How-the-CSU-Transformed-Them

How the CSU Transformed Them

Read about a few CSU student leaders from the people who know them best.


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The California State University conferred an estimated 134,000 degrees on graduates from the Class of 2022 this spring, welcoming them into an alumni family that is already more than four million strong. These graduates are California's next leaders—in policy, philanthropy, science, social justice and moreand behind every one of them is a parent, mentor or friend who cheered them on and stood in awe of their achievements.

Learn how the CSU transformed these student leaders from those who helped them on the path to graduation.

KRYSTAL RAYNES

Krystal Raynes
CSU Student Trustee Emerita

Campus: CSU Bakersfield
Degree: Bachelor of Science in Computer Science

From her early days at CSU Bakersfield, Krystal Raynes showed signs of becoming a strong leader and student advocate, eventually being appointed the first student from CSUB ever to sit on the CSU Board of Trustees. In that role Raynes had a powerful impact on policies that will impact students for generations to come.

“When we talk about a transformative education and how the CSU provides a launching pad for success, Krystal is the face of that," says her mentor Ilaria Pesco, CSUB Assistant Vice President for Student Success & Student Affairs and Executive Director of Associated Students, Inc. (ASI).

Lacking family support, Raynes experienced food and housing insecurity that caused her to consider leaving school, but she leaned on CSUB support services, as well as the support of her mentor. Pesco worked with financial aid to classify Raynes as an independent student and helped her secure emergency housing and food benefits through the Basic Needs Initiative and CSUB Food Pantry.

“She is the perfect student leader because she has a deep understanding of the struggles many college students experience, especially as a first-generation student of color, and she uses her story to advocate for more support for future students," says Pesco.

Raynes served several positions in CSUB's Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) before representing CSU students systemwide as a Cal State Student Association Social Justice and Equity Officer. This role gave her the opportunity to meet with legislators in Sacramento and advocate for more funding for the CSU, and eventually led to her appointment as a student trustee.

Pesco says Raynes'​ success is a combination of her skills and tenacity, campus mentorship and leadership opportunities presented by the CSU, all of which helped to build her self-confidence.

“Krystal is incredible—a fierce leader—and I truly think she will transform California."

Building on her experience, Raynes will take part in the Jesse M. Unruh Assembly Fellowship Program, where she will serve as staff member to an Assembly member or legislative committee, before attending Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to pursue a master's degree in public policy and management.


ISAAC ALFEROS

Isaac Alferos
2021-22 Cal State Student Association President

Campus: Cal State Fullerton
Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration

As Cal State Student Association president, Isaac Alferos represented the needs of nearly half a million CSU students. But in addition to advocating for additional resources for those students, he also inspired many of them to take up the torch.

One of Alferos's key strengths is bringing people together and uplifting them, according to long-time friend and classmate Dixie Samaniego, who was recently elected CSSA Vice President of Systemwide Affairs for 2022-23. “Isaac is the reason I went to Cal State Fullerton, and why so many of my peers and I decided to join student government," she says. "He makes people see their value."

As a freshman, Alferos became involved with CSUF's Male Success Initiative, which empowers men of color to achieve their potential. He says he found the program provided the support he needed to pursue his passion for social justice in higher education. "The CSU brought me an education unlike any other, one in which mentors invested in me and faculty and staff worked tirelessly to see me succeed," Alferos says.

He was later appointed to the California Student Aid Commission by Governor Gavin Newsom, where he advocated for affordable higher education for all Californians. He found his calling and encouraged his fellow students to do the same.

“Isaac is amazing at organizing and building communities to make real change, and he single-handedly encouraged and mentored the next two years of student leaders at CSUF," says Samaniego. "He made us believe we could enact change and helped many of us overcome Imposter Syndrome."

Alferos also served as a research assistant and project lead for CSUF's Center for Research on Educational Access and Leadership (CREAL), a Panetta Congressional intern and a CSSA social justice and equity committee member. He was later elected CSSA president, which exposed him to systemwide, state and federal higher education policymaking.

“If you have the absolute privilege of meeting and speaking with Isaac, there's this warmth you can just feel," says Samaniego. "I am most proud of him for his courage—to be authentic; to be genuine; and to love."

