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Rowland Hall alumnus Jeff Norris lives his purpose treating and advocating for underserved populations as the medical director of Father Joe’s Villages in San Diego When Jeff Norris ’03 applied to medical school, the admissions office at the University of Utah called him in for a rare second interview. He had submitted a personal statement focused on the connection between medicine, public health, and social justice, and that intersectional approach raised some eyebrows.
 
Admissions officers asked Jeff if he was sure he wanted to go to medical school, and not study public health or social work. But he assured them: he knew he wanted to be a clinician who worked with, and advocated for, underserved populations.

Jeff credited Rowland Hall with launching his career trajectory. In high school, under the mentorship of then-faculty member Liz Paige, he volunteered with Amnesty International and prepared and served food at local youth groups. The positive experience of serving others and making an impact—and relevant content in history and psychology courses—got the wheels turning in Jeff’s brain: “I started reflecting on my role in the world and how I could try to do something to make a difference for others. What is my purpose for being here?”

Jeff's self-described “deliberate and diligent” approach to his career—melding his interests in science and social justice, being motivated by a desire to give back to the world—has been nothing short of a success.

The service and activism Jeff began at Rowland Hall carried through his years as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as a med student at the University of Utah, and as a family medicine resident at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. His self-described “deliberate and diligent” approach to his career—melding his interests in science and social justice, being motivated by a desire to give back to the world—has been nothing short of a success: in 2016, Jeff became the medical director of Father Joe’s Villages, an award-winning nonprofit that provides integrated services to people experiencing homelessness in San Diego.
 
Jeff’s day-to-day work requires a breadth of skill, knowledge, and tenacity: he estimates he spends about 40 percent of his time treating patients and the other 60 percent engaged in clinic administration, fundraising, and advocacy—including ensuring that state and federal legislation supports nonprofits like his. He serves on a number of boards, including a large network of clinics with over 100,000 patients in the San Diego area. For Jeff, it’s about more than staying connected and representing the interests of Father Joe’s Villages. “It is being present in the community to advocate for the needs of not just those experiencing homelessness, but underserved populations more broadly.”


At the clinic he leads—which serves walk-ins along with residents of Father Joe’s Villages and people receiving assistance from other local agencies—Jeff focuses on decreasing the barriers his patients face in getting adequate care, and staying on the cutting edge of what they need in order to improve their health. “The challenges our patients face are pretty unique, compared to most patient populations,” he said. “Their lives are very chaotic, and they have a lot going on medically, psychiatrically, behaviorally, socially…in all senses.” A significant portion of his time is spent managing programs to deliver medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD)—drugs such as buprenorphine (suboxone) or naltrexone—and for alcohol abuse. 

At the clinic he leads, Jeff focuses on decreasing the barriers his patients face in getting adequate care, and staying on the cutting edge of what they need in order to improve their health.

Among the most recent and cutting-edge programs Jeff and his team at Father Joe’s Villages are running is the Street Health Program, which launched this spring and is already impacting lives for the better. As the name suggests, the initiative involves going out into the streets and providing healthcare directly to people experiencing homelessness. So far, they’ve reached a number of people who’ve avoided or been underserved by traditional healthcare. One example: a man who had been using heroin for 30 years and had never before been interested in treatment. Pending a grant, the street health team hopes to treat patients with OUD at the first point of contact. In the meantime, they wrote a prescription for this particular patient because, as Jeff said, “it was the right thing to do.”
 
One of the long-term goals of the Street Health Program is to develop rapport with individuals so that they will visit the clinic for treatment. Additionally, the launch has created quite a buzz throughout San Diego, so Jeff hopes other clinics and treatment centers will consider similar programs (which do already exist in other large metropolitan areas like New York and San Francisco). “It can’t just be us,” he said. “There are enough folks experiencing homelessness that we certainly cannot meet the need unilaterally.”
 
Jeff is rightly proud of his advocacy work and the impact his clinic makes on a daily basis, and he speaks passionately of the need for everyone to recognize the homelessness crisis—not just in San Diego, but also in Salt Lake City and urban areas throughout the country. While rising housing costs and relatively stagnant wages are the two primary drivers of the problem, Jeff doesn’t discount the power of the individual to make a difference, whether through volunteering, donating goods, or elevating the dialogue to fight the stigma against those experiencing homelessness.
 
