For Nasdira Romero Saravia being her son’s champion led her to the Child and Adolescent Development major. When her son began to show concerning behavior, Nasdira was working a demanding job and going to school, but had to drop classes because childcare was a problem. “Although I reached out to many organizations for support with my son’s special needs, I often found myself on waitlists and no real help. I decided to educate myself on how I could protect my son,” she explained. With the help of a family liaison from SAY San Diego she was able to obtain an Individualized Education Plan for him. Through this process, she learned about the systems of care in behavioral health, education, and juvenile justice. She also completed a peer support certification in children’s services, wellness recovery action plan, as well as mental health first aid youth training. “Having a child with high needs turned me into an advocate and impacted the course of my academic life. In 2015, I switched my major from Accounting to Child and Adolescent Development.”
Although she didn’t know it at the time, but this switch put her on a path to earn the 2020 CHABSS Dean’s Outstanding Student Award, the highest honor bestowed to a CHABSS graduate. She will go on to compete for CSUSM’s highest graduating student award, the President’s Outstanding Graduate Award.
Nasdira has a story that reads like many CSUSM students – first-generation, family conflict, undocumented status, domestic violence, homelessness, single-parent of child with special needs – but she has gone above and beyond in her studies and her community work.
Given the difficulties of her life experiences, Nasdira took a relatively long path through various community colleges before arriving at CSUSM in 2018. She struggled putting herself through community college because of numerous outside pressures. Her experiences, which include living as an undocumented minor, sexual trauma survivor, survivor of intimate partner violence, litigation abuse (where her immigration status was used to threaten her and the welfare of her son), as well as periods of homeless, never dipped her GPA. She maintained Dean’s List status through it all. “Nasdira is one of the most resilient human beings I’ve known in my life,” said Dr. Staci Beavers, professor of Political Science. “In the face of personal challenges that would leave many of us curled up in a ball with the lights out and a blanket over our heads, Nasdira has pursued her academic ambitions strategically and with remarkable determination,” Dr. Beavers continued.
Upon arriving at CSUSM, Nasdira took advantage of the Faculty Mentoring Program and was matched with Psychology Professor Dr. Kimberly D’Anna-Hernandez. Nasdira joined Dr. D’Anna-Hernandez’s Perinatal Cultural Mental Health Laboratory and became involved in all aspects of the lab from participant recruitment to data entry as well as literature review. She worked seamlessly with the graduate students and learned all aspects of protocol. “She was completely new to research but was motivated and showed initiative to learn as much as she could about our laboratory and the research process in general,” said Dr. D’Anna-Hernandez. “Nasdira’ s work ethic and independence was so impressive that she was quickly promoted to a clinical research assistant.” Dr. D’Anna-Hernandez emphasized that this is a position not taken lightly with the laboratory and only earned by very specific students.
Nasdira has excelled at her own undergraduate research, too. Last summer, she presented her work at UCSD’s Summer Research Conference and at USD’s Future Faces of STEM Conference on understanding the role of early life stress on markers of mental health in pregnant Mexican-American women. She then took this work further and presented at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Anaheim. There she presented work on how early life stress can contribute to maternal anxiety in pregnant women of Mexican descent. “I received travel awards from both the Office of Graduate Studies & Research and ABRCMS, and with collaboration of many kindhearted supporters I attended the full three days with peace of mind as they all cared for my son,” Nasdira said. “These conferences gave me opportunities to network with students across disciplines and to inquire about graduate programs that I’m interested in, such as Public Health and Policy.”
Additionally, Nasdira and Dr. D’Anna-Hernandez are working on a publication where Nasdira is first author. Nasdira is applying to graduate school next fall in Public Health programs that focus on policy. In order to support this work, Nasdira and Dr. D’Anna-Hernandez are working on a study focused on parity, maternal anxiety and perinatal mental health equity for low-income Mexican-American mothers.
Nasdira is grateful for the resources she found through the Dreamer’s Resource Office. She said that the DRO has been a fountain for support as she looked for ways to pay for her education. She’s received scholarships from American Association of University Women, Dr. Jerry Sepinwall DREAM, and from Carlsbad-Oceanside’s Live Your Dream Award. She said being awarded these scholarships compelled her to help others in similar circumstances as her own. “I did this through summer presentations with Migrant Ed where our audience was youth in middle school and high school. At the Educational Opportunity Program transfer day orientation, I was a student panelist, I tabled at orientation and gave classroom presentations on behalf of the DRO. I continue to collaborate with fellow Dreamer ambassadors in community outreach, resources, and data collection,” Nasdira explained.
She is an active volunteer with DACA workshops around North County and connected with fellow survivors of trauma and adversity. Drawing from skills she learned from Leap to Success classes, she’s shared her message of resiliency with various women’s and community groups around North County as well. “I am passionate about providing hope through my lived experience and strive to make a difference in the lives of youth who face challenges within the system of care,” she said.
