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SDVoyager - Meet Dr. Lisa Dunne

MAY 18, 2020 | SDVoyager

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Lisa Dunne.

Dr. Dunne, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today. I grew up in southern Illinois in a town of 2,100 people, one gas station, and one stop light. My home environment was characterized by pain, hopelessness, fear, and dysfunction. One day, when I was in elementary school, my mom left for work and decided she didn’t want to come back home. Ever. It was a small town, where gossip was part of the common culture, and the rumor mill took over. I felt intrinsically different from everybody else, like the other kids had something I didn’t have. So, I kind of grew up carrying this mental burden, feeling like I was somehow deficient, that there was something inherently wrong with me.

I spent a lot of years trying in vain to disprove that underlying sense of worthlessness, to quell the sense of inadequacy. But anyone who has been through a similar journey knows that no amount of external validation can alter our mental landscape until we believe for ourselves. As Gary Chapman once said, “You haven’t lost your self-esteem; you’ve just been looking for it in the wrong place.” And that’s where mentors came in for me. I had this amazing high school mentor, Mrs. Bollier, who recognized that teaching was more than just convincing a student to memorize and recite a collection of random facts. She knew that teaching was an opportunity to mold, to mentor, to heal, to inspire. She took me under her wing and became a source of hope and inspiration for me. She drew talent out of my timidity, purpose out of my brokenness. Maya Angelou described a similar mentor in her life as “the measure of all a human being can be.” I’ve had several of these powerful mentor models throughout my life, and I am thankful for the way their words and deeds have influenced my own academic and personal trajectories.

We are all motivated by something when we choose a career. Maybe it’s the passion of a favorite subject or skill. Maybe it’s the residual joy of positive childhood experience—or the sting of a negative one. Maybe it’s an interaction with a sports hero or a singular moment in a game where time stands still and you score the winning point. For me, it’s been a lifetime of cumulative benefits from teaching and mentoring that broke through the pain of the past and honed the vision of my future career goal: making a positive, prosocial impact on the next generation.

I have always loved the transformative power of higher education. College sharpens talents, opens doors, and awakens dreams: It has tremendous life-altering potential! I’ve been a professor for almost 20 years, and I’ve seen students go from living in their car to running their own business, from standing terrified and trembling in front of a classroom to speaking boldly before a crowd of thousands. Education has been a powerful force for prosocial change in America since the first university, Harvard, was established here by the Pilgrims in 1636.

Sadly, though, we are now seeing some significant fractures in the system of higher education, from dropout rates to debt, and these tragic stats have increasingly concerned me as a professor. In California, only about 50% of students who start college finish, and the students who do manage to graduate often begin their lives flailing in the ever-rising tide of student loan debt (US students owe $1.6 trillion in student loans, and California’s students hold a disproportionate amount of that total, 10%). I also see many smart and capable students who are struggling to make sense of content as they sit in classrooms built on ineffective, outdated educational methodologies that aren’t tailored to the generational needs of today’s youngest learners. American education has become a one-size-fits-all approach that simultaneously bores accelerated students and leaves struggling learners behind.

Considering these educational injustices, I began to envision a different model for California, an academic system that would offer a debt-free, faith-based, learner-driven approach to a college education. And that’s where Chula Vista Christian University comes in! As I looked around my own city, Chula Vista, with a population of over 270,000 people, I realized we were missing something. We have incredible parks and trails and retail centers, master-planned communities and lakes, thriving businesses and industries, but what we don’t have is a four-year university. I envisioned a local model of higher education right here in Chula Vista, one that would help students finish college on time, with purpose, and without debt, launching them immediately into their careers through a direct internship placement. CVCU is our local solution to America’s national challenge.

Has it been a smooth road? Starting a university has definitely not been a smooth road. Vision demands dedication. Every entrepreneur must face the ever-present dialectical tension between innovation and tradition, fear and courage, between comfort and risk. CVCU has definitely faced those challenges too. Launching a university from the ground up is a monumental endeavor built on millions of small, daily tasks. It’s much more of a marathon than a sprint. We had to overcome hurdles of financing and finding team members and developing partnerships and creating degree plans and hiring talented professors whose own educational methodologies deeply resonated with our unique, out-of-the-box model. Often, there was no pattern to follow, and we felt like we literally had to reinvent the wheel.

