Student Stories

Connolly Huddleston, Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies

Connolly was looking to stretch her horizons and start over in a new place. Originally from Tennessee, she was interested in Seattle’s diverse culture and the School of Theology and Ministry for its vastness of ecumenism. Looking to enhance her undergraduate education in theology, she chose to pursue the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS) degree.

Through the MAPS program, Connolly has learned a lot about how people work, what motivates them, and how to be more receptive to those in need. The program has provided insights on compassion for others, as well as a better understanding of humanity and where she can fit in with the world. “The class reading materials have really allowed me to dig deeper into who I am, and that has led to me having a deeper and more profound outlook on the imperfectly perfect being God made us all to be.” Connolly explains, “I’ll always remember the compassionate way of being my professor modeled in class, and her advice of presence is the best gift.”

Connolly has had the opportunity to put her education into practice through her contextual education internship at Providence Mount St. Vincent, an assisted living facility. As a spiritual care intern, Connolly provides pastoral care support to residents through different forums. She says, “I can provide a listening ear to their needs, with the hopes to do what I can, even if that is just to hold them in prayer.”

Connolly’s internship supervisor helped make the internship experience formative and impactful. Her supervisor was open and willing to let Connolly make mistakes and to learn at her own pace. She pushed Connolly out of her comfort zone in order for her to learn and get the most out of her internship experience. “The Spiritual Care Team at Mount St. Vincent was a very cohesive and vastly different group of people. It seemed that they all fit together like a puzzle.” Connolly explains, “I not only had a great experience with each of them, but also with my work and the wonderful guidance that came with it.”

Connolly describes the School of Theology and Ministry as “an amazing, beautiful, and inviting place that lets you be you.” She shares, “I have found the community at the School of Theology and Ministry to be one that is open and life-giving. It is an inspiring, impressive place with inspiring and impressive people. Growth is so possible here.”


Joe Cotton, Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies



Jennifer Ibach, Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies



Norma Martinez-Melo, Master of Arts in Transforming Spirituality

The Master of Arts in Transforming Spirituality (MATS) degree is Norma’s second educational experience with the School of Theology and Ministry. After completing the Certificate in Pastoral Leadership, Norma was left with a deep personal desire to learn more about the inner strength that the human spirit draws upon in times of profound trauma or grief. The Master of Arts in Transforming Spirituality balances the Christian tradition and the student’s specific faith tradition, with an openness to the wisdom of the world’s spiritual beliefs and practices. As a Catholic student, the MATS degree allowed Norma to study theology more in depth and pursue coursework that expanded her knowledge of other faith traditions and the practices that lead them to the Divine.

As a school support specialist for the United States Army, the skills Norma has developed in the MATS program have been instrumental in the way she now approaches her work in the Army. In an environment that necessitates specific procedural protocol, Norma identified a lack of “personal touch” or “spiritual sense.” She has been able to look at how they implement procedure and incorporate a more personal and compassionate way of doing business. She strives to provide each and every person who enters the doors with dignity, valuing their unique contribution to the community.

Norma has taken a variety of coursework that allowed her to expand her personal knowledge in more far reaching ways than she could have anticipated. The program has helped her to walk alongside those who have different faith practices from hers with a deeper respect and understanding of their faith walk.

Norma shares: “My studies in Transforming Spirituality have allowed me to see each human being as uniquely created and worthy of dignity, regardless of who they are or the things they have experienced in their life, and to respond with the compassion and dignity that every human being deserves.”

The diverse learning community at the School of Theology and Ministry has been essential to her transformation. She says: “There have been so many opportunities to expand how we see the world and other religions in a very safe and compassionate environment – where we all learned from each other, not just from the professors.”

She has made deep and lasting friendships, and she encourages other students to enter the program with an open mind—allowing themselves to learn from and about the students who are in class with them. Norma concludes: “My life is richer for my experience at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry.”


Maria Ochoa, Master of Arts in Transforming Spirituality



Spencer Byl, Master of Arts in Couples & Family Therapy

Like many student at the School of Theology and Ministry, Couples & Family Therapy student Spencer Byl didn’t have a direct path to his graduate studies. With a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, Spencer experienced a shift in vocation when he left his engineering job to work as a supervisor at an inpatient mental health facility. Although his work at the facility was extremely challenging, it awakened a desire in him to be in a healing profession. He says without both of these experiences, his life may have looked very different.

With the call to pursue counseling work and pastoral care, Spencer was pleased to find that the Master of Arts in Couples & Family Therapy at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry did both. He was struck by the diversity of the school—the variety of programs it offered, and the different voices and views of the students and faculty. He also got the sense that this was a place that didn’t simply give answers, but challenged students to find their own. Ultimately, it was the supportive environment he experienced when he visited the school that really drew him in. Spencer reflects:

“On my initial visit, I met with faculty, staff, and students who all wanted to see me succeed, regardless of who I was, where I came from, or what I believed. I felt welcomed and supported from the moment I walked in the doors.”

The Master of Arts in Couples & Family Therapy program integrates systems and psychological theories, supervised clinical experience, theological education, and spiritual formation in order to clinically heal and empower diverse families, couples, individuals, and groups from any faith and culture. Spencer appreciated the holistic approach to couples and family therapy, and shortly after visiting the school, felt that the program fulfilled both parts of his vocational call.

Spencer’s clinical internship focused on working with adolescents and teens. As an intern therapist at Bainbridge Youth Services, he offered free therapy to students and their families in the Bainbridge School District.

Ultimately, Spencer wants to pursue full licensure as a Couples and Family Therapist, and he knows that the education he is receiving has taught him more than he needs to get started. Although he knows the learning never stops for a couples and family therapist, he says:

“I feel prepared to enter the field in a way where I can follow any direction, be it working with different age ranges, presenting problems, cultures, families, couples, individuals, and more.”