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SFSU's standout students: hood recipients 2004

May 28, 2004

One outstanding student from each academic college, the Liberal Studies/Special Majors and the Division of Graduate Studies will be honored at SFSU's 103rd Commencement Saturday, May 29. They will receive the symbolic investiture of the hood on behalf of their fellow students. SF State News is pleased to introduce these students to the campus community and friends of SFSU.

Business | Behavioral and Social Sciences | Creative Arts | Education | Ethnic Studies | Graduate Studies | Health and Human Services | Humanities | Liberal Studies | Science and Engineering

Humanities: Jennifer Tinonga
Photo of Jennifer TinongaCollege of Humanities hood recipient Jennifer Tinonga, a lifelong San Franciscan and 4.0 student, plans to combine the two disciplines in which she has majored -- English literature and studio art -- into a career as a children's librarian and author and illustrator of children's books.

"When I was little, going to the library was the highlight of my week," said Tinonga, who has lived in the same Parkside District home her entire life. "My interest in literature and art comes from children's books."

Tinonga's connections to SFSU began before she was born. Her parents graduated from the University while her mother was pregnant with her. She attended a summer sports camp on campus at age 8. After being named the 1999 valedictorian at School of the Arts when it was located by campus, she entered SFSU as a Presidential Scholar, the University's most distinguished academic award for first-time freshmen.

Tinonga has garnered a host of other honors, including two Osher scholarships and election to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. She is also a talented and industrious researcher. A card-carrying member of five county libraries, Tinonga will often travel to libraries across the Bay Area to find the information she needs.

With an immensely busy life, she still manages to work on a dance certificate at City College while volunteering with the San Francisco SPCA, Ocean Beach Cleanup, Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council and San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners.

"I have no idea how I do it, but I do," Tinonga, 23, said. "My boyfriend gets visiting hours during the week."

Tinonga plans to pursue a master's degree in library and information studies at University of British Columbia.

-- Matt Itelson

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Liberal Studies/Special Majors: Debra Ann Lyttle
Photo of Debra Ann LyttleDebra Ann Lyttle, Liberal Studies/Special Majors hood recipient, owes much of her success to the example of her grandmother Dorothy Horn who returned to school in her mid-40s to train as an elementary school teacher in Cleveland. Lyttle remembers helping in her grandmother's elementary school class. Now, three decades later, Lyttle is following in her grandmother's footsteps.

After taking time off to raise two children, Lyttle returned to school to pursue a Liberal Studies degree. Not only did she achieve a 4.0 grade point average on campus, but through her experience at SF State, she became inspired by the messages of tolerance and non-violence taught by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others.

Although it was a challenge to attend classes as a returning student, Lyttle believes that having more life experience helped her better appreciate her education.

"In some ways, having a family and going to school is more difficult, but in some ways it's easier. There's no social thing to get in the way," she said. "I've grown and learned more than if I had rushed through at 19. I don't think I would have gotten the whole non-violence idea at 19."

Lyttle, 42, will begin SF State's multiple subject teaching credential program this fall with an eye toward teaching second or third grade. She hopes to integrate her enthusiasm for the principles of non-violence into her teaching.

"It's exciting to me to think about giving that message to kids at an age when they can still change," she said.

-- William Morris

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Science and Engineering: Armando J. Lemus Hernandez
Photo of Armando Lemus HernandezIf he had listened to his high school counselors, Armando J. Lemus Hernandez wouldn't be graduating from San Francisco State University on May 29. The counselors thought military service would be a good choice for the recent immigrant from El Salvador -- or maybe a career as a cook, like his father.

Those counselors certainly never thought that the quiet, engaging boy who's grades and command of English "weren't good enough for college" would earn a 3.84 grade-point average in the rigorous study of cell and molecular biology, that he would spend his summers completing elite research programs at Harvard and Stanford universities, or that he would win one of 12 coveted slots in the combined M.D./Ph.D. program at top-ranked University of California, San Francisco.

"I wouldn't have followed my dreams and gone back to school," says Lemus Hernandez, the College of Science and Engineering hood recipient, "if not for a woman in the Step to College program who literally helped me fill out the application and bring it to San Francisco State."

Lemus Hernandez's accomplishments also include research presentations at national conferences, volunteer work at California Pacific Medical Center's emergency room, mentorship of a high school student and active laboratory research with Professor Leticia Marquez-Magaña. He feels especially fortunate to have had Marquez-Magaña as a mentor.

"She's not satisfied with you being in one place, she always encourages you to do better," he said.

Lemus Hernandez knew from a young age that he wanted to be a doctor. Surrounded by civil unrest in his native El Salvador, he watched as the injured were carried into a nearby hospital, wishing he could help. His father brought him to the U.S. at age 14, where high school counselors discouraged him from pursuing college. Lemus Hernandez was almost ready to enlist in the Marines when a SFSU staffer from the Step to College program sat down with him, filled out his application and hand-delivered it to the Admissions office.

