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Top 2016 Graduates Honored with Awards

Cal State San Marcos helped mold their lives, and now they’re set to help change the world.

Six standout graduates from the Class of 2016 were honored at a special awards dinner for their academic achievements and service to the community while overcoming sometimes seemingly overwhelming challenges.

Honorees were nominated by faculty or staff and endorsed by their college’s dean. Here are their stories:

Jamaela Johnson, B.A. Human Development.

President’s Outstanding Graduate

Dean's Award, College of Education, Health and Human Services

Jamaela Johnson would be the first to tell you that when she arrived at Cal State San Marcos from Vista Murrieta High School in Murrieta, she was a little bit of an introvert. No more. The standout scholar has transformed herself into an engaged community advocate involved in myriad causes on campus and in the larger community.

And our university is a lot better place because it.

Jamaela, who is vice president of Student and University Affairs, helped charter the CSUSM’s first African-American Greek organizations, contributed as a peer educator at the Gender Equity Center, served as vice president of the Black Student Union and as a student representative for Diversity and Inclusion, and helped coordinate the annual Race for the Cure through the Colleges Against Cancer organization.

She also helped coordinate community events as a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council; volunteers with the Black Coal & Rose’s Society, a K-12 girl’s mentoring program that focuses on interpersonal skills, professional etiquette, career guidance and self awareness; and advocates for sexual assault survivors and other social justice movements as a member of Feminists Unite while working with the group in pushing for CSUSM’s first Sexual Violence Advocate and Educator program.

Jamaela also is a proud member of Kappa Omicron Nu, a national honor society for human sciences. Her name is a regular presence on the annual Dean’s List.

“Jamaela Johnson exemplifies the values of the Human Development Department: civic engagement, social responsibility, and a commitment to helping communities in need,” said Rodney Beaulieu, assistant professor of human development. “In addition, she excels in the areas of academic achievement and campus wide leadership and activism. Her passion for addressing sociopolitical disparities, social justice and improving her own effectiveness as a leader has provided guidance throughout her educational career.”

Jamaela’s professional goal is to take the skills she has honed here and make a difference in world.

“My experience with the various student organizations helped me discover methods for mediating social problems, responding tot the needs of underrepresented groups, promoting social justice and equity, and enacting social change,” said Jamaela.

Petrona Gregorio, B.A. Psychology

Dean’s Award, College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences

Petrona Gregorio is a living reminder that anything is possible.

She spent her early years in the highlands of Huehuetenango in Guatemala, an impoverished country with the lowest literacy rate in Central America. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was just five years old speaking only her native Mayan language, only to find that life here was hard, too. Petrona at the age of 15 began working full-time to support her family before returning to school a decade later to renew her commitment to learning.

Petrona transferred to CSUSM from Palomar College in 2014 and has been impressing her peers and professors with her scholarly drive, achievements and her promise as a researcher. She has presented her research under the guidance of Psychology Professor Heike Mahler numerous times at student and professional conferences, all while mentoring her seven younger siblings and engaging in volunteer work with with the American Bar Association’s Immigration Justice Project.

“What I value the most is helping out those in need and encouraging young children and adults to pursue a higher education,” she said.

Said Robert Rider, interim dean in the College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences: “Petrona is an outstanding psychology graduate whose persistence, commitment, passion and achievement exemplify the values, mission and promise of the Cal State San Marcos learning experience.”

Laureta Koxha, B.A. Business Administration, Global Supply Chain Management

Dean’s Award, College of Business Administration

Laureta Koxha’s journey to the United States began in the spring of 1999 when she and her family were forced to flee their home in Ferizaj, Kosovo, during the Serbian-Albanian War. The family found shelter in a refugee camp before finding a home in San Diego through the Red Cross.

“When we got off the plane, my father was wearing one brown shoe, one black shoe and had only four U.S. dollars in his pocket,” she said.

But Laureta’s parents instilled the importance of a higher education, hard work and perseverance, and today she has a bright future ahead of her. She has excelled at Cal State San Marcos. She has been on the Dean’s List every semester and she has the highest GPA among graduating students in the Global Supply Chain Management option.

