Newswise — With the graduation of the Class of 2021, the CSU will reach the astounding milestone of 4 million living alumni. While these alumni have spread out across the globe, about 84 percent of them remain in California, with one in 10 of all workers in the state holding a CSU degree. Together, CSU alumni are working at all levels to serve their communities, grow the economy and lead California to a better future.
In honor of this milestone, we highlight the career journeys of four hometown alumni.
Fátima Cristerna-Adame Cal State San Bernardino B.A. Political Science ’03, M.A. Communication Studies ’06 Senior Director, Local Advocacy for the California Charter Schools Association
Advice for graduates: “Just because it may not be in the exact field you're studying or the exact job you want to go into, don't turn away a good opportunity. It's going to teach you a lesson about what you want to do or what you don't want to do, and it will open up doorways into more opportunities."
At age seven, Fátima Cristerna-Adame arrived in Southern California from Mexico with her parents. When the time came to apply to college, a time before the introduction of DACA, her undocumented status limited her options. Though AB 540 allowed her to attend Cal State San Bernardino while paying in-state tuition, she couldn't receive financial aid, so she made it her “full-time job" to apply for scholarships.
Even after graduating with her bachelor's in political science, Cristerna-Adame couldn't legally work in the U.S. Instead, she applied to CSUSB's Communications Studies program to earn her master's degree. While in the program, she focused on political communication and taught at San Bernardino Valley College.
“That experience was invaluable to me, because everything I do in my life now revolves around politics, public communication and testifying in front of school boards and county boards of education," Cristerna-Adame says. “That could not have happened if I hadn't gone to Cal State San Bernardino and experienced all the various educational pathways it took me on."
With her master's in hand, Cristerna-Adame began taking on any work she could—from volunteering with the Black Voice Foundation and writing for the Black Voice newspaper to, after becoming a U.S. resident, teaching health and reproductive education for Planned Parenthood.
In her current role at the California Charter Schools Association, she employs the lessons she learned at CSUSB and during her early career to further the organization's mission of helping families have access to educational choice through high-quality, non-profit charter schools. She also works with the advocacy arm seeking out elected officials who will support that cause.
“I want to thank the CSU system for being so welcoming to undocumented students," Cristerna-Adame says. “I'm a citizen now after 27 years of hard work. We don't always stay undocumented. We do become taxpayers. We do become the alumni who donate back to the university. I'm eternally grateful for a system that continues to adapt to the needs of the communities it serves."
Marcus Bush San Diego State B.A. City Planning and Public Administration, B.A. Spanish ’10 National City Councilmember, Project Manager at MAAC Project
Advice for graduates: “Networking and building relationships is key—and diversity in relationships, not just in terms of ethnicity, but in terms of professional background, age and walks of life. Also, focus on a career that makes you happy but helps to make the world a better place."
Marcus Bush—who is the first Afro-Latino, openly LGBTQIA+ individual and millennial elected to National City's city council—can point to the video game SimCity and President (then-Illinois State Senator) Barack Obama's 2004 Democratic National Convention speech as two of the main drivers behind where he is today. While the game inspired him to study city planning at San Diego State—which he did with the help of the Compact of Success program for Sweetwater School District students—Obama's speech sparked his interest in politics.
While in college, Bush volunteered for Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and met Mona Rios, who was running for councilmember at the time. “Now she's my colleague, but she's my greatest, biggest mentor," he says. “When she got elected to city council, she encouraged me to get involved with the community, on the local boards and commissions, and volunteer."
In the years following graduation, Bush followed that advice, serving as chair of the National City Planning Commission, a member of the Board of Directors for National City Chamber of Commerce and president of the Rotary Club. He also worked as a union representative, completed various internships, including one at the San Diego Association of Governments, and served as diversity director on the Board of the San Diego American Planning Association.
“I definitely meandered a lot after I graduated in 2010," he says. “It took two years to finally start my career, and in the meantime, I made the best use of my time by volunteering and networking. Then I decided that planning is good, but I didn't want to just plan anymore. I didn't want to just talk about what we're going to do; I wanted to actually get things built. I especially wanted to address the housing crisis."
