Graduating Cal State LA student prospered with support of faculty, staff and wants to help others succeed
Pasadena resident earns master’s degree in child development, will lecture at Cal State LA in fall
By Henry Fuhrmann | Cal State LA News Service
As a teenager, Sosseh Didarloo fled religious strife in Iran with her twin sister and their mother. She spent a year in a refugee camp in Austria, then endured years of separation from her father until he could join the rest of the family as they built a new life in Southern California.
Even then, life was not always easy, but that adversity taught Didarloo a valuable lesson: create opportunities where others may dwell on their struggles.
At Cal State LA, that meant applying for every scholarship, peppering her professors with questions inside and outside the classroom and taking full advantage of the services provided by the university to help students succeed.
“Money was tight at home, and resources definitely were not something my parents were aware of,” says Didarloo, who resides in Pasadena. “I really had to navigate my way at Cal State LA. And I always told myself, if I become an educator, I want to make sure students utilize all the resources on campus.”
Didarloo, 26, graduated in December with a Master of Arts in Child Development from the Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services. Two years earlier, she earned a bachelor’s degree at the university in the same subject.
During her time at Cal State LA, she became a fixture on the Dean’s List, served as a graduate student representative in the Academic Senate, worked as a teaching assistant and writing coach, and collaborated with professors on research.
Didarloo and her twin, Siuneh, were 16 when they immigrated with their mother to Glendale after their year in the refugee camp. The family, Armenian Christians, a minority in their old country, were seeking to escape cultural and religious prejudice, Didarloo says.
The girls and their mother would eventually be reunited with two older sisters. After a trying eight years, their father, who was delayed in a bureaucratic impasse and unable to secure a visa, was finally able to join the family.
The twins immersed themselves in their schoolwork, competitive swimming and water polo. All that activity, Didarloo says, “was for Siuneh and me to create positive memories together to forget about our problems and the trauma of leaving our lives behind in Iran.”
After earning two associate degrees at Pasadena City College, in early childhood education and social and behavioral sciences, Didarloo transferred to Cal State LA in 2015. She says she immediately came to appreciate the vital services available to her as a working-class, first-generation student who was holding down multiple jobs and caring for family members while going to school.
Didarloo cited the Associated Students, Inc.’s book voucher program, which provides $300 toward textbook purchases for students who work outside of school and meet a minimum GPA requirement. She also extolled the support groups and workshops provided by Counseling and Psychological Services.
Upon realizing that many of her classmates were unaware of such programs, Didarloo turned her experiences into a presentation that she has given for several semesters to classes in the Department of Child and Family Studies.
This spring, Didarloo worked as a writing ambassador in her department, helping students learn to apply the knowledge they have acquired in theory-intensive courses to incorporate into their writing. Her assignment grew out of work she had conducted as a graduate teaching assistant.
Jessica M. Dennis, a psychology professor and chair of the Department of Child and Family Studies, applauded Didarloo’s efforts to empower her classmates, especially immigrants and international students. “She is exactly who we need in our profession.”
Celina Benavides, assistant professor of child and family studies, described Didarloo as “one of the most dedicated, caring, intelligent students that I have been fortunate to interact with, and she has proven herself in multiple capacities. It is especially impressive as she has overcome so much.”
In return, Didarloo credited Benavides for giving her the chance to conduct academic research and encouraging her to pursue her master’s degree. “She really saw potential in me that I never saw in myself,” Didarloo says.
Didarloo remains close with her twin, Siuneh, who also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Child Development from Cal State LA, as well as a Master of Science in Psychology with an option in forensic psychology from the university.
Didarloo, who aspires to a long-term future in university research or teaching, will take the next step in the fall as a lecturer in the Department of Child and Family Studies.
“Had it not been for the faculty supporting me,” she says, “I would never have gotten to where I am as an individual, as a student, as a citizen. It’s like home—I feel really comfortable here.”