Twelve students honored at Commencement

As San Francisco State University celebrated this year's Commencement on May 22, its six academic colleges selected two graduating students -- one undergraduate and one graduate -- for the honor of representing their fellow students during the ceremony by wearing their College's academic hood.

Two hood recipients also offered their greetings on behalf of the Class of 2015. Eduardo Gonzalez, undergraduate hood for the College of Liberal & Creative Arts, spoke on behalf of the undergraduate class. Jonathan Brumfield, graduate hood for the College of Ethnic Studies, spoke on behalf of graduate students.

"No matter what your background or the obstacles you have had to overcome, you are here right now and have earned your seat at AT&T Park," Gonzalez told his fellow graduates.

"In my years as an undergraduate, the professors would tell us the only way to see if your education is real is to put it to use in your community," Brumfield said. "That message was ingrained in every discipline here on campus. From my business and engineering major friends to the art and social science students I hung out with, they all went back to their respective communities and put their education to use for the people."

Read more about the undergraduate hood recipients.

Read more about the graduate hood recipients.

For more information about SF State's 114th Commencement ceremony, visit


Undergraduate hood recipients


Noureddine "Dino" Chtaini (Health & Social Sciences)

Noureddine ChtainiGrowing up in Washington, D.C., Noureddine "Dino" Chtaini dropped out of school at 15 and, he said, "made some very negative choices" that led him to a 10-year incarceration. He obtained an associate's degree while in prison and transferred to SF State after his release in 2012. He is receiving his B.A. in sociology.

Chtaini's difficult past has inspired his academic and community work -- in particular, his interest in the economic and racial inequalities that impact crime and the criminal justice system. "With all my efforts, I try to provide research that illuminates injustice in the system," Chtaini said.

While at SF State, Chtaini has volunteered with Project Rebound, an innovative program that reaches out to people in prison and provides support for formerly incarcerated students. As a participant in the highly selective Willie L. Brown Jr. Fellowship Program, Chtaini produced a sociological study for the San Francisco Housing Authority that explored the effect of the transition of public housing to private developers. Chtaini is also developing an open-source program that can be implemented by schools and community organizations to help youth avoid turning to violence. He is creating a similar program model to assist the formerly incarcerated as they navigate the challenges of transitioning back into society.

In the fall, Chtaini will enter a prestigious sociology Ph.D. program where he plans to continue his criminal justice research and efforts to effect change among youth.


Eduardo Gonzalez (Liberal & Creative Arts)

Eduardo GonzalezEduardo Gonzalez grew up in a low-income household in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. The son of Mexican migrants, he is a first-generation student. He arrived at SF State in 2011 as a political science major, but soon broadened his studies, and will graduate with a dual degree in political science and international relations, with a minor in Middle East and Islamic Studies.

Gonzalez’s international experience led him to volunteer at an orphanage in Costa Rica during the summer of 2012 and to study abroad in Istanbul, Turkey, for the 2013-14 academic year. His experiences in Turkey -- witnessing small- and large-scale protests -- formed the basis of his thesis, “Political Participation in Democratizing Turkey.” “All of the opportunities to travel that I have had have been directly related to my education,” he said. “My faculty at SF State have encouraged me to go beyond my comfort zone, to travel and immerse myself in other cultures, and I am a more well-rounded person because of it.”

Gonzalez has also served as the managing editor of the San Francisco State University International Relations Journal and as a teaching assistant for the International Relations Department.

After graduation, Gonzalez will return to Turkey on a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship and Fulbright Student Program Grant. After, he will pursue a Ph.D. in political science and hopes to return to SF State as a professor.


Yi-Lin Lu (Science & Engineering)

Yi-Lin LuIt was the encouragement of her parents that sent Yi-Lin Lu, a native of Shanghai, across the Pacific to attend college in the United States. After an intensive summer English program, she began at SF State in 2010 knowing she wanted to focus on environmental studies in order to "contribute to helping the Earth."

