Several individuals taking part in this year’s commencement ceremonies at California State University, Northridge were singled out for special recognition as outstanding graduating students.
Those being recognized include Jennifer Anderson and Daniel Bustos, named this year’s Wolfson Scholars, the top award given to a graduating senior or seniors; Natasha Feldman, recipient of the Nathan O. Freedman Memorial Award for Outstanding Graduate Student; and Desiree Cuadra, Aditi Dwivedi, Denise Nguyen and Angelle Thomas, each named an Outstanding Graduating Senior.
Jennifer Anderson, Wolfson Scholar
Jennifer Anderson, 23, of Castaic, was doing research in chemistry professor Daniel Tamae’s lab when the educator stepped out briefly, and then returned.
“He didn’t say anything. He just showed me his phone,” said Anderson, who graduated in December with a bachelor’s of science degree in cell and molecular biology. “We had received an email that said I had won the Wolfson Scholar award. It was so special to be able to celebrate with him in that moment because he was really the one who encouraged me and believed in me during my time at CSUN.”
The Wolfson Scholar award is presented yearly in memory of CSUN’s first vice president, Leo Wolfson. Not only must the student have an exceptional academic record, but they must also have made significant contributions to CSUN or the community through co-curricular and extracurricular activities.
Anderson’s journey to CSUN began with soccer. She started playing when she was 5. By the time she was in high school, she was part of a competitive soccer club, as well as a standout on her high school team. Her prowess on the field drew the attention of several college scouts, but an unofficial visit to the Northridge campus cemented her decision to take CSUN’s offer.
“I immediately felt welcomed and supported, and I wasn’t even part of the program yet,” she said.
The university also offered Anderson an opportunity to pursue a passion for science.
“I’ve always had a knack for math and science — in middle school I really loved those two topics,” she said. “It wasn’t until high school that I took a class called nanotechnology. It basically allowed us to create our own experiments and present them to our peers and people visiting from the local community college. That really opened up my desire to continue the scientific exploration, particularly in biology.”
Anderson quickly became an expert in time management at CSUN, as she juggled the demands of playing on an NCAA Division I team — which included 7 a.m. training sessions, followed by practice and more training — her studies in cell and molecular biology and her work in Tamae’s lab. Their research focuses on targeting metabolic pathways of cancer cells.
“Not only was I physically exhausted from all the running and training and all that I was doing in the morning, it was also very mentally tiring to go to class right after and have to be alert,” she said. “It certainly tested my physical and mental capabilities, but it was worth it in the end.”
Anderson also volunteered at the Keck Hospital of USC, became a blood donor ambassador for the American Red Cross and is a COPE Health Scholar at Adventist Health Glendale Hospital, where she assists nurses and does some clinical work.
“I wanted to continue giving back to the community and helping those that are vulnerable and really supporting those healthcare workers that were basically keeping everything going during the height of the pandemic,” she said.
Though she graduated in December, Anderson is continuing her volunteer work, as well as research in Tamae’s lab. She recently accepted a position with a diagnostics laboratory. She also is applying to medical school.
If she had to choose right now, she said she would choose a specialty in genomics — the study of genes and their impact on health — or precision medicine — an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.
“What I think is really beautiful is that we’re so variable, and I think that the future of medicine is being able to use our unique characteristics in order to do a treatment,” she said. “There’s not just one overarching answer. We’ll be able to make treatment more personal. That’s something I want to be able to utilize in my future career as a physician because we are all different. I think the future of medicine will be more personalize, and I think using our genetic composition is a tool that is becoming more and more possible as our technology becomes more innovative.”
Daniel Bustos, Wolfson Scholar
“Being named the Wolfson Scholar is very humbling,” said Daniel Bustos, 23, of Burbank. “It not just recognizes hard work in academics, but being involved on campus as well. As a recent alum, I am looking forward to doing everything I can for the university that has provided me with so much.”
The Wolfson Scholar award is presented yearly 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 the community through co-curricular and extracurricular activities.
Bustos completed his bachelor’s degrees in accounting, finance and business honors in December. He currently has a full-time job, which grew out of an internship he had a couple years ago, with Oceanview Capital Partners, Inc., a healthcare-focused private equity and advisory firm in Glendale.
Growing up as the son of a Los Angeles police detective, Bustos thought about pursuing a career in law enforcement. “I wanted to keep that tradition going in the family,” he said. But then he discovered accounting.
