Commencement 2010 | Spotlight

Commemorating outstanding students of
Cal State L.A.’s Class of 2010

They triumphed over physical challenges. They overcame personal conflicts. They balanced study, work and family. They stayed focus on their educational goals and career ambitions. They are the first to achieve a college degree. These are the stories for many of the thousands of graduates receiving their degrees at California State University, Los Angeles.

With pomp and circumstance, Cal State L.A.’s 2010 Commencement will be a two-day festivity—Friday, June 11, and Saturday, June 12. For the Commencement website, go to /sites/default/files/commencement/.

Among the outstanding students in Cal State L.A.’s Class of 2010:


Pictured: Mario Zamora.
Pictured: Mario Zamora.

Visually-impaired student to pursue rehabilitation counseling career

Mario Zamora (South Central Los Angeles resident) was born and raised in a small town in Michoacan, Mexico, where education was a luxury because the nearest school was many miles away. He was able to complete 6th grade, but was not able to go further in his education at the time. He had to work in the fields, providing financial support for his family. In 1997, at age 17, he became blind due to a severe eye infection. Zamora said, “When I was told that my blindness was going to be permanent, I went through a variety of reactions, from shock to fear to anger. Since I was living in a small town, the opportunities were incredibly limited for a person with a disability. Although my blindness caused a dramatic change in my everyday life, I did not let my disability take control of my existence.” In 2002, he had an opportunity to come to Los Angeles, where he learned that people with disabilities can attain a variety of job skills. He attended the Braille Institute to learn English, and how to read and write Braille. From there, he graduated from Los Angeles City College with honors. During the course of his studies, he became interested in a career as a rehabilitation counselor. He said, “I learned that it only takes a little bit of care and attention to make a big difference in a community or in a person’s life.” This June, Zamora will be receiving his bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation services with a minor in English. With his guide dog by his side, he will be marching at the Friday Commencement. After graduation, he will pursue his master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling at Cal State L.A.

The transformative power of education: Single mother graduate gets hired for proposal

Marie Alcindor (Northridge resident) is a single mother who was born in Haiti and raised in Congo Central Africa and Europe. She moved to the U.S. in 1991 to further her education. She earned a teaching credential and B.A. in French at Cal State L.A., and entered the Educational Administration M.A. program at Cal State L.A. in fall 2008. She was laid off early this school year and was unable to find a job, so she began to volunteer teach in Markham Middle School, one of the inner-city schools in Los Angeles. While there, she helped to implement a proposal for small learning communities, which she indicates as greatly benefitting the student population. As a result of her initiative in moving the proposal forward, she was offered a one-year paid position. After receiving her master’s degree this June, she plans to apply for the Ed.D. in educational administration program at Cal State L.A., with a focus on charter schools and small learning communities. She said, “I believe that charter schools are the road ways to leading our next generation of students in America to academic success.”

First in family to graduate from college

Issaic Gates (Duarte resident) has overcome extraordinary odds to come this far as an educator. He grew up in a poor family from Florida. Out of his four siblings, he was the first to obtain a college degree. As a child, Gates was placed in special education for several years, often caused fights in school, and had little desire to attend school, until one memorable teacher turned him around and gave him the confidence he so desperately needed. This one teacher instilled his drive and passion to become a teacher, so he in turn could inspire students. A graduated of the University of Central Florida, he is completing the Educational Administration M.A. program. A teacher at McKinley K-8 public school in the Pasadena Unified School District, he has been mentioned in the local newspapers for excellence in teaching math and robotics. He plans to continue his education at USC to obtain a Ph.D.

Pictured: Oseloka Valentine Ewudo.
Pictured: Oseloka Valentine Ewudo.

Nursing major among Cal State L.A.’s 8th graduating class of President’s Scholars

One of only seven President’s Scholars to graduate this year, Oseloka Valentine Ewudo (East Los Angeles resident) will receive his bachelor’s degree in nursing at Cal State L.A.’s Commencement ceremony Friday, June 11. In 2006, Ewudo entered the University as a President’s Scholar, a distinction given to a select group of roughly eight incoming freshmen each year. Based on his exemplary academic performance at Centennial High School, he received a $20,000 four-year scholarship while attending Cal State L.A. With a big heart, Ewudo is committed to caring for others and to supporting local agencies that serve those afflicted with physical ailments. Despite his school load, he finds time to volunteer for the AIDS Walk Los Angeles, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and the March of Dimes WalkAmerica. He also helps to feed the homeless on Skid Row in Los Angeles, and is serving as a mentor for foster youths at Bethune Middle School in South Central Los Angeles as part of the Children Uniting Nations program. On campus, he is also an active member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., President’s Scholars Club and the Black Student Association. Carrying out his conviction to give back to the community, Ewudo plans to work at either the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center or L.A. County-USC Medical Center as a registered nurse in emergency care. He is also considering a post-bachelor’s certificate in pre-medicine in order to apply for medical school in the near future.

