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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 Our Most Recent Stories

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 following 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

Sixth graders at 2019 UN Civil Society Conference

In August 2019, when the United Nations (UN) held its 68th Civil Society Conference in Salt Lake City, Rowland Hall administrators seized the moment and took the entire sixth grade to the event.

“We wanted the sixth graders to take advantage of this historic opportunity to attend a UN conference for the first time outside of New York and San Francisco,” said Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education. “Because the UN Sustainable Development Goals are a unifying theme in the Middle School sixth- and seventh-grade curriculums, the opportunity was too good to pass up.”

So on August 26, the sixth graders—then in their second week of the school year—traveled to the Salt Palace Convention Center, where they met UN representatives from across the globe and participated in significant conversations around the conference’s theme of building inclusive and sustainable cities and communities. In addition to exposing the students to some of the larger ideas they would be examining over the year, the conference served as an important jumping-off point for an exciting new assignment: empathy-to-impact projects. 

Brought to Rowland Hall by sixth-grade social studies teacher Mary Jo Marker, empathy-to-impact is designed to get students to think more deeply about global issues and how they can take steps to make a difference in the world. For its inaugural year at the school, Mary Jo asked students to choose projects that support the second UN Sustainable Development Goal: Zero Hunger. The assignment, she explained, is for each person to pick one action in support of that goal, research it, and then find a way to share their work with the larger community. Though the steps are simple, the project is intended to make a big impact in how students think about the world around them and their place within it.

My goal is that they experience an opportunity to practice their empathy, solidifying social justice work in the future.—Mary Jo Marker, sixth-grade social studies teacher

“My goal is that they experience an opportunity to practice their empathy, solidifying social justice work in the future,” Mary Jo said.

The project is also an exciting chance for the newly minted middle schoolers to take on more autonomy in their learning: they choose their research subjects and community group, as well as set their own timelines (the only requirement is to complete projects before the end of the school year). Mary Jo explained that this freedom empowers students by giving them more opportunity to think deeply about their topics and find creative ways to approach them. It also helps them to understand the power they have to make change, even at a young age—a major goal of a Rowland Hall education.

“We want our students to see themselves as changemakers in their communities,” Ryan said,  “and find their voice around issues that give them a sense of purpose and inspire them to learn for life.”

Six months in, students are hard at work researching and presenting on a variety of topics that address the Zero Hunger goal—such as food waste, malnutrition, supporting local farms, and finding ways to provide healthy, safe food to low-income families—and making contacts throughout the community. Some students, like Samira Eller, are also finding ways to make connections between Rowland Hall’s campuses. While researching monocropping, the practice of growing the same crop on a plot of land year after year, she realized that she could educate elementary schoolers on the topic, helping them to not only understand how they can make an impact at a young age, but also closing the circle on one of her biggest takeaways from the Civil Society Conference.

“Hearing from so many young people from different parts of the world showed me that it is always possible to make a difference in the world, no matter your circumstances,” she said. 

Samira decided that Rowland Hall’s fourth graders would be at an ideal age to grasp the concept. Plus, she added, “I enjoy enlightening younger kids and getting to see them understand things and learn.” In January, she presented her findings to the entire fourth grade on the McCarthey Campus, emphasizing the importance of diversifying crops and even throwing in some of the surprising facts she discovered in her research—for example, “the Cavendish banana—that yellow one you find in almost all of Utah’s mass groceries—is grown entirely in monoculture, even though it is the least flavorful of many different bananas,” she said.

Samira Eller presenting to fourth graders

Samira Eller presenting her findings on monocropping to Rowland Hall's fourth graders.

The fourth graders loved it. Teacher Tyler Stack commented, “The students really enjoy when a peer from the middle or upper school comes to speak to them. They were engaged with the topic and excited to see what they are going to study the next few years.”

I learned that my voice can make a big difference and that making an impact in the world isn’t always about the big things, but more the little ones.Those students can almost certainly look forward to conducting their own empathy-to-impact research one day. Mary Jo is already planning on repeating the assignment next year, and will be opening it up to other Sustainable Development Goals. She is excited to see the kinds of ideas students will continue to come up with—and how it will improve their confidence as global citizens, as it has with Samira.

“I learned that my voice can make a big difference and that making an impact in the world isn’t always about the big things, but more the little ones,” Samira reflected. “Sometimes something might seem impossibly hard and dangerous, but in reality all it takes is a second to tell someone, ‘Hey, did you know…’ to make a pretty big dent.”


Top photo: Rowland Hall sixth graders hold cards displaying the UN's Sustainable Development Goals while attending the 68th Civil Society Conference in Salt Lake City in August 2019.

