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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

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Nearly 9,600 students will cross the Commencement stage this year.

2015 Student Standouts

The future is bright for SDSU's graduating class.
By SDSU News Team

The San Diego State University graduating class of 2015 includes future scientists, researchers, communicators and academics.

With nearly 9,600 degree candidates, these are just some of the students whose transformational time at SDSU has put them on the road to successful career paths.

College of Arts and Letters
College of Business Administration
The Division of Undergraduate Studies
College of Education
College of Engineering
College of Health and Human Services
College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts
College of Sciences
Imperial Valley Campus


Jeff Overbaugh, 21, B.A., psychology

Jeff Overbaugh
Psychology major Jeff Overbaugh is the starting long snapper for SDSU’s football team, as well as the football team's representative on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. He has seen action in all 26 games since 2012 and has been perfect over his career in snap attempts, going 97-for-97 in point-after touchdowns, 30-for-30 in field goal attempts and 105-for-105 in punts. Additionally, he has two career tackles.

“I chose SDSU because of the opportunity to both pursue my interests in psychology and to play Division I college football in such a beautiful place was too good to pass up,” he said.

“The experience that changed my life the most hasn't been a singular moment but rather the compounded interactions with incredible faculty who have had a wonderful impact on my academic career,” he said.

Overbaugh has a lot to be proud of, between an impressive academic career and a winning football career.

“My proudest achievement is winning a Mountain West title in 2012. As an individual, I am most proud of graduating in three years and being awarded SDSU's Male Student-Athlete of the Year,” he said. 

Sarah Haydock, 21, B.A., psychology
Sarah Haydock

Sarah Haydock has been named a three-time Mountain West Scholar Athlete and a two-time Mountain West Spring All-Academic Team athlete. Haydock has enjoyed pursuing both a psychology degree and an impressive track record. 

“I was fortunate enough to walk on to the track-and-field team here at SDSU when I was a freshman. Being a part of this team for the past four years has changed my life in countless ways. SDSU Athletics made me feel deeply connected to the school and proud to be an Aztec. There is something about putting on that uniform that made me truly feel as if I was a part of something that was larger than myself and that is the most rewarding experience that I have received here,” she said.

Haydock said her proudest achievement at SDSU was having the opportunity to be a part of Professor Allison Vaughn’s health and social relationships psychology lab.

“Being a part of this lab has given me several opportunities such as publishing papers and presenting research at three different conferences and symposiums. I am very proud of this because it will help me on my journey toward my professional career,” she said.

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Karen Calderon, 24, M.A., political science

The daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, Karen Calderon grew up in an immigrant enclave in Los Angeles. She entered SDSU’s M.A. program in Fall 2013, and has been excelling ever since. 

Karen Calderon
In the summer of 2014, she was selected to do an occupational health internship, in which she conducted interviews with immigrant mobile food vendors in City Heights, San Diego. She surveyed the vendors about the health hazards of their work and about the challenges they face trying to make a living. Calderon researches the issue of mobile food vending in terms of cultural discrimination and the right to public space. In this regard, she has been charting a path for herself as both a scholar and an activist for immigrant rights.

She chose SDSU in part for its strong Political Science Department.

“I found that the professors' focus on social justice creates an environment of equal opportunity, critical analysis and debate which pushes students to become involved in such issues — attributes not found in many other schools,” she said. 

“My proudest achievement while at SDSU was being selected to present parts of my master's thesis at the Western Political Science Association Conference and American Public Health Association Conference,” she said.

Jackson Faber, 24, M.A., history
Jackson Faber

Growing up in suburban Los Angeles, Jackson Faber became curious about using the past as a way to shine light on the present. Faber began his academic career as a U.S. history student at the University of California, Riverside. SDSU was his first choice among the master's programs he applied for.

The border region was an area Faber had developed a curiosity toward during his Latin American studies, and he came to realize that it is crucial for a historian to personally experience the region in which one wants to do research.

At SDSU he has cultivated his skills not only as a researcher, but also as an instructor. After starting as a grader, Faber moved to the position of teacher’s associate at the beginning of his second year. He hopes to teach community college after graduation and continue to pursue his own research interests as a local historian.

“As an SDSU graduate student I learned how history is crafted through research and the historian's own arguments and biases. All of the professors are very much into the construction of history and it helped me better understand my field,” he said.

“My favorite thing about being an Aztec is being a part of an institution with a long commitment to quality public education with faculty and staff who truly care about the students.”

Anne Li Situ, 23, B.A., international business

Anne Li Situ

Anne Li Situ has more international experience than almost any other student at SDSU. She is an international student from Mexico of Chinese heritage and is currently studying at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, Korea, to complete her semester abroad requirement.

Situ received the Global Korea Scholarship from the Korean government to study in their country, and is one of seven students from around the world to receive the scholarship, one of only two from the United States.

“Experiencing the diverse student body at SDSU has allowed me to meet people from a variety of backgrounds broadening my perspectives about the world. In addition, participating in a range of student organizations has helped me grow both professionally and personally,” she said.

Mayra Lopez, 25, M.A., history

Mayra Lopez
Mayra Lopez is an exceptional student, not only because she does outstanding work in the history department, but also because she has persevered in pursuing her education despite serious instability within her family and a lack of financial resources.

According to Lopez, “Work and income in my household were never stable and the idea that my parents would help me with any of my college expenses was never even considered.”

Afraid of incurring more debt to fund her graduate education, Lopez successfully applied for a number of academic scholarships and worked diligently each summer doing paid internships as a union organizer in order to save money. Additionally, she was a section instructor for a history class.

