Class of 2021 Award Winners

Graduates smiling during commencement

Smiling graduates

May 21, 2021

CSUMB honors graduates for academic excellence, stewardship

By Sophia Huang McKenzie

Published May 13, 2021

Every year CSUMB honors outstanding graduating students with six university-wide awards and five Dean’s Medalist awards. This is one of a series of stories about this year’s winners, as well as other extraordinary graduates in the Class of 2021. For information about commencement celebrations, go to the Commencement webpage.

Jaspreet “Jasmine” Bhardwaj, Business Administration

President’s Award for Exemplary Student Achievement

Jaspreet “Jasmine” Bhardwaj capped off her exceptional CSUMB career with a string of awards. In addition to the President’s Award, she earned these honors: College of Business Dean's Medalist, Outstanding Business Administration Student, and Associated Students Outstanding Graduate. Bhardwaj, the first in her family to attend a four-year university, will graduate summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and dual concentrations in accounting, and management and international business.

At CSUMB, Bhardwaj served in Associated Students for three years as College of Business senator, vice president of financial affairs, and president. She actively addressed critical concerns facing students such as basic needs, financial aid, classroom instruction, equity and inclusion, and the Fall 2021 repopulation of campus. She also served on more than a dozen university committees including for University Corporation, the Foundation Board, Extended Cabinet, and the President’s Committee on Equity and Inclusion.

As a member of the board of directors for the California State Student Association, she advocated for the 480,000+ students on 23 CSU campuses, helping convince state legislators and officials to fully fund Graduation Initiative 2025 and restore CSU budget cuts.

In the community, Bhardwaj volunteered at Katherine's Healthcare nursing home and at middle schools in Salinas. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career in real estate.

“There are numerous skills I’ve acquired [at CSUMB], but the main lessons are to build relationships, stay grounded and remember your 'why.' Have the confidence to take on any opportunity, the patience to learn as you go, and the grit to not give up,” Bhardwaj said. “I aspire to continue to apply what I learned in order to break down barriers, build bridges, and contribute responsibly to California and the global community.”

Mikaela Bogdan, Environmental Science

President’s Graduate Award for Exemplary Regional Stewardship

As a master’s degree candidate, Mikaela Bogdan expected to gain invaluable skill sets to make her more employable. She didn’t expect to gain a strong desire and rekindled passion to use those skill sets to serve.

“My experiences at CSUMB have taught me that being an environmental scientist requires a careful balance between producing objective, defensible results, and nurturing a service-oriented mindset. Combined, these assets can be used to bridge the divide between scientists and the public to enact real change,” Bogdan said.

She has helped foster a relationship between CSUMB and the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County by mapping wildfire on the tribe’s reacquired ancestral land in Big Sur. Bogdan and her colleagues produced a quantitative assessment showing how reintroducing indigenous cultural practices could benefit the natural landscape. This provided the tribe with information useful for acquiring future funding for fuel reduction and vegetation management projects.

She worked as an Education Associate for the Carmel River Watershed Conservancy for three years, teaching watershed curriculum to local elementary through high school students and inspiring them to pursue science careers and environmental stewardship.

Bogdan created the first Carmel River Watershed Health Report Card to communicate scientific research and complex analyses in a format understandable to the public, policymakers, and land use managers. The report card is being used to prioritize funding allocation toward management and restoration projects focused on recovering endangered wildlife populations, alleviating flood risks to human communities, and restoring natural flows in the Carmel River, Bogdan said.

Melissa-Ann Marcelita Lagunas, Psychology

Provost’s Award for Exemplary Academic Achievement

Melissa-Ann Marcelita Lagunas, a first-generation Latina and the daughter of immigrants, has excelled as an undergraduate researcher and Koret Foundation Scholar. Working with her mentor, assistant professor Jennifer Lovell in the Child Health and Wellness Laboratory, Lagunas earned second place in this year’s CSUMB Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center Fall Research Competition.

She went on to present her work as a delegate to the CSU Research Competition in April. She has also received an offer to a clinical psychology doctoral program that specializes in ethnic and minority research. Lagunas will graduate magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in statistics.

“I want to use my education to promote culturally competent psychotherapy interventions among ethnically diverse populations. These aspirations derive from my undergraduate experience where I have been involved in various academic and extracurricular activities that have cultivated my passion for clinical psychology and contributed to the learning community at CSUMB,” she said.

Lagunas first came to the university as a student-athlete with a scholarship to play soccer. She later became a resident advisor for first-year, first-generation college students. She also served as an International Otter Buddy through Education Abroad, promoting intercultural friendship and awareness through acting as a mentor, resource, and guide for international students.

She volunteered in the community for the Wahine Project, a non-profit organization that promotes physical wellness through water sports such as surfing and boogie boarding for young women from underrepresented communities.

“The knowledge I took away from this experience solidified my passion for mental health and wellness among ethnic and minority groups,” Lagunas said.

Natan Ben-Yonatan, MS School Psychology

Provost’s Graduate Award for Exemplary Academic Achievement

Natan Ben-Yonatan has maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout his time in CSUMB’s three-year, school psychology master’s degree program. His academic achievement demonstrates his dedication to becoming a highly-effective school psychologist, and is even more remarkable because he worked full time and raised two young children throughout, according to Cathi Draper Rodriguez, interim dean of the College of Education.

During the program’s internship, Ben-Yonatan became a member of a San Jose school district’s leadership team and helped redesign the special education referral process to ensure that evidence-based interventions are applied systematically.

Ben-Yonatan reviewed, recommended, and developed the academic interventions the district will use. The work benefits all students, may help distinguish second language acquisition from learning disability, and helps address the disproportional findings of disability among communities of color, he said.

“Because school psychologists affect students’ lives so greatly, I have invested myself not only in my coursework, but in the success of my colleagues. I have sought in our classes, coursework, and practice to define our graduate experience as a collaborative experience so as to become the most reflective, understanding, and informed practitioners we can be,” Ben-Yonatan said.