When he’s not working, Jeff stays active outdoors, taking advantage of all that San Diego’s famously temperate climate has to offer. He also prioritizes time with his family: two-year-old daughter Alex keeps Jeff and wife Sonia Ponce—a practicing cardiologist—quite busy.
Jeff always treated those he served with dignity and compassion. It is wonderful to see him intently living his purpose, in the intersection of bettering human relationships as a way to improve healthcare. —Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education

Rowland Hall’s Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund is not at all surprised that Jeff is making a difference in the lives of others. He recalled how, as a high school student, Jeff was always highly engaged and motivated to serve, often being the last to leave a volunteer event. “Jeff always treated those he served with dignity and compassion,” Ryan said. “It is wonderful to see him intently living his purpose, in the intersection of bettering human relationships as a way to improve healthcare.”

Just as Jeff credited Rowland Hall for sparking his interest in a life of service to others, Mr. Hoglund credited Jeff for setting an example of genuine student leadership at the school. And, to the student leaders today, Jeff sent these words of encouragement: “Figure out what gives you energy and makes you feel like you're contributing to the world in some positive way, then grab that bull by the horns and don’t let go of it. That’s where you're going to be able to make a difference, to be satisfied with who you are and what you're doing in this world.”


All photos courtesy of Father Joe's Villages.

Alumni

At the Intersection of Homelessness, Healthcare, and Humanity

Rowland Hall alumnus Jeff Norris lives his purpose treating and advocating for underserved populations as the medical director of Father Joe’s Villages in San Diego When Jeff Norris ’03 applied to medical school, the admissions office at the University of Utah called him in for a rare second interview. He had submitted a personal statement focused on the connection between medicine, public health, and social justice, and that intersectional approach raised some eyebrows.
 
Admissions officers asked Jeff if he was sure he wanted to go to medical school, and not study public health or social work. But he assured them: he knew he wanted to be a clinician who worked with, and advocated for, underserved populations.

Jeff credited Rowland Hall with launching his career trajectory. In high school, under the mentorship of then-faculty member Liz Paige, he volunteered with Amnesty International and prepared and served food at local youth groups. The positive experience of serving others and making an impact—and relevant content in history and psychology courses—got the wheels turning in Jeff’s brain: “I started reflecting on my role in the world and how I could try to do something to make a difference for others. What is my purpose for being here?”

Jeff's self-described “deliberate and diligent” approach to his career—melding his interests in science and social justice, being motivated by a desire to give back to the world—has been nothing short of a success.

The service and activism Jeff began at Rowland Hall carried through his years as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as a med student at the University of Utah, and as a family medicine resident at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. His self-described “deliberate and diligent” approach to his career—melding his interests in science and social justice, being motivated by a desire to give back to the world—has been nothing short of a success: in 2016, Jeff became the medical director of Father Joe’s Villages, an award-winning nonprofit that provides integrated services to people experiencing homelessness in San Diego.
 
Jeff’s day-to-day work requires a breadth of skill, knowledge, and tenacity: he estimates he spends about 40 percent of his time treating patients and the other 60 percent engaged in clinic administration, fundraising, and advocacy—including ensuring that state and federal legislation supports nonprofits like his. He serves on a number of boards, including a large network of clinics with over 100,000 patients in the San Diego area. For Jeff, it’s about more than staying connected and representing the interests of Father Joe’s Villages. “It is being present in the community to advocate for the needs of not just those experiencing homelessness, but underserved populations more broadly.”


At the clinic he leads—which serves walk-ins along with residents of Father Joe’s Villages and people receiving assistance from other local agencies—Jeff focuses on decreasing the barriers his patients face in getting adequate care, and staying on the cutting edge of what they need in order to improve their health. “The challenges our patients face are pretty unique, compared to most patient populations,” he said. “Their lives are very chaotic, and they have a lot going on medically, psychiatrically, behaviorally, socially…in all senses.” A significant portion of his time is spent managing programs to deliver medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD)—drugs such as buprenorphine (suboxone) or naltrexone—and for alcohol abuse. 

At the clinic he leads, Jeff focuses on decreasing the barriers his patients face in getting adequate care, and staying on the cutting edge of what they need in order to improve their health.

Among the most recent and cutting-edge programs Jeff and his team at Father Joe’s Villages are running is the Street Health Program, which launched this spring and is already impacting lives for the better. As the name suggests, the initiative involves going out into the streets and providing healthcare directly to people experiencing homelessness. So far, they’ve reached a number of people who’ve avoided or been underserved by traditional healthcare. One example: a man who had been using heroin for 30 years and had never before been interested in treatment. Pending a grant, the street health team hopes to treat patients with OUD at the first point of contact. In the meantime, they wrote a prescription for this particular patient because, as Jeff said, “it was the right thing to do.”
 
