SF State recognizes 12 outstanding graduates during 2018 Commencement ceremony

The dean bestows graduate Talia Hart with a hood during Commencement

Talia Hart, the undergraduate 2017 Commencement speaker, was chosen to represent the College of Science & Engineering during the ceremony. As part of the honor, the college dean bestowed a Commencement hood.

Graduates’ aspirations include advocacy, doctoral programs and service to others

Twelve outstanding graduates will be onstage to represent the Class of 2018 at AT&T Park on Thursday, May 24 during San Francisco State University’s 117th Commencement ceremony. Nearly 8,500 degrees will be conferred this year, and more than 4,700 graduates will attend the event.

As part of a longstanding tradition, each of the University's six academic colleges selects two students — one undergraduate and one graduate — for the honor of representing their classmates during the ceremony by wearing their college's academic hood.

Two of the 12 students, one undergraduate and one graduate, will deliver comments during the ceremony. The student speakers are undergraduate Arianna Vargas, College of Ethnic Studies and College of Health & Social Sciences, and Angela Torres, Graduate College of Education.

Student Speakers

Angela Torres, Graduate College of Education

Angela Torres

As she graduates with her master’s degree in Education, Angela Torres says she is not saying goodbye to San Francisco State. In fact, she jokes that she has spent 19 years here — first getting her undergraduate degree, then a teaching credential and now her master’s — with breaks in-between to teach high school math for 10 years. In her ongoing work for the San Francisco Unified School District, Torres has helped reform the teaching and learning of mathematics.

Torres said SF State gave her a first look at social justice and how particular systems perpetuate inequities for certain races and cultures. “Because I had that window opened, now I bring that into the work I do,” she said. She wants to see everyone excel at math and ensure that underrepresented minorities have the opportunity to be successful. She also brings her students to SF State and encourages them to apply. When she comes to campus, she is always rewarded by seeing “tons of beautiful, smart people of color” attending the University.

“I keep coming back in various ways,” said Torres. “I don’t see this as a goodbye. I’ll be back.”

Arianna Vargas, College of Ethnic Studies and College of Health & Social Sciences

Arianna Vargas

Arianna Vargas is recognized for her outstanding leadership and academic achievement during her years as a double major in Latina/Latino Studies and Health Education, with a minor in Education.   

Vargas entered SF State as a freshman and carried her activist and advocacy work from high school into the larger context of the University. She has established herself as a vocal advocate for youth, focusing on the rights and needs of underrepresented youth of color and issues of public health in underserved communities. Her many achievements add up to a pattern of leadership and advocacy for progressive change and community empowerment that reflects the core values of the College of Ethnic Studies.  

Her association with the College of Ethnic Studies began at age 2, when her mother, Venecia Margarita (B.A., ’02; M.S.W., ’05), was a Raza Studies major and occasionally attended class with her baby in tow. Vargas learned from an early age that education is empowering, as evidenced by her impressive practice of community empowerment through education.

Graduate hoods

Max Czapanskiy, College of Science & Engineering  

Max Czapanskiy

After three years of working as a software developer for Microsoft, Max Czapanskiy decided a desk job wasn’t for him. So he quit — and took a job studying seabirds on an island off the coast of Alaska.

Now Czapanskiy studies how wind patterns affect the movement of seabirds in Hawaii and is completing his master’s degree in Geographic Information Science. He’s currently preparing two publications based on his thesis research. “I love figuring out how systems work,” he said. And the ocean and its inhabitants are a system overflowing with questions.

Czapanskiy has won both the Maxwell Scholarship and the Graduate Writing Award at SF State, and twice worked as a teaching assistant in geographic information systems courses. He’s also become a mentor for younger students. “As I’ve transitioned from being a junior to a senior member of the lab, it’s been a pleasure passing on what I know to the newer students,” he said.

In the fall, he’ll start pursuing his Ph.D. at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, where he’ll study the movement of large whales.

Emily Elizabeth Holtz, College of Business

Emily Holtz

Emily Elizabeth Holtz earned her undergraduate degree in Business from SF State and later enrolled in the University's MBA program, where she was able to explore her interests in sustainability and information technology. As a graduate student, she designed an independent study course that focused on the intersection of those two subjects and wrote a research paper exploring how various information technologies are enabling innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing social, environmental, and economic challenges. For her culminating experience project, she and a fellow classmate conducted a case study of the Analytics Cloud business unit at the software company SAP.

