University Achievement Awards
We are proud of the accomplishments of all our 2023 University Achievement Award recipients.
Dr. Kim Vu, Psychology
Dr. Kim-Phuong L. Vu has a long history with our institution. She earned her B.A. in psychology from CSULB in 1999. After earning her Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, she returned to CSULB’s psychology department in 2005 as Assistant Professor. Since then, she has proven to be an extremely productive and innovative faculty member. Her return coincided with the newly developed master's in psychology with the option of Human Factors. She was highly instrumental in the growth and development of this program, earning it national recognition and accreditation.
Today, Dr. Vu serves as Associate Director for two centers in the department. In both centers, she provides excellent supervision and instruction in student research training after having chaired 31 master's thesis committees. She also contributed to CSULB’s goal of diversity and inclusion through her co-development of the Engineering Girls Internship, a summer outreach program founded in 2010 that still stands today.
Dr. Vu’s scholarly achievements have been recognized by her peers nationally. She published over 60 peer-reviewed journal articles in some of the most prestigious psychology journals. She is also coauthor of two books and co-editor of the Handbook of Human Factors in Web Design. She published 20 book chapters and over 100 proceedings papers alongside 75 student coauthors.
Dr. Vu obtained significant support for her research with students. As MPI and Program Director of the Institutional Development Core on the NIH BUILD Phase II Award, she works with students and faculty to provide intensive, hands-on research and training to prepare undergraduate students for health-related careers in research.
Dr. Vu was also President of the Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association and served as Associate Editor for journals in the field. She was the recipient of the CSULB Provost’s Outstanding Mentor in Research, Scholarly, and Creative Activities, the CSULB Early Career Excellence Award in 2009, and CSULB President’s Award for Outstanding Faculty
Achievement in 2018. We recognize Dr. Kim-Phuong L. Vu’s work at CSULB and are indeed fortunate to have her as a leader, mentor, and role model.
Submitted by Thomas Strybel
Dr. John Brevik, Mathematics & Statistics
John has a steady stream of publications on Noether-Lefschetz theory in algebraic geometry, but he has also made fundamental contributions in two other fields: machine-learned prediction methods, including clustering and time-series methods that supplied a practical solution to a difficult problem in queuing theory; and coding theory, more specifically code design for a graph-based decoding algorithm.
John's work has been rewarded with a patent, many articles in prestigious IEEE journals and others, invited talks in four countries, five invited book chapters, and an NSF grant. He is currently writing a book to make the arithmetical oeuvre of J.-P. Serre accessible to students via the Moore method.
John has taught everything from calculus to numerous new graduate topics courses in abstract algebra, interspersing high-content exposition with his signature dry humor. John sets very high standards for his students and then gives them the resources to meet them. His beginning students are well prepared for later courses; his graduates go on to prestigious doctoral programs and/or have become respected professors at community colleges all over California.
John leads the most intense projects and committees of a big, service-heavy department, including a massive overhaul and coordination of our calculus sequence. He has served as graduate advisor since 2008, converting our core sequences into rich rotations of offerings that fully exploit the diversity of our faculty's expertise.
Outside the department, John has chaired the CNSM College Council for several years. He has reviewed articles for Math Reviews, organized a special session at the Joint Mathematics Meetings, and served as Vice President of the Long Beach chapter of the National Academy of Inventors.
In 2021, John led a CSULB team in winning a Grand Challenge grant from the California Education Learning Lab, expanding students' awareness of the relevance of calculus through the development of realistic tasks and replacing rote calculation with conceptual understanding.
John Brevik is an absolute bedrock of our department, a recognized leader across campus, and a distinguished scholar in the professional community.
Submitted by Will Murray
Dr. Katarzyna Slowinska, Chemistry & Biochemistry
Dr. Katarzyna Slowinska’s work exemplifies CSULB’s core values of preparing students for lifelong success, advancing knowledge, and creating an inclusive, welcoming, and equitable learning environment.
Dr. Slowinska is a prolific researcher and mentor. Her research laboratory contributed to the development of new schemes for targeted drug delivery in cancer treatments. She received over $1.5M in individual external research funding and an additional $2M for shared equipment and educational support. Her work at The Beach resulted in 26 manuscripts published in top tier journals that include 17 manuscripts coauthored by a total of 41 students. Many of her research students continuously venture to top PhD and professional programs at institutions like UC Berkeley and Cal Tech. Several of her students are also currently employed in top pharmaceutical companies.
