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Transforming Learning

by Shannon Linton

Allison Moffitt ’12 tore open the envelope excitedly. As the first in her family to attend college, she could not believe she had the chance to continue her studies in public health at the graduate level. Congratulations! It is our great pleasure to offer you admission to UCLA. “When I read that acceptance letter, which included a full scholarship, it blew me away,” she said. “I knew I would not be where I am today if it were not for the countless hours Annie Tsai poured into me in and outside of class.”

Annie Tsai, Ph.D., chair and associate professor in APU’s Department of Psychology, began meeting with Moffitt her sophomore year. “We would talk through projects every week and dive into research together,” Tsai said. “We identified her passions in the field of social science, and dug deeper to not only prepare her for research at the graduate level, but also to understand how she can make a difference for Christ in her studies and her future workplaces.”

“Annie raised the bar at every turn, pushing me to be a better scholar and a better person,” said Moffitt, whose work culminated in a student research award at an Association for Psychological Science conference.

“One of the key dimensions of academic quality at APU is the idea of teaching and learning,” said Provost Mark Stanton, Ph.D. “Our faculty members create an environment where there is active engagement on both sides—it’s a huge step away from the idea that it’s enough for a person to go into a classroom and unload their knowledge. Creating meaning and purpose for students in their studies must involve dialogue and sharing.”

Michael Bruner, assistant professor of practical theology, echoed Stanton’s vision of faculty mentorship. “My role as professor extends from the classroom into opportunities for collaborative research and conversations about how to ‘do life.’ Anything less would be a huge disconnect,” he said. “I’m not only charged with informing students, but also with forming them as well.”

Bruner has met with a number of students throughout his 10 years at APU, including five Honors Program students who recently enrolled at his alma mater, Princeton Theological Seminary, for graduate study. “I encouraged them to apply to Princeton,” he said. To Bruner’s delight, all five were accepted and decided to attend. “I still keep in touch with them. Only now we talk about the academic and spiritual challenges of graduate school,” he explained. “It’s hugely rewarding to see these young people grow—from students to scholars to, someday, colleagues. It’s a privilege to pour into their lives as fellow Christians on this journey.”

For Andrew Soria ’14, that freedom APU faculty share motivated him to choose Azusa Pacific over other colleges. After beginning his studies as a Spanish major, Soria added English as a second major and signed up for a literary criticism class with Carole Lambert, Ph.D., professor in the Department of English, expecting to do well. “When I got a B on my first assignment, I told Dr. Lambert, ‘I don’t get Bs — how do I improve?’” he said. “That led to the first of many conversations, which included a lot of discussions about my future.”

Soria and a few of his friends went on to take an independent study course with Lambert. “It ended up being the most transformative experience,” he said. “There was something about working so closely together—it came to a point where it wasn’t a class anymore, it was an extension of our lives. We used the class to filter what was happening in each of our lives. We talked about our challenges and struggles. And, in turn, the class shaped us.”

“There’s something about teaching students critical theory that changes their ability to think and respond in all areas of their life,” Lambert said. “We learn together how to ask questions related to the text we’re studying, and then we get to continue that discussion outside of class as they ask questions about their own lives.” Lambert also shared that she’s always impressed by her students’ growth. “With Andrew and so many of my other students, I just give what I’ve gotten from my life experiences and education, and the students run with it. I’m amazed what they do with the investment.”

Soria plans to continue working with Lambert as her research assistant this fall and credits her with his new career plans. “I know I want to go on to teach and educate others in some way,” he said. “Now I know how to do more than just work with ideas; I can share those ideas in a way that glorifies Christ.”

Shannon Linton '07 is a freelance writer and editor living in Covina, California. shannonlinton2286@gmail.com

Originally published in the Summer '13 issue of APU Life. Download the full issue (PDF).