San Marcos,
12:26 PM

Six Outstanding Graduates Receive Top Honors

By Christine Vaughan

At a special awards dinner in May, President Haynes honored six outstanding graduates in the Class of 2014. Selected from the more than 2,600 students in the Class of 2014, these graduates were recognized for their academic excellence, service to the community and, in some cases, their perseverance in overcoming great personal odds to achieve their goals.

The honorees were nominated by faculty members or staff, and endorsed by the dean of the college, the dean of graduate studies or the dean of students.

Gary Simmons, B.S. Applied Physics
President’s Outstanding Graduate
Dean's Award, Outstanding Student in the College of Science and Mathematics

“Physics to some students is an intimidating major full of confusing concepts,” said Dr. Ed Price, professor of physics. “But to those who understand it and who understand how to apply those concepts to daily life, physics can lead to a fulfilling and rewarding academic career. That was certainly the case for Gary.”

Since his first days in the department, Gary Simmons has consistently been a top student, earning a 3.95 GPA. And while his original goal was to pursue a degree in mathematics and become a math teacher, Simmons has found his passion in physics.

“He is an exceptional student who possesses the intellectual capability and desire to become a physicist,” added Price. “Perhaps more importantly, he is already thinking like a physicist.”

Simmons is the recipient of numerous scholarships, including a prestigious award funded by the National Science Foundation to increase the number of minority students in the STEM disciplines. He has also presented at several national conferences and conducted extensive research, contributing to our broader understanding of nuclear energy and terrestrial lightning formation.

Simmons' ability to more than grasp the complexities of applied physics has endeared him to his classmates, many of whom he tutors as a learning assistant. Outside of class Simmons is extremely involved with area students, developing lesson plans on magnets for second graders and guiding high schoolers in their understanding of electricity. He is one of our most recognized student ambassadors.

“Gary’s accomplishments are a tribute to his wisdom and hard work, and serve as a point of pride for his family, friends and for us as we celebrate him as the Presidential Outstanding Graduate this year,” said President Haynes.

In the fall Simmons will begin his Ph.D.  in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Lilibeth Flores, B.A. Pyschology
Dean's Award, Outstanding Student in the College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences

A first generation college student, Flores emigrated from Oaxaca, Mexico, with her family when she was in grade school. Undeterred by any language barriers, she excelled in her studies and was determined to earn a college degree. With fortitude and grit, she convinced her family of the value of a college education.

“While Flores’ journey is similar to many of the students at Cal State San Marcos, her level of excellence is unmatched,” said Dr. Wesley Schultz, professor of psychology.

During her time at CSUSM, she has earned one of the highest GPA’s of graduating psychology majors. She has also distinguished herself as a MARC scholar, helping community college students with applications to four-year universities, including how to apply for financial aid and research assistant positions in university labs.

Her own research pursuits are laudable and extensive, added Schultz. In addition to presenting her research at numerous fairs and symposiums, Flores has spent the last year working on a large NIH-funded study focused on issues of underrepresentation in the biomedical sciences.

“I hope to be a mentor and role model to all students,” said Flores. “As a minority in the sciences, I know that I can bring new and different perspectives to all of the projects that I will be involved in, while encouraging young, underrepresented students to join the area of research in the sciences.”

After CSUSM Flores plans to pursue her Ph.D. in developmental psychopathology.

Mariana Loskutova, B.S. Business Administration
Dean's Award, Outstanding Student in the College of Business Administration

Throughout her life Mariana Loskutova has shown great tenacity, resolve and perseverance. She moved from the Ukraine to the United States with her family when she was just a child. Yet even with a limited grasp of English, she applied herself to her studies, eventually enrolling at MiraCosta College. There she stood out, graduating with a perfect 4.0 GPA and earning a place on the President’s Permanent Honor Roll.

Upon transferring to CSUSM in fall 2011, Loskutova continued her academic excellence. As an accounting student, she has received the highest GPA in that option, all while being an active participant in university and community organizations. She served as both chair coordinator and vice president of internal affairs for the Accounting Society, the largest student organization on campus, and worked as the head tutor in the accounting lab.

“Mariana freely shares her knowledge and expertise with those who ask and truly inspires other students to achieve their academic potential,” said Dr. Syed Zaidi, professor of accounting. “Her determination, enthusiasm, leadership and mentorship skills have contributed greatly to the accounting program and the College of Business Administration.”

Her passion isn’t limited to accounting. As treasurer, Mariana is quite involved with her local church and has spent the last three summers as a missionary working with underprivileged children in Russia and the Ukraine. She also seeks out opportunities to work with her scholarship donors, speaking at receptions and working their events.