At Commencement, she will receive a B.S. in atmospheric and oceanic science with a concentration in meteorology. During her time at SF State, she has worked with Department of Earth & Climate Sciences Chair David Dempsey on a weather forecasting model project, work Dempsey says he was only able to pursue once he found a student of Lu's caliber who could take on the challenge with him. The research has focused on testing the reliability of current weather forecasting models, with a goal of finding more reliable ways to predict the weather.

Lu has also been involved in several clubs and organizations on campus, including Geoclub, and has volunteered with the Stern Grove Festival held each summer in San Francisco.

After graduation, she will spend the summer traveling across the U.S. with her father before entering the doctoral program in Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Albany, State University of New York.


Breena Miller (Education)

Breena MillerBreena Miller was living and working in San Luis Obispo when her roommate, an older woman, suffered a stroke that robbed her of the ability to use expressive language. That moment inspired Miller, a native of Sandpoint, Idaho, who had struggled to finish high school, to return to school and study speech therapy. After two years at the College of Marin, she transferred to SF State in 2012, and is graduating with a B.A. in communicative disorders.

In addition to finding her passion for helping others find their voice, Miller has also been deeply involved in international education, including studying abroad for a year in Germany. She is the president of SF State’s International Education Exchange Council and has lead efforts to establish a study abroad program for communicative disorders majors -- efforts that will pay off when the program is launched this fall.

Miller will begin graduate school at SF State this fall in the Communicative Studies Program -- having turned down a Fulbright scholarship to return to Germany -- and plans to become a speech language pathologist so she can, in her words, "inspire and help people to live to their highest potential."

"I have had the best mentors here, and it's been the most motivating experience, and that's one of the reasons I want to stay at SF State," she said. "It's the people here, the quality of education and the care that the special education program staff has."


Emilly Rodriguez (Ethnic Studies)

Emilly RodriguezRaised in Marin by parents from Brazil and Colombia, Emilly Rodriguez struggled in high school, became pregnant and almost dropped out. "Education didn't spark my interest," she said. But when she entered City College of San Francisco and started taking ethnic studies classes, Rodriguez discovered her passion. She decided to transfer to SF State and major in Latina/Latino Studies.

At SF State, Rodriguez thrived academically while working part time, raising her son as a single mother and participating in community-based research projects. In summer 2013, she trained high school and community college students to conduct oral history interviews in the Mission District for an anti-gentrification project. She also contributed research for a history of Latinos in San Francisco sponsored by the San Francisco Latino Historical Society and the San Francisco Planning Department. In addition, Rodriguez volunteers with the San Francisco Day Labor Program, a nonprofit organization that connects workers with employers.

In her final two years at SF State, Rodriguez was a teaching assistant in Latina/Latino Studies, which inspired her aspiration for the future: to teach ethnic studies at the university level.

"I think it's an accomplishment to be a young single mother in a challenging set of circumstances and to be so motivated to excel in my education," Rodriguez said. "It's been tough, but there are plenty of other parents who do it too. Parents are extremely motivated by their children."


Danny Souza (Business)

Danny SouzaDanny Souza has excelled at SF State as both an athlete and scholar. Talented at a variety of sports as a child, Souza became a competitive skier at age 10, participating in the Junior Olympics and traveling around the world to train and compete. He quit skiing competitively so he could play on his high school's baseball, basketball and football teams. Souza accepted a scholarship to play baseball at SF State and has been named to the prestigious California Collegiate Athletic Association All-Academic Team and the Capital One Academic All-District Baseball Team. He is receiving his bachelor's degree in finance.

Souza has also served his teammates and community. As a freshman, he organized a fundraiser to help an injured teammate cover unexpected medical expenses. As treasurer of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, he helped manage community service events including the annual food drive and a dodgeball tournament to raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He has also volunteered to tutor his teammates and other athletes.

While balancing a rigorous sports schedule with his academic life has been a challenge, Souza said, he couldn't imagine his college career any other way. "The competition is what drives me to do this every day -- it's what I love," Souza said. "I know someone's pushing me, and I'm pushing them, so we only get better."