Alferos plans to continue working on higher education policy and wants to eventually earn a Ph.D. in social policy. He recently published his first book, "Prayer Song: Love, Healing, and Ancestry."


Firozeh Farahmand 

Firozeh Farahmand
2021 CSU Trustee Scholar

Campus: Cal Poly Pomona
Degree: Master of Science in Biological Sciences

Firozeh Farahmand began attending Cal Poly Pomona as a freshman with a passion for science, but she felt a little lost pursuing a pre-med degree.

"My mom got her master's degree when I was in fifth grade and I loved to go to the lab with her and just sit in the corner and watch her work. That's where I found out I wanted to study science," says Farahmand. "But CPP really helped me become ready for my major and prepared me to work in a lab."

As an undergraduate student, Farahmand became heavily involved in campus activities. She joined several clubs, including Alpha Xi Delta and the Biotechnology Club, served as president of the Greek Council and competed in track and field. But it was while conducting research at CPP's Steele Lab under Andrew Steele, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biological sciences, that Farahmand found her direction and changed career paths.

“Firozeh loves being a leader, and CPP gave her opportunities to develop her leadership skills even more," says her mother Mina Fakhary, principal scientist for Pharmavite, a company that makes vitamins, minerals and supplements.

Undergraduate research opportunities helped Farahmand build her skills and believe in her own ability to be a successful woman in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). While completing her master's program in fall 2021, she was nominated for a CSU Trustees' Award for Outstanding Achievement, the university's highest honor reserved for a student.

“Receiving that award showed her another angle of herself and proved to her she was on the right pathway," Fakhary says. “It built her confidence and inspired her to go even further than she thought she could."

Though commencement was a few short weeks ago, Farahmand has already secured a job working for a biotechnology company called SD Medical System, Inc. She would like to eventually earn a Ph.D. and become an adjunct faculty member to teach and mentor the next generation of students pursuing careers in biological sciences.

Her family could not be more proud, Fakhary says. "I see her as an accomplished young lady who is definitely ready to fly to her next journey."


Fabiola Moreno Ruelas

Fabiola Moreno Ruelas
2021-22 Cal State Student Association Vice President of Systemwide Affairs

Campus: San Diego State
Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Political Science

Resilient and selfless. That's the best way to describe Fabiola Moreno Ruelas, according to mentor Randi McKenzie, Emerita Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at San Diego State.

“Fabiola is a very powerful young woman who is, in some ways, driven for success, but also in giving back," says Mckenzie.

Moreno Ruelas learned about San Diego State through the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) in high school and eventually graduated from mentee to peer mentor as she pursued her bachelor's degree. During her time at SDSU, McKenzie watched with pride as Moreno Ruelas found ways to help support her fellow students, from serving on the California Governor's Council for Post-Secondary Education Intersegmental Working Group on Student Basic Needs to being elected CSSA VP of Systemwide Affairs.

“The CSU provided Fabiola, who has a deep passion for helping people, the platform to mentor students like herself who come from underserved backgrounds," says McKenzie. “Her position with CSSA enabled her to advocate on behalf of CSU students systemwide, within the university itself and in the legislature."

“SDSU and the CSU have transformed my life," says Moreno Ruelas. “Being a first-generation, low-income student was not easy, but knowing the CSU community was there to support me along my journey allowed me to reach my fullest potential. I am proud to be a product of the CSU."

And Moreno Ruelas is paying it forward, not only through mentorship, but by helping students pay for college. As a teen, she was awarded a small settlement following a car accident, money she used to start the Ruelas Fulfillment Foundation. The foundation has awarded scholarships to more than a dozen graduating high school seniors from Moreno Ruelas' hometown of Gonzales, California.

“Fabiola is a person who has always sought ways of giving back to other people," says McKenzie​. “There's never any self-centeredness about her."

Up next: Moreno Ruelas will participate in the Jesse M. Unruh Assembly Fellowship Program beginning in September, which she says will allow her to continue to serve others throughout the state.


Read about more inspiring graduates from the Class of 2022.

 
6/14/2022