Santa Clara University

Bronco Profiles

Web Exclusive: Southern comforts

Amielynn Abellera ’04 helps hurricane victims in Biloxi, Miss.

By Karyne Levy

Amielynn Abellera '04

For an 18-day period in November, Amielynn Abellera ’04 saw first-hand the effects Hurricane Katrina had on the Gulf Coast. But as others flocked to New Orleans to help in the relief efforts, this 22-year-old San Francisco resident headed to Biloxi, Miss., with the nonprofit organization Hands On USA (HOUSA) to assist in cleaning up the destroyed area.

“While a lot of us donated money, too, we wanted to do something that felt like we were really making a difference,” she says. “We wanted to see that our efforts were really helping real people.”

Amielynn Abellera '04
Amielynn Abellera '04 Photo: courtesy of Abellera

HOUSA is a volunteer-staffed, nonprofit based in Biloxi to assist the community with hurricane rebuilding efforts. It was formed in response to the 2004 tsunami that struck the coast of Thailand.

While in Biloxi, Abellera and other volunteers spent time gutting houses, delivering food and clothing to residents, feeding and walking animals at the local animal shelter, helping the Salvation Army organize food, and offering other support wherever necessary.

The work was extremely difficult at times—there was 28 feet of water in some places Aballera’s group visited, and some homes had been completely demolished—but that didn’t stop Abellera and others from continuing to work.

“Santa Clara taught me that if I want to do something, especially when it comes to helping those in need-just do it. Be assertive.”
—Amielynn Abellera '04 

“This is a life-changing experience,” she says. “The volunteers here come from all walks of life. Lots of students, lots of people ‘between jobs’ who are taking advantage of that time, and lots of people who just decided they need to use their vacation and come help.”

After graduating from Santa Clara, Abellera participated in a yearlong Americorps program, working for the San Jose Conservation Corps. The group ran an after-school program for low-income high school students in South San Jose. She also volunteered with EMQ Children and Family Services, where she mentored behaviorally challenged youth; the Flying Doctors organization, which offers free health care to rural Mexico; and St. Joseph’s Medical Center, where she was a general hospital volunteer.

She now works at Stanford University Medical Center as a clinical research assistant for the blood and marrow transplant program. She hopes to enter medical school within the next few years.

Abellera attributes her “love for volunteering” to her education at SCU. “I don’t know how it is at other universities, but at SCU, volunteering was a part of life,” she says. “The opportunity to participate in community service projects was integrated into every aspect of my four years at college.”

—Karyne Levy is a writer/editor in SCU’s Office of Communications and Marketing

Top Prof: Alumnus is Oregon Professor of the Year

Alumnus is Oregon Professor of the Year Willamette University economics professor Jerry D. Gray ’81 is a little embarrassed about all the attention he is getting from his 2005 Oregon Professor of the Year award. But he admits that “to be recognized for teaching—something that I care about doing well—is really a wonderful gift.”

Known for his enthusiasm, dedication, and humor in making economics relevant to everyday life and easy for students to understand, Gray is the eighth professor from the Salem, Ore., liberal arts school to win the honor since 1990. The award is bestowed by The Council for Advancement and Support of Education and The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching on the basis of nominees’ dedication to teaching, commitment to students, and innovative instructional methods. It is the only national initiative to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring. A maximum of one professor per state receives the award annually.

Jerry D. Gray '81
Jerry D. Gray '81 Photo: Frank Miller, Willamette University

Over the years, Gray says, he learned his craft from many different gifted professors he had as a student. As a teacher himself for the past 16 years, he’s honed his style by building on those best practices, while remaining true to himself. “I believe there’s no one single secret for teaching, but certain things seem critical to me. One of them is, you have to allow students to see who you are and how excited you get about the material,” he says. “I also believe that students can sense your level of concern for their learning. That part comes easily for me. I care a lot about it.”

Gray says he sensed that level of caring and enthusiasm for the material in many of his undergraduate economics courses at Santa Clara. Gray took his first economics course just because his friend was majoring in it. But Professor Mario Belotti’s engaging teaching style and command of the material hooked Gray immediately. “Before you knew it, I was an economics major,” he says.

Other Santa Clara professors influenced him, as well. He loved arguing with Professor David Henderson. “He loved engaging in that exchange of ideas, and it didn’t matter if students disagreed with him. I really respected that about him,” Gray remembers.

Through the skill and guidance of Professor Philip Mirowski, Gray gained his first experience in collaborative learning. Mirowski “taught the first real seminar course I took at SCU in economics. I loved that course!” he says. “It gave me a sense of what teaching and learning could be like.”

