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S.F. State Class of 2004: Fascinating and compelling student stories



SFSU Office of Public Affairs
(415) 338-1665

Press Release published by the Office of Public Affairs


Class of 7,500 graduates features students from diverse backgrounds

SAN FRANCISCO, May 24, 2004 — At its 103rd Commencement on Saturday, May 29, San Francisco State University will award diplomas to the about 7,500 students who make up the Class of 2004. One of the largest graduating classes in S.F. State history and representing 110 countries, many graduates are inspiring stories of success over great odds. Below you will find selected stories of outstanding graduates, including this year's hood recipients, who are top graduates chosen to represent their fellow students from each of S.F. State's Colleges and the Liberal Studies Program. For assistance in contacting any of these students, please call the S.F. State Office of Public Affairs at (415) 338-1665.

Vincent Laus, a long journey to a college degree and a new life
The journey to a college degree for Vincent Laus, the College of Ethnic Studies hood recipient, began when he and his family were evicted from their home in subsidized housing and forced to split up and live in two separate locations soon after he graduated from high school in Vallejo. To help his family and to also give himself a sense of direction and stability, Laus enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served his country from 1991 to 1997. Now, Laus, who lives in San Francisco, graduates with a 3.8 grade point average and a double major in Asian American Studies and journalism. In June, the 31-year-old Laus, who is Filipino American, will travel to the Philippines where he will study the national language and Philippine culture for the next two months as a Fulbright scholar. This fall he returns to SFSU to enter the master's degree program in Asian American Studies. His ultimate goal is to earn a doctorate and become a college professor.

Jennifer Ibardolaza, community researcher on immigrant adolescents in transition
For Jennifer P. Ibardolaza, the hood recipient from the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, her strong interest in community research began with her own childhood. She emigrated to the U.S from the Philippines with her family at the age of eight and witnessed firsthand the challenges that immigrant adolescents face in adjusting to a new culture in America while also preserving their past. As a result, the San Francisco resident plans to develop intervention programs for adolescents from immigrant backgrounds who struggle with new cultural expectations in America. The 23-year-old psychology major has earned a prestigious fellowship to New York University, where this fall she will begin the Ph.D. program in community psychology.

Jason Howell, creating a fresh beat for underground e-music
A resident of San Francisco and "planning to be one for some time," Jason Howell, a native of Boise, Idaho who is about to graduate with a bachelor's degree in broadcasting and electronic arts, has already recorded for an East Coast label. A self-taught musician, he refers to his "underground e-music" as "synthesizer rich with a pronounced beat that is meant for dancing." At SFSU Howell, the hood recipient for the College of Creative Arts, has been able to record his original electronic compositions using a sound sequencer computer program. Under his recording artist name, "raygun," he's produced his own CD called "difference engine."

Mary O'Donnell, community activist, first BA and budding novelist
A Berkeley resident, Mary O'Donnell will receive a bachelor's degree in creative writing. Born in Livermore she attended Berkeley High School and moved to Southern California where she raised five children. Rising above her own alcohol addiction, she founded the first residential and detox recovery home for women in Riverside County, the La Vista Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center for Women in San Jacinto. Community activism runs in her family. O'Donnell's brother, the late Rev. William O'Donnell, inspired her to join him in his work on behalf of several causes, including the United Farm Workers and various peace and justice issues. O'Donnell, the grandmother of 11, recently won the John Woods scholarship to the Vermont Studio sponsored by the University of Michigan that takes place in Prague this July. She is currently at work on a novel about the legendary Father Damian's work in the Molokai leper colony.

Nandini Chattopadhyay, fellowship winner off to Brazil for cultural community work
Nandini Chattopadhyay, 24, was born in India and lived in Singapore and Montreal before immigrating to the U.S. about four years ago. Though her mother language is Bengali, she was schooled in English and also speaks Hindi, Spanish and French. The Merage Institute Fellowship will allow Chattopadhyay to live among the disenfranchised Afro-Brazilian communities (called Favelas) in Salvador, Bahia in Brazil to study the music and dance culture they have maintained since their arrival as slaves in the 1800's. She has a passion for studying the "role of music and dance as a tool for empowerment" and hopes to involve the Afro-Brazilian people in a theater/dance/music installation that will empower them and educate the outside world. Her "American dream" is to pursue a Ph.D. in socio-cultural anthropology and continue to use it as a tool to empower others through their own culture and arts.

