Looking Back on Successes of 2023
As the end of the year approaches, many are already looking ahead to 2024.
But before putting the finishing touches on your list of New Year’s resolutions, let’s take a look back at some of the most-talked-about stories of 2023.
When Aidelen Montoya transferred to CSUSM as a business major, her parents were fully behind this path because it offered her stability. But her passion for art history kept nagging at her. She considered a double major, but her gut told her something else. Montoya chose to create her own special major in museum studies, studio art and art history.
“I wasn't that happy, to be honest,” said Montoya, the recipient of the 2023 Cal State San Marcos President’s Outstanding Graduate Award. “So when I found this special major, I shifted it to what I really wanted to focus on, which was museums and art history. I felt so much happier.”
Star Rivera-Lacey has grown from poverty in childhood to earning a Ph.D. and today serving as the first Latina superintendent/president of Palomar College. Rivera-Lacey’s ability to remain optimistic during challenging times helped her become the first in her family to graduate from college when she received a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies at CSUSM.
Jason Magabo Perez, an associate professor and program director of ethnic studies at CSUSM, was named poet laureate of the city of San Diego. His two-year appointment will include holding workshops, representing the city in civic cultural events and writing poetry.
Biochemistry student Diana Llamas received the Pfizer La Jolla Academic Industrial Relations Diversity Research Fellowship in Chemistry. She is one of just four people in the western region selected, joining awardees from Arizona State, UC Davis and UC Riverside. Llamas is using the $20,000 award to research synthesizing novel benzotriazole compounds as potential antifungal agents using gold catalysis.
Born with mild to profound hearing loss, cochlear implants have changed track student-athlete Ripley Brant’s life. “It doesn't sound completely normal right away,” Brant said. “I just remember everyone sounding like Mickey Mouse for probably that first day. But it was still really cool to have that set up. I remember just smiling a whole bunch.”
There are two places where Dynnah Buckner has found the most sanctuary during her decorated career at CSUSM. The first is the basketball court and the second is the Black Student Center. “I am extremely grateful for the Black Student Center,” Buckner said. “It has been life-changing for me, honestly.”
Kenny Tran, Associated Students, Inc. president during the 2019-20 school year, is now partnerships coordinator for the Recording Academy, the Los Angeles-based company that stages the Grammy Awards.“Being in ASI, going from a volunteer to president, really transformed my college experience,” Tran said. “The way I lead now is directly attributable to my experience as a leader at CSUSM.”
Tori Green always made time to watch “American Idol” with her mother when she was a child, and she always had the dream of one day auditioning. The biological sciences student made that dream become a reality and traveled to Las Vegas to sing before celebrity judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie for a chance to compete on “American Idol.”
When Yesenia Mora was about to graduate from high school, there was no question that she would attend Cal State San Marcos. Mora has been visiting campus from before she could even remember. In September, she was honored with the California State University’s highest recognition of student accomplishment as the university’s 2023 Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement recipient.
There is a plethora of stories written all over the country every spring about resiliency and overcoming massive barriers to success, particularly around the subject of graduation. And then there’s the story of Juan Alva. And the simple but powerful motto he has lived by – you don’t know how tough you are until being tough is the only option you have.
CSUSM received the 2023 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, the oldest and largest diversity-focused publication in higher education. This marks the 10th consecutive year that CSUSM has been named a HEED Award recipient. The university is one of only 21 schools that have won the award, which was instituted in 2012, at least 10 years in a row.
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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