A Life and A Friendship Dedicated To Music

As a young girl born in the 1920’s, growing up in a world that was ever changing, Murella Schliebe found her solace in music. She grew up in Santa Ana, California and attended an Assemblies of God church in town. The oldest of eight children, her mother passed away when Murella was just 19 years old, and soon after that tragedy, she felt like she needed a new start.

That start came at Southern California Bible College (SCBC)—a small bible school in Pasadena that would later be known as Vanguard University in Costa Mesa.

Murella Schliebe, now known by her professional name of Merle Valdez, followed her passion and studied music at SCBC in the 1940’s. In her music classes, she sat alongside a young man by the name of Ralph Carmichael.

“My music classes were always so interesting to me, and Ralph made them even more interesting,” recalls Valdez of her piano and music theory classes.

Because of her family’s financial hardship, Valdez only attended one year at SCBC, but that did not stop her from striving to become the best musician and director she could be. She immediately began teaching piano to a small group of students, and that number quickly grew until she opened her own studio out of her home in Costa Mesa, teaching children ages 3-18. At the peak of her career, Valdez was piano instructor to as many as 90 students a week—some she taught privately and some in groups.

“I wanted to direct, but after I stopped attending Bible College, I didn’t have any instruction,” said Valdez. “So, I would go anywhere Ralph would go and watch him direct. I always loved his tenacity—I learned so much from him.”

This year, Valdez made a generous donation to Vanguard University’s department of music in honor of Ralph Carmichael, the famous composer and arranger, known as the “father of Christian rock.”

At the age of 93, Valdez continues to operate a piano studio out of her home in Newport Beach, and has earned a reputation for her annual outdoor benefit concert where she gathers all eight of her grand pianos and has them moved down the hill on her half-acre property for a poolside concert. The springtime benefit concert includes pianos and the Four Seasons Youth Orchestra, and has earned the title Best Concert by the Music Teachers Association of California. A total of 48 benefit concerts have been performed under Valdez, with all of the proceeds going to special needs children.

“People ask me when I will retire. I say, after I take my last breath,” she says. Her Cardiologist, Dr. Sarzan Rajput says that she will be teaching music until she is 100 years old.

During her illustrious career, Valdez has trained hundreds of piano students in the Suzuki method, directed countless Easter sunrise services, and choirs of up to 500 members. Many of these services were with the late Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel and filled the Newport Harbor Stadium and Football Field with the attendance. She eventually did finish her bachelor of arts in music, from California State University, Fullerton, at the age of 50, and also earned a masters’ certificate in Grossmuller Improvising.

Valdez’s love for music continues to grow out of her love for Vanguard. She attends Vanguard’s annual Christmas Fantasia concerts faithfully every year, and if her old friend Ralph Carmichael comes to Vanguard, she will go and see him. Valdez got her start at SCBC, made long-lasting connections and lifelong friendships, like the one with Carmichael.

“I love what Vanguard does, and I love music. I believe that if everyone studied music and went to church the world would be a better place.”



Dr. Itzel Calleja-Macias: Genetic Variation of Type 2 Diabetes in Hispanic Populations

Diabetes among Hispanic-Americans is one of the most important health problems in the United states, showing a rate nearly twice as that of non-Hispanic adults. Early diagnose is needed to improve the control of the disease. Recent studies have identified associations between single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, few studies focus on the Hispanic population. If specific SNPs can be used for early detection of diabetes among Hispanic adults, it would assist the ongoing efforts on improving preventive measures. The purpose of this study will be to develop an inexpensive method to detect SNPs in patients related to diabetes.


Dr. Michael Hanna: Disruption of Methamphetamine Associated Memories

Disruption of Methamphetamine Associated Memories. In humans, the retrieval of memories associated with drug-administration frequently evokes drug-seeking behavior. In fact, one of the reasons for the low rate of recovery from addiction is due to exposure of drug cues which trigger a strong craving for the drug. As a result of a neural processes known as reconsolidation it is believed that when an establish memory is trigger again, the memory returns to a state in which it is labile and must be strengthened again. It is during this phase of reconsolidation that a memory is susceptible to being altered or even abolished.

