Ahneishia Washington | Major: English
Leading By Example
Ahneishia Washington was voted best resident advisor two years in a row by virtue of expressing herself.
Ahneishia's freshman resident advisor made a huge impact on her. So much so that she was inspired to try out for the job after her first semester at CSUN.
"He was very active and personable," she says. "He made us feel welcome right away."
But when she applied for the RA position the first time, she didn't get it.
"A lot of people would have gotten discouraged," she points out. "I realized that maybe it wasn't my time yet."
She became an academic mentor instead and was able to leverage her experience to get the RA job the second time. Since then, Ahneishia has won the Resident Advisor of the Year award twice. She was also rewarded a peer nomination in 2013 from the other 65 RAs in Student Housing.
"The RA experience has been pivotal in my journey as a woman," she says. "I started at CSUN as a teenager, but now I represent Student Housing — I am a face of the school. Housing residents pass by me on campus and know that I am. I try to be an example of a holistically successful student."
Ahneishia leads her community by excelling as an English honors student double majoring in creative writing. But she claims that she doesn't try to be perfect.
"The RA position requires a lot out of you." Ahneishia explains. "Serving residents in this role helps me learn to balance responsibilities and set boundaries. This is a balance that I have had to learn and develop over time. I'm transparent about mistakes I've made in order to help someone else make a better choice."
She likes to put a personal spin on her job by creating programs that resonate with other students.
"I integrate my personality and my story in every aspect of what I do," Ahneishia says. "This allows me to be very authentic as an RA. My programs are tailored by my story."
In her first year as a RA, Ahneishia suffered from depression. She talked to her residents and discovered that many dealt with similar feelings of low self-esteem and confidence issues. As a result, several of her programs revolved around topics of empowerment and mental health.
One event she hosted was called "Self-love Speed Dating" in which she invited all the residents during the week of Valentine's Day. At the event, she distributed mirrors to each attendee.
"I asked everyone to sit facing each other," she says. "For one minute, one person told their partner what they admired about them. Then, he or she wrote on the other person's mirror one word that best described that person."
The attendees swapped mirrors and read out loud what other people had written about them — words such as "beautiful," "amazing," "funny" and "smart."
"Some of these words were ones they had not said about themselves in such a long time, so to hear them from their peers was inspiring and encouraging," Ahneishia points out.
She hosted another program called "Save a Life with a Smile," which informed residents of how to become allies for depression and suicide prevention and provided references to University Counseling Services.
"The RA position has empowered me by giving me the opportunity to assert who I am," Ahneishia says. "This is the most powerful thing I can take away from this campus. I will walk out of here in my graduating year with a clear idea of what I was placed on this earth to do."
Ahneishia returns to Student Housing this fall as a community advisor. As a community advisor, she will oversee the training, development and support of all the resident advisors. For more information about Student Housing, check out its website.
Ian Smith | Major: Music (Music Education)
Veterans Resource Center peer mentor Ian Smith helps CSUN veterans and their families transition to civilian life.
Most students who arrive at CSUN probably haven't seen what Ian, an Iraq War veteran, has seen of the world.
Ian joined the Marine Corps as an infantryman in December 2000. While he was on his first training mission in Failaka Island, a small Kuwaiti island in the Persian Gulf, al-Qaida terrorists attacked his platoon, killing one man and severely injuring another.
"It was a training exercise," Ian says. "Nothing was supposed to happen. But that was my introduction to the brutality of war."
In the 2003 Iraq invasion, Ian was part of the first Marine division that pushed north toward Baghdad. On his last deployment, he was stationed in Abu Ghraib, the prison wracked by controversy, and he fought in the 10-day siege of Fallujah, during which his company suffered heavy losses.
Ian returned to civilian life in Laguna Hills, California. The transition was difficult. It took him just over a year to find an entry-level secretarial job.
Ian didn't begin to seek out veteran services until after the passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2009. He recognized the GI Bill as an opportunity to pursue his dream career in music or film. He promptly enrolled in Pasadena City College, then transferred to CSUN in 2011 and enrolled in its music education program.
But 2011 was a tough year. Ian's wife, pregnant with their second child, wasn't able to work, and the GI Bill didn't provide enough income for their growing family. Ian struggled to find part-time work that fit around his course load – he had to remain enrolled in full time to receive all GI Bill benefits.
Finally, Ian contacted the Los Angeles district office of the Department of Veterans Affairs. It proved to be a turning point. By getting involved in the veteran community, he became aware of its issues, resources and the ways he could help others like himself.