Holtz has served as a member and officer of Women in Business, a graduate student organization where she collaborated with others to plan and coordinate events that promoted the personal and professional development of fellow SF State students. In January, Holtz accepted a position as a consultant focusing on the public sector at a global IT research and advisory firm. Her role is to identify the technology needs of various government agencies and to facilitate the modernization of government systems.

Ellie Lobovits, College of Liberal & Creative Arts

Ellie Lobovits

Ellie Lobovits is a filmmaker and activist. After she received her undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, she spent a year in Ethiopia working as a medical volunteer and English teacher.

While earning her graduate degree from SF State in Anthropology, she received a number of awards, including the Edward Kaufman Award, the Provost Award and the Carolyn Irene Howard Memorial Award. For her master’s thesis, she made the documentary film “Birth on the Border,” which tells the story of women crossing the border from Ciudad Juarez in Mexico to give birth at a natural childbirth center, Luna Tierra, in Texas. Many of these middle-class, well-educated and documented women faced abuse and threats from the border patrol. Her film opened in Oakland and helped raise funds for the clinic. Lobovits is a trained childbirth doula and a published writer. Her article “Where a River of Life Became a Border of Control” was published in the online magazine Sapiens.

Levalasi Loi-On, College of Ethnic Studies 

Levalsi Loi-On

When hunger strikes on the SF State campus led to the creation of a Pacific Islander Studies program, Levalasi Loi-On was watching. “I applied because I wanted to support those efforts,” she said. “As graduate student, I’m proud of being a part of a group of students who are pushing for more representation.”

Loi-On, who is Samoan, Tokelauan and Chinese, is graduating with a master’s degree in Ethnic Studies. For her thesis, she gathered the stories of students and teachers in Pacific Studies programs in San Francisco to understand their effects on students’ identities and academic and social development. In these courses, she explains, students and professors both can bring their identities into the classroom. “These classes stress the classroom as a canoe. Once you step in the canoe, we’re paddling together, and we all hold knowledge,” she said.

With Pin@y Educational Partnerships, Loi-On taught Filipino-American history to students at Balboa High School, and as a leader in the Pacific Islanders Club she supported the introduction of Pacific Studies courses at SF State. She also worked as an ASPIRE (Asian American and Pacific Islander Retention and Education) peer mentor coordinator to help build services for Pacific Islanders on campus.

Next, she hopes to teach Pacific Studies or Ethnic Studies at a university or community college. “I want to be where my people are,” she said. “For me, it’s really about service.”

Steven Machek, College of Health & Social Sciences

Steven Machek

Steven Machek applied the same persistence he learned in becoming a powerlifter to his undergrad and graduate work at SF State. Machek was inspired to earn his B.S. in Dietetics because he wanted to learn about how to maintain healthy weight through better nutrition. That knowledge in turn led him to Kinesiology where he found that weightlifting, powerlifting and other sports improved his physical and mental health. His experience as a powerlifter in particular permeated every aspect of his life, including academics. “You don’t make improvements unless you do something consistently over time,” he said. Machek’s master’s thesis involves analyzing muscle tissues from an elite powerlifter and will be the first such comprehensive microscopy imaging study.

While working toward his master’s degree, Machek was a researcher in the Muscle Physiology Laboratory, a teaching assistant and a founding member of the Kinesiology Department’s Strength and Conditioning Club. Machek leaves for Texas in August to accept a fully-funded Ph.D. position at Baylor University. Ultimately, he hopes to become a college professor and share his knowledge, experience and passion with others.

Undergraduate Hoods

Diane Christine Alar, College of Science & Engineering

Christine Alar

Diane Christine Alar was interested in puzzles from an early age. That interest in problem-solving eventually led her to mathematical research.

Alar completed her bachelor’s degree in Mathematics (Advanced Study) in Fall 2017 after only seven semesters. While at SF State she worked on mathematics research with Professor of Mathematics Federico Ardila and also conducted two summers of research through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program, one at Iowa State University and the other at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley. She’s written two publications based on her work.

As a woman in a field dominated by men, she also found a home in Mathematistas, a campus group for women and other gender minorities in the field of mathematics. “There aren’t a lot of people like me in mathematics research,” Alar said. She drew inspiration from that group and other programs that brought together students of color in mathematics, and she hopes that she’ll be able to create similar programs in her career as a mathematician.

Alar has been admitted to a Ph.D. program in Pure Mathematics at UC Santa Barbara, where she plans to study algebra and combinatorics.  

