Making Waves: June 2024

Published June 14, 2024

Making Waves is a monthly column that celebrates accomplishments of the CSULB community.

Employee of the Month: Project Supervisor Hanh Tran

May Employee of the Month Hanh Tran
Hanh Tran

Hanh Tran, CSULB’s facilities project supervisor and May’s Employee of the Month, may work largely behind the scenes — but he still manages to save the day again and again. Since 2008, Tran has kept the air conditioners whirring, the water running and the kitchens cooking throughout campus housing — all functions that are often taken for granted until they become emergencies. It’s not uncommon for Tran to work “long hours into the night and weekends” responding to urgent calls for service, said David Scott, associate director of Housing Facilities. “Mr. Tran has gone above and beyond to ensure our residents have the best experience while living on campus. Hanh's dedication to our residents is extraordinary and deserves recognition.” Tran has been rising through the ranks since the start of his career more than 30 years ago when he worked as a part-time laborer at the University of California, Irvine.

Professor elected fellow to advance science  

Headshot of Professor Judy Brusslan
Judy Brusslan

CSULB Biological Sciences Professor Judy Brusslan has been elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She is the only CSU faculty member this year to receive the honor, which recognizes her exceptional contributions to plant molecular genetics — particularly her research on leaf senescence in Arabidopsis. Brusslan also leads the National Institutes of Health-funded Bridges to the Doctorate program, supporting underrepresented graduate students transitioning to Ph.D. programs in biomedical research. "It is super validating to be recognized for all those hours of working with and encouraging students in the lab to do their best work and generate meaningful data," Brusslan said. The AAAS’ mission is to advance science and innovation globally. Fellows are elected based on distinguished efforts advancing science or its applications. 

Shark Lab tech Zach Merson wins Grad Slam 2024  

Shark Lab Field Technician and grad student Zach Merson with the jawbone of a shark
Zach Merson

Shark Lab Field Technician Zach Merson, a graduate student in the Biological Sciences Department, secured a second-place win in the CSU-Wide Grad Slam 2024 with his presentation, "Pancake Breakfast: Juvenile White Sharks Impact Sting Rays at Aggregation Sites." Hosted on the CSULB campus this year, the prestigious competition involved students from 22 CSU campuses and came with a $1,000 prize. In addition to Grad-Slamming, Merson is researching innovative ways to study shark behavior and their interactions with humans using DNA. Following a recent shark bite incident in Del Mar, Merson and his team made the news when they collected DNA samples from the victim's wetsuit and the surrounding waters to see if they could help identify the shark. Grad Slam is an annual event that aims to make complex topics accessible to non-specialist audiences. 

Three softball players receive academic honors    

Jacquelyn Bickar, Sophia Fernandez and Carly Robbins pose in their uniforms
The three award-winners in uniform.

Long Beach State softball players Jacquelyn Bickar, Sophia Fernandez and Carly Robbins have received Academic All-District awards by Collegiate Sports Communicators for their outstanding achievements in both academics and athletics. It was the second consecutive win for Fernandez, a pitcher who graduated from CSULB in May with a degree in health science. She excelled this season with an 11-5 record and a 1.73 ERA over 113 innings. Infielder Carly Robbins also repeated as an Academic All-District honoree. She started all 54 games, contributing 23 RBIs, and graduated in May with a degree in Health Care Administration. Third-year health care administration major Jacquelyn Bickar, a first-time honoree, started all but two games, batting .275 and leading the team with 12 stolen bases. All three athletes maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.50 or higher and now advance to the CSC Academic All-American ballot.  

Eight librarians tapped to give DEI-related presentations 

From left: Librarians Sarah Corona, Tracy Gilmore, Nicollette Brant, Tiffini Travis, Michelle DeMars, Alexis Pavenick and Norah DeBellis
From left: Librarians Sarah Corona, Tracy Gilmore, Nicollette Brant, Tiffini Travis, Michelle DeMars, Alexis Pavenick and Norah DeBellis

At a time when Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is under assault in schools and communities throughout the country, eight CSULB librarians are promoting the vital importance of such initiatives with a trio of posters they’ll present at this year’s American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference. All eight librarians — more than half the staff — are believed to be setting a library record. The first poster, presented by Michelle M. DeMars, demonstrates how the library’s interactive graffiti pillars contribute to a sense of community among The Beach’s diverse student body. The second — presented by Sarah Corona, Nicollette Brant, Tracy Gilmore, Tiffini Travis — examines trends in racial discourse, leadership responses and DEI programs in academic libraries. The third, showcasing the development of a comprehensive, free Canvas course that promotes equitable education, among other things, will be presented by Nicollette Brant, Michelle M. DeMars, Norah DeBellis, Cathy Outten and Alexis L. Pavenick. The conference will be held June 27 to July 2. 

Alumna pens YA novel exploring love and loss 

Author and alum Trisha Larson Harmon
Trisha Larson Harmon

Trisha Larson Harmon ‘02 has published her debut Young Adult novel, "Somewhere Between Dandelions." Written in a blend of genres, the novel follows high school senior Claire Goodnight, who can see the ghost of her almost-boyfriend, Finn. As Claire navigates first love, loss, grief, alcoholism, forgiveness and healing, Harmon's writing weaves a tale that is both heart-wrenching and hopeful. Praised for its realistic characters and compelling narrative, the novel explores unexpected connections between Claire’s family and Finn’s. The book is available as a paperback, ebook or audiobook. Originally from Redlands, Harmon holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from CSULB. She is the founder of Possibility Publishing and lives in Los Alamitos with her children. 

Dancer, allergy activist competes for Miss California 

Cal State dancer Topanga Scherf is crowned and Miss Culver City 2024
Topanga Scherf

Topanga Scherf, a third-year dance major who was named Miss Culver City 2024, is competing in this week's Miss California pageant for the second year in a row. Scherf, who represented Fountain Valley last year, serves as a resident advisor for University Housing & Residential Life and is a longtime promoter of food allergy awareness. Scherf speaks on her website and social media platforms, as well as on stage, about the risks that food allergies pose to people like her, whose immune systems falsely identify certain foods as threats. “I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading ingredient labels," she has said. Scherf is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with dreams of becoming a Rockette. “I’m not focused on outperforming other candidates,” Topanga said of her wins. “My goal is to give one hundred percent of myself and stay open to learning and growing. This year marks the pageant's centennial anniversary.

Alumna’s book looks to build resilience in teens  

"Teens with Tenacity" author and alumni Kathy Espinoza
Kathy Espinoza

Kathy Espinoza '80 has co-authored a new book, "Teens with Tenacity: Helping Teens Build the Tenacity Needed to Succeed in Life." The book is aimed at teens, as well as parents, teachers and counselors, and provides practical tools for navigating life's challenges. It addresses issues such as bullying, self-doubt and striving for dreams — offering strategies for stress management and the importance of volunteering. Espinoza, who has raised four children with learning disabilities, has spent the last decade working with middle and high school students through her "Teens with Tenacity" program. The book was co-written by Jacquelyn Rathbun and Christopher Espinoza. The program helps teens cope with many common pressures and problems, including social media, teen drama, gang involvement and suicide ideation, among other things. 

Have an item for Making Waves? Send your submissions to Wendy Thomas Russell.