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Alumnus of the Year: Danielle Cervantes Stephens

Point Loma Nazarene University alumnus, Danielle Cervantes Stephens is one of three individuals receiving the 2018 Alumnus of Point Loma Award. The Alumni Association selects individuals who have shown significant achievement in their career, community service and academia since graduating from PLNU; recipients are awarded during the Homecoming festivities.

Since she was a little girl, Cervantes knew that she wanted to teach, but couldn’t decide just what. As a student at PLNU, Cervantes was always learning. She graduated in May 2000 with bachelor’s degrees in English literature and political science with a minor in women’s studies. She also completed enough French units to receive another bachelor’s degree, but PLNU did not offer the major at the time.

“The running joke was that instead of changing majors I just kept adding majors and minors,” Cervantes said.

To complete so many degrees, she spent six years and every summer in between taking full course loads and working to offset her student debt. Cervantes wasn’t looking for a job in journalism, but when the Republican National Convention came to San Diego in the summer of 1996, the San Diego Union-Tribune needed extra help. She began as a microfilm editor and was hired back each summer, until she was offered a full-time job as a librarian in April 2000.

“Journalism was an accident, and it was obviously a great one,” Cervantes said.

Librarians at the Union-Tribune did the majority of the investigative research for the paper’s reporters. Cervantes developed an excellent reputation which brought exciting opportunities. She was invited to join a team of journalists investigating bribery and fraud claims against Rep. Duke Cunningham. The Copley News Service, who owned the San Diego Union-Tribune, began the project and Cervantes was assigned to examining Cunningham’s wife and her property. The project was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in April 2006.

Shortly after, Cervantes began teaching at PLNU part-time and felt pulled in a new direction. She resigned from the Union-Tribune in 2011 as a senior reporter, exhausted by the tumultuous nature of investigative reporting and the constant desire to be perfect.

“I’m not going to abandon journalism completely and it will always be a part of me,” Cervantes said.

She incorporates it through teaching the next generation of journalists at PLNU.

“My proudest moment is training my students: my watch pups. It’s a little name that comes from watchdogs.”

She is very involved with students and last semester helped start a mental health awareness club on campus and published an op-ed in The Point. She described her personal struggles with mental illness and wrote: “during my darkest days, PLNU saved me.” Cervantes wants students to feel loved and supported in a similar way.

Cervantes keeps busy: she teaches at PLNU and National University, joined a news organization as a data editor to stay up-to-date in the world of journalism and has gone back to school to pursue a master’s degree in French language and literature at SDSU. After studying abroad in Paris, France, in college, Cervantes discovered a passion for French language, culture and literature that she is excited to pursue in the coming years.


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Eliza Jason

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