This drove Bush to earn his master's degree in real estate development at Portland State University, graduating in 2018. Back home, he worked as a policy advisor for Council President Georgette Gomez in the City of San Diego before starting his current role as a project manager at the MAAC Project, a nonprofit focused on affordable housing and other resources for disadvantaged families.
In the months before the pandemic, Bush launched his successful campaign for city council with the support of Rios and the city's first Latina mayor, Alejandra Sotelo-Solis. He was elected in November 2020 and sworn into office in December.
Erin Enguero San José State B.S. Kinesiology ’16, M.A. Education and Teaching Credential ’20
Advice for graduates: “There are a lot of people … [who] pursued one thing, and it turned out not actually being where they end up. That's something important to tell students, because you're stressing so much about, 'What am I going to major in? What school am I going to go to?' And really, I think it's a matter of keeping your mind open and being OK with where you end up."
When Erin Enguero started her kinesiology degree at San José State, she was on track to graduate and head into physical therapy school. And she did just that in 2016—though after one semester of PT school, she realized it wasn't what she wanted to do and left the program.
“That was really hard for me because I was so used to having this to-do list, and suddenly I didn't know what was next," she says. “There's a part of me that looks back that wonders what would have happened if I spent a gap year trying to gather things up and reflect where I am in my life instead of rushing ahead. And now that I've gone through everything, I think it's a good thing to give oneself time to think about what they're doing."
During a year and half of figuring out her next step, Enguero applied to a job as a gymnastics coach for children with special needs and later an assistant children's librarian. Through these experiences, she realized her desire to work with children and began taking early childhood classes at a local community college. In 2019, she returned to SJSU to earn her master's in education and a teaching credential.
“I knew SJSU had a focus on social justice and equity, which is really important to me," she says. “Having grown up with hearing loss and learning to be an advocate for myself and others, returning back to my alma mater was like finding that missing piece in the puzzle."
While the program included two semesters of student teaching, Enguero extended her time student teaching to work with her supervisors and mentors on solutions to help her adapt to the classroom environment. Following her December 2020 graduation, she's been applying to positions in elementary and middle schools.
“I decided to go into teaching hoping I could help kids think more about what it means to be an empathetic citizen, someone who can be successful, who could use their talents and abilities in a way that best reflects who they are and what they could do for themselves and, one day, their community," Enguero says.
Pedro Espinoza Chico State B.A. Sociology ’99 Chief of the Gilroy Police Department
Advice for graduates: “Always prepare yourself for the next role, whether it's within your own organization or outside. And always be a nonconformist—seek to better yourself and better those who you represent."
As a child growing up in a Latino and African American community in Compton, Pedro Espinoza's passion was to become a police officer. Much of his childhood experiences shape the way he approaches law enforcement.
“I revert back to my childhood growing up in the inner city of Compton, to the relationships the community had with the police, and I understand the struggles from within the community," he says. “I understand the frustrations, and particularly when there's a national demand for reform. But I'm the first one to tell you the majority of us are good, hard-working people. It is our job to filter out those who don't belong in this profession."
From the time he and his friend took a Greyhound bus to Chico State to participate in the Educational Opportunity Program's (EOP) Summer Bridge Program before freshman year, Espinoza has always been preparing for his next role. While there, he worked with EOP and Associated Students programming and founded the first multicultural fraternity with friends.
After his final semester in 1994—though he had one last class to complete, which he later did in 1999—Espinoza sold everything he owned and enrolled in the police academy. He then joined the police department at University of California, Davis before transferring to the Vacaville Police Department and later the Gilroy Police Department.
In 2009, Espinoza took his first promotional exam and “failed it miserably." But a year later, he retook it and passed, launching his promotional journey through the ranks until being appointed chief of the police department in October 2020. Though the eighth appointed chief, he is the first to speak Spanish and English in a community that is nearly 60 percent Latino.
“In the interest of the continuity of the culture of the organization and doing what I thought was the natural next step for the organization, I took that challenge on at a time when its leadership and law enforcement have never been more important," he says. “The national climate and sentiments about law enforcement are critical, and we recognize change needs to be made to improve transparency and professionalism and to be able to maintain a healthy and resilient workforce."