum of 36 pounds at any given time. And some sections of the trail are void of water.

“The most challenging thing has been water management,” Woodsmith said. “There’s a stretch coming up of 42 miles without water. I’ve been going 17 miles without water sources fairly consistently.”

She said part of the community building that occurs on the trail is recognizing that everyone is facing the same challenges, and recognizing that some handle those challenges differently.

“We’re all struggling together,” she said. “Everybody’s hurting, but we’re managing it because it’s a necessary part of life.”

Her Facebook post just before Mile 673 reads, “5 miles into this morning and all I can think is how crazy I am to be back out here and how much I miss Nat. I am sick to my stomach, what am I doing out here?

Just keep walking.

This too shall pass.”

But the experiences Woodsmith stumbles upon make the hard stuff worth it. There’s the community.

“Mile 704.68 — Kennedy Meadows! Got clapped in today, which was really special.”

There’s the cause that keeps her going.

Mile 747 — Camped solo although Antonio’s flag is with me. The rainbow flag I am carrying is for Antonio Davon Brown. Jackrabbit (a fellow hiker) has arranged flags to be carried by 53 hikers for all of the (victims of the Orlando, Florida, nightclub shooting June 12). I am pretty stoked to be a part of this. It’s so important that we show love out here, and that the love gets shared both on and off trail. I hope I can give a bit of light to this man’s family and friends through carrying their son’s name on my back for the next 1,900 miles. If anything, it signifies how agonizingly short life is.”

And, of course, there’s the beauty nature has to offer. Woodsmith says one of her favorite stops has been the San Jacinto wilderness near Idyllwild, California.

“It goes from boulder gardens to massive sugar pine forests down onto a 20-mile descent without water,” she said. “It’s beautiful, it’s challenging, it’s scary all at the same time.”

Alexis Ballinger ’12 can relate. She said pictures from her Pacific Crest Trail hike in 2014 don’t do it justice. She said the hike through the high Sierras in California was physically challenging, as was the jaunt through Glacier Peak in Washington. But the views there were breathtaking, she said.

“We had a sunset when we were up there,” Ballinger said of one of the highest peaks in the state. “All the pinks, yellows and oranges you could imagine. It makes you wonder how all this beauty came to be.”

For Ballinger, her so-called “flip-flop” hiking experience was a new challenge that set her up for conquering future challenges. She started in June 2014 and finished in November that year, hiking from the Oregon-California border north to Canada then driving south to hike through California to Mexico.

She spent four nights total in hotels; the rest of the nights were spent camping under the stars. She and her high school friend walked every day in the same clothes. “We stunk pretty bad,” Ballinger said, laughing.

Much like Woodsmith, Ballinger entered into a community with many people from all walks of life. “I met people from all over the world,” she said, noting that many came to the Pacific Crest Trail because it’s unlike anything else in the world. “We have something really special here when it comes to conservation.”

Ballinger also learned a lot about her personal needs and consumption. At the beginning of her journey, her backpack weighed about 45 pounds; at the end it weighed about 20. She started walking an average of 13 to 15 miles per day, only to increase that average distance to 25 to 28 miles per day. She lost 25 pounds and learned the importance of clean, dry socks.

“I really learned how much I can push myself and how mentally strong I really am,” Ballinger said. “It made me way more mentally tough than I thought I was.”

That epiphany still works to her advantage. When Ballinger learned she qualified for Iron Man Kona in Hawaii with just four months to train, she never doubted her abilities.

“If I can survive the trail, I can survive this,” she recalled telling herself. “It really pushed me through that whole race.”

But Ballinger still had moments on the Pacific Crest Trail that challenged her willingness to continue. She recalled one moment during a phone conversation with her mother in which she threatened to quit.

Her mom wasn’t having it.

“She said, ‘You’re so close. You only have 400 miles to go. Hang up the phone and I’ll talk to you at your next stop,’” Ballinger said. “I would have definitely regretted not completing the trail. It was quite an accomplishment for sure.”

Both Woodsmith and Ballinger — who studied business and political science, respectively — say PLU helped them prepare for their big adventures.

Woodsmith said thoughtful inquiry and embracing community are part of the fabric of the Pacific Crest Trail, just as they are a part of the fabric at PLU. Ultimately, those lessons have helped her come to terms with the unpredictability of the journey she is on.