“Being given the opportunity to teach a section at SDSU has greatly impacted my life. When I started graduate school, I was very nervous. I was not sure if I had the necessary skills in research and writing to acquire a master's. However, my department has some of the most supportive and encouraging faculty I have ever met. Not only did they believe in my skills as a historian, but went as far as to grant me the opportunity to teach a section to undergraduates at SDSU. Their support and motivation gave me the confidence I needed,” she said. 

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Jennifer Dar, 25, B.S., business administration, emphasis in marketing, specialization in integrated marketing communications, minors in management and entrepreneurship

Jennifer Dar
Jennifer Dar is a very involved and active SDSU student. She is the president of the Society for Human Resource Management, a participant in the Faculty-Student Mentoring Program, and the student liaison for the San Diego Society for Human Resources Management.

Dar has also worked with the County of San Diego Health and Human Services. She coordinated community forum events to educate low-income families about immunizations and healthy lifestyles and served meals at the San Diego Rescue Mission. She also developed a university-wide program to prepare students for the job market by providing them with a career coach and professional headshots.

Dar’s future plans include founding a non-profit organization to help female entrepreneurs start their own endeavors.  She also plans to continue her education, earn a Ph.D. in organizational behavior and become a professor to continue her passion for helping students.

“My favorite thing about being an Aztec is knowing that a plethora of opportunities will still be available even after I graduate. With resources such as the alumni network, relationships you've built with professors, ties you have to professional associations from student organizations — the opportunities to connect with people are endless," Dar said.

"Being an Aztec for Life gives me a sense of security, which is more than I could ever ask for.”

Erika Union, 23, M.B.A., sports business

Erika Union

Erika Union was a scholar-athlete at California Polytechnic San Luis Obispo who joined the Sports M.B.A. program at SDSU shortly after graduation, with an aspiration of turning her passion for sports into a career.

To accomplish this goal, Union stayed connected to field hockey by serving as an assistant high school coach. While attending the intensive Sports M.B.A. program full-time and coaching, she managed to find time for four internships in the sports industry to gain experience and build her résumé, including one internship on campus promoting the Aztec sports teams on social media.

Her hard work paid off — she landed a full-time job in the industry three months prior to graduation. Union is now with International Speedway Corporation as an account executive at Auto Club Speedway, home of Southern California's NASCAR event, the Auto Club 400.

“As part of the Sports M.B.A. program, each class takes a trip to the Dominican Republic to study the relationship between Major League Baseball and Dominican society. The opportunity to travel there, get a feel of their way of life, and interact with the children there was amazing experience. It definitely altered my world view and gave me a new perspective on my life here in the States,” she said.

Karl Maes, 28, B.A., economics and B.S., business administration, emphasis in finance, management minor

Karl Maes

Karl Maes has excelled academically while holding several leadership roles on campus and giving back to the community. 

Last summer, he was selected by Wells Fargo for an internship as a financial analyst for the commercial banking group. He has been hired for a full-time position into the same group following graduation. Maes arranged his own study abroad and intensive language program in France over winter 2014 and continued to explore the world with travel to Asia and Argentina and has another trip planned for Europe after graduation.

He knew SDSU was a good fit for him from the second he set foot on campus.

“I came to Explore SDSU and even though it was pouring rain, the people I met and what I learned about the campus and the finance program convinced me. I fell in love with SDSU. I knew this place would be more than a degree for me. It would be home,” he said.

“My proudest moment was winning Quest for the Best, which encompasses academics, leadership, involvement and service. Winning this award is validation that I have been the best Aztec I could be and I am on the right track heading into the business world after graduation. It is the culmination of my experience at SDSU," Maes said.

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Ian Brazill, 22, B.A., communication, honors in interdisciplinary studies minor

Ian Brazill wasn’t sure what to expect when he visited SDSU for new student orientation, but quickly realized he fit right in.

Ian Brazill

“As soon I came to the prospective student orientation, I knew I was home,” Brazill said. “There was a certain vibe that everyone here gave off that was missing at all of the other universities I visited. Everyone here was incredibly welcoming and helpful.”

During his time at SDSU, Brazill has been a member of several honors societies including Phi Eta Sigma, Golden Key, Phi Kappa Phi, and Lambda Pi Eta. Brazill has also held multiple leadership positions in student organizations including serving as vice president of the Professional Studies and Fine Arts Civil Core and president of the SDSU Paintball Club.

Brazill’s proudest achievement at SDSU was in his ethnographic studies class. He was able to choose a culture or topic of interest and study it from within by taking part in its activities alongside regular participants. Brazill chose to join his classmate, Darron DeVillez in studying the therapeutic benefits of paintball for veterans with PTSD and active duty military personnel.

After completing their research, Professor Kurt Lindemann suggested they submit it to the Western States Communication Association Undergraduate Scholars Research Conference. It was accepted into the conference and the pair traveled to Spokane, WA, to present it to other communication scholars. Afterward, they submitted the research to SDSU’s Student Research Symposium and won the Dean’s Award.

After graduation Brazill wishes to continue his research, as well as maintain a career within San Diego. “My favorite part about being an Aztec is having a myriad of opportunities at my fingertips — I’ve been an honors student, club president, researcher, and even a world traveler. I wouldn’t have been any of these if I wasn’t an Aztec,” Brazill said.

Javon Ogbeide, 22, B.S., business administration, emphasis in management, specialization in entrepreneurship, honors in interdisciplinary studies minor

Javon Ogbeide

SDSU provided Javon Ogbeide with all the resources he needed to become the leader and scholar he is today.

