CSUN alumnus is a personification of grit

  • California State University, Northridge alumnus Patrick Prager ’13 (Recreation and Tourism Management), a fifth-degree black belt in the martial art American Tang Soo Do, opened his own studio in Santa Clarita in the fall. Photo by Cary Osborne

  • Prager and his mother, Mary Ann Cummins-Prager — CSUN's former associate vice president of Student Affairs, are partners in the business. Photo by Cary Osborne

Above a mirror that stretches the length of a wall at The Edge martial arts studio in Santa Clarita, there are five words: Tenacity. Resilience. Courage. Self-Discipline. Integrity.

California State University, Northridge alumnus Patrick Prager ’13 (Recreation and Tourism Management), a fifth-degree black belt in the martial art American Tang Soo Do hopes that his students at the studio don’t just learn certain moves — he hopes the words on the wall resonate with them, just as they’ve guided him.

Prager, the son of former CSUN Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Mary Ann Cummins-Prager and the late Peter Prager, former special assistant to the dean of the Delmar T. Oviatt Library, completed a brave journey to earn his bachelor’s degree. And this fall, he and his mother collaborated to open The Edge.

“I wasn’t a traditional student,” Patrick said. “I had a winding path to graduation, so the message that [my mother] talks about — ‘Never give up, it’s not always an easy ride’ — meant a lot. [Earning a degree] wasn’t an easy road for me, but I’m so glad I stuck with it.”

Patrick started his higher education at Cal State Long Beach. As a freshman, he suffered a serious illness called myocarditis — a rare disease that is marked by inflammation and damage to the heart. The illness meant that he would miss too much school to continue, for the time being. Doctors also advised him to stop practicing martial arts, fearing that he could further damage his heart. He had been involved in martial arts since he was 9 years old. American Tang Soo Do — a martial art that began in Korea and was brought to the United States by Chuck Norris — became his passion.

“I developed a pretty deep depression because of the heart [problem],” Patrick said. “My entire identity was tied to martial arts. Then the doctor tells me, ‘You can’t do martial arts for a year.’”

Patrick decided to transfer to CSUN in 2008. It wasn’t just closer to home, it washome. Mary Ann began working for CSUN in 1991, ultimately reaching the associate vice president of student affairs position. In her role, she impacted thousands of students by advancing initiatives that improved student access and services, generated non-state funds for support of university programs, and raised the profile and reputation of CSUN on an international level. Peter began working for CSUN in 1984 and was a highly respected staff member at the Oviatt Library.

However, even at CSUN, Patrick had trouble overcoming his depression. It affected his ability to get to class. However, the nurturing environment at CSUN eventually helped him move forward, he said.

“When you’re faced with your mortality at 18, it really throws you [for] a loop,” Patrick said. “School was a struggle. But I had instructors willing to work with me. It was a unique thing about CSUN. I had people around me in my classes and my professors, who understood the struggle I was going through and helped me get through it.”

The Prager family faced another serious hurdle in 2012. Peter retired from the university in 2011, and then fell ill the following year. He was hospitalized when his organs began to fail.

“We had this deal where we would walk down the hall before we went into his [hospital] room, and the password we would say [to ourselves] was ‘courage,’” said Mary Ann. “[Peter] wouldn’t know about anything negative when we were in the hospital room. I’d say it. Patrick would say it. [My son] Gregory would say it.”

But on July 26, 2012, Peter passed away.

Mary Ann told Patrick it would be OK if he needed to take a break from school. Instead, Patrick was even more motivated to complete his degree.

“Something switched in my brain. [I thought], ‘It’s time to graduate. It’s time to move on,’” Patrick said. “I graduated two semesters later — got my ducks in a row. I don’t know what happened after my dad died. I really conquered that depression. I graduated from CSUN, and it started me down this laser-path goal of opening this martial arts studio.”

After college, Patrick managed his father-in-law’s fitness center in Big Bear, all part of a bigger plan. With the knowledge he gained at CSUN, his experience at the fitness center and his passion for martial arts, he set his sights on opening a martial arts studio. That goal became a reality in October.

Patrick said that without a degree, it would have been much more difficult to realize his dream. He said the classes at CSUN prepared him for small business ownership and the hurdles along the way.

Mary Ann is his business partner. In 2013, she retired from CSUN’s Division of Student Affairs. She continued to teach courses for the Tseng College until recently, when she started her own consulting business —The Edge Academic Coaching and Educational Services — where she advises parents and high school students on college admission.

“You pick up an entrepreneurial spirit at CSUN,” said Mary Ann, who holds an Ed.D. in educational leadership. “Especially in my area [of work in Student Affairs]. If people had good ideas, it was, ‘Go for it. Let’s try it out.’

“What I saw over and over was students [who] had grit and could stick it out to the end — even students whom others might write off,” Mary Ann said. “To me, that was a great thing.”

That word, she said, describes her kids and how they’ve managed to overcome challenges — especially Patrick.

“They had this constant reinforcement as kids: ‘Don’t give up,’” she said.

There are some other words that are similar to grit. Maybe they make up what grit is: Tenacity. Resilience. Courage. Self-Discipline. Integrity.

Now one CSUN alumnus is passing all of those words to his students.