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Cougar Spotlight

The Staff Center highlights an employee from CSUSM so their colleagues can learn more about them and their role on campus. Jump to: Previous Spotlights

Perla Rivas- Counselor, TRIO Student Support Services

Perla RivasHow long have you been on campus?
If you include my time as a student assistant, I have been on campus for 18 years.

What is your favorite memory of CSUSM?
Commencement is my favorite. Every year, we celebrate the resiliency and success of our students. It is a big deal, especially for our first gen students who are not only fulfilling their own dream of finishing college but of their parent’s as well.

And I love seeing the diversity of families celebrating student success, student’s honoring their parents, and I love how our students decorate their caps to share their challenges and successes. 

If you had to describe your role on campus in one word what would that be? Why did you choose that word?

It was between four words, but I went back to my life’s purpose which is to empower, mentor, and help our student’s find their own passion and accomplish their dreams.

You have many different roles on campus. You are a TRIO Counselor, a CSUSM Corp and Student Affairs staff member, the Secretary for LAFS and a Staff Center Committee member. What do you like most about your many different roles on campus?
I love how each role allows me to work with different people and enhance the resources and knowledge I have to help my student. It also helps me be a better ambassador for our campus and our mission.

What do you enjoy most about working with students?
It is very rewarding contributing to their academic path and getting to know their stories. I learn about their challenges and am able to help them individually because I know what they are going through.

With most of us working from home, what has been the biggest challenge you have faced?
I miss not being on campus the most and being able to make more personal connections with my students and colleagues. I am embracing the time I have with my 3-year old while I can though. I know that this will not last forever.

Do you have any advice you would like to share with our other staff?
It is so very important that we are taking care of ourselves. Mental health and self-care are sacred. Don’t be ashamed to take a day off to recover. You can’t pour out of an empty cup. Take care of yourself.


 Previous Spotlights

  • Sonia Perez - Faculty Mentoring Program and Faculty Center Coordinator


    How long have you been on campus?

    I’ve been on campus since 2003. I started in the Office of Biomedical Research & Training (OBRT), Now OTRES. Then in 2007, I stepped into the role of coordinator for the Faculty Mentoring Program and in 2010, the coordinator position for the Faculty Center was added to my role.

    What is your role and how do you support our campus?

    I really love what I am doing here. I never know what my day will be like because it’s always different. I need to be really organized though. My two roles are very different and can be quite complex because I am balancing so many different areas at the same time.

    My role with the Faculty Center includes supporting a large group of people including the director, associate director, four faculty fellows and three to five Faculty Learning Community Leaders. There is a lot of coordination needed to support the faculty fellows and leaders because they are managing so many tasks at the same time. Also, the fellows are only in their position for two years and leaders for one semester or a year. It is so important that I maintain the information needed to continue their work.

    I really enjoy being able to build relationships with our new faculty through everyday interactions and some of the events the Center holds. The New Faculty Institute is a 2-3 day training session during the summer. It gives me the opportunity to really engage with our faculty and get to know them.

    I feel like I am much more involved with my other role as the coordinator for the Faculty Mentoring Program though. I work with both the faculty and our students by answering questions and really supporting them by ensuring everyone receives the information they need. I am very proud of how the faculty mentoring program has grown over the years. When I moved over in 2007, there were about 40 students in the program. There are now 150-200 students enrolled in the program and more than 100 faculty mentors!

    What is your favorite restaurant and/or TV show?

    I was actually introduced to my favorite restaurant by a coworker. When we wer eon campus, I would go almost every Friday. It is a family-owned restaurant called Darunee Thai Cuisine, and I saw CSUSM staff and faculty there all the time. And I would say that Everybody Loves Raymond is my favorite TV show. Anytime it is on, I watch it. 

    What is your favorite memory of CSUSM?

    Every year, the Faculty Center holds a Research Colloquium Dinner. It is one of my favorite events all year because I have the opportunity to really get creative in how the event is decorated. I try to base the theme each year on the keynote speaker for that year. It’s funny because people often ask me to what the theme is, but I like to keep it a surprise until the day of the event.

