Of the approximately 3.400 students invited to take part in California State University, Northridge’s Honors Convocation on Saturday, May 14, six individuals were singled out for special recognition as outstanding graduating students.
Among those being recognized that evening will be Megan Ngo, this year’s Wolfson Scholar, the top award 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.
“As a first-generation college student, I felt unprepared for the huge academic transition and experienced imposter syndrome,” Ngo wrote in her application for the award. “Fortunately, these past four years have provided me many opportunities to grow and succeed in ways I never thought were possible.”
Ngo has earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science, graduating with a 3.98 grade point average. She enrolled at CSUN in 2018, and quickly immersed herself in her studies.
She also joined the university’s prestigious AIMS2 program, which is designed to support low-income, economically disadvantaged and underrepresented Latinx students and other students of color interested in majoring in engineering or computer science. Students in the program have access to academic resources such as professional mentors, tutors, educational field trips, workshops, grants, stipends, career opportunities and paid internships for undergraduate research. By her senior year, Ngo was serving as a peer mentor to other students in the AIMS2 program.
“Megan has cerebral palsy and … is unable to speak out clearly,” wrote Adam Kaplan, chair of the Department of Computer Science, supporting Ngo’s nomination as this year’s Wolfson Scholar. “With some difficulty, Megan types questions and responses on her laptop, and in this way, she is able to communicate. She has become well-known among professors in the department for her strong academic performance, her ability to ask questions and her passion for assisting other students to understand course material.”
After graduation, Ngo plans to work on developing assistive technology applications.
“I hope that by being named the Wolfson Scholar, I can embody the idea that almost everything is possible with dedication,” Ngo said.
The other students being recognized at Honors Convocation are:
Jean Pauline Serrano, recipient of the 2022 Nathan O. Freedman Memorial Award for Outstanding Graduate Student
Serrano is a first-generation college student and immigrant graduating with her master’s degree in psychological science. As a graduate student, she worked closely with psychology professor Yolanda Vasquez-Salgado as lab coordinator in the Culture, Health & Development Lab on a National Institutes of Health-funded research project that examines how cultural mismatch — a mismatch between the cultural values of a student’s home and the cultural norms of the university environment — impacts the mental and physical health of underrepresented minority students during the transition to college. Serrano has taught throughout her time at CSUN — she also got her undergraduate degree at the university — and has been a member of more than 15 academic panels, including at CSUN’s annual Advancement to Graduate Education conference.
“When students are provided a successful role model that they can identify with, it gives them confidence to believe that they can succeed too,” she said.
Serrano was named a Sally Casanova Pre-doctoral Scholar by the California State University system for her work. The honor is designed to increase the pool of potential CSU faculty by supporting the doctoral aspirations of CSU students who have experienced economic and educational disadvantages. Serrano will continue to pursue her doctorate in school psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, to become a professor, researcher and licensed clinical psychologist to support the next generation of underrepresented scholars.
Elline Deogracias, Outstanding Graduating Senior
Deogracias is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in business law and business honors. During her tenure at CSUN, she served a senator in the student government, Associated Students, and was co-founder of the university’s first sustainable fashion certificate program.
She also worked as a student assistant in CSUN’s Institute for Sustainability, helping to coordinate events and collaborations with campus and community partners to promote education on such topics as zero waste, food insecurity and sustainable fashion. Her work with the institute and the creation of the sustainable fashion program led to a research project on corporate sustainability. The results of that project, done in collaboration with family and consumer sciences professor Tracie Tung, were published in the CSU Journal of Sustainability and Climate Change. Deogracias is listed as the article’s lead author.
During the pandemic, Deogracias often worked three to four jobs, while going to school full time, to help her family make ends meet. Deogracias hopes to attend law school.
Devan Prince, Outstanding Graduating Senior
Prince is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in criminology and justice studies and Africana studies. Prince has been an active member of the university community, serving as vice president of the Black Student Union; board member of the Women’s Club Soccer team; a mentor with the DuBois-Hamer Institute for Academic Achievement; treasurer for Black Graduation; and a notetaker for CSUN’s Disability Resources and Educational Services.
Her activities were not limited to CSUN’s campus. She served as a volunteer referee for community soccer leagues, volunteered with the Los Angeles Mission Food Bank and interned at the Post-Conviction Assistance Center. She also established her own tutoring business to help K-12 students with math and English.
She has spent the past year studying the school-to-prison pipeline’s effects on African-American students. Prince hopes to attend law school.
Cerina Hill – Karen, Leon and Rita Goldstein-Saulter Memorial Award
A first-generation college student, Hill is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies. At CSUN, Hill was president of the Communication Association; a member of the Filipino-American Student Association; a mentor to incoming students; communication project manager for the Community for the Holistic Education and Empowerment of Civil Responsibility; and as leadership intern for the Africana-Asian Collaboratory for Inclusive Excellence Project, working with faculty, staff and students to create programming that promotes dialogue and cultural solidarity.
In addition to her work on campus, Hill is co-founder of the Mutual Aid West Valley Project, which helps unhoused residents. During the pandemic, she volunteered in virtual classrooms to encourage reading and retention among public middle school students.
Hill, a transracial adoptee and immigrant from the Philippines, is headed to graduate school and hopes to become a professor and researcher, contributing original scholarship that deconstructs relationships to larger social issues and applies practical theories within the larger community.
Raphael Angelo Zambrano – Karen, Leon and Rita Goldstein-Saulter Memorial Award
Zambrano is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in biotechnology and cell and molecular biology. He was a member of CSUN’s BUILD PODER — Building Infrastructure Leadership to Diversity (BUILD) and Promoting Opportunities for Diversity in Education and Research (PODER) — and spent much of his time working in biology professor Melissa Takahashi’s lab, designing a biosynthetic therapeutic to combat a specific mechanism that regulates antibiotic resistance.
He was an active member of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, and he hosted events for local middle school students to encourage them to consider a career in the sciences. Zambrano also became a certified notetaker for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
Interested in a career as a physician researcher, Zambrano worked with an osteopathic doctor at the Free Clinic of Simi Valley to monitor low-income patients with uncontrolled Type II diabetes. He also volunteered at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys.