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Zach Powers '10

Jake Taylor standing with a bunch of different flags
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Jacob Taylor-Mosquera ’09

TACOMA, WASH. (Jan. 13, 2017)- Jacob Taylor-Mosquera ’09 was 18 when he returned to Colombia. Although he considered it a homecoming, it took several more visits for him to truly feel at home.

“I grew frustrated because I couldn’t communicate with people,” Taylor-Mosquera recalled. “There was so much I wanted to ask and learn, but I could barely count to 100 in Spanish.”

Taylor-Mosquera was born in Cali, the most populous city in southwest Colombia, but was raised in Gig Harbor, Washington, after being adopted by an American family when he was just a few months old.

Now, after several eye-opening trips back — including one in 2004 when he reconnected with his biological family after a three-month search — he can finally say he feels a sense of belonging there. “This is the first time I’ve truly lived in Colombia,” he said. “I’ve only ever been a tourist before.”

Still, even before he considered Colombia home, it was his family there who motivated him during a turbulent time as a student at Pacific Lutheran University.

Taylor-Mosquera arrived on PLU’s campus, after earning an associate degree from Tacoma Community College, in search of a vocation that would allow him to travel more and collaborate with people from all over the world. But a lack of scholarly direction in the beginning led to academic struggles throughout his first two semesters.

“It got to the point that I was on academic probation for a semester,” he said. “I had to refocus, and did so by thinking about my family in Colombia.”

When he felt unmotivated, Taylor-Mosquera would remind himself of the generational poverty and lack of educational opportunities he’d witnessed during his sojourns back to Colombia. “I would say to myself ‘if they are in the kind of situation they are, and I get to be here, then I really need to get it together.’”

Eventually, an introductory Hispanic literary studies course — taught by Carmiña Palerm, associate professor of Hispanic studies — eliminated his indecision, and Taylor-Mosquera was back on track.

“It was all about Latin American history and had a big focus on political science,” he said. “I loved everything about it.”

Palerm clearly recalls Taylor-Mosquera’s presence in that class and others. “He contributed insightfully to class discussions in the classroom,” she said, “gently pushing his peers to engage difficult conversations about race and class in (Latin American cultures).”

At PLU, Taylor-Mosquera’s passion for travel and cultural inquisition grew. He received a Wang Center grant to conduct research in Ecuador and spent his final semester studying away in Oaxaca, Mexico, where he discovered his knack for conducting research in Spanish-speaking countries.

Taylor-Mosquera earned degrees in Spanish and global studies, building lasting friendships with PLU faculty members along the way. They represented what he aspired to become, he says.

“There were a handful of professors — Carmiña, Michael Zbaraschuk, Tamara Williams, Teresa Ciabattari, Jim Predmore and a few others — who I looked to as people that I wanted to be like,” he said. “They were incredible teachers and mentors, they were presenting at academic conferences, they were traveling all over the world. I saw in them the lifestyle, work and purpose that I wanted for myself.”

And that’s exactly the lifestyle, work and purpose Taylor-Mosquera is pursuing.

His time in Oaxaca inspired the journey he’s on today. “I was working with young people every day, and I felt an unmistakable pull toward teaching,” he said.

Predmore, an associate professor of Spanish who oversaw the capstone paper Taylor-Mosquera wrote in Oaxaca, says “it was one of the best I had seen at PLU.”

After graduating from PLU in December 2009, and spending a year in Panama serving with the Peace Corps, Taylor-Mosquera returned to Tacoma, where he would immerse himself in teaching Spanish.

Serving at Tacoma’s Annie Wright School and SeaTac’s Tyee High School, Taylor-Mosquera relished the opportunity to introduce young people to the language, cultures and peoples of Central and Latin America.

His message to his middle and high school students was simple: “You have one world when you’re monolingual, but when you learn another language you’re opening a door to another world.”

Taylor-Mosquera was inspired by the opportunity to help his students discover a world that he loved. “I saw my students really grow with their Spanish as I had in high school,” he said. “It was a very powerful experience to lead others in that process.”

After three years honing his abilities as an educator, Taylor-Mosquera was hungry to continue his educational journey, and to experience a new part of the world. He enrolled at Leiden University in the Netherlands, completed a research project in Chile and earned a Master of Arts in Latin American studies in 2014.

Taylor-Mosquera now lives with family in Cali, working with adoptees and teaching high school English. He’s savoring the newfound identity he questioned for decades.

“I’ve always felt Colombian in the states,” he said, “but before this I never felt Colombian in Colombia.”

He speaks the language and understands the culture. He built authentic relationships with his family. And he is a newly minted citizen of the country he calls home.

“Becoming a Colombian citizen last April and getting a Colombian ID and passport meant the world to me,” he said, smiling broadly.

Taylor-Mosquera is content in Colombia for now, but he hasn’t lost sight of his vocational goal, the result of the “roadmap to the future” he gained at PLU: “Teaching at the university level,” he said.

Taylor-Mosquera has submitted applications to Ph.D. programs in the United States and Europe. As has been true many times throughout his life, he doesn’t know where he will wind up, but knows where he will always return.

“I have two families, and I have two countries,” he said. “I have no idea where I’ll be next year, in five years or in 10 years, but I know what I’ll be doing, and I know that I’ll always come home.”

PLU alumnus David Akuien ’10
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David Akuien ’10

TACOMA, WASH. (Dec. 22, 2016)- It’s been 25 years since David Akuien ’10 was separated from his mother at age 5, 16 years since he came to the United States as an orphan.

An estimated two million people died as a result of war, famine and disease caused by the Second Sudanese Civil War — including five of David’s siblings and his father. At one time, four million people were displaced. David, now 29, remains one of them.

That will change Dec. 30, at least temporarily, when he travels to South Sudan for a four-week reunion with his mother, sister and other loved ones. The trip follows what David describes as a lifetime of isolation.

“Most of what has happened to me is not good,” he says. “Pain is something that I don’t like to show, so I’ve learned to just internalize it. It’s how I’ve learned to keep living despite all that I’ve gone through.”

“This is not a vacation. This is a trip that will redefine who I am.”

I met David nine years ago, in an international conflict resolution class at Pacific Lutheran University. We quickly became friends and, eventually, roommates. The following summer he invited me to move into a house three blocks from campus, affectionately nicknamed “The Embassy.” It was home to students from four countries, so coming from Alaska I wasn’t sure I was an ideal fit. “Alaska might as well be another country,” David jokingly assured me at the time, “so you’ll fit right in.”

David was well known at PLU. His energy was boundless, and the warmth and kindness with which he spoke and listened was transcendent. It also was known to many that David was a member of the Sudanese refugee cohort known as the Lost Boys, who came to the U.S. to escape bloodshed that marred the largest country in Africa.

Although we were good friends, I always hesitated to ask David questions about his childhood. I worried that, if I knew details about what I suspected was a horrific past, I might somehow treat him differently. I didn’t think either of us wanted sympathy to unnecessarily alter our friendship, or the jocular culture of our college house.

Throughout two years living together, David and I spent countless hours discussing topics typical of college students: politics, religion, dating, etc. Our conversations were open, honest and even chippy at times. But it wasn’t until he was featured in the spring 2010 issue of PLU’s Scene magazine (now ResoLute) that I knew any details of his personal journey.

Upon arranging to discuss David’s return to South Sudan, I was excited but nervous to address what had gone unmentioned for years.

The moment David stepped into my house, the strength of character and zest for life that so many remember him for was immediately on display. When he saw my 16-month-old daughter, his face lit up. “Look at this sweet, beautiful little girl!” he exclaimed, his voice cracking with delight. He bonded with her throughout the afternoon, twice pausing our discussion to read her the children’s books she placed in his lap.

We discussed memories we shared at PLU. We reminisced about the party we hosted at The Embassy the night President Barack Obama was elected, as well as the many nights we spent playing basketball together in Names Fitness Center. But soon after, we talked of his life in the present. It quickly became clear that the weight David has shouldered throughout his life was becoming increasingly difficult to bear.

Living here I am relatively safe. I’ve gone to PLU and to graduate schools, I have clothes on my back and never go hungry anymore. Those things are nice, but the real problems have not gone away. I don’t sleep well at night. When I sit here in the United States and try to enjoy a nice meal, I just think about whichever relative it was that called me earlier in the week asking for money to buy food for their family. It makes it impossible to enjoy a nice meal, or to enjoy going to the movies. I just can’t. I don’t know how. I walk around now with an immense sense of burden.

David has earned two master’s degrees — both in business — since earning a bachelor’s in communication at PLU. He’s now a recruiting coordinator at Equity Residential, a publicly traded real estate investment trust with properties and offices nationwide.

David told me he “can’t even imagine” what his 10-year-old self, living in a Kenyan refugee camp, would have thought if he could have known the accomplishments he would achieve in the two decades to come.

That is what I try to think about. I literally came to the U.S. without shoes on my feet. We walked barefoot onto the plane. Now, every morning when I put on my watch I just think ‘what is this?’. I have a huge cubicle at work with my name on it. When I was boarding the plane to come here, I was so scared. I didn’t know what America looked like, had never been here. Fast forward to now and I can’t make sense of it.

David tries to maintain a positive outlook, and is quick to acknowledge and give thanks for what he has, where he is and what he has achieved. Even with his success, his longing for his family has only grown over time.

I’ve made it here, but that doesn’t solve the problems that brought me here in the first place or take away the thousands and thousands of days I have spent away from my mother… It has been 16 years since I last laid eyes on anyone I am related to. I’ve spent an entire lifetime away from the people I love the most. My life is a specific example of how war turns people’s lives upside down. My life is forever defined by the fact that I am a product of a country that has been, and continues to be, in turmoil.

For years, David planned to travel back to South Sudan once he’d earned enough money to bring substantial change to the lives of his family. Although his career in corporate human resources is off to a strong start, he won’t return with the means he suspects many expect from him. He says he simply can’t wait any longer to return, and he’s dreading the disappointment that his family may feel.

People are going to come to me for help and I will have very little to give. I already know that’s something I’m going to struggle with. People are going to come to me and say ‘I’m hungry.’ People are going to come to me and say ‘I’m ill and I need medicine.’ I know it will be a floodgate the minute I arrive, because conditions are dire and South Sudan is a failed state.

David also knows that after 16 years in the U.S., he will have changed in ways that will not please his friends and family. “America now defines me,” he explains. “I’ve been here longer than I lived in Sudan, Kenya and Uganda combined.”

David still speaks the language of his Dinka tribe, but has forgotten many words and “elements of conversation,” he says. He worries that America’s influence on him, and his struggles with his native language, will lead family members to question his identity.

My family members are going to be disappointed in me if they feel as though I’ve forgotten my values and what it means to be a Dinka and to be from our part of the world. That’s when I will be hurt. There are things I value from the culture of South Sudan and the culture of America, and I think that is going to be a tough conversation to have…I just hope they see I’m still the same human being. Still their same son.

That concern runs deeper for David. He has long worried that he may never feel fully at home here or in South Sudan. When he travels there later this month, he anticipates being treated as an American — an outsider. And in the states, he says, he is seen as African — as a black man.

I’m a second-class citizen here with the set of struggles that come with that. To this day I experience racism essentially wherever I go in America. People making assumptions about me before they even meet me. Having this color of skin is a death sentence here when it comes to leading a normal American life. I can’t even go down the street on a nice day a lot of times without someone thinking I am a dangerous person. This color of skin isn’t associated with good things in America.

Though David faces many worries and fears as he prepares to depart, they are easily outnumbered by thoughts of excitement and anticipation. He is eager to reconnect with his cousin and yearns to talk with his sister. “I can’t wait to see her, reminisce and ask her what she remembers of me.”

While reconnecting with his family is the rudder propelling his journey, it’s apparent that David is eager to learn about himself from others. He has many questions about who he was before coming to the states, and how he resembles the child his relatives once knew.

Above all, David looks forward to seeing, holding and being with his mother. The two have communicated for the past 11 years, since his first year at PLU. He tracked her down through tireless research during his teen years in a Tacoma foster home.

“As soon as I could I sent money to my mother so she could buy a phone,” he remembers. “That was the start of a fruitful relationship with her.”

David talks to his mother two or three times per month. It’s not uncommon for him to wake up before 5 a.m. local time to call her in Juba, South Sudan’s largest city, before she goes to sleep for the night. “Now, we have a life together,” David says.

Less than two weeks from departing and with travel logistics squared away, David can now reflect on the little things he will finally experience.

“I know I’m definitely going to get emotional about the cooking,” he says. “Sometimes I can’t help but be jealous of other immigrant communities like Ethiopians and Somalis who have restaurants with their native cooking in Seattle. I’ve waited so long to taste our food again.”

Taking a deep breath, David seemed to relax momentarily as he drifted into a distant memory. Cautious words followed: “I’m sure there are going to be times where I’m overwhelmed with joy, and I’m happy and smiling a lot, and I know there will be times where I’m being told things that make me cry.”

As our afternoon together wound to an end, David says he’s grateful for his life. Every day, he thanks God that he’s alive, vows to live for his siblings who are not and wonders how best to continue doing so. His words, much like his life story, were defined by loss and sorrow, but pointed hopefully toward the future.

