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CHABSS Breaks Fundraising Record and Celebrates 10 Years

Giving Day raised $27,000 for CHABSS programs

Haylee Lopez with friendsWhen third-year communication student Haylee Lopez decided to study abroad in Seoul, South Korea, she knew it would be a life-changing opportunity. However, she worried about the expense. For many first-generation students like Lopez, the prospect of funding overseas studies is daunting. But, Lopez applied to the CHABSS Student Success Grant, which helped defray the cost of the airfare. “I’m really grateful for the grant because it helped make my dream of studying in another country a reality,” Lopez said.

The CHABSS Student Success Grant is made possible thanks to generous donors whose gifts helped the college break a fund-raising record this academic year. Six CHABSS programs raised more than $27,000 during the university’s annual Giving Day. These funds go toward programs that directly help CHABSS students, like Lopez, pursue opportunities that go beyond the classroom. The CHABSS Student Success Grant has supported travel to conduct research, present at conferences, and network professionally, to name a few. “Our generous donors understand that their gifts are life-changing for students,” said CHABSS interim dean Elizabeth Matthews. “By giving to the various CHABSS programs, our donors are telling us that they believe in what we’re doing to provide our students relevant real-world experiences that will help them become skillful professionals and informed global citizens,” she continued.

Anthropology Dept Giving Day Challenge AwardAnthropology won Giving Day's Spread the Love Challenge earning them an extra $1,000.
Digital History Lab Giving Day Challenge AwardThe Digital History Lab won Giving Day's $2,000 Golden Bonus. 
Political Science Giving Day Challenge AwardPolitical Science won Giving Day's Repeat Donor Challenge earning them an extra $1,000.

CHABSS Turns 10!

This academic year also marks CHABSS’ 10-year anniversary as the liberal arts college at CSUSM. In 2011, the College of Arts and Sciences was reorganized into two separate colleges, forming the College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral & Social Sciences and what is now called the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

CHABSS is the largest college at CSUSM, which is located on the traditional territory and homelands of the Luiseno/Payomkawhicum people, and is spread across three buildings on campus: the Social and Behavioral Sciences building; the Arts building; and Markstein Hall. CHABSS offers 24 bachelor’s degrees, 34 minors, and five master’s programs. Almost half of all CSUSM students are in CHABSS majors and every undergraduate student, regardless of major, takes CHABSS courses as part of their General Education requirements. CHABSS provides students with a broad-based education and range of skills that prepare them to continue their educational journey, compete in the global job market, and be well-informed leaders and global citizens.

Social and Behavioral Sciences Building (SBSB)
Arts Building
Markstein Hall

Award-Winning Faculty

veronica anover
Modern Language Studies professor Veronica Anover, Harry E. Brakebill Distinguished Professor Award winner

Communication professor Gloria Pindi
Communication professor Gloria Pindi, CSUSM President's Outstanding Faculty Award for Scholarship & Creative Activity

Susie Lan Cassel
Literature and Writing Studies professor Susie Lan Cassel, CSUSM President's Award for Inclusive Excellence and Diversity

CHABSS faculty are innovative teacher-scholars, researchers, and artists. They are compassionate and dedicated educators who equip students with the knowledge, skills, and experience critical for their success in our ever-changing world. Their dedication has been recognized with top awards given by scholars in their academic disciplines, community-based organizations, businesses, governments, as well as the California State University system and CSUSM. The Wang Family Excellence award, the top CSU system award for faculty, has been awarded to three CHABSS faculty. This year, the Harry E. Brakebill Distinguished Professor Award, the top faculty award at CSUSM, recognized modern language studies professor Veronica Anover. The Brakebill Award has been awarded to 11 since the award began in 1993.

Additionally, this academic year, communication professor Gloria Pindi won the CSUSM President’s Outstanding Faculty Award for Scholarship and Creative Activity; and literature and writing studies professor Susie Lan Cassel won the CSUSM President’s Award for Inclusive Excellence and Diversity. In fact, CHABSS professors make up most awardees going back to academic year 2005/2006.

