Empowering Change-Makers

From bioengineering breakthroughs to pastoral mentorship, hands-on learning at Walla Walla University provides a holistic education.

In a world marked by constant change, seemingly more turbulent than ever before, preparation for our future leaders transcends beyond a simple retention of facts. As Ellen White said, “Let students be directed to the sources of truth, to the vast fields opened for research in nature and revelation.”1 

WWU recognizes the importance of career preparedness combined with critical thinking and soft skills earned through a liberal arts education. Through increased hands-on opportunities like projects, labs and clinicals, WWU presents a comprehensive educational experience with both knowledge acquisition and practical training. This dual focus prepares students to enter the job market and make a profound Christian difference in our world.

Anilce Castillo Osejo

Bioengineering graduate, 2023

Portrait of Anilce Castillo Osejo.

Anilce Castillo Osejo

Chris Drake

Improving women’s health is a life goal for Anilce Castillo Osejo, WWU 2023 bioengineering graduate currently in her first year of medical school at Loma Linda University School of Medicine. “Women are a major part of our population, and their health is continually underfunded,” said Castillo Osejo. 

While Castillo Osejo is very passionate about women’s healthcare and reproductive health, determining a focus for her capstone research project at WWU was challenging. After many discussions with Janice McKenzie, WWU bioengineering professor, Castillo Osejo recognized a gap in the field of female tissue engineering she felt she could explore. She is grateful the Edward F. Cross School of Engineering was able to fund her project and allow her to contribute to a cause she feels so strongly about. 

Castillo Osejo dove into the current literature about tissue engineering and its use in women’s healthcare. She was fascinated to find an idea presented about how tissue engineering could be used to support ovarian tissue and potentially restore fertility. One application for the technique would be to replace damaged ovarian tissue in women who have undergone cancer treatment. 

Completing her project gave Castillo Osejo a renewed respect for researchers and an appreciation for building good connections in the scientific community. With the help of a few classmates and professors, she believes the project taught her many skills she wouldn’t have been able to gain otherwise. “I had a wonderful experience during my project and was also able to build a great connection with McKenzie,” said Castillo Osejo. 

Using her talents to aid others was a theme that stretched beyond Castillo Osejo’s research work. During her time as a WWU student, she worked as a project specialist for the Center for Humanitarian Engagement, leading a program focused on practicing kindness and community-building. She also served as co-leader of Hispanic Ministries, a campus ministry with the goal of creating a welcoming worship space for Hispanic and non-Hispanic students. An outspoken advocate for diversity and inclusion, Castillo worked directly with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at WWU as a champion for various initiatives. 

While Castillo Osejo’s academic and research work taught her invaluable skills for her future, it's perhaps her clear commitment to Jesus and helping others that best equip her for an impactful career in medicine.

Isaac Peterson

Senior theology major

Portrait of Isaac Peterson among church pews.

Isaac Peterson

Chris Drake

Isaac Peterson, WWU senior, didn’t follow a straightforward path to WWU, working a variety of jobs in several states. Being trained as an EMT with intentions to join the military, he decided to study theology to find a practical way to share the gospel. “I wanted a further understanding of biblical knowledge to implement it well in the service of my community,” he explained. 

As a theology student, thanks in part to generous support from NPUC's NextGen scholarship, Peterson is jumping into that call to serve his community. Last year, he participated in the WWU Pastoral Mentorship Program, a graduation requirement for theology majors that matches students with seasoned pastoral staff and immerses them in ministry experiences.

Peterson was assigned to Eastgate Adventist Church. The internship requires a commitment of at least eight hours a week, but he quickly found a love for the work and would often spend significantly more time at the church. The most impactful hours were the weekly meetings with his mentor, Eric Saylar, Eastgate Church pastor, who provided immediate feedback on Peterson’s own experiences in ministry. 

Much of his work with the multigenerational church was new to Peterson. Before the internship, his ministry expertise was limited to working with youth. So, while the internship did initially challenge him, Peterson appreciated the opportunity to expand his ability to minister to all age groups.

“Listening to the wisdom and insight of the older members has given me a whole new perspective,” he said. “The connections I was able to make during my time were the greatest things to come out of the experience.”

Recently, Peterson interviewed with Upper Columbia Conference and has been offered a full-time pastor position at Eastgate Church. He said being a student pastor, seeing the many components of pastoral ministry and having that hour every week with an experienced mentor like Saylar solidified his decision to work in pastoral ministry. “Soon, without the restriction of school and homework, I am looking forward to seeing what I will be able to accomplish," said Peterson.

Nicole Price

Sophomore nursing major

Portrait of Nicole Price in hospital simulation lab.

Nicole Price

Chris Drake

The medical field holds a special place in the heart of Nicole Price, WWU sophomore. “I always knew I wanted to go into the field early on, and being a nurse seemed like a better option than becoming a doctor,” she explained. With a mother who is a nurse practitioner and a father and brother who are both firefighters, Price’s curative calling stemmed from watching her family make a palpable difference in people’s well-being.

