How loyal donors continue to change lives at Cal State Long Beach

Published March 13, 2024

Inspired by their own journeys as first-generation college students some 50 years ago, CSULB alumni Jo Anne and Scott Charmack established a scholarship aimed at supporting bright yet under-resourced engineering students at Cal State Long Beach. Their standing gift has aided dozens of students who are the first in their families to attend college — a feat that the Charmacks point out is far more challenging than it ever has been.

“It’s different when you don’t have an academic role model,” said Jo Anne ‘78, a retired history teacher, adding that the cost of living has skyrocketed, unlike wages. “First-gen students . . . have to work extremely hard, and they have to sacrifice."

Engineering student Madison Kendylle Fabella
Madison Kendylle Fabella

Indeed, one of the Charmack scholarship recipients, Madison Kendylle Fabella, is a third-year civil engineering major who commutes daily to CSULB from a one-bedroom apartment near downtown Los Angeles. 

“I live with my mom, a single mother who raised me by herself,” Fabella said. “I’ve been helping her out with the bills and everything. And I’ve been working two part-time jobs.” 

The $1,000 award allowed Fabella to quit one job and still afford enough gas money to carry a full load of classes.  

“That scholarship did a lot to help — a lot,” said Fabella, who is on track to graduate next year and hopes to one day to work as a structural engineer for Disney. 

Honoring loyal donors 

Joanne and Scott ‘72 were among more than 2,800 loyal alumni and supporters who were recognized and thanked during the university’s “Month of Love” campaign, which culminated in a ceremony at the Pyramid Feb. 29 honoring donors who had given for at least 20 years. The Charmacks have been donating to various CSULB initiatives for more than 40 consecutive years. 

Jo Anne Charmack (left) and her husband, Scott, stand with Christopher Perez (center)
Jo Anne and Scott Charmack flank one of their 2022 scholarship recipients, Christopher Perez.

Dan Montoya, vice president of University Relations and Development at CSULB, said alumni who give back to their alma mater in the form of charitable giving “continue to build the culture of philanthropy growing at the Beach.”  

“It’s because of loyal donors like the Charmacks that we can consistently continue to increase the impact on students,” Montoya said, adding that donor support aligns squarely with the student empowerment focus of the university's No Barriers comprehensive campaign — a massive fundraising initiative that just reached its $275 million goal. The campaign is now extended until the launch of the university’s 75th anniversary celebration in late September.

Aimed at first-year Beach students whose life circumstances or lack of quality schooling have left them at a disadvantage, this particular scholarship is provided through the College of Engineering’s highly celebrated BESST program. BESST, which stands for Beach Engineering Student Success Team, provides services, peer support and tutoring — particularly in Calculus 1, a challenging mathematics class that is considered foundational to many engineering programs. 

‘I was really struggling’ 

Fozhan Babaeyian Ghamsari is an international student from Iran who is in her second year studying computer programming at CSULB. She said she was thrilled to win a Charmack scholarship — which came to her attention, via BESST, during a particularly heart-wrenching time.  

Engineering student Fozhan Babaeiyan Ghamsari
Fozhan Babaeiyan Ghamsari

Ghamsari started at the Beach just weeks before the death of Mahsa Jina Amini — a 22-year-old from Tehran who was killed in police custody in September 2022 after being accused of failing to cover her face in public. The mandatory hijab for women in Iran is a sign of an increasingly conservative government, and Amini’s death sparked widespread protests. 

“I was really struggling last year because of stuff that was going on in my country,” Ghamsari said. “My family was really suffering.” 

The financial fallout of the civil unrest left her father, who runs a clothing company, scrambling to help Ghamsari with fees and tuition. Both her parents had supported, even insisted upon, her American education — and for good reason. For Ghamsari, college is not just about job prospects; it’s about freedom. Were she to return to Iran, she said, she would likely have little choice but to become “a housewife” whose college degree would simply “go unnoticed.” 

Ghamsari’s college experience has been overwhelmingly positive — so positive, in fact, that she hopes to someday return to the Beach as a professor herself. 

“I love it here,” she said, calling the BESST staff, as well as her engineering professors and advisors “amazing.” Last year, she found herself looking around at her female STEM professors — most notably College of Engineering Dean Jinny Rhee — and saying to herself, “I want to be that.”  

A life-changing degree 

Part of what makes the engineering program at CSULB so alluring to first-gen students is the difference that particular degree can make. The college is highly rated, and the mean income for engineers just two years out of college is $80,000. That’s a potentially life-changing figure not lost on Fabella, whose mother moved from the Philippines in her early 20s and spent much of her adulthood working two jobs to earn a fraction of that.  

“She wants me to live the life that she never had,” Fabella said. 

For both Ghamsari and Fabella, the Charmack scholarship was not only about the money. It was the vote of confidence it represented. They’d never seen themselves as scholars before and said the award was deeply encouraging. It meant, Ghamsari said, someone believed she could make it in such a historically challenging field.  

Scott Charmack said he, for one, is more than happy to be that someone. 

“We are not people of great means,” he said. “But we have some extra money, and it just makes us feel good that we can use it in a way that we think helps others.”