Riley Whaling

Alumni Spotlight: Riley Whaling (’07)

Riley Whaling stood on simmering asphalt in a parking lot, with the warm July sun beating down upon him. The Vanguard University student and Communication major was undergoing inspection as part of Officer Candidate School in the United States Marine Corps. His drill instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Perkins, was about to say something important to him.

“You’re the kind of guy who is probably going to finish up officer candidate school, say it was a good experience, but not going to do anything with his life. You’re going to go around and collect cool things that you’ve done.”

Perkins’ words would sting Whaling. They lingered in his heart for a long while, and he wondered if his superior officer was right. It would take time for him to find the answer.

Vanguard Communication majors can be found in all areas of the professional world. One can find them working in post-production on Hollywood TV shows and films, starting their own non-profit organizations, shooting and photographing professional sports, working in media and public relations and attending some of the country’s most prestigious graduate schools.

But only one has been a Marine officer – and deep into the heart of war-torn Afghanistan – serving his country: Riley Whaling.

Whaling had become interested in the military when he was a young boy and a member of the Young Marines, an organization run by the Marine Corps League, a collection of current and former Marines who desire to improve the lives of young men by serving as male role models and introducing them to military-like activities. Through this, Whaling became smitten with the military life early, and vowed one day to become a part of it. He went on to have what he calls a “pretty standard” upbringing in Orange County, playing sports and being a typical boy.

After graduating high school, he realized that he needed to become closer to God and make some changes in his life. He came to know the Lord in a deeper way through regular worship at a church his mother and stepfather planted in Huntington Beach. Shortly thereafter, he enrolled in Golden West College and began the process of figuring out what he wanted to do with his life.

After graduating from Golden West College in 2004, Whaling transferred to Vanguard and initially enrolled as a Biblical Studies major. But he soon switched his major to Communication, where he believed his skills and talents would be better suited. At about the same time, one of the most intense battles in the war in Iraq was taking place in Fallujah, between insurgents and the Marines. Seeing and hearing about the Marines’ battle reminded Whaling of his long desire to go into the military. “I said to myself, you know what? I’ve always wanted to do this. I’ve always wanted to be an officer, so I should do this now.” Like many young men, the call to serve his country in a time of need was too strong to ignore. “If I don’t do this, I might regret it someday.”

So while still a student at Vanguard, Whaling began looking into how he could best serve his country through his favorite branch of military: the United States Marine Corps. He wanted to not only become a Marine, but an officer. He next found himself sitting across from a Marine recruiter. “After a talk, he handed me a big pile of paperwork and said ‘If you really want this, think about it and bring all this paperwork back to me, filled out.’ And then he never called me again,” Whaling says with a smile. “The Marine Officer Corps is like, if you want to be here, you’ll be here. If you don’t want to be here, we don’t want you here.”

Riley Whaling wanted to be there.


Whaling stands with an armored vehicle at Camp Pendleton.

Having filled out that pile of paperwork, Whaling would soon discover that he had been accepted to Officer Candidate School. “Officer Candidate School is kind of like the tryout. It doesn’t mean that you’re in. It’s the first place where they can see you and see if they want to train you.” So in the summer of 2006, right before his last semester at Vanguard, he went to Quantico, Virginia to take part in ten weeks of training and military education. “It is an intense training period and not for the weak. If it can be hard, they make it hard. My platoon started with sixty-nine officers and graduated forty-eight.” In fact, Whaling said, twenty-five guys dropped out simply after hearing the commanding officer’s speech on the first day.

After finishing Officer Candidate School, he returned to Vanguard and received his B.A. in Communication. Next, he was required to partake in Officer Training School, where he specialized in Public Affairs, along with receiving the traditional basic training.

Once he completed the education and training, he was assigned to work in the public affairs department of Camp Pendleton. By now, Whaling was married and he and his wife were preparing to settle down in San Clemente. At Camp Pendleton, he was responsible for media relations, a Marine newspaper and a TV station. He found himself not only using what he had been taught by the Marines, but also drawing heavily from his communication education at Vanguard. What Whaling didn’t know, however, was that very soon he would be able to use his Vanguard education in ways that he never dreamed.

