Dominica Ranieri, a first-generation college senior majoring in biochemistry at CSUSM, was named one of 23 California State University (CSU) students to receive the 2012-2013 William R. Hearst/CSU Trustees' Award for Outstanding Achievement.

The Hearst/CSU Trustees' award provides scholarships to students who have a demonstrated financial need, experienced personal hardships and have attributes of merit including superior academic performance, exemplary community service and significant personal achievements. The award is among the highest forms of recognition for student achievement in the CSU. The CSU Board of Trustees will recognize Dominica and her fellow scholars on Sep. 18.

Overcoming obstacles

The third of four children raised by a low-income, working single mother, Ranieri was already fighting the odds to graduate from high school when she was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 2008.

"My days became full of X-rays, CTscans, blood transfusions, IVs and blood tests," Ranieri remembered. "Instead of getting better, as my stay became longer my complications grew worse."

Ranieri became a diabetic as a result of all the medication she was taking and a blood clot in her brain provided additional complications. After five weeks in the hospital, she had to take on extra classes to graduate high school on time, but she didn't let others tell her she couldn't do it.

"I am the first in my family to go to a four-year university and I will be the first in my family to ever graduate with a bachelor's degree," she said. "This is a great achievement."

Today Ranieri has channeled her ordeals into a passion for serving others. She has taken on numerous leadership positions at CSUSM including Orientation Team leader, University Student Union Advisory Board student representative, vice president of the Pre-Health Society, and president and founder of Organizing for America. She also volunteers for the CSUSM Gender Equity Center, and is a member of the Social Justice Action Team, the new member educator of Alpha Omicron Pi and secretary for the Women's Studies Student Association.

Channeling her passion

Ranieri's experience with Crohn's has given her the ambition to pursue a career as a pediatric gastroenterologist and inspire others with her story of success.

"I plan to use my own struggles as an inspiration to young patients like myself," said Ranieri. "I want to show them that a disease does not have to limit them from obtaining their goals and dreams. My disease does not have to be a burden; instead it is a gift to inspire strength and hope for (others) around me to continue to fight for their dreams."

"I plan to use my own struggles as an inspiration to young patients like myself," said Ranieri. "I want to show them that a disease does not have to limit them from obtaining their goals and dreams. My disease does not have to be a burden; instead it is a gift to inspire strength and hope for (others) around me to continue to fight for their dreams."