Now, at 22, the Nob Hill resident has been accepted into the prestigious Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of California, San Francisco -- one of only 12 students nationwide to earn this honor, and the first among our graduates. With his combined M.D./Ph.D. degree he hopes to develop new techniques for improving the health of others.

-- Ellen Griffin

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Ethnic Studies: Vincent Laus
Photo of Vincent LausCollege of Ethnic Studies hood recipient Vincent Jefferson Laus, a double major in Asian American Studies and journalism, faced some formidable obstacles growing up but never gave up on his dreams.

After graduating from high school in Vallejo in 1991, Laus and his family were evicted from their home and forced to live in separate locations. He and a brother moved into a hotel while his other siblings and mother -- who, at the time, was unemployed and on welfare to support the family -- lived with a friend. At the same time, his stepfather was incarcerated on drug offenses.

To help his family and to also give himself a sense of direction and stability, Laus enlisted in the U.S. Navy. While in the military from 1991 to 1997, Laus visited Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Hong Kong. It was in Southeast Asia that Laus realized the similarities between problems and issues there and those in the Asian American community in the Bay Area. He began taking college classes in Singapore, eventually enrolling at SF State in 2001.

While on campus, Laus continued to pursue his interest in social issues of the Asian American community as well as a fondness for the world of journalism. Last fall he was managing editor of the campus newspaper -- the Golden Gate Xpress -- while also finding time to volunteer with several Asian American community organizations.

The first in his family to graduate from college, the 31-year-old Laus will travel to the Philippines in June to study the national language and Philippine culture for the next two months as a Fulbright scholar. And this fall he will return to San Francisco State to enter the master's degree program in Asian American Studies. His ultimate goal is to earn a doctorate and become a college professor.

"I would like to share with others what I have learned in the classroom, in communities here and around the world, and in my own life. The bottom line is we can make life better and we can't give up," said Laus.

-- Ted DeAdwyler

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Graduate Studies: Michael Rich
Photo of Michael RichMichael Rich, Division of Graduate Studies hood recipient, is heading to college this fall, but not for another degree. He will join the Art Department at University of San Diego as an assistant professor.

Throughout his three years at SFSU as a master of fine arts student in conceptual and information arts, he has been active on and off campus. With creative works that are often collaborative and integrated with disciplines outside the traditional arts, he has displayed his work worldwide, from the San Francisco Zoo, Works/San José gallery and Harvard University to the Sydney Conservatory of Music and University of Western Australia. On campus, the 26-year-old Lower Haight resident recently participated in the Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition in the Fine Arts Gallery and has served as a graduate representative and teaching assistant for several classes.

Rich said he attempts to make public installations that contain strong personal, political or social commentary not stated overtly.

"The important thing about the art is that it confuses people," he said. "I try to be critical of all sides and confuse people, including myself."

For example, Rich re-edited video footage of President George W. Bush declaring war on Iraq to show him blinking his eyes in Morse code for S.O.S., or "save our ship." While displayed at Tower Video in San Francisco, Rich said that many customers stared at the installation or yelled at it.

Rich, a 1995 graduate of West Morris Central High School in Long Valley, N.J., will lecture on art and biology, politics, collaboration and conceptual issues to high school students this summer at the California State Summer School for the Arts.

See some of Rich's work on his Web site

-- Matt Itelson

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Health and Human Services: Richard Correa
Photo of Richard CorreaMotivated by the death of his mother at the hands of a drunken driver in 1994 when he was 19, Richard Correa vowed to make something positive come from the tragedy.

"In the beginning, I had a lot of trouble with her death," said Correa, whose mother was 49 when she was killed. "I wanted to be sure that she didn't die in vain."

As a health educator during the last eight years, Correa has worked for several community-based organizations across Contra Costa County, facilitating programs in high schools, juvenile facilities, nonprofit groups and churches on such topics as drinking and driving, domestic violence, violence prevention, conflict management and teen pregnancy.

A natural when talking to students -- he estimates that he's spoken to 40,000 youngsters over the years -- he currently works for Community Violence Solutions, the rape crisis center for Contra Costa County, as a sexual assault prevention educator.

"I think students listen to me because I look fairly young and I don't just talk at them but with them. I give them the respect they deserve," said Correa, the hood recipient for the College of Health and Human Services. "Basically, I'm a kid at heart and I joke and goof around with them."

Faculty members say Correa inspires not only students but faculty members as he articulates the vision of community health and social justice.

Raised for most of his life in eastern Contra Costa County, Correa attended Los Medanos Community College after graduating from Antioch High School. He transferred to San Francisco State in 2001.

The first in his family to attend college, Correa, 29, graduates with a bachelor's degree in health education.

-- Christina Holmes

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Creative Arts: Jason Howell
Photo of Jason HowellTen years ago Jason Howell was a freshman at Boise State University studying mass communications. "It wasn't the course of study I wanted to pursue," says the self-taught pianist, bassist, drummer and guitarist. "I had an idea for a career, but there wasn't much support. How many audiophiles do you find in Boise?"

Now a resident of San Francisco and "planning to be one for some time," the 28 year old Idaho native is about to graduate from San Francisco State University with a bachelor's degree in radio and television.