Innovative and Interdisciplinary Research

Professor Cassel is currently working on two research projects relating to Chinese immigrants. She said, “For the last two decades, I've been editing the diary of Ah Quin, a Chinese immigrant who lived in San Diego's old Chinatown (what is now the Gaslamp District), and also writing a historiography about his and his family's life during what was considered the "Chinese Exclusion Era.” Cassel said that both books are ethnic studies projects that cross the fields of history and literature. “Ah Quin's family's story is forcing me to see the world through the eyes of unwelcomed immigrants; his first-person subject position reveals many of the downstream and deleterious effects of America's anti-immigrant policies on generations of Asians right here in our region. It's sobering to see the expansive impact the laws had – especially on women – and how much of that harm might have been unintended and perhaps mitigated,” she continued.   

Professor Pindi’s research focuses on challenging western/Eurocentric ideas and interpretations of African culture and identity. She explained that an important contribution of her research is to fill the gap on the scarcity of scholarship on African culture as well as the identity politics of marginalized African immigrants and their ability to live across cultures. She said her research also focuses on bringing together Black American feminist thought and African feminism to create a cross-cultural framework applicable to the lived experiences of Black women of African descent. “My passion for my research is driven by my commitment to social justice activism because I have realized throughout my academic life that academic research can be a place of both scholarship and activism, allowing me to work with community members to create positive changes in the communities where we live,” she said.

Lucy HG SolomonArt professor Lucy HG Solomon, whose research brings together art, science, and technology, has earned a myriad of  national and international awards across the art and science disciplines. In 2020, she earned a Fulbright Scholar Award for research-based art projects that connect the microbiology of the Arctic, the Amazon, and the Andes. Closer to home, as the CHABSS Innovation Fellow, Solomon is working with CSUSM students in the arts and sciences to bring ocean science into the home and classroom. “The “Ocean Biome Box” draws on the research of CSUSM biological sciences professor Betsy Read and will replicate the climate of a distant part of the ocean as a teaching tool for K-12 students to actively learn about climate change,” Solomon said. This builds on her work with CSUSM student STEAM Ambassadors, who bring art and science to area school children. Further, she is working with the CSUSM Offices of Sustainability and Inclusive Excellence to mentor a cohort of CSUSM student change makers to visualize climate issues that are important to them. Solomon has also won multiple awards for her collaborations with CSUSM students and Brazilian artist Cesar Baio in the art collective Cesar & Lois.

Dedicated Staff

Cougar Squared is an affectionate title given to CSUSM staff who completed a CSUSM degree and work at CSUSM – and CHABSS has many. Almost half of the CHABSS staff have been or currently are CSUSM students.

Chadd Huggins, technical director for the ARTS building
Chad Huggins, CSUSM Class of 1999, technical director CHABSS School of Arts
Chad Huggins has been around CSUSM since its beginning. His mother worked at the nascent university in an administrative position and told him about a temporary job opportunity. Subsequently, in 1991, Huggins’ first job with the university was to help move classrooms from its store-front location to the new campus. Then in 1995, he enrolled in what was then called the visual and performing arts (VPA) program. He held student assistant positions with public safety and then with VPA. When the ARTS building was under construction, he was a pivotal player in setting up the tech in the new building. He said, “I was a student assistant when ARTS was being built. I was essentially handed the plans for the building and was instructed to make all of it [the tech] work.” Huggins did such an amazing job that when he graduated in 1999, he was hired to a permanent position as the technical director for the School of Arts and has been an integral part of the success of its productions ever since. “I didn’t know it at the time, but that opportunity to design the facilities and tech for the ARTS building was the beginning of my career at CSUSM. Over the years, finding technical solutions to needs and issues has been a welcome challenge. Seeing students create amazing work with equipment and facilities that I specified, designed, built, and installed is incredibly fulfilling,” Huggins said.
Talisha St. John, the college-wide administrative analyst in the CHABSS dean’s office, is also a Cougar Squared. She earned a communication degree in 2006 and is currently a master’s student in sociological practice in CHABSS – she will be a Cougar Cubed when she graduates with her MA. Additionally, St. John serves as the president for the Black Faculty and Staff Association and collaborates with the Black Student Center on events; she is a member of the Inclusive Excellence Advisory Council which reports to CSUSM President Ellen Neufeldt; and she is a member of the Staff Center Committee. St. John said that volunteering and going above and beyond to serve brings her great fulfillment knowing she is making an impact. “It allows me to use my voice and to encourage those who look like me to get involved and to be a part of the much-needed change that we hope to see. Helping others feels good, and it motivates me to keep moving forward,” she explained.
Talisha St. John, CHABSS college-wide administrative analyst
Talisha St. John, Class of 2006, CHABSS college-wide administrative analyst
Brian Barry, dministrative coordinator for the music department and theatre arts program
Brian Barry, CSUSM Class of 2016, administrative coordinator for the music department and theatre arts program

