The ritual is a familiar one: caps and gowns, pomp and circumstance, tears and smiles. Scores of cameras click incessantly, capturing this crowning moment when years of hard work are recognized — at last! — with a firm handshake, a deeply-felt “congratulations” and a suitably ornate diploma.
Yes, there will be hard work and challenges ahead, no matter the major, whatever the field. Carefully laid plans get changed, and life is filled with surprises. But whatever is to come, one thing is certain: The accomplishments represented by each one of this year’s USD graduates are already most extraordinary.
Please join us in congratulating all of those whose efforts we celebrate at this time of year, and read on to learn what some stellar representatives of the Class of 2011 — and one up-and-comer from the Class of 2014 — have to say for themselves.
JAYZONA ALBERTO is all about doing the right thing
“Coming into USD, I didn’t think I was going to get involved. I did so much in high school and thought I just wanted to study in college, maybe get a job. But that definitely wasn’t the path that was given to me.
I’m not the kind of person who can sit back and do nothing. Of course, I was at USD for school, but at the same time I wanted to make something of myself here.
At first, I was part of University Ministry and volunteered through my sociology class as a freshman. I raised awareness about healthy lifestyle choices the next year through Campus Connections and was co-chair of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.
And then I found my home in the United Front Multicultural Center. I remember planning multicultural night when we started talking about having a dance for the UF, and now it’s an annual tradition. That was exciting. After that, they actually hired me to be on staff. I took on that position in my junior year and also was director of multicultural programming for Associated Students, so all of my work tied together. That’s when things got really busy.
Looking back, I had some struggles. My parents both went to school in the Philippines and I don’t have brothers or sisters, so the hardest thing for me was to understand how to register for my psychology and leadership classes and what it would take to get into pharmacy school. I didn’t have anyone to show me the way.
I also noticed that a lot of my freshman friends struggled with not having one-on-one attention and they were not feeling connected, especially as underrepresented students. So, I co-founded the Link Peer Mentoring Program within the UF. We paired 44 students with 22 mentors this year, giving the new students someone to turn to who’s already been through it all.
It’s kind of a legacy I’m leaving here at USD.
My parents have taught me a lot about striving for your goals and doing what you know is right. Even so, they thought I was stretching myself too thin. But when I received the Woman of Impact award by USD’s Women’s Center in December, they realized how much of a difference I was making. They were so proud, and that made me want to work harder and to overcome anything.
I spent a lot of time with UF and as vice chair of the Torero Program Board this last year, and I am putting together a scholarship fund for a student who shows a commitment to diversity and inclusion at USD. That’s something I can still be involved with. I don’t think I could leave USD and just not care anymore.
I’ve invested a lot of my time and my efforts here. I’ve learned so much from my advisers, and my friends have said they want to follow in my footsteps. That validation pushes me to be an example that I hope others can follow.
It’s hard to let go, but I know I am leaving USD in good hands. And seeing that I might have made a difference in some people’s lives really gives me closure so I know I can leave and be okay.”
— Jayzona Alberto ’11, BA,
[AS TOLD TO TRISHA J. RATLEDGE]
Above and Beyond
By uncovering the past, DEREK ABBEY has found his future
“Ever since I was old enough to open a book, I’ve really enjoyed learning about history. The timelines of both classic and modern civilizations are filled with so many intriguing stories, and there are so many things that we can learn about ourselves, both as people and as a society, from the exploits of those who have come before us.
As a United States Marine and a veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’m also acutely aware of the toll exacted on soldiers as they fight for the honor of their country in lands far from home, and the countless brave souls who never return.
In World War II alone, roughly 78,000 U.S. soldiers are listed as missing in action (MIA). Many of those MIAs were deployed to what was known as the South West Pacific theatre; a vast expanse of islands and atolls stretching from the Philippines south to Australia. Some of the bloodiest battles of WWII were fought in that area, and the impact can be felt to this day through the stories of the veterans who were there.
