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Friday, April 23, 2021

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SDSU Imperial Valley outstanding student Chelsea Castañeda with her professor and mentor Jeanette Shumaker. Photo: Adrian Gonzalez for SDSU SDSU Imperial Valley outstanding student Chelsea Castañeda with her professor and mentor Jeanette Shumaker. Photo: Adrian Gonzalez for SDSU
 


SDSU Imperial Valley’s 2019 Outstanding Student and Her Mentor

An English student and her professor received this year’s top awards.
By Padma Nagappan
 

“I’m not outgoing, my muscles don’t always work the way I want them to, and this award was validation that you can do it too.”

Overcoming odds to become outstanding student of the year, Chelsea Castañeda embodies the success students at San Diego State University Imperial Valley can experience when they persevere and make full use of opportunities. 
 
She was given the award by faculty in SDSU Imperial Valley who voted for her. Nominees are graduating seniors with a GPA of 3.5 or above. They in turn nominate the professor who had the most influence on them, and she chose Jeanette Shumaker, her English professor.
 
Castañeda is a mother of three who took breaks from her studies to have each of her children, and is grappling with health challenges while forging ahead with her goals. Receiving the outstanding student award for 2019 carries special significance for her. 
 
“I have muscular dystrophy and I don’t share that with a lot of people, but I shared more with Dr. Shumaker about my home life and she is a really nice mentor,” Castañeda said. “I’m proud to have received this award. I’m not outgoing, my muscles don’t always work the way I want them to, and this award was validation that you can do it too.”
 
The 30-year-old transfer student went to community college at the Imperial Valley College after high school, before taking a break to have a baby and transferring to SDSU Imperial Valley. Despite long breaks each time she had a child, she persisted in returning to college and graduated this spring with a degree in English. She is back in school again for a teaching credential program; her dream is to be an elementary school teacher.
 
She commutes from Brawley, about 45 minutes from the SDSU campus in Calexico, and will soon be the mother of four, when she delivers her youngest in January next year. When she applied for a teaching job at a local school, the principal who herself had been an outstanding student in her time, was immediately impressed with Castañeda’s persistence and the honor bestowed on her. 
 
 “Chelsea is a terrific student and her papers analyzing literature are very perceptive,” Shumaker said. 
 
Compassion and open dialogue

Her students describe Shumaker as kind and always willing to help them. The professor of English has been teaching at the Imperial Valley campus for 27 years, and this is the second time in her career that she has been selected for the honor. 
 
Shumaker bonds easily with her students, who range from freshmen to seniors. 
 
“Many of my students come from low-income backgrounds and it’s great to see them be the first one in their families to get a college degree and develop a profession,” Shumaker said.
 
She teaches a mix of classes spanning British Literature, women in literature, children’s literature, composition, research and writing. Shumaker encourages her students to develop their own interpretation of literature, and prefers to lead seminar style classes where she lectures for a short while before opening it up for an active dialogue with students. 
 
Shumaker lives in the mountains of Jacumba, surrounded by acres of rocks that offer good hiking, and commutes an hour one-way to the Calexico campus three times a week.
 
“I love teaching in Imperial Valley because the classes are small,” Shumaker said. “I often have the same students twice, sometimes more often over their student career, and I can see them grow and bloom.”
 
She teaches on occasion in the San Diego campus where she is affiliated with the College of Arts and Letters, and leads students on summer abroad trips, going to places they discussed in the books they read for classes, in Spain, England and Mexico. A trip to Italy is in the works for next year. 
 
Castañeda found Shumaker to be “very intelligent and very kind, she offered me an independent study course. Anything I ever needed, she was willing to help me, which was so unique. She is a really great teacher.”