How I Got Here

‘HOW I GOT HERE’

Notable alumni discuss how their CSU education charted a path to success.


jump to main content  

“Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation.”
–​ Zig Ziglar


With some 129,000 graduates each year, the CSU is home to an amazing roster of notable alumni. We celebrate their accolades in our Made in the C​SU series, but how did it all begin for them? Success is often measured as a series of small steps forward, yet every now and​ then it’s helpful to stop and take a look back. While our students have become leaders and trailblazers in eve​ry major industry in California and throughout the world, one commo​n denominator is what they learned on campus. A CSU education is not only the launching pad to endless possibilit​ies but a tool that never stops giving. Find out how the CSU served as a stepping-stone for these remarkable alumni.

EDUARDO CISNEROS

EDUARDO CISNEROS
Cal State Long Beach, ’06, COVID-19 Intergovermental Affairs Director at The White House

How did your time at CSULB prepare you for your career?
CSULB not only gave me the foundation and the academic tools to prepare me for my career, but as a first-generation immigrant and first-generation college student, I​ credit CSULB for even putting me on a career path in the first place. I attended Los Angeles public schools in the early 2000s when my high school was a year-around and multi-track school and essentially a drop-out factory. I’m very grateful for the CS​Us and CSULB for the opportunity to even attend college.

Which skills that you learned at CSULB do you still utilize every day?
CSULB provided me with great foundational skills, including excellent interpersonal communication skills, problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills and quite frankly grit and a strong work ethic.

Did you receive assistance that helped get you ready for the workforce?
As a fourth year, my political science department allowed me to do an internship with the state legislature, which in retrospect put me on the path to government and public service.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about attendi​ng a CSU?
Do it; you won’t regret it. The CSU is a great institution that will provide you with excellent educational training and experience. As someone who works for the first non-Ivy League president and vice president combination in more than 30 years, I’ll especially say that you don’t need to go to an Ivy to achieve your dreams. Go Beach!


JAMILLAH MOORE

JAMILLAH MOORE, ED.D.​
Sacramento State, ’92/’95, President of Cañada College

How did your time at Sacramento State prepar​e you for your career?
I had an extraordinarily wonderful opportunity and experience with the CSU. It​'s where I learned how to go to college. It's where I learned how to do research. It's where I learned how to teach. It's also where I fell in love with being a student and learning how to help other students. If you would've told me while I was at Sac State, ‘You’re going to be a college president,’ I would have probably thought you were crazy.

Which skills that you learned at Sacramento State do you still utilize every day?
The ability to effectively communicate in a clear and concise manner has become an invaluable tool for me. I also learned how to navigate the political arena, which helped me not only while working inside the legislature but on college campuses. I got to watch how elected officials work and learn the importance of being a good public servant and a good steward of taxpayer dollars. I learned some of ​those skills at Sac State, and they have stayed with me.

Did you receive assistance that helped get you ready for the workforce?
During my time at the CSU, I participated in a program called A Semester at the Capitol. In Sacramento, I was able to get college credits while doing an internship inside the Capitol. Going into that program and then being an intern and seeing firsthand how policy was put together chang​ed the direction of what I thought I wanted to do and what I actually ended up doing. That led me to earn my doctorate at the University of San Francisco. I would not have been able to go to the University of San Francisco if not for the CSU forgivable loan. If it weren't for the EOP [Educational Opportunity Program], financial aid and student services programs offered at the CSU, I would not have been able to go to college or to be successful. All of these things that have become building blocks to my career started as a student in the CSU, so I can't thank the CSU system enough.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about attending a CSU?
The CSU truly prepares and empowers students to succeed in a global and multicultural society. It offers invaluable teaching and learning opportunities and is the epitome of inclusive excellence. They're building people who can be assets to their communities. I will always advocate for students to find an affordable, high-quality educa​tion that really can open doors for them. For me, it is a CSU.


RUBÉN J. CARBAJAL

Rub​én Carbajal, far left, performs in Hamilton.


RUBÉN J. CARBAJAL
Cal State Fullerton, ’15, Principal Actor—First U.S. National Tour of Hamilton

How did ​​your time at CSUF prepare you for your career?
Once I was in the ‘real world’ and post-grad, I had very few moments of ‘learning the hard way.’ College was ​the hard way. Being Mexican American and Spanish-speaking and having zero professional connections in my field, the odds were stacked against me from day one. I knew that if I wanted to succeed in the real world, co​llege was the first step. During my fir​st two years, I put my head down, worked hard and did my best to retain information that seemed like it was coming from a million different places. I read scripts, listened to cast recordings and would even rehearse ballet, tap and jazz in our dormitory’s community laundry room. I watched as my classmates and peers were cast in productions as underclassmen, but instead of complaining or giving up, I took it as a sign that I needed to work harder. That is what has helped me the most: acknowledging my skills and weaknesses, and my ability to take rejection.