After a year and a half of a serene and content life working for the Marines in his native southern California, Riley Whaling was sent to Afghanistan where he had been chosen to be a leader for the NATO Regional Command South Headquarters, Psychological Operations Team. He and a small group of other Marines and soldiers traveled around executing psychological warfare by promoting the message of the American military and attempting to develop positive relationships with the Afghan people and community leaders. They did this by talking to Afghans over the loudspeaker, writing and distributing pamphlets and speaking with them face to face. Whaling says his Vanguard-taught writing and editing skills were extremely valuable during these operations.

Only ten days after he had arrived in Afghanistan, he was on foot patrol in the Bala Morghab valley aiding in a search for two American soldiers that had gone missing in that part of the country. At the time, it was national news and many Americans back home were well aware of the lost soldiers. During this time, the area in which the soldiers were lost became mired in intense battle.

“As the Americans pushed across the river, the whole town just blows up and explodes in fighting. Force on force, big stuff, Raptors, Apache helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles flying around dropping bombs on stuff. This went on for three days.” On the fourth day, in an effort to help the fight through psychological operations, Whaling’s major “puts me on a helicopter, we fly a couple of hours north and we were just thrown into this situation.” He was assigned to help with what is known as key leader engagement, where he was responsible for aiding the unit commander in that area by talking to the leaders of the village, the respected elders and finding out what they know – to try and retrieve the missing Americans. “The Americans wanted their boys.” This effort was deemed “Operation Hero Recovery.”

Whaling says that he also participated in “shuras,” which were like staff meetings between the unit commander and the community leaders. Here they to tried to establish a peaceful and productive line of communication to find out where the missing soldiers might be.

Riley Whaling

Whaling, (left) participating in a “shura” – a dialogue between leaders in Afghanistan.

In many cases, Whaling and his fellow soldiers didn’t speak the native language, so they used interpreters. But, he says, there was still direct communication between he and the Afghan people through non-verbal communication. “I used stuff from my very first class at Vanguard: Interpersonal Communication. A lot of it just came down to interpersonal communication, like how do you make someone feel comfortable when you can’t speak the same language?” Whaling says that he used things that he learned in the class such as body language, mirroring others and reciprocating gestures. “A lot of that just came naturally from my communication education.”

Thanks to the efforts of Whaling, his colleagues and commander, the soldiers were eventually found. Sadly, they were not alive. But there was a sense of closure because they were able to at least locate the bodies and get them back to their families. Whaling says that while it was unfortunate the soldiers died, the process of using communication with the Afghan people to find them enabled the Americans to make significant strides in the relationships with the people of that area of Afghanistan. “It was the beginning of a big transformation and the colonel was able to use that as a launching pad for great work.”

Whaling’s second major operation began when he was reassigned to a 16-man team to be a western mentor to the public relations officer of a brand new Afghan Army unit. “I was put on a team overnight. I got told to pack a bag, and that I’d be gone for a week. I didn’t come back for three months.”

Whaling’s job was to be a partner to the public relations officer of this Afghan Army unit and to assist him in finding weaknesses in the Taliban propaganda. Working together, they also had to find ways to fight against the Taliban, using communication, instead of traditional weapons. “Not only did we have to communicate information to the Afghan Army and the Afghan people, but we also had to counter the Taliban propaganda.”

Again, Whaling credits his Vanguard Communication degree for being invaluable deep in the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan. “I don’t know if the Lord was preparing me for something, but my Media Criticism paper was on visual communications and propaganda. The basis of my work was communicating without words, communicating with just images and just telling a story without using any language. My Media Crit work was a wonderful foundation.”

But Whaling’s use of communication in Afghanistan was not just theoretical. It was also technical. While at Vanguard, he gained a wealth of knowledge and practical experience in photography and video production. “Professor Ann-Caryn Cleveland spent a lot of time teaching me to use video and media production stuff and my job was to turn around and teach the Afghans how to use it,” he says. “One of my proudest moments was seeing a guy that I taught how to use a camera, turn around and teach his guys how to use it.”

With his tour of Afghanistan over, Whaling returned to the states and found himself in the fortunate position to be selected for promotion to Captain. But with his required duty completed, his mind wandered back to that hot day in Quantico, Virginia when Gunnery Sergeant Perkins had challenged him to make a difference. He privately felt “I’ve done my part. Now I just want to go on with the rest of my life.”