“I chose SDSU because it had everything I needed to grow as a person including: my major, school spirit, great athletics and leadership opportunities,” Ogbeide said.

Ogbeide first took leadership as the secretary of the Student African American Brotherhood his sophomore year. He then became the president his junior year. In addition to the Honors Program, he is a member of Phi Eta Sigma, Phi Kappa Phi, Mortar Board, and Scholars Without Borders honor societies.

Ogbeide’s proudest achievement at SDSU was studying abroad in Rome, Italy.

“I was able to step out of my comfort zone and fully immerse myself in a totally different culture,” Ogbeide said. “I came back to the U.S. with a new mindset, as a global ambassador with new friends.”

Ogbeide is also a founding member of the Black Business Society, an SDSU homecoming prince and received the Quest for Best award for his outstanding work in service, leadership and scholarship.

“SDSU has a great business and entrepreneurship program, which I saw in the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center,” Ogbeide said. “Then hearing what being an Aztec for Life meant, I knew I wanted to be part of this family for the rest of my life.”

After graduation, Ogbeide plans to study abroad in Spain before working with Amazon as an area manager for their operations and fulfillment division.

Anna Salvador, 22, B.A., anthropology, minors in international security and conflict resolution and honors in interdisciplinary studies

Anna Salvador

Students may recognize Anna Salvador best in a red polo, walking backward, while giving tours as an SDSU ambassador. Salvador served as the 2014-2015 SDSU ambassador president, overseeing 80 other students who work as the official student representatives, orientation leaders and tour guides for the university.

“Serving as an SDSU ambassador provided me with so many opportunities for personal growth and leadership,” Salvador said. “This experience continues to shape who I am today and the decisions I have made for my future.”

In addition to the Honors Program, Salvador was a member of Phi Eta Sigma, Golden Key, Phi Kappa Phi, Mortar Board, Phi Beta Kappa, and Scholars Without Borders.

In Spring 2013, Salvador studied abroad at the University of Hyderabad in India. She also volunteered with International Student Volunteers, working on community development projects in Southern Africa.

After graduation, she will be pursuing a career in International Development.

“My favorite thing about being an Aztec is knowing that I will always have this community to support me and encourage me, wherever life takes me,” Salvador said.

Wendy Frisby, 33, B.A., liberal studies, honors in interdisciplinary studies minor

Wendy Frisby

Wendy Frisby is a San Diego native who worked in a small office for about 12 years before quitting her job to finish school.

“I've always had a heart for children and decided that I needed to finish my required courses so that I could transfer to SDSU,” Frisby said. “I resigned from my job in 2012 and transferred to SDSU as a liberal studies major.”

While at SDSU, Frisby received four scholarships, including the prestigious Gilman Study Abroad Scholarship and completed her Teaching English as a Second Language certificate.

“Through the international experience requirement at SDSU, I rediscovered my passion for travel and working in underprivileged communities.”

Frisby hopes to join the teaching credential program at SDSU in the fall. Her passion for traveling and teaching also compels her to want to teach abroad and possibly work with the Peace Corps after completing the credential program.

“I am truly grateful for the second chance I've been given in pursuing a career that I’m passionate about,” Frisby said.

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Alyssa Ashley, 29, E.d.S., educational specialist degree in school psychology

Alyssa Ashley

Alyssa Ashley is a Native American who specializes in increasing indigenous-centered teaching and learning within schools.

“I want to increase awareness and insight in the areas of historical and intergenerational trauma,” she said. “I want to help educators strengthen our native students’ sense of self and well-being.”

During her time at SDSU, Ashley was a part of the Native American Scholars and Collaborators Project, a federally funded program that develops specializations in working with Native youth that centers on indigenous methodologies, identity, colonization and decolonization. In this program, she has been a graduate assistant and a co-facilitator.

Ashley was also the first Native American student to receive the National Association of School Psychologists Minority Scholarship, which supports and highlights the accomplishments of minority students pursuing careers in school psychology.

Ashley plans to bring what she learned at SDSU back to the children and families in her community.

“I plan to return home to Dinetah, a Navajo reservation in Arizona, and work as a school psychologist,” she said. “I feel well-prepared to begin my journey and serve all children with skill, compassion and wisdom stemming from a position of love, resilience and hope.”

Sarah Bednar, 25, B.S., child development

Sarah Bednar

Sarah Bednar grew up in a small Ohio town and dreamed of attending college in California. She’s now fulfilling that dream, graduating from SDSU with a degree in child development.

While attending SDSU, Bednar worked with San Diego Youth Services (SDYS) in the Adoption Support Services Program, helping children who had adverse childhood experiences.

“My time with SDYS was one of the most eye-opening experiences,” she said. “It led to my passion for the importance of early intervention to combat negative effects of trauma.”

Moving forward, Bednar will continue her education in the Early Childhood Socio-Emotional and Behavior Regulation Intervention certificate program at SDSU.

“My overall goal is to have a positive impact on children’s lives by intervening during the early years of development,” she said.

Kiana Caton, 21, B.S., child development, Spanish minor

Kiana Caton

Kiana Caton will graduate with a wealth of experiences both on and off campus.

Throughout her college career, she has been involved in Associated Students, Jane K. Smith Cap and Gown Chapter and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She was the recipient of a Quest for the Best award and was a part of the Homecoming Court. Caton also held several internships at Henry Clay Elementary School, Diego Valley Charter School and the San Diego County Office of Violence Prevention.

She was named Miss San Diego County All-American 2014 and Miss College Grove 2014, serving as an ambassador to the her communities and a role model for the empowerment of young women.