One of the long-term goals of the Street Health Program is to develop rapport with individuals so that they will visit the clinic for treatment. Additionally, the launch has created quite a buzz throughout San Diego, so Jeff hopes other clinics and treatment centers will consider similar programs (which do already exist in other large metropolitan areas like New York and San Francisco). “It can’t just be us,” he said. “There are enough folks experiencing homelessness that we certainly cannot meet the need unilaterally.”
 
Jeff is rightly proud of his advocacy work and the impact his clinic makes on a daily basis, and he speaks passionately of the need for everyone to recognize the homelessness crisis—not just in San Diego, but also in Salt Lake City and urban areas throughout the country. While rising housing costs and relatively stagnant wages are the two primary drivers of the problem, Jeff doesn’t discount the power of the individual to make a difference, whether through volunteering, donating goods, or elevating the dialogue to fight the stigma against those experiencing homelessness.
 
When he’s not working, Jeff stays active outdoors, taking advantage of all that San Diego’s famously temperate climate has to offer. He also prioritizes time with his family: two-year-old daughter Alex keeps Jeff and wife Sonia Ponce—a practicing cardiologist—quite busy.
Jeff always treated those he served with dignity and compassion. It is wonderful to see him intently living his purpose, in the intersection of bettering human relationships as a way to improve healthcare. —Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education

Rowland Hall’s Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund is not at all surprised that Jeff is making a difference in the lives of others. He recalled how, as a high school student, Jeff was always highly engaged and motivated to serve, often being the last to leave a volunteer event. “Jeff always treated those he served with dignity and compassion,” Ryan said. “It is wonderful to see him intently living his purpose, in the intersection of bettering human relationships as a way to improve healthcare.”

Just as Jeff credited Rowland Hall for sparking his interest in a life of service to others, Mr. Hoglund credited Jeff for setting an example of genuine student leadership at the school. And, to the student leaders today, Jeff sent these words of encouragement: “Figure out what gives you energy and makes you feel like you're contributing to the world in some positive way, then grab that bull by the horns and don’t let go of it. That’s where you're going to be able to make a difference, to be satisfied with who you are and what you're doing in this world.”


All photos courtesy of Father Joe's Villages.

Alumni

Explore More People Stories

Alex Lee and Chris Lee filming in downtown Salt Lake City

For Rowland Hall alumni and brothers Chris Lee ’93 and Alex Lee ’03, a day at the office can be anywhere: a bluff in the Southern Utah desert, the shore of a mountain lake, the Rotunda of the Utah State Capitol, or even in front of a giant, white infinity stage in their downtown Salt Lake studio.

Chris and Alex are the founders and owners of TWIG Media Lab, an independent film production company/agency based in Salt Lake City. Established in 2011, TWIG has become a successful business in under a decade: last year alone, the brothers produced more than 50 short films, including a national commercial.

While TWIG’s impressive portfolio includes clients in a variety of industries, Chris and Alex have set themselves apart through powerful social advocacy narratives, which they are now known for. Today, they are a go-to resource in the Salt Lake community for organizations—such as Equality Utah, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and even Rowland Hall—that want to share their missions and stories through film. 

Working for companies and organizations that have a bigger purpose—they want to make the world a better place—is so critical for us. It's so much easier to sleep well at night when you feel like what you've done is to really help people.

“Working for companies and organizations that have a bigger purpose—they want to make the world a better place—is so critical for us,” Chris explained. “It's so much easier to sleep well at night when you feel like what you've done is to really help people.”

The brothers began working on social advocacy films during the early days of their business, when many of the projects they took on—often through contacts within their social networks—were in that vein. They found that the work spoke to them, and that they had a talent for bringing clients’ passions and visions to life through film. Slowly, through word of mouth, more opportunities began to come their way.

“In a community like this, once you start producing work of a certain flavor, it promotes other work of a similar nature to find you,” said Alex.

It also helped that Chris and Alex, who view themselves as artists and their work as a reflection of their artistry, have always held themselves to a high standard. Additionally, each brother brought to the company a background that made it possible to offer clients a full-service experience: Chris, who taught dance and drama prior to earning a master’s degree in film, views TWIG’s work through an academic lens in the producer role, while Alex, who worked in video playback and lighting on movie sets, knows what it takes to get the right shot.