Nasdira currently works as the Community Resource and Administrative Support Lead in the Dreamer’s Resource Office. There she continues to advocate for underrepresented students. “There is much intersectionality with other departments and organizations across campus, which include the National Latino Research Center, UPRISE committee, UURISE, Jewish Family Services, Career Center, and Financial Aid office to name a few,” she said. “I am in constant communication with faculty on campus as we receive a variety of inquiries daily. I also put together a weekly email that reaches faculty and students here, as well as at other school sites, and community members. Staying current with ever-changing immigration policy is also part of my role at the DRO, and I ensure to gather resources whenever a policy change happens that will adversely affect our community,” she explained. Nasdira also played a role in helping the DRO obtain $235,000 in much-needed funding by crunching numbers and compiling data for the grant.
As Nasdira looks into the rearview mirror of her university experience, she’s tremendously appreciative of all the doors that opened to her at CSUSM and meeting and bonding with likeminded students and professors. “I spent many office hours conversing with professors about what I was learning in class and sharing my plans to positively make a difference as I furthered my education,” she reflects. “I appreciate every professor who welcomed my son and allowed him to attend class with me when he faced disciplinary action at school, or I had no childcare. This showed me how invested they were in me and ensuring I remained on track academically,” she continued.
Nasdira’s professors are also appreciative of her passion and commitment to her educational goals. “It is so rare to see this high level of intellectual curiosity in a student, especially in such a compassionate and considerate person like Nasdira. It was an absolute pleasure to have her in class and I only wish she were in all of my classes,” said Dr. Sara Bufferd, one of Nasdira’s psychology professors. Dr. D’Anna-Hernandez added, “I really began to properly appreciate her love of learning, her determination to succeed, and her work ethic when I realized that she was making it through a fully online course by working from the hallway of her apartment building late at night, simply because that was where she could get Wi-Fi after she got her son to bed. Of course, Nasdira earned an “A” in the course, and I have been cheering for her ever since.”
Nasdira now has her sight set on obtaining a PhD in Health Policy. “As a parent who consistently searched for resources to help my child, I understand where policy can be improved in order to better serve this vulnerable and precious population. By attending county meetings and participating in focus groups on how to improve the Behavioral Health system, I am already on my way to advocating for reform in current practices. Obtaining a PhD in Health Policy will help me bridge interventions with evidence-based practices in our community.”
Dr. D’Anna-Hernandez Congratulates Nasdira Romero Saravia
Nasdira is CHABSS Dean's Outstanding Student 2020.
She's a Child and Adolescent Development major.
When Marissa Lamonte and Makenzie Dotinga met in LBST 300, Intro to Critical Education, taught by Professor Rachael McGlaston Espinoza, the two transfer students connected in their desire for a student organization geared toward the teaching profession. However, there was no such club on campus. Yet. With an eye on providing help in navigating everything that comes with the process of becoming a credentialed teacher in California, the two women, with the guidance and encouragement of Professor McGlaston Espinoza, formed the Future Educators Association (FEA) at CSUSM at the beginning of Spring 2019.
For this gargantuan effort and seeing to it that the FEA provides relevant and meaningful resources and career knowledge to future educators at CSUSM, Marissa and Makenzie share the 2020 CHABSS Community Champion award. They were jointly nominated for this award by Liberal Studies professors Dr. Nicoleta Bateman, department chair; Dr. Kimberley Knowles-Yánez; and Rachael McGlaston Espinoza, who is also the FEA faculty advisor.
“Ms. Dotinga and Ms. Lamonte have spent the past year and a half creating and fostering this organization that provides invaluable support, information, networking, and community to the undergraduate future teacher population at CSUSM,” said Professor McGlaston Espinoza. “They have spent countless hours listening to their peers and gaining a clear understanding of their needs so that they can facilitate having those needs met in a timely, professional, and careful manner. Their attentions to detail and communication skills are unmatched and these abilities have been monumental in the success of the organization. These skills have also made both Ms. Lamonte and Ms. Dotinga a beacon of inspiration and pride for staff and faculty that have had the pleasure of working with them,” continued Professor McGlaston Espinoza.
While this award is usually given to one individual, Professor Bateman said it would be impossible to separate the accomplishments of these two students. “In their leadership roles as cofounders and co-presidents of the Future Educators Association, a student organization dedicated to serving the ongoing needs of students pursuing a career in education at CSUSM, Ms. Lamonte and Ms. Dotinga embody the community service missions of the College and University,” Professor Bateman explained.
Since the launch of the club, FEA has grown to over 250 members from various majors outside of Liberal Studies such as Mathematics, Biological Sciences, Business Administration, Child Development, History, English, and the Arts. “Since we have such a diverse group of students from different majors, our members can collaborate on new ideas, projects, and in their classes. We have established a community of students who share common goals of creating a more inclusive educational environment and developing themselves professionally to be the most well-rounded teacher they can be,” Marissa said.
