USU

The University Student Union Presents

What’s Your Story?

Featuring the Students of the USU

The University Student Union’s “What’s Your Story?” is a fun monthly series of quick Q&As that focus on the interesting lives and work experiences of its dynamic and diverse students. Without these talented people, the USU simply could not provide all of the events and programs it offers CSUN students every year. And since we have more than 300 student employees and board members working together, you just know they’ll have a lot of stories to tell. Let’s go meet some!

June 2021

Kimia Ebadirad (She/Her/Hers), USU Computer Lab Supervisor

USU: What does a regular day look like for you?

Kimia: We just reopened the Computer Lab recently, so my days look a little different now! I usually work on the schedule for our technicians, have one-on-ones with them, compile lab statistics each week and much more.

USU: How has working at the USU changed you?

Kimia: I started as a Lab Technician in 2018 and the USU has helped me grow so much personally and professionally. English is my second language, and I was shy to talk to new people initially. With the help of USU programs, I feel much more comfortable now and made new friends.

USU: What has the Computer Lab been doing to help CSUN students stay connected during the pandemic?

Kimia: We’ve been promoting our virtual programs like Tech Tips and USU Free Printing Gift Cards. We have also sent emails to patrons who are interested in more information. Now we just want students to feel welcome to come in as we reopen!

USU: What will you miss most from the USU?

Kimia: I’m really going to miss Matador Nights! I loved volunteering at that event. I also loved all the events the USU had on Thursdays. I’ll miss the good vibes, free food and hanging out with my friends.

USU: What advice would you now give your younger self before starting college?

Kimia: Have patience! Coming to America at 10 years old and having an “undecided” major, I’ve always been eager to reach my goal — but nothing happens overnight. Patience has really helped me reached my goals and make the best connections.

USU: Who is someone you aspire to be like?

Kimia: My mom. She’s the strongest woman I know and has been through so much. Migrating to the USA, raising kids in a new place and having two jobs to support my siblings and me. She never gave up and one day I hope to be as strong as her.

USU: Pancakes or waffles?

Pancakes! I like them best when my mom makes them since she’s a great cook. But Denny’s is okay, too. Especially with syrup and whipping cream.

  • June 2021 What's Your Story — Kimia Ebadirad
  • June 2021 What's Your Story — Kimia Ebadirad

April 2021

Keanna Sullivan (She/Her/Hers), Personal Training Supervisor

USU: What is your role with the USU?

Keanna: I mainly manage the other personal trainers while making sure programs run smoothly through Microsoft teams. Every week we have team meetings and one trainer will present an interesting health and fitness article or podcast, followed by checking in on everyone.

USU: What project/task have you done for the SRC that you’re most proud of?

Keanna: The “Fit in 6” program. It’s a separate type of training because I was able to wear the hat of a lifestyle coach. During COVID, we were all looking for a new routine and this program helped most participants. I’ve even developed the best relationships with my clients.

USU: What has the SRC been doing to help CSUN students stay connected during the pandemic?

Keanna: The SRC has taken advantage of social media and keeping students fit through virtual programs. For example, participants could get equipment sent to them like exercise bands, jump ropes, and more. We also have “Map My Fitness” on Instagram. Students can check in on what their friends are doing and stay motivated.

USU: After graduating, what career most interests you?

Keanna: I’m hoping to stay in the campus culture and find a job where I can help the future generation Kinesiology students to be part of campus recreation. If I can combine academia and recreation, that would be my dream career.

USU: What is something you are looking forward to at the moment?

Keanna: I’m looking forward to finishing this semester so I can hit the beach and soak up the sun. My favorites are Newport Beach, Hermosa Beach, and La Jolla.

USU: What would you claim is your spirit animal?

Keanna: My supervisor, Whitney, always inspires me to continue working on these amazing projects and myself. A sea turtle because they’re hard on the outside and soft on the inside. They’re associated with being grounded and having patience. They remind me to slow down and pace myself on my goals.