“It’s about being open to any experiences life is going to throw at you,” she said.

Ballinger said her hike underscored her love of the environment that grew out of the Antarctica study abroad program she was a part of during her time at PLU.

“I’m thinking of going to law school and dealing with environmental issues,” she said. “Doing the trail really heightened that passion.”

Ballinger said there is much to gain for everyone who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail in some fashion. “I think everyone should do this, even if it’s just a weeklong hike,” she said. “You learn to appreciate the little things in life that are forgotten a lot.”

And don’t let your personal limitations scare you out of it, she said.

“You don’t know how far you can go until you do it,” Ballinger said. “One foot in front of the other.”

PLU grad Jen Cohen, Athletics Director at University of Washington, at Husky Stadium at UW
Jen Cohen ’94 1024 427 Kari Plog '11

Jen Cohen ’94

TACOMA, WASH. (July 19, 2016)- Jen Cohen ’94 is all smiles. But the University of Washington athletic director, appointed to the position May 24, smiles the biggest while talking to, and about, student athletes.

“We feel like our students are students first,” said Cohen, who earned her master’s degree in sports administration at Pacific Lutheran University. “For me, this is all about education.”

And Cohen walks the walk. During a recent tour of Husky Stadium, she gazed up at what the football staff calls the “3.0 wall,” bragging about running out of room to showcase photos of all the football players with high grade point averages.

“It’s really special,” she said. “I love that we can be successful in the sport and do it the right way…do it at a high level, but know the difference between right and wrong.”

That attitude is deeply rooted in her core values, Cohen said, and was reaffirmed during her time at PLU.

Cohen, who has worked at UW for 18 years, says Hall-of-Fame UW football coach Don James “planted the seed” that motivated her to go into sports administration, thanks to his response to a letter she wrote him in fifth grade.

“I never really looked back,” she recalled. “I wanted to do exactly what I’m doing today.”

Cohen said the support from the legendary coach and others means a lot, especially as a woman in her male-dominated field. She’s only the second female AD in UW history and the only current female AD in the Pac-12 Conference.

Cohen said PLU was a perfect fit for her. She served as a graduate assistant, working primarily with the baseball team. She also helped coach the volleyball team, though she admits she wasn’t the best coach or the best athlete.

She talks fondly of those years when she was doing it all, as she puts it, including making popcorn during basketball games. “I was gettin’ after it,” she said with a wide grin.

Cohen said it’s clear what makes PLU stand out: “Hands down, number one — grit,” she said. “People work their tails off at PLU.”

During her time as a graduate student, Cohen worked in an athletic department that was home to the late Frosty Westering, a football coach who was known for promoting to his players the importance of exuding excellence on and off the field. She watched many programs bring home titles while they fostered a community of service-driven student athletes.

Cohen said witnessing the winning combination of high caliber coaching and character at PLU reaffirmed her values as a leader in athletics.

Jen Cohen

“PLU was a foundation for me,” she said, for work, service and grit. “It set the tone.”

Cohen said she attended PLU with the goal to get where she is today. A day in the life includes meeting with donors, leading her management team and attending speaking engagements. But in a perfect world, Cohen said, she would spend her time working with the most important group of stakeholders — students.

“If I could spend all day every day focusing on the student athlete directly, that would be the best day,” she said.

And she’s got the chops for it. During the tour of Husky Stadium, Cohen bumped into UW running back Lavon Coleman, offered him a big hug and some words of wisdom ahead of a football season many anticipate will be one of the best in years.

“I’m trying to stay humble,” Coleman told her enthusiastically. “We’re ready to win.”

Cohen grinned in agreement: “I know,” she said, reminding him to stay focused on the process and not to worry about the team living up to the hype.

That attitude aligns with Cohen’s idea that athletes aren’t just there to play sports. It’s an approach that echoes the philosophy of PLU and Division III athletics. Cohen said she loves the Division III mentality; a comprehensive commitment to success of the student athlete as a whole. “It’s what I believe in here,” she said.

She’s close to the students living out that mission, too. Following two big bear hugs outside the weight training room, offensive linemen Trey Adams and Henry Roberts — who tower over the AD at 6’8” and 6’5″, respectively — are eager to tell Cohen how training and summer school are going. And to congratulate her on the new gig, of course.

“I love seeing young people develop into great leaders and contributors,” Cohen said.