Caton said her proudest achievement in college was receiving a Quest for the Best award.

“I feel that this award is a culmination of all my unique experiences, achievements and talents that have made for such an amazing and memorable career at SDSU,” she said.

After graduation, Caton plans to apply to law school and study trial law.

Matt Lawson, 30, M.A., education, concentration in educational leadership

Matt Lawson

Matt Lawson’s innovative thinking benefitted the San Diego community. He currently serves as the dean of students at Mira Mesa High School and is leading a restorative justice program.

“The program lowered the suspension rate at our school to an all-time low,” he said. “Currently, we are 28 suspensions below where we were this time last year.”

Lawson also holds positions as the athletics director and math resources teacher at Mira Mesa High, and he created a program that is the first of its kind for the math department.

“The Competency-Based Integrated 1 Program has seen a five percent improvement in the pass rates as compared to last year,” he said. “Currently we have seen a five percent improvement in pass rates as compared to last year and we are hoping to see continued improvement.”

Lawson is grateful for the academic challenges he faced during his time at SDSU.

“Along with the challenge comes the reward of knowing I am getting the best education a school can offer,” he said. “My experiences here have given me the confidence in myself to make important decisions that affect the lives of those adults and students around me.”

Ultimately, Lawson’s goal is to become a vice principal then pursue a career as a high school principal.

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Megan Brooks Lacy, 22, B.S., mechanical engineering

Megan Brooks Lacy

Megan Lacy is a San Diego native who graduated from San Pasqual High School. Both of her parents are Aztec alumni.

“I chose SDSU because it already felt like home,” Lacy said. “Both of my parents graduated as proud Aztecs and had been bringing me to football games since infancy.”

As a freshman she applied to be a Project Lead The Way summer intern where she helped teachers run their trainings.

She also joined SDSU's Society of Women Engineers chapter, which only had eight active members when she joined. Today she serves as president of the organization, which now has 50 active members. Lacy has been an advocate for the group and has encouraged her peers and future female engineers to pursue their passion in engineering.

Lacy has also participated in Q&A panels to share her experience and encourage younger students to consider attending SDSU.  

“My favorite thing about being an Aztec is the enthusiasm, the pride and the electric atmosphere our school is known for,” Lacy said. “Work hard, play hard. GO AZTECS!”

After graduating, Lacy plans to apply for a full-time engineering position in San Diego. She hopes to gain experience in the field before pursuing a master's degree in mechanical engineering at SDSU. She plans to stay involved with SWE at SDSU to give back to the organization that helped her become a better leader and offered her so many opportunities.

Kent Minrou Kurashima, 22, B.S., mechanical engineering, energy studies minor

Kent Minrou Kurashima

With home roots in Hawaii, Kent Minrou Kurashima selected SDSU because he wanted to attend a large university with a great, hands-on engineering program that would allow him to explore different paths and grow as a scholar.

However, in 2011 he found himself missing Hawaii, so he co-founded the Hawaii Club for Native Hawaiians, a group where students could come together to support each other.

As an undergraduate, Kurashima made the most of the opportunities available to him. He participated in The Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program, and began conducting research in Professor Fletcher Miller's Solar Simulator lab. He also made studying abroad a priority during his time at SDSU.

“Studying abroad as an engineer was very rewarding because I was able to learn from and immerse myself in various cultures. I gained new perspectives and traveled to new and exciting places,” Kurashima said.  

Kurashima has been on the dean's list for multiple semesters and is a member of Tau Beta Pi and Mortar Board.  As a MARC scholar, he was able to continue his research with Miller and travel to the University of Colorado, Boulder to conduct research in micro/nano-enabled thermal management the summer 2014.

This led Kurashima to apply and be accepted to the Ph.D. program in mechanical engineering at University of Colorado, Boulder to begin Fall 2015.  Kurashima was also accepted to a program at UCLA, but the research at Boulder fit his interests in engineering and energy studies.

Jeffrey Erickson, 22, B.S., aerospace engineering, mathematics minor 

Jeffrey Erickson

Jeffrey Erickson demonstrated a passion for engineering at a very young age. Involvement in his school’s For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics program inspired a love for math, science and design starting in third grade.

“SDSU’s aerospace engineering program stood out to me, with its numerous hands-on student projects and the university’s notoriety as a research institution,” Erickson said.

When he joined SDSU, he had enough advanced coursework to skip freshman level classes. Erickson took advantage of the opportunities offered by the diverse aerospace engineering program.

“Working in a research lab on campus has changed the way I tackle problems and has granted me real life exposure to engineering practices,” Erickson said.

Erickson became an active member of the Engineering Honor Society Tau Beta Pi, and would eventually become the treasurer for the organization. Erickson also became involved with the Rocket Project, designing electronic printed circuit boards for the rocket’s control systems.

He was also awarded a STEM Scholarship for research participation during his junior and senior years at SDSU.

Jastine Ortiz, 23, B.S., aerospace engineering

Jastine Ortiz

Jastine Ortiz’s passion for space exploration inspired her to major in aerospace engineering. Along with the heavy load of labs and classes, Ortiz made time to get involved and become a leader at SDSU.

She has been involved in the MESA program and has served as an academic excellence workshop leader and a member of the SDSU Rocket Project. Ortiz has also served as vice president for Tau Beta Phi engineering honor society.

“I’m proud of the impact I’ve had at SDSU,” Ortiz said. “It’s small in the giant scope of things, but being involved with MESA and Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society I feel like I’ve given back what I’ve gotten out of SDSU to my peers and our community’s youth.”

