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Dean's Medalists

First-generation grads recognized for academic excellence, leadership

By Sophia Huang McKenzie

Published June 16, 2020

Every year CSUMB honors graduating students for their outstanding achievements with six university-wide awards and five Dean’s Medalist awards. This is the fifth and final story in a series about this year’s honorees. To see our Class of 2020 virtual celebration, go to Graduate Celebration 2020.

Lissa Alaniz, Collaborative Health and Human Services

Dean’s Medalist for College of Health Sciences & Human Services

Lissa Alaniz

Lissa Alaniz didn’t start learning English until she was 7 years old, and was placed in bilingual education classes in school until age 14.

“I didn’t mind getting extra help, but I was never given the opportunity to try regular or advanced classes. They never once asked me what I wanted to do for myself. I felt voiceless,” Alaniz said. “The day I was finally able to challenge myself, I began thriving.”

Alaniz is committed to helping marginalized populations in the education system “because I was one of those youth,” she said.

A first-generation student, Alaniz graduated from from CSUMB in just three years with a 3.97 GPA and will next pursue a master’s degree in social work.

At CSUMB, Alaniz took on multiple leadership roles. She worked for the First Year Experience (FYE) office as an orientation leader and intern. She hired and trained other orientation leaders and planned the program’s first Spanish orientation program for transfer student parents and supporters.

“This is evidence not only of her awareness of needs on campus, but also her willingness to dive in and create new programs to respond to them,” said Derek Gutierrez, FYE coordinator. “Lissa is an innovative leader, always seeking to create new ideas and experiences that support a multitude of people.”

Alaniz also served on the Campus Traditions Committee, contributing to key events including Homecoming and “Otter Days” for new and returning students. She was a student advising assistant in CSUMB’s Upward Bound Program, and volunteered as an advocate at The Epicenter in Salinas, a youth-led program for transition-age foster youth.

“I have met so many people who have been such an inspiring support system,” Alaniz said. “My future goal is to inspire the younger generations in believing in themselves and their dreams.”

Mayra Guadalupe Gonzalez, Liberal Studies

Dean’s Medalist for College of Education

Mayra Guadalupe Gonzalez

Mayra Guadalupe Gonzalez believes in “the amazing potential that every human possesses.” A first-generation college graduate, she aspires to a career as an elementary school teacher to help students achieve their goals and dreams.

“Students are capable of expanding their knowledge and learning no matter their background, what language they speak, or where they come from,” she said.

Gonzalez graduated magna cum laude from CSUMB with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies. In the fall, she will begin CSUMB’s postbaccalaureate Teacher Pathway Program in elementary education to earn a teaching credential.

Gonzalez grew up in South Monterey County and attended Greenfield High School. Her interest in teaching began then when she volunteered with the non-profit organization Girls, Inc. to provide support for young girls in the community.

During her final year of high school, she started a small program to provide tutoring and literacy lessons to students, because she knew many of them were growing up in non-English speaking families. After high school, Gonzalez went to Mexico for a year and worked as a tutor teaching English as a second language in public schools. These experiences grew her passion for working with students, specifically students in low-income communities, she said.

Gonzalez earned an associate’s degree in elementary education at Hartnell College in 2017 before transferring to CSUMB. During her time at Hartnell, she worked with preschool children at the Child Development Center and with middle and high school students interested in pursuing higher education through the UC Santa Cruz Gear Up Program. She continued working with students as a peer mentor for the Teacher Pathway Program at CSUMB.

“I want every single child in my community, and in similar communities, to know that there are no limits for the goals they set for themselves and that they can aim for the stars,” she said. “All students are capable of much more than what society believes they can accomplish.”

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