From alumni to employee

Aug 22, 2018
The 1979-80 men's basketball team. J.V. Johnston - #12, far left, middle row

Many students say Newman University is a place that became their home during their college journey and describes their fellow students, staff and faculty as a family they didn’t expect to find.

It’s no wonder more than thirty employees across campus are alumni of the university.

J.V. Johnston

J.V. Johnston, vice president (VP) for university advancement, attended Kansas Newman College in 1978 to play basketball but found much more than that.

“I came for basketball, what I got was the gift of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ (ASC) mission,” he said. And the ASC mission is what drew him back to the university in 2014.

J.V. Johnston

Between his graduation in 1982 and his position as VP for university advancement, he served twelve years on the board of trustees, four of which he spent as board chair. About two years after leaving the board, Johnston received what he explains as “a call from God.”

A board member at the time told Johnston of the vacant VP position and had said they were looking for someone local, someone that knew a lot of people, had a passion for the mission of the university and wasn’t afraid to approach donors for financial support. Johnston assured him he would think of good candidates but the board member simply replied, “I’m looking at him.”

“It felt like someone knocked me out for 45 minutes,” Johnston explained.

The following week things began to happen in Johnston’s life that had no explanation other than it was God trying to send a message. At church that Sunday, Father Don Spexarth gave a homily on answering the call from God and all the reasons, you don’t.

“And I’d been through all those reasons,” said Johnston. “So we take one step out of the church and my wife said, ‘You need to call Noreen (Carrocci) and apply for that job.'”

Johnston applied for the job, interviewed and started on March 17, 2014. The Newman mission Johnston related to in his college years still lives on today.

“I think that’s why a lot of people are here,” he said. “It’s really cool seeing the students essentially getting that same gift and truly making a difference in the world. It’s our tagline, but I see it happening, I truly see it happening. That’s why people stay.”

Georgia Drewes

Georgia Drewes, associate director of admissions for recruitment, attended Newman for its bowling team and Catholic heritage. Drewes graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in theology in 2010 and a Master of Theological Studies in 2012.

Georgia Drewes bowling as a student.

Originally applying for the campus ministry administrative assistant position, Drewes instead found an opening, along with some former classmates, in the admissions department and ended up working there. Working down the hall from the chapel is a major perk for Drewes and sharing information about the community that impacted her as a student with other potential students is also a highlight, she said.

“I really like debunking the myths that students and parents perceive about a private college education,” explained Drewes. “Often times, I have the privilege of walking a student through their financial aid award letter and watching them light up when they realize coming to Newman is possible for them.”

Newman has become a community for Drewes and many others. “It’s not just a place I work, it’s a family. I enjoy coming to work each day, even when it’s busy and unexpected things happen. Plus, I get to recruit outside of work and promote what Newman has to offer everywhere I go.”

Matthew Umbarger

As an assistant professor of theology, it may seem obvious why Newman appealed to Matthew Umbarger. But his story is unique.

Umbarger lived in Israel for almost nine years before moving back to the states and eventually deciding to attend Newman University for his Master of Arts in theological studies.

Matthew Umbarger at Ein Gedi, David’s desert hideout, during the theology trip to Israel and the Holy Lands in 2017.

However, Umbarger had already completed doctoral work in the Hebrew Bible at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev before attending Newman. He had converted to Catholicism only a few years before and found little to no options for employment in his field.

“My Ph.D. was in the historical-critical interpretation of the Old Testament; there was very little theological content. I felt that getting an MA in theology would round out my education and help me be a better servant to Christ in the ongoing work of the New Evangelization,” he said.

“Having just completed a doctorate in Scripture, I was pretty self-assured in my knowledge of religious matters. I did not expect the master’s program in theology to really challenge me. I am happy to report that I was soon humbled. I found the work to be quite rigorous. I was forced to abandon a number of positions that I held on to dogmatically.”

Umbarger taught as an adjunct at Newman while enrolled in his master’s program and applied immediately when he saw the opening in the theology department. He appreciates the students’ curious minds and is now honored to teach alongside those who taught him.

“I have also been deeply influenced by St. Maria De Mattias and the community that she founded. Just a few months ago I became an associate to the Adorers (of the Blood of Christ),” he said.

“Perhaps my favorite thing so far has been the opportunity to ‘go back home’ to Israel with my graduate students and Father (Joseph) Gile, sharing and discovering new things about the Holy Land on a prayerful pilgrimage. Our inaugural trip was amazing. I can’t wait until March when we get to do it again.”

Adrienne Canno

Adrienne Canno

In 2009, Adrienne Canno graduated with a Master of Social Work (MSW) from Newman University and went on to achieve her Masters of Business Administration in 2018. She is now the director of field education for the MSW program at the Newman University Colorado Springs outreach location.

“I interviewed with a few graduate programs while I was deciding where to pursue my MSW,” said Canno. “When  I met the coordinator and faculty at Newman in Colorado Springs, it felt like exactly where I wanted to be. The program provided professors who were experienced social workers, small classroom sizes and personable faculty who drew me in with their welcoming presentation.”

What drew Canno back as an employee was the reputation of the university throughout the Colorado Springs community.

“To work with Newman on helping develop our future social workers was a great opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Seeing the culture and community as a student provided me with comfort in knowing I would find the same support as an employee.”

Brooke Ward

Brooke Ward

Brooke Ward graduated from the Newman radiologic technology program in 2003 and from the sonography program in 2008. She is now the director of the diagnostic medical sonography program.

Ward came to Newman because the degree program offered lined up well with her plans, but she fell in love with the atmosphere of the campus.

“I love the campus feel. It’s quaint, clean, safe and full of an affectionate reverence for the sisters and the ones before them that created this wonderful environment … I enjoy the warm-hearted feeling you receive here at Newman,” she said.

Though no longer a student, Ward continues to learn on campus. “Newman’s influences are more than a beautiful school, books and a rich heritage. I’ve been greatly influenced by my many professors encountered along this path as both a student and an instructor … I am so very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of our future healthcare community and included in the family at Newman University.”

Newman University doesn’t just provide students with an education but a familial experience. Nearly every department across campus employs alumni of the university and the alumni are excited to serve the school that served them.

The mission is as much a part of the campus as it always has been and students, as well as faculty and staff, are truly striving to transform society.