We Meet Again

By Andy Faught

In our Fall 2001 issue, Occidental magazine introduced eight first-year members of the Class of 2005 “to keep your eyes on over the next four years.” Where are they now?

Twenty years ago, the 2002 Kaplan/Newsweek How to Get Into College guide (published in August 2001) proclaimed Occidental was one of the 10 hottest colleges in the country. That came on the heels of a Los Angeles Times Magazine cover story touting Eagle Rock as “the next hot place” in Southern California, and in the wake of a then-record 3,635 applications to Oxy, dropping the College’s admit rate to a then-historic low.

Among the 458 incoming members of the Class of 2005, we profiled eight incoming first-years for an Occidental magazine cover story. There was Nathan Baptiste of Lake Oswego, Ore., whose high school extracurriculars “centered heavily on civil activism and diversity celebration.” And Sarah Candler of Atlanta, who immersed herself in Nepalese culture and language on a 35-day sojourn to remote western Nepal with nine high school classmates.

First-generation American Brooke Vuong (whose parents fled the Viet Cong for a new start in Houston) enrolled at Oxy intent on majoring in biochemistry and becoming an epidemiologist. Chi Gook Kim, blind since age 3 and immigrating from South Korea to Philadelphia in 1998, excelled as a musician from an early age and aspired to a career in Christian pop music. Andrew Pace of Fort Lewis, Wash., who followed in the Oxy footsteps of his father, emergency room physician Steven Pace ’73, and older brother Aaron ’03, aspired to open a family medical practice one day.

Haneefah Shuaibe of Oakland was the first in her family to attend college; she came to Oxy intent on opening her own business in the Bay Area. The daughter of a BP Amoco engineer, Rachel Shoemaker spent half her time in high school studying in the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates; she arrived at Oxy having learned to speak five languages.

And lastly, we met Gabriel Flores, who chose Oxy for its emphasis in the liberal arts with aspirations to a career in the performing arts: “I’m hoping to gain an intellectual basis for any form of art I decide to work with,” he told writer Andy Faught in 2001.

Twenty years have passed; where are the “New Faces of 2005” today? We caught up with them all—in eight cities on three continents—and enlisted Faught (who now lives in Fresno) to chat with all of them. Where has life taken them since Oxy? How did their time at Occidental influence their career choices? And what advice would they give their 18-year-old selves? For answers to those questions and more, read on.

Twenty years ago, Andrew Pace envisioned going into medical practice with his older brother, Aaron ’03. The siblings have been close since childhood, and they even roomed next door to each other at Newcomb Hall, when Aaron was a chemistry major.

“But there were times in med school when it was hard to know if we both were going to end up in the same specialty,” Andrew says.  “Sometimes medicine is tough, depending on your specialty and whether an area can support it. We always intended to come back home if at all possible.”

In July 2013, Andrew Pace ’05, foreground, joined Pace Dermatology Associates, the practice founded by his brother Aaron Pace ’03, center, two years earlier. Their dad, Steven Pace ’73, left, retired earlier this year as an emergency physician.
All developed as the brothers had hoped. Andrew and Aaron are co-owners of Pace Dermatology Associates, which has offices in Tacoma and Lakewood, Wash., near where they were raised in Steilacoom. Andrew joined the practice in 2013 after earning his medical degree from the University of Washington. (He served a dermatology residency at USC.) Doctoring runs in the family; the brothers’ father, Steven Pace ’73, retired this year as an emergency physician.

Occidental played no small part in Andrew’s personal and career development. He spent summers and parts of the academic year working in the research lab of Don Deardorff, the Carl F. Braun Professor of Chemistry (who retired in 2015). “That was part of my entire time there, and the experience helped me with many life skills,” Andrew says. “The undergraduate research was some of my most memorable time at Occidental.”

These days he’s making new memories. Andrew is married and has two young daughters. He enjoys woodworking and fishing when he’s not doctoring. Any advice to his 18-year-old self? “Do it all again,” he replies. “It’s worked out great.”