Those stories are part of the reason that, over 65 years later, I travel thousands of miles to the remote Palau Islands with an amazing organization committed to recovering American military aircraft shot down by Japanese forces during WWII. Our group is called the BentProp Project, and we’re headed by Dr. Pat Scannon, a man who shares my passion for uncovering the clues that will lead to the whereabouts of the U.S. planes scattered throughout the islands, and, ultimately, the crews who flew them.
Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of strong leadership, and how quickly things can head south if there is none. As a recent graduate of the Master’s in Higher Education Leadership program at USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences, I’ve been lucky enough to work with, and learn from some amazing professors, and they don’t just provide you with theories, they really work with you on incorporating the ideas of leadership into your own life. I know that people like Dr. Reed and Dr. Monroe have really expanded my horizons, but it’s not just the professors; it’s the classes themselves, the interactions with fellow students along with the faculty, that really get me thinking about applying my education to real world situations.
Just this past year, I was named mission leader for the BentProp Project in Palau, and I got the chance to put my SOLES education to good use. The environment in the Palau Islands is demanding to say the least, as the daytime temperature can soar to 120 degrees, and the islands are a mixture of clay, coral and mangrove-strewn beaches that give way to dense tropical foliage as you head inland. It’s tough to navigate at the best of times, but when you’re carrying 50-pound backpacks full of equipment for research, things can get really dicey.
Making sure that everyone in our group communicated and worked together was no small chore, but the knowledge I gained from my time in the SOLES program proved invaluable. I’m really proud of the work that we accomplished on that trip, and all the work that BentProp has done in helping bring lost servicemen home.”
— Derek Abbey ’11, MA,
Higher Education Leadership
[AS TOLD TO MIKE SAUER]
DEEP BEDI is rethinking his approach to life
“I’m not going to lie, when I showed up on campus my freshman year, I thought the place was a bit of a country club. Beautiful buildings. Stunning landscape. Amazing views. The vibe just felt different than anything I had experienced to that point in my life. But, as I’ve learned since, different is good. No, different is great!
Coming from a liberally minded upbringing and a cosmopolitan city like San Francisco, I never in a million years would’ve imagined one of my best friends at USD would be a member of ROTC. But that’s exactly what’s happened, and I’ve learned so much from him in a variety of areas.
That’s the really cool thing about USD; because of how small the campus and the classes are, you really get to know people. My perspectives on life have changed so much, and that shift in thinking has manifested itself in how I approach everything from schoolwork to potential business projects.
My degree is in industrial and systems engineering, which sounds pretty niche-oriented in terms of my career path. But to me, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. I love business, and I’m constantly thinking about new ways to connect the research and problem-solving components of engineering with the innovation and outside-the-box perspective you need to turn a good idea into a successful professional venture.
Right now, I’m developing two websites that I’m really excited about. One is cloudeas.com, and the basic premise is to create an online community for people who have some really great business ideas, and who are looking for feedback and collaboration. In a way, it’s like a Facebook for aspiring entrepreneurs. I like to call it social ideaism.
I’m also working on a site called chargesocial.com, which offers customers the opportunity to invest money from their credit and debit card purchases toward a charity of their choice. Much of the inspiration for this site came from USD’s commitment to social responsibility.
We’ve all heard, ‘Every little bit helps,’ or ‘A little goes a long way,’ but as president of USD’s Student International Business Council, I got the chance to see firsthand just how vital our support can be to those less fortunate.
About a year ago, I took a trip to Sierra Leone in West Africa with some fellow USD students, and we worked with a nonprofit organization called Peace-Links to provide support for aspiring women entrepreneurs in the region. We taught them how to market the Gara, a traditional piece of clothing commonly worn in the country, along with basic business practices like accounting, inventory and marketing. We had women traveling from all over the country just to hear us talk. That’s when it really hit me how what we might deem as a relatively simple and straightforward project could have such a profound impact.
Sometimes I have to laugh when I think back to my first impressions of USD. I never would’ve guessed that a place I kind of wrote off at first glance could’ve made such a huge impact on my life. But I guess it just goes to show that you can never judge a book by its cover.”
— Deep Bedi ’11, BA,
Industrial and Systems Engineering
[AS TOLD TO MIKE SAUER]
Meet uber-nerd SHANNEN CRAVENS
“People have mistaken me for a professor ever since I was a sophomore. A couple months ago I was in the elevator and a freshman asked me if I was accepting any research students into my lab this summer. I laughed and explained, ‘No, no, I’m a senior.’