Ortiz was selected for the NASA California Space Grant Consortium Summer Internship through the MESA program and has conducted research on the Shallow Water Table with Professor Gustaff Jacobs.  She is currently interning with Northrop Grumman while conducting research in Professor Balbir Narang’s lab.

She plans to return for a master’s degree in aerospace engineering, "I love the spirit that comes with being an Aztec because I always saw myself as a warrior and it feels good to say that I am one,” Ortiz said.

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Richard Armenta, 29, Ph.D., public health, concentration in epidemiology

Richard Armenta is already working toward his doctoral degree.

Richard Armenta

“My proudest moment at SDSU was winning the Best Student Research Presentation at the Epidemiology Research Exchange,” he said. “I am passionate about conducting research that impacts public health and it was humbling to be recognized for my work.

Armenta worked on a study to assess HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis risk among persons who inject drugs in San Diego. He also participated in VIIDAI, an international experience offered at SDSU. He set up a free clinic for three days in San Quintin, Baja Calif., to address health issues in that community. Armenta is also the co-author of six peer-reviewed publications, with four additional papers currently under review.

He was a recipient of many awards and grants throughout his time at SDSU, having received the National Institute of Drug Abuse t32 training grant as well as a two-year diversity supplement. He also received the University of California President’s Diversity Dissertation Fellowship, which is only granted to up to six students per year.

After he walks across the stage, he will serve as an adjunct professor at the University of California, San Diego, and work full-time as an epidemiologist at the Naval Health Research Center in Point Loma.

Felicity Fung, 29, M.S., nursing, advanced practice nursing of adults and the elderly

Felicity Fung

Felicity Fung is the epitome of an Aztec For Life. This semester she earned her master’s in nursing, her second degree from SDSU. In 2008, she graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in nursing.

In addition to working toward her master’s degree, she works as a registered nurse at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla in the Cardiovascular Stroke Center. During her time at SDSU she earned a national certification in acute and progressive care nursing in pain management and was able to maintain a 3.9 GPA.

Fung is grateful for her education at SDSU and believes that the community was a strong factor in her success.

“I am beyond blessed to have a group of wonderful professors who strive to optimize learning experiences and have nurtured me throughout the graduate program,” she said. “They have been my greatest inspiration in becoming an advanced practice nurse.”

After graduation Fung plans to get married and then continue to work toward her goal of becoming a cardiovascular nurse practitioner here in San Diego.

James Hughes, 36, B.A., social work, specialization in community corrections case management

James Hughes

James Hughes has wasted no time as a student at SDSU. He is the president of the Black Social Work Student Caucus, a member of Scholars Without Borders, Sigma Alpha Lambda, Lions Key International Leadership Society, National Association of Social Workers and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Hughes currently serves as the president of the Phi Alpha National Honor Society for social work students, Upsilon Sigma Chapter, which was recently recognized as an official student organization of SDSU.

“My last two years as a student at SDSU have provided me with a great deal of opportunity to lead and inspire other students and faculty,” he said. “My goal was always to motivate other students to take the steps necessary to have an educationally enriching and distinct experience during their time at SDSU.”

In 2014, he attended the SDSU Health Career Opportunity Summer Research program where he was mentored by the director of research in the SDSU School of Social Work, Susan Woodruff. He was able to present this research at the Undergraduate Research Symposium in summer 2014 at the University of California, San Diego.

Hughes has been accepted into an advanced standing Master’s of Social Work program at the University of Southern California. He will begin this accelerated program in July 2015 and will graduate in May 2016.

Melanie Marquez, 21, B.S., foods and nutrition, honors in interdisciplinary studies minor

Melanie Marquez

Melanie Marquez’s favorite part about being an Aztec is how much she’s grown as a person because of all the opportunities SDSU gave her.

During her undergraduate career, Marquez was a part of the Educational Opportunities Program, Student Nutrition Organization, SDSU HeadSTRONG, Golden Key International Honor Society, the Jane K. Smith Cap and Gown chapter of the Mortar Board National College Senior Honor Society, the University Honors College and serves as the executive vice president of the College of Health Human Services Council.

Marquez also values giving back to the community. Within these positions, she has helped raise over $1,500 for San Diego Veterans and collected more than 10,000 pounds of food for Aztecs Rock Hunger. She has also worked to feed and clothe the homeless through organizations like Feeding America.

Marquez attributes her growth as a person and a leader to her time at SDSU.

“Because of all the opportunities that I was able to take advantage of here I made myself do everything to the highest standard and always gave my best effort,” she said. “It pushed me into working harder in everything I did, and I learned I was capable of so much more.”

After graduation, Marquez will attend the University of Minnesota to work toward a master’s in food science.

Christina Olson, M.P.H., public health, concentration in health promotion and behavioral science

Christina Olson

Christina Olson has been the recipient of many scholarships and awards related to her research efforts.

She received the LT Florence B. Choe Memorial Scholarship as well as the Provost Award at the SDSU Student Research Symposium, where she was honored for having an outstanding poster presentation across all categories.

Through the Institute for Behavioral and Community Health, Olson was involved with the El Valor De Nuestra Salud (The Value of Our Own Health) study with Guadalupe Ayala, the associate dean of the College of Health and Human Services.

Through this work Olson received the National Institutes of Health Training Program Diversity Supplement, a research grant that allowed her to create her own study. The focus of the study is to better understand the availability and placement of savory snacks and sugary beverages within small food stores that are located near elementary schools.

Currently she is working on multiple publications on topics that include acculturation and diet, recruitment and retention of Latinos to public health studies and types of agreements held between small food store owners and distributors of energy dense snacks.

