SF State News {University Communications}

Image: Photos of SF State students and scenes from around campus

News Release


SF State: exceptional graduating students profiled


SAN FRANCISCO, May 13, 2009 -- San Francisco State University will confer degrees on 8,515 students at its 108th commencement on Saturday May 23. Below you will find stories about outstanding graduates, including this year's hood recipients, who are top graduates chosen to represent their fellow students from each of SF State's academic colleges, Liberal Studies Program and Division of Graduate Studies. For assistance in contacting any of these students, call the SF State Office of University Communications at (415) 338-1665.


First graduates from Willie L. Brown, Jr. Leadership Center
Ruslan Filipau, Judy Chea and Prentiss Jackson are among the first cohort of students to complete the public service internship program run by the Willie L. Brown, Jr. Leadership Center. Established to prepare a new generation of political leaders at the local level, the Center’s first 15 participants, many of them from disadvantaged backgrounds, served as paid interns in San Francisco City Hall, training them on how local government functions and launching their public service careers.

  • Ruslan Filipau fled his native Belarus in search of a better life and arrived in the U.S. five years ago with no family and no English language skills. He enrolled at SF State to study environmental studies in fall 2007. Filipau has worked on energy efficiency issues during his internship at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. He plans to pursue graduate studies in environmental planning.
  • Urban studies major Judy Chea grew up in a disadvantaged home in the Tenderloin. She is the first in her family to graduate from college. Chea's internship at the San Francisco Municipal Transportion Agency has inspired her to pursue a career in public service so she can improve life for residents of the Tenderloin.
  • Prentiss Jackson found his vocation in the community, working with youth in the East Bay, and is committed to improving the community where he lives in East Oakland. Having majored in urban studies, he has completed an internship at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which has hired him to provide project management for water construction projects, including overseeing contractors, resolving disputes and organizing community consultations.


Kody Cullum, breaking through life's challenges
Graduating with a double major in political science and international relations and a minor in criminal justice studies hasn't been easy for Kody Cullum. He has a genetic disease called Norries Syndrome, making him blind since birth and causing gradual hearing loss during the last 12 years. While Cullum is modest about his accomplishments, those around him believe he is extraordinary. When he first enrolled at SF State in 2007, he commuted to campus daily by BART from El Cerrito. He has memorized the campus layout in order to travel independently and has studied using e-text versions of books which he then reads using screen reading software or by converting the files to Braille.

Cullum has a unique perspective on his disability. He considers the sheer volume of academic work as his main challenge. By taking up this line of thought, Cullum says he realizes that he is not alone and faces the same challenges as all other students. Cullum aspires to a career in international law and negotiation and has applied to several law schools. He is a native of Chatsworth, Calif., and now lives in San Francisco.


Marilyn McClain-West, returning to pursue her passion
Marilyn McClain-West returned to college to earn the music degree she began nearly 50 years ago. As an 18-year-old McClain-West studied piano at the prestigious Oberlin Conservatory of Music before leaving after one semester. She continued playing piano and organ in churches and teaching private lessons while pursuing a career as a rehabilitation counselor. When she retired in 2005, at age 66, McClain-West, a Richmond resident, enrolled in SF State's School of Music and Dance to study piano. During her time at SF State, she excelled in classes and concluded her studies with a senior piano recital that included works by Bach, Mozart and DeBussy.


Hood recipients:

Susan Estrada (Behavioral and Social Sciences), first generation college graduate
Seeing her parents work physically demanding jobs in the Los Angeles theater scene made Susan Estrada determined to get an education. She is the first in her family to graduate from college and has excelled at SF State, appearing on the Dean's List every semester. Taking a class in Variations in Human Sexuality sparked her interest in gender and race, choosing to major in sociology. Estrada plans to apply for doctoral programs in sociology so she can one day become a professor. She is a native of Burbank, Calif.


Igor Ryvkin (Business), aiding community at tax time
After emigrating from Ukraine at age nine and breaching the language barrier, Igor Ryvkin found his time at SF State to be a journey of self discovery. Ryvkin initially tried marketing, then finance before settling on accounting as his primary major. He dedicated himself to helping the community, serving as a volunteer for SF State's Volunteer Income Tax Association (VITA) which prepares tax returns for low income families in the Bay Area. This year, he worked as a volunteer supervisor, overseeing shifts of VITA's volunteers. During his two years with VITA, Ryvkin helped the organization prepare nearly 1,000 tax returns for low-income families. Following graduation, he will pursue an MBA in accounting at SF State.