For me to be alive is a miracle. There are so many moments leading up to our being together today that could have resulted in my not being alive. I don’t understand it. I have guilt that I am alive and five of my brothers and sisters are not. I feel like I have to live a life that they would have lived. If they were alive, I know they would probably be better human beings than I am. So I try to intentionally think about how my sisters and brothers would be. They would be good friends to others, and they would be hard workers. I think about that all the time. And I think about how God spared me and I pray about the purpose of my life.

“I’m really excited for you,” I tell David, as he puts on his jacket to leave.

“She makes me excited to go,” he replies, reaching down to shake my daughter’s tiny hand. “I have so many family members to meet for the first time; babies and children and teenagers. So no matter what happens, I will return with a better life, just from having seen and hugged them.”

President Barack Obama greets Jessica Anderson, Montana, during a photo line in the Blue Room prior to an event to honor the 2016 National Teacher of the Year and finalists in the East Room of the White House, May 3, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
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Jessica Anderson ’07

TACOMA, WASH. (Dec. 15, 2016) Pacific Lutheran University alumna Jessica Anderson ’07 is passionate about education, geosciences and technology, and has combined all three to become an award-winning educator. In 2016, Anderson was named the Montana Teacher of the Year and received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.

Anderson, who majored in elementary education at PLU and later earned a Master of Science in Education from Montana State University, says her vocation is grounded in her desire to integrate technology and teaching. “I’ve always been intrigued by technology and how it can make learning, teaching and workflow more efficient, personalized and meaningful,” she says.

What did it mean to you to be recognized as Montana’s Teacher of the Year and just months later to receive a Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching?

Being named the 2016 Montana Teacher of the Year and receiving the PAEMST award were the highlights of my 2015 and 2016 school years. When I first started teaching, I had the goal of being named Montana Teacher of the Year. The goal wasn’t to gain recognition, but to be a really great teacher. To me, past Montana Teachers of the Year represented a category of excellence that every teacher should try to work toward. These awards are a demonstration of the hard work and effort I’ve put into my teaching practice, efforts to transform learning for my students.

How will you remember the experience of being honored, along with the 49 other Teachers of the Year, at the White House and meeting President Barack Obama?

One of the constant challenges of teaching is being passionate in a career that is immersed in negative rhetoric. Often teachers feel under appreciated, overworked and unsupported by their administration, districts or communities. When I attended the White House events and met President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, and Secretary of Education John King, I experienced my profession being celebrated. Leaving this event, I felt empowered to take steps in my state to make sure all teachers feel appreciated and to continue to spread the positive in Montana classrooms.

Which came first, your passion for teaching or your passion for science? When did you decide to combine the two?

When I started at PLU I knew my major would be teaching. I’d been passionate about making teaching a career from a very early age. In high school, I wasn’t interested in science and was an average student in the subject. However, after taking a few geoscience courses from PLU professors Steven Benham and Duncan Foley, my outlook on science changed. I became deeply passionate about geosciences, almost to the point of switching my major. In the end, I found the best route was a mix of teaching and geosciences.

“PLU is where I learned how to learn… It was in college that learning became authentic and meaningful. It felt like my learning had a purpose. In retrospect, it wasn’t the teaching concepts or philosophies that have gotten me to this point of my career, but the modeling of building relationships.”
– Jessica Anderson ’07

You’ve been lauded for your use of technology in the classroom, specifically regarding the blended learning model you use. How did you start down this particular path as an educator?

I started with my physics students, creating lessons online on a learning management site and having them complete assignments within a window of time. This was great, because I knew students could take more ownership of their learning and self-manage their progress. I wanted to be able to give them more personalized feedback. I didn’t want to limit their learning with a deadline or with grades, I wanted them to be able to think metacognitively about their learning and advocate for their learning needs. I started to draw on my experiences as a one-room schoolhouse teacher where students were self-paced and received immediate one-on-one feedback from me. I decided to eliminate the deadlines in my classes, only give mastery-based grades (students’ contracted for the grade they wanted for each unit), and to motivate students’ progression through the curriculum with gamification.

Was it while you were implementing some of these new practices that you became active in education communities online and on social media?

Yes, this is when I started blogging and sharing on social media about my classroom successes and challenges. It was through this process that I became an advocate for blended learning as an avenue to achieve seamless technology integration, differentiation and personalization in my science class. I also had the opportunity to work as a BetterLesson Blended Master Teacher and have my classroom strategies filmed and showcased on their website.

What is #MTedchat, your involvement with it, and what impact has it had on the education community in Montana?