From her time at SDSU, Olson believes the relationships she’s made have become invaluable.

“My peers and co-workers have given me a much better understanding of what good teamwork looks like and how beneficial it can be,” she said. “I take from SDSU a passion to improve community health and decrease health disparities as well as confidence in my personal skills to pursue endeavors."

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Casey Teague, 30, B.S., hospitality and tourism management, emphasis in hotel operations and management

Casey Teague

For Casey Teague, leadership is not only a passion, it is a lifestyle. Serving as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, Teague was stationed overseas for nearly four years during his active duty career. He was also attached to an Army combat engineer unit during a deployment to Eastern Afghanistan in 2012.

Once enrolled at SDSU in January 2013, Teague found his footing in the L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and stepped into the role of president of a new student organization, the Lodging Management Student Association.

“Being a part of a student organization was very useful to me, helped me expand my leadership skills and network with a number of potential employers," Teague said. “Going on a study abroad trip to Nicaragua also helped me to realize my love for surfing.”

Teague earned a GPA of 3.55 and received more than $15,000 in academic scholarships during his time at SDSU.

“There are a lot of great opportunities in the hospitality industry, but the best way to take advantage of them is to network as much as possible,” Teague said.

Recognizing his strength in leadership, prior to graduation, Starwood Hotels & Resorts offered Teague a management in training position at The Palace hotel in San Francisco.
Chelsie Punter, 21, B.A., journalism, emphasis in media studies, business marketing minor

Chelsie Punter

Chelsie Punter grew up with a huge passion for dance and the arts. From a young age, she attended a performing arts academy and in Sacramento. In 2011, she took a leap of faith and accepted SDSU as her college of choice without ever visiting the campus. This worked out well for Punter, who has made an impact in the residence halls and on campus during her four-year college career.

“I remember receiving my acceptance e-mail and jumping for joy in my kitchen,” Punter said. “After I saw the ‘Welcome Aztecs’ video, I knew that this was the school for me — best decision I ever made!”

Once she arrived on campus, she fell in love with the journalism program and became involved with residential education. Punter worked as a residential adviser for three years and balanced multiple media relations internships and career opportunities while excelling academically.

After graduation, Punter will be relocating to pursue a job in Orange County.

“With graduation on the horizon, I have decided to take my experiences from the school of business and pursue a career in sales in Irvine,” Punter said. “ I have grown tremendously in the four years I have been at SDSU and look forward to what the future holds.”

Darron DeVillez, 55, B.A., communication

Darron DeVillez

Darron DeVillez has served his country, community and campus. DeVillez served in a special military mission during the Iran-Contra conflict in 1980.

He currently volunteers at Stand Down, an event benefitting homeless veterans every summer. This issue is close to his heart because just six years ago, DeVillez himself was a homeless veteran. One day, his ship captain found DeVillez at Veterans Village of San Diego and asked him to attend Stand Down.

There, he was introduced to a doctor who agreed to help him get back on track. The captain encouraged him to try one course at Grossmont College. He joined the speech and debate team, where he eventually won three national medals. Based on his performance at Grossmont, he was selected by the Chancellor's Office as the California Community College "Cal Works Student of the Year.”  Recruited by several four-year colleges, DeVillez chose SDSU.

During his time at SDSU, DeVillez has had several accomplishments including winning the Dean’s Award at the Student Research Symposium, making the Dean's List in his college and being awarded the Robert Benjamin Scholarship. 

DeVillez is also the captain of the speech and debate team and was accepted into SDSU's master's of communication program.

“I can tell you that for the first time in my life, at 55 years old, I am living the dream,” DeVillez said.

David Hernandez, 22, B.A., journalism, Spanish minor

David Hernandez

As he traveled down California’s coast to visit colleges that he was accepted into, SDSU was David Hernandez’s last stop. The perfect weather and beautiful campus quickly helped him make his decision on where to attend.

His passion for writing led him to immerse himself in all forms of the university’s media. He works as an online content intern, writing for The Santa Cruz Sentinel and as an iPad reporter for AztecNews, SDSU’s mobile reporting app. One of his favorite memories from his four years at SDSU has been working as the news editor for The Daily Aztec.

“I've gotten invaluable experience and I've grown immensely during my time at The Daily Aztec,” Hernandez said. “I've also built connections with people who I admire and consider to be friends.”

Another accomplishment and highlight for Hernandez was studying abroad in Barcelona during his spring 2014 semester.

“It was one of my greatest accomplishments because it took a lot of work to be able to go abroad — there's nothing harder than coordinating a class schedule at a foreign university — and you have to keep up the hard work to graduate on time,” he said.

“SDSU excels in so many different areas, from sports to academics, and those of us who are part of the SDSU community know just how much.”

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Tenille Taggart, 30, B.A., psychology, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies minor

Tenille Taggart

Tenille Taggart has more research experience under her belt than most bachelor’s degree candidates.  She’s an undergraduate research assistant in two psychology labs and co-author of seven research manuscripts. She was also an award winner in the 2014 SDSU Student Research Symposium.

“My proudest achievement while at SDSU has been my psychology undergraduate honors thesis. Not only was I was able to envision a research idea and completely bring it to fruition, but I also applied for and was awarded a research grant which fully funded my data collection as well as paid for my travel to present my data at an international conference. I learned so much from this experience that will be invaluable to the rest of my career,” she said.

“My favorite thing about being an Aztec is that there are countless opportunities for scholarship, leadership, service and overall campus involvement. These are the factors that have ensured my success throughout my undergraduate experience and what have allowed me to continue on to earn my Ph.D.,” she said.

