Paying back the grace received

Hadley Wood has worked at PLNU for 38 years. Her desire to help students strive is what keeps her going.

Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Wood said her love for literature and language began at 10 years old. Instead of books like “Little Red Riding Hood” or “The Three Little Pigs,” her grandmother would read to her “The Odyssey” and “The Greek Myths.” Her grandmother would stop and discuss how characters were developing, and which character was the greatest hero. Wood’s favorite game as a child was playing story with her stuffed animals. She would sit in her bed, grab her two night stand lamps, or stage lights as she called them, and placed them on the floor. Her characters were seals, dogs, cats or bears. She would then create a basic scenario and act out impromptu dramas.


Wood’s first French class was as a 10 year old in the fifth grade. By the time she was a sophomore in high school, she took another French class at Mary Institute, but had an upsetting talk with her French teacher that ended up changing everything.

“Don’t stress over this class,” said her French teacher Mrs. Ely. “You have no talent for language, you are never going to learn French.

She spent her summer coming up with a plan to teach herself French.

“I don’t like the word can’t,” said Wood. She put her plan in action her junior year in high school. By December of her senior year, she was fluent in French.

She would flip through dictionaries during class and would find different alphabets.

“I just thought it was so cool that there were different alphabets,” said Wood.

Then, she began to teach herself the Greek alphabet. Wood would not go to another country unless she knew how to say hello in their language. Wood can speak French, Russian, Spanish and English.

About 11 years ago, Wood became the leader of a school program called Learning Experiences for Academic Progress (LEAP). This program helps freshmen transition from high school into college with structured academic programming to maintain their academic success. The start of this program was not easy. Wood went the extra mile to make sure that students who needed extra help to transition from high school into a university received that help. She calls this program “the educational outreach of the church.”

“I have built this plane while it’s in the air,” Wood said. She officially retired in 2013, but the passion she has for LEAP is the reason she’s still here. Wood teaches two courses, Masterpieces of World Literature and Freshman Studies Seminar (FST).

Wood’s actions have proven how much she cares for students. She has offered to help students pay for their tuition in order to stay in the program. She has paid for a student’s Graduate Record Exam exam so she can attend graduate school. Wood has even opened up her home to a former student Angel Espudo, a sophomore who transferred last semester to Palomar College, and provided her with housing when she could not afford it.

“I don’t think anyone has ever been so helpful and caring towards me more than Hadley,” said Espudo. “She has truly been a blessing. During a difficult time in her life she provided housing to me knowing my financial situation. It is because of her that I am able to thrive even though I have left Point Loma. I will always be grateful for Hadley as a professor and friend.”

Wood has gone through so many hardships in her life that have molded who she is. Her father died, her last parent to go. Years later, her beloved husband Nick also died. Her passion to help students is what has kept her going. Her troubled childhood has made her who she is today. Her mother was an alcoholic who was against her attending college, but she had one aunt who would always give her words of encouragement, who supported her during the process of applying to college. So what she wants to do now is give back what she was given.

“Paying back a fraction of the grace received,” said Wood.

As a child, Wood longed to move out of her troubled home to attend college. Her journey from St. Louis to San Diego was planned by God from the start. Wood received a four-year-no-conditions scholarship to attend Brown University, where she spent her next five years. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree and masters in French, Wood spent another five years in upstate New York. She spent the five most brittle winters of her life there. She knew New York was not the place for her. She went on to receive her Ph.D. from Harvard University.

One winter, she visited her brother in San Diego and completely fell in love with the “Cali winters.” San Diego winters weren’t the only thing she fell in love with during that trip; she also encountered Jesus and became a Christian at age 31. Wood began to attend First Church of the Nazarene. She believes worshipping where your students and colleagues worship is important. “It undercuts the power dynamic between students and faculty,” said Wood.

Wood came back that summer and looked for a job at San Diego State University (SDSU) and PLNU. She filed applications for both universities after visiting, but had no luck. Wood’s prayer was, “Get me a job and I will go to San Diego,” but God was saying the opposite, she said. “Go to San Diego and I will get you a job.”

Wood decided to take a leave of absence. She arrived in San Diego to find two letters offering part time jobs from SDSU and PLNU. Feeling overwhelmed, she decided to take SDSU’s offer. But there was still something tugging her toward PLNU. She began praying again.

SDSU and PLNU called her two days after she began praying for an interview. Wood wanted a clear sign from God telling her PLNU is where she should be. As soon as the interview was over, the chair told her they had a contract for her ready to sign. Wood felt like this was something that she needed to do and signed the contract.

Wood plans to stay at PLNU two more years before she leaves her beloved LEAP students in the hands of someone else.