Jonathan Dauermann (Creative Arts), studying abroad, starring at SF State
Jonathan Dauermann was a regular on the stage at SF State. Dauermann, who will graduate from the School of Music and Dance with an emphasis in vocal performance, gave exceptional performances on the SF State stage as Seneca in "L'Incoronazione de Poppea" and Jupiter in "Orpheus in the Underworld." Faculty noticed his talent and leadership, awarding him the School of Music and Dance's Presser Award, which is bestowed annually on one exceptional student. Dauermann was also named the winner of the 2006 SF State Concerto Competition. During the 2007-08 school year, Dauermann was selected for the CSU study abroad program. He spent a year studying at a prestigious music conservatory in Southwest Germany where he learned German and polished his vocal skills. The Los Angeles native will return to Southern California where he plans to pursue a career in vocal performance.

Chikako Fujii (Education), helping children communicate
Graduating with a degree in communicative disorders, Chikako Fujii's academic achievement has been complemented by her community work, providing childcare for three autistic children and working as a teacher's aide. Fujii and her family moved to the U.S. from Japan when she was five. This experience, together with her work with local Japanese families, has fueled her interest in how cultural issues relate to communicative disorders. This fall, Fujii will begin a master's in communicative disorders at SF State, enabling her to become a speech-language pathologist. Fujii is a resident of San Jose.


Jessica Aguilar (Ethnic Studies), student speaker, community activist and educator
Presidential Scholar Jessica Aquilar, a native of Vacaville, will graduate with a double major in Raza studies and sociology. The daughter of emigrants from El Salvador, she found her calling as a community activist after having volunteered as many as 40 hours a week for Clínica Martín Baro, a free clinic in the Mission. She has accepted a position at the Urban Promise Academy in East Oakland where she has tutored Spanish-speaking students over the past year. Her plans also include advanced degrees in teaching and a career devoted to serving new immigrants and disenfranchised communities. Aguilar was selected to be this year's student speaker at commencement exercises.


Annie Leong-Chan (Health and Human Services), entrepreneur and foster mom
Keet Yee (Annie) Leong-Chan's road to a college diploma took more than two decades. Although the native of Malaysia excelled in school and dreamed of going to college, all of her family's resources were devoted to her brother's higher education. Chan worked as a tutor and gradually built two businesses that employed disabled workers before moving to the U.S. Once Chan began her studies for a degree in kinesiology, she tutored fellow students until she and her husband began to provide long-term foster care for children who had been removed from their homes. Upon graduation Chan will devote her time to an adopted son with special needs before moving on to a graduate degree in nursing or physical therapy.


Karina Roitman (Science and Engineering), exploring science's big questions
A native of Argentina, Karina Roitman moved to San Francisco in 2006 and began studying physics and math at SF State.  Her professors recognized her innate intellectual talent and natural curiosity, supporting her efforts to develop her abilities at the graduate level. While at SF State, Roitman has conducted research alongside faculty at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, and has presented her research at a professional scientific conference. Graduating with a double major in physics and mathematics, Roitman wants to explore the questions that continue to challenge physicists. This fall she will begin a doctorate in physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.


Stephanie Miller (Liberal Studies/Special Programs), renaissance graduate
Stephanie Miller chose to major in Liberal Studies so she could pursue her wide-ranging interests in art, architecture, science and the humanities. Raised in Germany by an American father and German mother, Miller moved to the U.S. in the 1990s, eager to experience life in America. The move interrupted her education and Miller was determined to return to studying. After attending community college, she transferred to SF State where she has received outstanding results. Miller plans to apply to master's programs in either museum studies or humanities. She is a resident of San Mateo.


Sarah Morris (Humanities), journalist and storyteller
Sarah Morris, a native of Maine, held dead-end jobs until she decided to pursue a college degree. She has since excelled in the journalism program, lauded by faculty for producing crisp, thoughtful and accurate articles for the [X]press student newspaper, where she earned a stint as the managing editor. A passion for storytelling has led the Santa Cruz resident to work on her first novel. 


Jordan Hayes (Graduate Studies, Humanities), scholar and educator
Jordan Hayes, a native of Oneonta, N.Y., and graduate of Oberlin College, will receive a master's degree in literature and a certificate in composition. With a passion for teaching, Hayes was employed as a tutor for an educational consulting company before developing his own tutoring agency devoted to young, special needs learners. Throughout his graduate studies at SF State, he also volunteered as a tutor at the University's English Tutoring Center. Hayes, whose master's thesis concerned how apartheid was covered and portrayed in South African media, has already presented his research at distinguished humanities and literature conferences. He plans to teach English at the college level.




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