The SDSU College of Professional Students and Fine Arts has seven schools, each of which nominated students to be the Outstanding Graduate of their school for the 2019 graduation year. These outstanding graduates demonstrate excellence within their college, maintaining academic success, involving themselves in extracurricular activities, leadership, research, and supporting their fellow students.
PSFA College Council President and Theater, Television and Film graduate Matthew Tornero was named Outstanding Graduate for the entire college of PSFA. Tornero was the President and Vice President for PSFA College Council, as well as Executive Vice President and treasurer for Skull and Dagger Dramatic Society. Tornero participated in four faculty-directed theatre productions as an actor and has produced several short films while at SDSU.
“These leadership positions forced me to make executive decisions, some in which I firmly believed, others needed more convincing from colleagues, but ultimately all were for the good of the organizations I served. They pushed me to my mental capacity several times, and in some cases made me exceed it,” said Tornero.
While at SDSU, Tornero was awarded the Associated Students Study Abroad Scholarship for his study abroad experience in Edinburgh, Scotland. While studying abroad in Scotland for three weeks during the summer of 2017, he saw several theatrical performances, attended a film festival, hiked in the highlands and created closer bonds with his friends.
“Studying abroad has made me all the more excited for my next opportunity to learn in a new locale, whenever and wherever it may be.” said Tornero.
His career goal is to use the storytelling skills he has learned to produce film and television, empowering other filmmakers to bring their diverse ideas to the screen.
“My major provided me with a foundation of training in the storytelling arts, teaching me how to properly analyze narratives, get underneath the skin of each character I play, and effectively use self-guided techniques to realize these characters from the page to the stage and screen,” says Tornero.
Chelsea Jenna Vandenberg
After graduating this spring with her Bachelor of Arts degree in Graphic Design from San Diego State University’s School of Art + Design, Chelsea Jenna Vandenberg hopes to work as a freelance designer specializing in creating stationery, packaging, brand identities, and hand-lettered products. She also hopes to launch an online, retail store in which to sell her designs.
During her time at SDSU, Vandenberg interned with a National City-based planner and the stationery company called Passion Planner. At Passion Planner, Vandenberg took on a myriad of responsibilities including assisting with social media, online content creation and working alongside the marketing team in the areas of product advertisement, prototyping, and photo editing.
Participating in an internship program provided Vandenberg a valuable opportunity for personal and professional growth. “I learned the importance of effective time-management, how to work cohesively as a team, as well as owning and expressing my individual talents,” said Vandenberg.
Vandenberg also overcame the difficult challenge of finding her “personal niche and style.”
“I knew I wanted to do art and design but I had no idea how to define and individuate myself,” said Vandenberg.
Vandenberg is proud of the endurance, perseverance, and persistence she demonstrated while at SDSU. She spent countless hours and late nights working on design projects with tight deadlines, requiring multiple design variations and revisions. She’d like people to remember how she always went above and beyond expectations to get the job done. More importantly, said Vandenberg, she’d like to be recognized for her “passion for design and stationery products” and for her “personal self-expression.”
Briana Marquez has devoted her time at SDSU to advocacy, undergraduate research and leading with heart.
As the Lead Academic Mentor at SDSU’s Pride Center and an Undergraduate Research Fellow at Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RESISTE), Marquez has been able to put her passions into practice in spaces that emphasize diversity, inclusivity and acceptance. In her position at the Pride Center, she oversees and empowers mentors and helps to promote the academic and social success of first-year LGBTQ+ commuter students.
“I have a small, but critical role in LGBTQ+ students’ lives, which happens to be one of the most vulnerable populations concerning low retention rates, food insecurity, and homelessness,” Marquez said. “My goal is to guarantee they have the resources and support they may not have otherwise. My work centers on striving for healing and liberation for my students and the queer community.”
Marquez received several scholarships during her time as an SDSU student, including the National Society of Collegiate Scholars Induction Scholarship and a Phi Eta Sigma scholarship, but she says that receiving The Cotton Metzger Scholarship in Honor of LGBT Students had the biggest impact on her because it recognized her advocacy work within SDSU’s LGBTQ+ community. The financial support Marquez received from these scholarships allowed her to further her advocacy efforts and continue working towards attaining accessibility and equity for all students.
Marquez also cites her study abroad experience in Thailand as having a great impact on her college experience. The program completely immersed her in a different culture, which allowed her to see her own culture from a new point of view.
“Study abroad teaches a person about another culture and allows a student to reflect on their own culture, discourses, and influences,” Marquez said. “It expands your knowledge, your experience, and your heart. Overall, it is true when people say that studying abroad will change your life.”
After graduation from SDSU, Marquez hopes to pursue a master’s degree in school counseling and to one day become a school counselor so she can continue to follow her love of learning and helping others.
If a reporter were to interview someone close to Kaysia Pajita, they would describe her using phrases such as resilient, compassionate, empathetic and unafraid to speak up for what’s right.
During her time as an SDSU student, Pajita was able to explore her passion for health communication by interning for a nonprofit health clinic in North County San Diego where she created content, conducted research and ultimately organized a forum to inform the community on the dangers of underage drinking.
“For me, this internship reinforced the fact that I like engaging with the community for a good cause,” Pajita said. “I was able to take the concepts that I’d learned during the year and a half prior, put that into practice and test my skills.”
Pajita also had the opportunity to study abroad for 3 ½ weeks in the summer of 2018 and visited the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland and Italy as part of the “Communication in Europe” program. She also received the Marie Hornik Scholarship for Study Abroad in the Czech Republic and an Associated Students Study abroad scholarship.
“The Marie Hornik Scholarship went a long way in Prague because the currency exchange rate at the time was excellent, and everything in Prague is inexpensive to begin with,” Pajita said. “I really made the most of every cent (errr… Czech koruna), and I’m grateful that the late Ms. Hornik was generous enough to create a fund for students who were studying abroad in the Czech Republic.”
Pajita plans to enter a graduate program in the fall of 2020 and is interested in pursuing a master of public health in health education and promotion degree. She would love to continue working in health communication by becoming a Planned Parenthood educator.
Regina Choi was chosen to be the Outstanding Graduate for the School of Recreation and Tourism Management.
During her four years she has had two internships, one at the Mission Trails Regional Park, where she learned the skills to become a park ranger, her second internship was with the City of La Mesa in Community Services, where she learned leadership skills and knowledge of public services to help prepare her to become a parks and recreation professional.
Choi received three scholarships, one from the California Parks and Recreation Society District 12 Scholarship, the Outdoor Environmental Resource Management Scholarship and the Richard & Betty Teague Memorial and CAPRCBM Past President Scholarship.
Choi also attended a study abroad program to Ecuador on a faculty-led study abroad trip over the summer of 2018, where she learned about the importance of practicing sustainability in another country.
Choi said that being President of the Recreation and Tourism Student Association helped her conquer her fear of public speaking because she had to speak at all the meetings and attend other student organizations meetings to inform them about the great opportunities her organization offers students at SDSU.
After graduation, Choi plans to apply to graduate school for a degree in recreation administration with the hopes of becoming a director for a city in parks and recreation.
Graduating senior Jillian Tower is one of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management outstanding graduates this year.
Tower worked very hard to be involved at SDSU. She said that she joined the National Society of Minorities and Hospitality, where she was the National Planning director, interned at the Marriott as a Rooms Operations intern and traveled on school trips to Chicago and Joshua Tree.
Post graduation, Tower will be studying abroad in Italy. Tower said that her grandfather who recently passed away used to live in Italy and she is excited to learn more about Italy and connect with her grandfather.
Tower did receive the Hospitality and Restaurant Foundation scholarship for $3,000 to help pay for her study abroad program.
Tower is graduating as a meeting and events student. “My dream is to open my own event planning company and plan both social events and meetings,” said Tower.
Tower’s hope for her graduating class is that everyone finds their passion and is happy.
“I am definitely a little stubborn, but very driven. I have been through a lot of difficult times in my life, but I am still here, pushing forward. I try my best to keep smiling and pushing through,” said Tower.
Lauren J. Mapp
During Mapp’s time in school, she worked tirelessly to learn photo and video editing, HTML and CSS coding and various other skills to become as well-rounded of a journalist as possible. Lauren interned with iNewsource, a non-profit, investigative news website, as well as worked for The Daily Aztec as a senior writer, for PRSSA as the director of Digital Media and participated in the Native American Student Alliance.
“My experience in my major has helped me immensely to learn how to establish my personal brand and promote my work as a journalist through my professional social media channels. In a current media climate where there are fewer and fewer opportunities to work as a journalist, I am confident that the vast array of skills that I have learned from my professors at SDSU has prepared me to be a diverse, multimedia journalist,” said Mapp.
For Mapp’s hard work, she was awarded four scholarships during her last year at SJMS: the San Diego Association of Black Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists, the San Diego Press Club, and the Gertrude Jockusch Endowed Scholarship. In 2018 Mapp received a fellowship to attend the Columbia School of Journalism’s Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference. Mapp also has an incredible work ethic.
