Editor’s Note: The CCCU Young Alumni Award is presented to individuals who have graduated within the last 10 years and have achieved uncommon leadership or success in a way that reflects the values of Christian higher education. Featured here are the 2017 award recipient and the two runners-up.
2017 CCCU Young Alumni: Felipe Silva, Northwestern College
In the small town of Vulcan, located in Romania’s Jiu Valley, a climbing gym is providing the youth of the economically depressed region not just a new activity to try, but hope for the future.
Felipe Silva, a 2012 graduate of Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, is the founder and director of Fara Limite Sala de Catarare (No Limit Climbing Gym). The gym charges a small fee to students to give the participants a sense that the time they spend there is worthwhile, Silva says. Some of the children have their fees sponsored by donors; in exchange, they promise to stay in school with passing grades and come to the gym at least twice a week. Local officials credit Silva, his wife Janelle (also a graduate of Northwestern College), and the staff at Fara Limite Sala de Catarare for helping reduce the number of school dropouts in the area.
In addition, Silva has been working together with the director of Romania’s climbing association to create a five-stage national bouldering competition for Romanian youth, which allows them to compete nationally and internationally in the sport of rock climbing. Already, one of the Silva's students won the Balkan Championship in the country’s capital of Bucharest – a pivotal moment not just for the student but for his peers at the gym, Silva says.
“A 9-year-old with limited financial and material means, who before the gym had never travelled outside the borders of his own town, just won first place internationally after a year of climbing,” Silva says. “The significance of this for us and for him is huge, and the way it changes his perspective on the world and its ‘bigness’ is crucial for a better future.”
Silva credits his education at Northwestern College for shaping his career path. “Northwestern College gave me the tools to work where I am working today. It’s not that Northwestern prepared me for every situation that I encounter day-to-day, but it gave me the tools to deal with them in a godly way. It was not just the academic part of my education that made the biggest impact, but the great example I saw in many of the staff I encountered in my college years.”
Jeremy Towns, Samford University
During his years as a student at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, Jeremy Towns' life was profoundly impacted by the people there – particularly his friends on his football team. One such friendship was with his teammate, Jamael Lett, who now serves as an assistant football coach at Samford. Towns says that, aside from his family, Lett has made the biggest impact on his life and his faith in Christ.
“I would hope every kid would have the chance to go to college and meet a Jamael Lett. He helped me gain a sense of purpose and passion for life,” Towns says.
In addition to building life-changing friendships and taking high-quality classes, Towns was able to take advantage of Samford’s many opportunities to participate in leadership roles across campus before he graduated in 2013. He co-founded a Bible study that turned into a ministry and is now in the process of becoming a nonprofit, and he remains heavily involved in that process.
All of that experience guided Towns through his time as a player in the NFL and into his current path as a student mentor at Putnam Middle School, one of Birmingham’s academically struggling schools. Towns is also currently attending medical school, with plans to become an orthopedic surgeon.
Ryan Struyk, Calvin College
For most, a double major in political science and mathematics might seem like an odd pairing, but for Ryan Struyk, a 2014 graduate of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the combination has served him well in his role of covering politics for ABC News.
Last fall, Struyk worked as a political reporter and researcher for the 2016 election. He continues to cover politics for the network and also spearheads its partnership with Facebook to combat fake news articles. “After Facebook users flag a fake news article in their news feed, we debunk the stories so they appear with a warning sign that the fake news article has been disputed,” he says.
Struyk says his education at Calvin greatly informed his thinking and perspective on his role. “At Calvin, we believe that there is no professional sphere where God is not active. Politics can be a messy business, but ultimately, politics shapes millions of lives every day,” he says. “Being engaged citizens is a crucial part of living out our Christian calling. And journalism offers a vehicle for justice and truth to enter the world a little more every day.”
Do you know a recent CCCU alumni who should be nominated for the next Young Alumni Award? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the submission process.