When California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) Presidential Scholar Suzanne Rodriguez told university President Willie J. Hagan she would graduate summa cum laude during his inauguration dinner last year he replied, “You’d better!”
She did not disappoint. Rodriguez, a liberal studies major, will graduate summa cum laude when she is conferred with her bachelor’s degree during commencement this spring.
Rodriquez was one of 22 Presidential Scholars honored during the 2015 Presidential Scholars Benefit held April 30 in the Stadium Club at the StubHub Center located on the CSUDH campus.
The Presidential Scholars program has been supported since its inception in 1990 by corporate and private donors, many of who were in attendance at the benefit. Other guests included community and civic leaders, beaming family members, and university faculty, staff, and students.
Rodriguez thanked the donors for their support on behalf of all her fellow scholars. She also shared stories about her educational path at CSUDH, the financial struggles of a family with nine children, and her concerns about paying for higher education.
“I worked two jobs to work my way through community college, and must admit that when the time came for me to transfer to CSUDH I was very scared,” said Rodriquez, who currently holds a 3.95 GPA and is the first in her family to graduate from college. “Because of the support I’ve received as a Presidential Scholar, I’m ready to take the next step to becoming a teacher and entering the special education credential program next fall. With the quality education I have received here at CSUDH, I’m confident in my ability to enter the program with the knowledge and the skills to one day become a highly qualified and successful teacher.”
The Presidential Scholars program provides a competitive full-ride scholarship open to first-time freshman and transfer students. It includes paid tuition and fees, early registration, research opportunities, and other benefits.
During his remarks, CSUDH President Willie J. Hagan talked about what a “treat” it has been for him getting to know the growing number of staunch university supporters since he first came to the university three years ago. He also said that the Presidential Scholars program—the university’s most prestigious scholarship—has been awarded to more than 150 students since its inception.
“I want to remind you that your contributions matter tremendously. It matters to our students and scholars who benefit from the gifts, and it matters to our university that is enriched socially and academically by these truly outstanding students,” said Hagan. “These contributions also matter to you, the donors, because research suggests that no matter how much an individual likes an organization or what that organization does, most giving is the result of a personal and private benefit that is felt and known only to the donor.”
Hagan then asked all the 2015 Presidential Scholars to stand.
“These are incredible scholars, leaders, achievers and givers. They’ve earned the university’s most prestigious scholarship and maintain their high standards through tremendous effort and tremendous focus. Their stellar leadership and success raise the bar for all Dominguez Hills students,” he said, which was followed by an enthusiastic applause.
Alumna Alexander Pfau (’12, B.S., business administration), a former Presidential Scholar who graduated summa cum laude with honors from CSUDH and was also the first in her family to earn a university degree, experienced many of the financial issues in community college as Rodriguez. During her remarks she proudly announced that she has “no student debt.”
She also shared the success she has had since graduating from CSUDH.
“I’ve been working for the Southern California Gas Company for the past two years. I was hired as part of the management and accounting rotational program. I’ve had the opportunity to work in the areas of financial planning, financial and strategic analysis, and I will begin a rotation in internal audits soon,” said Pfau. “I found out about this great career opportunity at a career fair here at CSU Dominguez Hills. So I owe not only my education and financial stability to this university, but I also my great career.”
Alumna Kathleen Tibone (’75, M.A., behavioral sciences), who started the Helen and Marshall Wright Career Mentorship at CSUDH in 2011 and has expanded her support to assist veteran students, was honored with this year’s Katherine B. Loker Friend of Education award during the benefit’s awards program.
The Loker award was named in honor of one of the university’s longtime supporters and donors, and is bestowed annually on someone who personifies the transformative philanthropic commitment to education that Loker stood for.
“As an educator and mother, it breaks my heart to see students work so hard and juggle so many things until they’re playing a game where the odds are stacked against them. Too many give up before they reach the finish, having run out of time, energy or money, and they never graduate,” said Tibone, who named her mentorship program after her late parents who highly valued education.
“I think it really does take a village—faculty, staff and administration, and the parents and alumni out in the community—to give the students the tools they need to make it,” she said. “I’m proud to be part of this effort.”
Univision Local Media received CSUDH’s 2015 Corporate Partner of Education Award, which was accepted by Luis Patino, senior vice president and general manager of the Spanish-language television news station. The award recognizes corporations that have had a significant impact on the university and its students, alumni, and community.
In 2009, Univision brought its education fairFeria de Educación to CSUDH. The event was developed to help improve the graduation rate and decrease the high school dropout rate for Latinos. To date, it has attracted more than 185,000 people to CSUDH.
“We all know what the numbers say. We try to focus on the positive, which is exemplified in this room today with individuals we have here as I look out in the audience,” said Patino, who called CSUDH one of Univision Local Media’s “best partners.” “It’s amazing to see all the wonderful students who are propelling themselves and getting themselves ready for what’s out there post-college, because it isn’t easy.”
President Hagan made a late announcement to close the awards ceremony.
“I’m pleased to announce I’ve been contacted by a family trust that has made a verbal commitment to donate a planned gift of $1 million to our endowment account to support the President’s Scholars program,” he said.
Hagan added, “All of you have helped us build a strong Presidential Scholars program with your investments. Those efforts, along with the contributions of our students, faculty and staff, have not gone unnoticed. You have helped us build a program that has gained attention well beyond our campus.”
2015 Presidential Scholarship Recipients
- Suzanne Rodriguez, Liberal Studies
- Nancy Santos, Clinical Science
- Viridiana Siordia, Education
- Saray Valenzuela. Communications
- Monica Warner, Biology
- Sarah Wheeler, Clinical Science
- Clifford Yap, Business Administration
- Matthew Yu, Computer Science
- Naomi Willey, Health Science
- Candi Tillman, Communications
- Melissa Mathews, Clinical Science
- Wendy Ortega, Child Development
- Genesis Preciado, Undeclared
- Nicole Leonard, Business Administration
- Shalon Easley, Nursing
- Christina Henderson, Art
- Lindsey Armstrong, Health Science
- Meghan Avrett, Liberal Studies
- Michael Cayton, Business Administration
- Tiffany Dominguez, Business Administration
- Cynthia Acosta, Liberal Studies
- Grace Loya, Business Administration