  • April 2021 What's Your Story — Keanna Sullivan
  • April 2021 What's Your Story — Keanna Sullivan

March 2021

Alex Aquino (She/Her/Hers/They/Them), Pride Center Student Assistant

USU: What is your role with the USU?

Alex: I help plan different events at the Pride Center like Trans Empowerment Week, The Lavender Takeover and OUT On Stage. I really try to create more community here. it’s important that we can be a strong and supportive safe space for students.

USU: What has the Pride Center been doing to help CSUN students stay connected during the pandemic?

Alex: We create these wonderful events by asking students what they want to see from us. We host programs for them to see they’re being represented. The Pride Center encourages students to embrace who they are — whether it’s sexual orientation, ethnicity, or origin.

USU: What is your favorite Pride Center event and why?

Alex: My favorite is OUT On Stage. It brings all types of communities together and highlights all kinds of queer artists. I love to give artists the spotlight so they can express themselves while bringing their talent to our students. I feel like I’m helping them in some way.

USU: What do you do to relieve stress?

Alex: I enjoy meditating, having my crystals, going outside to stay grounded, and connecting with my ancestors. It’s important to me to feel that self-love and connection with the universe.

USU: After graduating, what career most interests you?

Alex: I’d like to have my own clothing brand and a store that’s connected to my art. I also want to start an organization to help students of color from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and more.

USU: Who is someone you aspire to be like?

Alex: My supervisor, Whitney, always inspires me to continue working on these amazing projects and myself. They encourage me to keep going and push me to try new things and new projects. Their support means a lot to me when I share my ideas.

March 2021 What's Your Story — Alex Aquino

  • March 2021 What's Your Story — Alex Aquino
  • March 2021 What's Your Story — Alex Aquino

February 2021

Melanie Alvarez Rojas, Chair, University Student Union Board of Directors

USU: What inspired you to run for Chair of the Board of Directors?

Melanie: The people I had worked with previously on the board were the ones who motivated me the most. I also wanted to represent the undocumented community and amplify the voices that are usually silenced or unrepresented.

USU: What are your proudest accomplishments as Chair of the BOD during this virtual time?

Melanie: The BOD is committed to keeping all students engaged in our USU programs while we are social distancing. Last semester we voted to allocate $271,750 to basic needs initiatives on and off campus like the food pantry, student housing, and mailing care packages. We want CSUN students to know we’re here to continue supporting them as we move forward.

USU: How has being BOD Chair changed you?

Melanie: This position has made me more confident, improved my interpersonal and communication skills. It has made me even more empathetic to each student’s situation and taught me the importance of building connections through Zoom.

USU: What is some advice you’d give yourself before starting college?

Melanie: For the type of person I am, I would have told myself to be strong. However, I would advise even the strongest person in the world that it’s okay to ask for help. Every time I’ve asked for help, the guidance I’ve received has been so impactful.

USU: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Melanie: Maybe not a place, but an event. I’d love to go back to a music festival. Before the pandemic, you could always find me at a festival or a concert.

USU: If you could invite any two-dinner guests, who would they be and what would you eat?

Melanie: I’d invite my mom and my grandma. I never got the chance to meet my mom’s mother, and I’d like to learn more about my family history. For dinner, I’d have my grandma teach me how to make a special Mexican dish we can eat together!

  • February 2021 What's Your Story — Melanie Alvarez Rojas
  • February 2021 What's Your Story — Melanie Alvarez Rojas

January 2021

April Chamchalaem, VRC Student Assistant

USU: What attracted you to working at the VRC?

April: I used to be a regular hanging out at the VRC because I just loved the environment and the people. Then I thought about it and decided I wanted to help people who were just like me. I wanted them to feel just as welcomed as I did when I first came into the VRC. It was my way of giving back.

USU: What has the VRC been doing to help CSUN student veterans stay connected during the pandemic?

April: We want our student veterans to know they always have our support at CSUN. We’ve been reaching out with advertising, email, and social media to spread the word about our virtual events and resources to continue creating a sense of community while still social distancing.

USU: What project/task have you done for the VRC that you’re most proud of?