Dr. Slowinska is at the forefront of advancing analytical chemistry education that fosters an active acquisition of skills compatible with the 21st century. Her collaborative work was featured in Chemical and Engineering News as part of a program funded by the National Science Foundation. She also presented several talks at the American Chemical Society about teaching novel methods in the field.
Dr. Slowinska has been a model university citizen and community contributor. She served on numerous department, college, and university committees in a variety of roles. These roles include chemistry undergraduate advisor, department seminar coordinator, and faculty recruitment. Today, she serves as Chemistry & Biochemistry Vice-Chair. A proud member of the President and Provost Leadership Fellows program, she developed a project titled “Tuition-Free College.” She is also a reviewer of grants, publications, and tenure files.
Dr. Slowinska’s multitude of achievements engender positive change for her students, field, and what it means to be an outstanding professor.
Submitted by Lijuan Li
Dr. Christine Whitcraft, Biological Sciences
Dr. Christine Whitcraft joined the Department of Biological Sciences in 2008 and was promoted to full professor in 2019. Her research focuses on “all things wetlands,” particularly the impacts of non-native and invasive species, altered hydrology, climate change, and restoration in field sites from Baja to San Francisco.
Since 2008, she and many of her students have published over 35 works, an extraordinary number for her department. Despite being busy during the pandemic, she published more than a dozen papers since 2020 alone. Moreover, she has been extremely successful in obtaining over 25 external grants and contracts that totaled over $1.5 million since joining CSULB. She and her students have given hundreds of presentations locally, nationally, and internationally. She established herself as an expert in the field of wetland ecology and conservation and serves as a key advisor and expert for California coastal resources. She recently took a leading role in assessing the impact of the oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach.
Beyond her research program, Dr. Whitcraft has made a major difference on our campus by serving as the Director for the Environmental Science and Policy program. She is also extremely active in the department and at the university level as the Chair of the Presidential Commission on Sustainability among many other activities. In 2022, she led a team that obtained a $1.75 million College Corps Volunteers for All internship grant to benefit CSULB students.
Dr. Whitcraft’s research and scholarly activities show a deep commitment to her field of study. Her active participation in campus governance and administration only amplifies her impact and makes her a shining example for CSULB, California, and beyond.
Submitted by Jesse Dillon
Dr. Tianni Zhou, Mathematics & Statistics
Dr. Tianni Zhou is a knowledgeable, student-success driven educator who creates and fosters highly valued educational experiences for students of diverse backgrounds. She demonstrates an ability to innovate and deliver excellent student learning outcomes, mentors graduate teaching associates and student researchers, and contributes to campus knowledge in efforts to support student success through many data research projects.
Dr. Zhou provides leadership on campus and within the Department of Mathematics and Statistics to enhance student preparation and success as a Course Coordinator for STAT 90 and STAT 108 (serving over 1000 students annually). In response to Executive Orders 1110 and 1100, she joined CSULB’s General Education (GE) Category B4 Redesign Team and went through a comprehensive process to make groundbreaking changes. She modernized the entire STAT 108 curriculum to include many high-impact practices such as real-life examples, hands-on activities, growth mindset language, and relevant technology. She created STAT 90, a corequisite course in introductory statistics courses offered in CNSM and CLA to support incoming students who are less academically ready for mathematics. She designed materials that take students from “where they are” (without the need for remedial coursework) and helped them achieve outcomes specific to their unique degree needs. This pedagogical approach is a model that demonstrates our campus commitment to removing barriers for our diverse students. Furthermore, Dr. Zhou established the current placement criteria for Math 113: Precalculus Algebra, to eliminate a historic bottleneck for many first-year students.
With current data mining tools, Dr. Zhou devotes a great deal of her research efforts to answering questions that can advance CSULB’s dedication to student success. She has served on The Research and Evaluation Task Force in 2017-2019 as part of the Highly Valued Degree Initiative (HVDI) 2025, and Provost Research Grant in 2020-2022. She and her students have developed predictive models to understand the characteristics of 4-year graduates, and those who dropped out. This knowledge has been adopted by various campus stakeholders including academic advising, enrollment, academic affairs, and more, in a consorted effort to meet our HVDI-2025 goals.