Brooke Vuong hadn’t had many interactions with a physician until she took part as a student in the Career Center’s Walk in My Shoes program, through which she met Kimberly Shriner ’80, an infectious disease expert at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena since 1992 (and currently an adviser to Oxy’s COVID Operation Group).

“Dr. Shriner was really inspirational,” recalls Vuong, who majored in biochemistry and went on to earn a master’s in public health from USC and a medical degree from UC Davis. She considered pursuing nephrology, because her father had renal failure, but her priorities changed when he received a kidney transplant. She marveled at her dad’s restored independence once he was free from dialysis. Consequently, she went into general surgery to “fix problems.”

“In surgical oncology, I have the privilege to meet people during what is often the scariest moment in their life as they are diagnosed with cancer,” says Vuong, who lives and works in Sacramento. “This work is both rewarding and humbling.”
As a surgical oncologist at Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center, Vuong is the head breast surgeon and one of three surgeons who treat more than 400 breast cancer patients every year. She takes pride in being both a breast and hepatobiliary (liver and pancreas) surgeon “as there are so few women in this profession.”

In surgical oncology, she says, “I have the privilege to meet people during what is often the scariest moment in their life. For those who are surgical candidates, I can offer them an operation to treat their cancer. This work is both rewarding and humbling.”

When she’s not in the operating room, or doing medical research (such as building a robotic liver surgery program), Vuong and husband Eli Moreno-Sanchez ’04, a lawyer for Liberty Mutual, enjoy traveling. They’re planning trips to Machu Picchu and Patagonia.

Twenty years after they first met at Occidental, Vuong remains good friends with classmate Haneefah Shuaibe-Peters (more on her below). Of all that she has experienced over the years, Vuong offers one lesson in particular: “Really take advantage of hearing the people’s stories around you and learning from their experiences,” she says. “Occidental gave me that opportunity, because everyone comes from such different backgrounds.”

In both his life and life’s work, Gabe Flores is propelled by a truism: All the world’s a story. As lead product art designer for Netflix, he pays testament to that daily—with no small assist from Oxy.

“By studying cultural anthropology, gender and postcolonial theory, I learned how to see how human experience, joys, and traumas articulate in culture through customs, traditions, and popular entertainment,” he says. “This has allowed me to find meaning in my work, promoting these stories about ourselves and finding the best way to visually communicate each story’s theme and genre through design.”

As a design lead for Netflix’s product art, “Our designs are created to help make a selection, so our work is often both the introduction and entry point into a new title.”
At Netflix, Flores works with a small team of designers to create a suite of images representing individual shows or movies—the icons that prompt users to click on Selena the Series, for instance, or The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf. For a favorite project, the 2013 FX series American Horror Story: Coven, he combined Helmut Newton photos with snake iconography from the Aztec goddess Coatlicue.

Flores doesn’t stray far from artistic creation. Away from his job, he creates illustrations, landscape and portrait paintings, and digital paintings. Before joining Netflix in 2019—and after studying illustration and animation art at the ArtCenter College of Design—he was art director at the Refinery Creative, a marketing and advertising agency in Sherman Oaks.

An anthropology major and theater minor at Oxy, Flores, who lives in Pasadena, says if he could do it over again, he’d likely major in theater to hone his skills in scenic design, with an eye toward working on productions. That said, he adds, “I have nothing but gratitude for the opportunities I’ve been given and the early footing Oxy helped me find.”

College has always been fertile ground for exploration and self-discovery. Just ask Sarah Candler, whose self-created independent study major focused on everything from language to music to Homer.

“The classes that I took at Oxy were more like an English garden than a French garden—a diverse and sometimes unmanicured landscape rather than a strictly organized or polished scene,” says Candler, who has fond memories of soaking in her college days sitting on a triangle-shaped patch of grass near the Music Quad.

Candler enrolled at Oxy as a Margaret Bundy Scott Scholar. Today, the mother of two is a primary care physician, patient advocate, and teacher in Houston.
At the time, she wanted to become “a teacher of some sort, but in a more hands-on way”—a mindset that made becoming a physician a logical choice. Not only is Candler care team medical director at Iora Health in Houston, she also teaches clinical students from the University of Houston as the facility’s director of academic relations.

