Twelve outstanding students to be honored at Commencement
When San Francisco State University celebrates its 115th Commencement on May 27, 12 graduating students will be on the stage at AT&T Park to represent all of their fellow students in the Class of 2016.
Each year, each of the University's six academic colleges selects two students – one undergraduate and one graduate – for the honor of representing their fellow students during the ceremony by wearing their college's academic hood.
Undergraduate hood recipients
Taylor Freeman, Graduate College of Education
Taylor Freeman calls her grandmother, a special education teacher, her mentor. Freeman always knew she wanted to work with children, and growing up she volunteered both in her grandmother's special day classroom, located in a low socioeconomic area along the Sacramento delta, and with a neighborhood buddy group made up of both special needs and typically developing children. Freeman ultimately discovered a passion for speech therapy, drawn to the field's combination of both science-based and person-centered work. She will graduate from SF State in May with a bachelor's degree in communicative disorders.
In addition to her coursework, she has volunteered at the Pomeroy Center and with Reading Partners, the latter of which helped her to learn how to work with children of different cultural backgrounds. She has served as president of SF State's National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association, providing leadership to her peers and organizing a broad range of events, including weekly mentoring sessions, communicative disorders program student orientations and two conferences just this past year alone. Following graduation, she will return to SF State to begin working toward her master's degree.
Adriana Garcia, College of Science & Engineering
Adriana Garcia's original career goal was to become a graphic designer. But after she enrolled at City College of San Francisco in search of greater intellectual challenges, she discovered a love of science. Aided by her participation in the National Institute of Health Bridges to the Baccalaureate summer program and two NIH fellowships, the Atwater, California, native transferred to SF State and in May will receive her bachelor's degree in biochemistry.
At SF State, she has studied heme proteins – which can convert nitrite into nitric oxide, which itself can open blood vessels – to learn more about the important role they can play in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. She has also served as a co-vice president for the SF State chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, a group that aims to create a sense of community for minorities in science.
The fourth of seven children and the only one of her siblings to attend college, she hopes to serve as an inspiration for her nieces and nephews as well as others who may not consider higher education an option. After graduation, she will begin doctoral studies in chemical and systems biology at Stanford University.
Danh Nguyen, College of Business
Danh Nguyen, who will receive bachelor's degrees in decision sciences and information systems, was born in Saigon, Vietnam, where his father was a prisoner of war for more than five years. When he was seven, Nguyen immigrated to the U.S. with his family as participants in the Orderly Departure Program. He spent the majority of his childhood in Oakland, overcoming numerous challenges associated with assimilating to a new culture, learning a new language and dealing with threats of bullying, racism and violence while constantly striving toward his goal of obtaining a higher education.
While studying decision sciences, Nguyen has served as a tutor for fellow SF State business students and volunteers for two nonprofit organizations in Oakland: the Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay and the Huong Viet Language School, where he serves as a vice principal, English as a Second Language teacher and counselor.
Following graduation, Nguyen plans to pursue a master's degree in data science and aspires to add value to the business decision-making process through the application of the scientific method and the analysis of big data. An "entrepreneur at heart," Nguyen would like to one day develop his own app-building business in the Bay Area with a focus on apps that can help monitor personal health and improve quality of life.
Richard Leonard Polote, College of Ethnic Studies
Richard Polote, a decorated U.S. Air Force veteran, thought he had his college plan mapped out after he completed his military service: get a business degree and make a lot of money. But that plan changed the day Polote took his first Africana studies class and realized he had found his true passion. He will receive his bachelor's degree in Africana studies later this month.
At SF State, Polote also found an ongoing passion for community service. For three years, he served as a mentor to incarcerated youth through San Francisco's Youth Justice Institute, where he's been recognized as Mentor of the Year. He also volunteers at the Afrikatown Community Garden at Qilombo Community Center in Oakland.
Today, he works as a youth development coordinator at the Boys & Girls Club, responsible for planning, coordinating and carrying out educational and mentorship programs for children from first grade through middle school. In addition to science, math and social justice lessons, he shares his knowledge of Africana studies.
Polote plans to pursue a master's degree in Africana studies and journalism and is currently working on a documentary film about the lynching of African American men in the Southern U.S. since 2000.