Whaling decided to return to civilian life.

These days you can find him working as an intern at his church in San Clemente, Pacific Coast Church, where he works with the youth of the high school and junior high ministries. He is also enrolled in graduate school at Hope International University, getting a degree in Christian Ministry. “I want to mentor people, young men especially. Help the young men get through the trials of life.” Whaling is not sure exactly where this will lead him, but he has a strong desire to develop relationships with young people, become a part of their lives and mentor them. “Anywhere I can do that, that’s where I want to go.”

He feels sure that Gunnery Sergeant Perkins would be proud of him, knowing what he is up to today. “I know I’d be able to look him in the eye and say I did something good, and that I’m different, because of what he said to me that day.”

Megan McFarlane

Alumni Spotlight: Megan McFarlane (’06)

Megan McFarlane

Megan McFarlane (’06) is completing her doctorate at the University of Utah.

When she stood before her peers at her high school commencement in her hometown in Minnesota, ready to give her valedictorian graduation speech, Megan McFarlane knew exactly what she wanted to say.

She wanted to answer a question: what is success?

She defined success for her fellow students as “finding what you love and doing it – and getting paid to do it.” She is living proof of that sentiment. “I think I’ve always been kind of driven by that,” she says.

Today she is still motivated by that goal, and the 2006 Vanguard University Communication graduate will begin another chapter in her life – and another benchmark of success – this fall when she starts work on her Ph.D. at the University of Utah. There, she will focus on rhetorical criticism and its role in dissecting, analyzing and writing about media.

Drawing upon her attributes of passion, achievement, and hard work, she has once again proven that faith in God, a strong work ethic, and a rigorous academic background can catapult one to great things. But her journey into the world of rhetorical criticism was not immediate. When Megan first arrived in Costa Mesa, she was intent on studying public relations in the VU Communication Department and perhaps eventually getting a job in that field.

But all that changed when she enrolled in Dr. Tom Carmody’s Media Criticism class.

What is traditionally one of the most challenging courses in the department, Megan found it to be a revelation – and fell in love with it. The formal analysis of film, television and commercials fascinated her. “I told Tom that I was going to get an A in his class. He said ‘good luck.’” But she flourished and, thanks to this class, truly found her calling in life.

It wasn’t just the research, study and writing that appealed to Megan, who also has an M.A. in Speech Communication from California State University – Fullerton. Through Dr. Carmody’s influence, she found that she also had a desire to teach. “Media Criticism is the class that made me want to go to grad school and to be a professor. I realized – this is what I want to do. I was like, this is fun!” Today, the former Vanguard track and field athlete says that media and rhetorical criticism is what she wants to do with her life. Once she had completed her degree at Vanguard and was working on her master’s at CSUF, she was hired as an adjunct professor in Vanguard’s Department of Communication. She taught every semester for four years.

Megan says that she is excited about graduate school because she will finally be able to concentrate exclusively on pursuing her academics. She has juggled several jobs and responsibilities over the years. In addition to her teaching duties at Vanguard, she has also worked as a track coach, and at a local church. What’s more, she is excited to learn from and work with Helene Shugart, one of her idols and a professor at the University of Utah. “She uses rhetoric to analyze film and television.” Dr. Shugart also is an authority on body image and how that is portrayed in the media, which as an athlete, is something that also interests Megan.

Along with God’s help, Megan believes that Vanguard played a huge role in helping her prepare for graduate school. The fact that she had a bit of teaching experience paid off handsomely. “Having four years of teaching experience really impressed people.” VU also prepared her for the rigors of actual graduate study, in the classroom. “Tom Carmody’s Media Criticism class was huge, because he taught us how to break things up into sections and to make it work.” Megan says that having Dr. Carmody helped equip her for the heavy workload that she faced at CSUF, and in the future at Utah. She will not be intimidated by the challenges of a Ph.D. program. “I went in extremely confident when I went to grad school.”

Personal relationships with professors also played a role in preparing her for the future. Megan says that Assistant Professor Communication, and Forensics coach, Karen Nishie, was a personal mentor, and stayed late one night to help her with a re-write of her CSUF thesis. When referring to Vanguard, Megan says “I’m a person here, not just another number in the classroom.”

