Dean of Students Jake Gilbertson Announces Move to Fresno Pacific

Photo courtesy of Point Loma Nazarene University.

After 16 years of repping green and gold for his undergraduate alma mater, Jake Gilbertson, PLNU’s dean of students decided that it was time to switch up his wardrobe — incorporating navy blue and orange — and venture into new realms of higher education leadership.

An email with the subject line “A Quick Personal Update” was sent to Point Loma Nazarene student leaders on Feb. 25, from Gilbertson, saying that he accepted a position at Fresno Pacific University (FPU) as their Vice President of Student Development and will move up north this summer after the spring semester ends.

Two days prior, Gilbertson held a meeting with PLNU’s resident directors (RDs) and assistant RDs, where he broke the news. According to Young Residence Hall Resident Director Chip Pitkin, “There were a lot of shocked faces with that news, and certainly a lot of emotion for the team because he really is loved.”

Sarah Beckham, the resident director of Hendricks Residence Hall, said she broke down crying.

“It was hard for me personally,” Beckham said. “I think the palpable shared emotion in the room was just grief, sadness, shock.”

In an email interview, Gilbertson, who was a student from 2002-2006, said PLNU was an amazing place for him and hopes that he is leaving it as a better place for the current student body.

The dean of students said he was not only proud to play a part in supporting the student leaders over the years who helped start and grow Voices of Love (VOL), PLNU’s LGBTQIA+ student affinity group, but also proud of the Residential Life and Housing (ResLife) team and is grateful to have had the opportunity to work with them.

“It’s so hard to leave Loma,” Gilbertson wrote. “There are aspects of this move that will be really good for my family. I’m also excited to step into a VP role and grow in my leadership at that level. But those things alone wouldn’t be enough to leave PLNU. Throughout the process I’ve felt a pretty clear sense of God’s calling and excitement for the work at FPU and to work with the people that are doing that work.” 

Before his six-year tenure as the dean of students, Gilbertson worked as the RD of Young (2008-2011) and Goodwin Residence Halls (2011-2014), the assistant director of ResLife (2013-2014) and the director of community life (2014-2018).

Jeff Bolster, the vice president for university services, has been employed at the university since 1993 and served as the dean of students from 2008-2018. During his tenure in the Office of Spiritual Development from 1993-2007, he crossed paths with Gilbertson, who worked as a resident assistant (RA) in Young Hall.

“He was a very effective student leader, and very involved, but he and I never crossed paths directly,” Bolster said.

After Gilberton graduated, he helped Bolster lead Love Works trips through the Office of Spiritual Development, where the two got closer.

In 2008, Bolster transitioned into the role of dean of students. That fall, a hazing incident occurred in Young Hall, which housed “primarily male students,” which resulted in the firing of its RD, according to Bolster. 

“We needed someone that could come in, who understood how we got there, could help us lead and imagine us creating a new culture [in Young], could be a part of it, and yet help imagine something new,” Bolster said, “and immediately Jake came to mind.”

Bolster told PLNU President Bob Brower that he would be a good fit for the role. During the interview process, Brower, who also knew Gilbertson as a student, said he was pleased and impressed with his growth over time.

“His energy and optimism for the work he does was part of what I captured in that first interview,” Brower said.

Halfway through the 2008-2009 school year, Gilbertson was brought onto PLNU staff as the new Young Hall RD. Bolster said Gilbertson spent much of his first few weeks sleeping in the residence hall’s empty lounges instead of the Young RD apartment “because the behaviors [of the residents] were so bad.”

“He would have to get up in the middle of the night and help calm things down,” Bolster said, “literally putting himself in the middle of these guys and what was happening and began to reimagine and reshape that.”

From serving as an RA to the dean of students, Gilbertson has always operated very relationally, according to Bolster.

“He gets context, he gets perspective that is informed,” Bolster said. “The way I would describe Jake’s leadership more than anything is incarnational, and for me, that means that he really leads out of a place of being with [others].”

Brower said he enjoys Gilbertson’s sense of humor, light-heartedness and ability to focus on issues to help provide both contexts and ideas. 

“When I’m in a kind of decision-making mode, I like a variety of perspectives to examine various possibilities, and Jake has been really good in that process for me,” Brower said.

Brower said Gilbertson reached out to him early this semester about his interest in the position at FPU and “was very good about keeping me [Brower] informed about the position and his thoughts [about it].”