TWIG Media Lab studio

Chris and Alex (pictured at computer desks at the back of the room) and their team working in TWIG's Salt Lake studio.

Today, TWIG works on six to ten projects at any given time, and though they do produce longer films and documentaries, the brothers estimate that 95% of their projects are three- to five-minute pieces. To ensure that their work is effective—that the films successfully tell their clients’ stories within that short amount of time—Chris and Alex explained that it’s imperative to connect with clients during early creative planning.

“It comes down to your ability to understand what their vision is, and to make that happen requires the ability to communicate with them in a very specific way,” said Alex. He and Chris are so committed to this skill, in fact, that even the name of their business reflects it: when used as a verb, “to twig,” the word means to understand or realize something—to find meaning.

“We like to think we engage in deep listening to what people are really trying to say, what they're trying to get across,” said Chris. They also liked the organic picture that comes to mind when one thinks of a twig: the roots of a network and community, the potential growth of an idea.

The brothers credit Rowland Hall for preparing them to connect with clients by equipping them with what Alex called “an incredibly well-rounded skill set.” “We draw on a lot of different aspects of our education,” he said.

The brothers credit Rowland Hall for preparing them to connect with clients by equipping them with what Alex called "an incredibly well-rounded skill set."

“We draw on a lot of different aspects of our education,” he said. “Coming from a role where I was doing one very specific thing—being a lighting designer—it’s very much like you’re a cog in this much bigger machine. When we created the company, suddenly we had to draw upon all these skills from other parts of life, like the ability to write, to correspond with the client.”

Rowland Hall helped the brothers discover their passions and begin developing their strengths. Chris, for instance, credits Carol Cranes for his love of writing and Tony Larimer for his love of theater and storytelling. “That was always where my strengths were—in literature and the arts,” he said. And he believes in the close relationships cultivated at Rowland Hall: “That kind of personal relationship really makes you feel special. It makes you feel like what you create is special, and what you do with your life is important.”

Chris and Alex don’t take for granted their ability to create meaningful work for a living. They keep things in perspective by remembering the early years, before they had the freedom to choose the purposeful projects they’re known for. They’ve also built in a safeguard to protect what drives them: passion projects, which keep them challenged and inspired. For the past three years, for example, they used free time to chip away at Traverse, an art-house-style film that mixes dance and documentary. It involved six days of driving a group of modern dancers and their choreographer to iconic Utah locations. At each site, the group created a new dance, which the brothers then filmed.

“It was intense,” Alex remembered. “You'd show up to a location, shoot like crazy, get in a van, drive another five hours, sleep for six hours, and then wake up and do it again the next day.”

The final film is made up of five polished vignettes of each dance, interspersed with a reality-show-style documentary of the time the group spent traveling between sites. It will be screened at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center on June 13 (more details can be found on TWIG’s Facebook page).

TWIG filming their passion project Traverse in the Southern Utah desert

Capturing an original dance for Traverse, TWIG's art-house-style passion project.

Whatever Chris and Alex create, they’re proud to have built a company that not only fulfills and challenges them, but, importantly, supports necessary work happening across communities and inspires viewers.

“Film is such a powerful medium,” said Chris. “It’s this amazing, ephemeral thing: you create it, it helps make the world a better place, and then it's gone. You made something that affected people's hearts.”


Photos courtesy TWIG Media Lab

Alumni

Mick Gee visiting Ben Smith's class

As we enter the second half of the academic year, the Rowland Hall team is hard at work preparing for milestone events, including the April 24 all-community celebration honoring beloved Head of School Alan Sparrow, who retires in June. After Alan’s departure, Rowland Hall will begin a new era, with Michael “Mick” Gee installed as our 19th head of school; he begins July 1.

Mick was the natural choice to lead Rowland Hall, and the Head of School Search Committee, formed after Alan announced his retirement in October 2018, was unanimous in recommending him for the job. In her June 2019 email to the Rowland Hall community, Board Chair Jennifer Price-Wallin wrote, “Throughout our comprehensive process, Mick emerged as the educational leader who best embodies the core attributes our school community seeks in our next head.”

Mick’s background—rich in administrative leadership and teaching experience—will be instrumental in building on Alan’s 28-year legacy and the school’s 153-year history. Many in our community are especially excited about how Mick’s science training will help shape the school. Prior to becoming an administrator, Mick taught courses like physics and chemistry, which greatly influenced his approach to education and his beliefs about how students learn and their capacity for knowledge.