“What drew me to accounting was the optionality that it provided,” he said. “There are so many things that you can do once you understand financial statements and how numbers work in a business. When you’re 18 or 19, you really don’t have a strong sense, at least I didn’t, of what I wanted to do post-graduation. Accounting opens up so many different opportunities.”
Bustos played competitive baseball growing up and was ranked among the top high school pitchers in California by his senior year. With an eye on playing NCAA Division I college baseball, he enrolled at Glendale Community College in 2015 with the goal of improving his fastball’s velocity, which didn’t quite meet Division I speeds. But at the end of his first year in community college, he fractured the outside of his right foot, and he was no longer able to fully push off the pitcher’s mound to throw the ball to home plate with the velocity needed to compete at the next level.
With baseball no longer a path to college, Bustos threw himself into his studies and enrolled at CSUN a year later.
“My sister had graduated from CSUN a few years before me with her degree in communications, so I knew it was a good school — and its reputation in accounting is amazing,” he said.
Bustos started at CSUN planning to major in accounting, but soon added finance and business honors to his list. He was a member of Beta Alpha Psi, a national accounting honor society; the Accounting Association, and he served as president of the Business Honors Association for the 2018-19 academic year.
He spent many late nights in the University Library, while his days were dedicated to his classes, working on a big data project with management professor Richard Moore on the long-term financial and career benefits of a CSU education, and his job at Oceanview.
“I remember there were quite a few times that I stayed pretty late at the library — studying for an upcoming midterm, working with my peers on a group project or just trying to get ahead for one of my classes,” he said. “Having good grades and doing well academically, at least for me, didn’t come because I was some super smart guy. It came because I would put in the hours. I may have gone a little overboard at times, but I really wanted to be prepared and I really wanted to do well academically — not just for me, but because so many people throughout my life have invested in me and in my education. I felt it would be a disservice to them if I didn’t try and do everything I could to reach my full potential academically.”
Bustos hopes to one day be the chief financial officer of a pharmaceutical company that specializes in curing rare diseases. To do that, he plans on eventually go back to school to earn an MBA. and a law degree. At the moment, he said, he’s learning all he can at Oceanview, while building on the strong knowledge he gained at CSUN.
Natasha Feldman, 2021 Nathan O. Freedman Memorial Award for Outstanding Graduate Student
Natasha Feldman impressed her professors and graduate advisors with her stellar academic accomplishments, as well as her unique thesis project — which combined her knowledge of the Deaf community through her experiences with American Sign Language and her expertise in the areas of psychology and law. In December 2020, Feldman completed her M.A. in psychology (clinical psychology option) at CSUN, graduating with a 4.0 cumulative grade point average (GPA). She also earned dual bachelor’s degrees in psychology and deaf studies from CSUN, graduating summa cum laude in 2018 with a 3.97 cumulative GPA.
Now celebrating her master’s degree, Feldman has been awarded the 2021 Nathan O. Freedman Memorial Award for Outstanding Graduate Student, one of the university’s top academic honors.
“In addition to being intelligent, articulate and productive, Natasha is one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I know,” wrote psychology professor Bradley McAuliff, for whom she worked as a research assistant, in his recommendation letter for Feldman’s award. “Whether it’s surprising her fellow lab members with homemade breakfast quiche on data collection day or helping a wheelchair-bound classmate adjust her desk to the proper height for notetaking, Natasha never ceased to amaze me.”
For her master’s thesis, which psychology professor and department chair Jill Razani called “masterfully designed and conducted,” Feldman designed a study to assess juror perceptions of Deaf child witness testimony in relation to the proficiency of the interpreter.
“In addition to providing proper accommodations, it is imperative that we identify potential biases in order to ensure that both victims and alleged perpetrators receive a fair trial,” Feldman noted. “Do jurors evaluate Deaf and hearing children differently? Does the presence of a sign language interpreter in court and the quality of interpretation affect jurors’ evaluations? The purpose of my master’s thesis was to address these important unanswered questions.”
Her study, conducted during the pandemic, found that when the Deaf child witness was accompanied by a high-quality interpreter, mock jurors did not evaluate the Deaf child witness more negatively compared to the hearing child witness. However, the interpreter quality played a significant role in jurors’ evaluations of the child witness’ credibility.
Feldman said she plans to continue pursuing her career and advocacy efforts, and she was thrilled to be recognized with the Nathan O. Freedman Memorial Award.
“The Nathan O. Freedman Award is a great honor,” she said. “I am deeply grateful for the guidance and support I received from my mentors and fellow students. Being embedded in an institution dedicated to science and service was exciting. My master’s at CSUN afforded me the opportunity to undertake this novel research and follow my passion for supporting people with disabilities.”