Their club has weekly meetings and monthly events that discuss various topics in education. They have held bilingual authorization meetings to promote and inform college students about the advantages of being bilingual in the educational field. They have also held meetings that discuss the topic of being a special education teacher, informing students of the critical need for special education teachers and the lifelong satisfaction that comes with the profession.
One of their public community events was a screening of the Backpack Full of Cash documentary about the dangers of privatization of public education throughout marginalized communities. Professor McGlaston Espinoza explained that this documentary called upon not only their organization members but also upon the whole CSUSM community to be advocates for the public education system and for the well-being of future students. Professor McGlaston Espinoza added that the documentary also prompted further discussion about the social injustices and educational inequity occurring in the education system.
Another event they’ve held, called Lessons Learned, was in a “speed-dating” format where aspiring teachers got to ask established educators from the local community their burning questions about the career path. And, before winter break, they collaborated with CEHHS in the We Love People event and collected new and unused school supplies to donate to an elementary school in need.
Building such an influential club from the ground up has been challenging for both Marissa and Makenzie, but their experience has given them a unique knowledge that will follow them well into the future. “When we started the idea of Future Educators Association in our LBST 300 class, we never expected this organization to reach as many students as it has,” said Makenzie. Marissa added, “With over 250 members we are proud to have created an organization that supports CSUSM’s goals of diversity, educational equity, inclusive excellence, and social justice reform.”
They both agree that knowing that CSUSM students pursuing a career in education are benefitting from their organization has helped them both become more confident in their leadership capabilities, and without a doubt, foreshadows the future of innovative ways they will impact the field of education.
Dr. Nicoleta Bateman Congratulates Marissa & Makenzie
Marrisa Lamonte & Makenzie Dotinga are CHABSS' Community Champions 2020.
Both are Liberal Studies majors.
In high school, Juan Duran saw a need to serve his community. He didn’t come from a privileged background. His parents are extremely hardworking – his dad an avocado farmer, his mom a housekeeper. But, he knew in high school that there were kids who had it harder than his family. That’s when he first started mentoring grade school-aged boys of color. Boys who, on the daily, were subjected to gang culture and neglect. “For many of these boys, a male role model was absent at home. Many of them had never been encouraged to do well in school or to pursue their dreams. For the kids, I was more than a volunteer, they looked up to me because I believed in them,” Juan said.
The impact Juan felt he was making with these boys motivated and encouraged him to seek a career serving underrepresented and underprivileged kids and that led him to CSUSM where he recently became the CHABSS Champion for Inclusive Excellence.
“Rather than be someone who seeks only to uplift himself, and to catapult himself away from his upbringing, however, Juan has been a model of seeking mentoring and passing along what he has learned to others,” said CSUSM History Professor, Dr. Alyssa Sepinwall, who nominated Juan for the CHABSS award.
Over the years, Juan has volunteered tutoring and mentoring foster youth, migrant kids, and kids of color, helped non-English speaking adults with online English classes, and assisted migrant education staff present financial literacy workshops to graduating seniors at Fallbrook Union High School. While at CSUSM, he participated in academic mentoring programs for himself as a student, including the Educational Opportunity Program, the Collage Assistance Migrant Program, Faculty Mentoring Program, the CHABSS Career Network, and he was selected to be a McNair Scholar.
Through the Frederick Douglass Global Fellowship, he had the opportunity to travel to South Africa where he gained a greater appreciation for his parents’ sacrifices and efforts. “It was incredible to learn the rich history of South Africa and more so the challenges of the oppressed communities who are constantly affected by the legacy of Apartheid. As a future history teacher, this international experience has inspired me to reform conventional curriculum and transform the way history is taught in classrooms. Additionally, learning from these distinct communities strengthened my cultural competency skills and has motivated me to promote diversity to communities who are not fortunate enough to interact with other diverse communities. Being conscious of other cultures and accumulating knowledge on the history of others serves as a catalyst for promoting equity, diversity, and social justice,” he said. (Check out this tribute video Juan made for his father while he was in South Africa.)
As an undergraduate researcher, Juan has contributed to the Undocu-Research Project which examines the experiences and needs of undocumented high school students and those who serve them. “My aspirations pertaining to Latinx empowerment reflect my research interests which are focused on under-served groups in higher education,” he explained. “This past summer I participated in the Summer Education Research Program (SERP) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was able to help produce literature that addressed educational disparities Latino male students experience, with faculty mentor Dr. Stephen Quintana,” he continued. Juan has presented his research at various academic conference across the U.S.