  • The aim of this research project will specifically focus on understanding the brain circuitry, brain areas, cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in reconsolidation and cue-elicited drug cravings. In this project, students will be using the condition place preference (CPP) paradigm to study the molecular processes involved in the formation of memories that are associated with drug administration.
  • Students will train rats to associate certain cues (such as black walls and pine bedding) with administration of methamphetamine. As it has been shown that consolidation requires the activation of the NDMA glutamate receptor to initiate a cascade of cellular processes that leads to active synapses, students will expose rats to methamphetamine-associated cues, inject a glutamate antagonist, and then examine (through analysis of the rats’ behavior in the CPP cage) the stability of the memory cue to induce drug-seeking behavior. The time-frame in which the glutamate antagonist is needed for the disruption of reconsolidation will also be determined. Eventually, the effects of blocking specific early immediate genes on cue-induced drug seeking behavior will also be accessed.

Students will potentially have the opportunity to present at SfN (society for neuroscience) and CNS (cognitive neuroscience society). Dates for these conferences have not yet been posted.


Dr. Sara Sirvent: Plant Biochemistry and Ecology

1. Biodiversity along the Pacific Coast Trail. The goal of this project is to track the population trends and distributions of hundreds of wildlife species, and their habitats, along the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT). It is referred to as the PCT Mega-Transect. The PCT is a continuous hiking trail that runs from the Mexican border to the Canadian border along the mountain ranges of California, Oregon, and Washington (2,650 miles long). This is also a collaborative research project with California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) as well as faculty from other campuses. This project is in collaboration with Dr. Michael McGrann at William Jessup University and will require the participant to hike along the Northern California PCT from I-5 to the OR border during June 15-July 31st.

The Goals and Objectives for the student are as follows:
1.  Determine specific plant species that are important to the ecology of the montane regions along the PCT.
2. Provide baseline data on the occurrence and distributions of rare and common species.
3. Contribute to both ecological theory and applied conservation science.
4. Employ survey methods and technology that are non-invasive, or minimally invasive, to wildlife and their habitats, and to the wilderness character of the PCT.

2. Aquatic Biodiversity in the Deserts of California. The desert pupfish is a rare endemic species of fish that lives only in the deserts of Southern California from the family Cyprinodontidae. It is a small fish, typically less than 7.62 cm (3 in) in length. Males are generally larger than females, and have bright-blue coloration, while females and juveniles are silvery or tan. A notable attribute of the desert pupfish is their ability to survive in environments of extreme salinity, pH, and temperature, and low oxygen content. It is important to establish minimally invasive techniques to monitor desert pupfish populations. The objective of this project is to develop a protocol for eDNA analysis quantitative enough to allow to estimate population levels.
3. Catalogue of important secondary metabolites in the phytomedicinal Goji berry. Goji, also know as the wolfberry, is the fruit of Lycium barbarum. The plant is native to China and is a woody perennial. Goji is know to produce least one phytosterol and five carotenoids, including lycopene, which is rare among berries. The students responsible for this project will optimize and HPLC method to analyze various Goji samples and investigate the effect of sample preparation (ie, freeze-drying, hot steam preparations for tea, etc.) on the levels of phytochemicals. Finally, the student will begin to tease out factors that regulation secondary metabolite production by first establishing a protocol for tissue culture.


Future Filmmaker Gets Her Start On PBS’s Roadtrip Nation

Growing up in the small city of Modesto, California, Shay always knew she wanted to study filmmaking—but had no idea how to pursue it, and very little exposure to the industry. When it was time to look for colleges, Shay visited her parents’ alma mater, Vanguard University, and was wowed by professors in the department of communication—not to mention the financial support through academic scholarships and financial aid. College decision: MADE.

Now in her final months as a student, Shay is embarking on an entirely new chapter as production coordinator for a PBS documentary series, Roadtrip Nation. She currently works on the internet streaming show full-time, coordinating logistics, preparing and supporting Roadtrip Nation applicants (aka “roadtrippers”), and researching and planning destinations. Shay also handles other production needs like editing, camera operation, audio and lighting. And of course, she has had the amazing opportunity to travel the globe!

“A lot of credit goes the film professor I have had over my four years at Vanguard,” Shay says. “At Vanguard, I was able to try out every aspect of filmmaking—from special effects to producing. It was through the communication department that I was able to find my niche, find what I’m good at, find what I enjoy—producing.”

Assistant professor of cinema arts, Naomi Kasa, and communication professor Weaver have both challenged and shaped Shay as a filmmaker, and a person, with encouragement, wisdom and advice on how to be the best producer.

This spring, Shay will graduate from Vanguard University with a bachelor of arts in communication: cinema arts – production, business: administration. But the adventure will not stop there! Her work on Roadtrip Nation will continue to hit the highway, making this Vanguard student’s dreams come true.


