Charon D’Aiello (’79,’80,’86 M.A.) and David Sandoval ('75, ’87 M.A.)

A portrait of David and Sharon D'Aiello Sandoval

Alumni couple creates new opportunities for students through financial contributions

You could say that the Sandoval family philosophy is “opportunity must be available for everyone.”

Together, Charon D’Aiello (’79, ’80, ’86 M.A.) and David Sandoval ('75, ’87 M.A.) worked for decades to bring more diversity to all aspects of Cal State L.A.—to the faculty and staff through Charon’s work in the Office of Affirmative Action and to the student body through David’s role as director of the Educational Opportunity Program.

Now in retirement, the Sandovals are still finding ways to serve Cal State L.A. by establishing scholarships that create new opportunities for students.

“I am so thankful that my life and career was spent at Cal State L.A.,” says Charon. “It is unique because so many of its students are the first in their families to attend college. It truly does change lives and the support of special programs is a critical component to success in completing a degree.”

Charon, who grew up in El Sereno, started at Cal State L.A. in 1960 as a business major. She quit school to work a series of clerical/typist jobs on campus, but resumed her studies part-time. Charon reveled in working on campus, and took full advantage of the many speakers and forums, as well as the many kind faculty members who mentored her.

“Academia is an ideal place to find yourself living out your work life,” she says. “It has everything. It’s like a small city. What other area can you work in where the environment is not so driven by dollars and cents, but broadening one’s knowledge and awareness.”

Off-campus, Charon became involved in community activism after her brother died in Vietnam in 1967. The young Italian-Jewish woman attended meetings of radical groups before committing to La Raza Unida to support Chicanos in her community and fight discrimination.

Her experiences led her to be uniquely qualified for a relatively new position in 1977 as the director of the affirmative action program. The office was tasked with developing ways of recruiting and hiring a more diverse pool of faculty and administrators to better reflect the increasing mix of students being served on campus.

Similarly, David had some unique experiences in his youth that impressed upon him the importance of meeting people from different backgrounds.

At 17, the working-class Chicano from what is now the City of Commerce was invited to attend a summer program sponsored by the New York Society for Ethical Culture. The six-week Encampment for Citizenship was designed to encourage political activism and volunteerism that educated youths about civic responsibility, participation and tolerance. There, David met peers of different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds from all over the world. The experience led to many opportunities for David, a budding photographer and filmmaker, which included international travel and meeting influential people.

“Having that experience of being somewhere outside your neighborhood and being able to see how people live in Appalachia or South Africa … travel for me was not a luxury, it was an education,” says David.

David admits that while on his travels, he felt a tinge of sadness that others couldn’t share the experience. When he returned home to Los Angeles and began to attend Cal State L.A., he found a way to help himself and others through the Educational Opportunity Program, which provides access for economically and socially disadvantaged minority students who display potential for academic success.

“Without the early student movements of the 1960s and ethnic studies programs, I couldn’t have made it through to graduation,” David says.

Sandoval was admitted to the university through EOP, became a peer counselor in the program, and worked his way up to director by 1985—a position he held for 23 years.

Charon and David met through political activity off-campus and have been together since 1980. All the time remaining committed to finding new opportunities for people on this campus, even years after retirement.

“As it turns out, we found ourselves more financially secure than we could ever have imagined. Two old revolutionaries who have money–it’s unusual. So why wouldn’t we want to give back to a place that gave us so much?” explains Charon.

The couple established the Ochari D’Aiello Scholarship in honor of their son, who was tragically shot and killed at age 16 while on a summer educational trip to Morehouse College in 1992. The couple had encouraged Ochari, whose biological father was African American, to attend the session in order to experience being African American in the South.

“David or I would pick him up and bring him to campus if we had late meetings. Of course, (former) President James Rosser got to know him from the time he was very young and was a wonderful friend. Ochari was part of the campus for us,” says Charon.

The scholarship was crucial in helping one recipient, Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni (’13 M.F.A.), meet her educational goals. The Master of Fine Arts program in Television, Film and Theatre was so intensive that she couldn’t continue work as a part-time teacher and wouldn’t have been able to complete the program without it.

But the scholarship had a lot of meaning for Cox DiGiovanni, who is also mixed-race.

“I learned about Ochari and was so touched by his story. I got goose bumps because I do a lot of work exploring mixed racial and cultural identities,” said Cox DiGiovanni. “So I just remember feeling like that scholarship was this really strong sign that I had to keep going. If for anybody, I had to do it for this family who had been through something so tragic and to use it for good.”

Additionally, David and a fellow EOP alumnus, Guadalupe Valencia (’95), established the Sandoval/Valencia EOP Fund, which benefits EOP students with funding for specific projects, travel, conference participation or direct aid that will enhance student experience.

And in May, the Sandovals will be recognized for their commitment of $350,000 to establish a permanent endowment for the benefit of the University’s Division of Student Affairs with the naming of the Charon D’Aiello Sandoval and David Sandoval Student Services Center during the Presidential Investiture Week.

“We’re happy to give what we can because a place like Cal State L.A. deserves it and a lot more,” says David.