Submitted by Jen-Mei Chang
Helen Hood Scheer, Film & Electronic Arts
Associate Professor Helen Hood Scheer, the track head of Creative Nonfiction in Film and Electronic Arts, is a force of nature. Her commitment to her students and her passion for their learning the highly complex art form of documentary filmmaking is formidable. And her students, year after year, produce interesting and solid work, which dominates the CSU Media Arts Festival including during the many semesters of remote learning.
During this time, virtually all production was shut down in our classes due to safety protocols, transmission of COVID and so on. Rather than be overwhelmed by the new severe restrictions placed on what was possible to create in production courses, Helen used the opportunity to teach her students a new skill, animation. The resulting works were truly creative non-fiction at an incredibly high artistic level. The pieces were moving, visually fantastic, and full of surprises. Her students were not educationally hobbled by the circumstances of instruction. Instead, they had new tools to tell stories in new ways which she has integrated into her courses now that we are back in person. And while those years seem to be in the rearview mirror, they exemplify Helen’s approach to teaching and learning. The field of media production changes by the minute and being able to teach these new ways of communicating, using technical advancements and how media is consumed, is a non-stop job on its own, never mind the even more difficult task of teaching creative storytelling.
It is easy to underestimate the sheer amount of work, dedication and focus that is behind the success of her students’ work because it is so frequently extraordinary that extraordinary has become the expected. The films are technically outstanding and Helen’s students reach into themselves to mine stories that are important to them. They become proficient in the nuts and bolts of shooting, lighting, editing, recording sound and so on, but alongside this, they become self-reflective and invested in themselves, too. She helps them identify what matters to them as individuals. By the time they graduate, they are confident and know they are skilled and creative and head out into the rest of their lives changed because they had Helen touch their lives while studying at CSULB.
Submitted by Susan Bloom
Dr. Amanda Fisher, Biological Sciences
Dr. Amanda Fisher joined the Department of Biological Sciences in 2015 and was awarded tenure with promotion to Associate Professor in 2021. She is an expert in plant evolution and systematics and shares this knowledge with students in two intensive, upper division Botany courses. These courses include Plant Systematics and Plant Morphology, both of which feature lecture and laboratory components. Plant Morphology teaches students about the function of plant structures, common life cycles, and how they have evolved. Plant Systematics offers students the opportunity to learn about the diversity of plants in both laboratory exercises and several field trips to local wilderness areas including an overnight trip. In addition to offering Graduate seminars in her discipline, she team-taught in the department’s Introductory Biology Core and First Year Graduate Core.
Outside of the classroom, Dr. Fisher serves as the curator of the Herbarium Collection at CSULB, a crucial resource for students interested in botany. The resource secured National Science Foundation funding to involve both undergraduates and graduate students in expanding the collection. She also participated in a 5-month BLUE QUBES mentoring network promoting biodiversity literacy for students, producing an educational resource publication as a result. She also contributed to pedagogical improvement on campus by both participating in and leading the CNSM Faculty Learning Community.
Dr. Fisher quickly developed into a key faculty member in her department by contributing her own courses on plants and crafting resources and training that benefit students and faculty colleagues. The department recognizes her strong achievement despite being on campus for such a short time.
Submitted by Jesse Dillon
Dr. Ryan Blair, Mathematics & Statistics
Dr. Ryan Blair elevates undergraduate and graduate students to longstanding accomplishments. He has coauthored six papers with students from underrepresented groups that landed in some of the field’s most prestigious journals. Four of these students are currently in top-tier Ph.D. programs, another is now a distinguished faculty member in Mathematics and Statistics, and two have won the highly competitive CSULB Graduate Research Fellowship.
As his career matured, Dr. Blair opened more opportunities for students. He began by designing two new classes that stressed research skills in pure mathematics. Later, he received three grants to form undergraduate research groups at The Beach to fund and mentor six math majors from underrepresented groups. He then became a leader in the PUMP Program, whose goal is to identify mathematical talent among minority, women, and first-generation CSU students.
Most recently, Dr. Blair branched out into interdisciplinary research and secured two NSF grants emphasizing student mentoring. He recently was the PI on a $150,000 project to explore data-driven methods in classical knot theory that includes significant funding for undergraduate researchers. He is also co-PI on an $800,000 partnership with Ohio State focusing on student research experiences and degree attainment. He collaborated with CSULB physicist Alex Klotz to apply topological methods to study knots and links in macro molecules and DNA origami. One of his students, Maria Maalouf, already obtained results about the mathematical structure and physical properties of kinetoplast links thanks to their collaboration.
