Author, Activist, War Vet and More: Meet Starr King’s Incoming Class

snapshot_bannersnapshot-2010-09-15Students in Starr King’s Incoming Class Fall 2010. (l-r): Barry McCauley, Pat Malarkey (top), Suzi Spangenberg, and Dakotta Alex.

One student created a fair-trade collective in Bali. Another penned a book called Damn, I Need a Job. Again! A third served in the first Iraq War and interned with Garrison Keillor. A fourth plans to make the switch from computer programmer to workplace chaplain.

They are among the remarkable 26-member incoming class at Starr King School for the Ministry. The students gathered last month in Berkeley to meet each other, get to know the Berkeley campus, and kick off another year of growth and learning.

The incoming class includes both high- and low-residency students – that is, some students who study on campus and others who study long-distance from their hometowns. It also includes 10 people who will be seeking a Masters in Religious Leadership for Social Change (MASC), making this the largest incoming MASC class ever.

Meet four of our school’s fascinating incoming students:

Suzi Spangenberg

A native of Southern California, Suzi spent the last 2-1/2 years in Bali, Indonesia, where she founded a fair-trade collective that turned discarded plastic containers into travel bags. The goal was to reduce plastic pollution while giving living-wage work to Balinese women.

Suzi is active in U.S. politics too, and is seeking a MASC degree to join together her political and spiritual passions. “This is my dream curriculum,” she says of Starr King’s offerings. “It’s important to integrate my spirituality and my social-justice work. I found the MASC program, and my first thought was it was too good to be true.”

About the orientation days at Starr King, Suzi says: “I had no clue that it was even remotely as rich and emotionally intense and exhausting and fabulous as it was! I came home every night just flabbergasted.”

Dakotta Alex

Originally from Texas, Dakotta was a corporate consultant before coming to Starr King to pursue a Masters in Divinity degree. In 2000, he created “60 Second Networking,” one of the first online professional networking associations. Later, he worked with such companies as Compaq, Microsoft and Disney, often focusing on talent acquisition and organizational management.

Dakotta is author of four books, including The Recruiters Guide Book andDamn, I Need a Job. Again! Recession Edition.

He says that his spiritual calling will take him “beyond the pulpit.  It is working as a hospital chaplain and working interfaith trying to build bridges.” He has particular interests in workplace diversity and Middle East politics.

Why did he choose to study at Starr King? “The self-direction and experimental learning particularly honed in on my sense of adventure,” he says.

Barry McCauley

Barry, a North Carolina native, served on a nuclear submarine during the first Iraq War, and was injured while on duty. He has also interned with Garrison Keillor of “Prairie Home Companion” radio and was a broadcaster with National Public Radio.

For 20 years, he has been a Unitarian Universalist social-justice activist, traveling to UU churches to conduct training on racial justice and multi-culturalism. He remains deeply committed to fostering this work. He says: “It’s daunting as a person of color to walk in and see mostly white faces in the middle of a downtown urban church.”

Barry, who lives now in Portland, Ore., but plans to move to Berkeley next year, says UUs must adapt their programs “to resonate with people of color.” A choir singer, he believes “our music program can be altered to resonate with people who are not of European identity and descent.”

Barry is seeking a Master’s in Divinity. His first impressions as a student at Starr King: “Orientation week was wonderful and intense. I’m so impressed and humbled by the collective knowledge and style and finesse and life experience and worldliness of the faculty and my fellow students at Starr King.”

Pat Malarkey

Pat is a computer programmer for Freddie Mac and has lived in northern Virginia since 1990. She was inspired to seek a MASC degree at Starr King after her best friend’s sister committed suicide. The sister had become despondent after losing her job.

“Like a bolt of lightning, it came to that white-collar workers have no one to advocate for them,” Pat says.  “No union to negotiate work rules or severance packages; no chaplain to help them through tough times; no one who knows the spiritual dimension of the work they – we – do. I need to do something about that.”

She’ll start her Starr King career in the “low-residency” program, studying from home in Virginia. She hopes to gradually transition from computer programming to workplace chaplaincy, and to help people transition through a job-loss and humanize large businesses.

What will that entail? She says: “Be present and available with employees during the layoff process. Use my business and pastoral skills to study the effects of layoffs, outsourcing, and off-shoring on communities and the environment. And use those same skills to guide ethical and moral investment.”