Juan’s hard work and dedication to his studies and those around him have earned him acceptance letters to graduate programs at UCLA, USC, UCI, UCR, USD, and Stanford. He has committed to Stanford University’s joint M.A. in Education/Teaching Credential Program to prepare for a career teaching and mentoring children from underrepresented backgrounds, however, he’s taking a year deferment and will begin in the summer of 2021. During this deferment year, Juan plans to develop network connections with local school districts where he hopes to substitute or possibly get hired here at CSUSM working with underrepresented students on campus. About his long-term goals, he says, “I will continue with on-going efforts to promote diversity, equity, and social justice on and off-campus as well as to mentor and empower young minds to pursue higher education with an emphasis on social justice and encourage them to be global and noble leaders.”
Dr. Alyssa Sepinwall Congratulates Juan Duran.
Juan is CHABSS' Inclusive Excellence Champion 2020.
Juan is a History major with a minor in Spanish.
Jessica Garcia found her passion for archaeology at Palomar College where she received an A.A. in Archaeology and two certificates of achievement for archaeological field work and lab analysis. There, she worked on both prehistoric and historic archaeological sites in San Diego as well as a site in Togo, West Africa. In 2018, Jessica decided to continue broadening her knowledge by transferring to CSUSM as an Indigenous Anthropology major.
Jessica’s passion and curiosity for her studies has earned her the 2020 CHABSS Scholarship and Creative Works Champion award.
In her first semester at CSUSM, Jessica took great interest in her Maya Archaeology class taught by Dr. Jon Spenard, an anthropological archaeologist. “To say she hit the ground running at CSUSM would be an understatement,” Dr. Spenard said. “Ms. Garcia’s desire to pursue archaeology and her seriousness as a scholar was obvious from her first day on campus. She asked engaging and thought-provoking questions, she sought out more literature on class topics that interested her, and she always performed at the top of her classes,” he continued. Dr. Spenard nominated Jessica for the CHABSS Scholarship and Creative Works Champion award.
After discussing field work, her enthusiasm for Maya archaeology, and her past field and professional experiences, Dr. Spenard invited Jessica to join his summer 2019 Rio Frio Regional Archaeological Project (RiFRAP) in Belize. Dr. Spenard explained that 1928 was the last time the Rio Frio caves were explored (there are three caves lettered A, B, and C). A museum artifact collector, led to the caves by a local guide, briefly documented the caves and did not find any settlements. The caves were then largely ignored by the archaeological community and the site has not been studied. Jessica said, “During our 10 days of excavations, we worked in Rio Frio Cave A (RFCA). We came across many artifacts suggesting the ancient Maya heavily used RFCA. Before closing the excavation season, in the unit I was primarily working, we unearthed human remains,” Jessica continued. The remains Jessica found played a huge role in her research and her understanding of the complexity of the burial. The remains led her to believe that multiple burials would be found in RFCA’s entrance and her research would further produce information that refines the understanding of ancient Maya history.
She had the opportunity to present this research at the Southern California Mesoamerican Network Conferences, where Mesoamerican Archaeologists gather annually to present their most recent research; and at the Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research held at CSUSM. She also coauthored the 2019 field season progress report that was submitted to two government agencies in Belize, the Institute of Archaeology, and the Forest Department. Dr. Spenard explained that these are opportunities that archaeologists typically encounter in graduate level programs, but Jessica is experiencing them at the undergraduate level and getting a head start towards graduate school.
In addition to her discovery of the human remains, the team also made new discoveries that will lead to years of investigation and provide PhD-level questions to answer. “Having the luxury of already being a part of the project, I plan to continue work on RiFRAP with Dr. Spenard as I work towards my PhD. With this project, I have an opportunity to become one of the experts in this new area of exploration and investigation,” Jessica said.
Jessica looks forward to returning to CSUSM as an archaeology professor to share what she has learned. She said that the knowledge and lessons she’s gained from CSUSM has made her see the world entirely different. From classroom discussions, she has learned about different types of people and what it means to be a reflexive, ethical, and an all-around understanding person. She is eager to not only apply these lessons to her career but to also teach them to her two-year-old daughter, Izabella. “CSUSM allowed me to fully dive into the understanding of cultural relativity and worldview, widening my perspective of archaeology to a much more humanistic understanding than simply digging for cool artifacts,” Jessica said. “It’s amazing to be able to experience in everyday life the different subjects I learned by simply observing Izabella navigate the human experience and pick up on unspoken social cues.
As I look back on the young mother I was when I entered CSUSM two years ago, it’s beautiful to me to see the woman I’ve blossomed into, and I can’t wait to see what else life has in store for me as I continue my journey as a Maya archaeologist.”
Read more about Jessica's field study experience in Belize
Dr. Jon Spenard Congratulates Jessica Garcia.
Jessica is CHABSS' Scholarship & Creative Works Champion 2020.
She's an Indigenous Anthropology major.