"At the time I didn't understand what it meant to be a veteran. In the military, we're trained to be invisible and to go at it alone," Ian explains. "I didn't associate with other veterans. But by reaching out for help, I found ways that my help was needed."
Ian became a peer mentor for CSUN's Veterans Resource Center (VRC), which opened its new brick-and-mortar location one year later. The VRC, located in the University Student Union, currently serves more than 700 veterans and their families. Because Ian began working for the VRC from the beginning, he was able to shape the vision of the center – from developing its academic and professional services and extracurricular programs to proposing a logo design.
Concurrently, Ian partnered with organizations such as Street Symphony and The Soldiers Project, which allow him to volunteer while doing what he loves: creating music and videos. Another nonprofit he became involved with is The Mission Continues, a program that rehabilitates Iraq War veterans by helping them get involved with service projects. "When we were in the military, we had significance. We were allowed to do amazing things," Ian explains. "But when that is taken away, it's hard to recapture. It's like your former self is removed. You grapple with the question, 'Who am I?'"
The work of The Mission Continues has been so influential that it captured the attention of Gen. David Petraeus. In spring 2013 Ian and four other veterans met with the former CIA director at the University of Southern California to discuss the general's future role in veteran services. Ian was elated after the meeting.
"The challenge is to find ways to get vets to lean in and find out what they have to offer the world without the military as their uniform," Ian says. "Volunteer work is the strongest model for reaching out."
For that reason, he is a strong advocate for veteran volunteers — because the terrifying alternative, he realizes, is disengagement from the community, or even worse, depression, suicide, or drug or alcohol abuse.
To get in touch with CSUN veterans who are making a difference, visit the VRC website.
Ivan Rueda | Major: Biology
MARC U-STAR fosters the next generation of biomedical researchers.
Thanks to Proposition 37, the phrase "genetically modified" has recently developed a bit of a bad rap.
Ivan Rueda, an aspiring biotechnologist, attributes this to a lack of public education. Even at home, his family wrangled with him over genetically modified food.
"Prop 37 really made me aware of this problem," Ivan says.
His realization affirmed the importance of his research as a scholar funded by the program Minority Access to Research and Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (MARC U-STAR). Under the supervision of Dr. Zavala, Ivan studies plant biology, specifically the genomics of root development. His research investigates which regions of DNA are responsible for certain stages of growth.
"I want to find ways for the roots to develop in foreign soil – soil that the plant normally wouldn't do well in — for example, a tropical plant in a desert," he explains.
He believes the ramifications of what he is doing are huge.
"Plants are being used to discover more new chemicals for medicine. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) help our society produce more crops and in arid soil. But because of Prop 37 GMOs are being met with a lot of resistance. People just don't know how the future of plant science depends on GMOs. Prop 37 shows that we [as a scientific community] haven't been letting the public know what we've been doing at all," he points out.
Thus, Ivan's dream is to come up with a technology platform – either a computer program or a smartphone application – to teach people about science the way his idol American astronomer Carl Sagan taught him. In 1980, Sagan starred in the thirteen-part television series "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage" that aired on the Public Broadcasting Service.
Ivan watched Sagan's hour-long episodes on YouTube and was particularly affected by "Blues for a Red Planet," which proposed the idea of terraforming a Martian colony.
"It kind of blew my mind. I thought, 'Wow, it's possible to do something like that. Maybe I can contribute to human advancement.' It helped me realize that I could be doing something more."
That realization spurred Ivan to change his major, which at the time was art, to biology.
Thus, when he first entered the laboratory, he had a lot of ambition. But he didn't have the experience to match his vision. Fortunately, he met professor Zavala at an opportune time.
"She fostered me from a shaky scientist. She helped me get to where I wanted to be. I went from being entirely insecure to very certain about coming up with my own approach to how to research things," he says.
Upon graduating in spring 2013, Ivan hopes to secure a biotechnology job in the San Fernando Valley. After a few years, he anticipates applying to doctoral programs in biology at top schools such as Cornell University, Purdue University, the University of California, Riverside, and the University of California, San Diego.
Javier Mulato | Major: Sociology
CSUN's Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) helps hundreds of historically disenfranchised students go to college every year.
The path to college may seem transparent — earn good grades, ace the SAT and write a killer personal statement.
But as some of us know, these things are not easy to achieve when you have unpredictable circumstances in your life.