#MTedchat is a participant-driven education chat focused on connecting and globalizing the practice of Montana educators. I am the co-founder and co-moderator of the chat. Over the past three years, #MTedchat has taken an active role in bridging the gap between teachers, administrators and elected officials in our state. It’s a discussion open to all stakeholders. The chats revolve around popular education topics, including student engagement, innovation in education and assessment. We’ve also held social media chats about Montana’s legislative education bills and chats through the Office of Public Instruction about resources and supports they provide Montana teachers.

Finally, how do you remember your four years at PLU and is there a teaching concept or philosophy you learned as an education student that stands out now, in retrospect?

PLU is where I learned how to learn. I’d spent my entire education career playing school. It was in college that learning became authentic and meaningful. It felt like my learning had a purpose. In retrospect, it wasn’t the teaching concepts or philosophies that have gotten me to this point of my career, but the modeling of building relationships. My education professors, particularly Greg Williams, showed me the power of forming professional relationships and recognizing the human element of teaching. It’s through the human lens that I advocate for my students, teachers and profession.

Study away fair in the Regency room at PLU
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Throw a dart at a world map, and it’s likely to hit a location where Pacific Lutheran University students or faculty members have conducted research.

The Wang Center for Global Education offers grants that empower Lutes to pursue big questions all over the globe. This year, the funding is responsible for projects in nine countries across as many academic departments.

“Wang Center research grants offer our students vast opportunities to grow by turning the world into their classroom,” said Professor of Communication Joanne Lisosky, who received funding in 2012-13 to work with several students on a documentary about Islamophobia. “These students grapple with professional production standards, as well as human interactions with people who live their vocations every minute.”

During the 2016-17 academic year, grant recipients are conducting research in Canada, Mexico, Belgium, France, England, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Rwanda, representing research in the disciplines of education, communication, religion, history, biology, economics, music, global studies and anthropology. Subjects of the 10 projects include uranium mines, musical education and the history of alcohol.

Wang Center Executive Director Tamara Williams says the grant application process is competitive and scrupulous. It begins with a review process by the faculty-led Global Education Committee and ends with approval from the provost.

Investing in global education:


Research Grants


Global Scholar Awards

The Wang Center awards an average of $40,000 in research grants annually to PLU students and faculty members, as well as an annual average of $110,000 in Global Scholar Awards (study away scholarships) to students.

“The Wang Center research grants are generally designed for students in the advanced global education continuum,” Williams said. “Students who’ve taken globally focused courses, who have studied abroad, and are well equipped to go abroad and thrive and succeed on their own.”

Saiyare Refaei ’14 was awarded a Wang Center grant in 2013-14 and used it to return to Oaxaca, Mexico, where she previously studied away for a semester. She examined the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on the formation and continuation of artist collectives there.

“My Wang Center research grant enabled me to expand the areas of interest I had in my Hispanic studies courses and semester in Oaxaca with my personal interests,” said Refaei, who earned a degree in environmental studies and now serves as PLU’s coordinator for sustainability integration. “Independent research projects provide the full experience and culture that the text can’t always teach us. We just have to be there living it out.”

Evan Heringer ’16, who earned a degree in communication, agrees. “There is nothing quite like getting in the field, doing the work that you are passionate about, and seeing first hand how important your vocation is to so many people,” said Heringer, a 2015-16 grant recipient. “That realization isn’t something that’s guaranteed inside of a classroom.”

Heringer was part of a student-faculty team of filmmakers associated with MediaLab, an Emmy Award-winning media organization housed in the Center for Media Studies. The team used the grant funding to produce a documentary about higher education titled “These Four Years.” The film won numerous awards, including the grand prize in the documentary category in the National Broadcasting Society Electronic Media Competition.

Williams says the experiences supported by Wang Center grants serve as final stepping stones for PLU students preparing for post-graduate endeavors.

“They’re high-value, high-impact projects for students at the end of their PLU experience to help prepare them for things like graduate school and Fulbright, Peace Corps, Marshall and Rhodes scholarships,” Williams said. “This is the opportunity for our top students to take their global education to the highest level PLU has to offer.”

Founders of the Wang Center for Global Education, Peter and Grace Wang

The Wang Center for Global Education opened in 2002 to fulfill the vision of donors Peter and Grace Wang.

Their endowment has emphasized the role education can play in building a more just, healthy, sustainable and peaceful world. The Wangs recognized an opportunity to further PLU’s academic reach, and their gift has helped prepare students for lives of leadership and service in an interconnected world.

Both are first-generation Americans. Peter Wang graduated from PLU in 1960, and later earned a Ph.D. in probability theory at Wayne State University in Detroit. Grace Wang also holds a Ph.D. from Wayne State, in chemistry.