Faculty Friday: Rico Vitz — When Plans Change for the Better

More often than not, plans fall through or fail to come to fruition. Rico Vitz, PhD, is all too familiar with this reality. Personally and professionally, he experienced a shift in ambition that led him to where he is today. From switching his undergraduate major to almost becoming a Capuchin Franciscan Friar, Vitz’s story is one of both hard work and serendipity.

Vitz has taught full-time at APU since 2011. He began in the Department of Philosophy, eventually becoming chair. Now, he teaches full time in the Honors College. Before becoming a professor, Vitz dreamed of being a guitarist in a rock band. With this goal in mind, he majored in music and minored in philosophy while in college. By the end of his undergraduate years, however, Vitz decided to complete his degree in philosophy, not music. “I wasn’t studying philosophy to become a philosophy professor,” Vitz said. “I was studying philosophy because I found out there was actually a discipline for the questions I was asking about my faith.”

After obtaining his Bachelor’s, teaching was still far from Vitz’s mind as he considered joining the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, a religious brotherhood within the Catholic Church. However, while at an event for young adults, Vitz unexpectedly met his future wife. Once again, his plans changed. Instead of becoming a Capuchin Franciscan Friar, Vitz married, had children, and pursued graduate school.

Although Vitz described his undergraduate self as unmotivated, his attitude shifted once he entered graduate school. “I was the manager of an Arby’s. While I didn’t like the job, it was one of the best things that happened to me professionally because it taught me about goal-setting.” Vitz said. “It developed my ability to manage people, a budget, and my time. I took the skills from that job and applied them to grad school.” This transformation in self-discipline helped Vitz finish graduate school quickly, launching him into his teaching career.

Vitz taught at APU for one year while finishing up his PhD before he and his family moved across the country where Vitz taught for five years at the University of North Florida. Although they enjoyed their life in Florida, after receiving an offer from APU, Vitz and his wife decided it was time to head west again. “We were sitting in our living room and I remember Rose said to me, ‘You really loved your students at APU.’ And I thought, ‘I did really love my students at APU,’” Vitz said. “I really loved the mission of being able to try to love God with our minds and trying to do academically excellent work with students.” With that, Vitz and his family packed their bags and headed back to Southern California to stay.

Now, after his third year in the Honors College, Vitz delights in reading great texts, engaging with his students, and mentoring them through the process. “To sit with people in a small setting, to listen to everybody, and to watch people wrestle with ideas together is a significant part of the reason I wanted to come back to APU,” said Vitz. “The thing I find really meaningful is colloquy — getting to do what I feel called to do, getting to sit with students in a smaller class, talking about faith integrated learning. That is what makes APU special.”

Most of all, Vitz wants to see his students grow academically and spiritually. “What I value most about teaching at APU is helping my students to succeed, having a front seat to witness their lives bearing fruit for the kingdom of God,” he said. “To know I was some part of their journey is super gratifying.” Through the twists and turns along his journey, Vitz followed the advice of Matthew 7:7 in which Jesus tells His listeners to ask, seek, and knock. Vitz encourages students to do the same, recognizing the significance of these commands in his life. “God in His providential care will answer your questions. Just ask and He will open doors for you.”