A record holder of extraordinary mentoring and creative student activities, Dr. Blair, along with his outstanding students, deserve major credit for this success.
Submitted by Will Murray
Dr. Theodore Stankowich, Biological Sciences
Dr. Ted Stankowich joined the Department of Biological Sciences in 2012 and was awarded tenure with promotion to Associate Professor in 2018. In his ten years as faculty, he has developed a highly successful research program focusing on mammal evolution and behavioral ecology. His innovative research focusing on the ecology of urban mammals and the evolution of armor, spines, horns, tusks, antlers, and black and white warning coloration. His research has been featured in the popular press including print and television news stories in the U.S. and internationally, elevating CSULB’s research profile in the field of Biology.
Dr. Stankowich always has a large research group of students. He served as the primary mentor for eleven master’s students and thirty-two undergraduates. Among these groups of students are three RISE Fellows, three MARC U*STAR Fellows, three LSAMP Scholars, and five University Honors undergraduates. He notably went above and beyond to highlight the depth of his students’ mentored research experiences. Eight of his publications include master’s student co-authors and six other works comprised of undergraduate co-authors. This is a very high number of student co-authored publications for his department, especially over such a short period of time. Due in part to his mentorship, his students have gone on to PhD, MD, dental, pharmacy, and veterinary programs; and careers in museums, environmental science, college teaching, zookeeping, and wildlife biology.
Dr. Stankowich’s commitment to mentoring goes beyond his own students, exemplified by his role in the recently developed Beach Mentorship Program. Today, he facilitates mentoring discussions with cohorts of faculty mentors in his college for the program. In doing so, he is actively helping expand the pool of high quality, equity-oriented mentors here at CSULB. Overall, Dr. Stankowich’s dedication to research mentoring is exemplary, marking an important impact on numerous CSULB students and in the field.
Submitted by Jesse Dillon
Dr. Jason Schwans, Chemistry & Biochemistry
Dr. Jason Schwans has successfully mentored over 70 undergraduate and graduate students in his research lab since 2012. His lab addresses the intentionally oversimplified question of “How do enzymes work?” His students put this question to the test as they conduct research at the interstices of organic chemistry and biochemistry. They do this by synthesizing and evaluating enzymes associated with Alzheimer’s disease and generating mutants of triosephosphate isomerase to study features important for catalysis. The lab collaborates with faculty from various departments and was able to provide multiple research opportunities through secured funding from CSULB, CSUPERB, Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the NSF.
Dr. Schwans provides his students with an engaging and rigorous training environment. He emphasizes attention to detail, reproducibility, safety, ethics, and communication. His goal is always to ignite excitement within students and inspire a sense of drive. He encourages a “team effort” approach in all interactions and focuses on how we are all interested and immersed in the outcomes of experiments. To help students accomplish their goals, he spends time alongside them while they grow with experience. This method has helped students foster independence and proud ownership of their work.
Dr. Schwans’ students hold many achievements thanks to his instructional and inspirational opportunities. Some are co-authors on nine peer-reviewed publications. 12 of them have completed their master's thesis in his lab and 15 wrote an undergraduate thesis. Some continue to present their research at regional and national meetings, while others have gone on to Ph.D. and M.S. programs, professional schools, and industry.
Today, Dr. Schwans continues to seek opportunities to grow as a mentor. He participated in the 2022 Beach Mentoring Community and was a leader in the BUILD Mentoring Community. He also participated in a faculty learning community developed by UC Berkley, and then led the program when it was implemented at CSULB in 2019-2020. Dr. Schwans continues to provide a successful, rigorous, and positive training environment for his students who endlessly thrive in their scientific endeavors.
Submitted by Lijuan Li
Dr. Alexander Hahn, Bob Cole Conservatory of Music
Dr. Alexander Hahn has maintained a successful career as a professional classical vocalist performing repertoire from the Western musical canon. Over the past two years, he’s grown inspired by CSULB’s diverse student body to research, present, and perform works by composers of marginalized and underrepresented cultures and communities. In February and April of 2021, Dr. Hahn performed solo recitals featuring the art songs of Colombian composer, Jaime León Ferro. In October 2021, he performed four recitals in Washington D.C. with Constellations Chamber Concerts, featuring the art songs of three composers of color: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, William Grant Still, and H. Leslie Adams. Today, Dr. Hahn continues to champion the art song repertoire of composers from underrepresented communities and promote diverse perspectives in classical music.