It’s amusing to me, but I also take it as a compliment. I’ve gotten to know the faculty here really well and I’m around them a lot and I’m always working in the lab, so maybe people just assume. I think that’s really just a tribute to how open this department is.
I took chemistry in high school for the first time and absolutely loved it. I wasn’t deterred by the difficulty of it; I just found it really fascinating. The idea that if you’re staring at a table and you realize it’s not just a table — it’s made up of all these tiny little atoms — I thought that was just really crazy and exciting.
I think coming to USD was probably the best decision I’ve made so far. It came down to USD, USC and UC Santa Barbara. I visited all three schools and met with someone from the chemistry department at each one. USD was my last stop. I met with Dr. Herrinton and he showed me the classrooms, labs and research facilities — and then he told me I could get a research project here my freshman year.
That totally blew me out of the water because it was unlike anything I’d heard anywhere else. The other schools basically said, ‘Wait until you grow up’ and become a graduate student. Honestly, I thought Dr. Herrinton was just making that up, but it convinced me to come here and then I literally got onto a research project my freshman year. So I guess he was telling the truth.
I joined Dr. Tammy Dwyer’s lab in January 2008. I was really interested in trying to understand how drug molecules interact with DNA. So if you have an anti-tumor drug, we know that it binds to DNA, but the question is how does it figure out where to bind? How is the drug actually reading the DNA sequence?
So what we do is take these molecules that look like DNA (but don’t act like DNA necessarily) and we use Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy and put them into a sequence to see if and how a drug binds to it. We analyze the data and make a computer model out of it so we can actually see the 3-D structure of the drug bound to the DNA.
It took about two and a half years to really get the project together and working properly but it resulted in a publication for us — which was fantastic. It never crossed my mind that an undergraduate could publish, let alone write the manuscript. Dr. Dwyer and Dr. Debbie Tahmassebi mentored me through the process and we were published last October in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, ironically enough on Mole Day — a holiday for chemists.
Actually seeing the publication with my name on it and knowing that I was the one who wrote it … that was probably the best experience I’ve had here. Afterwards, the whole lab went to PF Chang’s for dinner to celebrate.
I’m probably the biggest nerd in the building. If you need proof, just check out my American Chemical Society (ACS) special-edition Mastercard with the Periodic Table background. I’m also president of the chemistry club, which recently earned multiple ACS awards. I was lucky enough to be one of two students nationally — and the first USD student — to receive the Gladys Anderson Emerson Scholarship from the Iota Sigma Pi National Honor Society for Women in Chemistry. I’ve also been accepted into the Kappa Gamma Pi and Phi Beta Kappa honor societies. The running joke in the department right now is that I’ll be wearing enough cords at graduation to potentially choke myself.
I’m definitely more confident now than I was as a freshman and I’m more certain of what I want to do in the future. I came here thinking I’d maybe get my master’s and go into industry. Now I’m dead-set on continuing with chemistry, getting my PhD at Johns Hopkins, doing a post-doc and then hopefully becoming a professor.
I love doing research but I also really want to teach and both of those things were facilitated through my experience at USD. I’ve really enjoyed it here — especially my close relationship with the faculty and being involved in research early on — and I’d like to be able to help provide the same kind of experience for my own students some day.”
— Shannen Cravens ’11, BS, Chemistry
[AS TOLD TO NATHAN DINSDALE]
In the Spotlight
CARR CAVENDER is ready for his close-up
“I‘m about to take the biggest step I’ve ever taken in my life. I’m moving to Los Angeles to become an actor. I’m getting an agent and going for it. Reaching this decision wasn’t easy.
Over the past four years, I’ve enjoyed rich academic study abroad courses in India, Jamaica and London. I was a tutor in the Writing Center for five semesters after absorbing what I learned in a mind-blowing class with English Professor Dr. Irene Williams. The trip to India, studying religious diversity, was the hardest trip I’ve ever done — I lost 15 pounds — but it was also one of most important. I learned that in every religion, there are contradictions and people who contradict every religion. I spent five weeks at the Daraja Academy, a young girls’ school in Kenya created by a USD alumnus. I took courses to become Catholic, getting confirmed in Founders Chapel.