Junior and sociology major Javier Mulato grew up in the Mid-city district of central Los Angeles, a part plagued by gang activity. His devotion to baseball and his coach Julio Colon, a former Los Angeles Dodgers player, prevented him from dropping out of school. But they couldn't keep him out of trouble.
Because both his parents worked late shifts in order to support him and his siblings, Javier spent most of his childhood on the street. Wearing the wrong color shoelaces would be enough reason for a gang member to persecute him and his friends.
In retrospect, he laughs about it.
"I had to take public transportation because my parents couldn't pick me up after practice. Depending on luck, I'd come across a crew [of a particular gang] on the bus or on my walk home. Being mugged is interesting," he says.
While attending Los Angeles High School, Javier felt discouraged about his academic prospects. Guidance counselors encouraged his peers who earned good grades and high test scores to apply to four-year universities. Many of his friends opted for community college because they thought they couldn't pay tuition at a larger academic institution.
Fortunately for Javier, his older brother told him about EOP.
"Without EOP, I wouldn't be in college," Javier points out. "EOP sees the student – where they come from – and not just the grades or SAT scores."
EOP gives special consideration to historically disenfranchised applicants (e.g., low income) who cannot fulfill the minimal admissions requirements but demonstrate potential and motivation to graduate from a four-year university. Applicants must meet the income criteria, and be California residents, unless they are a candidate for the AB 540 exemption. Some EOP students may also qualify for an $800 grant.
In order to be admitted with EOP's assistance, you must file supplemental documents and materials, such as personal recommendation letters, in addition to filling out the CSUMentor EOP application. If you have questions about the program, email email@example.com.
Once enrolled, EOP students have access to mentorship and tutoring, academic advisement and transitional summer programs.
Javier is a residential mentor for EOP Summer Bridge, in which newly admitted EOP students acclimate to college life. For six weeks, they live in dorms, and attend classes and academic advisement sessions.
As a mentor, Javier supports and teaches the students about campus resources, such as the Delmar T. Oviatt Library, Klotz Student Health Center, and the main EOP office, located in University Hall 205, which features its own computer lab and free printing.
"I love working at EOP. I don't see it as just a job. I'm giving back what they've given me. Without learning about EOP resources at the beginning, I'm pretty sure I would not have survived a semester here at CSUN. A lot of the EOP students come from harsh backgrounds. Their environment may keep them from succeeding in college," he says.
Eventually, Javier wants to apply for a job as a peer advisor at one of the EOP student services centers on campus.
For more information about applying and working for EOP, visit the website.
Jessica Williamson | Major: Psychology
MARC U-STAR fosters the next generation of biomedical researchers.
Instead of folding T-shirts or flipping burgers, Jessica Williamson spent the summer of 2012 doing something extraordinary.
The senior psychology major conducted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) tests on schizophrenic patients at the University of California, Davis.
The setting was like something out of a sci-fi movie – Jessica's patients sat in a copper box while she fitted them with an odd-looking helmet constructed from electrodes (after first wetting the spongy ends of the electrodes with a liquid measuring device called a pipette). She then charted the brain's electron activity on a computer. Afterward she helped doctors analyze the data.
"It was my first time doing something like that. I was also trained to give Structured Clinical Interviews for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," says the 22-year-old.
The unique opportunity was afforded by Minority Access to Research and Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (MARC U-STAR), a research training and fellowship program spearheaded at CSUN by biology professor Maria Elena Zavala.
CSUN students apply to MARC U-STAR during their junior or senior year; applicants must have a 3.0 GPA or higher and must demonstrate the desire to pursue a doctoral degree in the biomedical sciences.
Jessica applied in May 2010 and is one of 16 current MARC U-STAR scholars at CSUN.
In addition to summer research, in July 2013, she will attend the American Psychological Association's annual convention in Honolulu to present her research on condom usage in Hispanic populations. MARC U-STAR will subsidize her hotel, travel and meals.
With the program's financial assistance, Jessica has already presented several times at the Western Psychological Association Convention, the Association for Women in Psychology Conference and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students.
"Without Dr. Zavala and MARC U-STAR, I wouldn't be doing all this. Before, I didn't know I had to work in a lab or have research experience. I would have tried to apply to Ph.D. programs with my GPA and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general test alone," Jessica says.
Every Friday, professor Zavala invites all MARC U-STAR scholars to lunch at the Orange Grove Bistro. After the complimentary lunch, guest speakers, including faculty from other schools, talk about their research projects or graduate programs.
"Dr. Zavala mentors us. She tells you want you need to be doing and what you're doing wrong," Jessica says.
