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Array of Alumni Excellence

In the Church, in the Community, and in the World

Every institute of learning hopes that its programs prepare graduates to lead lives of success and fulfillment. The means are different—many groom individuals for careers in business, others create pathways toward innovation in the sciences, and some build a foundation that cultivates creative expression. But the overarching goal of nurturing lives of achievement and happiness is a common one.

Uncommon, though, is North Park University’s deep commitment to unlocking and developing each student’s individual calling to a greater good, paving multiple avenues to support their journeys. We dedicate ourselves to preparing students for lives of significance and service across the entire career spectrum.

Our graduates use their instruction grounded in a wide array of disciplines, from theology to nonprofit administration to science, to take flight in their chosen professions—whether they become pastors who rouse congregations to serve their communities more actively, international advocates for those individuals most in need of help, or leaders who demonstrate that good business is ethical business.

North Park University alumni do lead lives of success and fulfillment. But they don’t stop there. They go beyond their personal sphere, reaching out into the world to make it better, to heal its wounds, and to demonstrate that each of us can make a difference.

Let’s see how our alumni in the church, in the nonprofit sphere, and in business are making a difference, and why North Park made such a difference for them.

Excellence in the Church

Willow Creek Community Church grounds its community in values of inclusion, compassion, and service; opens its doors to individuals from all backgrounds, regardless of where they are on their spiritual journey; and nurtures active, courageous service to the community and the world—just as North Park University does. Its mission statement outlines an idea also embodied at North Park: “We believe that excellence honors God and inspires people.” It is no surprise that a growing number of North Park alumni form the core of the Willow Creek worship services group.

Becky Johnson Ykema C’2005 is a Willow Creek worship leader who, along with North Park alumni Paul Johnson C’97 and Sharon Irving C’2008, helps plan the music, spoken word, and video elements of worship services. “We inspire and enlighten the people who come to our services, through various creative pathways— music, poetry, and imagery,” says Ykema. “We sing and play our hearts out for an hour to help the members of our church feel connected to God and one another.”

University Ministries Director Rich Johnson said of the weekend service he recently attended, “It was a lot of fun. Given the overlap, North Park and Willow Creek fit together very well.”

Executive Producer Matt Lundgren C’97 S’2001, who oversees programming of weekend services, has been with Willow Creek for more than 10 years, and in recent years, he has reached out to creative and enterprising North Park alumni to help boost the power of worship services. Paul Johnson is the new video programs director. Sharon Irving is a vocalist and writes spoken word pieces. And University Ministries Worship and Arts Coordinator Stephen Kelly is Willow Creek’s music director, choir director, and staff pianist.

Willow Creek spreads its arms wide, bringing together more than 20,000 people across Chicagoland to worship each weekend. The nondenominational church—now the fourth largest in the US—met for the first time in Willow Creek Theater in Palatine, Illinois, and is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Ykema says, “We’re working hard to make a big church feel small. Through scripture and music, we share our vulnerabilities from the heart, and our services are modeled to encourage the congregation to participate as well.”

Scot McKnight, professor of biblical and theological studies, says, “The strengthening relationship between North Park and Willow Creek makes sense. North Park represents a spectrum of Christianity, and some of the evangelicals at North Park participate and attend Willow Creek, a thriving church and safe environment for evangelical Christians. Willow Creek offers one of the most well-rounded, complete ministries in the Chicago area, and the church is involved in just about all of the important causes of the world.”

McKnight frequently teaches at Willow Creek, and has a front row seat to the inspiring work of worship services. “Willow Creek’s worship services team shows the quality and strength of the music and worship programs at North Park,” he says. “Matt Lundgren is one of our finest graduates. He knows North Park is a great place to find new members for his team, and students emerging out of the music department and University Ministries get a wonderful opportunity to develop their gifts in public.”

Ginny Olson, co-director of the Center for Youth Ministry Studies at North Park, was associate director of junior high ministry at Willow Creek in the early ’90s. She says, “North Park and Willow Creek have influenced each other to expand social justice outreach, and the relationship keeps getting better. I take students in my leadership class to Willow Creek for their Vision Night every year.”

Reflecting on the foundation that North Park provided, Ykema says, “I don’t know where I’d be without North Park. The musical training was formative, and the whole experience grounded me in my faith. At collegelife, I felt a freedom in worship that I have not felt anywhere else. My instructors challenged me to dig into the text, to know myself and my faith.” Paul Johnson agrees, adding, “North Park expanded my understanding of myself, the world, and God tremendously. North Park doesn’t try to teach you what to think. It teaches you how to think.”