Pursuing a vision takes time, energy, and a clear head. It takes knowing your market. We studied the needs of our region and met with city officials to hear their goals and dreams. We secured an incredibly talented board of directors and advisors that represent every one of our institutional career objectives. And, for anyone facing the inherent challenges of entrepreneurship, we’ve found that it helps to surround yourself with people who are visionaries, innovators, risk-takers, people who want to make a significant impact in their career field. We have a program at Awaken Church called Pathfinders, where hundreds of entrepreneurs and industry leaders meet regularly to challenge and inspire each other. It’s absolutely electric. Dreams are born there.

Even if you don’t have a similar program or club in your circle, it’s important to find people who can encourage you and challenge you as you discover your passions and pursue your dreams. And it’s important to practice the learned skills of courage and resilience. I once heard someone say that we can exercise our “courage muscle” by taking an intentional, strategic risk every day. I like that. Maybe you’re struggling to step out in your dream, wondering where to begin. It all starts with a mindset, a belief. Believe in your vision, get around some champions in your industry, and find that innovative niche. Refuse to give up. And if your vision requires some training to get you to the finish line, CVCU can help!

We’d love to hear more about your business. CVCU is one of the first modern universities to be built almost entirely on the mentorship model, offering students flexible, affordable education at a fraction of the cost of traditional private colleges. Instead of being encumbered by debt and restrictive schedules, CVCU students have the freedom to pursue their academic passions within the healthy margins of both affordability and flexibility.

Chula Vista Christian University is a STEAM and CTE school, which means we offer certification training for students who want to work in a field that doesn’t require a degree (Career Training Education), and we offer Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees for students who want to pursue a college degree in a STEAM-related field. Students can study in any one of our Institutes, pursuing degrees in science, pre-medicine, political science, technology, engineering, business communication, human resources, arts, math, music, and ministry, achieving their degree goals in as little as three years.

Additionally, our professors are here as faculty mentors to walk students through their entire journey. We believe that a learner-driven generation requires a learner-driven delivery method of education; in this way, a professor becomes more of a coach, a “guide on the side,” instead of a “sage on the stage.” In fact, you’ll never hear a professor in our program say that a student is incapable of learning or not smart enough to complete a project. We believe that students will rise to the expectations that are set for them. And we believe professors have a special role in that process. There’s an old saying that a student, when fully trained, will become like the teacher, and CVCU takes this institutional influence seriously. Chula Vista Christian University chooses faculty who are role models in their industry and who demonstrate the kind of character and reputation that is worth emulating.

Through class discussions, rigorous reading, community connectedness, and career-based internships, students gain practical skills that help them acquire the vital attributes of problem-solving and critical thinking. So, our graduates are equipped with both the intellectual education and the hands-on career skills they need to compete successfully in today’s complex and multifaceted world of work. CVCU is a new breed of the university for a new era.

Is our city a good place to do what you do? Chula Vista is perfectly poised for business growth! It’s the second largest city in the San Diego metropolitan region and the 15th largest city in the state of California. In 2013, Forbes named Chula Vista the second fastest-growing city in the state. We have a rich network of industries, including construction, public administration, manufacturing, retail trade, health care, and social assistance, as well as professional, scientific, and technical services. Given its propensity for growth, its income ratio, its industry, and its educational background, we knew that Chula Vista would be the perfect location to launch this vision.

The prevalence of institutions with similar values and interests to ours also confirmed for us that we were in an educational sweet spot. According to the Chula Vista Churches and Religion Resources site, there are 91 churches in the city of Chula Vista, as well as 12 private secondary schools. San Diego County as a whole has 1,720 faith-based congregations and 3.3 million people. Private, faith-based colleges currently represent less than 0.1% of that total population, so it was clear that we needed higher educational opportunities here in San Diego.

In reality, Chula Vista itself is a tremendous candidate for a four-year degree program. We knew from studying our city history that Chula Vista had been trying to attract a four-year university since 1986. In 2012, the city acquired 375 acres in Otay Lakes with the intention of developing a university and research center. In 2018, the city established a special subcommittee to help attract a four-year university. To date, none have heeded the call. What’s different about CVCU in this scenario, though, is that we didn’t have to be persuaded, pushed, or paid to be here in Chula Vista; we are a grassroots university building a school right in the middle of the community we already love and believe in.


  • CVCU is a debt-free, flexible model of education priced at $12,500 per year, which is about 1/3 of the cost of traditional private higher education in California.

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