Besides providing mentorship and many ways to boost students' curriculum vitae, MARC U-STAR also encourages student support.
"We have parties at Dr. Zavala's house — a hello/goodbye party for new scholars and scholars who are leaving. She calls it 'our' house. All the MARC U-STAR scholars have a close connection. We talk and we know each other," Jessica explains.
Since Jessica is graduating in spring 2013, she plans to apply for a Master of Arts degree in psychology at CSUN.
"First I want to get a master's degree to get an extra boost in statistical methods," she explains.
Ultimately, her goal is to apply to doctorate programs in clinical psychology at Fordham University, Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Los Angeles.
Michael Abalos | Major: Communication Studies
Former CSUN soccer player and 2012 Big West Goalkeeper of the Year now trains and plays internationally with an English national team.
In fall 2012 the CSUN men's soccer team won the coveted Big West Conference title. An additional honor was awarded to goalkeeper Michael Abalos for his impressive performance last season. He made university history by becoming the third Matador to claim the title Big West Goalkeeper of the Year (Joe Barton won it in 2002 and Kevin Guppy in 2005 and 2008).
Michael ended the season with a 12-6-0 win-loss-draw team record, 53 saves and an average of 0.99 goals scored against him per game.
Although his Matador career came to an end, his playing days are not quite over yet. He aspires to become a professional soccer player, and he's pursuing that goal by being a part of the Nike Football Academy based in Loughborough University, England (soccer is known as football outside the U.S.).
"I have a window of opportunity to make soccer into a career, and I'm going to run with it," Michael says.
Michael got a shot at his dream when the global finalists for Nike's The Chance challenge came to Los Angeles. Through some favorable connections, he was invited to train with them. He impressed coaches Jimmy Gilligan, Jon Goodman and Ryan Garry so much that they invited him to play with their team.
"I left for England at the beginning of February 2013. So far it's been one of the best experiences of my life," he says.
As a Nike Football Academy player, Michael has the opportunity to meet and even train under the likes of soccer legend Roy Hodgson, who is currently the manager of the England national football team.
Michael became a Matador in 2009. The Orange County native was playing for the Pateadores Soccer Club in Irvine when CSUN coach Terry Davila saw him at practice and decided to recruit him.
The University of California, Irvine, had also made him an offer. But when it came time to choose, he picked Northridge because he wanted to try living in another part of the Southland.
"I like experiencing new places, new things," Michael says.
Initially, he found the transition to a NCAA Division I team difficult.
"The players were technically better, physically stronger and faster," he explains.
Michael's transition to college life was facilitated by coach Davila, who placed him and the other freshman team members in the same house. There they practiced and worked out together every day. They traveled in close quarters on a bus or airplane for the majority of the semester.
"A lot of these kids will be friends of mine for life," he says. "We've gone through ups and downs together as a team. It's good to experience all that with friends you've been around for a while."
In the classroom, studying communication provided the opportunity to interact with peers – which he enjoyed. Just like on the soccer pitch, he found it easier to work as a member of a team.
For now, the days of defending the Matador goal box are over. But whether it's on the field or in another occupation, expect Michael to score big.
— Marcos Rodriguez, marketing major, spring 2013
Patricia Cabral | Master's Program: Psychology
Sometimes you don't have to wait until you graduate before your college education starts to pay off.
Patricia Cabral, who is working her master's in psychology, found a scholarship that rewards her for research she is already doing at CSUN.
Bruce Lawrence Schentes was the former director of CSUN's Associated Students AIDS Speakers Bureau and a major proponent of AIDS education. In 1990 the Associated Students established a scholarship in his honor.
Recipients of the Bruce Lawrence Schentes Memorial Scholarship receive an annual gift of $2,000. You apply when you are a junior, a senior, or a graduate student, and you must demonstrate involvement with AIDS education or research.
Over the last few years, Patricia has been studying sexually risky behaviors, specifically psychosocial triggers such as peer pressure, with supervision from professor Luciana Lagana.
Patricia first became interested in the subject after observing the high rate of teen pregnancies and dropouts at Ulysses S. Grant High School, located in Valley Glen, where she attended for four years.
Because one of the consequences of sexually risky behavior is AIDS, her research was a perfect fit for the scholarship. But since the application limited her essay to less than 500 words, she had to get to the point right away.
"When you have more than 500 words, you can give your essay a hook, introduce and link it to yourself," Patricia explains. "But with this kind of scholarship, my best suggestion is to make sure you make it immediately clear why it is the right scholarship for you, what you can contribute and how it can help you in your research."