“North Park served as an essential foundation for me,” continues Matt Lundgren, “not only in terms of my professional preparation as a business and music student, but also as a Christ-follower. I’m convinced that without my North Park experience, I wouldn’t have received the preparation that I needed to lead at Willow Creek.”

With their achievements, North Park alumni are advancing the fields of medicine, economics, public policy, humanitarian service, and the arts. Though they are working in different areas and industries, all these professionals began their careers inspired by North Park’s values of significance and service, and they share a commitment to carry them forward. Here, alumni from across the career spectrum reflect on how the University has propelled them ahead in their work.

Excellence in the Community and the World

Currently a fellow in pulmonary and critical care medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., Darlene (Duncan) Nelson, MD C’2001, was president of Tri-Beta, the biology honors society, during her senior year, and she was recognized with the University’s Outstanding Senior Award in 2001.

“My education was fantastic,” she says. “My classes and the personal attention from my teachers gave me a solid foundation for my future medical training. I am also thankful for the lessons about compassion and serving others, which prepared me for the many challenges of medical school and residency. As I transition into the medical field and into other aspects of my life, I will continue to be influenced by all that I learned at North Park.”

A business administration and economics major, Timothy Rose C’81 is the founder and president of T. Rose & Associates, Inc., which provides investment advisory services. Tim has served as co-chair of the finance committee for Children’s Cancer Research Fund and a founding board member of The Learning Center for Homeless Families. He is an adjunct professor of risk management at the University of St. Thomas, and a past trustee of North Park University.

“The balanced approach to studying business and economics as well as religion and philosophy at North Park gave me a similar outlook on life,” says Tim. “To a large degree, success is being able not only to meet business objectives but also to understand and communicate effectively with various types of people. It’s a liberal arts education with a Christian influence in an urban community that helps prepare you so effectively for life.”

As the quality manager of Medline Industries’ Readycare Division, Waukegan, Ill., Angela M. Pinkston C’2003 oversees the firm’s daily inspections and microbiological testing activities. Active in service leadership, she volunteers as an event manager with One Brick Chicago, which assists other area nonprofits. While at North Park, Angela participated in cross country and track, and Gospel Choir. She became a competitive runner and earned honors in CCIW championship tournaments.

“My education and experience at North Park was life shaping,” she says. “I grew academically, spiritually, and as a leader. North Park is a nurturing community that assists everyone in reaching their full potential.”

Kathryn Edin-Nelson, PhD C’84 is a professor of public policy and management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. An award-winning author and researcher, she is recognized as one of the nation’s preeminent voices in improving the lives of the urban poor. At North Park, Kathryn performed with the North Park University Choir and the University Symphony Orchestra, and participated in the Urban Outreach program.

“North Park gave me three essential gifts: a passion for Jesus and for faith-infused learning; a passion for Chicago, a great American city; and finally a passion for diversity, social justice, race, and poverty,” she shares. “I learned to view my work as a calling, which continues to sustain what I do both with poor urban families and with students.”

A major in music performance, and born in Shanghai, China, Wei Yu C’2004 began studying the cello at age four and made his debut with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra at age 11. He came to the United States in 2000 to study at North Park. Wei has been a member of the cello section of the New York Philharmonic since 2007. He has performed worldwide in music festivals and in concerts, and was invited to join the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s USA 70th anniversary tour. Upon graduating from North Park, Wei earned a full scholarship to The Juilliard School, where he earned his master’s degree.

“I received such wonderful training in music and in performance because of the exceptional music faculty. But it was my overall education at North Park that made me more fully prepared for the real world. I became a more well-rounded person—and a better musician.”

Brady Josephson C’2007 is the director of resource development for Spark Ventures, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that forms partnerships with high-impact organizations around the world to help vulnerable children achieve their potential. A business and economics major at North Park, Brady served on the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) and University Ministries Focus Week Team. An award-winning baseball athlete, Brady also received the Senior Par Excellence Award.

“North Park gave me not only a quality education but also a purpose and a passion in life. I truly learned what social justice meant and recognized our call to do something that mattered. Most important, North Park taught me more about how to live my life and make an impact, and not just how to get a job and earn a paycheck.”

North Park University is proud of the integrity and passion our alumni embody, and we are heartened to see the wonderful work they are doing in the world. Most of all, we are excited about the future, for we know that their best is yet to come.