three students sitting with laptops
Story Student Success

Inaugural Cal State CREATE Student Competition Celebrates a Sense of Belonging


'You Belong Here' was the theme of the virtual creative event for CSU students across the system.

three students sitting with laptops

​Photo courtesy of Chico State


From April 5 through April 19, 2023, students, staff and alumni from across the California State University community participated in the first-ever Cal State CREATE—a virtual event and competition in collaboration with Adobe and Apple. Similar to Adobe Creative Jams, Cal State CREATE invited CSU students to explore what it means to belong in unique digital projects designed using Adobe creative tools. 

The kickoff event opened with a welcome by CSU Board of Trustees Chair Wenda Fong, followed by keynote speakers Michael J. Payton and Christopher J. Moore, both CSU alumni who are active in the film and TV industries. The opening speakers each shared their experiences with belonging as they navigated their creative career journeys after college. After the inspirational opening speeches, Adobe design professionals hosted design bootcamps to give participants a foundation in the creative tools needed to complete their competition deliverable—a single webpage created with Adobe Express telling their own story of finding belonging.

Cal State CREATE received more than 50 entries from both individual students and groups. Submissions were reviewed by a team of volunteer judges from the CSU, Adobe and Apple who evaluated projects on visual storytelling, design elements and format.

​​graphic for Cal State CREATE 2023 event: You Belong Here | a creative event and competition in collaboration with Adobe and Appl

The event concluded on April 19th with a closing ceremony to announce the winners and highlight the diverse ways student participants depicted belonging. Jessica Nare, San Diego State's associate vice president for Community and Belonging, and Dilcie Perez, Ed.D, CSU associate vice chancellor of Student Affairs, Equity and Belonging, reflected on themes from the student submissions and personal anecdotes on belonging and community. Faith Sidlow, associate professor in the Department of Media at Fresno State, announced the student competition winners. 

Here are the winners and a brief description of their work:

First place: “To My Self" by Juan Carlos Mosqueda Rosales | Fresno State

Rosales explores a non-traditional sense of belonging as a Dreamer and undocumented student, illustrating the challenges and loss of family and community. In the piece, he writes, “Although I might not share in the traditional sense of 'belonging,' I am assured by the sense of belonging to my self." 

Second place: “How I Found Belonging at Cal Poly as a Queer Woman of Color" by Anusha Sowda | Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Art and design student Sowda explores her personal identity and shares how working with Cal Poly's Student Diversity & Belonging collective empowered her to find her own voice and help build community for other students. In the piece, Sowda writes, “I know that wherever I go from here, there will be a place for me. I took an active role in creating one, here at Cal Poly, and proved to myself that if I am authentically myself, I will always be okay."

Third place (tied): “Where Do I Belong?" by Imani McEwan | CSU Dominguez Hills

McEwan shares how she found her own style and her own people and decided to stop hiding who she was. “After all these years of creeping, I've recently been able to walk proud knowing I belong to people who actually want me around. I finally belong somewhere," she writes in the piece. 

Third place (tied): “Asian-American Artists United" by Samuel Louie, Katie Tam and Lyndsey Park | Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

In this visual diary, three Cal Poly graphic design students explore how they each have different stories, different cultures, yet share the same dream. “Our passion for designing and connecting with others allowed us to find our sense of belonging, community and togetherness."

Prizes for the winning entries included Apple AirPods Pro (first place), Adobe-branded swag and Amazon gift cards.

“We are grateful for the collaborative partnerships with Adobe and Apple and to CSU colleagues who helped to plan and promote the event, and hope to host the event again next spring," said Kate Miffitt, director of ITS Innovation at the CSU Chancellor's Office and lead coordinator for the event by Cal State Innovate.


Learn more about how the CSU supports student success and a sense of belonging as part of Graduation Initiative 2025.