News Release| CSULA; Outstanding Professors

October 22, 2009


To request for individual portraits or a group photo of the Outstanding Professors and the President’s Distinguished Professor, contact the Cal State L.A. Public Affairs office at 323-343-3050.

A literary scholar, an art historian, a nutritionist, an engineer, a chemist honored by Cal State L.A. 

Four Outstanding Professors, a President’s Distinguished Professor recognized for excellence in teaching, mentoring

Los Angeles, CA – A highly-regarded literary scholar and a recognized author in his field, Roberto Cantú (San Gabriel resident) is the recipient of this year’s Cal State L.A.

President’s Distinguished Professor Award. He and four other faculty members were recently honored at the 2009 Fall Faculty Day on the Cal State L.A. campus.

Presented with Outstanding Professor Awards were Manuel Aguilar, an art historian who involves students in his research around the country and abroad (Pasadena resident); Laura Calderon, a registered dietitian who is an advocate of community health and nutrition (Santa Barbara resident); Lili Tabrizi, a specialist in control systems  recognized for coordinating among the best professional engineering licensing program in Los Angeles (Irvine resident); and Wayne Tikkanen, a revered chemist whose research has garnered major grant support (South Pasadena resident).

At Cal State L.A., the annual Outstanding Professor Awards primarily recognize excellence in teaching, along with citing significant achievements in scholarly inquiry or creativity, professional activities, and service to the campus and community. Presented to a previous Outstanding Professor award recipient, President’s Distinguished Professor Award recognizes superlative teaching and exceptional commitment to students as well as professional accomplishments and services.


Manuel Aguilar, Professor of Art College of Arts and Letters

An expert in the art and culture of Latin America, Manuel Aguilar has traveled on four continents—in nearly 100 countries. He conducts research in the art and history of pre-Columbian and Colonial Latin America, and co-directs an interdisciplinary research project about Ulama: The Survival of the Mesoamerican Ballgame with James Brady of the Anthropology Department.

Aguilar also coordinated the research project, “Walls of Passion: The Murals of Los Angeles,” that featured documentations and analysis of approximately 500 murals of the city of Los Angeles and involved 50 Cal State L.A. students. The project produced an art exhibition in February 2009, which drew more than 650 attendees. Additionally, he co-organized the first Mesoamerican Conference at Cal State L.A. together with Professors Roberto Cantú and Aaron Sonnenschein.

Having taught more than 20 different Art history courses, Aguilar has been an instructor and field-trip leader for the Semester at Sea Program of the University of Pittsburgh. He recently taught “Civilization of Latin America” for the University of San Diego summer program at the Fundacion Ortega y Gassett in Madrid, Spain. He regularly involves CSULA students in far-reaching research projects. He also serves on numerous university committees and executive boards of professional and cultural organizations. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas-Austin.

Aguilar has published eight books, with two books forthcoming, and 35 articles, and has presented well over 218 lectures in multidisciplinary topics. Additionally, Aguilar has been guest on the History Channel four times, and his research has been featured in the Archaeology Magazine,

The Economist, Chronicle of Higher Education, Smithsonian, and in other international publications.

He is considered by his dean as a “wonderful example of an outstanding and exemplary professor for the CSU.” A student wrote, “When I think about what a college professor should be, this professor comes to mind.” Another student declared that Aguilar “is so personally and emotionally involved in the area of study and so willing to go above and beyond for the education of his students.”Some of his students even call him “Indy” for his continuous and restless exploration of places.

Laura Calderon, Professor of Nutritional Science College of Health and Human Services

A registered dietitian, Laura Calderon’s areas of expertise include public health and community nutrition, health promotion/disease prevention, childhood and adolescent obesity, eating disorders, and administrative dietetics. For a decade, she has been a peer reviewer for the foremost peer-reviewed journal of The American Dietetic Association. A Cal State L.A. alumna, she received her DrPH in public health nutrition from Loma Linda University.

Having served in several administrative capacities in her department, she has modified the B.S. program, the M.S. program, numerous majors and non-majors courses, developed two new courses, as well as two certificate programs. In conjunction with her Community Nutrition class, she coordinated 11 successful food drives, raising more than $30,000 of food for the needy in Los Angeles.

Calderon, faculty advisor for the Student Dietetic Association for 14 years, has helped 15 students submit their research for presentation at professional meetings. She also supervised a 5K and Health Fair at Cal State L.A., monthly educational events, workshops and outreach activities. As a result of her efforts in securing external funds, more than 80 students were able to attend professional meetings and more than 20 students were awarded educational scholarships.

Through Calderon’s U.S. Dept of Agriculture (USDA) grants, the University’s Food Science Lab has become a state-of-the-art laboratory. These grants also laid the foundation for a new B.S. program in Food Science and Technology, which began this fall with its first cohort of students. Calderon will be awarding 15 scholarships this quarter made possible through her current USDA Hispanic-Serving Institution grant.

A student commented: “This class has been so inspiring for the profession of dietetics!  Professor Calderon conducts the class with such skill that the environment is a non-intimidating, ‘open’ environment for learning. The class was structured very well and I think we all, not only learned a great deal, but also had a really enjoyable time.”

A colleague wrote: “She (Dr. Calderon) is truly interested in helping students and the community, and her first consideration is how will it affect the students and what can she do to make it a fulfilling learning experience to benefit all.”

Lili Tabrizi, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering – College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology


A specialist in control systems, Lili Tabrizi has developed three undergraduate and two graduate courses at Cal State L.A. in this field. She has proposed, coordinated and taught “Professional Engineering” License Exam review classes in Electrical Engineering. The CSULA PE/EE preparation program has one of the highest passing rates in the State of California and is considered as one of the best PE/EE review programs in the Los Angeles area. She received her Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Michigan State University.