April: I’m very proud of the “Women to Women” event we host. It’s great hearing the experiences of all the women veterans that participate. I’m a mother and I enjoy when student veterans who are also mothers come because we help support and empower each other.

USU: What is your favorite VRC event and why?

April: Family Fun Day was my favorite because it’s so nice seeing that different side of the student veterans other than just in a school setting. I really enjoyed hanging out near the pool, meeting everyone’s families and just having a fun time!

USU: What does a great Sunday morning look like for you?

April: I wake up early and kick off the day by being productive and cleaning my house!

USU: If you could travel to any place in the world, where would you go?

April: I’d go to Thailand because I want to spend time with my grandma as well as my uncles and aunts. A lot of time has passed since I last saw them. I want to catch up with them by going to the beach, camping, or even banana boating!

  • January 2021 What's Your Story — April Chamchalaem
  • January 2021 What's Your Story — April Chamchalaem

December 2020

Nare Kadkhodazadeh, Student Graphic Artist

USU: What do you do within the USU?

Nare: As a graphic artist, we meet with clients to develop the design and then we create sketches to go back and forth with our supervisors. Now working from home, it’s the same process but it can get tricky with communication; emails and our Basecamp program are our best friends!

USU: Has working at the USU given you a clearer idea of a field you’d like to pursue?

Nare: I feel like the USU has made me into a more serious designer. As of right now, I have a lot of interests, and the USU has helped me develop skills I can take for my next job after graduation.

USU: What’s the best advice your supervisor has given you?

Nare: I think it’s more of seeing how he works and using that as advice for my own work ethic. I really admire how my supervisor balances being calm and collected but still getting a lot done with amazing designs.

USU: What is something you are loving at the moment?

Nare: I’ve been loving playing Among Us! At the end of the day after school and work, a few of my friends and I play together. I always choose to play as orange or white.

USU: Who is someone you aspire to be like?

Nare: Now that my family and I have been spending a lot more time together, I’ve been learning from my younger sister more than usual. She’s very driven and works hard to reach her goals, she’s a go-getter and she’s very confident. Those are all things I’m working on within myself and I really admire who she is, she inspires me.

USU: If you could have any actor play you, which actor would it be?

Nare: I would choose Lily Collins, not just because we have the same eyebrows, but I feel like she would do a good job. After watching Emily in Paris, I see a lot of myself within her.

  • December 2020 What's Your Story — Nare Kadkhodazadeh
  • December 2020 What's Your Story — Nare Kadkhodazadeh

November 2020

Andy Candelario (He/Him/His), Technology Support Services (TSS) Assistant

USU: Tell us about your position with the USU.

Andy: Right now with online classes, we’re helping students, faculty and staff who send in request forms when they need IT help. We also check out their computers, personal headsets, microphones, keyboard or any other technology that needs fixing. My favorite tasks are the more hands-on hardware work where I get to open the laptops and see what we’re working with.

USU: What’s your dream job?

Andy: I want to be an IT Administrator or an IT Networking Administrator for start-up companies. Usually, those companies don’t know how to keep their data secure and I’d like to help them.

USU: What project/task have you done for the USU that makes you most proud?

Andy: I was proud of my work on the USB outlets of the umbrella charging stations in the USU. My supervisor told me to disassemble the ports, figure out what was broken and how to fix it. It took me awhile, but I solved it and it was my first-time soldering wires!

USU: If you could invite any two guests to dinner, who would they be?

Andy: Kobe Bryant and my grandma. I was always inspired by Kobe and how he motivated everyone to have that “mamba instinct” of dedication to anything big or small. I would ask my grandma about her childhood and if there’s anything she would’ve done differently in life that she’d advise me to consider.

USU: What is your star sign?

Andy: I’m a Sagittarius but I feel like I'm the opposite of it. Most of my friends are Scorpios or Capricorns. I also think I’m a Sagittarius-Capricorn cusp, so maybe that’s why I don’t identify as a complete Sagittarius.

USU: Who is someone you aspire to be like?

