Shawntel Barreiro has known since she was in ninth grade that she wanted to be a linguist, and she has worked hard to fulfill that dream since. She will be graduating later this month from California State University, Northridge with bachelor’s degrees in linguistics and Chicana and Chicano studies, and full funding to complete her doctorate in linguistics at The Ohio State University.
But before all that Barreiro is one of nearly 2,500 graduates invited to take part in CSUN’s Honors Convocation at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 12. The ceremony recognizes the graduating students for their academic and personal achievements.
Barreiro has been named this year’s Wolfson Scholar, the top honor given to a graduating senior. It is presented each year in memory of CSUN’s first vice president, Leo Wolfson. Not only must the student have an exceptional academic record, but he or she must also have made significant contributions to CSUN or to the community through co-curricular and extracurricular activities.
Barreiro, 22, a first-generation college student and the daughter of immigrants from El Salvador, said she was flattered to receive the honor and grateful for the opportunities CSUN has provided her, including setting her firmly on her career path.
“I was in my first introductory course in linguistics, and we started off with looking at the basics of linguistics and it was fun,” she said. “But then we started talking about sociolinguistics — the relationship between social issues and language, how language can affect society — and I was like ‘This is what I want to do. This is what I want to study.’”
Barreiro discovered the field of linguists while a freshman in high school while struggling in a French class.
“Then I realized that there were similarities between French and Spanish,” she said, adding that as a native Spanish speaker she was interested in exploring the relationship between the two languages. That curiosity led her to the field of linguistics, the science of language, and “I knew what I wanted to do with my life,” she said.
With an eye on getting a doctorate in sociolinguistics, Barreiro, who commuted to Northridge from her home in South Central Los Angeles, devoted the past five years at CSUN to studying and taking advantage of research opportunities. As a student in CSUN’s BUILD PODER program, a research training program supported by a $22-million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, she helped child and adolescent development professor Emily Russell examine how language background affects child language acquisition.
After a year with BUILD PODER, she became part of the inaugural cohort of CSUN’s HSI Pathways to the Professoriate — which, in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania and supported by a $5.1 million grant from the Andrew W, Mellon Foundation — aims to prepare undergraduates in the humanities and related fields for admission to a Ph.D. program. Under the guidance of linguistics professor David Medeiros, a mentor in the HSI Pathways Program, Barreiro conducted her own research about the use of Salvadoran-Spanish in Los Angeles and Washington D.C. Research she credits with helping her get into the doctoral program at Ohio State University.
She spent the summer of 2016 working on a linguistics research project at Yale University as part of a summer undergraduate research fellowship program.
Barreiro, who is graduating summa cum laude with a 3.97 GPA, is looking forward to studying at Ohio State, and a version of winter she has never experienced.
“I am looking forward to a real winter, with snow, blizzards or rain,” she said. “Whatever it is, I am ready for it.”
Barreiro would like to eventually teach at a university and serve as a role model and mentor to her students “in the way people here at CSUN did for me.”
“I don’t want to be defined by my degree,” she said. “I know that it is truly an honor to be able to get a Ph.D. What I hope to do is inspire people who come from my community, whether is South Central Los Angeles or the Salvadoran community. I don’t want to be a researcher who sits in an office who views the community from afar. I want to be able to work first-hand with communities so that their own narratives and sense of agency directly inform my research.”
Other students getting special recognition at the Honors Convocation include:
Jasmine Awad, 2018 Nathan O. Freedman Memorial Award for Outstanding Graduate Student
Jasmine Awad’s master’s thesis offers new research on a condition called synesthesia — the phenomenon of a person perceiving multiple reactions from their senses from a single stimulus. People with synesthesia may perceive colors when they hear a song on the radio. Or feel that chicken tastes square. Or experience navy blue when they read the number seven.
Awad has found new clues about how and why people with synesthesia see the world the way they do as part of her research in CSUN’s Visual Information Sciences at Northridge (VISN).
With a 3.9 GPA, frequent appearances on dean’s lists, numerous scholarships and multiple research accomplishments, Awad received the Nathan O. Freedman Award, given annually to the top graduate student during CSUN’s Honors Convocation.
Her next stop is the University of Washington’s Ph.D. psychology program, where she will join its Vision and Cognition group. Eventually, she would like to be a college professor, she said.
Awad was born to a mother who immigrated to America from El Salvador at age 11, and a father who moved from Lebanon in his 20s. Determined to see her children succeed, Awad’s mother vigorously searched for resources — interpreters, tests that would identify her daughters as gifted — to ensure their education would take them as far as they wanted to go.
She graduated from CSUN with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2014. Financial and medical emergencies in her family delayed plans to immediately get her master’s degree. To save money and help support her family, she worked full time at the nature-made vitamins company Pharmavite. She was tasked with ensuring the company followed the legal requirements of various countries.
“My parents just instilled a strong sense of just moving along,” Awad said. “The world keeps spinning and you can either spin with it, or sit and wait for it to move you. If you want to get anywhere, you have to move forward. And even if it takes longer, if you have to take a break, eventually you’re going to have to keep moving.”