Patricia wrote about her interests, which are the behaviors that put a person's health at risk and the negative outcomes such as unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS. She emphasized her focus on minorities, specifically Latinas (who among one of the fastest-growing subpopulations at risk for HIV infection) and her commitment to reducing those numbers. Patricia also listed her publications, conferences and grant writing.
"I just mention how my research will contribute to scientific knowledge, which is always the goal anyway when it comes to any kind of research," she points out.
After graduating in spring 2013, she plans to apply to doctorate programs in psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, Merced.
"I would like to come back and teach at an academic institution like CSUN," Patricia says.
Patricia recommends visiting CSUN's Financial Aid & Scholarship Department website to find scholarships. She also utilizes Stars Online, a scholarship tracking and review system. Stars Online helps you streamline the application process and is a great resource for finding scholarships that you qualify for.
Patrick Cruz | Major: Kinesiology
Beat of One's Drum
One student's ambition to become a professional taiko drummer took root here at CSUN.
In the fall of 2011, Patrick Cruz was on his way to brass ensemble practice on campus when he became distracted by the sound of percussion. The sophomore kinesiology major walked across Cypress Hall in search of the mysterious source.
That was when he came across the CSUN Jishin Taiko Ensemble. The sound had come from members practicing on their barrel-shaped drums called taiko. Patrick found out taiko drumming is a traditional Japanese art and musical performance.
"I went up and talked to the drummers. Since I couldn't stay because I had a rehearsal, they invited me to check it out next time, which was that Wednesday," he says.
The introduction marked the beginning of a dream to become a professional taiko musician. A year and a half later, Patrick regularly performs with Jishin — most recently at the University of California, San Diego; Stanford University; the Monterey Park Cherry Blossom Festival; and Kester Magnet Elementary School.
"It has become a huge part of my life. Ever since I've adopted taiko, I can't get away from it," Patrick says. "When I graduate, I want to go to Japan and join the Kodo, a professional group stationed in Sado Island that performs worldwide. I love the possibility of touring the world while doing something I love."
As a performing member, Patrick practices with Jishin three times a week in three-hour sessions. He plays the chu-daiko, the main instrument used during performances. The other drums are the odaiko, which is the deepest-sounding and the heaviest, and shime-daiko, the highest-pitched drum that is mostly used to keep time — called ji — during songs. Although Jishin members are not required to commit so much time to practice, rehearsals are mandatory for performing members of the group.
"Taiko is a discipline in and of itself," Patrick explains. "It's difficult because it requires a lot of stamina, muscle endurance and control. And you have to stay alive with the whole group during the performance. There is always a certain attitude you have to present in every song."
For instance, for light and joyful songs, drummers have to mask their fatigue or pain. During dramatic, somber songs, they cannot show the audience how much fun they are having.
Patrick naturally took to taiko because of his background. When he was growing up in Guam and Eagle Rock, he and his older brother Kenneth practiced martial arts. Patrick also played in Abraham Lincoln High School's marching band and was on the football team.
"Taiko is everything that I love put into one art — it is musical and athletic, visual and pleasing to the ear. It is an inspiration to listen to, watch and be part of," he says.
In order to become a performing member, Patrick had to learn three traditional songs: "Renshu," "Korekara" and "Matsuri." Although most Jishin members take about a year to master these songs, Patrick became proficient within a semester.
"Much of the concepts behind playing taiko are like those in martial arts: Your body stays relaxed until the moment of impact — only then you grip the bachi (the drumstick)," Patrick explains.
Like in martial arts, Patrick learns by watching and mimicking experienced drummers. He listens to the beats and imitates their kata, or the performer's movement of the body. In taiko, performers have to rehearse a song together until they can ascertain that each drummer has perfectly synchronized his or her movements with all the others. This creates opportunity for camaraderie in Jishin.
"The group itself is small but tightknit. Everyone was really welcoming when I started. I liked that as my freshman experience," Patrick says.
Although his dream of performing with Kodo one day is strong, his bachelor's degree in kinesiology prepares him to become a physical education teacher one day.
"There is always a need for high school physical education teachers," Patrick points out. "I would like to be unconventional with my classes. Instead of just making students run, I would like to teach sports or taiko. Even if I don't get into Kodo, I can always come back to Los Angeles and teach," he says.
For more information about the CSUN Jishin Taiko club, check out their website.
Sharona Hariri | Major: Biology
On a Mission
Sharona Hariri helped create a campus chapter of the nonprofit Global Medical Training, which allows CSUN students to deliver health care services to underserved areas abroad.