Dr. Hahn has also taken important steps to promote diversity and equity in the vocal program and university at large. He invited two BIPOC guest-artists to speak on issues of diversity, career development, and vocal artistry. He also invited Maestro Timothy Long, an Indigenous American advocate for equity and diversity in the music industry, to participate in a webinar. A year later, he invited African American female opera star, Angel Blue, to work with the Conservatories’ vocal majors. In response to violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, he organized a presentation and town-hall style discussion on AAPI discrimination as part of CSULB’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Celebration in 2021.
Dr. Hahn’s efforts to champion music by composers of marginalized and under-represented cultures and communities have made a lasting positive impact on The Beach. He continues to ensure that the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music is a place where the music of all people, especially of those who have been marginalized or underrepresented, is not only heard but embraced as part of our core repertoire.
Submitted by Jennifer Sung
Dr. Chantrey J. Murphy, Sociology
Associate Professor of sociology Dr. Chantrey J. Murphy currently holds several invaluable leadership positions on campus. She is founder and co-facilitator of Women of Color in Academia @ CSULB, the current vice president elect for the Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFAS), faculty coordinator for the McNair Scholars Program, CLA Directorship of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion consultant, organizer and co-chair of CLA’s former Inclusive Excellence and High-Impact Teaching Practices series, facilitator and member of several CLA Strategic Planning teams, member of the Academic Affairs DEI Research Collaborative, and the current elected co-chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW). Dr. Murphy continues to lead on diversity, inclusion, and equity efforts while masterfully including other marginalized faculty along the way.
Given her expertise in group processes, inclusive facilitation, and diversity, Dr. Murphy was an integral faculty organizer on the CLA Planning Support Team that facilitated a two-year long strategic planning process at the college level focused on equity and diversity. During her service on PCSW, she organized the 2021 Research Colloquium session on the “Status of Women in the Present” and coordinated the 2022 Research Colloquium based on themes of the continued impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic, gender identity & expression, and intersectional identities. Dr. Murphy has also assisted with identifying and understanding factors that impact the well-being of the campus community, including contributing to the university’s Campus Climate Survey Reports, the BFAS Campus Climate Report, and organizing focus group sessions among women of color faculty.
It is not an easy task to take on such work as an early-career faculty member, nor is it an easy feat to move a group of academics, staff, and other stakeholders, to consensus. Her exemplary high quality DEI contributions to the university, college, and department are highly deserving of such an award. California State University, Long Beach and the Department of Sociology are most fortunate to have her among our faculty. She is quite literally irreplaceable, and that is the hallmark of a true academic scholar, advocate, and collaborator.
Submitted by Sabrina Alimahomed
Dr. Roudi Roy, Family & Consumer Sciences
Dr. Roudi Roy is an Associate Professor of Child Development and Family Studies in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. Since her arrival to campus, she’s focused her attention on marginalized communities and has championed solutions toward Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). In the classroom, she encourages students to challenge the deficit model approach behind much of the research on families from diverse backgrounds. She also developed a Family Life Education capstone class offering high impact service-learning opportunities in efforts to recognize the strength of families in underserved backgrounds.
Dr. Roy aims to promote greater fatherhood retention among African American and Hispanic fathers, as well as African American mothers by incorporating her DEI mission into her research. She also studies pregnant and parenting college students, multiracial families, and developed a theoretical model for examining interracial couples’ relationships across the transition to parenthood. She has published extensively on these topics and more.
Dr. Roy was the founding chair of the FCS DEI committee and co-led efforts to facilitate faculty and student workshops. She is also a member of the CSULB DEI Research Collaborative, the Campus Climate Qualitative Research Committee, and the Pregnant & Parenting Students Advisory Committee. At the community and professional level, she is a board member of the National Council on Family Relations, where she chairs the Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Families section. Dr. Roy is truly a champion, at all levels, for DEI efforts at The Beach. For these efforts, she is well deserving of this award.
