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Global citizen

Published: November 8, 2016

On November 22, 1963, a 13-year-old Patricia Breen woke up in Tokyo to news she would never forget. President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. Within minutes, word spread across the globe—all the way to the American Embassy where her father was stationed.

“I had gone to sleep with my radio on, and I must have heard about it in my sleep,” says Dr. Breen, who took the helm as the 10th president of Pacific Oaks College & Children’s School last year. “My mother rounded us all up to attend mass. As we were walking down our street, everyone we saw spontaneously approached us to offer their condolences.”

The extraordinary kindness shown by the Japanese people that morning is a poignant memory that stays with Dr. Breen today as she leads an institution that has lived by its social justice mission for 70 years.

Dr. Breen, who came to Pacific Oaks as provost in 2013 with more than three decades of higher education experience, appreciates the parallels between her own life’s journey and the evolution of the institution she fell in love with almost a decade ago.

Just as Pacific Oaks students bring their individual life experiences to the classroom, Dr. Breen brings to the community a global perspective, and a devotion to service, cultivated in childhood.

“I am honored to be at Pacific Oaks, and to continue building the future of this great institution. I am lucky to have a great team of faculty and staff who are just as committed to the college as I am,” says Dr. Breen, whose affection for Pacific Oaks started in 2006.

At that time, the struggling institution began to seek guidance from leaders at what would become TCS Education System, where she served as senior vice president of academic affairs. After Pacific Oaks joined the TCS Ed System community, Dr. Breen supported the school in multiple capacities, including six months spent at the Pasadena campus to guide an accreditation visit by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

“The world changes so much faster than it did when I was growing up,” she says. “You need to possess a strong foundation of self-awareness to engage confidently with change and difference. I think that’s where we start with our students at Pacific Oaks. Yes, we give them academic knowledge. It is essential. But one of our chief aims is for them to understand and respect what motivates them so that they may understand and respect what motivates others in their work as teachers, therapists, or human services professionals.”

A Global Perspective

Just as Pacific Oaks students bring their individual life experiences to the classroom, Dr. Breen brings to the community a global perspective, and a devotion to service, cultivated in childhood.

“Only a military kid can write a five paragraph essay on the concept of duty by the time they’re in the fifth grade,” says Dr. Breen, adding that she researched the impact the military culture has on dependents while working on a Ph.D. in human and organizational development at Fielding Graduate University. “It’s about more than being relocated every few years. Growing up in a military family becomes your identity. And the values of the military—loyalty, duty, and responsibility to your family and community—become your values.”

After attending close to a dozen different schools from Japan to Hawaii to Virginia, the Coronado, Calif., native went on to earn a B.A. in English literature and M.A. in library science from the University of Texas, seeking a path that blended her interest in writing and photography with a curiosity about almost everything.

“Library and information science is a wonderful field. The ability to retrieve, evaluate, and create meaning from information is as valuable as the information itself,” says Dr. Breen, who in addition to those degrees and the Ph.D., also earned an M.B.A. from DePaul University. That knack for information management and love of research blossomed into a university career— starting with a role creating and managing off-site campuses at National College of Education (now National Louis University).

During this time, she also cultivated a passion for assessing and improving conditions for student learning, particularly adult learners, and went on to hold academic leadership roles as a campus dean, in curriculum development, and in academic affairs and institutional effectiveness, before joining The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and TCS Ed System. Dr. Breen remains active in the Council of Graduate Schools and has been a consultant-evaluator for the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges, and the Western States Senior College and University Commission.

“Those experiences, delving into information and research, taught me to be flexible and not fixated on any single perspective,” she says. “It also taught me to be humble, because there’s always somebody who knows more than you do. You need to respect and learn from others. We are all, always, teachers and learners.”

That respect and humility is obvious to many who have worked with Dr. Breen. Dorothy Farris, long-time chair of the Pacific Oaks Board of Trustees, reflected on these qualities during opening statements at Dr. Breen’s presidential inauguration ceremony last October.

“Pat is a librarian, academic, educator, friend, wife, and mother. She likes to read, enjoys animals, and cares for others,” Farris said. “She excels at listening, leading, and learning. It is the culmination of these amazing attributes that contributes to Pat’s character and will help her propel Pacific Oaks into a new chapter.”

Courage and Humility

TCS Education System founding president, Dr. Michael Horowitz, who has worked with Dr. Breen for nearly a decade also used the October inauguration event to pay tribute to her humility and respect for “the wisdom of elders.”

“We all know that it takes courage to try new things. Pat’s courage, I believe, comes from the humility it takes to be reflective,” Dr. Horowitz said. “‘That’s what scholars do,’ I’ve heard her say. ‘We act, we see what could have been improved, we improve it, and we act again. That is how progress is made.’”

Dr. Breen has great ideas of her own— some that are already coming to fruition just six months into her presidency.

With her children grown up, Dr. Breen and her husband have settled down in Pasadena with their beloved dog, Eric Daze. They still take family vacations to her adopted home state of Hawaii. Dr. Breen still reads as voraciously as she did as a teen, and still enjoys the scholarly “chaos theory” approach to making sense out of complex information. “It’s a librarian thing,” she jokes.

With 70 good years behind them, Dr. Breen says it’s now time to focus on tomorrow—to build on Pacific Oaks’ progressive pedagogy and core values to make an even greater impact in communities around the world.

“Let’s rediscover what we care about so that we know where we are going, and how to get there,” Dr. Breen told the audience last October. “From its inception, Pacific Oaks understood that great ideas only become great if they also become reality.”

Dr. Breen has great ideas of her own— some that are already coming to fruition just six months into her presidency. For one, Pacific Oaks has opened a branch campus in San Jose. This historic move will create a permanent home and identity for Pacific Oaks students in Northern California who have until now been studying in cohorts and at ad hoc instructional sites across the Bay Area since 1984.

The college has also launched a new online M.A. in Organizational Leadership and Change degree, as well as paved the way for more progressive programming in early childhood education, including specializations in trauma and STEAM learning—utilizing Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math (STEAM) to enhance problem solving skills in children.

She would also like to see the ground-breaking pedagogy and anti-bias curriculum that Pacific Oaks pioneered nationally take a bolder, more expanded role in the higher education landscape—cultivating the passion and scholarly work needed to prepare graduates to work through the anger and conflict that still remains in our communities and achieve true accord.

“My job is to help build our capacity to respond to the needs of society with powerful pedagogy, relevant programming, supportive operations, and philanthropy,” she explains. “We must continue seeking how to translate our core values into more relevant and resonant academic programming for today’s higher education environment.”

 

Categories: Magazine Features