As if on cue, the sun broke through the clouds as President’s Associates and Heritage Society members gathered at the University Student Union, Northridge Center at California State University, Northridge to shine a light on student success. The annual President’s Donor Appreciation Luncheon, held on March 20, honored President’s Associates and Heritage Society members for their generosity in funding student scholarships, faculty, research opportunities and more.
During the luncheon, CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison highlighted the importance of donor support, noting that CSUN acts as a “social elevator,” serving more students on Pell Grants than any other university in California as well as the second-largest number of Pell Grant students in the U.S.
“That’s important, because we want the state of California and beyond to continue to prosper, and to do that, we need citizens who are educated,” she said.
“We’re in a very interesting, uncertain time,” she added. “With potential reductions in the budget for federal agencies that provide support for research, we may be looking at close to a 15- to 16-percent reduction in federal dollars for contracts and grants that support our faculty and students. Compounded by possible reductions in student aid, your generosity in time and financial resources to support our students is appreciated and so very vital into the future.”
Heritage Society Chairman David Malone ’81 (Accounting) introduced nutrition and dietetics student speaker Frida Endinjok, the recipient of the Christine H. Smith Endowment in the Marilyn Magaram Center for Food Science, Nutrition and Dietetics. Endinjok described her project, Let’s Grow Healthy, a community gardening initiative to decrease childhood obesity and promote healthy eating habits among kids in Canoga Park through hands-on, interactive gardening classes.
“As a young mother, I wanted to break the cycle of unhealthy eating for my children’s generation — to show kids that food comes from the ground and not from the grocery store,” she said. “I am as passionate about nutrition as Dr. Smith was, and I hope that I can continue to follow in her footsteps.” Dr. Smith was a professor in CSUN’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences for nearly 30 years.
Anne Payne ’65 (Education), chairman of the CSUN President’s Associates, introduced English major Wyatt Samuelson, recipient of an Alumni First Generation Scholarship, who spoke about growing up in a highly dysfunctional family where education wasn’t a priority.
“My mom was a paranoid schizophrenic, and my dad was an abusive alcoholic,” he said. “My formal education didn’t start until I was 8 years old, and I didn’t learn to read or write until I was 9 or 10.”
After following a long road that included living under a tarp on a Los Angeles street and being removed from his mother’s custody, Samuelson finished high school on time and is attending CSUN — thanks to a caring foster family and donor-funded scholarships.
“Thanks to donors like you, I found an academic home at CSUN,” he said. “I am just one investment you have made, and I plan on giving back in any way that I can when I pursue my career after graduation.”
The students’ stories were incredibly inspiring, attendees and staff said.
“Stories like [Endinjok’s and Samuelson’s are] what makes your investment so important and why we are so grateful for all you do,” said Robert D. Gunsalus, vice president of University Advancement and president of the CSUN Foundation, who announced that he had received an anonymous estate gift during the luncheon.
CSUN was a natural choice for Endinjok, as it presented opportunities to put her nutritional passion into practice, she said.
“But much of what we do at CSUN and in the community would not be possible without incredible people like Dr. Smith, who support students through their time and financial resources,” Endinjok added.
“The scholarships, grants and programs that allow disadvantaged students at CSUN the opportunity to attend college helped me chase a dream I would never have thought possible when I was homeless, living in fear and uncertainty,” added Samuelson. “I am proud to be a first-generation college student, and my future is wide open.”