After graduating, Souza plans to pursue a career in finance, hoping to work as a financial agent for athletes, with the ultimate goal of becoming the CFO of a professional sports team.


Graduate hood recipients


Jonathan Brumfield (Ethnic Studies)

Thesis: "Oakland's Urban Hieroglyphics: 21st Century Youth Scribes of Oakland's 'Graffiti' Culture"

Jonathan BrumfieldBorn in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Jonathan Brumfield and his family moved to Oakland when he was 12, a difficult transition for him. A self-described "knucklehead kid who challenged educational systems," Brumfield struggled in school but found a sense of belonging attending hip-hop events. "With hip hop, I knew I had a voice, I knew I had a platform," he said. His involvement in hip hop and interest in aerosol art -- commonly referred to as "graffiti" -- also kept him out of violent situations, he said.

Brumfield, who will receive a master's of arts in ethnic studies, now leads the arts program at Safe Passages, an Oakland nonprofit with the goal of inspiring young people and ending the cycle of poverty. He teaches the history of hip hop and aerosol art, using these topics as a tool to connect students to their heritage and personal identities. "Hip hop saved my life, and I am so grateful to be able to save other young people through hip hop," he said. "All these young people were considered taggers, but I help them explore the context of what they do."

Brumfield's thesis also investigated aerosol art and its culture, making links to historic Africana aesthetics. As part of his research, Brumfield interviewed youth who create aerosol art in vulnerable Bay Area communities, exploring the significance of the art form and common misconceptions about it.

Brumfield has been invited to speak and teach aerosol art practice overseas, including a recent trip to Senegal where he taught art to youth for several weeks. One of his major life goals is to develop an educational exchange program between youth from Oakland and Africa based on hip hop and aerosol art.


Ashly Collins (Business)

Final Project: "Strategic Analysis of PulpWorks"

Ashly CollinsAshly Collins has been determined to get a master's of business administration (MBA) since age 10. Raised in Paradise, California, by parents who did not attend university but encouraged her to dream big, she worked toward her childhood goal by majoring in economics at UC Davis. Collins found the coursework to be too focused on numbers and realized her passion was to work with people. But she faced a major barrier: extreme shyness. The first day she arrived at SF State, Collins said, she resolved to be more outgoing and pursue leadership roles.

Collins served as co-leader of SF State's Net Impact chapter, an organization for students and professionals to support social and environmental causes. This April, Collins and her Net Impact team won first place in a competition among local universities for which they developed solutions to real-world challenges faced by PG&E. Collins was also a member of a College of Business task force that designed new graduate programs to meet the needs of students and potential employers. Her biggest achievement, she said, was organizing a student-led on-campus recruitment initiative.

"Coming in extremely shy and not really participating in classes, my peers and professors pushed me out of my comfort zone, so I think they have seen tremendous growth in me," Collins said.

After graduating, Collins will work at Kaiser Permanente's Oakland headquarters as an organizational development consultant in the Organizational Excellence department. She will be building employee engagement and implementing training programs, and described the position as her "dream job."


Nancy Reyes (Education)

Dissertation: "The Desire to Persist: Voices of First Generation Latino Community College Students"

Nancy ReyesAs a counselor at Hartnell College in Salinas, Nancy Reyes works with students who are often overlooked or marginalized in education, particularly low-income, Latino students from farmworker families. Being from this demographic herself, she wanted to explore what causes these students to depart from community college and was drawn to SF State's doctor of education in educational leadership program because of the University's focus on social justice and equity.

Her dissertation, "The Desire to Persist: Voices of First Generation Latino Community College Students," found that many of these students experience feelings of invalidation, causing them to withdraw from school, and offers ways that colleges can create a welcoming atmosphere where students are validated, persist and achieve their educational goals.

A native and longtime resident of California's Central Coast region, Reyes plans to present the results of her dissertation to leaders at Hartnell College and other organizations where she works as a counselor, in order to help others like her to follow her path and continue their education.