Captain Elliott Powell, Middle Level Credential
Dean's Award, Outstanding Student in the College of Education, Health and Human Services

For Elliott Powell, landing in Southern California has afforded him an opportunity to pursue new passions — middle school education — after a lifetime spent traveling the world and admirably serving our country as a commanding officer in the United States Navy.

During that time, Captain Powell commanded a multi-million dollar warship while conducting embargo operations with NATO navies off the coast of Bosnia-Herzegovina. He also traveled with Presidents Clinton and Bush and directed the White House Situation Room.

Yet even during his time in the military, he demonstrated a strong commitment to education. As director of the Situation Room, Powell ensured that his senior officers had the opportunity to earn their Master’s degrees. He commanded three ships that received special recognition from Navy officials for their participation in the Navy’s Adopt-a-School program, and he created a Shipboard Learning Center to provide crewmembers with a place to study and learn.

Powell’s work at CSUSM is equally as impressive. A student in the Middle Level Education program, he is a mentor and role model for many students, as well as middle school students. He regularly intertwines his background and experiences in the Navy, melding history with current topics to make students understand how the past affects the future.

“Throughout my life I have always considered myself a teacher,” said Powell. “That said, I must admit to a bit of trepidation when I decided to take the plunge and make teaching my second career.”

“Elliot is inquisitive and insightful,” said Dr. Erika Daniels, professor of literacy education. “He is respectful and mindful of others’ opinions and has helped create a learning environment that operationalizes the School of Education’s mission statement focusing on social justice and educational equity.”

Joey Schmitt, M.A. Experimental Psychology
Dean’s Award, Outstanding Student in Graduate Studies

“In the three years that Joey has been in the graduate program for experimental psychology, he has been truly amazing,” said Dr. Wesley Schultz, professor of psychology. “He is resilient, affable and brings an infectious energy to his work. In short, Joey makes science fun.”

Since arriving at CSUSM in 2011, Joey Schmitt has embraced graduate school, earning a 3.80 GPA and committing himself to research. He has collaborated on several projects, including two large-scale field studies on household electrical consumption. As part of these studies, he worked with Dr. Schultz on a National Science Foundation team to provide San Marcos residents with real-time feedback on their electricity consumption using in-home displays and smart home technology. The results were presented at a professional conference and are part of a manuscript that will soon be submitted for peer review.

As a first-generation college student, Schmitt's academic accomplishments are as impressive as his work outside the classroom. To afford graduate school, Schmitt often worked 30 to 40 hours a week at a restaurant. Yet even with work and school, he still found time to proctor undergraduate psychology courses and conduct faculty search committee logistics. He was also selected to serve as the Psychology master’s student representative to the CSUSM Graduate Student Leadership Council, which advises the graduate dean on graduate student needs and provides input on services and programs for graduate students.

Following the completion of his degree, Schmitt will serve as a project manager at Action Research, an international, behavioral research and consulting firm dedicated to bridging the gap between scientific research and real world applications.

Cipriano Vargas, B.A. Sociology, B.A. Women’s Studies
Dean of Students Award for Outstanding Student Leadership

“Next to the president, Cipriano Vargas might be CSUSM’s biggest cheerleader,” said Rodger D’Andreas-Wahl, executive director of Associated Students, Inc.

From the moment he joined Associated Students Inc., Vargas has made noteworthy contributions to our campus and to public higher education, assuming a leadership role in statewide education advocacy efforts as vice president of external affairs for the ASI Board of Directors. Through this position and his work with the California State Student Association, Vargas registered more than 1,600 students to vote.

While serving on the ASI Board, Vargas was selected by Governor Jerry Brown as CSUSM’s first student trustee on the California State University Board of Trustees. During his two-year term, he visited 20 other CSU campuses, meeting with students, attending open forums, conferences and commencement ceremonies.

Outside of his work with ASI and as a student trustee, Vargas has served as vice president for Sigma Chi fraternity, as a peer mentor for Student Life and leadership, and he is a member and past president of MEChA. Even amid all of this, and his classwork, Vargas found ways to participate in our communities.

Vargas has organized fundraisers, assisted with arranging workshops on immigration reform and lobbying, tutored high school students from migrant backgrounds, and organized an education fair with more than 500 attendees in Fallbrook. He has also been recognized for his leadership efforts with the Sophomore of the Year Award and the Outstanding Campus Organization Member, and he was most recently honored as the Migrant Education Alumnus of the Year Award. His decision to spend the next step of his journey with Teach for America in San Antonio, Texas, is further evidence of his commitment to service and education.

“Being a campus leader required me to do more than the bare minimum; it required me to invest time even in the most complicated times of my life. It required me to sacrifice,” said Vargas. “I seek to be a catalyst for change, and I am confident that wherever life may take me, I will be focusing on transforming lives…I am proud to be made in the CSU.”