Determination, Hard Work Pays Off for Cal State Northridge’s Newest Graduates

The cheers may be deafening next week as nearly 10,000 students are expected to graduate from California State University, Northridge.

Each student has a personal story of hard work, perseverance and success. Below are examples of just some of these unique stories:

Shelley Thurk

Shelley Thurk

Shelley Thurk, B.S. in Mechanical Engineering

Shelley Thurk never thought she’d attend a four-year college. In high school, she had good grades but was more interested in working on cars.

“I just didn’t think I was interested in going to a four-year college,” said Thurk. The Minnesota native graduated from a technical institute with an associate’s degree and went to work in the service department at an automobile dealership in the San Fernando Valley. But after a year, Thurk said she wanted a more challenging job where she “used her brain” more.

On a tour of California State University, Northridge, Thurk’s interest was sparked when she saw a display of the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Formula-SAE racing car.

“I had always loved cars and to build them,” Thurk said. “That’s what convinced me.”

Thurk enrolled at CSUN in 2009 majoring in mechanical engineering. She has made the dean’s list every semester. She is the recipient of numerous scholarships and awards, including the Presidential Scholarship and University Scholar. She has worked two degree-related internships and briefly served as a tutor for the university. She is a member of the CSUN Formula-SAE project (Matador Motorsports). She is also enrolled in the Honors Co-Op program in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

She is currently employed as an engineering intern at Medtronic MiniMed, Inc., crafting concept designs for new products and fixtures related to diabetic treatment. Her career goals have changed. She now wants to work in biomedical engineering. She hopes to create new technologies to help the medical industry.

She has been accepted into several graduate programs but has decided to return home and attend the University of Minnesota, where she will pursue a master’s in mechanical engineering.

Thurk said her time at CSUN has sometimes been challenging, having to juggle work and being the only woman in many of her classes, but she took it all in stride.

“I would go to the library and work on math problems when I guess others were out having fun,” Thurk said. “I’ve had really good professors here that have made learning fun.”

Thurk is this year’s Wolfson Scholar, the top academic honor given to a graduating undergraduate senior . She will be recognized during the university’s Honors Convocation ceremony at 6 p.m. Monday, May 20, on the lawn in front of the Delmar T. Oviatt Library in the heart of the campus at 18111 Nordhoff St. in Northridge.

She will receive her bachelor’s degree during the College of Engineering and Computer Science’s commencement ceremony at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, on the lawn south of Manzanita Hall near the southwest corner of the campus near Nordhoff Street east of Etiwanda Avenue

Travis Shivley-Scott

Travis Shivley-Scott

Travis Shivley-Scott, M.A. in Psychology

After facing rejection from 10 different doctorate programs as a senior undergraduate psychology student at Loyola Marymount University, Travis Shivley-Scott felt defeated. The 24-year-old native of Colorado thought he’d never get into a doctoral program. However, California State University, Northridge restored his confidence that he could excel as an academic scholar.

In his senior year at LMU, Shivley-Scott had applied to 10 doctorate programs but was denied acceptance to all except Fordham University, where he wait-listed but didn’t get in. He decided to apply to CSUN for his master’s degree to improve his GRE scores and gain the clinical and research experience that could help him succeed.

“The graduate coursework in the clinical psychology program here at CSUN has been a lot more intense that I expected,” Shivley-Scott said. “They teach at a different level, giving me good study habits and improving my scientific research writing skills that I know will really help me as I move onto my Ph.D. program.”

This fall, Shivley-Scott will be attending the clinical psychology Ph.D. program at Fordham University in New York–the same school he waitlisted at two years ago. There, he will be investigating neuropsychological and sociocultural factors influencing medication adherence in HIV-positive Hispanic adults.

“I chose this path because I see it as a way I can really have an impact on people,” Shivley-Scot said. “Improving mental and individual health through a cultural context, I can help prevent cultural biases through my research.”

Identifying as African-American and white, Shivley-Scott was adopted by white parents and grew up in Denver, Colo. He moved to California at age 18 in pursuit of his original dream to be a filmmaker, but realized his love for neuropsychology after taking a brain and behavior course early in his undergraduate years.

“I’ve always been interested in culture because of my parents who constantly encouraged being immersed in it, not just ethnically but in any way possible,” Shivley-Scott said. “My end goal is to leave a lasting impact on the field of clinical neuropsychology, to possibly teach and to definitely mentor ethnically diverse psychology students.”