Aliyah Shaheed, College of Liberal & Creative Arts
The youngest of seven children, Aliyah Shaheed works tirelessly to promote social justice through her words and deeds. Both her parents grew up in large families, with her grandparents working hard to provide the basic necessities. During the Jim Crow era, her great-grandfather relocated his family to California from Birmingham, Alabama.
At SF State, she has majored in communication studies and made history as a member of the University's debate team. This year, she and her debate partner went head-to-head with the nation's top-ranked, undefeated debate team from Harvard — and won. Their strategy? Challenge the normative framework that controls debate rules in order to highlight how it reproduces structures of power. The duo went on to win first place at the District 1 regional competition, and at the end of the season, Aliyah was recognized by the Cross Examination Debate Association as the top first-year competitor across the country.
In addition to her coursework, Shaheed has worked for the past three years as a tutor with high school students to prepare them to become first-generation college students and has served as resident advisor in her SF State dorm. She also volunteers with Peer Educators Advocating Campus Health, conducting workshops on sexual health and safe sex practices. She will begin a master's program in communication studies at SF State this fall, will remain connected to the debate team as a coach, and eventually plans to become a criminal defense attorney.
Colin Wong, College of Health & Social Sciences
Prior to starting his senior year of high school in Fresno, Colin Wong went from having perfect eyesight to complete blindness during the course of one month. Stricken with a rare condition called Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy, he had to relearn how to function in a world without sight and has since made it his life's mission to excel far beyond any and all obstacles placed in his way. Wong will be earning bachelor's degrees in both liberal studies and consumer and family studies/dietetics after only three years as an undergraduate student.
While at SF State, Wong and his golden Lab guide dog, Wednesday, have kept quite busy between classes, with Colin volunteering as a peer counselor at The SAFE Place – a student resource center for sexual violence prevention and crisis intervention. As a public speaker for Guide Dogs for the Blind, he has taught awareness and understanding of the importance of guide dogs to Bay Area school children. He also serves as an athletic coach with Kids Enjoy Exercise Now, part of KEEN San Francisco, a nonprofit providing recreational opportunities to children and young adults with disabilities.
In the fall, Wong will attend Louisiana Tech University to pursue a master's degree in industrial and organizational psychology with a concentration in orientation and mobility. He aims to return to the Bay Area following school to continue teaching and inspiring children learning to live with blindness.
Graduate hood recipients
Sana Aaser, Graduate College of Education
For a shy middle-schooler who had just decided to begin wearing the headscarf, growing up Muslim in the post-9/11 world was challenging, says Sana Aaser. But she "found her voice" in high school, discovering a passion for education, and will now graduate from SF State with a master's degree in education with a concentration in equity and social justice.
Her research has centered on Muslim American children 6- to 8-years-old – who have only known a post-9/11 world with rising Islamophobia – and whether even at this young age they understand their identity or have internalized negative feelings about themselves. She found that they are, in fact, able to recognize societal inequities, and she hopes to continue exploring how their school environment affects their identity development and whether they see their American and Muslim identities as compatible.
In addition to her studies, Sana works as a product manager for Noor Kids, a Harvard-supported education technology firm that publishes children's books for young Muslims. Sana also served on the board of directors for the Associated Students and volunteered at Reading Partners. She was awarded a fellowship with Education Pioneers, which she will be pursuing after graduation.
Claudia Corona, College of Science and Engineering
A high school field trip to Mono Lake – her first-ever camping trip – sparked Claudia Corona's interest in studying groundwater and sustainability. Already imbued with a high level of curiosity, she wanted to understand more about the place that provided much of the drinking water for her native city of Los Angeles. Growing up as the child of Mexican immigrants, she had learned to make the most of every opportunity, eventually earning a scholarship to Williams College in Massachusetts and then coming to SF State for graduate studies.
Already the first in her family to earn a college degree, she will receive her master's degree in geosciences at Commencement in May. At SF State, she worked on a project that was the first to demonstrate a relationship between climate variability and groundwater. She is also working on quantifying the influence of the subsurface on climate variability signals on their way to the water table.
Outside the classroom, she volunteers with SF State's Sol Patch Garden, plays on the women's rugby team and volunteers with organizations that bring science into elementary school classrooms. She has also run both the San Francisco and Los Angeles marathons. After graduation, she will continue her SF State-based research before beginning doctoral studies, with a goal of becoming a water resource expert who can help California battle the drought and the impact of climate change on groundwater resources.
