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CHHS 2020 Graduate Spotlights

When we asked graduating seniors why they choose to pursue a career in the health and human services, their answers all had one thing in common. CHHS students have a desire to give back to their community. 

While all CHHS 2020 graduates are worth celebrating, here are a few 2020 graduates whose stories stand out because of their courage to overcome challenges, follow their dreams, and have a positive impact on the lives of others. 

crystal altamirano working in a lab.

Larisa Simmons, Health Care Administration 2020 Grad

Rockstar graduate Larisa Simmons, B.S. in Healthcare Administration, wore many hats during her time at CSULB. Along with her participation in clubs and organizations on campus, she also interned at the Kaiser Permanente of Downey as a Patient Care experience intern, where she has learned invaluable skills that have prepared her for the workforce. 

“I knew my place was in healthcare, just not the clinical side. As an intern, I assisted in video coaching employees to help improve their care delivery by acting like a difficult patient on camera, and that made me realize that I have a love for helping people. I hope to be part of that change in healthcare that allows for more people to have affordable access to quality care, and to have staff they can count on." Check out the awesome video she made about her CSULB experience. 

Josh Haber in front of building

Josh Haber, Community Health Education 2020

When the pandemic hit, Josh Haber, Community Health Education major, had to freeze services on PeriDeals​, a mobile app he created with other CSULB students to combat student food security and support an affordable, balanced diet. At first, he completely lost momentum. But he bounced back by channeling his energy on what he could control. He polished his business plan and pitch deck. As a result of this effort, his team won $15,000 in seed funding and $35,000 in-kind services from the Sunstone Innovation Challenge at CSULB. They now have all the resources they need to move forward with the app and their mission to raise the bar on basic needs in higher education.

We asked Josh, what was the most important thing you learned during your time at CSULB. He told us,  “My time at CSULB really taught me that life is less about what happens to you and more about how you react to it. It's incredibly empowering to recognize what you have control over and to disregard everything else.”

Celeste Gonzalez jumping in front of the Pyramid

Celeste Gonzalez, Speech-Language Pathology 2020 Grad

Celeste Gonzalez chose Speech-Language Pathology because she wants to help people communicate in ways that go beyond verbal communication.

“Communication is a huge key in creating relationships and everyone deserves a chance to create a relationship, even if their verbal output isn’t the same as someone else’s.” 

Group of Special Olympics athletes sitting for portrait.

Kitanna Somera, Recreation & Leisure Studies 2020 Grad

During her freshman year of college, Kitanna Somera, Recreation & Leisure Studies graduate, created a roller-skating club, Cal State Rollers, to connect roller skaters at CSULB. With her passion and talent for bringing people together, Kitanna’s goal is to become an event planner for largescale events. Because of the pandemic, she knows that she might have to wait a while to make her dream a reality. In the meanwhile, she is continuing to meet new people and gain experience in car culture, another passion of hers.

“I’m proud to be the first in my family to graduate from a university and I want to keep making my parents proud,” Kitanna says.

As Kitanna looks forward to new beginnings as a CSULB grad, the Cal State Rollers will keep rolling, thanks to her efforts. 

CHHS student

Matt Marquez,  Nursing 2020 Grad

Matt Marquez, BSN Graduate, spent five years sacrificing nights out with friends and dealing with lots of stress and a rollercoaster of emotions to get where he is now. Nursing school challenged him on many different levels, but he was able to succeed because of the friendships he made on the first day of his program. 

His passion for nursing started off with the goal of becoming a doctor, but as he grew older and gained exposure to healthcare, he fell in love with nursing. “What I fell in love with is the patient care experience nurses provide. They’re the ones giving all the medications, carrying out all the orders, using their critical thinking and clinical judgment, and honestly just really taking care of people,” Matt says.

As far as his career plans, his next step is to take the NCLEX-RN, the state board exam, to obtain his license as a registered nurse. After that, his goal is to start working as a RN in the Intensive Care Unit to care for the most critical patients in the hospital.


Mercy Fuentes sitting on bed

Mercy Fuentas,  Fashion Design 2020 Grad

Mercy Fuentes started the Fashion Design program at CSULB with a heart set on Hollywood. "I got into Fashion Design because of my love of movies! Ever since I was a little girl I wondered how superheroes have awesome costumes. I would love to work in the film industry." After graduation, she hopes to fulfill her dream of costume designing through internships for major film companies and connecting with professionals in the industry. 

Alexandra Herrera on campus

Alexandra Herrara,  Kinesiology, Sports Psychology Grad 2020

Alexandra Herrera chose Sports Psychology because she was a collegiate athlete who struggled both physically and mentally.

“I didn’t like it anymore and I stopped. I want to help athletes like myself and give them an opportunity to save their athletic journey in a healthy way. Not only showing these athletes the right techniques to increase their performance in their sport but using these techniques to help them outside their sport as well.”

She has channeled her personal struggles into a way to help other athletes, on and off the filed. 

Ronisha Nicole on campus

Ronisha Nicole,  Master of Social Work 2020

Ronisha Nicole, MSW, chose the field of social work because of her strong desire to help those who are vulnerable and at a disadvantage. "Social Work is often driven by passion, and I am passionate about helping those in need," Ronisha said. 

With passion and drive, she completed her MSW in one year. "I wouldn’t have expected my Graduate school journey to end this way. However, I am so incredibly proud of myself." Congratulations, Ronisha! 

Ronisha Nicole on campus

Rachel Thomson,  Doctor of Physical Therapy 

Rachel Thomson made her mark at CSULB with her many academic achievements, student leadership, and the colorful, mix-matched outfits she wore at the Rec. center. In 2016 she received her B.S. in Kinesiology- Exercise Science and in 2020 she received her Doctorate in Physical Therapy. She also received the Graduate Student Honors Award for the Department of Physical Therapy. 

During her doctorate program, she advocated for students as the Class of 2020 President of the Physical Therapy Department, treat patients in her neuro clinic class, and performed with Fairytale Physical Therapy - a program she helped bring to CSULB that brings Disney films to life in children’s hospitals.

When Dr. Thomson was a child, she broke a lot of bones and was fascinated by her X-rays and injuries. After she had spinal fusion surgery at 16, she knew physical therapy was her calling. Her speedy recovery—thanks to physical therapy— inspired her to pursue a career helping others get up and moving. 

Dr. Thomson will be working as a Physical Therapist in Orange County doing Neurological Physical Therapy, Vestibular Rehab, and Hand Therapy. She's currently pursuing a Certified Hand Therapist Certificate as well.

"I cannot wait to help my future patients hold the world in their hands again," said Dr. Thomson.