Amy Nantkes, named the director of PLNU’s new Public Administration program in May 2023, wields vast knowledge and 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector to shape the minds of future leaders.
Her passion for serving communities through direct action derives from the support of various mentors, her extensive work in ministry, and her desire to remain intellectually curious. Overall, Nantkes describes her path from ministry to the classroom as a natural progression.
“At every point, I was pursuing the things that I loved and really cared about in a different way, leading me up to this point as a professor where I can also encourage our students to do the same,” Nantkes said.
Settling in San Diego
From a young age, Nantkes wanted to become a teacher. In high school, she taught Sunday school and volunteered as a youth leader for her home church in northern Minnesota. Out of that experience grew her love for ministry. During a gap year between high school and undergrad, she participated in Youth With a Mission’s (YWAM) discipleship training school in Darwin, Australia.
Returning to the States, Nantkes enrolled in North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. This fulfilled her and her grandparents’ dream to pursue higher education, as she was the first person in her family to attend a four-year university.
In 2002, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Cross-Cultural Studies and Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate, with her grandfather and grandmother in the crowd.
“They believed in me and encouraged me to see the world, adventure, and be curious,” Nantkes said. “I vividly remember my grandfather, a pretty stoic World War II veteran, with tears in his eyes, just so proud. I’ve always wanted to make them proud and to be able to do so was huge.”
Planning to pursue ministry after graduation, Nantkes initially thought of going overseas to work as a missionary. But then came a job offer to work as a children’s pastor in Los Angeles, CA. When she visited for an interview, the sun, beach, and welcoming people solidified her next step.
“I just thought that I could make my life in California,” Nantkes said.
And that she did. During her two years of ministry in Los Angeles, Nantkes often visited friends who worked for EastLake Church in Chula Vista, CA. With each trip, she realized that San Diego was where she wanted to put down her roots, get married, and start a family.
In 2004, she started working for EastLake Church. She met her husband, André, while partnering with the San Diego Rescue Mission for a service project. Now settled in San Marcos, the Nantkes family has grown from two to five: Amy, André, and their three sons.
The Road to Public Administration
Nantkes’ journey is also a testament to her unyielding determination. Balancing the demands of motherhood and a career, she earned her master’s and doctorate degrees to become a professor.
For two decades, Nantkes has worked in the nonprofit sector through volunteer and staff roles, mostly at large local churches. Her familiarity with topics such as poverty, benevolence, and community service pushed her to learn more about public policy and systemic change and eventually motivated her to further her education.
“I was looking at the way the social sector and churches address poverty and I was unsatisfied with a lot of the approaches. It wasn’t really changing the actual circumstances, or putting people as the protagonist of their own story, empowering them and encouraging them along the way,” Nantkes said.
In 2013, Nantkes started her master’s degree in Social Entrepreneurship and Change at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology. Although it wasn’t easy to balance learning, working, and raising three young children, she remained inspired — not just for her own academic trajectory, but for her sons’.
“My husband, who is also very educated, has his MBA,” Nantkes said. “For our kids to see that college is not a possibility but an eventuality for them; the fact that question can change into a statement in one generation is such a game-changer for me. They’re so pumped about college — they know it’s a part of their trajectory.”
During her master’s program, her program chair at Pepperdine, Stephen Kirnon, asked if she had considered earning a Ph.D.
“That led me down the path again; I’d always had this dream of being a professor,” Nantkes said. “There had always been that teacher in me throughout all the years of ministry, and furthering my education allowed me to pursue that.”
Once graduating from Pepperdine in 2015, Nantkes started her doctorate in political science with specialties in public policy and American politics at Claremont Graduate University (CGU).
Even when the pandemic hit and her sons’ schools closed, Nantkes continued her doctoral program with the support of her family.
“My kids were there with every paper I had to write, every test I had to take, and as I was doing my qualifying exams. I was writing my dissertation at the kitchen table while they did their homework,” Nantkes said. “We’ve all been in it together, with my husband putting the kids to bed at night so I could do a second shift downstairs in my office.”
