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University Recognizes Top 2020 Graduates

Nearly 4,700 students are expected to graduate from Cal State San Marcos this academic year, including six standouts from the Class of 2020 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:

Lauren Tafla, applied physics

President's Outstanding Graduate

Dean’s Award, College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

Tafla has demonstrated excellence academically and through her research experiences, including her selection as a Summer Scholar in 2018. An enthusiastic learner with an impeccable work ethic, Tafla quickly mastered the experiments in CSUSM’s Astrophysics and Isotope Geochemistry Lab.

Tafla also has impressed with her leadership skills and deep commitment to sustainability, diversity and inclusion. As a member and president of the campus’ Sustainability Club, Tafla represented student interests on the smoke- and tobacco-free campus task force. She wrote letters to congressional representatives about needed environmental policy changes related to climate change and organized a “sustainable speaker series” to host documentary screenings and speakers.

Among her many accomplishments, Tafla has served as president of the Society of Physics Students, worked as a program facilitator for the San Diego-based nonprofit Treobytes and helped start a Women in Physics group at CSUSM.

Read more about Tafla here.


Margaret Morumbasi, special education credential

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

In a competitive field of CEHHS candidates that included undergraduate, credential, graduate and doctoral students, Morumbasi stood out for her combination of academic excellence, service and leadership.

Drawing on her personal experiences in Kenya, Morumbasi has participated in numerous regional and national initiatives in support of individuals with disabilities in her country. Her work has contributed to the national discourse on disability awareness in Kenya.

Morumbasi is working full-time as a special educator while simultaneously completing her credential coursework at CSUSM. She has maintained a 3.9 grade-point average and has been invaluable in sharing her knowledge gleaned through her international research on disability awareness.


Nasdira Romero Saravia, child and adolescent development

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

An active researcher and community activist, Romero Saravia overcame numerous challenges to earn her bachelor’s last December. Romero Saravia persisted despite contending with challenges that included domestic violence, homelessness and being the single parent of a child with special needs. She made the dean’s list every semester at CSUSM and obtained a coveted research position in the psychology department.

Having her own child with special needs turned her interest toward a degree in child and adolescent development, and she has performed valuable work as a research assistant in a cultural perinatal mental health study.

The first in her family to graduate from high school and pursue a college education, Romero Saravia is applying to Ph.D. programs in health policy.


Erika Venegas, marketing

Dean’s Award, College of Business Administration

Venegas has achieved an overall grade-point average of 3.75 and has made the dean’s list every semester since arriving at CSUSM in 2016.

As president of the Latino Business Student Association (LBSA), Venegas expanded the organization’s reach beyond the business discipline to bring professional development opportunities to students of all majors throughout the university. Venegas has made it a priority to reach out across campus to collaborate with the Career Center and the Latin@ Center to extend the impact of LBSA beyond CoBA.

Venegas’ achievements also include founding Lean In CSUSM, a women’s empowerment program offered by the Gender Equity Center; volunteering at CoBA’s Senior Experience Trade Show two straight years; and leading CoBA’s student organization retreat.


Jessica Atencio, kinesiology

Dean’s Award, Graduate Studies

Atencio has excelled academically (she will graduate with a 3.95 grade-point average) and in her research endeavors.

As part of her master’s program requirements, Atencio did her thesis based on her research investigating fluid balance during aquatic exercise. Atencio collected data locally and in Costa Rica on more than 300 research subjects, and she has presented her research at multiple regional and national conferences.

Atencio will continue her education this fall at the University of Oregon, where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in human physiology.

Read more about Atencio here.


Ashley Persson, political science

Dean of Students Outstanding Leadership Award

Persson has made lasting contributions to student life at CSUSM through her involvement with Fraternity & Sorority Life and Residential Education.

With an unwavering commitment to excellence in leadership, Persson has held roles that include serving as Order of Omega Chi Lambda chapter president, Delta Zeta Pi Psi chapter global ambassador (former chapter president), and a senior resident adviser in Housing and Residential Education.

Persson has excelled in myriad other ways, including through officer roles with Delta Zeta, earning Order of Omega Honor and Leadership Society, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society and dean’s list recognition for several semesters. A cancer survivor, Persson also volunteers with the National Children’s Cancer Society.

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