“I always say there’s a big difference between teaching science and teaching kids to be scientists,” Mick explained. “We do a lot of the former—we teach a lot of knowledge, and we do labs and things like that. But we don’t often give kids a chance to be real scientists who create knowledge—who actually go into uncharted areas and solve problems by devising their own experiments.”

It’s important for students to feel that the work they’re doing can have an actual impact. That’s an incredibly powerful experience.

This mentality dovetails with the momentum from Rowland Hall's Strategic Plan that is already happening on our campuses: teachers such as Molly Lewis and Alisa Poppen have championed similar ideas around empowering students to become scientists. And this approach is especially appealing to today’s students, Mick said, because they are looking for context and meaning for what they learn in class—and they want to make a tangible difference.

“I think it’s important for students to feel that the work they’re doing can have an actual impact,” he said. “That’s an incredibly powerful experience.”

One way Mick has supported active learning was through the creation of three Centers for Impact—for STEM and innovation, global engagement, and entrepreneurship—at Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, New York, where he is currently head of school. Today, these centers give students opportunities to apply classroom skills and knowledge in real-world ways—for example, their science research course is designed to allow students to choose their own research thesis, collaborate with an expert in their chosen field, and present their findings to peers. Some students have even been published.

“It sounds like I’m describing PhD research—and some of the students that I’ve seen do this are in third grade,” Mick said. “We used to think students in third, fourth, or fifth grade could only learn knowledge—they couldn’t create knowledge. It’s just not true. Now we see students of all ages engaged in problem solving from a scientific and engineering point of view. They’ve got the skillset, they’re applying the skills, and they’re coming up with solutions that many adults haven’t thought of.”

Importantly, Mick believes that teachers of any subject, not just the sciences, can create active engagement opportunities that prepare students to enjoy pursuing knowledge, helping them thrive in an ever-changing world.

“Schools are where we find the joy in learning,” he said.


Top photo: Mick Gee, center, visiting Ben Smith's classroom on the Lincoln Street Campus.

STEM

Students at the 2020 Changemaker Chapel

Every January, Rowland Hall’s Lower School spends the month celebrating the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., culminating in a Changemaker Chapel the week of MLK Day.

In preparation for this year’s Changemaker Chapel on January 21, and in line with Rowland Hall’s focus on inspiring students who make a difference, all Lower School classes read Say Something by Peter H. Reynolds. The book explores the concept of a changemaker: someone who recognizes that a positive change is needed and has the courage to say something to make a difference.

Changemaker: someone who recognizes that a positive change is needed and has the courage to say something to make a difference.

After learning how small changes lead to bigger ones, students were asked to participate in the Changemaker 2020 Challenge, a collection of 20 mini acts of kindness, in the days leading up to chapel. They also created a community art installation made up of messages of changemaking actions, which is displayed outside St. Margaret’s Chapel on the McCarthey Campus.

We invite you to enjoy the above video, which highlights our students’ work and the 2020 Changemaker Chapel.

Ethical Education

A Rowland Hall Lower School class

The princiPALS are back.

In the second episode of Rowland Hall’s new podcast, Beginning School Principal Emma Wellman and Lower School Principal Jij de Jesus are tackling the subject of academic rigor.

What exactly is it?

Is it a good thing?

What does it look like for students during their early childhood and elementary school years?

While, for many, the term academic rigor is simply a way to describe curriculum difficulty, the princiPALS show how it encompasses accessing, evaluating, and using knowledge—and what that looks like today, when students can instantly retrieve vast quantities of information on the internet.

In an ever-changing world, it is more important than ever to teach students how to think, not what to think.

In an ever-changing world, the princiPALS explain, it is more important than ever to teach students how to think, not what to think. “We need students who know their academic content, but also can apply it in new and novel ways,” said Jij. In other words: it’s less about what students know, but when and how they use knowledge that will best prepare them for the future. While traditional education methods focused on memorizing and regurgitating facts to display knowledge, today’s students thrive when they joyfully engage in the learning process, successfully evaluate and apply knowledge, and collaborate with others.

We invite you to join Emma and Jij, along with host Conor Bentley ’01, as they discuss the ways educators, parents, and caregivers can help children become engaged, flexible, deep thinkers. Listeners will also enjoy practical tips that will help them raise lifelong learners and future innovators. 

Episode 2 can now be found on Rowland Hall’s website, Stitcher, or Apple Podcasts. And be sure to check out episode 1, “Building Resilience in Children,” if you haven’t already.

Community

You Belong at Rowland Hall