Student Success Stories Archive

Student Success: Suzan Al Shammari

Suzan Al Shammari’s first introduction to a working environment in communication was through a social media position for Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia during her freshman year. She recalls being very persistent with following up on her application, saying, “Every week, every two weeks, I would check in and I would email and eventually the mayor was just like, ‘Bring her in. She’s not gonna stop emailing until we bring her in!’” While her persistence got her the interview, she credits her Communication Studies skills for getting her the job, saying, “I used the skills that I learned in school of how to interview, how to be charismatic, how to ask questions to your employer, and how to really show them that you are the best candidate for that job.” Since then, she has utilized her professional and interpersonal skills to work in the political sphere. By the end of 2019, she was invited to direct the Bloomberg Presidential Campaign in Orange County.

Majoring in Communication Studies gave her a practical skillset and a better understanding of herself. Suzan had struggled with her cultural identity since she was born in Iraq, lived in Egypt, then moved to the United States. After taking an Intercultural Communication class with Dr. Jessica Abrams, Suzan learned to shift her perspective, saying, “For somebody to really teach me to embrace who I am, embrace my identity, embrace the kind of confusion—even the small confusion that comes with identity when you grow up in different cultures—That’s something she was teaching me to embrace and celebrate.” This important lesson, along with the pride and confidence it inspires, stays with her to this day.

Like many CLA major students, Suzan dealt with her fair share of doubts about the utility of her degree in the workforce. In response to those doubts, she would tell people, “Everything that you see right now, all that facilitation—whether it’s in politics, government, or even day-to-day life—has an aspect of communication and strategy to it,’” emphasizing that a wide variety of jobs require strong oral and written skills that come from an education in Liberal Arts. If she didn’t choose to work in government and politics, she would still have many other paths for her to choose from, thanks to the flexibility that comes with her degree. While these times are difficult for everyone, Suzan keeps a positive mindset by leaning on her accomplishments, saying, “What’s helping me now [during COVID-19] is trying to be positive and thinking, well, I’ve completed my education, I have two degrees, I have a good work resume, and I’m able to do something I love.”

As for her final words of advice, Suzan says, “As candid as I can be, I would say, ‘Be a badass at what you do!’” What we can take from her statement is that we should strive for the lives we authentically want to lead with a sense of passion, dedication, and focus.

For more of our interview with Suzan Al Shammari, please click here.

Student Success: The Bateman Team

Student Success Story – Bateman Team
By Taylor Thorne

The Bateman Case Study is a PRSSA premier national competition where teams of public relations students are given the opportunity to apply skills and knowledge learned in the classroom, to create and implement them for real life clients. With 2019’s competition theme “Diversity Voices: Profiles in Leadership,” teams were challenged to formulate and carry out a campaign focused on the promotion of racial and ethnic diversity within public relations and communications. PRSSA-LB earned first place with their “Diversity LB” campaign. Raising awareness about the diverse voices lacking in the communications field, PRSSA-LB pushed a social media campaign, created a mentorship program, hosted networking events, and produced an e-book compiled of stories of students sharing their experiences with diversity.

Public Relation Lecturer, Krista Coriaty, had the pleasure of being this year’s co-mentor, observed the duality and legacy this initiative had on the team as well as the PRSSA-LB chapter. “While we accomplished so much during a short period, one of the highlights of their campaign was the creation of a diversity and inclusion officer on the PRSSA Long Beach executive board, which will help ensure the campaign’s programs, will be carried to future students.” In continuation,  Ann Milo Shanahan, Professional Advisor, and second co-mentor recognizes the impact of creating success outside the classroom, “College is a truly significant chapter in our lives, and fulfilling a set of degree requirements is only a small part of how it shapes our future. Successful students see beyond the horizon and seek out enriching experiences for themselves.”

Winning first place did not come without issues, as recent graduate Britny Coker-Moen explains: “Finding the time to work all of our schedules together and to fit Bateman responsibilities into our busy schedules was one of the biggest obstacles we faced. Personally, I was taking a full load of classes, had an internship and a part time job, in addition to balancing my social and home life with school. All of us had very busy schedules and were met with difficulty, but we managed to make it work in the long run.” In addition, some faced internal challenges. Team member, Louis Lopez confides his struggle with mental illness: “one of my challenges was my agoraphobia. Leaving my home is always a challenge, some days are more difficult than others.”

Through their trials and tribulations, each team member ambitiously created time, space, and resources to bring “DiversityLB” into fruition. Each noted that the familial bond that emerged from working together made the process of sharing ideas and thoughts easier. Samantha Storrey explained: “We were this group of totally random people and now everyone feels like family to me. It means being able to work with others, challenge yourself and be creative.” This, in conjunction with a strong support system of peers, educators, plus readily available resources, created an eco-system for the Bateman Team to thrive.