Impact LA Fellow grad aims to accurately assess Parkinson’s patients

Mo Zhang (Rosemead resident), a graduate electrical engineering student, is recognized for his role in developing two programs as part of his thesis to assess Parkinson’s disease—one for measuring tremor and another for measuring Bradykinesia (decreased bodily movement). Under the mentorship of Electrical Engineering Professor Deborah S. Won, Zhang’s project was to study Parkinson’s disease, its symptoms and treatment methods. His research also focused on designing a Bradykinesia and tremor assessment task, including a disease analyzing algorithm that can provide an accurate assessment for Parkinson’s patients by simply using a Tablet PC. Selected among the second class of IMPACT LA fellows, Zhang serves as a science and engineering ambassador for middle school students. In collaboration with a teacher from Hollenbeck Middle School, he presented his research to several classes in order to get children interested in learning science and engineering. Along with two pending articles, he has also already published two papers (“I See Science” and “Information in Pooled and Labeled line Spike Trains in a Velocity-Encoding Generalized Linear Model”), which have been presented at the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) Conference in Pittsburgh and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (NSF-AAAS) Conference in San Diego. He recently presented his teaching experience and classroom activity in an NSF-AAAS Conference poster session in Washington D.C. In 2008, he earned three bachelor’s degrees at Cal State L.A.—in electrical engineering, physics and mathematics. After receiving his master’s degree in electrical engineering at Cal State L.A. this June, he plans to apply to a Ph.D. program specializing in biomedical engineering.

Social work graduate living the ‘Homeboy mission’

Jose Luevano (East Los Angeles resident) hopes to use his Master of Social Work to contribute to the needs of those in the community. Luevano has served as a MSW intern with CSULA Bachelor of Social Work students at the L.A. Juvenile Court. He collaborated with MSW interns from other schools at his two preceptorships, Homeboy Industries and the Downtown Women’s Center. Luevano was instrumental in developing one of the Homeboy Industries’ 101 Orientation Series, “Who am I?” At Homeboy, he also offered ad hoc career counseling as well as provided a good example for younger kids and adults through mentorship roles. The training he offered addressed issues of how an individual sees one’s self in comparison and contrast to how society or family may see the individual. Luevano said, “ I was inspired to become a social worker due to my own experiences growing up in a marginalized community, much like that of the population that Homeboy Industry serves.” Mario Prietto, LCSW, director of case management at Homeboy Industries, said, “He has always been ready to assist the department in any way, humbly accepting minor tasks such as apartment searching, transporting client to court or obtain personal documents—all the time forming relationships and living the Homeboy mission.” Luevano has also provided guest lectures and presentations to undergraduate classes at Cal State L.A., covering topics on restorative justice and family violence. He has also been a facilitator for the Building a Healthy Boyle Heights Collaborative. After graduation, he will work towards his licensure as a clinical social worker while continuing with the Master of Public Administration program. Luevano’s dream is to start a community mental health agency to further serve East Los Angeles and the surrounding communities.

Student’s account of perseverance, family and friendly support, fulfilling ailing father’s wish

Rocio Duarte (Downey resident) always wanted to become a school administrator. A couple of years ago a good friend of Duarte informed her about the M.A. program in Educational Administration at Cal State L.A. Her friend, Anastasia, teamed up with Duarte to apply to the program and even offered a place for her to stay for two nights a week. Duarte, who lived in Lancaster at the time and worked full-time, said, “At first I would drive or take the metro to Antelope Valley. I would get home about 11 p.m. and go to sleep. I didn’t have time to spend with my children nor my husband.” Duarte and her husband eventually decided to move to Downey, since the commute and the two days she stayed over at her friend’s house took far too much time away from her children. Then, her dad got really sick and she had to spend day after day in the hospital. Evidentally, Duarte’s dad got his right leg amputated and she had to arrange for skilled nursing care and physical therapy at her home. She said, “It was a challenge being a full-time teacher, full-time student, full-time wife, full-time mommy, and a full-time caretaker.” Later, Duarte was diagnosed with sciatica, and had trouble walking and standing. Her dad also received a second amputation and was diagnosed with renal failure. Despite the numerous challenges, she didn’t give up. While being treated for her sciatica, she finished her graduate program in December 2009. This June, she will march at the Commencement six months pregnant, and is dedicating the accomplishment to her family.