Sharona is earning her second bachelor's degree in biology at CSUN in hopes of attending medical school.
Medicine is her passion, which is why she found the international humanitarian organization Global Medical Training appealing.
"It's a unique opportunity for students to get hands-on experience," she says. "You travel to Central America, set up mobile clinics and assist local physicians."
Sharona first heard about Global Medical Training while volunteering for the Care Extender Medical Internship at UCLA. Fellow volunteers had participated in trips through the UCLA chapter and shared stories with her.
Inspired, Sharona decided to start CSUN's own chapter with psychology majors Kevin Kaminyar and Harout Militonyan. The three drafted a new club constitution and submitted it to Associated Students in March 2013. After the club was approved, the three marketed the new club over the Summer by speaking in classrooms, passing out fliers, participating in Matador Involvement Center's Meet the Clubs Day and University Student Union's Matafest, as well as setting up social media.
Fall 2013 was the first official semester. So far, the club has recruited 40 members — mostly undergraduates with a range in majors like chemistry, biology and psychology. However, as Sharona points out, anyone can participate. The club hosts informational workshops that train attendees to diagnose common diseases based on symptoms and recommend treatments.
"While on the trip, the traveling student will take down patient histories and make diagnoses based on symptoms told to him or her by patients," Sharona explains. "He or she will tell the local physician, 'This is my diagnosis and this is how I would treat the patient.' Then the local physician steps in.'"
In winter 2013 members will be taking their first trip to Nicaragua. Each trip costs approximately $1,200. Participants can apply for scholarships and payment plans on the Global Medical Training website.
Even if you can't go on the trips, you can still join the club and help with publicity, fundraising efforts, and health-related events, Sharona explains.
"We're expanding our vision and what we want to do," she says. "We can only grow from here. The feedback we've received has been incredible."
She believes the organization is a boon for those with medical school dreams.
"This experience broadens the way you view the world and the way you view medicine," Sharona says. "You're focusing on medicine on a global scale."
She believes this global knowledge of health will be instrumental in cultivating better physicians. For more information about the CSUN chapter of Global Medical Training, check out the Facebook page.
Stephanie Hoston | Major: Cinema and Television Arts
In addition to hosting famous acts at the Valley Performing Arts Center, CSUN boasts a bevy of talented student performers.
The Department of Theatre mounts musical and drama productions four to seven times a year. Only CSUN students and faculty are invited to perform onstage.
Senior film major and music theatre minor Stephanie Hoston had a starring role in the fall 2012 staging of the musical "Spring Awakening."
Stephanie first started singing and acting in seventh grade. Her mother taught her how to dance Caribbean merengue and made a purple jumpsuit, so Stephanie could perform as the Mexican-American pop star Selena. Her father, Rodney Hoston, a popular 1970s boxer who had a brief stint on television, was also supportive of her career goal.
"I've always felt like this was my calling," Stephanie says. "My dad keeps telling me to live the dream now."
The proximity to Los Angeles has been a tremendous boon for the aspiring actress. On a daily basis, Stephanie works with industry professionals such as Jeff Okabayashi (first assistant director, "Oz the Great and Powerful," among many other credits) and CSUN alumnus Donald Petrie (perhaps best known as the director of "Miss Congeniality").
"Being at CSUN has helped me so much," Stephanie says. "We, as students, get an opportunity to work with people in the business. Even though they are famous, they are still willing to help us. Thus, CSUN students have a leg up over everyone else."
Currently, Stephanie is working on directing her senior thesis, a musical film called "Incendiary." In addition to writing all the original songs, Stephanie hopes to shoot with traditional film cameras, which would be made possible by a Panavision New Filmmaker Program grant that her CSUN professors encouraged her to apply for.
While working on her film degree helps Stephanie make invaluable connections in the movie industry, her participation in campus theatrical productions leverages her into community theatre. For instance, she was invited to perform in the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center's winter 2012 production of "Spring Awakening."
On average, Stephanie devotes at least 12 to 16 hours a week to rehearsals.
"In the beginning, when I had the leading role in CSUN's 'Spring Awakening,' I worked a lot more," she says. "You should spend an hour every day creating your character and finding more depth in songs you will be performing outside of rehearsal. You want to understand your character the best you can, do your research so you can better understand how to act."
In May 2013 Stephanie plans to audition for the Simi Valley Cultural Art Center's production of "Les Miserables." In addition to auditioning for more roles, she is bolstering her acting chops with classes at the Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio. Her next big goal is finding an agent.