Lindsey Sivaslian (Liberal & Creative Arts)

Final Project: "Two Heads Are Better Than One: A Collaborative Peer Feedback Curriculum for Low-Proficiency ESL Writers"

Lindsey SivaslianAfter graduating from Concordia University in Chicago, Lindsey Sivaslian taught English in Japan for two years before arriving in the Bay Area to work as an educator providing academic English as a Second Langauge support to students. These experiences led her to return to graduate school at SF State in 2012 to pursue her master’s degree and a career helping others develop their English language skills. Sivaslian, a native of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, is graduating with an M.A. in English, with a concentration in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

"Learning English can open up new opportunities in business and education for many people to provide them with a better future that they would otherwise not have, and I’m really passionate about bringing that ability to others and playing a part in their education," she said.

At SF State, she has continued to work with diverse populations, first in the University’s Learning Assistance Center, then as a teaching assistant in the Composition for Multilingual Students Program, and finally at SF State’s American Language Institute. For her final project, she developed and successfully implemented teaching materials that help English as a Second Language Learners develop peer feedback skills, "which can greatly support second-language writing and overall language proficiency development."

After graduation, she plans to apply for the U.S. State Department’s English Language Fellowship program and work in developing countries to teach university classes or train teachers.


David Stupplebeen (Health & Social Sciences)

Final Project: "Unboxing Multiracial: A Political Economy Analysis of Multiracial Health Knowledge Production"

David StupplebeenDavid Stupplebeen has contributed to the public health field as a researcher, practitioner and educator. Of mixed heritage himself (white, Korean and native Hawaiian), Stupplebeen is interested in studying health outcomes among mixed-race populations and other groups that have been overlooked. "There is an omission of certain populations from conversations and research," Stupplebeen said. "If you don't see yourself in the sciences, you don't know what actions to take."

After getting his bachelor's degree from SF State with a major in political science and minor in international relations in 2007, Stupplebeen worked at the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center, where he performed research and led social networking initiatives. This work inspired him, he said, to pursue an advanced degree in public health in order to "make the invisible visible."

As a graduate student majoring in public health, Stupplebeen has collaborated on studies to improve health care access and outcomes for underserved populations. He worked as a research assistant for Project AFFIRM, a study examining transgender identity development and resilience through SF State's Health Equity Institute.

This fall, Stupplebeen will enter the doctor of public health program in community-based and translational research at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, where he will continue to study mixed-race health issues. In the future, Stupplebeen said he wants to do both academic and community-focused work. "It's important that the community-based organization side and the academic side get bridged," he said. "You need the academic side to figure out health needs and the organizations to translate that information into interventions."


April Lynn Toledo (Science & Engineering)

Thesis: "Biophysical Characterization of Structural and Energetic Differences Between H2A and H2A/H2B Heterodimer Variants from C. elegans"

April ToledoThe path to a career in science wasn't a direct one for April Lynn Toledo. After high school, she said, she was "kind of done with school" and worked a string of retail jobs. Eventually she decided to attend community college and major in gender studies. She enrolled in a chemistry class on a whim and was immediately hooked. A surprising love for the periodic table and a lab experiment making peanut brittle reeled her in. "It opened my eyes that science and chemistry are in everyday life," Toledo said.

Soon after transferring to SF State to pursue her bachelor's degree, Toledo was offered a position in a professor's chemistry lab, where she has conducted research ever since. Toledo has been awarded a National Institutes of Health Maximizing Access to Research Careers fellowship, among other honors. Her thesis helps reveal the structural basis for gene expression modulation during the course of development and provides insights into diseases with pathologies in gene expression, such as cancer. 

Toledo also mentors other students, serving as a positive ambassador for women in the sciences. She has been accepted into Ph.D. programs at several top research schools, and her thesis work is being readied for publication. Toledo said she wants to continue researching proteins while teaching others, so her ultimate goal is to become a research professor. "I want to get other people excited about the science that excites me," she said.

-- University Communications