Desiree Cuadra, Outstanding Graduating Senior
Some students take their education for granted, but to Outstanding Graduating Senior award recipient Desiree Cuadra, education is a valuable possession. And it is something that she plans on sharing with others in her career as an elementary school teacher.
It is clear from Cuadra’s scholarship application that she is passionate about education and academic excellence. Like many students, she overcame obstacles while completing her education — from being the first in her family to attend college and a lack of resources to being diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and ADHD — but her passion and drive to succeed propelled her forward, even if it meant a two-hour bus ride to and from campus until she was able to move closer to campus.
“These are all experiences that she will bring to bear as she nurtures her own young students, understanding clearly their struggles and knowing how to help them,” wrote Jackie Stallcup, interim dean of the College of Humanities, in a letter of support. “I foresee a bright future for her as an outstanding teacher.”
Cuadra grew up in a family of El Salvadorian war refugees, many of whom did not have the opportunity to complete their education. Because of this, she has viewed education as a privilege, and she appreciates its ability to transform lives.
“My hope is that more people around the world can have access to educational opportunities and learn to appreciate education for the powerful tool it is,” she wrote. “This passion is what drove my career goals and inspires me to change the world as a teacher, one student at a time.”
Cuadra majored in liberal studies and has been involved in campus through her work with the Liberal Studies Student Association, the Literary Scholars of Los Angeles, the Dean’s Student Council and as an Academic Mentor in student housing. She also has spent time at CSUN honing her craft in the student teacher program and as a supplemental instructor in the English and Central American and transborder studies departments.
“I have been impressed by Desiree’s energy and focus,” wrote Greg Knotts, professor of elementary education, as part of a letter of support. “She is the epitome of a student CSUN should support with the honor of Outstanding Graduating Senior.”
Aditi Dwivedi, Outstanding Graduating Senior
Aditi Dwivedi is challenging conventions, breaking barriers and empowering female leaders. Through hard work and a desire to drive change, she proved that not only does she succeed in the midst of obstacles, she thrives.
In December, Dwivedi graduated from CSUN’s David Nazarian College of Business and Economics with bachelor’s degrees in accounting, finance and business honors, while maintaining a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.73. She is a recipient of the Noski Family Scholarship, established by CSUN alumnus Charles Noski, who was recently inducted into the 2021 Accounting Hall of Fame by the American Accounting Association. The Global Leadership Connection program, which recognizes youth leaders across the globe, also named Dwivedi a “Rising Female Leader.”
At age 3, Dwivedi discovered her passion for dance. While immersed in the dance world, she suffered a major leg injury during her senior year of high school, while practicing for a dance troupe audition. Due to the severity of the injury, doctors told her that she would be lucky to ever walk again without feeling pain. Dwivedi then relinquished her dream of becoming a professional dancer and turned toward business at CSUN.
“I got back on my two feet, both literally and figuratively, while tackling my business classes with the same gusto,” Dwivedi said.
Once Dwivedi arrived at CSUN, she joined several organizations and clubs where she immediately thrived. She became president of the Business Honors Association and hosted various events, including a panel of female partners in accounting, finance and law firms who motivated and inspired her.
During her internship recruitment journey, she noticed that students faced challenges in being considered for prestigious consulting firms and investment banks. After receiving offers from 10 different accounting firms in her sophomore year — including the Big 4 — and receiving multiple investment banking and consulting offers her senior year, Dwivedi co-founded CSUN’s Consulting and Investing Banking Honor Society, a nonprofit organization to assist other undergraduate students seeking recruitment opportunities. Simultaneously, Dwivedi also volunteered with CSUN’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Clinic, helping low-income families prepare their taxes.
While celebrating these successes, Dwivedi and her loved ones faced multiple challenges with family deaths, illnesses and hospitalizations that required her to work multiple jobs to support her family. Despite the negativity, Dwivedi continued to excel in her triple-major course load as well as her leadership roles. Today, she is an investment banker at JP Morgan, and could not be prouder to represent the university that prepared her.
“My community has made me into the strong woman leader I am today,” said Dwivedi, who continues to mentor undergraduate and high school students. “I am exactly where I am supposed to be. As a Matador, I continue to flourish, shine and rise.”
Denise Nguyen, Outstanding Graduating Senior
From her late teenage years and into her early 20s, Denise Nguyen was finding herself. Puzzled about what direction she should take, her stay in community college lengthened.