Off to Graduate School! VU Senior Heads to CSUN

Now at the end of her four years in the undergraduate psychology program at Vanguard, VU Senior Samantha Empero is listening to God’s call to serve as a licensed marriage and family therapist.

“I have really appreciated Vanguard. This is a small Christian school where God is significantly incorporated into nearly every class I have taken,” said Samantha. “Vanguard has helped me through the books that I have read, papers that I have written, and the discussions in class.”

This fall, she will attend California State University, Northridge (CSUN) to pursue a master’s in psychology, and go on to achieve her ultimate goal of becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist.

The advanced training in the field of psychology Samantha will receive at CSUN is centered in one of the world’s most diverse urban regions, where excellence in teaching and research is paramount. She will enter into a competitive field in a multicultural marketplace, but is excited to follow God’s calling as she travels the road ahead.

Congratulations, Samantha!


From Campus Highlight Reel to Real-World Workforce: Senior Julia Pohl Takes It All In

When senior Julia Pohl graduates this year, the business administration major won’t have to look far to start her career. That’s because she’s already landed a job right down the street from Vanguard University, working at one of Orange County’s top-ranked communications companies, Reveille Inc. There, she’s learning the ins and outs of professional social media marketing from another Vanguard University graduate and current public relations professor Brenda Springer by working as a digital communications assistant, a role she’ll continue in following graduation.

Julia thinks the relationships she formed and the connections she made while an undergraduate illustrates what she treasures most about her college experience.

“One of the best memories I have is a winter retreat I got to take during my junior year as an RA,” she says. “We spent three days together in a crowded little cabin, playing games, watching movies, swapping stories, sharing goals, having snowball fights in the snow and staying up late talking about everything under the sun. It isn’t a crazy memory, but it’s one that I cherish because I got to spend time with my entire staff (Laguna + Huntington RAs), who have since become some of my greatest friends. I’ll be forever grateful for them. It was a simple weekend but one that I’ll always hold in my heart.”

Beyond the friendships she formed, Julia says she also has counted on numerous faculty advisors, including professors Bill Dogetrom, Markita Roberson, Ed Rybarcheck and Ed Westbrook. There’s also one staff member who holds a special place in her heart: “My favorite staff member is Chelsea Montminy because of the life lessons she helped me walked through, and for the ways she pushed and challenged me during one of my most formative years at Vanguard.”


Born in Kelowna, British Colombia, Canada, Julia grew up in Carlsbad, California, but made the transition to campus life easily by getting and staying involved in clubs and other activities, such as SGA, Residence Life and the surf club. As for digging in deep academically, she passes along a tip: “For me, it was sitting down in a quiet place by myself and focusing on and memorizing material in a rapid-fire fashion.”

In fact, getting to the heart of study reminds Julia of one of her favorite bible verses, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalms 37:4) Julia is quick to point out that every year at Vanguard University “had its own highlight reel,” but she never ceases to find delight in her pursuit of a Spirit-filled life.


Vanguard University mourns the loss of Dr. Sherilyn Rae Benvenuti

Vanguard University mourns the loss of Dr. Sherilyn Rae Benvenuti, who went home to be with the Lord on Feb. 8, 2017. Sheri served God passionately, loved generously, lived joyfully and took great delight in her students. Her larger-than-life spirit embraced all those around her.

An Assemblies of God minister for over 45 years, Sheri’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ compelled her to present the Gospel from a practical, “everyday life” perspective. Since age 18, she chose to serve the Body of Christ through evangelistic, youth, music and pastoral ministry, and was renown as a compelling speaker at churches, conferences, seminars and retreats.

Most of all, the extended Vanguard University community will remember Sheri as a beloved force upon campus who pursued her goal of exalting the name of Jesus with conviction, truth and joy. She began her long association with Vanguard University as a student, earning a Bachelor of Arts in 1989 and a Master of Arts in 1992 both in Religion, Biblical Studies before attaining a Ph.D. in Social Ethics from the University of Southern California in 2000.

After serving as Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs at Life Pacific College in San Dimas, California, she returned to Vanguard University to teach Social Ethics in 1995 – a cherished role she held until her passing.  Also, Sheri served as the Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs at Vanguard University from 2001 to 2005.