Another Cougar Squared is Brian Barry, whose first job in CHABSS was as a student assistant in the dean’s office for two years while he was studying for an arts and technology degree. When he graduated in 2016, he began a full-time position as an administrative assistant in the sociology department. Now, he is the administrative coordinator for the music department and theatre arts program. Barry also volunteers to do costumes for the theatre department’s productions. Barry said, “I have a strong passion in the performing arts and was given the wonderful opportunity to provide my talents in costuming for four productions.” Barry’s next costuming role will be for the theatre program’s spring production of Topdog/Underdog. He added, “I love working in CHABSS because all my collogues, both staff and faculty, make me feel like we are one big family. Not only are we striving for the success of our students, but we are also sharing ideas, stories, emotions, and our unique talents. It is an incredibly accepting work environment, and it makes me proud to be part of the team.”

CHABSS also has staff members who are or have been lecturers. Leo Melena, CHABSS’ director of student success, has taught ID 411 and GEL 101, and he is currently teaching UNIV 100. Angela Baggett, the lead operations analyst in the CHABSS dean’s office, has taught FMST 100: Introduction to Cinema. "I enjoy teaching in general but found teaching at CSUSM while also being a staff member extra rewarding. It allowed me to connect with students in CHABSS in a new way. It was an enriching experience to learn from them and to share my love of film."

Brilliant Students

The CHABSS Dean's List has grown over the years to an all-time high of more than 2,500 students. We look forward to its continued growth! About a quarter of these students are able to maintain a high GPA throughout their time at CSUSM to graduate with Latin Honors (i.e., Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, and Cum Laude) – that is quite an accomplishment when so many of our students are employed full-time, care for their families and extended families, and have countless competing priorities.

A point of pride for the CHABSS community is that our CHABSS students have earned the CSUSM President’s Outstanding Graduate Award, the highest honor bestowed to a graduating CSUSM student, more than any other college on campus.

Student is corded for earning Latin HonorsA CHABSS student is 'corded' signifying that he earned Latin Honors upon graduation from CSUSM                                 

Since 2011, CHABSS students have won the award six times. Going back to academic year 2002/2003 (in the CoAS days), students who studied what are now CHABSS majors, won the award four times. To win the President’s award, a student must first win their college’s Dean’s Outstanding Graduate award. They then become their college’s candidate for the President’s award and compete against the six other dean’s awardees. 

To become a candidate for CHABSS, students who have continuously demonstrated extraordinary academic and service accomplishments, and/or contributions to campus life are nominated by their faculty. Initially, the college had only one award for graduating students, the CHABSS Dean’s Outstanding Student award, but the college received so many remarkable candidates that more award categories were created: Community Champion, Inclusive Excellence Champion, and the Scholarship & Creative Works Champion. Sometimes still, there are more than one deserving candidate for a particular category, and an award is shared.


