SF State: exceptional students profiled


SAN FRANCISCO, May 9, 2011 -- San Francisco State University will confer degrees to 8,132 students at its 110th commencement on Saturday, May 21. Below you will find stories about outstanding graduates, including this year's hood recipients, who are top graduates chosen to represent their fellow students from each of SF State's academic colleges, Liberal Studies program and Division of Graduate Studies. For assistance in contacting any of these students, call the SF State Office of University Communications at (415) 338-1665.


Outstanding students:

David Wick, helping minorities to study abroad
David Wick is graduating from the University's doctorate program in educational leadership and is one of 12 students to graduate from the doctorate's second cohort. Wick is the study abroad services coordinator in SF State's Office of International Programs. He completed a dissertation exploring the experiences of students of color who study abroad. He used SF State as the site of his research -- a campus whose study abroad participants include 52 percent students of color compared to the national average of 19 percent. He found that students require "social capital" -- access to family, friends or advisors with international experience or informal advice on studying abroad -- in order to participate in study abroad programs. His results also suggest that the time abroad is a unique space in which students of color renegotiate their racial, ethnic and American identities and change their view of themselves and what they can accomplish. His findings include insights for international education professionals on how campus advisors can act as students' "social capital" and how pre-departure training can better prepare students for the identity questions they will face while abroad.


Jia Wei Zhang, researching happiness 
Psychology major Jia Wei Zhang is well on his way to a research career exploring the psychology of happiness. As an undergraduate, Zhang has co-authored three peer-reviewed research papers. He recently published a study on personality and happiness, which suggests that people who view the past positively experience greater happiness in the present. Zhang became interested in human behavior when he volunteered at the Chinatown YMCA during his teens. Working with new immigrants and low-income families, he found that many of them equated wealth with happiness, but he had always questioned this notion. He enrolled at SF State and found his niche in positive psychology -- the study of how humans can thrive and be happy. He was part of the prestigious CSU pre-doctoral scholars program that prepares students for careers in academia. In the fall, he will begin a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Zhang has achieved all this even though he did not speak any English when he emigrated from China at the age of 11. He lives in North Beach.


Hood recipients:

Aleksandr Pankov (Science and Engineering), student speaker 
After moving to the U.S.from Moldova at age 6, Aleksandr (Alex) Pankov grew up in San Francisco, attending Hebrew Academy before joining SF State in Fall 2007. Pankov credits SF State's Presidential Scholars Program as one of the reasons for his successful undergraduate career, during which he earned a degree in statistics and applied mathematics. Pankov's research interests evolved as he joined the research team of Javier Arsuaga, assistant professor of mathematics. His work with Arsuaga, which earned him recognition from the CSU system, explores how genes change due to tumors and cancer, and how these mutations might influence outcomes of potential therapeutic treatments. In the fall, Pankov will begin a doctorate in bioinformatics at University of California, San Francisco. Pankov has been chosen as the student speaker and will address his fellow students at Commencement.


Maria Gershenovich (Behavioral and Social Sciences), from dance floor to courtroom
Driven by the persecution her family faced because of their Jewish heritage, Russian-born Maria Gershenovich knew that the fastest ticket out of Russia was to become an athlete or prodigy. She became an accomplished ballroom dancer and at the age of 14 was invited to join a dance studio in the U.S. Gershenovich left her family and moved to Seattle, where she danced competitively and won two national titles. After reaching her peak as a dancer, she continued her education at College of San Mateo before transferring to SF State. During a criminal justice class about the American constitution, Gershenovich saw the contrast with her family's experience of injustice, particularly her great grandmother who spent 20 years in Stalin's labor camps. She was inspired to become a lawyer and chose to major in criminal justice. She has completed legal internships with a superior court judge, a criminal defense attorney and the District Attorney's Office. A Burlingame resident, Gershenovich will begin law school at University of California, Berkeley this fall.


Perry Arnsfield (Business), craftsman turned policymaker 
Perry Arnsfield spent 15 years managing his own woodworking business, but was forced to rethink his career after an industrial accident left him with limited use of his left arm. Arnsfield came to SF State to study business. He took a decision sciences class and enjoyed learning how to use math and computer modeling to make companies and government run more efficiently. As part of the Willie Brown Center Internship Program, Arnsfield worked at San Francisco's Department of Public Works, where he helped analyze the efficiency of the routes traveled by the City's fleet of street sweepers. On campus, Arnsfield was President of the Decision Sciences Student Association and was invited to join the prestigious Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society. A decision sciences major, Arnsfield's goal is to use decision sciences to improve public policy decisions. The Excelsior resident plans to apply to graduate programs in public policy.


Simone van der Meer (Creative Arts), embodying creativity
A native of Southern California and a competitive gymnast since age 6, Simone van der Meer took dance classes to enhance her specialty in floor exercise. While majoring in dance and theatre at SF State, she taught and coached girl's gymnastics, performed in two productions choreographed by guest artists, choreographed her own work and designed costumes for productions. As a student leader, she helped SF State students to teach and share their creative work through workshops and performances. The San Francisco resident and co-director of the University Dance Theater (UDT) also led fundraising campaigns that financed guest artists and sent 20 members of UDT to the 2011 American College Dance Festival in Long Beach. Van der Meer plans to pursue a professional career in dance performance and production as well as pilates instruction.