Pictured: Charissa Kim.
Pictured: Charissa Kim.

Teen heads to Cambridge University to study neuroscience

Charissa Kim (Arcadia resident) was admitted as a freshman in the Early Entrance Program at age 14 and has been a member of Professor Alicia Izquiredo’s psychology lab since the age of 15. Kim was one of 10 students selected to represent Cal State L.A. in the statewide 2010 CSU Student Research Competition. Her award-winning presentation was titled “Effects of Pretraining Lesions of the Amygdala on Effortful Behavior in Rats.” She also won the Chemistry Departmental Award for Excellence in general chemistry, conducting research in a chemistry lab as well as in a psychology lab. She has received the Familia Unida Living with Multiple Sclerosis award for her volunteer work. She is also vice president of the Early Entrance Program Club and the Music Appreciation Club. After completing her bachelor’s degree in biology at Cal State L.A., Kim will start graduate school at Cambridge University’s neuroscience program in the U.K. Professor Izquierdo said, “I am very proud of her because she has consistently displayed such remarkable maturity, such patience with her research, and such a helpful nature to other students in the lab. At the young age of 18, she has maintained the bar for excellence at a very high level for others in the lab and has motivated others to excel.”

A star in the making offers help to the homeless

Benjamin Caron (Monterey Park resident) has starred, directed, produced, and written productions that have been award-winning and highly-regarded on campus and the community. He portrayed the character of Bobby Strong in the CSULA production of Urinetown: The Musical; was the playwright for Fairytale Wedding, produced by Three of a Kind Theatre Company at the Secret Rose Theatre; and interned as an assistant director for the Elephant Theatre Company’s production of Block Nine by Tom Stanczyk. Recently, Caron was nominated “Outstanding Senior” for the upcoming Alumni Awards Gala in October 2010. Caron, who has been on the Dean’s List and is part of the G.E. Honors Program, has served as president of the University Residence Council and the Student Alumni Association. He has also been a member of the CSULA Gospel Choir, the No Cuts Coalition, and the Student Theater Arts and Dance Committee. He is a recipient of the G.E. Honors Scholarship, the Pepsi/Frito-Lay Scholarship, the Friends of Music Scholarship and the Alumni Association Scholarship. As a resident assistant in housing, Caron has created and organized a backpack and survival supplies drive for the homeless called “Helping Hands.” He has also volunteered with L.A. Opera’s Saturday Morning at the Opera program, exposing local children to the arts and the joy of opera. Caron will receive his bachelor’s degree in theatre arts and dance this June.

Pictured: David Crittendon.
Pictured: David Crittendon.

At 66, community activist returns to college to achieve master’s degree

David Crittendon, originally from Illinois and now residing in Los Angeles, dropped out of college in the early days to register Black voters in the South and became a central participant in some of the major moments of the Freedom/Civil Rights movement. He was involved in the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964 as well as worked for the Congress of Racial Equality in New York for about a year and a half. Crittendon said, “Both of these were unforgettable experiences that enriched and deepened my world view.” Crittendon also had a successful career in music and as a high school teacher before coming to Cal State L.A. He taught elementary school with Los Angeles Unified School District in Echo Park for 17 years, and for five years with Central High School in Echo Park/East L.A before retiring in June 2009. At 66, he is working on an interdisciplinary M.A. in creative writing, music and education, which he’ll complete in the form of a memoir this spring. He received his B.A. at CSU Northridge and a teaching credential through Cal Lutheran. According to CSULA English Professor Lauri Ramey, “His story is remarkable, and from a classroom perspective, I love to see representation of our senior citizens, who add an enormous amount of knowledge and history to the educational experience at Cal State L.A.”

