SF State to recognize 12 outstanding graduates during 2021 Virtual Commencement

Krista McNally and Eliana Hernandez

Students Krista McNally and Eliana Hernandez will be the student speakers at this year’s Virtual Commencement.

Honorees’ aspirations include documentary filmmaking, astrophysics research and speech therapy

Twelve outstanding graduates will be honored during San Francisco State University’s 120th Commencement ceremony, the second to be held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on Friday, May 21. They will represent their more than 8,400 peers in the Class of 2021.

As part of a longstanding tradition, each of the University’s six academic colleges selects an undergraduate and a graduate student to represent their classmates and wear their college’s academic hood during the ceremony. More details about the ceremony are available on the Commencement website.

Graduate Student Speaker

Krista McNally, Lam Family College of Business

As a member of the MBA for Biotech Professionals first cohort, McNally participated in numerous outreach programs, spoke to prospective students and helped publicize the program through social media and at networking events. She has also volunteered as a tax preparer for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program for three tax seasons.

McNally currently works as a scientist for Chimera Bioengineering, a small startup in South San Francisco that focuses on discovering and developing new immune cell therapies that fight cancer. Over the past three years, her work has become progressively more external-facing and included collaborating on joint projects with other biotech companies and managing in vivo studies performed by contract research organizations. She has recently transitioned to a new role as head of external manufacturing.

She earned a Bachelor of Music (magna cum laude) from Western Michigan University and maintains a membership in the Chamber Musicians of Northern California, where she plays violin with other amateur chamber music enthusiasts.

Undergraduate Student Speaker

Eliana Hernandez, College of Ethnic Studies

Eliana Hernandez’s family has a history of fighting for social justice, which influenced her decision to double major in Race and Resistance Studies and Criminal Justice Studies. It also motivated her to continue her family’s legacy by volunteering at organizations that address social issues.

Hernandez volunteers with Shellmound Walk, an organization that aims to protect shellmounds — ceremonial places and burial sites created by Native Americans — across the Bay Area. The nonprofit also draws attention to the oppression of Native people and protests the Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil pipeline project that many tribal and environmental groups have opposed for years.

Hernandez is also active with Causa Justa :: Just Cause, a grassroots organization that serves low-income, underserved communities in San Francisco and Oakland, where she worked on campaigns for immigrant and housing rights.

Graduate Hoods

Philip-Izac Evangelista Enguancho, College of Liberal & Creative Arts

As a graduate scholar in Communication Studies, Philip-Izac Evangelista Enguancho’s culminating creative project examined Filipino-American and hip hop culture in the U.S. through an autoethnographic performance. His work brought to the forefront voices, stories and bodies of a community that has been historically marginalized. In a world that has invested very little time in understanding Filipino history within the context of U.S. imperialism, Enguancho is committed to that work.

As a teacher, he excels in making abstract theoretical materials accessible and inviting to his audience, often using hip hop lyrics and examples from popular culture. He led a group of his colleagues to challenge the department to actively pursue anti-racist policies and helped develop an anti-racist curriculum. He was instrumental in getting open educational resources so that an introductory course will be zero-cost for students beginning in Fall 2021.

Michael Davis, College of Science & Engineering

After seven years of teaching high-school chemistry and physics, Michael Davis came to SF State to pursue an M.S. in Geosciences. He joined Professor of Earth and Climate Sciences Mary Leech’s research group, where he applied his strong chemistry skills toward the group’s research on rocks from the Adirondack Mountains. But COVID-19 upended both Davis’ plan to pursue fieldwork in the Adirondacks and his funding from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Undeterred, Davis persisted in his research, using computers to study rocks he couldn’t seek out in the field. His modeling of how these rocks respond to changes in temperature and their chemical environment has drawn considerable interest during his presentations at national scientific conferences.

During his time at SF State, Davis has been deeply involved in the teaching mission of the Department of Earth and Climate Sciences. He taught several introductory geology lab courses, where he was appreciated by students and faculty alike.

Alison Dungca, Graduate College of Education

Alison Dungca is graduating with not only an M.S. in Communicative Disorders but also an impressive list of other achievements. One of them is completing a special training through Project Building Bridges, an SF State program funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The program trains students in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), tools and strategies that support people with speech difficulties so they can work more effectively with culturally and linguistically diverse adolescents.

Dungca also worked with Team Peru, an international project, to help build AAC platforms in Peru. Team Peru is a part of the NIKA Project, an organization that provides access to sustainable technology and educational tools worldwide.

Jee Soo Kang, College of Ethnic Studies

Jee Soo Kang, who is graduating with an M.A. in Asian American Studies, dedicated her thesis to the Korean diaspora and activism demonstrated through art. It explores how Korean Americans who practice p’ungmul, a traditional Korean drumming style, embody activism, challenge systems of oppression and strive for tongil (unification between North and South Korea). Her thesis conveys the urgency and importance of community care and reimagining governmental systems.

Outside of her coursework, Kang has been involved with various SF State programs. She worked as a peer mentor for Asian American and Pacific Islander Retention and Education (ASPIRE), a program that addresses academic barriers that Asian American and Pacific Islander students commonly experience. She also worked as an assistant to help graduate students acclimate to their first year at SF State.