Every day on the job looks different, Cohen said. But she approaches everything thrown her way with a bubbly attitude, a good sense of humor and a lot of passion. “It’s very unpredictable,” she said. “I love being in the process, even if it’s ugly.”

After all, Cohen appreciates a good challenge: “Oh, yeah,” she said. “That’s a given.”

Kevin Ebi '95
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Kevin Ebi ’95

TACOMA, WASH. (June 30, 2016)- One frame. That’s all it took for Kevin Ebi ’95 to get his work on a postage stamp – sort of.

Ebi, a self-taught nature photographer who has made a living traveling around the world and documenting its beauty, weathered a terrible storm that day in 2008. He made his way up the mountain at Haleakala National Park in Hawaii, scouting a location for his sunrise photoshoot.

Legend says, as Ebi tells it, a demigod lassoed the sun there and released it only after it promised to move more slowly across the sky. So, perhaps Ebi has that demigod to thank for the perfect shot that is circulating as part of a series of 16 stamps depicting national parks.

Of course, Ebi’s patience is also responsible. The photographer waited for tiny breaks in hail and rain to get the perfect angle, with a rainbow situated perfectly above the summit.

“Over the next hour and a half I got four or five glimpses of rainbows,” he said, noting that the one in his photograph illuminated for the shortest amount of time. “It was one frame. I took a couple dozen others that weren’t as good.”

Ebi’s job is to capture nature and build a catalog of his adventures. His photographs have been published in magazines, travel guides and lots of textbooks. He’s even been featured in books published by National Geographic.

The former radio anchor studied journalism and economics at PLU. He spent time working in newspapers and financial reporting, and had a schedule that was conducive for outdoor play.

“You worked when the markets were open,” Ebi said. “Here, that meant I was off at 1:30 in the afternoon.”

Those early days landed him on mountains or in the water, hiking or kayaking with a camera in tote. “Every day was like a little bit of summer vacation,” he said. “I wanted to share some of those experiences.”

So, he read how-to photography books and learned how to tell compelling stories with his images. After word got out about his photos and he started getting emails from editors about using his images, Ebi realized his work stood out and turned it into a business.

“I love learning new things about the environment,” he said. His work keeps life interesting — from going inside the magma chamber of an old volcano to documenting for several years how eagles fly.

“There is so much about the world around me that I’ve learned and am continuing to learn,” Ebi said.

The postage stamp was a new and different inquiry that Ebi initially thought wouldn’t actually come to fruition. Last July, he received an out-of-the-blue email from a company that does research for the U.S. Postal Service. The email asked if the image would be available for licensing on a stamp and sought verification that it was pure, void of any major manipulation.

“A couple days later, there was a mockup of the stamp,” Ebi said, adding that the mockup came along with a 12-page contract and a vow of secrecy. The stamp licensing process is very secretive, he noted; Ebi couldn’t talk about the achievement until April of this year — nine months after he was originally notified of the opportunity.

“It was a ton of waiting,” he said. “It was excruciating.”

The stamp depicting Ebi’s image and 15 others are available for purchase now. It’s a bright spot during a dark time for Ebi and his wife, Jennifer Owen. Owen’s currently undergoing dialysis treatments five days a week at the couple’s home while she awaits a living kidney donor, following failure of a kidney she received in a transplant in 2004.

Kevin Ebi

Before the couple faced medical troubles, Ebi was traveling a month and a half each year for his photography. Last year, he traveled just six days. “The problem with dialysis is that it keeps you alive but it doesn’t give you the life that you had,” he said. “You have your life, but it isn’t really living.”

To care for his wife and help her with dialysis, Ebi has switched gears with his photography business. He is working with inventory that is already cataloged. He’s exploring the area around his home with the “same passion that I used to devote to exotic locations,” he said.

That’s included photographing a roost of 15,000 crows a short drive from his house (10 of those images are on display at the Blue Sky Gallery in Portland). And he’s had time to compile national park images in his new book Our Land.

Some of the time and budget that he used to spend on travel he now spends working with galleries, something he was too busy to do in the past. As a result, his work has been a regular feature of the 100 Years of National Parks series at the G2 Gallery in Venice, California. He also had a piece featured in a Los Angeles Earth Month exhibit.

“My ability to do extensive travel and take on long-term assignments is in limbo and I’m anxious for things to get back to normal,” Ebi said, “but photography has taught me that you can make something out of almost any situation.”