In addition to her vital investment into the lives of students, Sheri further contributed to the community by cofounding in 2003 the Global Center for Women and Justice at Vanguard University.  She envisioned the Center as an opportunity within the academic context to promote gender reconciliation and the inherent dignity of all people through the active engagement of redemptive Kingdom principles.

Sheri also wrote and published the book, “When Life Happens: An Honest Look at the Stuff That Comes Along,” in 2010. In this inspirational, faith-based memoir, Sheri encouraged readers to embrace the ups and downs of life by relaying biblical insights from the experiences of King David.  With laughter, as well as tears, Sheri offered a vision for how to live faithfully when “life happens.”

Sheri was born on August 6, 1952 in Upland, California. She is survived by “sisters of her heart” Sandy Wilson and April Westbrook; “children of her heart” Carlos Fernandez and Linda Hartzell Schubring; her brother Thomas E. Benvenuti, Jr.; nephews Anthony Benvenuti and Johnathan Benvenuti; niece Nicole Allison; and great niece Saxon Benvenuti.

A memorial service will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, at Newport Mesa Church on the campus of Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the William J. Seymour Endowed Scholarship at Vanguard University, established by Dr. Sheri Benvenuti in 2005 to support increasing diversity in the Vanguard University student body.

To make a gift in Dr. Benvenuti’s memory, please visit:


Activist Shares Message on Simplistic, Christ-Like, Communal Living at Late Night

During April 9-10, Shane Claiborne, peacemaker and radical lover of Jesus Christ, spoke at multiple Vanguard University gatherings where he described the genuine, Christ-like faith taught in Scriptures and how his community practically lives out that teaching.

In the heart of the urban empire of Philadelphia, Claiborne started The Simple Way,a Christ-following community and nonprofit, or as their website states, “a web of subversive friends conspiring to spread the vision of ‘Loving God, Loving People, and Following Jesus’ in our neighborhoods and in our world.” As a radical follower of the teachings of Christ who has worked with Mother Teresa, Claiborne shares with audiences around the world how to live the way that Christ instructed and what that looks like.ShaneClaiborne_2

Along with describing the radical attributes of The Simple Way community, Claiborne described ways for attendees to practically enact the counter-cultural call of Christ in their lives. He said that a great guiding principle to live by is: “what does it mean to love this person right now?” Being in relationship with people is how we help resolve the issues of injustice in this world, he said. “When you have relationships with people affected by injustice, you can’t help but care,” he added.

Claiborne also talked about the importance of being an active member in a community today like the communities of the early church. “Part of why community is so important is because we bear the heavy days together,” Claiborne said at Late Night. At the student leader gathering, Claiborne added that “we can’t just have an idea or vision [for community or what radical changes we want to make in the world]; we have to love the people around us.” Near the close of the student leader gathering, Claiborne said: “It’s not how much you do, but how much you love.”

In an effort to encourage others to take more seriously the words and love of Christ, Claiborne travels and shares this message with communities around the world. He is featured on the blog, Red Letter Christians, which identifies its main goal as: “To take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle in the Sermon on the Mount.” Claiborne is also the author of several books: Jesus for President, Red Letter Revolution, Common Prayer, Follow Me to Freedom, Jesus, Bombs and Ice Cream, Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers, and The Irresistible Revolution.

To find out more about Claiborne and The Simple Way, click here.

Gratitude Week 2015

Students Thank Donors for Generous Giving

gratweekWords of gratitude fill and color cards at Vanguard University’s 2015 “Gratitude Week” as students thank donors for their life-changing contributions.

On April 6-10, Vanguard University is hosting the 2015 “Gratitude Week” to encourage students to remember the support they have received and to thank the many donors who have financially contributed to student pursuits in higher education. “One of the amazing things about Vanguard is that 95 percent of students get support from someone else’s giving,” the alumni relations coordinator, Lauren Francis, said. Along with funds to support and empower students academically, donors have contributed to The Pit (Vanguard’s gym), the weight room, equipment for athletic teams, the Veteran’s Courtyard outside of Scott Hall, the Lyceum Theater, and of course, the new Scott Building that is opening this fall.Gratitude Week 2015

Students interested in writing a card should visit the “Gratitude Week” booth that is setup outside of the cafeteria. Francis and others are there with the cards and some refreshments. It is well worth the five minutes it takes to write a thank-you card, Francis said. These cards are a simple way for students to express their gratitude for the generosity of donors.

For distribution, Vanguard’s alumni-relations team plans to send the cards with donors’ end-of-the-year giving statements. Learn more about “Gratitude Week,” by clicking here.