When asked what does the future hold, each student has goals that reach beyond school, from working for The Walt Disney Company to teaching English in Japan. But it is well worth noting that each have the determination to reach their version of success. As Lopez states, “Success isn’t available to those who are smart and gifted, or those who are rich, it what you are determined to do.”

Student Success: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Student Success in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
By Caroline Serrano and Taylor Thorne

This past spring break, Bonnie Gasior and students in her “Urban Poverty: Problems and Prescriptions” class set out to do community service in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Here, Dr. Gasior’s students had the opportunity to apply theories they learned in class to the experiences they had while serving the Pittsburgh community. Gasior states, “Service-learning is only as good at the conversations you have before, during, and after you do it. Deliberate learning and reflection are key.”

One conversation the students had during their service learning was with Chaz, the Alternative Spring Break coordinator for the University of Pittsburgh. Christopher Ortiz, one of the students on the trip, declares, “Chaz emphasized that we are not going into communities to tell them what needs to be fixed and fixing the problem; instead, we are going into communities to figure out what they feel are their needs and working with them to find solutions. I learned how to let the voiceless have their own voice.”

Mackenzie Alvarez touched on this topic as well. She suggests, “When helping others, I will remember that my efforts are not to change their current situation but to be of assistance to help them however they need me to.” Realizing the importance of community members’ voices in addressing their problems is integral to the success of the service being done in their community.

Informed by these discussions, Gasior’s students volunteered each day with various organizations. They were able to participate in house rehabilitation at Open Hand Ministries, cultivate fresh produce at Garfield Community Farm, and provide positive affirmation to prison inmates through Free Minds Poetry. David Reyna, one of the volunteers, states, “If every day we were to spend just a little time working with, thinking about, and helping our communities grow, I truly believe we could make the world a better place. Big change starts small.”

The ASB trip has also influenced how these students view their experiences as CSULB students. Sophie Morrison notes, “Your college experience is what you make of it - you have to seek opportunities. The Alternative Spring Break program is a good way to meet like-minded people and to build relationships and bonds that can be hard to come by at a commuter school.”

Conclusively, the Alternative Spring Break trip to Pittsburgh gave new insight to the theories these students had been learning in class and how to apply them in real world scenarios. Their experiences here will continue to inform both their personal and professional decisions as they finish their degree and transform into young professionals. As Sophie Morrison states, “My experiences have been a continuation of what I had been learning in my classes and reaffirmed my career goals in politics.”

Some have even been inspired to continue making a difference in Long Beach. Dante Jaramillo affirms, “The challenges and struggles of Pittsburgh are unique, but are not too different to issues faced in areas of our local community.” Laura Bietman states, “Complacency or acceptance of the systemic failures is no longer acceptable, and I am dedicated to educating myself and working intentionally within communities of need.”

The work that has been done in the Pittsburgh community not only provided for the people within that community, but for Bonnie Gasior and her students as well. Dr. Gasior comments, “What better way for a professor to give back than through his/her students, who, at the same time, are forever changed as a result of their own initiative!” A huge thanks goes out to Bonnie Gasior, her students, and the organizations they partnered with in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Like David Reyna said, big change starts small - and these students have all sparked big change. Go Beach!

Student Success: Olivia Silke

Student Success in Psychological Research
By Caroline Serrano

What is student success?

Is it defined by your GPA? No.
The amount of years it took to obtain your degree? No.
The number of chords and medallions you get to wear at graduation? No – no longer will student success be defined in these limited, outdated terms.

Student success: (n) resilience; one’s ability to keep going even when there are barriers and let downs along the way – at least that is how Olivia Silke defines it.

Olivia SilkeOlivia Silke has much to be proud of as a 2019 graduate with a Master of Arts in Psychological Research (MAPR). During her time at CSULB, Olivia has further strengthened her passion for research in the field of maternal and infant health among disadvantaged populations. She hopes to study “how maternal experiences (e.g., stress) during pregnancy contribute to disease risk and resilience and cellular aging in infants.”

While at CSULB, Olivia has been a recipient of the Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholar Award, the Graduate Research Fellows Award, and the University Achievement Award for Outstanding Graduate Research Student. In addition to these accolades, Olivia recently earned the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship. This award totals $138,000 and will help supplement her income as she focuses on her research for the next three years.

Olivia attributes many factors to her success as a student. “First, my passion for the work I am doing allowed me to push through, even when times were stressful or difficult,” Olivia exclaims. Here, she notes how her passion positively influenced her ability to be resilient throughout her journey as a student. 