“During the semester I routinely work 40-50 hours a week, and during summer prior to transferring to SDSU and the summer in between junior and senior year, I worked at multiple jobs for about 70-80 hours per week,” said Mapp. “I have grown through the experience of working long hours to pay for school in that I have learned how to multitask better while orchestrating a complicated work/school/extracurricular activity schedule. As a reporter, I will need to wear many hats on the job and work hard to stand out in a crowded field, so the past two years have felt like I am preparing for the hard work needed for future successes.”
Outstanding Graduate for the School of Music and Dance, Jesus Cervantes, has performed many times at SDSU, as well as with the National Orchestra Institute. Last summer, he participated in the Domaine Forget International Music Academy Festival in Quebec, Canada.
“During my month at this incredible festival, I was immersed in an incredibly rich environment of learning and performing and was able to form lifelong connections with some of the best musicians from around the world.” said Cervantes. “The instant bonds I was easily able to form through music are a testament to the universality and power that music holds, and I have been inspired to continue broadening my global musical perspective as a result of experiences such as this one.”
The recipient of both the Fisch/Axelrod Music Scholarship and the SDSU Merit Scholars Scholarship, Cervantes is well-recognized for his academic perseverance and dedication to his craft.
With career goals that include both the performance and educational aspects of being a musician, Cervantes recognizes the impact that his studies have had. “During my time at SDSU, I have worked closely with colleagues coming from a wide range of musical backgrounds, and I have been fortunate enough to be placed in a number of different musical settings and work environments,” said Cervantes.
Michael J. Cuevas
Michael J. Cuevas is the School of Public Affairs outstanding graduate, majoring in criminal justice.
Cuevas said that his most challenging task at SDSU was getting straight A’s while taking seven classes during one semester. He said that achieving this goal proved to himself that he can take on any academic challenge that he puts his mind to.
“I went from being a high school dropout to being an excellent student at SDSU,” said Cuevas.
Cuevas’ career goals are to become a prosecutor and eventually a judge. Cuevas said that he feels that his major prepared him for a career in the criminal justice field by teaching him about theories, law and constitutional issues.
Cuevas did acknowledge some of the difficulties of balancing adult life and college life.
“Many freshmen are young and they should take advantage of their youth to educate themselves so that when they are older they are in a position in life will they will not have to work as hard and can enjoy more of life rather than struggle to make ends meet,” said Cuevas.
A proud United States Marine Corps veteran, David Herndon has committed his time as a public administration student at SDSU to learning how to facilitate change in the public sector and achieving academic excellence.
Herndon will graduate this year having accomplished his goals of maintaining a 4.0 GPA, being inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi honor society and graduating Summa Cum Laude despite facing family tragedy and undergoing complete knee replacement surgery during his time at SDSU.
“Things like this happen to people every day and I’m no different,” Herndon said. “My studies, dedication and determination to succeed help me to get through these difficult times.”
Herndon is currently completing an internship with the United States Department of Agriculture - Rural Development (USDA-RD) and has had the opportunity to work with students at SDSU’s Imperial Valley campus to teach them about the importance of nutrition and portion control. He also had the opportunity to attend the first Latino Farmer Symposium in Yuma, Arizona as part of his internship experience.
After graduation, Herndon hopes to find a career where he can help people and change their lives for the better. He is interested in working with disabled veterans and helping them to navigate their healthcare options and benefits.
“My hope for the future of my graduating class is that every one of us pursues our dreams no matter how big or small they may be,” Herndon said. “Some of us will go on to graduate school and others will hit the ground running to make changes within society. We can do or be anything we want to if we put our minds to it, apply ourselves, and just go for it.”
Claire Hendrix was selected as the Outstanding Graduate in the Television, Film, and New Media Program at San Diego State University. She plans to pursue a career in feature film development.
As an artist, Hendrix says that she feels a sense of responsibility to be a positive influence on the world. “My experience in the film major strengthened my understanding of cinematic storytelling and contributed to my awareness of how the stories we tell have the power to both reflect and transform our culture,” said Hendrix. “ I have a greater sense of the responsibility that artists have to be a positive influence on the world around us.”
The first in her immediate family to attend a four-year university, Hendrix came to SDSU as a transfer student. “I struggled with self-doubt and adapting to an unfamiliar environment. Dealing with these issues during my time at SDSU has given me greater confidence in my own abilities and self-determination,” said Hendrix
Hendrix credits her self-determination and persistence as contributing factors to her success in her studies. She encourages students to come to SDSU with an open mind and explore all of the opportunities that are available to them.
The content within this article has been edited by Lizbeth Persons.News List