Student Spotlight: J.J. Navarette Encourages Belonging

J.J. Navarette ’24 loves helping students find belonging at Azusa Pacific University. As a transfer student, Navarette struggled at first to find her place and her people at APU, but that all changed during her second semester on campus. “I knew college was supposed to be about creating meaningful experiences and forming lasting friendships. I wanted that,” she said. “When I joined the Alpha program last fall, I found what I was looking for. I found my purpose.”

Navarette served as an Alpha leader, mentoring a group of transfer students as they started their APU journeys. Some days this would look like doing homework together on Cougar Walk or in the Duke Commons, while other days included going to basketball games and transfer events together. “The people in my Alpha group are my really good friends now,” she said. “Being a part of the Alpha program has truly made APU feel like home.” Navarette now serves as an Alpha coordinator, helping train Alpha leaders as they mentor their groups as she did.

One of Navarette’s favorite parts about being an Alpha leader is getting opportunities to serve. Prior to the start of the school year, she went with dozens of other students in the program to serve in downtown Los Angeles for a week. Each day, they would serve homeless individuals at The Dream Center and Union Rescue Mission. “Helping people at homeless shelters really touched my heart,” she said. “It made me realize how much I take for granted everyday, from having meals to eat to having a roof over my head.” Navarette enjoyed interacting with those she served, connecting with them and learning their stories. She aimed to bring a smile to their faces each day.

“That experience helped me understand how we all come from the same God and we need to treat everyone with kindness, to love our neighbors as the Bible instructs. It made me want to find more opportunities to give back and serve.”

Navarette’s journey to APU was a bit circuitous. After graduating from South Hills High School in West Covina, she wasn’t sure what career she wanted to pursue. She decided to start her collegiate journey at Citrus College, but transferred after one year. “I wasn’t as on top of my studies as I should have been. It was hard to feel motivated because I hadn’t found what I wanted to study yet,” she said. Navarette transferred to Mt. San Antonio College and discovered her desire to pursue a career in healthcare. She completed nearly all of her general education requirements at Mt. SAC before deciding to apply to APU. “I was a bit nervous. I didn’t know if I would get accepted, but I had a transfer admin who walked me step by step through the process and waived my application fee,” she said. “He even called me before the acceptance letter and email arrived because he wanted to congratulate me personally. I loved that intentionality.”

Navarette continued to experience intentional support from APU faculty and staff. In her Christian Life, Faith, Faith, and Ministry course, professor Paul Shrier, PhD, shared his testimony with the class at the beginning of the semester and said he is a big believer in second chances. For the first time in her collegiate experience, Navarette felt comfortable having one-on-one conversations with a professor. “Professor Shrier set the pace for me in my biblical studies classes,” Navarette said. “I learned a lot from him and applied it to my life.” In her kinesiology major, Navarette said professor Sue Hebel, EdD, ATC, made an impact. Navarette had been going through a tough time and Hebel noticed she looked a bit down in class.

“She took the time to check in with me, asking how she could pray for me and help me. That was significant. It meant a lot to see how she cared about me.”

Navarette has one more year left in her kinesiology program. She hopes to continue her education at APU by completing a graduate program in nursing. “I want to help others and I feel like God has called me to be a nurse,” she said. “My dream is to become a nurse practitioner and open my own faith-based practice.”

Navarette’s faith is key to her identity. She grew up in a Christian household and went to church every week with her grandparents. At APU, she has continued to grow in her faith. “Going to chapel three times a week was an adjustment at first, but I’ve really enjoyed it. It helps me keep my faith a priority and I feel closer to God,” Navarette said. “And my theology and biblical studies classes have helped me understand the Bible better. My relationship with God continues to grow every day.”