Shivley-Scott will be recognized during the university’s Honors Convocation ceremony Monday, May 20, as this year’s Nathan O. Freedman Outstanding Graduate Student. He will receive his master’s degree in psychology during the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences’ commencement ceremony at 8 a.m. Wednesday, May 22, on the Oviatt Library lawn.

Cynthia Duran

Cynthia Duran

Cynthia Duran, B.A. in Liberal Studies and a Teaching Credential

Cynthia Duran, 25, was a junior in high school when she volunteered to teach preschool and kindergarten Sunday school classes at her church. The experience confirmed what she had always suspected. “I was going to be a teacher,” said the Arleta resident. “Its all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

Duran, who came to the United States undocumented at age 6 months and was granted citizenship when she was 10, said she used to ask her teachers for extra copies of classroom worksheets so she could take them home and “teach” her siblings what she learned at school.

She noted that her maternal grandfather and three aunts were elementary school teachers in Mexico. “I am sure that passion for teaching is in my blood,” she said.

The only place she considered going to college was CSUN. “I don’t think I applied anywhere else,” she said.

The path to her degree and credential has not been without some curves. She was a newlywed when she enrolled at CSUN in spring of 2007 and gave birth to a son four years ago. In 2011, she took a year’s leave from her studies so she and her husband could temporarily move to Jalisco, Mexico, while he fulfilled a requirement in his application for U.S. residency.

Determined not to waste valuable time while in Mexico, Duran volunteered to teach fourth grade at the local ranch’s elementary school. She was not paid and taught in a makeshift outdoor classroom she created so she and her pupils could avoid the noise of the other classes in the one-room schoolhouse.

“I volunteered because I love to teach and I wanted to do something useful that would give me experience in my field,” she said. She returned to CSUN last fall.

Duran will be taking part in CSUN’s Honors Convocation Monday, May 20. She will receive her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies during the College of Humanities’ commencement ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, on the Oviatt Library lawn. She participated in the annual  Michael D. Eisner College of Education Credential Reception on May 10.

Erick Gallegos

Erick Gallegos

Erick Gallegos, B.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing

Erick Gallegos’ birth was traumatic. He was stuck in the birth canal for 36 hours and as a result lost his hearing—he now has a cochlear implant—and his sight was damaged. By the age of 9, he was legally blind. He can only see objects right in front of him, within three feet and has difficulty seeing in the dark.

But that didn’t stop Gallegos, 23, of Northridge, who loved to learn. With the right technical support from CSUN and classroom assistance, he dove into his studies. When it was time to choose a college, he knew exactly where he wanted to go: California State University, Northridge.

“Several of my teachers in high school had gone to CSUN, and they told me that CSUN, with all the programs that it has, could accommodate me,” he said.

Gallegos initially enrolled at CSUN in 2008 as a business administration major. Despite the help of a transcriber who typed everything said in class—including what the professor said, what his classmates said and what was written on the board—he had a hard time keeping up.

While fulfilling one of his general education requirements, Gallegos took an English class and discovered a major where he could thrive. He loved the subject matter and the classes were structured in such a way that, with the assistance of a transcriber, assistive technology and the support of faculty members, he could actively participate in class.

“School is like going to work,” he said. “It does not matter that I am legally blind. It does not matter that I have a cochlear implant. As long as I have accommodation, I can do it. Sometimes in life we have challenges, but that doesn’t mean we give up.”

In high school, other students made fun of the way he spoke. He said he knew that once he got to CSUN, he would find a place where he could be himself and explore life to its fullest. In addition to thriving academically, he’s joined several campus groups.

Gallegos currently has an internship with a literary public relations firm. He plans to begin work on a master’s in English, with an emphasis in rhetoric and composition, at CSUN this fall.

He will receive his bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing during the College of Humanities’ commencement ceremony May 22 at 6:30 p.m. on the Oviatt Library lawn.

Ilyse Kullman (left) and Dana Cobern Kullman

Ilyse Kullman (left) and Dana Cobern Kullman

Dana Cobern Kullman, B.A. in English Literature, and Ilyse Kullman, B.A. in Art and English Literature

Burbank residents Dana Cobern Kullman, 57, and Ilyse Kullman, 24, credit each other as the inspiration for their academic success. Mother and daughter will be walking together next week in the College of Humanities’ commencement ceremony May 22 to receive their bachelor’s degrees in English literature.

Dana Cobern Kullman’s journey for her CSUN degree started more than 30 years ago when she was a wide-eyed 17-year-old. “I was probably the most scared freshmen ever,” she said.

She said she enrolled at CSUN after high school, in part, because it was “a family tradition.” She had an older sister who had attended the university, and she was expected to go to CSUN as well.

The only problem was, she said, “I wasn’t ready.” She dropped out and got married.

Fast forward about 35 years. Ilyse Kullman, Dana’s only child, was looking for an art school that would hone her skills without sacrificing the intellectual stimulation that comes from an academically rich environment. “CSUN was everything I was looking for,” she said.

Dana Kullman said watching her daughter tackle her studies and revel in university life, inspired her.

“My mother had cancer and I had been taking care of her in the two years before she died,” Dana said. “When she passed away, I did a lot of thinking. I decided that I could go back to school, and this was the time to do it.”

Dana re-enrolled at CSUN in 2009 as an English literature major, the same subject Ilyse had selected as her second major in addition to art.

Dana said she tried to avoid taking the English classes with her daughter for fear of embarrassing her, despite Ilyse’s insistence that there was no way that could happen. “I was so proud of her,” she said. “I could never be embarrassed by her.”

Watching her daughter thrive in school—this past year Ilyse received the Oliver R. Evans Writing Prize from the Department of English and had two of her pieces shown in the art department’s annual juried exhibition—served as inspiration for Dana as she adjusted to academic life and “the fact that I was often the oldest person in the classroom, even when you took into account the professor,” she said.

For Ilyse, her mother’s decision to return to college after more than 30 years put her college “struggles”—the all-nighters, re-writing papers for the sixth time or trying to get an art piece just right—in a different light.

“When I felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day to fulfill my ambitions, my mother’s tenacity in finishing what she started 30 years ago put everything into perspective for me,” she said.

Ilyse Kullman hopes to find work as an editorial illustrator. In the meantime, she is a regular contributor to Greasy Mag, an online magazine for teens. Dana Kullman plans to continue working as a librarian at Luther Burbank Middle School in Burbank.

Mother and daughter will be taking part in the Honors Convocation May 20. In addition to the College of Humanities’ commencement ceremony, Ilyse Kullman will also receive her bachelor’s of art during the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication’s ceremony at 8 a.m. Tuesday, May 21, on the Oviatt Library lawn.

Juan Cristobal Quevedo Gutierrez

Juan Cristobal Quevedo Gutierrez

Juan Cristobal Quevedo Gutierrez, B.A. in Political Science

Juan Cristobal Quevedo Gutierrez, 26, is weighing competing acceptance letters from the University of Tennessee College of Law and the School of Law at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth.

“I’m negotiating financial aid packages at the moment,” said Quevedo, who wants to practice immigration law some day. “It’s kind of a nice position to be in.”

It’s one that might not have happened a few years ago.

The Palmdale resident came to the United States from Mexico with his family when he was 5 years old. Undocumented, the family struggled to make ends meet. The situation worsened when Quevedo’s father disappeared shortly after their arrival. The family assumed he had abandoned them. More than a decade later, they learned that he had been deported and later died.

With his mother struggling to raise six children on her own, Quevedo took odd jobs to help make ends meet. Quevedo realized that the only way he could truly improve the family’s situation was through education. He set his sights on college.

Realizing that as an undocumented student he would not qualify for financial aid, Quevedo started his college career at Antelope Valley College. Some semesters he attended full time, others part time or not at all while he worked several jobs to cover expenses, support his family and save for his ultimate goal of attending CSUN.

“The low tuition at Antelope Valley College allowed me to simply get by and provide for my family,” Quevedo said. “It was difficult, and I compromised on many necessities, such as visits to the doctor, in order to set aside small amounts of money to fund my education at CSUN. I always thought I would go to CSUN. I didn’t even consider anywhere else.”

He transferred to Cal State Northridge in fall in 2011. He still worked full time as a tarp salesman to cover expenses and to support his mother.

Throwing himself into his studies at CSUN, he quickly became involved in campus life. He served as president of Dreams to be Heard, a student organization set up to educate others about the issues surrounding state and national immigration laws and to encourage undocumented immigrant students to pursue higher education. He also was elected by his fellow students to serve as an upper-division senator to Associated Students, CSUN’s student government.

All the while, Quevedo was working to get permanent residency status for his mother, his siblings and himself. That was established this past February, making him eligible to apply for financial aid to help him cover the costs of his last few months at CSUN.

At CSUN, Quevedo discovered his passion for political science and the law.

“I want to be an immigration attorney,” he said. “I can’t see myself doing anything else. I think my experiences will make me a good one.”

Quevedo will be taking part in the Honors Convocation May 20. He will receive his bachelor’s degree in political science during the College of Social and Behavioral Science’s commencement ceremony at 8 a.m. Wednesday, May 22, on the Oviatt Library lawn.

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