For now, the University of Utah awaits. And afterward? “My dream is to be a professor at a university.” Megan also looks forward to research, writing and publishing. And perhaps starting a family with her husband Steven, a high school teacher and also a Vanguard graduate. The future is always a bit unclear but, for Megan McFarlane, very, very bright.

Just as she said in her valedictorian speech, Megan has found what she loves and is doing it with great joy. One day soon, she’ll also get paid for it.

Jennifer Rivera

Alumni Spotlight: Jennifer Rivera (’09)

If you’ve watched Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends” on weekend mornings, then you’ve most likely seen work done by one of Vanguard University’s graduates. Jennifer Rivera, ’09, works as a segment producer for the network’s morning show, produced and broadcasted from New York. After completing an internship at Fox News as an undergraduate, she returned to Orange County to complete her B.A. in Communication from Vanguard. Upon graduation, she returned to New York for a full-time job at Fox.

After spending time working in the Fox documentary division, she was quickly given the wonderful opportunity to join “Fox and Friends” after the network brass decided to add an hour to the show. Rivera says that it all happened very quickly and that it was a whirlwind experience. “My first week in, I pushed my first segment. I had to learn from the ground up in a matter of days.”

As a segment producer, Rivera has many and varied responsibilities. She books guests, conducts pre-interviews and creates a packet that is sent to the show’s anchors which includes information about the guests and facts related to the story. Rivera says that her responsibilities are not few. “I do everything. I cut video, I do graphics, I write scripts.” A three-to-five minute segment for the show takes, on average, four to five hours to produce. And Rivera produces two segments a day. “I work at least twelve hours a day, every day.”

Despite the long hours, Rivera loves her job and feels very blessed to be in her position. “I have the opportunity to tell someone’s story. That, for me, is my thrill. It’s the best part of my job.” She realizes that she is fortunate to have the opportunity to tell stories about others. “It is a privilege and an honor to have this huge responsibility.”

One of the most exciting parts of Rivera’s job, she says, is having professional relationships with the anchors of the show. “I have been able to develop an amazing relationship with Alysin Camerota. She is amazing and she’s been my mentor. It’s been a thrill.” Rivera says that Camerota has been an inspiration to her and has encouraged her in her own career.

Rivera attributes her success to many factors, including her faith, hard work and perseverance. Originally from Puerto Rico, Rivera’s family moved to New Jersey when she was around twelve years old. Her parents sought a better way of life with more opportunity – and felt that the United States could offer that. It was a life-changing event for her family. But it wasn’t easy. Acclimating to a different way of life took its toll on the family – and her father would eventually lose his job. The family’s faith in God sustained them through these challenging life events. It’s one of the many reasons for her success. She learned to embrace the struggle and rise above it, persevering until she succeeded.

She also says that Vanguard – and the Department of Communication – has been pivotal to her success in her career. Rivera says that one of the most important things she learned while at Vanguard was to not just focus on one skill – but to learn many. In particular, she remembers Associate Professor Ann-Caryn Cleveland telling her to “take the bull by the horns,” and learn as much as possible. “Vanguard taught me really quickly that I could not just focus on one skill as part of my learning process.” Rivera said that especially in the area of news broadcasting and production, it is important to learn everything, such as camera work, editing, writing and so on. “That is the reason I was hired – because I know so many areas of production. It made a difference.”

Rivera also remembers Professor Cleveland as pushing her to excel on one particularly early Saturday morning. “She dragged me out of bed to cover an immigration rally taking place right in front of City Hall.” Rivera grabbed her equipment and made her way to the rally without blinking an eye. Being fluent in Spanish, she was able to converse and cover the story in her native tongue, which made her perfect for the job. The coverage of that rally was part of a radio podcasting course that was being taught for the first time. “From that moment on, Professor Cleveland just took me under her wing and she really polished me. She taught me how to really strive.” Rivera also said that former professor Gayle Heuser was a huge influence in her life, as well as Drs. Carmody and Rosenior. “They were my backbone, my foundation in communication. Wherever I go, when people see my work, I bring a little piece of them with me.”