Amie Rose Lewis, College of Business
Amie Rose Lewis, who received her master's in business administration in December, is a San Francisco native who has already constructed a solid background in green building consulting, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and energy commissioning. She completed her degree with a concentration in sustainable business and is looking to launch a career in the cleantech movement, particularly in clean energy.
Lewis's culminating team project explored whether Tesla Motors is an energy company that makes cars or a car company that has lines of business in energy. While at SF State, she also helped to perform an energy audit of the campus' Business building and completed a marketing internship for a startup company as well as a research assistantship in the field of organizational behavior.
Lewis currently serves as a committee member on Women in Cleantech and Sustainability, a nonprofit network working to build the green economy. Since graduating, she has continued to serve the College of Business through her participation on the dean's task force designed to redevelop the MBA foundation requirements.
Dale Maglalang, College of Ethnic Studies
Born in the Philippines, Dale Maglalang moved at age 12 to Los Angeles. Once in the U.S., his parents had to work multiple jobs, and by the time he reached high school, Dale learned that it was up to him to find the resources necessary to pursue his dream of higher education.
At SF State, where he will receive a master's degree in Asian American Studies, Maglalang has excelled as a scholar, activist and advocate for health disparities in the Asian-American community. Long-interested in exploring what he calls "the intersection between Asian American studies and public health," his master's thesis – the first of its kind to explore the use of e-cigarettes among Asian-American youth – is considered groundbreaking. He is also a visiting scholar at the University of California, San Francisco, where he's part of a research team with the goal of preventing heart disease among Filipino Americans with Type 2 Diabetes.
In addition to his coursework, Maglalang works as an educational advisor helping low-income, first-generation and/or newcomer high school students determine the best pathway to higher education through the San Francisco College Access Center (SFCAC). He's been an active volunteer with Migrante, a grassroots organization defending the rights of Filipino workers in San Francisco's South of Market & Tenderloin districts, and with Pin@y Educational Partnerships (PEP). Maglalang was awarded a four-year fellowship in the combined M.S.W./Ph.D. program in Social Work at Boston College School of Social Work, where he will begin studies in the fall.
Jamie O'Quinn, College of Health & Social Sciences
When Jamie O'Quinn was a child growing up in Thousand Oaks, her parents constantly stressed the importance of obtaining a quality, high-level education to her and her sister so they could one day seize opportunities her parents never had. Not to disappoint, Jamie's sister went on to graduate from law school, and Jamie herself will be earning her M.A. in human sexuality studies.
While at SF State, O'Quinn has won multiple scholarships and awards, including the prestigious California State University Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral scholarship. She has presented her research at annual meetings of the American Sociological Association, the Pacific Sociological Association and Sociologists for Women in Society in addition to working on two research assistantships in HIV studies. O'Quinn's thesis analyzes the first proposed national standards for comprehensive sexuality education, “The Future of Sex Education." She explores how life course theories, sociological feminist analyses and queer theory can advance society's vision of sexuality education's capacity to affect social change.
Working toward her ultimate goal of being a sociology professor, O'Quinn has been admitted to the Ph.D. program in sociology with a concentration in gender at the University of Texas at Austin, where she will work in another research assistantship this summer and begin her doctoral study this fall.
Karly Stark, College of Liberal & Creative Arts
As an undergraduate, Karly Stark took a silent film class on a whim, which sparked her passion for cinema and motivated her to change her major from sociology. In May, she will receive her master's in fine arts in cinema. Today, her beautiful films have inspired, provoked and transported audiences at screenings from the Pacific Film Archive to the British Film Institute. Exploring human experience and memory through a queer lens, her films use a superbly crafted sense of the poetic to question the relationship between photography, memory and sexuality.
Stark has also made a powerful impact in her curatorial work, connecting with broad and frequently underserved audiences. She was head curator of “Quoting Ourselves: A Queer Archive”; co-organized “Quiet Revolutions: Politically Subversive Cinema” at the SF State Graduate Cinema conference; and curated the Queer Student Short Film program at the SF International LGBTQ Festival this year. She is also the curator of the Great Wall of Oakland, which reclaims public space as exhibition space for Oakland's diverse audiences.
In addition to her academic program, Stark has served as a graduate teaching associate, has tutored and taught writing to high school students part-time and has taught filmmaking to middle-school students during the summer. She plans to teach at the undergraduate level, and she hopes to use her knowledge and experience to create a filmmaking curriculum for middle-school students.