Noted as a “champion” at bringing external funding to Cal State L.A. and at involving students in research projects of national significance, Tabrizi has been the faculty director/coordinator and principal investigator for the NASA SHARP/NASA SHARP PLUS program, 1995-2005. The total funding for this project was more than $1 million. Cal State L.A. was the only university site that hosted the NASA’s apprenticeship program for 11 consecutive years.

She received the Northrop Grumman’s 2008 Excellence in Teaching Award; the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers/CSU Chapter Award; and NASA’s Education Division and Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network award in “Recognition of your Outstanding Contributions as a Faculty Coordinator in the NASA SHARP Plus Summer Apprenticeship Program.”

Tabrizi had served as chair in several review panels, and also authored review manuals and course manuals. She is also active serving in University committees and also representing CSULA on behalf of NASA as an engineering judge in national competitions. 

Tabrizi was voted by students as “Electrical Engineering Professor of the Year” 14 times since 1990 including 2009. Students consistently considered themselves fortunate to be able to study under Professor Tabrizi’s guidance. One student commented: “Thanks for all you did for me during the last few years, both as a professor and as a mentor. You game me a clear vision in choosing my major, you persuaded me to get my master’s, you got me an excellent internship that helped me learn and got me qualified for future jobs and it helped me financially...”

According to her department chair, “She manages to absolutely mesmerize the students in her classes” and “her performance in the area of professional development over the years is nothing short of breathtaking.”

Wayne Tikkanen, Professor of Chemistry – College of Natural and Social Sciences

A promoter of real world applications and critical thinking skills, Wayne Tikkanen has mentored countless students in his laboratories. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees or to medical or dental school. In 2003, Tikkanen was awarded the UC Davis Prize for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Mentoring in Chemical Research in recognition of the success of these students. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry from UC Santa Barbara.

Tikkanen has secured $1.5 million in grants, which has supported his research in selective catalytic carbon-carbon bond formation, an area that has implications in the preparation of pharmaceuticals and other products. More than 70 students have worked in his lab and they have made more than 50 presentations, many of them at national and regional meetings.

Tikkanen has published four editions of a laboratory manual, which was coauthored with CSULA Professor Harold Goldwhite. Two editions of a study guide were published and sold nationally. He has also authored ten refereed articles in professional journals with CSULA undergraduates and six more with colleagues.

As chair of his department for eight years, he revised an M.S. degree program that had been virtually untouched more than two decades and developed an articulation scheme for community college organic chemistry classes. He has also served as an external reviewer to other CSU campuses. He was also involved with the production of a video to showcase his department at a CSU trustees meeting—and the video received a Bronze Telly (an award for excellence in documentary production). At the beginning of this academic year, he began serving as faculty director of general education and interim director of program review.

One of his students praised him, saying “Dr. Tikkanen is very knowledgeable in his field and it impresses me only because few instructors show as much enthusiasm as he does.” Other students noted: “You gotz some mad skills” and “Is there an option higher than ‘strongly agree’?”

A teacher also commented: “Again you thrilled, excited, educated, mystified and surprised our students at Monterey Hills school with the world of chemistry.”

Roberto Cant̼, Professor of English/Chicano Studies РCollege of Natural and Social Sciences

Honored as this year’s President’s Distinguished Professor, Roberto Cantú is a highly-regarded literary scholar of Chicano, Latin American, Mesoamerican and Mexican literature.

Serving on the editorial boards of several prestigious publications, Cantú is author of numerous publications, including scholarly articles in peer-reviewed journals, essays, encyclopedia entries, prologues, book and films reviews. He has also translated a novel by José Antonio Villarreal titled Pocho (Anchor Books, 1994), and most recently, translated for the British Council the work of Mexican poets Coral Bracho, Araceli Mancilla, Rocío González, and Natalia Toledo.  He received his Ph.D. in Hispanic literature and language from UCLA.

Instrumental in developing the curriculum for his departments at Cal State L.A., Cantú launched a minor program in Mesoamerican Studies—the only such program in the CSU system.  In 2009, he organized an international conference on Mesoamerican civilization with the assistance of faculty and students.  This conference on Mesoamerica was held at Cal State L.A. with participating scholars from Australia, Germany, Mexico, Canada, and the United States. He is also extremely active in service to the University at all levels of governance and in many different committees.

Additionally, Cantú produced a play in 1999 by Federico García Lorca, Bodas de sangre/Blood Wedding, with five sold-out performances at Cal State L.A.  In 2008, he coordinated five stage readings of Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima as part of the Big Read initiative: two at Cal State L.A., two at the Bilingual Foundation for the Arts, and one in Dallas, Texas, where Cal State L.A.’s cast (14 students and five professional actors) closed the city’s Big Read activities.  He received the 2008 Big Read Certificate of Achievement presented by the National Endowment for the Arts honoring his outstanding contributions to education. In 2009, Cantú became an elected member of the Octavio Paz Society. He was instrumental in coordinating Cal State L.A.’s involvement in this year’s L.A. Latino Book and Family Festival.

A recipient of Cal State L.A.’s 1990-91 Outstanding Professor Award, Cantú has been characterized by his students as ‘‘a gentleman scholar’ with an amazing knowledge, an infectious passion for his subject, and a very refreshing enthusiasm for his classes.”

Many of Cantú’s students who go onto Ph.D. programs credit his support and guidance. A student who was recently accepted to UCLA wrote: “I cannot thank you enough for everything you’ve done for me in the last year, especially all the advice you gave during the admission process. This was a long, stressful endeavor, and I feel lucky to have a professor who cares enough to help me through it.” 

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