Still, he looks forward to a day when he and his wife can get back to hiking and their more adventurous norm. In the meantime, the couple tries to focus on the positives. Owen has the most common blood type, increasing the odds of finding a successful match if one comes forward. The key now is waiting.

“The waiting list (for a kidney) is incredibly long,” Ebi said.

He’s had practice with patience. It’s how he captured the perfect frame in November 2008, during a project documenting native legends, for the stamp that’s circulating around the U.S.

“(Photography is) a lot of patience and going with the flow, having a very open mind and knowing when nature gives you something better than what you planned,” he said.

Ebi said photography has helped him see the world differently.

“I love the fact that it gets me out to experiences things that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise,” he said. “There so much about the world I would have missed.”

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Erik Hammerstrom says Lutheran higher education encourages learning about what’s different

Erik Hammerstrom, Ph.D., makes interfaith education a priority at Pacific Lutheran University. He says Lutheran higher education is intellectually inclusive, and therefore his calling to promote interfaith dialogue is a perfect fit.

“Free inquiry includes asking about other religious traditions,” said Hammerstrom, associate professor of East Asian and comparative religions.

Hammerstrom already teaches classes that immerse students in Buddhist communities here and abroad. During the summer, he took that commitment to the next level. He participated in a seminar in Chicago on teaching interfaith understanding, which boosted his ability to further PLU’s inclusive mission regarding interfaith education.

“The goal is for us to be able to agree to disagree, while protecting the right to our views,” Hammerstrom said.

He traveled to Chicago July 31-Aug. 4 for the competitive seminar. He was one of 26 faculty members selected from a nationwide pool of applicants. The five- day event was offered by the Council of Independent Colleges and Interfaith Youth Core, a nonprofit organization working to make interfaith cooperation a social norm.

Hammerstrom and other educators from various universities learned about engaging students in constructive dialogue. They dealt with case studies that each participant brought to the table, springing from everyday experiences and challenges related to religion.

He said knowing how to respond to religious difference is a mandatory skill in today’s world.

“(The seminar) strengthened my belief that religious literacy is an essential requirement for American citizens,” he said. “Whether you work in nursing, the military, business or some other field, you will encounter people of different religious backgrounds whose commitments impact the choices they make.”

Hammerstrom is a practicing Buddhist, serving on the outreach and education committees for the Tacoma Buddhist Temple. But he says he’s been trained “to view Buddhism objectively.”

“I want to tear down the romantic notion of Buddhism,” he said, adding that the goal with any faith- based dialogue is to avoid pitfalls of extremes. He wants colleagues and students to think critically about the good and bad in all religions from an objective, scholarly standpoint.

“It’s becoming far more important to get people to talk about religion,” he said, not suspend those conversations. “If we are living out the mission of PLU, we have to help students think through their own commitments.”

Hammerstrom said PLU teaches students how to disagree, which helps people avoid treating others as stereotypes. “The interfaith piece is a lot about treating individuals as individuals,” he said. “Be present to the person in front of you.”

Some other denominations, in contrast, argue that learning about “what’s wrong” is dangerous, he noted. Lutheran higher education takes a different approach — intentionally learning about what’s different or contradictory.

PLU and other institutions of Lutheran higher education don’t see interfaith studies as a threat to Lutheran values, Hammerstrom said. “It’s not only OK,” he said of that approach, “it’s encouraged.”

As for interfaith studies for those who don’t identify with a faith tradition: religion impacts the world, Hammerstrom said. Learning about all religions will help people grasp a better understanding of what’s around them. “It’s difficult to understand current events without understanding religion,” he said.

Hammerstrom said he plans to use what he learned at the interfaith seminar in many ways. He looks forward to working with Ami Shah, Ph.D. — assistant professor of anthropology and global studies and a past participant of the seminar — as well as others across campus to build upon existing interfaith activities.

“I have always worked to teach my students to engage constructively with religious diversity, regardless of their own commitments,” Hammerstrom said. “At the workshop I have learned some new ways of teaching these skills.”

With the recent political climate, those skills taught by Hammerstrom and others at PLU are vital to eliminate divisiveness.

“Given the role religion has played in both resolving and fostering conflict,” Hammerstrom said, “if we’re committed to caring for our communities in the world, it’s important to build bridges between faiths.”