Andy: My dad. He’s a hard worker, he never gives up and always encourages me to try my best. He learned from my grandma that he should never be a stranger to anyone and to be as helpful to people as possible. He’s a very caring man and that’s his most admirable trait.

  • November 2020 What's Your Story — Andy Candelario
  • November 2020 What's Your Story — Andy Candelario

Toni Cunningham (He/Him/His), Student Programs Assistant

USU: What do you do in your position with the USU?

Toni: My job includes planning Matador Nights, Noon Time Concerts and other University Student Union events. I help plan these events by talking to vendors and collaborating with other organizations or clubs at CSUN. We try to provide students a good time, even virtually!

USU: What’s your dream job?

Toni: To be Beyoncé... just kidding! My number one goal is to be the Black Hilton and own successful hotels and resorts.

USU: What project/task have you done for the USU that makes you most proud?

Toni: I’m proud of the advocacy work the USU has been putting into our social media campaigns such as the “Say Their Names” videos. After the BLM movement this summer, we decided to use our platform to advocate for social justice issues. It was a perfect opportunity to see different folks from different areas of CSUN come together during such a chaotic time.

USU: If you could invite any two-dinner guests, who would they be and what would you eat?

Toni: Of course, Beyoncé would be one of them! Along with Michelle Obama. I would ask for advice from these insightful women. Our conversation would be so wise, touching on all topics from politics to life. It would blow my mind! We’d have lobster tails, pesto panini pasta, a nice chicken cutlet with grilled asparagus and sauteed brussels sprouts with white wine on the side.

USU: Who is someone you aspire to be like?

Toni: Again, Beyoncé, but for good reasons! I really admire how she lives her life and moves in silence. Her biggest competitor is herself and when you constantly raise the bar like she does, you can grow so much.

USU: What is something you are loving right now?

Toni: I’m loving RuPaul's Drag Race! I’ve watched Seasons 1 through Season 12. I’ve even finished the Canada season and right know I’m watching the UK season. After this I’m watching the Holland season. My favorite queens are Vanessa Vanjie Mateo and Jaida Essence Hall.

  • November 2020 What's Your Story — Toni Cunningham
  • November 2020 What's Your Story — Toni Cunningham

October 2020

Savannah Styskel (She/Her/Hers), Student Guest Services Assistant

USU: What do you do in your position with the USU?

Savannah: As a guest services assistant, I’m usually informing students by connecting them to different resources on campus and answering their questions. I also provide services for the faculty and staff, so I’m working both in front and behind the scenes.

USU: After graduating, what career path interests you?

Savannah: I’m aiming to go into the Student Affairs profession. This past year, I’ve decided I want to be either an academic advisor or a counselor because I’ve had such positive experiences working with them.

USU: What’s the best advice your supervisor has given you?

Savannah: I was once told to always be true to myself. When working with students, it’s important to be relatable. It fosters a relationship that students will continue to use because they feel comfortable.

USU: What are three goals you have at this moment?

Savannah: Get into a program for grad school. Take my fitness and health more seriously. Be a better plant mom

USU: If you could have any actor play you in a movie, which actor would it be?

Savannah: Rachel McAdams. I feel like all the roles she plays range from being the “sweet girl” to also being assertive, which describes me pretty well.

USU: Favorite movie genre?

Savannah: Probably comedy or action. The movie “Clueless” always makes me laugh.

  • October 2020 What's Your Story — Savannah Styskel
  • October 2020 What's Your Story — Savannah Styskel

Michelle Zuniga, Student Building Manager

USU: What do you do as a Student Building Manager with the USU?

Michelle: I typically ensure every event in the USU is running smoothly and provide help where needed. Now, I make sure everything is okay in our study spaces.

USU: What is your favorite part about working at the USU?

Michelle: Meeting new people every day. Different kinds of people. We get events with CSUN students and some events from the Northridge community and other areas. I love getting to know the many cultures and perspectives.

USU: How has working at the USU changed you?