Which skills that you learned at CSUF do you still utilize every day?
I’d never taken a formal dance class in my life, so I am grateful that I was forced to take ballet, tap, jazz and dance for musical theater. While I still don’t consider myself a dancer by any means, I’m able to at least look like I don’t have two left feet when I am asked to dance at an audition. That, as well as basic music theory, has really helped when I start a new show or need to learn callback material quickly. I also learned how to balance and manage my time wisely because the workload was incredibly tough. Learning how to balance classes, work, shows, rehearsals and relationships with friends and family was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

Did you receive assistance that helped get you ready for the workforce?
I was a resident advisor (RA) sophomore year, which is widely accepted as the most difficult year curriculum/workload-wise for musical theater students. I received great mentorship during my time as an RA from my supervisor, and although my schedule was busy, my supervisor was very understanding and encouraging that I could balance everything.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about attending a CSU?
CSUs are often underappreciated and overlooked. ​​I thought I had to go to a UC or a private university to succeed in my field. That thought process could not have been further from the truth. I was provided with all the tools necessary for me to succeed, all the while knowing my education was affordable. Like anything in life, you get what you put into the experience. I firmly believe there's something for everyone at a CSU.


ROBIN JOHNSTON MCGEHEE

ROBIN JOHNSTON MCGEHEE
Fresno State, ’98, Professor of Communications, College of the Sequoias

How did your time at Fresno State prepare you for your career?
Fresno State has a wonderful Communications Department. They were deeply involved with all of the Western States Communication conferences and the National States Communication conferences. There was leadership that connected you to lots of different programs all over the country. In addition to academic classroom engagement, getting leadership from mentors was a huge benefit for a student trying to build her own career as a master’s student. On top of that, I moved from Mississippi to California. The things I had dreamed of, of people working on racial injustice and talking about a more equal and just society, those conversations were happening at Fresno State. It was a breath of fresh air to be in a progressive space that was supportive.

Which skills that you learned at Fresno State do you still utilize every day?
Definitely communicating as a teacher and professor, not only in a public speaking type of element, but also just learning how to write as an academic professor in my classroom for syllabi. My world was turned upside down with Prop 8​. When I became an activist, I learned how to be a good speech writer through my lessons at Fresno State. I had a depth of how to write speeches that would create political change and push people to think about things differently. That was one of the tools that I used then and I still use now.

Did you receive assistance that helped get you ready for the workforce?
I was on the Rodman Scholarship when I attended. I had financial assistance that helped me afford to get my master's degree. They helped with job placement when I graduated. Then, when I was moving into applying for teaching positions, I was able to lean back on what I had learned by being a Forensics Coach at Fresno State and also being in the classroom as a student professor. While I was in my graduate program, I was able to teach classes as a graduate student, and that type of hands-on and real-life experience just cannot be replaced. I was involved with the Associated Student Body, and those programs were beneficial in building leadership.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about attending a CSU?
Don't just be a student who's looking for the grade. Know that the depth of education that comes from being an engaged student and participating ​in all of the different offerings that happen on campus doesn't just change the campus climate. It also benefits you individually because you're building relationships that are going to go beyond your academic tenure at the school. Don't just sit back. Get involved. You've got to get involved to really make ​a difference.


NANCY LEE

NANCY LEE
Cal State Dominguez Hills, ’90/’94, Chief Clinical Officer, Children's Hospital Los Angeles

How did your time at CSUDH prepare you for your career?
The Master of Science, Nursing Program at the time was a small cohort that for the last two semesters was with the same professor and the same group of students. I do believe we learned as much from one another as we did from Dr. [Ronald] Norby.

Which skills that you learned at CSUDH do you still utilize every day?
I learned how to stop and think. That may sound a bit silly, but when you’re an RN, you’re trained to react quickly and solve the problem, and that is not the best response for a leader. Sometimes it might be, but not always.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about attending a CSU?
You must take advantage of all that a CSU has to offer as we never get a second chance. I am proud to be a CSUDH alumni.


DU CHENG
Humboldt State, ’11, Founder and CEO of iDu Optics LLC, M.D./Ph.D. Student

How did your time at HSU prepare you for your career?
When I left my home country for the first time, HSU was my first stop in the United States. HSU’s strong science curriculum and research opportunities turned me from someone who passively absorbed knowledge to someone who explores and turns ideas into reality.

Which skills that you learned at HSU do you still utilize every day?
From Dr. Jianmin Zhong and Dr. Amy Sprowles, I learned how to research literature and form a hypothesis, but more important, how to persistently carry out the work to follow through on research projects. Dr. Rollin Richmond encouraged me to follow up on my ideas of innovation, talk to people, ask questions and never give up on finding ways to make the dream a reality.

Did you receive any other assistance that helped get you ready for the workforce?
I received the HHMI fellowship and CIRM scholarship, both brought in by Dr. Jacob Varkey and Dr. Sprowles from California Prop 71​. I was able to use the CIRM scholarship t​o go to Stanford University as a CIRM Scholar for two years, where I did research on bone marrow stem cells on bone regeneration.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about attending a CSU?
The CSU is truly a gem with so many diverse campuses. Faculty of the CSU really care about students and go out of their way to help mentor them. All you have to do is ask and they will be more than happy to hold your hand and teach you everything until you grow strong enough to fly out of the nest.


Meet more of the outstanding graduates who​ were Made in the CSU.