"If I want to achieve my dreams, I have to stay focused after graduating," she says.
Fortunately, her legacy at CSUN will live on after she leaves. She hopes to use her senior thesis, "Incendiary" as a calling card while seeking internships at local studios, including Warner Bros., CBS and 20th Century Fox.
She also recently applied for and received a Women in Film scholarship.
"I am grateful and blessed to have all that. It looks good on my resume, and I'm receiving money to follow my dreams," Stephanie says.
For more information about CSUN performers, check out the Department of Theatre's website.
Timothy Nang | Major: Humanities
Pride in Identity
After coming out to his parents in high school, Timothy Nang found CSUN to be the ideal place for him to discover the person he wanted to become.
Sophomore humanities major and queer studies minor Timothy Nang wrestled with his identity growing up.
"I always knew I was a little different," he says.
From a young age, he sensed that he was attracted to boys. But fearing ostracism, he hid it from his family and friends.
"I imagined that if I told my parents, they would throw me away because I was a broken — a broken boy," he confesses.
Because of this insecurity, he was withdrawn and timid all through high school and never approached new people. He hung out with a tight-knit group of childhood friends.
But he longed to understand why he felt so different from those around him. One day he decided to visit Advocate.com, a news website that spotlights the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
"I felt really scared when I went on the LGBT website," he says. "I was still unsure about myself."
Through the website, he found out about L.A. Pride, an LGBT parade and three-day festival that takes place every year in West Hollywood. Timothy decided to take the plunge and sign up to volunteer at the event.
"I had been hiding for so long that I wanted to truly find myself and see this community once and for all," he says. "After seeing all these people at the parade — people like me in large numbers — I realized I wasn't alone. It showed me that the life I was given isn't bad."
When he broke the news to his parents, to his surprise, his dad was the most supportive.
"It's not just a journey for you, but it's a journey for your parents too," he points out.
Because of his family's support, when it was time to decide where to go to college — despite being accepted at California State University, San Bernardino and California State University, Los Angeles — he enrolled at CSUN in order to be closer to home.
CSUN proved to be the perfect place for Timothy to blossom into the person he wanted to be. Prior to attending college, he never knew about organizations such as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Alliance (LGBTA), Matadors for Equality and Vote for Equality.
"I remember the first time I went to an LGBTA meeting," Timothy recalls. "The president greeted me and it immediately felt like such a loving, warm environment."
He made new friends and spoke up more. Becoming an LGBTA member also ignited a desire to promote the LGBT community. That's when Timothy became a student representative for the Pride Center Advisory Committee, which advises CSUN's Pride Center and University Student Union on the delivery of programs for CSUN's LGBT students, faculty and staff.
In addition to its services and outreach education, the Pride Center, located in the University Student Union next to the Student Recreation Center, also provides peer mentorship.
"The Pride Center gives a more vivid image of the diversity of the CSUN campus," Timothy explains. "Diversity isn't just Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian, etc., but people who identify with the LGBT community. The Pride Center allows the campus to be aware that LGBT students like us are here."
For more information about services and volunteer and job opportunities at the Pride Center, visit its website.
Toluca Scarfo | Major: Liberal Studies (Integrated Teacher Education Program Freshman Option)
At six, Burbank native Toluca Scarfo already knew she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. CSUN's Integrated Teacher Education Program is allowing her to achieve that dream quickly and at a low cost.
Toluca's first classroom was an oversize doghouse in her family's backyard where she taught numbers and ABCs to her little brother and two neighborhood girls. When she babysat, she helped toddlers acquire developmental skills such as phonemic awareness and color recognition.
At home, she had never been told to do her homework because of the free-spirited and eclectic household she grew up in. Both her parents had dropped out of school by their teens; her mother is an Italian model turned medical transcriptionist, and her father is an auto body mechanic. Her little brother is an aspiring punk rock musician. Thus, her whole family was surprised when she announced that she wanted to become a teacher.
"When I told my mom, she said, 'SAT? What is that? You're going to college?'" Toluca jokes.
But she wasn't dissuaded. Toluca enrolled in CSUN's Integrated Teacher Education Program (ITEP) Freshman Option in fall 2009. She chose ITEP because she will earn a bachelor's degree in liberal studies and a K-6 teaching credential as well as complete at least 80 hours of invaluable fieldwork.
The program is not for the fainthearted. On average, she took 19 to 21 units per semester until she started teaching in her senior year after which her course load dropped to 12 to 13 units per semester.
