Class of 2016 - Dylan Yamamoto

Hawaii-born engineering major Dylan Yamamoto exchanges his surfboard for a hard hat.

Engineering a Future of Service

By Richard McNeal

For civil engineer Dylan Yamamoto, service work is an integral part of his personal ministry. But that wasn’t always the case.

“My goal when I came to college was to be an engineer. I had no idea what engineers did, but I knew they made good money so I’d be able to get rich and surf all the time,” Yamamoto confesses. “That was the only thing I had in my mind that I wanted to do.”

Four years later, Yamamoto’s occupational direction hasn’t changed, but the heart behind it has. “I feel like I’m leaving here with actual direction from God and more than just selfish desires,” he says. 

Before he accepted his diploma in late April, Yamamoto accepted a job with Kiewit, one of the largest construction companies in the country. The way he sees it, his job is the staging ground for a personal ministry of service using his engineering knowledge and skill.

It’s a ministry that has already begun. In May, less than two weeks after graduation, Yamamoto traveled to Nicaragua with engineering professor Mike Magill and several others from George Fox. There, the team helped design a horse therapy arena for disabled children. 

And all of it – Nicaragua, graduation, Kiewit, the change of heart – almost didn’t happen.

After his first semester at school, Yamamoto wasn’t enjoying himself and complained to his parents, hoping they wouldn’t make him go back. “They told me to stick it out another year,” he says, “and I’m so thankful that they did.”

Class of 2016 - Mikayla Greenwell

Mikayla Greenwell disregards the ‘less is more’ philosophy when it comes to her faith.

Just Keep Saying ‘Yes’

In November, recent alumna Mikayla Greenwell will embark on a three-year mission to Romania. She will leave family, friends and the comforts of home behind. And all because she said “yes” on the spur of the moment – more than once. 

The first yes came in response to going on a serve trip to Romania in May 2013. Until that trip, Greenwell admits she didn’t even know where the Eastern European country was. Still, the experience transformed her.

“I really saw how people’s lives change when you listen to their stories,” she says. “Relationship is such an important part of ministry. That’s what Jesus did. He had compassion for and he suffered with people.”

The second yes came in Romania, when Greenwell was informally invited to spend a semester-long internship in the country, which she completed in the spring of 2015. 

Today, having just returned from her third trip to Romania (another yes), Greenwell is packing for a significantly longer three-year commitment. 

Greenwell will be working with international advocacy group Word Made Flesh, primarily coordinating logistics for short-term mission teams. She will introduce new missionaries and visitors to Romania and Word Made Flesh, in addition to working in community development with children and families as a social worker.

Greenwell, who completed a dual degree in biblical studies and social work, says Word Made Flesh offers the perfect marriage of her disciplines. When she thinks about her impending adventure, she remembers what started her down the path in the first place: “I just kept saying ‘yes’ . . . and it led to things I couldn’t even imagine.”

Class of 2016 - Cody Coblentz

Richter scholar Cody Coblentz fights cancer with science and faith.

The Lab Days of Summer

Instead of spending his summers focused on getting a tan, Cody Coblentz spent them in a laboratory focused on conducting cancer research. The decision to trade swim trunks for a lab coat, it turns out, was a good one.

In June, Coblentz began full-time work as a research assistant with the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University, joining a laboratory team that leads the world in cancer study and treatment. And those summers dedicated to research helped get him there. 

“They were surprised,” he recalls of his OHSU interviewers. “Usually you don’t even get to look at certain machines until you’re a graduate student. Having access to the techniques and equipment I used at George Fox is really rare.”

Working with biology professor John Schmitt for two summers, Coblentz helped characterize important relationships between cell proteins essential to combatting cancer. In April, he presented his findings at a major industry conference in San Diego.

In addition to his summer research, Coblentz acknowledges the importance of his undergraduate experience. “I’ve talked to people who’ve graduated and gone on to other programs, and there’s just story after story of people who are really grateful for the level of preparedness they got here at George Fox.”

Coblentz eventually plans to attend medical school to pursue an MD-PhD dual degree, which would equip him to conduct research that better informs the way he treats patients. 

Through it all, Coblentz plans to lean heavily on his faith as he helps patients navigate the most difficult experience of their lives. “In cancer there’s a lot of hopelessness, so I think just to be able to sit down with patients and tell them there is hope in Christ – even if they’re not Christians – there’s power in that kind of truth.”

Class of 2016 - Keiko Fujii

Self-proclaimed nerd Keiko Fujii finds the time to do just about everything.

The Secret to Doing It All

Keiko Fujii didn’t waste a single moment during her tenure at George Fox. In fact, looking at her laundry list of accomplishments, some might be inclined to believe she’s discovered a way to manipulate the time-space continuum. 

When asked about the use of a time machine, Fujii declined to comment. But if you know her, that scenario seems entirely plausible.

For starters, she just completed her bachelor’s degree in computer science. On top of that already demanding course of study, Fujii was an inaugural member of the University Innovation Fellows chapter at George Fox, a national program supporting innovation and entrepreneurship on college campuses. 

In 2015, Fujii founded and chaired the Association for Computing Machinery – Women (ACM-W) chapter at George Fox. “ACM–W is something near and dear to my heart,” she says. “I have a real passion for getting women and girls more into STEM.” The same year, she founded and served as an officer in the Students for Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship (S.I.D.E.) club.

As if that weren’t enough to keep her busy, Fujii was also a member of two choral groups and the university chapel band, served as treasurer of the swing dance club, worked as a computer science lab assistant, and was a NASA space grant scholar. She also spent her summers interning at HP. 

Now, thanks to all her hard work, Fujii has landed a great job with Clearwater Analytics as a software engineer in cloud technologies and database administration. 

How did she do it? “I was just keeping Christ at the center and focusing on him, saying, ‘You’ve put me here for a reason’ and believing he was going to get me through it.”

“Oh, and sleep,” she adds. “Sleep helped, too.” 

Class of 2016 - Justine Benner

Basketball star Justine Benner will extend her stay on campus to pursue a career in physical therapy.

From Hoops to Healing

By Sarah Reid

This fall Justine Benner will take her George Fox University adventure from one team to the next – from the basketball court to the physical therapy lab. She wrapped up her undergraduate career with a degree in exercise science while setting two women’s basketball single-season scoring records along the way. Her next stop is the Doctor of Physical Therapy program, where she’ll spend the next three years pursuing her doctorate.

Benner knows the value of being part of a team. She played a pivotal role in the Bruins’ powerhouse women’s basketball program and says the lessons she learned from head coach Mike Meek will translate well to her graduate studies. “Every game we said we would go 1-0, and that was the only focus,” she says. “I can look at each day, each test and each patient that way. I can put my focus there, let go of the stress and give my all to that situation.”

Being an athlete requires servant leadership, hard work and constant learning to stay ahead of the competition, and a career in physical therapy requires the same. Benner recalls the joy she experienced watching a stroke patient make progress through physical therapy, and wonders how another job could possibly be more fulfilling. “I want to go to work because I want to change people’s lives,” she says.

Looking back, Benner remembers how it felt to visit the George Fox campus during high school. Even then, she had a feeling it would be important in her life, though she didn’t realize her stay would last seven years. 

Looking ahead, she can’t wait to graduate a second time from George Fox University – this time as a doctor.

Visit georgefox.edu/Classof2016 to read about more recent George Fox graduates.