Assisting her on her journey to her master’s degree were multiple scholarships and awards, including the Robert Dear Quantitative Research Award, Creative Endeavors Scholarship, Sally Cassanova Pre-Doctorate Scholarship and Academic Competitiveness Grants. Her classmates helped her study. As she waited to begin her master’s program, psychology professor Stefanie Drew invited her to continue her work as a lab manager in the VISN to make sure she stayed involved in research.
“All of my success has always been a product of the help and kindness of others,” Awad said, referring to her lab members, family and friends in her cohort. “I wouldn’t feel right taking anything without thanking my support system. They’ve been great.”
David Angeles, Karen, Leon and Rita Goldstein-Saulter Memorial Award
David Angeles, 23, knew that mathematics was his major from the moment he set foot on campus as a CSUN freshman. In high school, his grades were inconsistent and he earned a relatively low GPA, but math was different.
“I was pretty decent in math,” Angeles said. “I got straight Bs, which wasn’t bad compared to my other classes.”
Six years later, Angeles is graduating with a 3.81 GPA, a Harvard University summer biostatistics research program under his belt, another summer mathematics research program at UCLA about to begin and a spot waiting for him in the biostatistics doctorate program at The Ohio State University. On top of these accomplishments, Angeles also will receive the Karen, Leon and Rita Goldstein-Saulter Memorial Award at Honors Convocation.
Angeles credits CSUN’s Educational Opportunity Programs (EOP) and PUMP (Preparing Undergraduates through Mentoring toward Ph.D.) for providing the community and support he needed to be successful at CSUN and continue on to a doctoral program.
“EOP, PUMP and my mentors are my biggest highlights [from CSUN],” Angeles said. “I want programs like [PUMP and EOP] to keep growing because they gave me the opportunity [to succeed], and I think it is only fair for other students to get the same opportunity.”
After working with his mother at a fast food restaurant as a teenager, Angeles developed a new respect for the work she took on to support him and his brother. She worked two jobs, sometimes back-to-back without sleep, and he “didn’t want that for her,” Angeles said. He decided to pursue a career as a math teacher, since he saw it as the quickest way to make money right out of college. Though he saw his education as a way to build a career that could allow him to help his family, Angeles also worked two jobs, one at a restaurant and another tutoring in mathematics, so he could help pay the family’s bills while he attended CSUN.
The PUMP program was a game-changer for Angeles, sending him to a conference where he learned about biostatistics and pushing him outside of his comfort zone. Last year, Angeles applied to some of the most competitive summer research programs in the country, originally intending to show his PUMP mentor, CSUN mathematics professor Maria Helena Noronha, that he wouldn’t be accepted. Angeles was still planning on teaching and didn’t plan to go to grad school, so he didn’t feel like he needed to do a summer program. However, he was accepted and spent the summer of 2017 attending a mathematics research program at Harvard. Ultimately, the research program helped solidify his desire to get his Ph.D.
“It wasn’t that long ago that I was rejected from CSU Fullerton and Cal Poly Pomona for my undergraduate degree,” said Angeles. “Now, six years later, I will have done research at two of the top universities in the U.S. — all because CSUN gave me an opportunity and believed in me.”
Kenya Lopez, Outstanding Graduating Senior
Few people can say they got more out of their college experience at CSUN than Kenya Lopez. After her first year, she earned the President Dianne F. Harrison Leadership Award, given annually to a freshman who excels in the classroom and shows leadership qualities.
Her list of accomplishments and roles continued to grow: Camp Matador counselor, University Ambassador, New Student Orientation TAKE XXVIII cast member, board member for several campus organizations, Special Olympics volunteer, member of Delta Zeta sorority, mentor for high school and college students, summer intern for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., and Associated Students (AS) vice president. And she is graduating with a 3.6 GPA to earn her degree in criminology and justice studies.
“Coming into CSUN, I knew I wanted to be involved and give back to our university. After all, it gave me one of the greatest gifts someone can receive, an education,” Lopez said. “After attending my Freshman Convocation, I left inspired to make the most out of my time at CSUN.”
As AS Vice President, Lopez, 22, worked with other students and staff members to advocate for the DREAM Center, giving undocumented students a safe space to congregate. Her advocacy also helped create the CSUN Student Legal Support Clinic and increased donations for the CSUN Food Pantry. She also made 10 trips to Washington, D.C. and Sacramento to advocate for students, a fully funded CSU, DACA and year-round Pell Grants. An undocumented student herself, Lopez has been open about her status to help others like herself.
“The reason why I have always been open about my status is to show other DACA recipients that our legal status does not define our potential,” Lopez said. “Too many times, I have talked to fellow DACA students who live in fear, and I want to show them that we shouldn’t hold back. I want to bring awareness to such a political issue that desperately needs to be addressed. The country needs to realize all the positive contributions that DACA recipients bring to this country. We are as much contributing members of society as U.S. citizens.”