Richard Correa, his mother's death by a drunken driver motivates him to save young lives
Motivated 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 her tragic death when she was only 49. 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'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. Raised for most of his life in eastern Contra Costa County, Correa attended Los Medanos Community College after graduating from Antioch High School. The first in his family to attend college, Correa, 29 and the College of Health and Human Services hood recipient, graduates with a bachelor's degree in health education.

Armando J. Lemus Hernandez, recent immigrant from El Salvador on to med school
If he had listened to his high school counselors, Armando J. Lemus Hernandez wouldn't be graduating from San Francisco State University. 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. But Hernandez wanted to become a medical doctor. At SFSU, he not only excelled in the rigorous study of cell and molecular biology (earning a 3.84 GPA), but completed elite summer research programs at Stanford and Harvard, conducted laboratory research, presented at national conferences and volunteered at California Pacific Medical Center's emergency room. Now, at 22, he has secured one of 12 coveted positions in the combined M.D./Ph.D. program at University of California, San Francisco. Hernandez is the College of Science & Engineering hood recipient for 2004. He lives in San Francisco's Nob Hill.

Jennifer Tinonga, a 4.0 student with love of English literature and studio art
College 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. 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 S.F. State as a Presidential Scholar, the University's most distinguished academic award for first-time freshmen. Tinonga has garnered a host of other awards and 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 as to Marin and Contra Costa counties to find the information she needs. She also volunteers with the San Francisco SPCA, Ocean Beach Cleanup, Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council, San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners and the South San Francisco Public Library. She also helps support her parents, who are on disability. Tinonga, 23, will pursue a master's degree in library and information studies at University of British Columbia.

Kellie Brindley-Koonce, helping children with disabilities communicate
Growing up in Toronto, Kellie Brindley-Koonce attended University of Western Ontario, worked for the Canadian government and figured she would head toward a career in business. But it was during a trip to Australia that she met an elderly woman who made a lasting impression and altogether changed Brindley-Koonce's career path. The woman had suffered a stroke and lost her ability to speak fluently. Brindley-Koonce, hood recipient from the College of Education, 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 about 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. She also works closely with the Foundation for Autistic Childhood Education and Support, also known as FACES, in Redwood City. In the fall,
Brindley-Koonce, 32, returns to the University to pursue a master's degree in speech pathology.

Kamila Chase Kvítková, native of the Czech Republic heads to the world of business
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 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, which is the highest recognition worldwide for business students. Kvítková, who moved to San Francisco several years ago, uses her marketing skills to organize events in the Bay Area's Czech community and she also volunteers for, an organization promoting cooperation between the U.S. and Czech Republic in the high-technology industry. Kvítková hopes to land a marketing job this summer, pursue an MBA within the next few years and eventually land a job with a large company in the United States or Czech Republic. Kvítková, 28, lives in San Francisco.

Debra Ann Lyttle, following in her grandmother's footsteps
Debra Ann Lyttle, a mother of two, decided that she could do what her grandmother Dorothy Horn did -- go to school and train to be a teacher more than two decades after graduating from high school. Not only is she well on her way of reaching that goal, she has also been selected as the top student from SFSU's Liberal Studies Program. Lyttle, who helped out in her grandmother's classroom as a child. Her grandmother, who began her teaching career at age 50, retired at age 70 and at 95 is pleased to see Lyttle follow in her footsteps. Lyttle, 42, a Daly City resident, begins the elementary school teaching credential program this fall at SFSU. She currently volunteers in a second-grade class at Bel Air Elementary in San Bruno.

Antoinette Ball, a future in performing arts and dance
Oakland resident and Compton native Antoinette Ball, earning a bachelor's degree in political science, will address her fellow graduates and a crowd of 20,000. Since entering SFSU four years ago, Ball, 21, has immersed herself in the Bay Area community. She is active with the First AME Church in Oakland, and also volunteers for the Rose Resnick Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Girls Inc., an after-school program that helps teach first- and second-grade girls how to read. Ball also is a high school outreach coordinator for the SFSU Office of Student Outreach Services and a dancer with the New Style Motherlode dance company. She will pursue a master's degree in mass communications at Florida State University this fall. Her 10-year goal is to open a performing arts school in Oakland.


For assistance in contacting any of these students, please call the S.F. State Office of Public Affairs at (415) 338-1665.

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Last modified May 24, 2004, by the Office of Public Affairs