Olivia was also proactive in her approach to learning and sought out ways to foster growth in her areas of interest. As noted by Olivia, “I wanted to learn more about mindfulness-based interventions, so, I emailed a top researcher nearby and asked if I could volunteer to work in his lab. This allowed me to expand upon my scientific proficiencies and form a network of professionals who could mentor me.”

Olivia also gives credit to CSULB in her development as a successful student. She specifically points to the MAPR program, which provided her with opportunities to present her research beside top researchers in her field. Professors within the MAPR also significantly influenced her experience as a graduate student. Olivia states, “My mentor Dr. Urizar allowed me to pursue research topics that were of interest to me and met with me regularly to develop my ideas. Dr. Cho and Dr. Pedersen in the psychology department were also a great resource for learning graduate level statistics.”

While a huge contributor, the MAPR program was not the only resource CSULB was able to offer. Olivia notes, “Outside of the department, I took advantage of opportunities at the Graduate Resource Center, such as writing help, CV development, and workshops for professional development. Altogether, the opportunities at CSULB were crucial in developing my skills as a student researcher.”

Moving forward, Olivia hopes to apply everything she has learned to her future endeavors. As for her ultimate career goal, Olivia looks forward to earning her PhD and securing a career as a faculty researcher at an R1 university. She asserts, “I hope my research will contribute to the development of tailored and feasible prenatal stress management interventions for low-income women and inform the scientific community of the biological implications of mindfulness-based constructs during pregnancy.”

We are all resilient in one way or another. Now, we must ask ourselves – how do I promote resiliency in my daily life? How does this contribute to my success? Moving forward, remember to be flexible while standing firm in your passions – resilience is key to triumph.

Student Success: Kathryn Pirtle

Student Success at Rancho Los Alamitos
By Caroline Serrano

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it.” – Maya Angelou

Ambyr and KathrynWhenever Kathryn Pirtle—CSULB Anthropology major and American Indian Studies minor—feels as though she has lost direction in life, she reminds herself of this quote. Kathryn believes that quantifying success through your GPA or how much money you earn can be harmful. Instead, she suggests, “I think what defines success is having the courage to open yourself up to growth—which is far easier said than done… Even if you take a wrong turn or make mistakes, I think as long as you’re learning and growing, you’re on the right path.” Kathryn exemplifies this ideology in her own life. Recently, she was awarded with the Cottonwood Scholarship at Rancho Los Alamitos and will be taking on projects to help improve the Rancho.

The Cottonwood Scholarship was created in 2016, when Rancho Los Alamitos partnered with California State University, Long Beach in order to create the Cottonwood Scholars Program. Ambyr Hardy—Volunteer Coordinator at Rancho Los Alamitos and CSULB alumnus—states, “This relationship allows us to create mutually beneficial projects with CSULB students, during which they provide valuable services to the Rancho, such as taking on research or other meaningful projects, and in return, the interns receive real-world training in their discipline.”

Ambyr emphasizes just how important it is to get hands-on experience in today’s world. Many students, especially those earning a Liberal Arts degree, may wonder how to obtain meaningful employment on their desired career path. An internship, Ambyr believes, can make all the difference. She states, “When a student gets an opportunity to work as an intern, they are bolstering their resume, their transcripts, and their life-experience. In short, being awarded and completing an internship makes a college student a better candidate for all jobs and more likely to work in their field.”

While Kathryn hasn’t begun her work at the Rancho yet, she has a few ideas of what she will be focusing on. First, she will be working on the centennial celebration of Women’s Suffrage and voting rights—which will be taking place in August 2020. She states, “Reading through archives of the personal journals of the women that were raised and lived on the Rancho has been a fascinating, intimate glimpse into their daily lives in the late 1800s – early 1900s, and I can’t wait to see the project come together next year.”

She also wants to address the Native history that resides in Long Beach—specifically CSULB and the Rancho, which are built on Puvungna, a sacred site of the Tongva Nation. When asked about this project, Kathryn states, “It’s not [Rancho Los Alamitos’s] place to tell Native stories, but rather to create the opportunity and space for Tongva members to have active leadership roles in telling their own history and preserving Puvungna. While [Rancho Los Alamitos] openly includes its Native history, we are brainstorming on projects that will actually connect the local Tongva community to the Rancho in bridging this gap.”

As for the future, Kathryn looks forward to continual growth and learning while living by Maya Angelou’s quote, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it.”

Student Success: Zara Raheem

Student Success Story – Zara Raheem

By Taylor Thorne

MFA student Zara Raheem love for creative writing has shone through in profound and meaningful way. Her writings can be found in various publications such as the Huffington Post. Although, she has achieved many successes with her career, this year has brought on new challenges from release of her first novel, The Marriage Clock. Respected as a funny and light-hearted book about love, family, and friendship. This novel has not only been an accumulation of hard work and support, but also an extension of her heritage.

