News Release| CSULA; Cal State L.A.; Los Angeles; CSU; Hearst Award


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Former gang-member, future registered nurse
— Kimberely Suarez aims to help others heal

Los Angeles, CA – By definition a hard life is not easy; and turning one around can be downright painful. Kimberely Suarez knows.

A 26-year-old junior in Cal State L.A.’s nursing program, she is undergoing a series of 11 laser-burning treatments to remove olde English tattoos from up and down her arms. Despite a topical anesthetic, it hurts much more than getting tattoos in the first place.  Indeed, she says, it hurts more than a C-section—and she’s had two. But tattoo removal is just another step forward along the path toward becoming an effective and respected nurse.

Suarez has been on that path steadily for several years after spending most of her adolescence as a gang member in East Los Angeles. She plans to graduate with a bachelor of science in nursing in 2010.

Inspired by her perseverance and academic excellence, the California State University Board of Trustees on Tuesday, Sept. 16, will bestow upon Suarez its 2008-09 William R. Hearst/CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement.

Accompanied by her mother and two young sons, she will be one of 23 students from throughout the 23-campus CSU system whom the board will honor at its meeting in Long Beach.

Suarez’s tattoos appeared in a life chapter that began with dropping out of school at age 13 and joining a gang in East Los Angeles. She did time in juvenile hall and on probation while too many of her neighborhood friends were killed. She went to a continuation school outside of her community because of gang-rivalry issues.

“I wondered,” she says, “‘What do you do when you turn 18 and you’re still alive?’”

She worked for minimum wage at a car rental and for low pay taping drywall.  “It was hard work, and I wasn’t making an impact on anybody’s lives,” she says.

Now a graduate of East Los Angeles College and the 26-year-old mother of two toddler boys, she is intensely focused on becoming a nurse, inspired by the care she received when her first son was born three years ago (her youngest son is 2).

She also once a month provides guidance to at-risk youth emerging from a “last-chance” high school program at the Estrada Courts Community Center – the “projects” by her house.

“I let them know if you want to be self-sufficient, you can do it. It takes education,” she says. “It means more from someone who’s been in their situation. I tell them, ‘I come from where you come from.’” And she plans to return someday as a nurse at County/USC hospital. Meanwhile, she heads resolutely forward–and tries to encourage and guide others in her community to find their own brighter future.

In his letter nominating Suarez for the Hearst/CSU Trustees Award, Cal State L.A. President James M. Rosser wrote: “Based on her extensive volunteerism helping at-risk youth in her old neighborhood steer clear of—or escape from—the pitfalls she once encountered, I am confident that her continuing academic success will lead her to help positively redirect the lives of many others and, in so doing, help transform her community.

“Her instructors consistently portray her as an individual whose exemplary academic performance is marked by sincerity, initiative and engagement—characteristics that will contribute greatly to her future success as a nurse and community health advocate for youth.

“Through her persistence and resilience,” Rosser wrote, “she has overcome great challenges, achieved scholarly distinction, and advanced her clear and abiding passion to make the world a better, safer and healthier place.”

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Additional general contacts and resources

William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees' Award for Outstanding Achievement (CSU Chancellor’s Office introduction site):

William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees' Award for Outstanding Achievement (Cal State L.A. Financial Aid Office fact sheet):

Other recent Hearst Scholars at Cal State L.A.

2007 - Lesley Anne Asistio

2006 – Ana Diaz



Working for California since 1947: The 175-acre hilltop campus of California State University, Los Angeles is at the heart of a major metropolitan city, just five miles from Los Angeles’ civic and cultural center. More than 20,000 students and 205,000 alumni—with a wide variety of interests, ages and backgrounds—reflect the city’s dynamic mix of populations. Six colleges offer nationally recognized science, arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education and humanities programs, among others, led by an award-winning faculty. Cal State L.A. is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Jazz Orchestra and to a unique university center for gifted students as young as 12. Programs that provide exciting enrichment opportunities to students and community include an NEH- and Rockefeller-supported humanities center; a NASA-funded center for space research; and a growing forensic science program, housed in the Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center.


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