Kodie Gerritsen

CSUSM President's Outstanding Student &
CHABSS Dean's Outstanding Student

Kodie Gerritsen

Addalee 'Addy' Lyon

CHABSS Community Champion
Addalee 'Addy' Lyon

Ashley Mota Ortega

CHABSS Champion for Scholarship & Creative Works
Ashley Mota Ortega

Ashley Mota Ortega

CHABSS Champion for Scholarship & Creative Works
Rachael Groeneweg

Faith Garcia

CHABSS Champion for Inclusive Excellence
Faith Garcia


Last year, the CSUSM President’s Award was given to Kodi Gerritsen, who was a double major in visual and performing arts and physics, and a minor in geography. Additionally, CHABSS students are doing remarkable work that is recognized by other Dean’s Offices: the Dean of Students Leadership Award went to Gladys Guzman, a double major in sociology and criminology & justice studies; and Christine Briggs, a literature and writing studies graduate student won the Office of Graduate Studies and Research Outstanding Graduate Award.

Enriching Programs

Music professor and world-renowned pianist Ching-Ming Cheng performs on a Steinway grand pianoMusic professor and world-renowned pianist Ching-Ming Cheng was the driving force behind the university earning an All Steinway designation. Photo by Andrew Reed

In 2018, the CSUSM music department joined a coveted list of institutions with a designation of an All-Steinway School. Less than 200 colleges, universities, and conservatories worldwide have received this status. The All-Steinway designation means that CSUSM’s music department owns and maintains at least ten Steinway and Steinway-designed pianos. Most world-class pianists of various genres insist on only playing Steinway pianos because of the piano’s response to touch and the dimension of their sounds. “Imagine race car drivers having the best skills but can only apply their immense potentials to a regular sedan or a van, something that is not at the level of artistry and can’t respond to the sensitivity the drivers possess. Same with these Steinway pianos,” explained music professor, chair of the music department and world-renowned pianist Ching-Ming Cheng.

Piano student Monica Alipranti used to be perfectly content playing on an ordinary piano before getting the chance to work with a Steinway. “It wasn't until we received the Steinways that I learned there was so much more to music than I had known. Every song suddenly became so complex and full of so much feeling. The Steinways gave me the ability to create something beautiful out of what I had previously seen as just a page of notes to play,” explained Alipranti.

“Ever since this designation, I receive requests from prospective students about auditioning and applying to our music program. They want to come here and study piano. It’s a really huge accomplishment, and I am beyond excited for our music program,” said Cheng, who was the driving force behind the All-Steinway initiative and was instrumental in raising funds to purchase the pianos and subsequently earn the designation. CSUSM’s Steinway piano purchases were made possible through donor support of the Epstein family; Carolyn Funes; Rick and Ann Hein; the Hunter advised fund of the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation; Carol Lazier; and the David T. and Dorris E. Staples Foundation.

Outside the classroom, CHABSS provides unique learning experiences and growth opportunities to encourage students to explore and strive for their intellectual and artistic potential, to think creatively to solve complex problems, to understand the world around them and their impact on it. In CHABSS, our motto is Understanding the World, Improving Your Community. We recognize that we live in an ever-changing world that connects us all as global citizens, and we know that eight out of ten CSUSM alumni stay in the region.

To help promote global awareness, the CHABSS Global Commitment Committee (GCC) brings to campus speakers, film screenings, and visual and performing arts that highlight different global topics. The Global Film Series features thought-provoking films that connect CSUSM and surrounding communities with global issues. A question-and-answer panel of subject matter experts is paired with each film screening, and the film series’ website provides additional resources to learn more about the featured topic. “The film screenings and panel discussions play an important role in creating an environment where rich and fruitful dialog takes place between the panel experts, campus members, and broader community, enabling participants to share and learn from each other's diverse experiences and insights on the global issue at hand,” said GCC co-chair and economics professor Erica Freer.
students pinning locations on a mapStudents pin tags on a map in "Where in the world have you visited or lived?" during a Global Commitment Committee event

The GCC also hosts the Global Competency Certificate which is a non-credit, semester-long program that provides students with opportunities to engage in events that promote international awareness and appreciate cultural diversity and inclusion. Professor Freer says the goal of the certificate is to introduce students to global mindset strategies that promote international awareness, appreciation of cultural diversity, and allyship in improving global issues that will help them both personally and professionally. “As our world and marketplace becomes more globally connected, employers are seeking out diverse environments that foster continuous growth and learning,” Freer said. “Engagement with others who see the world differently challenges us to reexamine preconceived ideas and perspectives. Our ability to generate results through engagement with others who have different world views in an important marker of human maturation and is a skill increasingly sought after by employers in the global economy,” she continued.