Candler, who has a master’s in public health and an M.D. from Emory University in Atlanta, spent five years treating veterans at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston before joining Iola Health in 2019.

Currently the mom of two is on maternity leave, during which she’s finding surprising linkages with her professional life. “The most consistent thing is the overwhelming humility that parenting requires,” Candler says. “It’s a lot like teaching and doctoring. I’m reminded every day that I can have a plan, but my kids or my patients or my trainees may have different needs that day.”

Candler continues to look back warmly on lessons learned at Oxy. “Tell your teachers how much you appreciate their work,” she advises. “It’s not too late. The good ones are always going to be happy to hear that something might have stuck.”

Some 4,000 miles from his native Oregon, Nathan Baptiste spreads the virtues of mindfulness in Cali, Colombia. But it’s more than simply promoting meditation as a means of living authentically in the moment. Baptiste also is helping to encourage authentic workplace cultures that teach the value of organizational equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).

“I’ll bring meditation into training spaces, usually briefly, as a way to make ourselves attentive to how our bodies are responding to sensitive conversations,” says Baptiste, founder of EDI Mindfulness Consulting. “That’s when we get our first signals that we’re uncomfortable, or are shutting down channels of communication.”

Baptiste relaxes in a hammock outside his home in Colombia. Prior to his freshman year, he took part in Oxy’s Multicultural Summer Institute.
He works with nonprofits, public agencies, and for-profit companies with clients in both the United States and South America, where he moved with his Colombian-born wife and their two children in 2018. Part of his job involves coaching organizations on advancing equity. Baptiste points to research that shows that teams of people from diverse backgrounds consistently outperform homogenous groups, as they are more creative, better problem-solvers, and more financially prosperous.

Baptiste, a sociology major and religious studies minor, developed his sensibilities in part through Oxy’s Multicultural Summer Institute, known for challenging students’ critical thinking and fostering relationships across diverse backgrounds. “It was so formative,” Baptiste says. “It was the most pivotal and important experience I had in college.”

Prior to founding EDI Mindfulness Consulting, Baptiste designed and launched an EDI professional development training plan for more than 1,000 employees of Oregon Metro, the regional government for the Portland area, and drove an initiative to increase both diversity enrollment and retention numbers as director of inclusion and multicultural engagement at Lewis and Clark College.

Away from work, Baptiste finds time for basketball with his kids and relaxation time in his hammock. He has learned to take the long view of the world since his days at Oxy. “Be patient,” Baptiste advises. “I have the tendency to want to change the world now, and that creates stress. Being patient helps.”

From the day she set foot on the Occidental campus, Rachel (Shoemaker) Calvert has been testament to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s credo that the destination is the journey. “I’ve had that build-your-own-pathway mindset from the beginning, and that has carried all the way through to what I do today,” she says. “Everything has flowed directly out of what I studied and did at Oxy.”

That path led Calvert to Singapore, where she is director of IHS Markit, a team of analysts, data scientists, financial experts, and industry specialists that help governments and businesses make informed policy decisions. Calvert’s work focuses on clean energy transitions.

Calvert chose Oxy for its close-knit community and its location in the heart of cosmopolitan Southern California: “It’s a nice mix of both worlds.” She now lives in Singapore.
She’s not one to be tied down. After growing up in international settings, Calvert, a diplomacy and world affairs major, won a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Taiwan; she also completed her master’s degree in China through Johns Hopkins. She went on to work for NGOs in mainland China, and she did political risk analysis in the United Kingdom.

In a big world, Calvert reflects on her years in Eagle Rock, where she had “really diverse relationships” with classmates and professors. “I have a lot of fond memories of a whole bunch of small moments, in dorm rooms and hall parties, and all of the social life that was built into campus,” she says. “Without question, it was the people who made my time there.”

If she could speak to her younger self, Calvert would urge learning digital skills, especially in a work world that increasingly demands such skills. “I’m not a technology-oriented person, and it kills me to sit at a desk on a computer all day,” she says. “I’d much prefer to be out in the woods or on the ocean somewhere.”