Submitted by Wendy Reiboldt
Dr. Melissa Bittner, Kinesiology
Since her 2017 appointment in the Kinesiology Department, Dr. Melissa Bittner has excelled in teaching, scholarship, and professional community service. Dr. Bittner is strongly committed to her teaching. She provides instructional excellence and mentoring for her students. As the Adapted Physical Education (APE) Coordinator, she continues the long tradition at CSULB of preparing undergraduate and graduate students to deliver quality physical education to the disabled community.
Dr. Bittner has also been extremely productive in scholarship with 26 peer reviewed journal publications, 4 textbook chapters, and 60 scholarly presentations. Her scholarship focuses on evidence-based teaching practices for autistic students and appropriate APE assessment practices. In this early stage of her career, Dr. Bittner secured a total of $1,512,808 in grants. She is the Co-Principal Investigator with Dr. Amanda Young of Project CAPE (Certification in APE), a $1,250,000 federal grant through the U.S. Department of Education designed to train master’s students in APE. She secured the largest grant in CSULB Kinesiology history, providing financial support for future APE educators who will go on to teach in schools and impact students with disabilities.
Dr. Bittner is also committed to service at both the university and professional level. She is the Director of four on-campus practicums. Under her guidance, individuals with disabilities come to campus for quality physical activity instruction provided by APE students studying in the program. In the past six years, Dr. Bittner’s teaching, scholarship, and service have demonstrated her genuine commitment to the university, the College of Health and Human Services, and the Kinesiology Department, all while gaining a national reputation in the APE profession.
Submitted by Barry Lavay
Dr. Ga-Young Kelly Suh, Biomedical Engineering
Dr. Ga-Young Kelly Suh is passionate about teaching, research, scholarly activity, and student success. In less than 4 years since joining CSULB, she has made many valuable contributions, from creating well-received pedagogical approaches to being considered one of the best instructors in the biomedical engineering department. An expert in cardio-vascular engineering, she’s published 10 journal papers, 2 book chapters, and presented more than 13 conference papers and posters. She is also considered a great research mentor by many at The Beach.
Dr. Suh established CSULB’s Cardio-vascular Research Club, a group aiming to enhance undergraduate students’ research skills under strong guidance and mentorship. Thanks to the club’s efforts, her mentees triumphed in great endeavors such as the CSULB Student Research Competition. Her alumni have also been employed by well-known companies (e.g., Edward Life Sciences, Medtronic) and accepted into PhD programs at top ranking universities (e.g., University of Pennsylvania). Today, she actively serves at various committees for the success of our students and institution. Dr. Suh’s rigorous accomplishments make her a well-deserved recipient of the CSULB’s Early Academic Career Excellence award.
Submitted by Shadnaz Asgari
Dr. Kathryn Perkins, Political Science
Dr. Kathryn Perkins is an outstanding example of an early career faculty member who excels in all areas of her responsibility: teaching, scholarship, and service. More than this, in the time since her arrival to campus in Fall 2017, she has synthesized the three areas in a manner that allows each to be even more significant in both substance and impact.
For instance, Dr. Perkins’ work to develop wholly new courses on timely issues such as environmental and queer law has updated and made more relevant the Political Science Department’s curricular offerings in a manner that supports students’ learning in college and contributes to their crafting of post-graduation paths. Her work as our department’s undergraduate advisor and internship director also went above and beyond to support our students’ success.
In the area of scholarship, she has published widely on American public law and legal theory, but also on incredibly cutting-edge topics such as LGBTQ politics and transgender studies. In addition, her efforts and expertise have resulted in her being asked to serve in important disciplinary and editorial roles, give public talks, and speak to media outlets.
Her service is also second-to-none, as she has served department, college, and university in numerous ways—often in positions of leadership and with considerable recognition. Her work as founding co-director of the CSULB Trans Advocacy Coalition is particularly impactful and is helping to break down silos to allow campus offices and stakeholders to support our students in new ways. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, as she has engaged in a significant way in many other settings on and off campus that are positively impacting our LGBTQIA+ faculty, staff, and students.
Throughout all this work, her attention to matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion have enabled her to contribute significantly to the success of our students, her colleagues, the university, the discipline of political science, and beyond. The Department of Political Science is so glad to have her on our faculty!