But it’s theater that defines me. I was so sure that on the first day of freshman classes I declared it as my major. I was a dancing skeleton, a kalaka, in USD Professor Evelyn Diaz Cruz’s “Muertos” play my first semester. My sophomore year I played Schmendiman in “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” an idiot who comes in and makes people laugh for a few minutes.
When I didn’t get cast in the next play though, I kind of questioned my desire. I didn’t audition for anything in the fall of my junior year. I took a biology course during Intersession, the first time I hadn’t taken a trip anywhere in January. I contemplated just majoring in English, perhaps with a minor in theater arts, or adding sociology as a major.
What kept me on course was a slight change of scenery. I was asked to do a bit part as a door boy for a MFA program play. I had maybe eight lines, but it didn’t matter. It really showed me where I was at — and where I wanted to be.
I came back and auditioned for the fall undergraduate production of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Based on two characters in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” it was a play where the main characters are on stage the whole time. I got the part of Guildenstern. I was so happy.
I came back my senior year and because I’d racked up so many units, I learned I could graduate early. The Guildenstern role changed that. I took three classes and focused on the role. After a January trip to New Zealand, I auditioned for this spring’s “The Mail Order Bride,” and landed another solid role.
I think that to be a good actor, you need to have a good understanding of yourself, where you’re coming from, who you are. The reason I love acting, the reason I love theater and why I’ve stayed in it the whole time is that it ties so closely with the journey that is this life. You’re always trying to figure out, ‘Who am I? What makes me work the way that I do? Why are things this way?’
Theater arts always answered those questions for me.”
— Carr Cavender ’11, BA/BA
[AS TOLD TO RYAN T. BLYSTONE]
It was meant to be
For AKEMI MARTIN, nursing is about flexibility
“Growing up, I always kind of had that California dream, that maybe one day I would move to California. After I finished my master’s in biomedical sciences in New Jersey, I was, like, ‘Why not now?’ So I packed two suitcases, got a summer sublet and I moved to San Diego. I took a risk and it paid off.
I feel like if this is all that there is — this is your life and your one chance — I don’t want to get to the end of my life and be like, ‘I wish, I wish, I wish I would have done this or that.’ But my parents have always pushed me to be outgoing, and they’ve always exposed me to a lot of different things. They’ve always trusted me to make my own decisions.
I came to campus, and obviously aesthetically it was gorgeous. You see people lying on the grass, and it really looks like a movie. I went to an open house for the nursing program, and I met the former director of our program, Dr. Anita Hunter, and I was sold. I threw out my other applications and I only applied to USD. I said, ‘This is where I want to be’ — just the feeling I got being inside the School of Nursing, the faculty and the administration that I met. It was just an amazing experience, and I was like, ‘OK, that’s it. If I could move here and take that risk, then I’m going to take this risk and only apply there and if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.’ And I guess it was.
It’s been really great. I’ve felt an enormous amount of support, and the faculty really want you to succeed. They really want you to get out of your head. They don’t want you to worry so much about grades. They want you to focus on the entire learning process of really digging in and jumping in and feeling comfortable in the hospital. I’ve felt the support from all levels and I think that’s part of the reason why everyone comes out really successful in this program.
The number-one thing they’ve taught us is to be flexible in nursing, so we’ve learned how to bend.
I’m part of the board of the Graduate Nursing Students Association. We try to plan community service and educational workshops, but we also try to do social events. There are opportunities to have fun, which I think you need. I need to have balance. I definitely have developed a really close group of girlfriends in my class, and we go out and go dancing or go watch the sunset and get out of our ‘nursing brains’ and just remember to breathe and have a good time. I’ve definitely made some lifelong friends.
I’m really looking forward to the next chapter in my life and also to exploring the other avenues in my life that have been put on the back burner during nursing school.”
— Akemi Martin ’11,
Master’s Entry Program in Nursing
[AS TOLD TO KELLY KNUFKEN]