Howell says he has flourished since arriving at SFSU two years ago. Excelling in both theoretical and hands-on courses in sound engineering and music, the highlights of his education are the recordings he made of his original electronic compositions using a sound sequencer computer program. "I would describe my music as synthesizer rich with a pronounced beat for dancing," says Howell.

Recording under the name, "raygun," he has produced his own CD called "difference engine," which includes the tracks "moral hygiene," "expensive suit," and "history of the pocket." And "raygun" has already been discovered. The East Coast-based underground e-music label Zer0 G Sounds is including his compositions in an upcoming release.

While Howell hopes to "find a paying audio job," he's currently interning at Asphodel Records in San Francisco as a recording engineer, assisting in the development of a 16-channel surround sound system for musical performances.

The first person to graduate college in his immediate family, Howell has a 3.97 GPA and is described by his instructors at SFSU as "a talented musician and a scholar" and "wise beyond his years."

-- Denize Springer

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Education: Kellie Brindley-Koonce
Photo of Kellie Brindley-KoonceGrowing up in Toronto, College of Education hood recipient Kellie Brindley-Koonce attended University of Western Ontario, worked for the Canadian government and figured she would head toward a career in business.

But during a trip to Australia about seven years ago she met an elderly woman who made a lasting impression and completely changed Brindley-Koonce's career path.

The woman, the grandmother of a friend, had suffered a stroke and lost her ability to speak fluently. Brindley-Koonce knew instantly that she wanted to work with young children suffering from speech and language problems. She graduates with a bachelor's degree in communicative disorders.

Since her arrival to SFSU two years ago, the San Mateo resident has excelled both inside and outside the classroom. She works at California Pacific Medical Center's Child Development Center where she is the lead speech therapy aide and assists children who have auditory processing problems. She also works closely with the Foundation for Autistic Childhood Education and Support, also known as FACES, in Redwood City.

In addition, she served as president of the student organization, the National Student Speech-Hearing-Language Association. This year she was instrumental in bringing guest presenters for brown bag lunches to offer students a chance to meet with professionals.

"I've loved my time at the University and I've enjoyed every class I've taken, especially because every professor has his or her area of expertise and passion," she said.

In the fall, Brindley-Koonce, 32, returns to the University to pursue a master's degree in speech pathology.

-- Christina Holmes

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Behavioral and Social Sciences: Jennifer P. Ibardolaza
Photo of Jennifer IbardolazaFor Jen Ibardolaza, hood recipient from the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, her strong interest in community research at SF State is just a start.

The psychology major has earned a prestigious fellowship to New York University, where she will begin the Ph.D. program in community psychology this fall.

Ibardolaza's interest in community psychology stems from her own experience of immigrating to the United States from the Philippines with her family at the age of eight. She witnessed firsthand the challenges that immigrant adolescents face in adjusting to a new culture in America while also preserving their past. As a result, she plans to pursue research on the influence of acculturation on the healthy development of adolescents from immigrant backgrounds.

Ibardolaza, 23, has already focused much of her research on issues of acculturation and immigrant adolescents, conducting numerous research projects on parent-adolescent relationships among Chinese Americans. She has presented her research at professional conferences in Baltimore and Toronto and earned a number of scholarships, including the coveted federal Career Opportunities in Research Scholar award from the National Institutes of Mental Health. Ibardolaza also has volunteered countless hours as a mentor and a tutor to disadvantaged youths in San Francisco.

"During my career I would like to develop intervention programs that can help adolescents from immigrant backgrounds make that sometimes difficult transition to America as they wrestle with differing cultural expectations," said Ibardolaza, who lives in San Francisco.

-- Ted DeAdwyler

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Business: Kamila Chase Kvítková
Photo of Kamila Chase Kvítková
Several years ago, College of Business hood recipient Kamila Chase Kvítková decided that her job as a registered nurse in her native Czech Republic was too stressful. She removed her nursing cap and began pursuing a career in marketing, landing a job at the country's largest insurance company, Allianz Group.

Now, with a 3.97 grade-point average, she will earn a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing. She has achieved membership in the business honor society, Beta Gamma Sigma, the highest recognition worldwide for business students, and earned a scholarship from the World Affairs Council of Northern California.

Kvítková, who moved to San Francisco several years ago, already puts her marketing skills to work as she organizes events in the Bay Area's Czech community and also volunteers for, an organization promoting cooperation between the U.S.and Czech Republic in the high-technology industry.

Kvítková plans to travel across the U.S. with her family this summer before applying for marketing jobs. She will pursue an MBA within the next few years. While unsure of her long-term career goals, she hopes to become the head of marketing for a large company in the U.S. or Czech Republic.

"I enjoy working with people and doing things with people," said Kvítková, who enjoys dancing, hiking and sports in her free time.

Kvítková, 28, lives in San Francisco with her husband.

-- Matt Itelson

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Photos: William Morris; Grad hood courtesy of Michael Rich; Humanities hood by Matt Itelson


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