Submitted by Amy Cabrera Rasmussen
Dr. Babette Benken, Mathematics & Statistics
Dr. Babette Benken has been a dedicated faculty member in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics since 2006. She has an exceptional record of service at the departmental, college, university, CSU-wide, and professional levels. She chaired and served on numerous labor-intensive initiatives, including eight hiring committees, six RTP committees, and the Department’s Executive Committee.
At the university level, Dr. Benken’s record of impactful service demonstrates her commitment to shared governance. This vast list includes policy, review, awards, advisory, and hiring committees in which she usually takes on leadership roles. She is currently serving her third term on the Curriculum and Educational Policies Council. Prior to that, she served on the Program Assessment and Review Committee, two administrative review committees, and numerous task forces and initiatives. An equally impressive list could be made for her work collaborating with CSULB administrators and partners in LBCC and LBUSD, all in support of student success and access.
Dr. Benken’s service also extends to the entire CSU system as well as national committees and boards. One exemplary accomplishment worth noting is her leadership on the equity-focused grant titled Project HOGAR that she helped craft as PI for six years. This project led to enduring support structures like CSULB’s Graduate Center, a centralized home for graduate studies at The Beach.
Dr. Benken’s long-term dedication to service and shared governance continues to make a significant and lingering impact on our students, programs, and community.
Submitted by Joshua Chesler
Dr. Jeff Cohlberg, Chemistry & Biochemistry
Dr. Jeff Cohlberg's success in both research and teaching was an inspiration and encouragement to his younger colleagues embarking on their own careers at CSULB. A faculty member from 1975 to 2011, Dr. Cohlberg served as Department Chair from 2008 to 2011, followed by five more years of service in the Faculty Early Retirement Program. His research interest was the assembly of large biological structures from individual protein (and nucleic acid) molecules.
Dr. Cohlberg successfully established a research program supported by major grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association. His work is especially notable for helping to elucidate the arrangement of protein subunits in neurofilaments. He was awarded the California State University Biotechnology Faculty Research Award in 1999.
Dr. Cohlberg combined his award-winning research activities with a successful teaching program. In the one-year biochemistry course, he authored a manual by which students learned to do molecular modeling of protein and nucleic acid structures. The manual was originally completed in 2000 and is still in use. He also taught a class in physical biochemistry that was one of the most popular courses in the graduate program. He was also involved in making innovations in the curriculum for the biochemistry laboratory course.
Dr. Cohlberg came to CSULB at a time when the university was just beginning to emphasize research as a requirement for tenure and promotion. He has a unique perspective on both the challenges of doing research and the ways in which the university has supported and encouraged faculty over the years.
Submitted by Lijuan Li
Miguel Palma, Chemistry & Biochemistry
Miguel Palma completed his undergraduate studies at UCLA before joining our M.S. Biochemistry program in Fall 2020 with the prestigious Gregory Whitaker recruitment scholarship.
The significance of Palma’s research lies in uncovering the mechanisms that promote cell survival during stress. Our cells experience stress under many pathological conditions such as type 2 diabetes, viral infections, and cancer. Cancer cells experience stress due to their high growth and metabolic rates. However, they have a high threshold to withstand stress, which positively correlates with their malignancy and chemoresistance. Palma’s thesis involves investigating a signaling protein that helps maintain and improve the survival of cancer cell lines undergoing stress. His findings will lead to an improved fundamental understanding of stress signaling in cancer and potentially pave way for more effective therapeutic strategies.
Palma co-authored a publication in the journal Langmuir and has two first-authored manuscripts in preparation. He also presented his work on multiple occasions including the 2022 Annual CSU Biotechnology symposium. There, he won the highly competitive Don Eden Graduate Research Award, which showcases the best work of graduate students from the 23 CSU campuses. In addition to the Don Eden award, Palma also won many department and college-wide scholarships and fellowships.
Palma sees himself as a role model for students from similar backgrounds. Last year, he volunteered in a high school outreach program. He was also a speaker at the Elizabeth Learning Center’s career day where he talked about “Research as a Career” to a predominantly Latino student body. In his own words “When presenting to these students, I felt as though I was speaking to a mirror displaying younger versions of myself when I doubted my own capabilities because of feelings of not being good enough. It showed me that I can reach other underrepresented students, and potentially inspire them to pursue science by being living proof that if someone from their community can make it, so can they!”
Palma will defend his M.S. thesis this summer and begin his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania this fall.