    This one year, I decided to decorate the McMahan House with 50 balloons. The idea was that we would let them deflate overnight and clean up the morning after the event. Turns out, there was an event the morning after, and we had to remove all of the balloons before we left. It wasn’t easy, but we really had a lot of fun trying to figure out how to remove all of these balloons that were floating on the ceiling. We were all laughing so hard by the time it was over. We had to get creative, but we managed to remove them all. It will be the last time I use them to decorate an event though!

    Another favorite memory is when I was told by a coworker that the President called and asked that I call her back. I was nervous because I thought she was going to ask me about NCHEA, a program that I was helping coordinate at the time. I was trying to prepare for the questions she was going to ask me. I was so worried and completely surprised when the President shared that I had won the Zomalt Award. It was very emotional for me and really meant a lot to be recognized for my work.

    With most of us working from home, what has been the biggest change you have had to make?

    It has been a really tough year. Everything is virtual. It is much more difficult to build relationships through Zoom. I really miss being able to catch up with one another in the hallways or before meetings. I was also diagnosed with cancer in May and am now in treatment for five years. I am thankful to be able to be at home, but still miss being able to connect with everyone on campus.

    Is there any advice you would like to share with your colleagues?

    It is really important to keep a positive attitude and be grateful for what we have. Put your whole heart into your job and do it with a smile.

    We want to thank Sonia for taking the time to be our spotlight this month.

  • Angela Sanchez - Administrative Analyst & Specialist

    Procurement Operations and Accounts Payable

    (previously Travel Program Coordinator)
    Finance & Administrative Services

    How long have you worked on campus?
    Since December 2018. I started the day right before our two-week holiday vacation.

    What is your favorite book, TV show, movie or restaurant?
    My husband and I love trying new restaurants and food in general. One of our local favorites is 264 Fresco in Carlsbad.

    What is your favorite memory of CSUSM?
    It is hard to limit it to just one favorite, so I will share my Top 3. The first was graduating with my master's degree in Sociological Practice. The second was hosting our wedding reception on campus at the McMahan House. The third was beginning my career here at CSUSM.

    Describe your role. What are a few tasks or processes that you are responsible for. 
    My position has changed drastically over the past few months. I transitioned from the Travel Office to Procurement and Contracts. I am grateful for this opportunity and have learned a lot from my new team. Prior to this transition, I didn’t realize just how integral procurement is in the day to day operations of the campus. In my new role, I am reviewing and updating certificates of insurance. I have also been able to work closely with the student placement agreements. Since starting we have been able to streamline that process via Adobe Sign.  

    With most of us working from home, what has been the biggest change you have had to make?
    One of the biggest changes for me is being unable to simply get up and walk over to one of my colleagues with a quick question, or to get their insight on a matter. Also, simply connecting with your colleagues, whether grabbing a quick lunch or taking a walk around campus, has been a change. Thankfully I have become familiar with Teams and that has seemed to bridge the gap in the interim.

    What is your funniest Zoom story?
    I was on a call with the VPFAS Office. That's when my two parakeets decided to become very local. What made the whole situation even funnier was someone else on the call had a cat who really wanted to meet my birds.

    Do you have any advice you would like to share with our other staff?
    We are all going through a transition right now and change can be highly intimidating, especially when it is beyond our control. I think that it is important for all of us to be flexible and open to change. My advice is to view change as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than a setback. 

  • Cheryl Berry - Mental Health Educator


    How long have you been with CSUSM?

    Dr. Karen Nicholson (SHCS Executive Director, retired) hired me in 2013 for a new position in SHCS, and I became the first Mental Health Educator at CSUSM, and in the CSU system (at that time).  In this role, I create initiatives for mental health promotion and education that increase prevention, early intervention, treatment and stigma reduction of mental and substance use disorders.

    What is your primary role on campus?

    Mental health promotion and education is my primary role as Mental Health Educator. Mental health literacy continues to be a strategic goal for the campus community.  This means that we know the signs and symptoms of mental illness, recognize treatment works, and recovery is possible.  Mental health awareness training teaches us how to respond to a person in crisis.  It is so important that no one suffers in silence; and that a student in distress knows that they are not alone.  I’m proud of the various mental health programs presented in recent years that encourage conversations about mental health.  As a result, it’s gotten much easier for students to talk about their mental health, without feeling inadequate, minimized, shame, or embarrassment. 