Lucia Alvarez, College of Health & Social Sciences  

Lucia Alvarez

A computer engineer in her native Nicaragua, Lucia Alvarez immigrated to the United States in 2006 with her 11-year old son and became a substitute teacher in a bilingual classroom. There, she found a passion for teaching. “I fell in love with the children immediately,” she said. “That’s why I started with this new career.”

Alvarez is graduating from SF State with a bachelor’s degree in Child and Adolescent Development with an emphasis on Early Childhood education. At the same time, she’s worked full-time as a lead teacher with the Institute for Human and Social Development’s East Palo Alto Head Start program.

At SF State, she served as a leader and a mentor in the CAD PATH program. Her action research proposal focused on housing insecurity in young children, and she sees early-childhood education as something that has effects that reach far outside of the classroom. “My passion is giving back to the community,” Alvarez said. “As a teacher, I can support other people who struggle and help them improve their lives.”

With her degree she hopes to eventually move on to leadership roles in education, but always with a focus on advocacy for low-income families.

Olivia Conner, College of Education

Olivia Connor

As a high school student and at Monterey Peninsula College, Olivia Conner’s passions were music, theater, language and education. She considered many majors, but after observing a speech pathologist in action, Conner realized she had stumbled upon something special: an opportunity to use her passions to help people.

She transferred to SF State, declared her major as Communicative Disorders and immersed herself in the world of speech pathology. An active leader, Conner joined the campus chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association and became an officer.

In her junior year, she worked as an aide at a speech and language private practice and later served as a clinical assistant at SF State’s Communicative Disorders Clinic. Her interest in aphasia motivated her to join the Gray Matter Laboratory at SF State, where she continues to work. Conner works with Spanish-English bilingual clients with aphasia and contributes to ongoing research studies. A highlight of her senior year was serving as a mentor for fellow students and sharing her passion for the major. In addition to her extensive academic involvement and achievements, Conner was also a self-supporting student, working the same supervisory job at a major corporation during the four years of her bachelor’s program.

After graduation, she will spend a year as an English conversation assistant in Spain. She then plans to continue her education at the graduate level and looks forward to using her work to create a speech therapy program integrating music and theater arts.

Toni Eby, College of Liberal & Creative Arts

Toni Eby

Toni Eby returned to school to earn a college degree 23 years after she completed high school. In between high school and college, Eby became enmeshed in sex trafficking and suffered repeated physical and sexual abuse. She was heavily addicted to drugs, which led to repeated run-ins with the criminal justice system. Eventually, she was referred to a program for survivors of sexual violence that helped her heal and gave her a fresh start. Since then, she’s used her personal experience to inspire and advocate for other survivors of sexual violence, with a particular focus on the LGBTQ community. 

Eby came to SF State because she wanted to earn a degree in a field that would complement her life experience ― Women and Gender Studies. For the past seven years, Eby has counseled clients at San Francisco SafeHouse, a transitional housing facility for homeless women who are leaving sex trafficking and other sexually exploitative situations — the same program from which she sought help 10 years ago. She currently works full time as an outreach and training manager. Majoring in Women and Gender Studies “was definitely one of the best decisions I ever made,” Eby said. She hopes to continue on to graduate school in social work to better serve women’s communities.

Megan Elizabeth Larkin, College of Business

Megan Larkin

Megan Elizabeth Larkin is a lifelong San Franciscan who has always had a passion for working with numbers. She pursued a major in accounting as a way to enhance her knowledge and apply her skills toward helping companies operate in a financially sustainable way.

During her freshman year, Larkin joined the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, a nationally recognized IRS program that provides free tax return preparation to low-income, elderly, limited English-proficient and disabled individuals. During her sophomore year, she became the youngest supervisor in the VITA program. What she valued most about this experience was helping those from underserved communities who came to her with no initial understanding of how to file their taxes. Many of the individuals she assisted were working as independent contractors for real-time ridesharing businesses and unaware of the additional tax complications in this “gig” economy. Larkin helped explain the concepts and implications so they could better plan for their future.

Following her junior year, she interned at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in their industry tax practice team. She was offered a full-time position at the end of her internship at PwC and will begin in January, following the completion of her CPA exam. This summer, she has been offered a labor capital strategies internship with KPS Capital Partners through the Kalmanovitz Institute at Georgetown University. In this position, Larkin will help the private equity investment team identify prospective investments and prepare the relevant accounting.

Additional Commencement information

• Learn what to expect at this year's Commencement by reading these frequently asked questions.

• Get details about what to expect at AT&T Park.

• Understand the guest ticket policy.