After graduation, Lopez will attend USC’s Marshall School of Business, where she will work to attain her Master of Science in social entrepreneurship. Her goal is to help social enterprises and nonprofit organizations without financially sustainable business models become more solvent and attract more people into the business of social change.
“If we can do that, it will increase the number of people who are working toward these social causes to make the big changes in society, especially at a time like this,” Lopez said.
She has fond memories of her time at CSUN, and is looking forward to making one more with her graduation.
“It’s a great way to say thank you to my mom for her extreme hard work as a single mother,” Lopez said. “I’m definitely excited that she’ll be able to come to commencement and show her that her sacrifices to move here were worth it, and that I’m living the American Dream that she brought me here for.”
Amber Partida, Outstanding Graduating Senior
As her family and personal life were rocked by tragedy during her final years at CSUN, education became Amber Partida’s port in the storm.
Partida lost her father to brain cancer before her junior year at CSUN, not long after her parents divorced. Her family was evicted from their home, and she had to work to support herself and her family. Then, during her senior year, Partida’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Her mother passed away just one month later, leaving Amber, her sister and her two younger brothers as orphans.
Her siblings were her primary inspiration to stay in school, she said.
“I’m a first-generation college student, so completing all my years here was really important — to keep going, to prove that I could do it,” said Partida, 23. “The one place I felt I had control in my life was the power of my education.”
She persevered, graduating cum laude with her Bachelor of Arts in journalism and a minor in Spanish-language journalism in December 2017. This month, she’ll be honored with one of the Class of 2018’s Outstanding Graduating Senior Awards.
Raised in South Pasadena, Partida caught the journalism “bug” early, participating in yearbook in middle school and on-air sports commentary at South Pasadena High School. She chose CSUN for its stellar Department of Journalism, dreaming of a career in sports broadcasting.
“Sports has given me confidence and role models, and guidance in my life when I didn’t have a lot of people older than me to give me advice,” said Partida, a lifelong basketball player who co-founded CSUN’s club women’s basketball team.
Partida said she’s particularly proud that she took advantage of the journalism department’s myriad resources, especially mentor relationships with professors and her extensive involvement in producing the department’s “On Point “talk show and “Matador News” and serving as lead anchor for its “Valley View News” TV program. She landed the inaugural Gwen Ifill Journalism Fellowship, a prestigious position with “PBS NewsHour” in Washington, D.C., in summer 2017. At her mother’s insistence, Partida finished the fellowship even as her mother’s health failed.
“Amber never lacked self-confidence, though I often thought she would fold up her tent and leave college at any moment,” journalism professor Benjamin Davis wrote in his recommendation for Partida’s award. “The death of her mother coming just two years after her father’s passing was a seemingly visible weight Amber lugged around. … With all of this, Amber persisted. Amber possesses the determination and optimism we want all of our students to display.”
After commencement, Partida said, she hopes to land her first full-time broadcast job back in D.C. or at a local TV station as a news assistant, reporter or producer.
Tyler Pugeda, Outstanding Graduating Senior
Tyler Pugeda has certainly been busy during his time at California State University, Northridge: He’ll be graduating magna cum laude as a double major in mathematics and philosophy, been an active member of CSUN’s Deaf and hard-of-hearing community and participated in several CSUN clubs and organizations, including the Deaf CSUNians, the College Bowl and the philosophy club. He received the prestigious President’s Scholarship, and is due to walk in this year’s Honors Convocation as one of the Outstanding Graduating Senior Award recipients.
Even so, Pugeda isn’t sure what to feel as he prepares to leave CSUN. “It’s not what I expected,” he said. “The emotions haven’t hit me yet.”
One thing he does know is that his undergraduate education here helped him develop a strong sense of social responsibility and of self, preparing him to move to the next chapter of his life.
Pugeda, who received his bachelor’s degree in fall 2017, currently attends Johns Hopkins University’s Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program. There, he applies the critical thinking skills he acquired in math and philosophy with the goal of earning an MD-Ph.D. degree and launching a medical career.
“I’m thinking clinical neuroscience,” he said. “I’m curious about how we could alleviate human suffering caused by neurological diseases.”
Pugeda initially believed that entering medicine would be a challenge due to discrimination against Deaf people needing access.
“Before attending CSUN, I was still trying to develop my Deaf identity; I wasn’t strong,” he said. “But when I first visited NCOD (CSUN’s National Center on Deafness), it was really empowering. They were warm, supportive and gave advice that helped me develop my own Deaf identity. It’s helped me learn how to ask for the access I need at Johns Hopkins and the medical field.”
Although Pugeda misses his professors and friends at CSUN — as well as the warm sunshine of California — he believes the lessons he’s learned here will serve him well.
“In retrospect, I certainly matured at CSUN,” he said. “I’m empowered to overcome the future challenges of medical school. Challenges are there to make us excellent, and I’m eternally grateful to CSUN for providing me a well-rounded education.”