The 2023 CSUN Distinguished Alumni Awards was held on Saturday, Oct. 21, and brought together alumni, faculty, staff, students and supporters for a memorable evening showcasing the accomplishments and enduring spirit of three alumni: Wendy ’87 (Radio/TV Production) and David ’86 (Theatre) Knoller and Fred Rivera ’90 (History).
A successful entertainment industry couple, Wendy and David Knoller shaped award-winning and beloved television and premium cable series such as “Friends,” “Carnivale” and “Big Love” (HBO) and most recently, “The Changeling” (Apple TV+). Together, they run Knollwood Productions. As the Executive Vice President and General Counsel for the Seattle Mariners, Fred Rivera has successfully paired a stellar legal career with his love for baseball. In addition to the remarkable achievements in their respective industries, this year’s honorees have also been instrumental in making an impact in their communities. David Knoller sits on the board of The Scleroderma Research Foundation and Fred Rivera has leadership positions with United Way of King County and ArtsFund among others.
Felicia Conlan (MS ’09; EdD ’17), Alumni Association President, welcomed the close to 400 attendees to the awards ceremony and emphasized the importance of CSUN’s reputation, resources and relationships, praising the Alumni Association for elevating “CSUN’s distinction and reputation, strengthening partnerships and relationships and securing philanthropic resources… all in support of our students and university programs.” CSUN President Erika D. Beck, also commended the work of the Alumni Association and stressed the role of a “very special trifecta of Matadors – students, alumni and faculty” as they “changed the world for the better.”
Each of the honorees spoke about the influence of CSUN on their lives and career paths: Wendy Knoller credited her successful career to what she referred to as the “little black book … a substantial three-ring binder tucked away in the basement of the Oviatt Library,” which provided her with opportunities to find internships that helped kickstart her career. “My experiences at CSUN were the roots of my career, and they set the stage for everything that followed,” she said. David Knoller, who started his CSUN tenure at the CSUN Teenage Drama Workshop while still in high school, praised the CSUN theatre department for teaching him, “the art of collaboration — balancing leadership, understanding when to lead and when to listen.”
Fred Rivera thanked the Alumni Association for the award, saying that the true value of the recognition rested with, “the institutions and people who believed in me, taught me, nurtured me, and made me the person I am today.” He acknowledged and credited CSUN with giving him “more than just an education,” and teaching him valuable lessons about community, responsibility and opportunities. “I became an ‘adult’ at CSUN—I learned how to think critically and develop the tools necessary to do my part to make a difference in the world,” he said.
This year, the Awards also featured the CSUN mission of excellence in education by highlighting the exemplary work of our faculty and students. Dean Yan Searcy (College of Social and Behavioral Sciences) praised faculty speaker Professor Allen Lipscomb (Department of Social Work) as “one of the rare people who embody all things in his own life, vision and mission and is grounded in service.” During his remarks, Dr. Lipscomb expressed his “deep appreciation and gratitude for teaching at CSUN in the graduate social work program, mentoring male students of color, and conducting research on Black male traumatic grief and healing.” He also emphasized the importance of empowering “individuals to create positive change in their own lives and the lives of others … breaking down barriers and dismantling systemic inequalities … and making the world a better place, one student, one mentorship, and one research inquiry at a time.”
Graduate student Sandra Illescas ’23 (Cellular and Molecular Biology), the 2023 recipient of the Alumni Association’s Cindy and Dan Chernow Graduate Scholarship, is currently working towards her master’s degree in biology at CSUN. A single mother of Mexican and Native American descent, she plans to start a career in teaching to achieve her dream of bridging the gaps in education for underserved students. As a representative of CSUN’s diverse and dedicated student body, Sandra credited CSUN with providing her, “with motivation, profound understanding, exceptional support and the essential resources that have been instrumental” in achieving her goals. Her heartfelt remarks were acknowledged by the audience with a standing ovation.
Wendy and David Knoller and Fred Rivera join close to 80 past honorees as CSUN Distinguished Alumni.