Toluca has worked at schools throughout the Glendale Unified School District, including Thomas Edison and John Marshall elementary schools. As a student teacher, Toluca partners with a full-time teacher at the school. For three weeks, she shadows the teacher. Afterward she either teaches half or the entire curriculum, depending on the supervising teacher's instructions.
Under the supervision of teacher Rosemarie McCabe at Thomas Edison Elementary School, started teaching during the fourth week. She began to plan classes for the culturally diverse group of 36 students, most of whom spoke one of seven languages in addition to English: Arabic, Armenian, Farsi, Indian, Romanian, Spanish or Tagalog.
"It was so fun," she says. "I got to connect with the children. It felt like acting — getting up every day and being enthusiastic."
One little girl even wrote Toluca a letter explaining how she was the best teacher ever because all her lessons felt like games. Toluca's classroom experience gives her the opportunity to study child development firsthand; for example, she helped document autism in a student.
"To be a teacher, you're not just teaching the subject; you're teaching social skills," she points out. "You note abnormalities – kids with disabilities are usually diagnosed because a teacher notices."
Although she is interested in child development, Toluca is also considering pursuing educational administration, such as a career as an elementary school principal. After graduating in spring 2013, she plans to apply to a master's or doctoral program in education.
"I feel that if I don't all the way and pursue a Ph.D., I'm wasting my potential," she declares.
Although, as always, her family is supportive, they still tease her. Her father admonishes her against working so much.
"He gives me a hard time — he says, 'You need to calm down and enjoy life,'" she explains. "I respond, 'But I am happy. This is how I enjoy it!'"
Yollotl Azure Lopez | Master's Program: English
Education on a Dime
Master's student Yollotl Azure Lopez is one of those inspiring individuals for whom adversity is an opportunity to shine.
Despite acceptance letters from the University of Southern California and several University of California campuses, Yollotl decided to attend Antelope Valley College in 2007 and transfer to CSUN in 2009.
Her motivation was to save money. As a dependent of two parents with relatively high incomes, Yollotl didn't qualify for grants even after filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Although her parents made a lot of money, most of it was sucked away by medical bills for her grandmother's cancer treatments. Yollotl's only option was to pay cash or take out large student loans each year.
"If I had chosen any of those universities, I would be in debt at least $60,000. And that's for tuition five years ago," Yollotl points out. "So I weighed it and said, 'Okay, I have a chance to live at home and save money.'"
Yollotl's mother was an elementary school teacher; as a result, during Yollotl's undergraduate career, she became interested in CSUN's English master's degree because it includes a two-year teaching associate contract.
"At first, I didn't want to just follow in my mom's footsteps," Yollotl says. "But then I became a student instructor for Chicano Studies 155. When I first stepped into the classroom, nothing felt more right."
Yollotl lives in Palmdale, approximately 50 miles from CSUN. Her parents subsidize her basic living expenses and books. But to pay for tuition and fees, the resourceful Yollotl had to take on a number of jobs. During her undergraduate and graduate careers, she has held up to four jobs at a time: a CSUN student instructor or instructional student assistant, Knight High School tutor, personal assistant to poet Nan Hunt, private tutor and licensed cosmetologist for special events.
When her mother became sick, life became even crazier for Yollotl. For a long time, her mother had suffered from diabetes and an inherited weak bone disease. During Yollotl's first year as a master's student, her mother underwent gastric bypass and spinal surgeries. The latter procedure involved the removal of several inches of her spine. Despite having to spend hours in hospitals and writing papers in waiting rooms, Yollotl maintained straight As.
After her mother was well enough to go home, Yollotl had to wake up at 4 a.m. every day to prepare breakfast and dinner before leaving for school.
In spite of such difficulties, Yollotl found time to serve as a press secretary for the student organization Associated Graduate Students in English (AGSE) and blog for English professor Robert Oscar Lopez. She also presented research at the Graduate Studies' annual Student Research and Creative Works Symposium, AGSE and Sigma Tau Delta conferences, Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS) and California State University, Fullerton.
"These activities have been a great intellectual challenge," Yollotl says. "They have helped me feel the sense of community that I often must forgo since I live so far from campus."
Although her busy schedule sometimes takes a toll, Yollotl is happy.
"I invested in my education at CSUN, and it turned out all right. I've never regretted that decision," she says.
After finishing her CSUN master's program, Yollotl plans to apply to doctoral programs in English with special interests in film and 20th-century comparative ethnic literature.