Omair Zubairi, 36, Ph.D., computational science

Omair Zubairi

Omair Zubairi is an exceptional SDSU student. His thesis research is on the structure and stability of deformed compact stars, which is currently a very relevant topic of theoretical astrophysics and numerical relativity.

Researchers from around the globe have tried to find solutions for Einstein’s field equations for many years, without success. Developing an elegant and tricky mathematical formalism, Zubairi managed to change this. The results of his research are of key importance for the interpretation of low-mass black holes and the detection of gravitational waves, a key prediction of Einstein’s General Relativity Theory.

Since fall 2014, Zubairi has also worked as an adjunct professor in the Department of Physics and Engineering at Palomar College, where he teaches Principles of Physics and Modern Physics. After graduation, he’s headed to Boston for a tenure-track faculty position at the Wentworth Institute of Technology.

“I am genuinely proud of being an Aztec.  I have been at SDSU since 2002 — 5.5 years for my B.S. degree (with two minors) two years for my masters, and four years for my Ph.D. I have been here for more than a decade — who wouldn't have pride in that? I have seen changes at SDSU — all for the better. I have gone to many different conferences throughout my doctoral studies and now the physics community realizes SDSU students and their success,” he said.

Maneet Deol, 23, B.S., biology, emphasis in cellular and molecular biology, sociology minor

Maneet Deol
Maneet Deol is an Indian-born Canadian citizen who has taken tremendous pride in being an Aztec. His passion for leadership, academic excellence and service is evident in his involvement on and off-campus.

He began his path at SDSU to pursue a B.S. degree in biology, which he hopes will eventually lead to a career in medicine post-graduation. But along the way, he explored a minor in sociology, which fostered a great appreciation for education. Deol got involved in Associated Students initially as an active member of the elections committee.

This gave him a strong understanding of A.S. bylaws. His experience motivated him to earn a position as one of the first justices on the Judicial Affairs Council. That opportunity triggered a passion for continued service to his university and allowed him to serve as a student-at-large member on the Board of Directors of A.S. this past year.

He plans to pursue his love for graphic design and creativity post graduation as a potential business venture, and is taking a gap year before committing to medical school. He aspires to become a cardiac surgeon or a gastroenterologist, eventually serving in upper-level medical administration enhancing health care policy and procedures.

“Just being a part of the SDSU experience has definitely changed my life. I did not imagine I would take away so much from being on campus these past years, the leadership opportunities, living in the dorms, and working with great mentors has been inspiring to say the least,” he said.

Alicia V. Zamudio Montes de Oca
Alicia V. Zamudio Montes de Oca, 24, B.S., biology, and B.A., psychology

A first-generation college student, Alicia Zamudio was born and raised in Mexico City. Her passion for helping others moved her to leave family and friends to attend college and major in psychology.

Zamudio's fascination with science started after she took a physiological psychology course taught by Professor Jennifer Thomas. She learned about advances in neuroscience and scientific research that she previously considered science fiction. Curious to learn more, she joined Professor Ralph Feuer’s lab and soon after added biology as a major.

Currently, Zamudio is doing an internship with Professor Jing Crystal Zhao at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, La Jolla. She is conducting research that investigates modifications to RNA that switch genes on or off in cancer and stem cells.

After graduating from SDSU, Zamudio will continue the pursuit of her passion for helping others by earning her Ph.D. in molecular biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was admitted to nine other programs, but chose MIT because everyone there, she says, “is committed to doing excellent science, training excellent scientists, and making a broader impact with their science.”

“Graduating from SDSU will be my greatest achievement. When I started college I had no idea how the U.S. education system worked, and I struggled at the beginning, but, luckily, I got the hang of it over the years. I didn't do this by myself, it is thanks to the generosity of scholarship donors and training programs funded by the NIH, NSF and CIRM that I will be graduating this May,” she said.

“I really love the people here. So many faculty, staff and fellow classmates at SDSU want to make a difference in the world. And what makes them great is that they not only have the intent, they are also willing to put in the effort,” she said.

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Holly Lynn Shaffner, 46, B.A., journalism, emphasis in public relations, communication minor

Holly Lynn Shaffner
Holly Lynn Shaffner served in the U.S. Coast Guard for 24 years and retired in 2011 as a lieutenant commander. During her Coast Guard career, she was attached to operational, training and staff assignments, including serving more than eight years aboard various ships. She was awarded several awards for her meritorious service.

She began her academics at SDSU in the Fall of 2011. Since she has been on campus, she has been very involved with the Student Veteran Organization serving on the executive board as a mentor for her peers and she has planned several events. She is also involved with the SDSU veteran mentoring program where she mentors newly admitted veterans and dependents though their first two semesters.

Shaffner was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and finds time to give back to the American Cancer Society. She is one of nine national trainers for the society, has recruited 15 volunteers for the Reach to Recovery program and has helped with several fundraising events. Through all of this, she maintains a 3.3 GPA and finds time to travel, golf and watch baseball.

When Shaffner graduates in May, she hopes to find a job in public relations or communications in which she helps veterans.

“The experience that changed me the most was the year I was nominated to homecoming court,” she said. “I think my exact words were, ‘You know if I get selected to be homecoming queen, I could be the oldest queen in SDSU history.’ A room full of 50 people told me to accept their nomination and they said, '40 is the new 20.'”

A group of student veterans nominated her to the Homecoming Court in 2012. Despite her initial reservations, she realized that it would give her the opportunity to represent the student veterans on campus, and do a spring project for veterans.