Rivera says that in the future, she would eventually like to open up her own production company to produce content that is special to her and to help train the next generation of communicators. “At the end of the day, I want to learn everything that I can so that I can pass that on to the next generation and they can do an even better job than what I’m doing right now.”

Perhaps some of her future employees will be Vanguard Lions!

Jenna ellis

Interning at the Sundance Film Festival

Jenna Ellis was starting to get nervous. As a graduating senior in her final semester, Jenna was trying to find a great internship to end her college years at Vanguard and enter into the real world with a great resume and great experience.

She had sent out her resume and asked around a bit but hadn’t really gotten much feedback. “I was definitely worried about being able to get an internship,” explains Jenna. “That’s when I happened to send an email to Park City Television and I discovered another intern had dropped out at the last minute. The supervisor had to get the press pass list to Sundance in just a couple of hours. He checked out my work and resume online and hired me right away.”

“I flew out to Park City and began my internship on January 20th. On day one I was thrown right into the swing of things and I went with an employee to the opening Press Conference where I met some incredible people and saw Robert Redford. I began working right away by filming the event and learned firsthand what I would be doing for the rest of the week. Once I finished filming I would go back to Park City TV station, edit my segment and get it ready to air the following morning. It was a whirlwind week where I filmed red carpet events, movie reviews, manned a camera for live tapings in the station and did some sound mixing.”

“One of the awesome things about this whole experience was not only did I meet some neat people, but I was ready and confident with any job that was assigned to me. Everything that I learned in The Network in Production class, which I took for two semesters at Vanguard, prepared me for everything I did. In that class I learned live streaming and it helped with so much with what I did during Sundance. My editing class also paid off in dividends and it was so neat to find out that my education at Vanguard is is really at the forefront when it comes to the media field. There was a special panel that I taped at Sundance about marketing on the web and facebook, and it was something that I already learned last year in class. It was awesome to see my education come together with this great opportunity and to see that the professors at Vanguard really care and know what they are doing.”

Cinema Arts students are required to take 3 units of internship as part of their coursework at VU. Professor Ann-Caryn Cleveland explains, “The internship is a crucial step towards a students’ future career. In order to continue to better equip students for their internship experiences, the Communication Department plans to add a new one unit required course called ‘Preparing for the Internship’ this fall .”

Buddha Jones Field Trip

Editing Field Trip

From the movie trailers for Kung Fu Panda 2 and True Grit to game and television spots, students in the Editing for Motion Pictures class got to experience what happens behind the scenes at the Hollywood trailer house, Buddha Jones. VU Alum, Greg Taylor (’91) gave students the royal treatment, taking the time to talk about what inspired him at his time at VU and the hard work and passion it takes to get “in.”

Greg Taylor is the creative director at Buddha Jones Trailers, considered one of the top in the industry. He has won several Key Art Awards in the industry for his work including “Wolverine,” “True Grit,” and “The Strangers.”

Amy Maier

Q & A with Amy Maier, Assistant Art Director

Q & A with Amy Maier, Assistant Art Director in the Lyceum Theater, January 28, 2011 at 1:30pm.

Amy is a member of the Art Directors Guild and works as an Assistant Art Director commercials and television (24, Terra Nova, Cold Case, The Whole Truth) She received her BA from Vanguard University, and an M.F.A in scenic design from UCIrvine. She has Production Designed multiple short films, and was awarded the first Richard Hay Fellowship from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Some of her design credits include Knight to D7, Grande Drip (Pieta Entertainment), The Bear and the Rabbit (Vinyl Circus Productions), Eurydice (Range View Productions), the World Premiere of For All Time (Cornerstone Theater Company), The Heretic Mysteries (Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble), Songs for a New World, Blue like Jazz (Three Trees Theatre), Anything Goes, The Music Man, Under Milk Wood, and the Southern California Premiere of Fetes De La Nui (UCIrvine).

Rene Haynes

Master Class with Rene Haynes

CSA Casting Director and 2-time Emmy Nominee, Rene Haynes is giving a master class on Friday, January 14 at 3pm – 5pm in the Lyceum Theater. She is part of the crew that cast the “Twilight” sagas. Seating is first come, first serve so get there early!
Start Time: 03:00
Date: 2011-01-14
End Time: 05:00