Brandon Venerable, College of Health & Social Sciences

Brandon Venerable (he/him) will earn a Master of Public Administration (MPA) at SF State and has maintained a 4.0 GPA while working as a senior global programs manager at YLabs, a nonprofit design and research organization.

Through his scholarship, Venerable has made considerable contributions to the discipline of public service and management. He coauthored a comparative analysis of the health care systems and democratic characteristics of Taiwan, England and the U.S., which was published by the Global Policy Insights think tank. In another research project, he explored the relationship between income and insurance among women accessing family planning services at community health centers. Venerable’s capstone project was a management analysis of a community health center’s operation and management issues.

Venerable served as a representative of the College of Health and Social Science’s Reflections and Actions to Create Equity (RACE) Initiative, which is focused on engaging the college community in activities, trainings and working groups to advance racial justice. He played a pivotal role in shaping the direction of the initiative, ensuring the voices of marginalized groups were being centered.

Undergraduate hoods

Sowmya Chandrasekaran, Lam Family College of Business

Sowmya Chandrasekaran was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a child she was encouraged to connect with her roots and grew up learning Indian classical music and dance. At SF State, Chandrasekaran was closely involved in the Providing Opportunity for Women (POW) and SF Hacks student organizations. Her passion for leadership and technology led her to major in Business Management and minor in Computer Science.

She also pursued a minor in Chinese Language to continue learning the language she developed an interest in while in high school. She recently began her career in the defense and aerospace industry as an artificial intelligence engineer. She is passionate about social entrepreneurship and using advanced technology for good.

Aminatou Dabokemp, College of Science & Engineering

Aminatou Dabokemp graduates with a B.S. in Physics with a concentration in Astrophysics. And while completing a challenging degree program and conducting research in three different fields, Dabokemp still found time to give back to the community.

Her research, some of which she presented at the CSU Student Research Competition, has included studying how a type of nanoparticle scatters light, searching astronomical databases for stars rich in certain kinds of elements and seeking to identify scattering events from particles of dark matter.

At the same time, Dabokemp has been a leader in the department. She served as the event coordinator for Women in Physics and Astronomy and represented her department on the college’s Anti-Racism Task Force. She also tutors elementary school students and has worked as a docent for the SF State Observatory.

Dabokemp is a founding member of Astronomers for Planet Earth, an advocacy organization focusing on climate change, and has contributed to vaccine distribution and administration during the pandemic. She will attend New York University for a Ph.D. in physics.

Ying Wencie Hoang, College of Liberal & Creative Arts

Ying Wencie Hoang graduates with a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema and a minor in Race and Resistance Studies. Throughout her studies, she maintained a 4.0 GPA — the highest among all graduating Cinema students. She currently works as a publicity assistant on her college’s communications team, where she tells stories about the college’s faculty, students and alumni.

With ambitions of being a documentary filmmaker, Hoang is president of the Feminist Filmmaker Fellowship, an SF State club dedicated to supporting women and nonbinary filmmakers. She’s developed a variety of programming for the group, including resume-building workshops, movie nights and other themed socials.

Her student film “Our Stories: College from Home” captured the unique experiences of SF State students during the pandemic, telling stories of formerly incarcerated students, students facing homelessness and those dealing with loneliness. Hoang combined her concern for Asian American representation in film with the craft of filmmaking as a research assistant and post-production intern on SF State Asian American Studies Professor Valerie Soe’s film “Loveboat: Taiwan.” The documentary tells the story of a summer program for college-aged Taiwanese and Chinese students where romance often flourished.

Siddiqa Nisar, Graduate College of Education

For Siddiqa Nisar, there were pivotal moments in her life that influenced her to earn a B.A. in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences. One of them was when she moved from Pakistan to the U.S. at age 11. Nisar remembers struggling to communicate, make friends and fit into a new culture and education system. Thankfully, her English language development teacher Susie McKee was supportive and made this transitional period easier for Nisar. That’s when she realized she wanted to pursue a career in speech-language therapy.

This realization deepened when she was 16. At this age, Nisar oversaw the educational and medical needs of her brother, who has multiple disabilities. Although it was a daunting responsibility as she balanced school and work, she says the experience made her the strong and mature woman she is today.

Nisar will be the first in her family to graduate college. This fall, she will return to SF State for a master’s degree in the same field.

J Vasquez, College of Health & Social Sciences

At 16 years old, J Vasquez was processed through adult court and sentenced to 31 years to life. Repeatedly told that he would never get out of prison, Vasquez refused to give up hope. Today, Vasquez is the policy and legal services manager at Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), where he works on juvenile and criminal justice advocacy campaigns. He will graduate summa cum laude from SF State with a B.A. in Sociology and a minor in Criminal Justice Studies.

Vasquez’s childhood was marked by neglect due to his parents’ struggles with addiction. When he lost his father at 15, Vasquez’s life quickly spiraled out of control. But while in solitary confinement in 2001, Vasquez made a personal commitment to turn his life around. He read a variety of self-help books, participated in rehabilitative programs, processed his childhood trauma and took college courses. Twenty-five years and six associate degrees later, he was released by the parole board.

Upon release, Vasquez enrolled at SF State thanks to Project Rebound, and in 2020 he interned in Supervisor Shamann Walton’s office as a Willie Brown Fellow. His work has contributed to legislation protecting young peoples’ Miranda rights and restoring voting rights for Californians on parole.