“He let me know before it was publicly announced what his plans were, and I appreciate that and hope my input and perspectives along the way were also helpful to him,” Brower said. “I think Jake will do well in learning and growing in that role, and I think he’ll contribute very much to Fresno.”

Bailey Pickard, a third-year philosophy and biology-chemistry double major and the 2023-2024 Associated Student Body vice president, said one of her first conversations with Gilbertson was on April 14, 2023, at the Nazarene Student Leadership Conference in Boston, Massachusetts.

Across the country, two demonstrations were held on PLNU’s campus, where members of PLNU’s community — including alumni — and San Diego locals expressed their support of the LGBTQIA+ community, following the alleged firing of PLNU’s former Dean of the School of Theology, Mark Maddix.

“He helped us [student leaders] walk through how we were feeling about the situations [on campus], and what it looks like for us to lead,” Pickard said. “A lot of what he said was to ‘be patient and listen, and that every student’s voice deserves to be listened to … and everyone deserves to feel safe and welcome.’”

Chip Pitkin, the current Young Hall RD and a PLNU alumnus (‘09), met Gilbertson in 2003 before he was a student. Their paths crossed when Pitkin visited his older brother, who resided in Young Hall while Gilbertson was the RA.

Pitkin recalled joining Gilbertson, who took a group of guys to go bridge jumping. Before they did the bridge jump, Pitkin said Gilbertson gathered the guys in a circle and prayed that God would keep everybody safe and have a fun time.

“The thing that struck me about Jake was that he was such a fun-loving, energetic guy who really cared about the people who he was with,” Pitkin said, “even when we were doing something really dumb.”

When Pitkin started attending PLNU in 2005, he resided in Young Hall, with Gilbertson as his RA, and during his senior year in ‘08, he took on the RA role with Gilbertson as the RD.

Pitkin and Gilbertson became colleagues at the university in 2010, when Pitkin started working as a senior admissions counselor. In 2013, he became an RD.

“He went from this older student, to my boss, to then a colleague and then became my boss again,” Pitkin said. “My whole time at Point Loma has overlapped with Jake’s and it’s sort of hard to imagine my time here with him not in it.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Pitkin said ResLife staff were concerned about their jobs due to the school’s remote operations. Despite not having the answers on how the school would return, he said Gilbertson was a calming presence, sitting with them “in the unknown with empathy, being available for us, as a good counselor would do.”

“Jake is more than a boss or colleague,” Pitkin said.

Throughout the years, Pitkin and Gilbertson have developed a lifelong friendship; Gilbertson was one of Pitkin’s groomsmen, and the two are involved in a church small group together.

“I’m mostly sad to lose a friend,” Pitkin said, “there’s certainly always a bit of disappointment when a good boss leaves, with the unknown of what happens next. But Point Loma always finds a way to move forward and move on. We get really good people.”

Gilbertson said via email that while he will certainly miss the beach and ocean, it’s the people at PLNU who he will miss the most.

“Some of the people that I went to Loma with have become my closest friends,” Gilbertson wrote. “There are staff that worked here when I was a student and have encouraged and mentored me through the last two decades. Some of the faculty that taught me in my undergrad have become friends and colleagues. There are countless students that I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years that have been amazing. Watching them leave this place and build amazing lives and careers has been such an honor.”

Pitkin said he is both proud and excited for Gilbertson as he enters the new position at FPU.

“Those opportunities are few and far between,” Pitkin said.

Mary Paul, the vice president for student life and formation, said the Dean of Students position will be posted soon both internally and externally, and “the search committee will be made up of people within and outside of [the Office of] Student Life and Formation,” via email.

“We are very sorry to see Jake Gilbertson go,” Paul wrote. “He has been an excellent Dean of Students. We are also excited for him as he follows God’s lead and joins the good work at Fresno Pacific.”

Beckham said Paul has been “intentional about reaching out to the RDs” and asking them about their hopes for a future leader.

“I hope we have a person of color [fill the position],” Beckham said, “to represent some of our students that are on the margins within some of the student climate processes. I hope there’s someone who can be an advocate for students on the margin in the ways that Jake was this year with Voices of Love.”

Beckham, Brower, Bolster, Pickard and Pitkin all said they value Gilbertson’s sense of humor and intentionality with challenging conversations and situations. 

Paul said they hope to have the new dean in place by mid-summer.