Gray also fondly recalls learning from interesting discussions with friends and classmates at SCU. That open exchange of ideas “was something about Santa Clara that I enjoyed and have tried to remember in my own teaching,” he says. “If I can get students to talk about the material when they’re outside of class, when they’re in their dorms at night, then I’ve probably succeeded as a teacher.”

—Anne Federwisch is a freelance writer in the Bay Area.

"Too much good left to do"

Back from the brink of death, Jill Mason '99 is full of life

On Jill Mason’s Web site,, there is a quote from Willa Cather: “Where there is great love, there are always miracles.” What a way to describe Jill Mason ’99 and her journey since April 2004.

On that clear and bright Easter Sunday morning, Jill and Alan Liu, her significant other and training partner, were bicycling on Highway 12 near Oakmont, when 69-year-old Harvey Hereford, a Santa Rosa attorney, struck them from behind in his car. Liu was killed instantly. Mason sustained severe head and spinal cord injuries and nearly died. Hereford’s blood alcohol level was almost four times the legal limit.

Doctors warned Mason’s parents that she might be on life support for the rest of her life. Mason spent five months in the hospital, undergoing several major surgeries, followed by months of rehabilitation during which she regained some motor skills, her ability to speak, and some of her memory. The healing continues today with many kinds of physical therapy and tremendous support from family and friends.

Jill Mason '99
Jill Mason '99 Photo: David B. Torch/ The Union
An athletic recovery

Jill was always a phenomenal athlete. She played lacrosse for four years at SCU and loved to run, ski, swim, bike, and even compete in marathons and triathlons. She thrived on the rigors of training and loved pushing herself to achieve a physical goal.

Becky Crozier ’99, a close friend and lacrosse teammate, says, “Jill was the player you always wanted on your team.” Crozier recalls a mini-triathlon she did with Mason, and mutual friend and lacrosse teammate Veronica Villalobos ’99. “Jill was much better than both of us, so she finished way ahead of us,” Crozier remembers. “But she didn’t just sit back and wait for us. She went back on the course and found us, to encourage us and help us finish up the last bit. That’s a true friend.”

“An amazing athlete” is how Villalobos describes Mason. “I’m looking forward to seeing what athletic competition she’ll conquer in her future,” she adds.

Mason says her training as an athlete before her accident is a tremendous help now. “I have that mindset—this is what I want to be, and these are the steps I need to take to get there, and so I start on my journey,” she explains. “I am still a very determined person,” she adds, “but it took me at least a year to get that back. For so long…I was just in a fog.”

The injury to Mason’s brain still plagues her today. “It is so frustrating, having to learn how to do things again, not remembering the best way to do it,” she says. For instance, she will figure out the easiest way to move herself from her wheelchair to the car, and then a few days later, she will forget what she figured out.

Anger and hope

Crozier is inspired by Jill’s fortitude. “She never seemed to feel sorry for herself,” she says, “and she never gives up. I remember seeing her in the hospital having to relearn to do the simplest things and thinking that if I were her, I would just want to quit. She never did.

” Villalobos says she is amazed by Mason’s progress. “She has come so far so fast when you consider the accident was only two years ago. It doesn’t surprise me that she is still optimistic…and a hard worker—that was her at her core before the accident.”

Mason concedes that she is angry about what happened. “But I have gotten less angry over time,” she insists. “And there is too much good left to do. So I am really trying not to let my anger rule my world. It is just hard, because I used to run when I was mad, and I was not mad very often…. I am still working on trying to find a way.”

One way Mason has found to cope is by sharing her story, both online, through a detailed blog about her recovery, which was started by her brother and recently taken over by Mason, and through talks she gives at local schools and clubs. In her presentation, Mason says she tries to “teach kids about what drunk driving can take away from someone.”

“I really feel like it is important to tell them at that age. They are new drivers, and they need to make the right choices. And, by seeing me, someone who is…younger, it will teach them they are not invincible,” she adds.

Telling her story has helped her in many ways, she says. “It is nice to be able to reach out to people.” Plus, she says, “the audiences’ reactions are just incredible…. When I am done, the kids are just silent. They really hear me…. They really seem to think, ‘Oh my gosh, I need to be careful.’”

The road ahead

Mason has lots of plans for the future, including more athletic competitions, a relaunch of her career in marketing, and a move out of her parents house, where she has lived since her accident.

Mason is hoping to move back to the South Bay, find a roommate for about 6 months to a year, while she continues searching for a home to buy. She plans to continue giving her PowerPoint presentation about drunk driving and also work part time in marketing or public relations like she did before.

Mason says she is excited about the move, and a little sad, too. "It will be different," she says, saying she will miss friends and family. "But I think it is something I need to do to learn how to live again."

—Elizabeth Kelley Gillogly is the contributing editor of Santa Clara Magazine.