“The impact she has is phenomenal,” junior Tabitha Blessum said about Professor Naomi Kasa. Like many other students and faculty, this was not fully appreciated until her absence was experienced.
Kasa, assistant professor of communication and a Vanguard alumna, teaches primarily cinema arts classes along with a few required courses for all communication major.
In a recent email that shocked campus, it was announced she had fallen seriously ill while attending the Sundance Film Festival. In her fourth consecutive year, she was chaperoning eight communication majors during the last week of January.
However, once the group left for different flights home from Utah, students did not see her return to campus the following Monday. Her illness worsened, and she was admitted to the hospital and put in ICU.
Though she had “quarantined” herself for the last few days of Sundance to protect students and rest, according to Blessum, a Sundance attendee, the students did not expect her to fall gravely ill.
As news spread through word-of-mouth and emails from administration, the entire community began to respond in prayer, rallying around her.
Blessum spearheaded the charge on a fundraising page for medical costs and a support video to show the impact Kasa has on her students. She said filming was only two short hours on Heath Lawn, and people came pouring in once they heard and had something to share.
“People came out of the woodwork…people just love her and we didn’t have to try very hard,” Blessum said.
The Dean of Students, Dr. Michael Wilson, has since updated the campus via email that Kasa has been released from ICU. However, prior to this reassurance, the possibility of her never returning to Vanguard devastated many students. Gabby Miranda, a sophomore who owes her return to the school to Kasa, could not fathom the loss of her presence.
“My heart completely dropped,” Miranda said.
Blessum remembered her first thoughts when confronted with losing Kasa, whom she notes as the driving force in her education as a film student, a Christian, and a woman.
“What would life be like without her [I asked], because it’s suddenly a very real reality,” Blessum said.
Sherayah Limon, who graduated in 2017 with a degree in Cinema Arts, was always influenced by Kasa’s dedication to students and their success. When she heard the news, she experienced the same emotions many others did.
“I don’t know if words could carry the weight of what a big loss it would be without her return,” Limon said.
Though her absence from campus has already made a tremendous mark, all the work she has done is visible. Due to her reserved demeanor, however, many of her projects would not be easily traced back to her.
Students who attend the Communication Film Festival at the end of the spring semester have seen her silent hand as she guides communication majors putting on the event, according to Blessum.
Grace Osimo, a junior communication minor, was able to see Kasa’s dedication to students through the Communication Lab. The space, made for communication students to be able to collaborate and have access to necessary programs, was a project led entirely by Kasa.
While interning on campus over the summer, Osimo ran into Professor Kasa during the latter’s work on the lab. According to Osimo, Kasa took the time to personally build, paint, and furnish both the upstairs and downstairs portions.
Dr. Tom Carmody, communication studies professor and former department chair, had Kasa as a student when she was at Vanguard and is responsible for her hiring. He noted her humility that accompanies her hard work.
“You would never know because she doesn’t toot her own horn,” Carmody said.
The sacrifices made for students in both time and energy are not lost on Carmody. Having seen her as a hardworking student (who still holds the highest grade for the final paper in the communication capstone), he now confidently watches her strengthen the department.
Though she remains humble, Carmody is more than willing to speak confidently of her accomplishments. He attributes his hiring her to both growth and improvement throughout the communication department.
“Best decision I ever made as chair,” Carmody said.
Originally invited to take over a few courses, such as Christianity and Artistic Culture, Kasa soon made her mark. One of her largest projects, the communication lab, has been ongoing as she works to make a space for all students in the department.
According to Carmody, the upper and downstairs portions are designated to both sides of communication, both Comm Studies and Cinema Arts, because Kasa wanted to create somewhere where everyone felt welcome.
For Limon, her current job in Costa Mesa at Roadtrip Nation Productions is a position she claims she never could have gotten without the assistance of Kasa.
“She’s kind enough, caring enough, to put a foot in the door…going above and beyond her duty and taking time out of her busy schedule to write a letter of recommendation,” Limon said.
For many, first meetings with Kasa result in a mixture of awe and intimidation, followed by immense respect and appreciation. On her first day of class, Miranda remembers thinking to herself, “this woman could do anything.”
Osimo was already hearing great things about her before taking classes. She recalls the advice and recommendation of her friends.
“‘Take Kasa because she actually cares about the students’,” Osimo recalled her friend saying.
For many, Kasa’s success, professionalism, and care would go on to affect their education outside of the classroom. She was a major influence at Limon’s choice to remain at Vanguard.
Her attention to students and dedication to the university has made a positive impact on students and the department as a whole.
Many commended her sacrifice of time, effort, and attention on their behalf. Others noted her dedication to her faith as a professional. According to Blessum, Kasa’s faith is woven into her work in a very pragmatic way, as demonstrated to her students though her Christianity and Artistic Culture class. Additionally, as a woman who has worked in the film industry, she serves as inspiration to students like Limon, Blessum and Miranda.
Stories of her spirit, humor, and modesty abounded on campus during her absence. Blessum managed to capture the feelings of many students, and women especially, who admire the work Kasa has done, both on and off campus.
“A model of a life well done,” Blessum said.