Submitted by Deepali Bhandari
Maria Virginia Cornejo Guevara, Educational Leadership/School of Psychology
Maria Virginia Cornejo Guevara was born in El Salvador and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 18. She completed ESL classes at a community college and then transferred to UCLA, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and conducted research in a cognitive psychology lab.
After graduation, Cornejo Guevara continued her quantitative and qualitative research endeavors in a variety of settings including the administering of psychological and physiological assessments. She earned her master’s degree at Pepperdine University and is currently completing her Education Specialist degree at CSULB’s School of Psychology. Her current research uses large-scale longitudinal data to investigate the educational experiences, self-efficacy, and expectations of Latinx adolescents. She also co-authored four publications in peer-reviewed journals and will be presenting her research at the upcoming AERA conference in April. Virginia’s passion for research is fueled by her determination to foster equity in educational opportunities for minority students, especially emerging bilingual and Latinx students.
Submitted by Erin Arruda
Jordan Maynard, Computer Engineering & Computer Science
Jordan Maynard is a Computer Engineering senior and member of CSULB’s University Honors Program. During his undergraduate studies, he served as an instructional student assistant, tutor, and research assistant in the Computer Architecture, Reliability, and Security Laboratory (CARS-Lab) under his advisor, Dr. Amin Rezaei. Maynard’s research focus is on hardware security with an emphasis on hardware Trojans and logic locking. He spearheaded many projects, such as a novel dual-key logic locking defense against oracle-guided algorithmic attacks, challenging and then improving the security of eFPGA-based redaction, and developing a behavioral architectural approach to mitigating hardware Trojans. He currently holds two peer-reviewed scientific papers published in some of the field’s digital libraries. He is also a published author through prestigious computer security conferences. His other academic achievements include placing third in the 2021 CSAW Logic Locking Conquest, earning the second-place undergraduate award in the ICCAD’22 ACM Student Research Competition, and serving as team leader for the ISPD’23 cybersecurity contest.
Jordan continually displays excellence and leadership as an undergraduate in the computer engineering field. At school, you may find him working on his robot ukulele senior design project, skateboarding around a parking lot, helping out students during office hours, or soldering robot cars for future embedded systems. Outside of school, he spends time playing with his cats, cruising at the skatepark, and taking joyrides in his car.
Submitted by Amin Rezaei
Huy Phan, Linguistics
Huy Phan, a McNair scholar, completed his BA in Linguistics (Dec. 2022) with his ground-breaking research project documenting aspects of the sound system (consonants, vowels, and tones) of the under-described and endangered Bến Tre dialect of Tây (Southern Vietnamese). Huy's research, under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Ahland (Linguistics Department), included multiple methodologies: two months of fieldwork (digitally recording and analyzing speech), phonological analysis, acoustic analysis of waveforms and spectrograms, historical-comparative linguistics, and syntax. Through these methods, Huy identified a number of important features that had never before been documented: these included evolutionary developments in the consonant, vowel, and tonal systems, separating Bến Tre from other Tây forms. Huy presented his findings at the premier international conference focused on languages of the Austroasiatic family (the International Conference on Austroasiatic Languages); he also published the project’s manuscript through the CSULB McNair Scholars Journal.
Huy's Bến Tre project grew out of his personal experience growing up in Vietnam as a speaker of Vĩnh Long (another Tây variety of southern Vietnam). Collectively, the rural Tây varieties are marginalized socio-economically within the wider Vietnamese context. Tây varieties are often described, by those outside of the area, with the derogatory term of quê mùa ‘boorish’. This marginalization led to language endangerment and was exacerbated by minimal attention from the Vietnamese linguistic community.
Huy's work has been motivated by a desire to document and promote understanding of the unique features of Tây varieties in general and of Bến Tre in particular. In fact, this motivation is shaping Huy's future plans to work on marginalized and endangered languages across southeast Asia through collaborative research practices with communities of speakers. Such work combines scientific goals with community-based collaboration with an aim not only to document but also to preserve these unique and threatened speechforms. In addition to the University Achievement Award, Huy graduated with a perfect 4.0 in Linguistics, received the College of Liberal Arts Outstanding Baccalaureate Student award (in addition to Linguistics Department awards), and has already received an offer of admission and full support for a PhD program in Linguistics at an internationally-recognized research university.
Submitted by Michael Ahland