Nursing is a unique opportunity to care for those who are vulnerable, but the learning process can be challenging. WWU’s School of Nursing is transitioning to competency-based programs and continues to focus on hands-on learning opportunities. 

Price noted, “The new sim labs from grants are set up like real hospital rooms with mannequins that talk to you.” In these labs, students spend around four hours a week learning skills, which are followed up on the next week. Additionally, students complete around 20 independent practice hours outside of lab hours. This repeated practice has helped Price retain the skills she learns more so than learning about them in a classroom setting, especially when “the instructor explains the reasoning besides just showing them.”

Because of this comprehensive program, Price feels confident in dealing with real-life medical situations. She said, “When I am able to physically practice and then have my procedures checked off by an instructor, I know that I did it correctly … I can safely say that I am more prepared for real life when I am able to perform hands-on practice under the supervision of our instructors.” 

Her confidence extends to her ability to connect with her patients. She said, “[I have learned to] understand other cultures and how to interact with people with fewer privileges than we have, and how important it is to reach out to other people as teachers and educators.” 

While Price will get the opportunity to try different disciplines of nursing during her rotations in her junior and senior years, pediatric oncology is one of the specialties she would like to explore. However, it is evident that no matter what discipline she pursues, her experiences at WWU have provided her with the tools needed to help heal her community.

Garret Thorn

Senior business major

Portrait of Garret Thorn in front of stock ticker.

Garret Thorn

Chris Drake

Garret Thorn, WWU senior, affirms that combining an internship with a liberal arts education is extremely valuable. “You get to see the tangible results of the skills you learned in the classroom come to life and apply to real-world situations,” he explained.

This past summer, the business administration student applied his skills to team projects through an internship with Whitman Group, a small asset management firm focused primarily on real estate. Thorn’s work there allowed him to do what fills his cup most — take initiative to support others.

​Thorn’s internship, under the chief operating officer of AXCS Investments LLC, included extensive use of Power BI, a business analytics software. Mastering the logistics of Power BI offered him a chance to put his skills to work in a new, meaningful way and to contribute to larger ventures. Using Power BI, Thorn was able to pull large amounts of data from different sources and format it coherently. 

Navigating Power BI wasn’t always smooth sailing. “My internship taught me how to adapt and persevere,” Thorn said. “I learned to not become discouraged when problems come up, but to put in the work to find solutions.” Thorn developed a strong tenacity that helped him excel in solving problems as they arose. This perseverance will serve him well as he adapts to future changes in business technology.

​Thorn’s desire to be a dependable contributor, no matter the challenges, began in part during his military service. Merging his passion for problem-solving with his commitment to serving his country, Thorn is passionate about cybersecurity and hopes to enter the field of defense contracting. He believes his internship laid the technology groundwork he needs to pursue his goals in cybersecurity, where he hopes to protect organizations from attacks on privacy and security. 

​Thorn’s advice for students pursuing an internship is to choose a position that truly interests them rather than just the first option to come along. An internship can be so much more than checking off a box. “You are definitely there to learn, but really push to make yourself an asset,” said Thorn. “Challenge yourself to contribute as much as you can.”

Ryan Smith

Junior film and marketing double major

Portrait of Ryan Price in film studio.

Ryan Price

Aaron Nakamura

The world of film is a way to connect with people by communicating messages and emotions beyond language for Ryan Smith, WWU junior. Beginning as a marketing major, Smith added film as his second major last winter. He expressed why he chose to go into film and take on the task of a double major, and said, “My uncle would make short films with us. It’s universal. You can communicate a lot of emotions through film.”

Since joining the film program, Smith has already begun helping with student productions, but Smith’s first serious round of practical training came in the form of a summer project in 2023, which involved two weeks of around-the-clock dedication as a production assistant with a close-knit team.

“Walkies were one of my things,” Smith said, describing how he aided crew communication and collaboration. “It was a bonding experience. We’d go to work, go home, sleep. My family didn’t see me that much.” With this type of experience, Smith said, “I learned more than I thought I would. I think I had a different view of production. It was really good to see what it is in real life.”

Smith believes classroom learning and practical training should go hand-in-hand. Because Smith joined the major a little later in his academic career, he thinks people who started in the film major most likely got even more out of the summer project because they were better able to put their knowledge into practice. 

“For a career like film, it’s very important to have hands-on experience, a lot more than any other majors,” Smith shared. Smith gained confidence in himself from his time on set. He said, “If something challenging comes up, it’s like, oh, I can do this because I remember how we did it in the project.”

During the past year in the film department, Smith believes he has gained the knowledge and skills to use film in tandem with his marketing major. His film project has provided a distinct perspective on the planning and project management behind the art, which Smith believes is useful as film has become more prevalent in marketing and promotional projects. As Smith moves forward in the program, more hands-on projects will continue to help him learn to communicate emotions through the visual language of film.

1White, Ellen G. True Education (Nampa: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2000), 8.


Featured in: March/April 2024