“So I assembled my package and competed. As it turns out, I had the best time during the interviews and my favorite part was meeting AMAZING students. They accepted me for who I was and thought it was cool that I was a veteran,” she said. Though she didn’t win, it was an experience she will never forget.

“I have totally embraced being an Aztec. I put on my red and black outfits, go to football games, pep rallies, basketball games and I am the first to lead a S-D-S-U chant. There’s a feeling that I can’t express when there are thousands of fans cheering on our Aztecs. It makes me proud to be an Aztec. I also love our slogans, 'Leadership Starts Here' and 'Aztec for Life,' as they resonate with me every day,” she said.

Melissa Miller, 26, B.A, psychology

Melissa Miller served in the United States Air Force from 2006 to 2012. She served as a security forces member at four different units, one of which was in direct support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She received a Meritorious Service Medal after her first deployment, and was later named “Top Cop” in her 500-plus member unit, and “Airman of the Quarter” for her base.

After separation from the military, Miller attended Crafton Hills College, where she received two associate’s degrees, one in psychology and the other in sociology.

During her first semester, she took advantage of the work-study program and began working in the Admissions and Records Department where she assisted veteran, active duty, reserve, and military dependent students with educational benefits and the admissions process. Miller then transferred to SDSU to pursue her bachelor’s degree in psychology.

She is an honors student and a member of the Psi Chi National Honors Society, and is currently working at the Joan and Art Barron Veterans Center.

“I applied to four different schools throughout California and was accepted to all of them. The primary reason I chose SDSU was because of its reputation. I wanted to attend a prestigious school that is known nationwide. Plus, you can't beat the location!” she said.

Erika Yarely Armenta, 29, B.S., biology, psychology minor

Erika Yarely Armenta
Erika Yarely Armenta is originally from Los Angeles. She is the second-oldest out of four siblings, and a first-generation college student. Armenta joined the U.S. Navy out of high school and served for seven years as a hospital corpsman earning an associate's degree to become a physical therapy assistant. She served a tour in Kuwait and was honorably discharged in 2010.

Armenta is graduating with a B.S. in biology and a minor in psychology. Her summer research experience led her to a job as a student research assistant for Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, Pacific. She is also the president of the Student Veteran Organization, which provides student veterans with camaraderie, internships and networking opportunities.

She helped organize resume writing workshops that prepared more than 30 student veterans for job opportunities; coordinated the first Student Veteran Organization Networking Event for all student veterans in San Diego in preparing for the Veteran's Day Parade; co-hosted the War Memorial Vigil for the War Memorial Ceremony on campus; and is co-hosting a veteran charity event at SDSU to raise money for disabled and homeless veterans.

Armenta lives with her two dogs, Lily and Scruffles, who she rescued in Okinawa, Japan.

“I chose SDSU because it is a veteran-friendly university and I wanted to be a part of a community that would welcome me,” she said. “It has one of the California State University's first Veteran's Center, and the nation's first Veteran's House that provides veterans with campus housing.”

“As a veteran, I needed the support from other veterans. I got involved with the Student Veteran Organization and I met some of my best friends who I owe a lot of my success to. There were countless times I felt like quitting, but their support and encouragement allowed me to succeed and move forward,” she said.

John Daniel Hodges, 31, B.A., journalism

John Daniel Hodges

John Daniel Hodges served in the United States Air Force and United States Marine Corps and continues to serve as a marine reservist.

He deployed to Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan.  As an active duty Marine, he was a White House Sentry, and currently is a reserve instructor at the School of Infantry West.  While at SDSU he was a member of the Student Veteran Organization, a staff writer for The Daily Aztec and a member of the SDSU chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

He also had the chance to go to Normandy, France, and learn about the D-Day invasion firsthand with one of his classes.

“My professor from SDSU and the group we went with did a great job in really teaching us about that day, and I made some lifelong friends with the people from SDSU I went over there with,” he said.

“I love that almost wherever you go, especially in San Diego, you are likely to meet an SDSU alumni, and there is an instant connection.  I’ve made some great friends here, that I’ll have for the rest of my life.”

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Victoria Katherine Carrillo, 21, B.S., criminal justice

Victoria Katherine Carrillo

Carrillo entered the Imperial Valley University Partnership program in 2012 and graduated in December 2014 with honors and distinction in her major. During her freshman year, she attended the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities conference, completed an internship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and presented research at SDSU’s Student Research Symposium.

“My proudest achievement at SDSU is graduating with my bachelor’s degree in two-and-a-half years while also being involved in extracurricular activities, internships and maintaining a high GPA,” Carrillo said. 

Carrillo will be attending SDSU's main campus to pursue her master’s degree in public administration.

“I love being a part of a diverse, hardworking student body,” Carrillo said. “From classes and the Aztec Core leadership retreat, I’ve made many friends from different ages, cultures and backgrounds that all share a similar desire for public service.”

Gabriel Duron, 22, B.A, history

Gabriel Duron never planned on attending a university, but after some convincing from his mother he applied and was accepted.

“When I received my acceptance letter into SDSU, it honestly felt rejuvenating,” Duron said. “It was as if SDSU was giving me a chance at something I never deemed possible for myself.”

Duron became president of Aztecs Around the World and assisted with encouraging students to do a faculty-led program to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Graduation is bittersweet for Duron who will miss the friendships he has made in college.

“The classes were good, the faculty was great, but the other Aztecs, my friends, were the best,” Duron said.

Duron applied  for master's programs and has been admitted to the University of San Diego, the University of California, Davis, the University of California, Hastings College of the Law and the University of Southern California. He has not yet decided where he will be going.

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