Tribal Leader, Philanthropist and Acclaimed Author to Receive Honorary Doctorates from CSUN
California State University, Northridge will confer honorary doctorates on community leader and tribal president Rudy Ortega Jr., author and screenwriter Charles Yu and business leader and philanthropist Milt Valera at the university’s commencement ceremonies next month.
Ortega will receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters during the commencement ceremony for the College of Humanities and Health and Human Development on Sunday, May 21 at 8 a.m.
Also on May 21, Yu will receive an honorary doctorate of fine arts during the second commencement ceremony for the College of Health and Human Development at 6:00 p.m.
Valera will receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters during the commencement ceremony for the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication on Monday, May 22 at 6:00 p.m.
“Rudy Ortega, Jr., Charles Yu and Milt Valera are outstanding leaders in their careers and in their communities and we are so proud to honor their contributions in this way,” said CSUN President Erika D. Beck. “Each is passionate about uplifting those around them and making the world a better place for future generations, and each reflects CSUN’s deeply rooted values of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. It is our great privilege to recognize their extraordinary achievements with honorary degrees.”
Ortega is the elected leader of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians (FTBMI) and his ancestors come from the villages that originated in the geographical areas of Santa Clarita, Simi and San Fernando Valleys. His dedication to tribal affairs began as a child while shadowing his father, the late Tribal Chairman Rudy Ortega, Sr. He was first elected Vice President for the FTBMI at the age of 18.
Through this role, Ortega continued efforts of the tribe’s mission to protect the rights of Fernandeño Tataviam as Native Americans. He assisted in the reinvigoration of the tribe’s non-profit, Pukúu Cultural Community Services, to provide community programs to Native Americans living in Los Angeles County, as well as to sustain the Fernandeño Tataviam community. Through Pukúu, Ortega also oversees the Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center.
As Tribal President, Ortega works with local and state governments and the California Historical Commission on policies to protect and enhance tribal resources and ancestral territory. He was instrumental in negotiating the repatriation of tribal remains in Angeles National Forest and in securing traditional land in LA County for future tribal burials.
He was appointed to CSUN’s Commission on Diversity in 2022 and is integral to the cultural fabric of the university, raising awareness for Native students and Native communities and providing blessings at important university events. Ortega’s leadership is also helping to create partnerships with CSUN’s academic community focused on climate resiliency, internships, non-profit incubators and teacher training,
Yu is an acclaimed television screenwriter and award-winning author of four books, including “Interior Chinatown,” which explores the stereotypes of Asian Americans in Hollywood and in American culture more broadly. “Interior Chinatown” won the 2020 National Book Award for fiction, was shortlisted for the Le Prix Médicis étranger and longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.
He received the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award and was nominated for two Writers Guild of America Awards for his work on the HBO series, Westworld. He has also written for shows on FX, AMC, Facebook Watch, and Adult Swim. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a number of publications including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Wired, Time and Harper’s.
Yu is a graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in molecular and cellular biology and minored in creative writing. He obtained his law degree from Columbia Law School. Yu worked as an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell and Bryan Cave as a corporate attorney, as the director of business affairs at Digital Domain, and as an associate general counsel at Belkin International before becoming a full-time fiction and TV writer.
Together with TaiwaneseAmerican.org, he established the Betty L. Yu and Jin C. Tu Writing prizes in honor of his parents.
As an alumnus and volunteer leader at CSUN, Valera serves on boards of the CSUN Foundation, The Soraya, the David Nazarian College and the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication and served on the Campaign Leadership Committee for the university. He was honored with volunteer service awards from the Alumni Association Journalism Chapter in 2003 and University Advancement in 2005. In 2011, he received the Dorothea “Granny” Heitz Award for Outstanding Volunteer Leadership, and in 2019, he was recognized with the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
Valera and his wife, Debbie, are also longtime supporters of CSUN. Together they have committed more than $11 million for programs across the campus, particularly those that support students who have been part of the foster care system. In 2020, in recognition of the Valeras’ transformative gift, CSUN’s administration building was renamed Valera Hall.
The Valeras’ are also active supporters of K-12 education, and in 2019, the Sun Valley Valera Middle Academy was named in honor of their investment to support the educational success of public-school students in under-resourced communities.