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A Heart for Community

Recent graduate Al Sturgeon (JD ’11) brings his community-building talents to the School of Law as the Director of Academic Success.

Al Sturgeon (JD ’11) entered law school as a nontraditional student. Married with two children, Sturgeon had already worked as high school teacher and as a pastor in Mississippi. For him, enrolling in law school was a natural extension of his desire to connect with others in real and meaningful ways.

As a preacher, my day job involved contemplating how God works,” he reflects. “As a law student, the bulk of my time necessarily involved contemplating how our world works. Both opportunities are blessings, and the combination provides me the unique opportunity to figure out how to integrate the two. The challenge to do that with a ‘fresh start’ in life is pretty exciting.”

One of the major events that shaped his life and career trajectory was Hurricane Katrina. When the storm hit, Sturgeon lived in Mississippi, where he stepped up to serve. “It was a time when you saw the best and the worst of people. There wasn’t a lot of time for television shows, surfing the Internet, and watching movies; it was all about getting up and helping each other survive. It was honestly one of the best experiences of my life,” he says.

Sturgeon continued serving the downtrodden by establishing two Habitat for Humanity affiliates before arriving at Pepperdine for law school. As a student, he volunteered for the Malibu Community Labor Exchange, an organized center where impoverished people in the community can acquire day work. He’ll take the helm as executive director later this summer.

"I have a history of volunteer work—it’s been an important part of my life—but I've fallen in love with the labor exchange," explains Sturgeon. "It's so unique that in a town like Malibu, which is known for its wealth and celebrity, there is a place for those who are completely without, who are helpless and marginalized. One of my values is bridging the gaps between people. I'm really interested in the possibilities of what it can be."

Another important takeaway from law school for Sturgeon was the learning how to problem solve. "The first time I met University President Andy Benton as a first-year he told me that no matter what you end up doing, your law degree is worth the investment because people know that a law degree communicates that you know how to solve problems, that you know how to approach all sides of an issue. That really stuck with me," he says.

Now in his new position as director of law school's Academic Success Program, Sturgeon will help law students learn how to study and to hone their skills. "Looking at my time at Pepperdine, I’ve realized that there is a common theme in all the things I've done. What I think is important in the world are relationships and people, particularly standing up for those who need someone to do it. A lot of what I’ve done has been considered volunteer work or community service, but it’s just the stream of my life."