Fátima Cristerna-Adame

Cal State San Bernardino
B.A. Political Science '03, M.A. Communication Studies '06
Senior Director, Local Advocacy for the California Charter Schools Association

Advice for graduates: “Just because it may not be in the exact field you're studying or the exact job you want to go into, don't turn away a good opportunity. It's going to teach you a lesson about what you want to do or what you don't want to do, and it will open up doorways into more opportunities."


At age seven, Fátima Cristerna-Adame arrived in Southern California from Mexico with her parents. When the time came to apply to college, a time before the introduction of DACA, her undocumented status limited her options. Though AB 540 allowed her to attend Cal State San Bernardino while paying in-state tuition, she couldn't receive financial aid, so she made it her “full-time job" to apply for scholarships.

Even after graduating with her bachelor's in political science, Cristerna-Adame couldn't legally work in the U.S. Instead, she applied to CSUSB's Communications Studies program to earn her master's degree. While in the program, she focused on political communication and taught at San Bernardino Valley College.

“That experience was invaluable to me, because everything I do in my life now revolves around politics, public communication and testifying in front of school boards and county boards of education," Cristerna-Adame says. “That could not have happened if I hadn't gone to Cal State San Bernardino and experienced all the various educational pathways it took me on."

With her master's in hand, Cristerna-Adame began taking on any work she could—from volunteering with the Black Voice Foundation and writing for the Black Voice newspaper to, after becoming a U.S. resident, teaching health and reproductive education for Planned Parenthood.

In her current role at the California Charter Schools Association, she employs the lessons she learned at CSUSB and during her early career to further the organization's mission of helping families have access to educational choice through high-quality, non-profit charter schools. She also works with the advocacy arm seeking out elected officials who will support that cause.

“I want to thank the CSU system for being so welcoming to undocumented students," Cristerna-Adame says. “I'm a citizen now after 27 years of hard work. We don't always stay undocumented. We do become taxpayers. We do become the alumni who donate back to the university. I'm eternally grateful for a system that continues to ada​pt to the needs of the communities it serves."