    What is your favorite CSUSM memory?

    My favorite memory is Graduation 2017.  This was my first graduating class of students who I had met during their first semester - and my first semester - at CSUSM.  We truly “grew up” together!  As peer educators, these students started Active Minds CSUSM, joining a national organization of college students devoted to increasing mental health awareness on their campus.  During their time at CSUSM, these students went on to achieve academic honors and became student leaders impacting the campus in numerous ways.  At graduation, they were acknowledged for outstanding leadership and recognized as mental health advocates and activists. I was enormously proud of these students, who I had the blessing to know, mentor, coach, advise, and with whom I had “grown.”  I realized they had touched my life as much as I had touched theirs.  (Happily, many of them remain friends to this day.)

    What is your funny zoom story?

    While teaching a class, the family dog jumped onto my lap, into camera view. I hastily apologized for the interruption, as comments quickly appeared in the chat box: “Your dog’s so cute!” “What kind of dog do you have”? “What’s your dog’s name?” Embarrassed in the moment, later I reminded myself that in the zoom world, we have these real-life moments.  In reality, everyone loves a puppy…especially in the midst of a pandemic!  (For the curious, Coco is a Shih Tzu.)

    What are some of the challenges others are facing right now that may not be typical?

    Nothing has been typical in 2020…It breaks my heart to hear personal stories…a student who shares their loss of a parent to COVID; or another student who worries that their grandmother who has Alzheimer’s disease won’t remember her by the time it’s safe to visit.  Many have experienced adverse events during the COVID-19 pandemic that impact our emotional and mental health.  It’s not uncommon to for us to have increased levels of stress, and personal challenges with anxiety and depression. 

    Beyond our individual concerns, societal pressures continue to mount as Americans face the reckoning on systemic racism and social injustices; tensions from a post-election divided America; and even with the hope of the vaccine, there’s vaccine hesitancy, and unyielding numbers of American infections, hospitalizations, and death.  We are constantly bombarded with stressors, and sometimes we feel that there’s no relief.  None of this is typical!

    So, it’s important during times like these to monitor your physical and mental health.  As we continue to work remotely, it’s important to maintain a routine and schedule.  Try to restrict news and social media intake. Take breaks from the computer screen.  Get adequate sleep, exercise and good nutrition.  Daily self-care is essential to establish and maintain. Lean into calm, relaxing activities that help you to reduce stress; and perhaps try mindfulness, during your day.  Also, seek help for yourself, as well as loved ones, when needed. 

    Are there any campus resources that are available to staff that they might not know about?

    The County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency - Behavioral Health Services offers many helpful resources.  I have enjoyed working with SDHHSA colleagues as the agency is an ongoing partner with SHCS mental health promotion efforts. 

    The It’s Up To Us campaign empowers San Diegans to talk openly about mental illness, recognize symptoms, utilize local resources and seek help.  It’s Up To Us inspires wellness among San Diegans experiencing mental health challenges by offering support and providing opportunities.

    Staff may want to visit the County of San Diego Live Well @ Home website for helpful tips. 

    Also, the Access and Crisis Line (ACL) 1-888-724-7240 is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This resource provides crisis intervention, community resources, referrals for mental health and alcohol and drug treatment and support services.  It is a confidential and free of charge.  The line that is immediately answered 24/7 by Master's-level and Licensed Clinicians.  You can also consult the website at: Optum Health San Diego - Crisis Line or Live Chat Monday through Friday 4pm to 10pm by visiting SD Chat.

    Lastly, I’d like to remind staff that SHCS will continue to offer monthly, virtual Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training course, starting January through May 2021.  Staff can register for MHFA skills-based training at the SHCS website. 

    Do you have any advice you would like to share with our other staff?

    Safely stay connected to family, friends and community, and check-in often.  Daily personal self-care is very important; and, if you are concerned for your mental health, you should reach out for help.