Spanish major journeys to El Salvador to study ‘rural’ Spanish

Anna Cecilia Iraheta (Los Angeles resident)—who has been accepted to five universities to pursue her Ph.D. in linguistics—will be heading to the University of Minnesota in the fall, with full tuition paid, a teaching assistantship, and a $5,000 stipend for her research project during her first academic year. Her research project focuses on Salvadoran rural Spanish, one of the areas mentioned by renowned linguist John Lipski as “virgin” because there have been no significant studies about it. On her first research-related trip to El Salvador, she collected data needed for her project. Iraheta, who will be earning her master’s degree in Spanish this June, said, “During my brief stay, I interviewed 18 inhabitants of a small rural town. The interviews served as data to analyze an outstanding yet ignored phenomenon of this variety of Spanish, creating a qualitative and quantitative sociolinguistic analysis.” The study was based on the model proposed by linguist Carmen Silva-Corvalán in her book titled Sociolingüística y pragmática del español. “My conclusion,” she said, “was that the interdentalization of /s/ was the most outstanding characteristic of the language of that rural Salvadoran town and thus possibly of all rural Salvadoran Spanish.”

Pictured: Andrea Milly.
Pictured: Andrea Milly.

Pre-doc scholar to contribute to archaeological excavation, historic preservation

Andrea Milly (Alhambra resident), who will be receiving her master’s degree in anthropology, will head to Stanford University to further her research on early Chinese female immigration to Los Angeles. She was offered admission to Stanford’s Ph.D. degree program in the Department of Anthropology, Archaeology track, with a five-year paid fellowship as well as two summer research assistantships. Milly said, “I attribute part of my success to becoming a Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholar through the California Pre-Doctoral program of the CSU. I also thank Anthropology Professor ChorSwang Ngin for her guidance and mentorship throughout my graduate studies and research.” From July 6 to August 6, Milly will help with the archaeological excavation of a World War II prisoner of war internment camp of German soldiers in Manitoba, Canada. Then, she will work in the Historical Archaeology laboratory at Stanford University during August cataloguing artifacts from the Market Street Chinatown Archaeological Project, the original Chinatown of San Jose founded in the 1860s and destroyed by arson in 1887. Her eventual goal is to enter the field of historic preservation focused on the East Los Angeles area. In January 2009, she began volunteering and training to become a docent with Las Angelitas del Pueblo. In July 2009, she learned that the oldest handball court in Maravilla, a small community in East Los Angeles, was facing an uncertain future. She helped community members form the Maravilla Historical Society (MHS), and its primary goals are to nominate handball court as a California landmark and keep the court open as a community resource. On behalf of MHS, Milly applied for and was awarded a $2,000 Los Angeles County Preservation Fund grant through the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Math tutor to research Central Americans, Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles

Alex Villalpando (South Los Angeles resident) will be graduating with his M.A. in Latin American Studies this year. A CSULA 2009-10 Sally Casanova Pre-doctoral Scholar, he has been accepted with full funding in the doctoral program in ethnic studies at UC Riverside. His area of research is Central American Studies focusing on relations between Central Americans and Mexicans/Chicanos in Los Angeles as well as Central American identities. According to Villalpando, “My work examines the historical origins of the tensions between Central American and Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles. The conflicts between these two large immigrant communities reflect the affects of colonialism and foreign intervention in Latin America, and are a culmination of the historical and societal processes of conquest and racism that produce and reinforce uneven power relationships. I also examine the ways in which Central Americans, and specifically Guatemalan and Salvadoran immigrants, have made efforts to reaffirm their identity amidst strong Mexican influence.” In addition, Villalpondo works as a tutor helping kids with difficulties in math throughout the cities of Compton, South Central Los Angeles, Watts, Hawthorne and Torrance. He said, “One of my former students is now at Cal State L.A. and another student of mine will be attending this coming fall.”

From Sudan to Germany, anthropology graduate digs into Egyptology studies

Idi Okilo (Sherman Oaks resident), who is graduating with a master’s degree in anthropology, had the opportunity to realize her dream of becoming an Egyptologist with the assistance of Anthropology Professor James Brady and the Cotsen grant. The grant, which provides funding for Cal State L.A. students to go on archeology digs and participate with UCLA students in academic activities, enabled Okilo to enroll in her first course on the history and culture of pharaonic Egypt. It was through the course and the ensuing internship at the Fowler Museum at UCLA that Okilo reached her next peak: being asked to accompany UCSB Egyptologist Professor Stuart Smith on a fieldwork trip along the Nile’s 3rd cataract in Northern Sudan. During the two-month trip this spring, Okilo excavated cemetery sites and developed relationships with leading Egyptologists from the British Museum and Sorbonne in France. She has now been invited to continue her studies in Egyptology at the University of Cologne in Germany.

**Note: These students have not been confirmed to attend the Commencement ceremony.