Throughout her time at CGU, Nantkes showcased her dedication to lifelong learning. On top of being a member of the nation’s largest leadership honor society, Sigma Alpha Phi, she was awarded the CGU Department of Politics and Economics Outstanding Student Award in 2017.
As she dove deeper into the doctoral program’s curriculum, Nantkes began to understand the present-day inequity and injustice present in the United States immigration system. This sparked her curiosity to learn more about what injustice looks like and how it could be addressed systematically.
“My dissertation ended up being about the intersection of immigration policy and welfare policy,” Nantkes said. “My research interest in social welfare policy came out of thinking that benevolence, while so kind and with well intent, doesn’t always end in lasting systemic change. And often the older models of addressing poverty were not putting folks as the protagonist of their own story.”
In 2020, Nantkes was awarded the CGU Dissertation Fellowship Award. A year later, her red and black regalia arrived at her doorstep.
All of her hard work paid off.
“With all the joy of putting it on, I couldn’t believe it,” Nantkes said. “After wondering if I would ever be able to accomplish it, I did.”
The Best of Both Worlds
Halfway through her doctoral program, Nantkes started to work as an adjunct faculty member in PLNU’s Department of History and Political Science and Organizational Leadership programs.
With bachelor's and master’s degrees from Christian universities, having her faith be an integral part of her teaching experience was important. Learning more about the work of the university’s Center for Justice and Reconciliation, faculty, and alumni, she knew that she wanted to continue her time at PLNU.
Nantkes said she’s always been impressed by the dedication, knowledge, and skill of individuals who lead in public administration settings. The interactions she’s had with them have influenced the ways she supports her students, so they too can lead in local, state, or federal government positions.
In October 2022, Nantkes and fellow professor of political science, Linda Beail, Ph.D. took students to New York in the immersive learning course, Creating Change, Claiming Power. Together, they studied the people and material culture of political and social movements, such as abolition, suffrage, immigrant and housing rights, and public service.
Three months later, Nantkes became a faculty member in the Department of History and Political Science, primarily teaching policy courses.
In May 2023, Nantkes started working full-time as an assistant professor of political science and was named the director of PLNU’s Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration program, which will launch in the 2023 fall semester.
Students in this program will learn how to engage in their community, address social issues, and cultivate the aptitudes and relationships necessary to step into roles that make a tangible difference through courses such as Budgets and Grant Writing, Social Stratification, and Communication and Culture.
With six start dates year-round, an online and asynchronous structure, and the ability for students to start with as little as zero completed college credits, the Public Administration program is also designed for working professionals who seek a flexible learning environment.
“For me, it’s the best of both worlds. I love being online and in-person with students, and I love our adult learners and undergraduate students,” Nantkes said. “If their path has been untraditional like mine, I let them know that it’s okay, it’s not too late. It’s not bad that you took some time off, had a family, or were pursuing your career. You can be on track where you are now. All those experiences that you leave behind you are a part of your journey. It’s leading you to where you are today and equipping you for the work that you’re going to do.”
Nantkes has encouraged faculty in the new program to guide students with that same ethos, through mentorship and helping students increase their social capital.
“I feel so blessed that along the way, I’ve had people that have invested in me in different ways,” Nantkes said. “I always tell students, we can have mentors that don’t even know they’re mentoring us, they may not even know us. A lot of this has transferred over to how I work at Point Loma and the kind of professor I am. Point Loma is so great at emphasizing personal care and supporting students in their next steps.”
Mentors who have guided Nantkes on her journey include Kirnon; Melissa Rogers, Ph.D., the field chair of Comparative Politics at CGU; faculty in PLNU’s Department of History and Political Science; and her grandparents.
“It’s all part of fulfilling our calling and open-ended journey,” Nantkes said. “When we think about public administration, we think about public service, dedicating your life and career to others, making government run smoother, and building housing that is affordable and accessible. Public administration is this huge umbrella, and there’s so much space underneath that umbrella for people to pursue their passions and the things they care about.”