Kimberlee Mountain (Education), a future in speech therapy
Graduating with a bachelor's degree in communicative disorders, Kimberlee Mountain's goal is to work as a speech-language pathologist, and eventually to earn a doctorate and teach at a university. She is particularly interested in rehabilitating patients who have experienced a stroke. After transferring to SF State from Shasta College, Mountain achieved superb grades and completed her degree in only three years. She has served as a clinic aide in the speech and language disorders clinic on campus and tutored fellow students in anatomy and neurolinguistics classes. In addition to her studies, she has learned teamwork as part of the University handbell choir. In the fall, Mountain will begin a master's in communicative disorders at SF State, enabling her to become a speech-language pathologist. She is a native of Redding.


Kyaw Min "Joe" Oo (Ethnic Studies), uniting the Burmese American community
A native of Burma, Kyaw Min Oo came to the U.S. to pursue an education and has learned that an organized community is a strong community. The Daly City resident has volunteered in many capacities to make the Bay Area Burmese American Community more united and to help them find a voice in the U.S. To reach second generation Burmese Americans, he co-founded the Burmese Youth Association of San Francisco and currently serves on its Board of Directors. He helped organize the 2010 U.S. Census "Count Campaign" in the Burmese American community. Oo works full time on the front desk of a San Francisco hotel and shares his salary with his mother and siblings in Burma. He says that everything he accomplishes is to honor his father, who died in Burma a few years ago. Graduating with a bachelor's degree in Asian American Studies, Oo plans to pursue a graduate degree in public administration or Asian American Studies.


Abraham Aviles-Scott (Health and Human Services), helping others since childhood
The youngest child in a large, San Joaquin Valley family of farm workers, Abraham Aviles-Scott grew up helping newcomers in his community. He later volunteered to translate and perform other services for a variety of social service agencies. Once in San Francisco, Aviles-Scott volunteered for agencies that prevent HIV/AIDS, family violence and gang activity. For the past five years, the Concord resident has worked full time as a bilingual case manager for EMQ Families First. Graduating with a bachelor's degree in social work, he plans to pursue a master's degree in counseling. Aviles-Scott, a singer with a passion for classical music, is an active performer with the Performing Arts Center of Contra Costa County. At SF State, he contributed his musical talent and organizational skills to concerts benefitting earthquake relief efforts in Haiti and Japan. Each year, he co-produces "La Posarela," an annual traditional Mexican Christmas show in San Francisco's Mission District.


Jessica Sederquist (Humanities), improving women's lives
Growing up in Grass Valley, Sederquist was inspired by her mother's commitment to community. Taking a more global approach, Sederquist has worked to redefine traditional development projects that have left out women’s voices. She credits the Women and Gender Studies faculty for their dedication to bridging the divide between scholarship and activism and motivating her to take transnational feminist theory beyond academia. The Nob Hill resident has interned at Human Rights Watch, Peace Action West and Women's Earth Alliance. She spent her junior year studying abroad in Ghana, where she was a chief volunteer with an organization that assists women and children with housing, health and vocational support. A double major in Women and Gender Studies and International Relations, Sederquist is currently applying for a Fulbright Fellowship, which she hopes will help her explore the gendered dynamics inherent in development work.


Katreena Tolentino (Liberal Studies), celebrating diversity in the classroom
As a Filipina-American growing up in Daly City, Katreena Tolentino noticed that Asian American culture was largely absent from her grade school curriculum. Determined to change this for future generations, she decided to become a teacher. She enrolled in SF State's Liberal Studies Teacher Education program, allowing her to earn a degree in liberal studies and a teaching credential simultaneously. She learned about how to introduce literature from different ethnic traditions in the classroom and she was inspired to use her own poetry in the classroom. She completed her course in just three and a half years and graduated at the top of her class in fall 2010. She achieved such results despite having to commute daily from Sacramento for 18 months after her family lost their Daly City home in the financial crisis. Since graduating, she has been volunteering in California's first Hmong charter school in Sacramento.


Patrick Lapid (Graduate Studies), veteran studies the economics of defense  
Graduating with a master's in economics, Patrick Lapid came back to school to retool his career. After majoring in sociology at University of California, Santa Cruz, Lapid earned a teaching credential at SF State and taught math and economics at Convent of the Sacred Heart High School for three years. He found teaching rewarding but wanted to deepen his expertise in economics. He applied for graduate studies at SF State, but as a reservist in the U.S. Marine Corp, Lapid was called to active duty in Iraq just after he was offered a University place. In 2008, he was deployed as a Sergeant in Iraq, where he received a Certificate of Commendation. When he returned from Iraq, he enrolled at SF State and excelled in his studies. He has tutored undergraduates in economics and conducted a research project comparing the earnings of post-9/11 veterans to non-veterans. Lapid, who was raised in Vallejo, is interested in applied labor economics and the economics of defense and intends to pursue a career in academia. This fall, he will begin a Ph.D. in economics at the University of California, Berkeley, with a full Chancellor’s Fellowship. Lapid lives in San Francisco's Crocker-Amazon neighborhood.

For more information about SF State's 2011 Commencement, visit: http://www.sfsu.edu/commencement/