University Honors Outstanding 2023 Graduates
More than 4,200 students are expected to graduate from Cal State San Marcos this academic year, including six standouts from the Class of 2023 who are receiving special recognition for their achievements.
Honorees were nominated by faculty or staff and endorsed by their college’s dean. Here is a closer look at each award recipient:
Aidelen Montoya, special major in studio art, museum studies, and theory
President’s Outstanding Graduate
Dean’s Award, College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences
Montoya’s degree program only scratches the surface of her interdisciplinary and community-engaged accomplishments. She was selected as one of nine students of color in the Planet Mentorship pilot in which she conducted research resulting in a beaded data visualization that addresses environmental issues through a social justice lens.
Nominating professor Lucy HG Solomon noted that the quality of this presentation led to her inviting Montoya to join a prestigious residency on Volcan Mountain where they held a public exhibition of her work.
Montoya integrates themes of climate justice into her art. Through her research and creative activities, she crosses boundaries between physical sciences and the arts with a mind for practical situations such as improving museum sustainability and K-12 education.
Kianni Albrecht, Master of Social Work
Dean’s Award, College of Education, Health and Human Services
Albrecht has dedicated her career to serving the veteran community. She grew up in a military family and was able to see firsthand the necessity of trauma-informed and culturally sensitive mental health services. She interned at the Veterans Affairs Healthcare Systems where she served veterans who have been impacted by the vulnerabilities of marginalized and systemic disparities.
To address this issue on a larger scale, Albrecht and her father have coordinated presentations at local, national and global conferences, which provide both a social worker perspective and the veteran’s perspective to help reduce stigma and encourage awareness of mental health resources for the treatment of PTSD.
Albrecht pursued many leadership opportunities during her time at CSUSM, including vice president of the Social Work Coalition and representing the university at the National Association of Social Workers-CA Lobby Days where she spoke with policymakers to advocate for legislation that aligns with the values of the social work profession.
Serena Farrell, biological sciences
Dean’s Award, College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
A first-generation college student, Farrell has overcome every hurdle in her path as she worked to earn money to support her education, ran long distance on both the cross country and track teams, engaged in research that earned recognition at CSUSM and nationally, and served in countless leadership roles, including as the CTSEM representative to ASI.
At CSUSM, Farrell not only found mentors, but she also worked hard to find every opportunity she could to reach back and be that positive voice for others. Farrell has provided CSUSM’s student body with career-advancing workshops, opportunities and panels. In the last year, Farrell has helped organize a career panel and a Women in STEM panel.
Farrell is also a URISE scholar in the Center for Training, Research, and Educational Excellence where she has further demonstrated her commitment to her education and research while mentoring the next generation of scientists from historically underrepresented backgrounds in STEM.
Jennifer Figueroa, master’s psychological science
Dean’s Award, Graduate Studies
A first-generation Ecuadorian American college student from a low-income background, Figueroa has demonstrated outstanding achievements throughout her time at CSUSM. She has achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.82, successfully defended her master’s thesis and trained new members of her research team.
During her time in the master’s program Figueroa has amassed several research achievements, including one first-author publication, three first-author conference presentations, and four co-author conference presentations.
Nominating professor Haylee DeLuca Bishop noted that Figueroa’s achievements are outstanding for someone so early in their career and they reflect her initiative and intellectual curiosity.
Rachel Jackson, business administration, management
Gerevas Family Dean’s Award, College of Business Administration
Jackson’s considerable contributions have been essential to the rebuilding of an active student community in CoBA and across CSUSM amid the return to an on-campus, post-pandemic environment. Her officer positions in CoBA Management Society alongside her membership in CoBA’s new Dean’s Student Advisory Council has helped build relationships with the external community for meaningful society-community events.
Jackson assisted in a meeting with a Fortune 500 company, and the representatives specifically mentioned her as having a positive impact on their decision to move the new relationship forward which helped to create employment opportunities for CoBA students.
Nominating professor Catalin Ratiu highlighted Jackson’s energy and charisma, noting that she has helped the college in many ways. Through her active participation and strong leadership, Jackson has contributed to creating a sense of belonging and support within the CoBA community.
Ilianna Ramirez, psychological sciences
Dean’s Award, Dean of Students
Ramirez has made lasting contributions to student life at CSUSM through her many involvements, including the ASI Board of Directors, President of the American Indian Student Alliance, Arts & Lectures and her work with the Anti-Racism, Anti-Colonialism, Social Justice Committee.
Ramirez took her experience one step further through an internship student teaching at her community college where she is creating a pathway for others and laying the foundation for her future career as a college professor.
Ramirez has strived to help create a sense of belonging at CSUSM. She utilizes her ability to empathize with others who have experiences different from hers to create connections not only within the American Indian Student Alliance but also with other student life areas.
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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