Irena Chiang, new Academic Manager for the EAC, shares her journey to PLNU

The season of my life that brought me to Point Loma Nazarene University came like the seasons came to San Diego this past year. Between the heat wave, the lengthened weeks of cold days and the relentless, torrential downpour, we never knew what to expect. It’s uncomfortable for a little while, waiting for the rain to end, until we drive through valleys that are usually dusty and full of dry brush and instead see bursts of vivacious wildflowers, see hills lush with green. 

In April of 2022, I was a seventh grade English teacher at a public charter school in inner city Philadelphia. I was hypothetically prepared for my position: I had gone to Vanderbilt University in Nashville as a secondary education major and graduated with a teaching certification for sixth through 12th grade. I had been a student teacher, completed several teaching internships in multiple cities across the country and finished a year of teaching in Nashville before moving to Philadelphia in July of 2020 and teaching virtually through the height of the pandemic. It was my second year, but instead of feeling more settled and confident, I felt more anxious, burnt out and stressed than ever before. 

I was confused. I knew I was passionate about education, knew God was calling me to work in that field with students, to advocate for minority groups and to fight for justice and equity, but I felt powerless and defeated in the midst of my second year at that school. My days felt long and repetitive, classroom management dominated the majority of our class time, and I barely got to work with issues of diversity and equity because I had only enough time to plan, grade and execute lessons before needing to repeat that process over again. 

I’d always wanted to live on the west coast and near the ocean, and though I’d never been to San Diego before, I felt drawn to it out of curiosity, and in a wild leap of faith, I decided my life needed a radical change that forced me to trust in God’s faithfulness and create a blank slate that would allow Him to give me new direction. I told my manager that I would not be renewing my contract, told my landlord the same, and at the end of the summer, I packed up my little Honda Accord and drove across the country.

From September until February, I worked at REI and explored the city, finding spaces I loved, listening to the crashing waves and finding a church family at King’s Cross. I still felt a little directionless, but embraced the lack of anxiety I felt in Philadelphia and continued to search for calling. Over coffee one day in February, my community group leader suggested that I look at PLNU’s job listings because I had suggested that perhaps I wanted to transition into higher education and work in less of a classroom setting in order to have a wider reach in my work for diversity and equity. 

The position I inherited at PLNU’s Educational Access Center is such an incredible blend of all my passions. I get the privilege of working with every department and group on campus; I get to advocate for a minority group; I am constantly learning and growing about the field of disability resources; I have the opportunity to partner in destigmatizing disabilities and educating others on ableism and the beautiful diversity it brings to our campus. Pamela Harris and Sabrina Mathisen have been phenomenal mentors and supporters, endlessly patient and encouraging and full of wisdom, knowledge and passion for our students. 

As the new Manager of Academics, I’m excited to continue the important work of destigmatizing disability and collaborate with students, staff and faculty to create positive change in the disability culture on campus. I also plan to create more opportunities for training to increase awareness around equity and inclusion within an ability-diverse campus. My hope is for our campus to be equipped to love, serve and support communities with visible and invisible disabilities.

This season has been a blessing and a joy, the unexpected super bloom that emerged after an exhausting and tumultuous season of unpredictable weather. I can’t wait to continue seeing the beautiful work God is doing here and to be a vessel in helping that work continue to grow. 

Written By: Irena Chiang