Outstanding CSU Grads Impact Campus, Community and World

Stephanie Thara



It’s that time of year when tassels hang perfectly from caps, mortarboards are decorated with detail and precision, award emblems are pinned carefully onto gowns, and commencement music fills every classroom and laboratory on CSU campuses throughout California. The CSU is graduating more than 100,000 students this year, and the number of shining scholars on each campus is endless.

With more than three million living alumni, the CSU has educated some of the most brilliant minds in the world. CSU gives students the opportunity to meet their goals, achieve the impossible and become influencers in the classroom, on campus, in their careers, and in their communities. The university is proud to graduate the following students from the Class of 2015 who have impacted their classmates, campus and community:

stotlerDerek Stotler (CSU Bakersfield): Stotler came to CSU Bakersfield on a partial track and field scholarship, and has since immersed himself in academics, student government and university life. As a result of his achievements and contributions to CSUB, he has been honored as a PG&E Bright Minds scholarship winner.

Vanessa BahenaVanessa Bahena (CSU Channel Islands): Bahena became the first two-term president to lead CI’s Student Government and, as an EOP mentor, she inspires other students from challenged backgrounds not only to graduate from college but also to become active participants and leaders.

Joey ReginoJoey Regino (Chico State): Regino, who was inspired to pursue nursing at Chico State after the death of his father, is a first-generation college student who recently founded a Chico chapter of the American Assembly of Men in Nursing and subsequently started a foot-washing clinic for the homeless.

Carlos AlvaradoCarlos Alvarado (CSU Dominguez Hills): As a member of the Male Success Alliance, Alvarado conducted academic workshops to help male students succeed in college. He also served as secretary for Homeless Outreach Promoting Empathy, where he helped assemble and distribute hygiene kits for the homeless.

Rocio PerezRocio Perez (Cal State East Bay): Perez came to Cal State East Bay as an undocumented student, and has inspired others to pursue their educational dreams as the keynote speaker at the 2015 Educational Summit and as a peer mentor in the GANAS program. She ultimately wants to open a DREAMer program at a Bay Area university.

Yesenia ThompsonYesenia Thompson (Fresno State) – Thompson’s family immigrated to the United States from Mexico and she overcame the challenges of living in a low-income, single-parent home. She earned a 3.91 GPA while researching the role of pesticide exposure in cancer cases among Hispanic farmworkers.

Tim AlexanderTim Alexander (CSU Fullerton): Coming to CSUF at risk of homelessness, Guardian Scholar Alexander launched CSUF’s Financial Literacy Intern Program, produced an annual musical for Financial Literacy Awareness Month and served as a student ambassador for the Cal State DC Scholars Program.

Jacob PotterJacob Potter (Humboldt State): Potter, a Presidential Scholar, spent spring and summer breaks helping youth experience outdoor adventures and currently advises and coaches student volunteers—all the while maintaining a 3.8 GPA and being a star on the HSU Cross Country Track Team.

McKay LaSalleMcKay LaSalle (CSU Long Beach): Fewer than four percent of high school basketball players become Division I college athletes; even fewer become captains of their championship-caliber college teams, and still fewer do so while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. LaSalle is one of those rare individuals.

Barbara HuntBarbara Hunt (Cal State L.A.): At age 71, Hunt will be the oldest grandmother to graduate from Cal State L.A. this June. She decided to pursue a doctorate in educational leadership at Cal State L.A. after returning from a volunteer stint with the Peace Corps in Malawai, East Africa, where she taught elementary school teachers.

CMARuby Grover (Cal Maritime) – As the vice president of programming for the Associated Students and an outstanding scholar in the classroom, Grover has received numerous honors for unselfishly answering the call to lead and serve on behalf of Cal Maritime and the Corps of Cadets.

Lilyana GrossLilyana Gross (CSU Monterey Bay): As a first-generation college student, Gross has completed competitive research experiences at North Carolina State and Harvard, won awards for her research, and served as a mentor for fellow students applying for scholarship and research opportunities.

Tania BenjaminTania Benjamin (CSUN): In addition to spending her undergrad looking for ways to improve the chemical reactions in drugs, Benjamin founded Big Buddies, a campus organization that pairs college students as mentors to homeless and disadvantaged youth throughout Los Angeles.

pomonaKimberly Thompson (Cal Poly Pomona): Thompson, who is part of the first cohort of students to graduate from Cal Poly Pomona’s doctoral program, serves as the assistant principal at Thorman Elementary School, working with many academically at-risk students, empowering them to become successful.

River Smith-SayerRiver Smith-Sayer (Sacramento State): Working as a part- time American Sign Language teacher, Smith-Sayer uses this opportunity to speak about living with bipolar disorder and how he came to terms with his transgender identity in an effort to teach students to not allow the challenges of a disability or difference become a roadblock.

Carrera AllredCarrera Allred (CSU San Bernardino): The first in her family to graduate from college and the first in her hometown of Norco to be commissioned as an officer into the U.S. Air Force, 2nd Lt. Allred, who will earn three bachelor’s degrees, has been named Outstanding Undergraduate Student in CSUSB’s College of Arts and Letters.

Darron DeVillezDarron DeVillez (San Diego State): Just six years ago DeVillez was a homeless veteran. Now, he will be graduating with accomplishments such as winning several university awards and scholarships, becoming captain of the speech and debate team, and getting accepted into SDSU’s master’s program.

Noureddine Noureddine “Dino” Chtaini (San Francisco State): After “making some negative choices” that led to incarceration, Chtaini obtained an associate’s degree while in prison and transferred to SFSU after his release. As a volunteer, he supports formerly incarcerated students and helps youth avoid turning to violence.

sjsuSarah Aghazadeh (San José State): Serving as a teaching assistant during her interdisciplinary studies master’s program,  Aghazadeh participated as an SJSU Salzburg Scholar, which inspired her award-winning thesis “Public Diplomacy for a Global World: The United States and Iran.”

sloBrianna Butterfield (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo): Butterfield found a niche as a student accountant in the Cal Poly’s Low Income Taxpayer Clinic giving voice to people who face sometimes crushing IRS tax bills. She and her team helped many clients in need and turned one woman’s $105,000 tax bill into a modest refund.

Aimal LaiqAimal Laiq (CSU San Marcos): A refugee from Afghanistan who later was forced to flee with his family from Pakistan, Laiq finally found a home at CSUSM where he became a charter member of the university’s Model U.N. club and earned coveted honors for Outstanding Delegation.

sonoma2John Michael Vincent Coralde (Sonoma State): Coralde struggled with poverty and hunger in the Phillipines when he was young and plans to use his kinesiology degree towards a Masters of Public Health to serve his people when he returns. He served in various campus groups to help students transition to college.

stanislausMahsa Takhsha (CSU Stanislaus): According to Takhsha, students are not strongly encouraged to pursue nursing in her native Iran, and one of her major career goals is to change that. A significant step in Takhsha’s plan is earning her Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in nursing education at CSU Stanislaus.