Michelle: Compared to who I was before working at the USU, I feel that I’m more outgoing and willing to put myself out there. Without the USU, I would’ve never taken on leadership roles. Since joining the USU, I have served as president of the women's basketball club and president of Sports Club.

USU: What are 3 goals you have at this moment?

Michelle: Get an internship in my major. Switch over to healthier habits, eating more fruits and veggies. Open my own non-profit to help hospitals in third-world countries.

USU: If you could have any actor play you, who would it be?

Michelle: Zoey Saldana. I’m brown and there’s not a lot of women actors that look like me. I want someone who looks like me to play me. Plus, she’s a great actress.

USU: Who is someone you aspire to be like and why?

Michelle: My mom. She came here from Nicaragua and had a degree as an engineer. But she sacrificed that good-paying job to clean houses so I could have a better life in this country. Now, she works at a hospital in accounting. I have so much respect for her diligence and I’m so grateful to have her in my life.

  • October 2020 What's Your Story — Michelle Zuniga
  • October 2020 What's Your Story — Michelle Zuniga

September 2020

Gemma Jimenez Gonzales (She/They), Student DREAM Center Assistant

USU: What is your position with the DREAM Center of the USU?

Gemma: I assist undocumented students in navigating the school system. I also co-facilitate our coffee talks where we have conversations on wellness and general check-ins with our students. The DREAM Center joining the USU felt so natural because we share the same goal to create a community space for all students.

USU: After graduating, what career interests you?

Gemma: As an urban planner, I want to engage folks to build and develop vulnerable communities to be safer and more vibrant. Often outsiders come in and make decisions for those communities, but I want to take what I’ve learned and bring it back to my community.

USU: What project have you done for the USU that makes you most proud?

Gemma: I oversaw creating programs and sashes for Undocu-graduation and it made me so happy to see the graduates look at the shout-outs for them. It was an honor to see so many folks be optimistic for the future and I was proud to give them a little gift to celebrate themselves.

USU: Who is someone you aspire to be like?

Gemma: Audre Lord is someone I’ve always praised. I admire how she connects to what it means to be here, what it means to have community, what love is, and her determination to live in a world where she chooses to be her full authentic self. /p>

USU: What do you do to help de-stress?

Gemma: Recently, I’ve been building a relationship with herbs. I have my own little garden where I cultivate the land. It’s so great to see your hard work flourish after harvesting and being able to share it with others. I love spending time with nature, it’s beautiful!

USU: Which musician would you want to sit in a front row seat to see?

Gemma: This is hard to choose! I think I would watch Blood Orange open for Solange.

  • What's Your Story September 2020 — Gemma Jimenez Gonzales
  • What's Your Story September 2020 — Gemma Jimenez Gonzales

Liliana Palafox (She/Her/Hers), Student DREAM Center Assistant

USU: What do you do at the USU?

Liliana: I help students who are from mixed status families, undocumented or need any support at home. Since everything is virtual, I handle more complicated cases like financial aid for undocumented students. I also help teach the new interns.

USU: What project have you done for the USU that you’re most proud of?

Liliana: I’m really proud of the Dependents Binder. It includes important resources for students who have dependents. I complied all of the resources on CSUN campus as well as off campus. I wanted to advocate for students with dependents, like myself.

USU: What attracted you to working at the DREAM Center?

Liliana: I’m from a mixed status family. Growing up, I had to discover the best resources for my family since I was the oldest. I want to be a resource for my two younger sisters on how to navigate higher education. This job is perfect for me because I can help other students.

USU: What is something you are looking forward to at the moment?

Liliana: My sister’s 19th birthday! I’m still putting her gift together and I’m excited for her to see it.

USU: Who is someone you aspire to be like?

Liliana: My grandmother. She played a huge role in my life and I admired her willingness to push the family forward.

USU: Which musician would you sit in a front row seat to see?

Liliana: Lady Gaga. I’d love to watch her perform my favorite song, “Paparazzi”.

  • What's Your Story September 2020 — Liliana Palafox
  • What's Your Story September 2020 — Liliana Palafox