“I have always been fascinated by the concept of how things get from one place to another,” said Laureta, who is eyeing a possible career at somehow facilitating the flow of commerce into Kosovo and the rest of Europe.

Laureta also is passionate about contributing to society. She serves as director of communications for the Global Supply Chain Management Society, volunteers at the Escondido Family Resource Center and donates her time as a poll worker for the County Registrar of Voters Office.

German Alberto Mendoza, B.S. Biological Sciences

Dean’s Award, College of Science and Mathematics

German Alberto Mendoza is a first-generation college student who came to Cal State San Marcos after serving four years in the Marine Corps, including one year of combat duty in Iraq.

Now a staff sergeant in the Marine Reserves, German is motivated to become a nurse and has worked in the laboratory of Julie Jameson, assistant professor of psychology, as a research assistant examining how skin cells become dysfunctional in obese and diabetic mice, and the impact that may have on tissue repair and the healing of wounds.

“He has a true knack for science along with a drive that I find truly astonishing for his age,” said Jameson, who added she would place him in the top one percent of all the undergraduates she has worked with, including during her time at The Scripps Research Institute. “He is incredibly reliable and innovative in his work, and I expect amazing things in his future.”

In addition to his laboratory research, German has attended several local and national meetings where he has presented his findings, including the annual UC Irvine Immunology Fair; the La Jolla Immunology Conference; and the Career, Academic, and Research Experiences for Students Symposium at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

“German has represented our university well at scientific conferences and with his service to the military,” Jameson said.

Shelley Dutt, M.S., Biological Sciences

Dean’s Award for Graduate Studies

Shelley Dutt had already earned degrees in both criminology and anthropology from UC Irvine when she began taking Extended Learning courses in the field of biological sciences. Three weeks into an immunology course taught by Professor Bianca Mothe, she was hooked.

“At that moment, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in immunology.”

A short time later, she met with Assistant Professor of Biology Julie Jameson, who was doing immunology research in diabetes, obesity and T-cells. Shelley became the first student at CSUSM to be part of Dr. Jameson’s lab and, in a short period of time, began volunteering on a clinical project to study wound healing in kidney transplant patients – a project being done in collaboration with UC San Diego and the California Institute for Renal Research.

She was accepted as a graduate student in her lab the following academic year and given the opportunity to oversee the clinical project she was assisting in as a volunteer.

Shelly’s love for science reaches beyond the lab. She has worked on recruitment and outreach activities through the STEM Center to interest students of all ages in the sciences, and she developed demonstrations for students to help teach them the basic principles of science and math. Her skill at planning and leading classroom workshops and translating complex scientific concepts and theory into simple and relatable ideas has since prompted her to pursue a career as a teacher at the collegiate level while seeking a doctoral or professional degree so she can have the opportunity to conduct research.

Carolyn Proskow, B.A. Human Development

Dean of Students Leadership Award

Carolyn Proskow’s viewpoint is clear: “Being a campus leader means standing by and for students in their greatest moments of vulnerability,” she said. “Even if I cannot relate to their specific experience, I recognize that healing and recovery begins with the knowledge that others are willing to help.”

Carolyn has been deeply committed to student wellness at Cal State San Marcos, and she currently serves as a senior peer educator in the Peer Advocacy and Wellness Support program at the H.O.P.E & Wellness Center. As a senior peer educator, she has engaged diverse populations of students in important conversations about alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health, eating disorders, breast cancer, sexual assault and more. This past summer, she became a certified trainer for Living Works safeTALK suicide intervention program.

“Carolyn has a sincere passion to educate students on emotional and mental health and to eliminate stigma around mental health challenges,” said CSUSM Mental Health Educator Cheryl Berry “Evident throughout Carolyn’s work on these issues is her commitment to improve the mental health and wellness of students through education, prevention and early intervention.”

Carolyn graduates summa cum laude and will pursue a Master of Public Health en route to a career as a health systems manager in the field of geriatrics.