Aylin Avagyan in Granada, Spain
Political Science student Aylin Avagyan is currently studying in Granada, Spain
Aylin Avagyan, who completed the certificate last semester, agrees. “Before the program, I was aware of different cultures around me but once I took on the program it definitely opened my eyes to all that I was not seeing or understanding,” she said. “During one of the events I attended, we talked about gender, culture, economic realities, and societal views of multiple stereotypes. It was an amazing experience to talk about these issues in a safe space and hear stories from people with different backgrounds and what they struggle with in their own countries and how it ties in with larger political and cultural aspects,” she explained. Avagyan said that adding the Global Competency Certificate to her resume will help her in the future. “I believe it is a skill to think about things with a global perspective and to understand viewpoints of different cultures,” she said. Avagyan, a political science major (global concentration) with a minor in Spanish, is currently studying aboard in Granada, Spain and aspires to be an international human rights lawyer. “Whenever people ask me about my end goal, it would simply be to help people who don’t have a voice and stand up for what I think is right even if it’s one person at a time. I think that makes a huge difference,” she said. 

The CHABSS Career Network is a mentoring program that is open to students in CHABSS majors and minors. The mission of the CHABSS Career Network is to enhance our students' career readiness by connecting them with mentors consisting of regional professionals, alumni, business, non-profit and community leaders. Mentors and mentees are matched by career interests and will meet in-person one-on-one, virtually, and in small group seminars. Mentors will help their mentee prepare for life after college by exploring connections between their interests, passions, studies, and potential career paths. “My mentor helped me explore what I wanted to do with my life and my career. She introduced me to people in the fields I was interested in and suggested resources to clarify my long-term goals. I still use the skills I gained in the Career Network years after graduation,” said Sara, a 2016 mentee. CHABSS students, who have junior or senior standing, can apply for the Career Network beginning in April for the following academic year.

Group of CHABSS Career Network mentors and menteesCHABSS Career Network mentors and mentees

The CHABSS Career Network is a mentoring program that is open to students in CHABSS majors and minors. The mission of the CHABSS Career Network is to enhance our students' career readiness by connecting them with mentors consisting of regional professionals, alumni, business, non-profit and community leaders. Mentors and mentees are matched by career interests and will meet in-person one-on-one, virtually, and in small group seminars. Mentors will help their mentee prepare for life after college by exploring connections between their interests, passions, studies, and potential career paths. 

“My mentor helped me explore what I wanted to do with my life and my career. She introduced me to people in the fields I was interested in and suggested resources to clarify my long-term goals. I still use the skills I gained in the Career Network years after graduation,” said Sara, a 2016 mentee. CHABSS students, who have junior or senior standing, can apply for the Career Network beginning in April for the following academic year.

The College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences has grown significantly in the last ten years. The college is the academic leader in diversity, inclusion, social justice, and equity and is the largest of the four colleges at CSUSM, offering 24 majors, 33 minors, and five master’s programs. The college also contributes richly to the university’s general education program, serving all CSUSM students, no matter the major, with curriculum of broad global and historical knowledge, and valuable work and life skills. The college community consists of more than 440 professors and 23 staff members, all committed to equipping students with knowledge, skills, and experiences critical for an ever-changing world of opportunities, challenges, and diversity. In CHABSS, we work to understand the world and improve your community. How will you make your impact?

Check out what some of our CHABSS Alumni are doing now. 

CHABSS Departments/Programs Accomplishments and Points of Pride