While receiving high praise for her achievements as a writer, Zara admits her struggles of finding her way to the craft. “Growing up, there weren’t many South Asian-American writers out there, so I just assumed that writing was not meant for someone like me. Though I enjoyed writing, this lack of representation led me to doubt my abilities and question whether the stories I wrote were even worth telling.” Even with the absence of representation, Zara still felt an innate pull to write. She continues, “However, as an adult, I felt compelled to challenge this belief: hence, receiving my MFA (and eventually getting a book deal) has given me renewed confidence and a sense of validation that writing is the avenue I am meant to pursue.”

While ambition and drive gave encouragement to persist with writing, she also dedicates her successes to a strong support system. From professors, peers, colleagues, and family members, she notes their support provided motivation for her to keep pushing forward. While receiving accolades such as the James Murashe Jr. Memorial award in addition to being selected for the 2019’s Harriet Williams Emerging Writers, she doesn’t define her success solely on GPA or these accolades. “It’s more about personal development and achieving a growth mindset. If I am able to accomplish my goals through integrity, hard works, and through a process that expands my knowledge and enables me to grow as an individual, I consider that to be much more meaningful.”

Furthermore, Raheem also notes the role of the school in her success. Going beyond the class room, she shares, “CSULB has afforded me countless opportunities as an emerging writer-from teaching and mentorship opportunities, to attending literary festivals, to reading at open mics and participating in workshops led by renowned writer like Aracelis Girmay and Cherrie Moraga. All of these experiences have not only developed my skills as a writer, but they have taught me what it means to live a “writerly” life.” In all, Zara Raheem works as an inspiration for those pursing their dreams, no matter the adversity. As of now, she continues to write and teach creative writing and English classes, giving back and serving those just as she was helped.

Student Success: The Rodriguez Sisters

Pregnant and Parenting Student Success: The Rodriguez Sisters

By Caroline Serrano

Imagine a typical day for an undergraduate student. You—like most people—probably imagine a day full of class, friends, part time job or internship, and homework. Non-traditional students such as those who have children are often not considered. A typical school day for young mom and Communication Studies graduate, Julianna Rodriguez, consisted of much more.

After Julianna would wake up in the morning, she’d get herself and her son ready for the day. She’d then drop him off at his grandma’s house and rush back to CSULB to make it to her morning classes on time. When she was done with class for the day, she would pick up her son, cook dinner for them both, clean, play with her son, and then put him to bed. It was only after he fell asleep for the night that she could start focusing on homework and studying.

But she didn’t face this feat alone. Her older sister, Karla M. Rodriguez, was also a young mom on campus. Karla declares, “My sister and I almost lived the same life. We both are young parents, we both graduated with a Communication Studies degree and we both transferred [to CSULB] from Golden West College. Our experiences were almost unreal.”

Both Karla and Julianna also helped pave new paths for the community of parenting students on campus. Karla, who was the ASI Pregnant and Parenting Students Commissioner at the time Julianna was pregnant, was able to help her find and utilize the various resources on campus. With Julianna’s newfound knowledge of this diverse community, she was able to fund and spearhead the first Pregnant and Parenting Students Club at CSULB.

Despite their success, they faced dismal odds. Julianna states, “As a young parent, my chances of going back to school were slim and of those, the odds of graduating were even smaller.” In the United States, about 26% of undergraduate students double as parents—that’s about 4.8 million parenting students (Gault, Cruse, Reynolds, & Froehner, 2014). Of those, less than 1 out of 10 will complete a bachelor’s degree within six years according to Pregnant on Campus, an Initiative by Students for Life of America.

So, what helped Karla and Julianna achieve student success? Karla suggests that students should utilize all of the resources that CSULB has to offer. She asserts, “To me, student success was not being afraid to reach out to professionals working in departments I was interested in as well as seeking advice from professors who might know people working in the industry that I wanted to go in.”

Similarly, Julianna believes that students can be successful by learning more about themselves and growing into their passions. She states, “To me, student success meant that I was able to find a major that I am really interested in and graduate despite not fitting the traditional student criteria.”

Since graduating in May, their journey continues on similar paths. They are both continuing with their professional careers at Sony Pictures Entertainment—Karla as a Trainee in the finance department and Julianna as a National Publicity and Marketing Intern. In addition to this, Karla also works at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences where she focuses mainly on writing, directing, and producing. Karla proclaims, “Who knows, maybe soon I’ll write about my college experience and pitch it to a network to showcase the adversity, struggle, and determination of parenting students.” To the Rodriguez sisters, I say keep on achieving, and go beach!