Ethical Education

Micha Nenbee, Ke'ea Ramirez, and Katy Dark in Seattle

By Ke’ea Ramirez, Class of 2021

In November 2018, then-sophomore Ke’ea Ramirez was one of six Rowland Hall students who traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC). The SDLC takes place each year in conjunction with the National Association of Independent Schools’ (NAIS) People of Color Conference, the flagship of NAIS’ commitment to equity and justice in teaching, learning, and organizational development. As described on their website, the SDLC gives student leaders in grades nine through twelve opportunities to develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learn the foundations of allyship and networking principles. In addition to large group sessions, students join family groups that allow for smaller unit dialogue and sharing, as well as affinity groups, which gather people with common interests, backgrounds, and experiences. Each participating school is allowed to send up to six students to the SDLC, with conference attendance limited to 1,600 students.

Despite initial hesitation, Ke’ea quickly found herself inspired by the multiracial, multicultural gathering of student leaders and, since then, has sought out opportunities to engage with students from around the country—including by attending another SDLC in November 2019. She shares the story of her first conference experience below.


When my mom told me that she had signed me up for a diversity conference, I was very skeptical and hesitant to go. She told me that it was a good learning opportunity and that I would appreciate the experience. I did not want to do it, and as soon as I looked at the schedule, I decided that the conference would not only be a terrible time, but also that I would have no time for sleep or homework. The schedule was busy and consisted of me waking up at 6 every morning, walking to a conference outside in the freezing cold, getting 45 minutes for lunch, going back to the conference, and then returning to the hotel at 10 pm. Even though it was only a few days, I did not want to go.

On November 28, I got on the plane to Nashville with five other students from Rowland Hall. The next morning, when I got to the conference, we sat in a room with hundreds of other students from all over America. I felt very overwhelmed; I was in a different state on the complete other side of the country, surrounded by so many other kids and adults. I was amazed by how many students actually went to the conference, and, surprisingly, found myself inspired by the speakers. At that moment I remember thinking, “Maybe the conference won’t be as bad as I thought.” After the opening ceremony, my mindset changed a little bit, going from, “This is going to be the worst thing ever,” to, “Maybe I can tolerate this for a few days.”

I felt like I had known these other students my entire life. I made best friends in less than an hour and connected with so many people.

Next, we shuffled into our smaller family groups of around 50 students. If you know me, you know that I am not very outgoing and I tend to be shy. In addition, I was only a sophomore; I thought that I would be trampled by all the other junior and senior students. However, after the first activity (a classic ice-breaker game), I felt like I had known these other students my entire life. I made best friends in less than an hour and connected with so many people from around the country. I felt as though I had actually made a new family, despite my initial reluctance. My thoughts then changed again, from, “Maybe I can tolerate this for a few days,” to, “I am so happy that my mom forced me to go.”

Ke'ea Ramirez with her SDLC family group

Ke'ea's SDLC family group, which met several times throughout the conference to engage in dialogue and sharing.

We spent nearly eight hours in family groups, and then we moved on to affinity groups. I ended up going to the Asian/Pacific Islander affinity group; this group was at least three times as big as my family group. A lot of the students that went to the conference with me from Rowland Hall also attended this affinity group, and some of my new friends from my family group were present. Initially, I thought that affinity groups were where people got together and talked about problems that we could all relate to. However, there was a lot more than I had expected. While we did talk about serious topics, we also had a lot of fun, and, similar to the family group, I connected with people and, again, made best friends fast.

This conference was so important to me because all students were represented, and it is always important to hear the issues of others and to become aware of what is happening around the country.

The first thing we did the next day was to separate into smaller groups and have a singing competition. While it sounds embarrassing and silly, it was actually so much fun, and it allowed us to all come together, gain courage, and laugh. I realized that my preconceived notion of the conference was wrong. What I expected was not what was reality. It was at that moment when my mindset, once again, changed from, “I am so happy that my mom forced me to go,” to, “I never, ever want to leave this conference.”

After we left Nashville and the SDLC behind, I reflected on my experience and realized how much I loved the conference and how glad I was that I went. My favorite session was either family groups or affinity groups because of how many amazing people I met, all the fun activities we did, and how much we ended up feeling like a true family. I made lifelong friends that I am still close to and talk to all the time; I also became even closer to the Rowland Hall students who went to the conference. This conference was so important to me as well because all students were represented, and it is always important to hear the issues of others and to become aware of what is happening around the country.

Even though I wasn’t initially excited to attend, the SDLC turned out to be one of my best experiences in high school—and I immediately signed up for two more conferences when I returned: the 2019 Northwest Association of Independent Schools’ Student Diversity Leadership Retreat in Portland, Oregon, and the 2019 SDLC in Seattle, Washington. I will also be returning to Seattle this March in a leadership role: I’m going to help run affinity spaces and mentor middle school students at the 2020 Student Diversity Leadership Retreat. I am excited to be working with younger students and I hope that they will be just as inspired and motivated as I was.


Top photo, from left: Rowland Hall students Micha Nenbee, Ke'ea Ramirez, and Katy Dark took a break from the 2019 SLDC to explore Seattle's famous Pike Place Market. (Photos courtesy Ke'ea Ramirez)

Ethical Education

You Belong at Rowland Hall