Then, a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis became a startling moment for her. Yet that diagnosis led her to transfer to CSUN to pursue a goal. It also gave her clarity about her future and started a stratospheric rise. Nguyen now hopes that rise will eventually lead her to becoming a leader in the public health industry and a voice to improve health equity.
Nguyen is a first-generation college student. When she enrolled at CSUN, she was largely unaware of how to navigate university life. But she decided saying “yes” to opportunities would expose her to new ideas, help her adapt and help her find who she is.
She was right.
In her time at CSUN, the public health major has been a high achiever in the classroom and a star outside of it. In 2019, Nguyen was a member of the nationally recognized CSUN Model United Nations team and a member of the four-person team that won the Best Data Visualization Award at CSUN’s DataJam, for a project with an emphasis on Type 2 diabetes.
In 2020, she was one of 16 CSUN students recognized as a Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholar by the California State University system. The program provides funding for visits to doctoral granting institutions, travel to national conferences, membership in professional organizations, and graduate school application and test fees.
Nguyen used the application funding, as well as an Alumni Association scholarship, to apply to various universities. She received acceptances from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, NYU, USC and the University of Michigan.
Nguyen, a peer health educator at the Klotz Student Health Center and Associated Students senator for the College of Health and Human Development during her time at CSUN, also has made impacts on communities close to her heart.
During the pandemic, her father became unemployed. Recognizing how a language barrier can be a deterrent for some to apply for unemployment, Nguyen, who is Vietnamese, translated and explained each component of the unemployment application to those who struggled with speaking and understanding English at her local community center.
This year, the rise of anti-Asian and anti-Pacific Islander bias and violence also hit close to home, when her father was a victim of harassment. Afterward, Nguyen created a volunteer escort system, where young adults in her community escort elderly Asian Americans safely to their homes or destinations.
In the fall, Nguyen’s destination is Johns Hopkins. She will study health policy and hopes to later work in Washington, D.C., to help build health care legislation.
“CSUN really allowed me to see my potential and capabilities of what I can do with my community,” Nguyen said. “It was a place where I received a lot of support with my ambitions and dreams.”
Angelle Thomas, Outstanding Graduating Senior
As an elementary school student, Angelle Thomas was driven by fear — fear of reading out loud, fear of not understanding the “big” words, fear of what others were thinking.
“I don’t know where it came from,” said Thomas, “but I was afraid of so many things, especially academically.” To overcome her anxiety, Thomas focused on one thing: a quest for educational excellence. She also vowed to herself to conquer things that scared her. And eventually, fear gave way to something much more powerful: fearlessness.
This spring, Thomas graduates from CSUN with dual bachelor’s degrees in Deaf studies and Africana studies and a vision to impact students from marginalized communities — work that she’s been doing for years.
Prior to beginning her college journey, Thomas worked as an extra on a show about the life of a young Deaf girl. There, she made a life-changing decision: “Deaf people have to go out and accommodate hearing people every single day; if I learned sign language, that’s one less person they’d have to accommodate,” said Thomas. She enrolled at Los Angeles Pierce College, became president of the American Sign Language Club, and earned her associate of arts degrees in American Sign Language Interpreting and American Sign Language Studies.
Once she transferred to CSUN, Thomas found her passion in Black Deaf accessibility, working with campus leaders to bring accessibility issues to the forefront so Black Deaf students could be part of the rich campus community and culture. She is a Pre-Certified Freelance Sign Language Interpreter for the National Center on Deafness at CSUN; a research assistant for the DuBois-Hamer Institute for Academic Achievement, which promotes student success through campus and community partnerships; and a recipient of the J.W. Anthony Scholarship for Student Activism, which supports leaders who have fought adversity. As a strong advocate for education, Thomas also helps students build their resumes and conduct mock job interviews.
2020 was a challenging year. Thomas learned she was pregnant with her first child. She also grieved the deaths of three family members, and the murder of a cousin. With the fearlessness that came to define her, Thomas worked even harder, taking on 21 credits, working three jobs and finishing the semester with a 4.0 GPA and a newborn.
Next, she plans to keep pushing her boundaries and hopes to earn master’s and doctorate degrees to help students from the Deaf community, Black Deaf community and other marginalized backgrounds gain access to higher education, Thomas said.
“I’ve learned that there’s always going to be a voice in my head saying I can’t do something,” she said. “Once I conquer that thing, I realize I’m capable of so much more than I anticipated. I’m so grateful to CSUN for challenging and giving me so many opportunities to learn, research, serve my communities, and grow as a student.”