Sally Casanova Scholars draw inspiration from mentors and inspire fellow Otters

2022-23 Sally Casanova scholars

Nikoke Babcock, Kimmy Smith, Spencer White

October 1, 2022

By Mark C. Anderson

The CSU system has the capacity to constantly reimagine, reenergize and renew.

Three CSUMB Otters and a particular ongoing project help illustrate how that happens. 

The Sally Casanova PreDoctoral Program—which is part of the larger CSU "Future Faculty" initiative— just recognized those three Otters. 

The program’s goal is to connect students from their undergraduate work to doctoral curricula, while preparing them to return to one of the 23 CSU campuses to teach.  

Natasha Oehlman, who is a CSUMB writing and professional communication associate, and a key part of CSUMB’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Center (UROC), helps put the Casanova program in perspective. 

She describes it as a great scholarship opportunity for both graduates and undergraduates who are underrepresented, first-generation students looking to learn about ongoing education programs through the lens of the research they’re currently conducting.  

“Many scholars and honorable mention awardees are the first in their families to attempt doctoral programs, or even graduate school,” she says. “This scholarship recognition can inspire those aspirations and make [those students] feel part of a larger community, with support along the way, to help them realize their goals and dreams.”

Each of this year's slate of scholars are active alumni of UROC and have been working with their faculty mentors to meet their graduate and professional goals. Their awards provide funds to visit and apply to California universities or other doctoral-granting institutions. Deans and university leaders are invited to attend a luncheon to celebrate the awardees, hear semi-formal presentations, and to share advice and stories about their own pathways to doctoral programs.   

Profiles of the 2022 recipients appear here:

Nikole Babcock, Psychology Major

Few people might profess complete confidence they’re on the best track. For Babcock, the Casanova recognition helped change that. 

“When I got the news I earned the honor, I instantly felt a deeper sense that I was on the right pathway towards achieving my goals,” she says.

She describes acceptance into the program as “an incredible stepping stone” personally, but more widely as “an amazing opportunity for me to be able to return to a CSU after grad school and give back to my community.”

She credits her UROC mentor Shannon Snapp for the chance to give back.

“Dr. Snapp has been an incredible pillar of support,” Babcock says. “I have never had anyone invest so much time into my development, and I am eternally grateful for all that she has done for me.”

She also cites Oehlman’s help, specifically for, in Babcock’s words, “all of [her] genius writing support and encouragement in always pushing me to dig deeper.” 

Spencer H. Winter, Double Major in Molecular Biology and Human Development and Family Sciences 

Winter has cultivated a desire to be a CSU professor for a long time. With this pre-doctoral scholarship, he’s experiencing the joy of the CSU returning the feeling.  

“I’ve wanted to become a professor at the CSU primarily because I really believe in the mission,” he says. “Because the Sally Casanova scholarship is about expanding the pool of potential CSU faculty, it really feels like the system saying, ‘We would like you, too.’”

He characterizes his mentor, Zurine De Miguel, as someone vital to his education across STEM research work and beyond. 

“She’s always been there for me,” he says. “She's the person who really let me get my feet wet—literally, we were working with fish—and she's been very upfront about what goes into being a professor at the CSU and what her experiences have been like, which really helped me in my decision to pursue the award.”

Kimberly Smith, Collaborative Health and Human Services Major, Public Health Emphasis

When Smith was a new spring transfer without any undergraduate research experience—or campus relationships—under her belt, she chose to go for the Sally Casanova scholarship mostly because it felt like a good learning exercise. Then the writing process promptly taught her to narrow in on her long term goals and her identity as a first generation, low-income striver. 

“I hadn’t felt at home in academia until coming to CSUMB, or been exposed to programs meant to encourage students like me to achieve their dreams,” she says. “The recognition reinforces that I am seen as a student capable of pursuing a PhD.”

Her honorable mention means she is in great position to apply in the next cycle with more research experience, while encouraging other Otters to apply themselves, and deepening her relationship with her advisor Jennifer Lovell at the Child Health and Wellness Lab. 

“Having Dr. Lovell as a mentor is like striking gold,” Smith says. “She is compassionate, brilliant, collaborative, and encouraging. She is making me a better researcher and scholar.”

Future candidates, whether graduate students or undergraduates, can contact