Two years into his Oxy experience, Chi Gook Kim decided to follow his heart and enroll at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Occidental, where he had a social network and an overall “amazing experience,” played an important role in the decision.

“I didn’t have a clear path, but the College definitely gave me a foundation and a confirmation that Berklee was something that I could do,” says Kim, who enjoyed his time studying music at Oxy. “It was a small department and a family kind of atmosphere.”

As associate professor of music therapy at Berklee College of Music, Kim founded Berklee’s assistive music technology program for blind and visually impaired students.
Berklee is known for its jazz instruction, and it would ultimately give the jazz-loving Kim a chance to carve a path for other blind or disabled students. He’s back at his alma mater as an assistant professor and founder of the assistive music technology program for blind and visually impaired students. Kim uses programs such as Sibelius, music notation software that allows students to record audio or write scores with computers.

When he started at Berklee in 2010, there wasn’t much in the way of assistive equipment. “I had to teach myself and contact strangers on the internet, saying, ‘I have this problem. Can you help me?’” Kim says. “Now I’m developing these technologies, so visually impaired students don’t have to go through all of the pains that I did.”

Inspired by a guest artist at Berklee, Kim began writing music for film and has scored three indie shorts that played the festival circuit and two feature films (Tooth and Nail and Casa Amor) that were released in Korea. He discussed his experiences navigating the world as a blind musician for a 2019 episode of Talks at Google, a popular YouTube interview series.

In the face of his physical challenges, Kim has long relied on his Christian faith to stay positive. “Don’t stress too much, don’t worry too much,” he says. “Just know that if you do your best, things will work out.”

In a TEDx talk on early childhood education with more than 26,000 views on YouTube, Haneefah Shuaibe-Peters makes the case that preschool should be about more than kindergarten readiness: “We need to start developing the skills that we need them to have to be social human beings.”

Shuaibe-Peters’ passion for early childhood education dates back to her days of helping out at the Bay Area nursery school where her father was principal. “That’s definitely where the love began,” she says.

While attending Oxy, Shuaibe-Peters says, African American students were a small part of the student body, “but we found ways to create community on campus.” She uses the leadership skills she developed in college in her work in the field of early education.
But Shuaibe-Peters has shifted her focus. As executive director of the nonprofit Child Education Center and the Model School Comprehensive (child development centers for kids from 3 months to 5 years old), both in Berkeley, the former public and private school teacher dedicates much of her time to improving “horrific” wages among early childhood professionals, most of whom are women of color.

“I am committed to figuring out how to create work environments in which these women feel loved, comforted, and supported—financially and emotionally,” she says. “The children will be best off if you give them loving caregivers who are able to provide that level of care.”

A mother of three (the oldest is 12; the youngest turns 2 in November), Shuaibe-Peters earned her master’s in early childhood education from San Francisco State University. She completed her doctorate in 2020 from SFSU. She’s married to classmate Karl Peters ’05, educational administration consultant and dean of students for a middle/high school in the Bay Area. High school sweethearts, the couple were married shortly after graduating from Oxy.

Shuaibe-Peters sharpened her leadership skills at Oxy, working as a choreographer in Dance Production, serving as an RA for two years, and presiding as a senior over the Black Student Union, which the College recognized as club of the year.

Looking back on her career to date, Shuaibe-Peters is circumspect. “Enjoy the ride because it’s never going to be what you thought it was going to be,” she says. “Be OK with whatever the result is.” 

Faught also wrote “Navigating Well-Being” in this issue.

Main photo, clockwise from top left: Pace, Kim, Shoemaker, Shuaibe, Baptiste, Flores, Candler, and Vuong. 2001 photos by Max S. Gerber. 2021 photo credits: Rick Dahms (Pace), Eli Moreno-Sanchez '04 (Vuong), Marc Campos (Baptiste), and Jim Block (Shuaibe-Peters). Additional photos courtesy of Flores, Candler/Iolra Health, Calvert, and Kim.