CSUSM graduate advocates now and in the future

Pierson Cepeda, Assistant Web & Social Media Manager


Photo by Cody Cook

Human development major Kyle Azcuna finishes his time at CSUSM leaving behind a legacy of campus involvement and planning a future as an educator.

It was imperative to get involved on campus during his first year, a practice he carried over from high school.

“I wanted to get involved, like, right off the bat,” said Azcuna.

At El Segundo High, Azcuna participated in volleyball, Link Crew, Associated Student Body (ASB) as well as being crowned Homecoming King his senior year. Azcuna continued this track record of involvement with memberships in Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), O­-Team, Resident Advising, the Provost Search Committee, Greek Leadership Council (GLC) and ASI.

The San Marcos Experience Program helped Azcuna acclimate to college life by grouping him with other new students. During the spring semester of his freshman year, Azcuna rushed SAE and became a pledge, which would become an important part of his college career.

Azcuna then became a representative for the GLC and to their national headquarters. In his position of leadership, Azcuna worked hard to become a great leader.

“I’ve gone to at least 10 leadership schools learning how to be a better leader in the fraternity, and in life in general. Learning how to be a true gentleman, that’s our creed… you can never be a true gentleman in full, but you can always aspire to be a true gentleman,” said Azcuna.

One of the leadership schools Azcuna attended was University of La Verne. With the different tracks of leadership programs, Azcuna decided upon diversity inclusion.

“I’ve been a really big champion of diversity in my chapter,” said Azcuna.

He has come to champion diversity as part of his leadership, volunteering for events like the Nu Alpha Kappa Drag Show.

“I was volunteered, not of my own will, to do a drag show. At first I was like, ‘I don’t know. What’s it gonna be like dressing up like a woman?’ But we did a workshop and everything and we learned about the drag community, learned more about the LGBTQA community. My biological brother came out like three years ago, so I kinda dedicated my performance to him,” said Azcuna.

Azcuna managed to steal the show being crowned the inaugural Drag Queen.

Graduating in May, Azcuna will be attending a teaching program in Los Angeles that gives him the opportunity to teach children. He wants to work as a special education teacher, specifically autistic children.

Azcuna embraced his role as a leader by advocating for underrepresented communities. He aims to bring this motivation to his future endeavors as he continues his advocacy.


CSUSM community reaches out to refugees with art

Pierson Cepeda, Assistant Web & Social Media Manager


Throughout the year, CSUSM students, faculty and community partners participated in the Art Miles Mural Project, an international movement that connects people through healing murals.

Joanne Tawfilis, a CSUSM community partner, is responsible for creating the program. Art Miles was born when Tawfilis gave children in Bosnia the opportunity to create art by taking a bullet­-ridden sheet, patching it up and asking them to paint.

Tawfilis is also the founder of the Muramid Museum and Art Center, the first mural museum in which the works created from the Art Miles program will be displayed.

Each mural begins with volunteers painting on one half of the canvas, leaving the other half unpainted for the specific community to whom they are reaching out. One such community is the group of refugees in Syria fleeing the strife caused by the outbreak of war.

Another program partner is CSUSM faculty member Marilyn Huerta. She works to spread the use of art in other CSUSM programs, such as Student Health and Counseling Services, Educational Opportunity Program, the Civility Campaign, Super STEM Saturday, CSUSM’s 25th Anniversary and Operation Art.

“I believe in the power of art because it helps people heal and deal with things going on in life— stress, grief, health, whatever you’re going through. It’s also a tool to help people communicate,” said Huerta. “It’s not always about creating a masterpiece, it’s bringing people together.”

Student involvement has become an integral aspect of the program. Dr. Eliza Bigham, a human development professor, has integrated the Art Miles program into her applied research classes.

“This was a really different stretch, because it was abroad and through aid workers. Really fun and challenging for the students,” said Bigham, referencing a mural her students worked on for Syrian refugees.

Bigham’s students also added another dimension to the project by giving other students the option to write something personal on notecards to the refugees. These notecards allowed participants the opportunity to become a part of the movement and think deeper about the conflict going on in Syria.

According to the Art Miles website, the project reaches over 100 nations and 500,000 people that have worked together to create more than 5,000 murals.

2016 President’s Outstanding Graduate

Cal State San Marcos helped mold their lives, and now they’re set to help change the world.

Six standout graduates from the Class of 2016 were honored at a special awards dinner for their academic achievements and service to the community while overcoming sometimes seemingly overwhelming challenges.

Honorees were nominated by faculty or staff and endorsed by their college’s dean. Here is Jamaela Johnson’s story.


Jamaela Johnson B.A. Human Development.

President’s Outstanding Graduate

Dean’s Award, College of Education, Health and Human Services

Jamaela Johnson would be the first to tell you that when she arrived at Cal State San Marcos from Vista Murrieta High School in Murrieta, she was a little bit of an introvert. No more. The standout scholar has transformed herself into an engaged community advocate involved in myriad causes on campus and in the larger community.

And our university is a lot better place because it.

Jamaela, who is vice president of Student and University Affairs, helped charter the CSUSM’s first African-American Greek organizations, contributed as a peer educator at the Gender Equity Center, served as vice president of the Black Student Union and as a student representative for Diversity and Inclusion, and helped coordinate the annual Race for the Cure through the Colleges Against Cancer organization.

She also helped coordinate community events as a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council; volunteers with the Black Coal & Rose’s Society, a K-12 girl’s mentoring program that focuses on interpersonal skills, professional etiquette, career guidance and self awareness; and advocates for sexual assault survivors and other social justice movements as a member of Feminists Unite while working with the group in pushing for CSUSM’s first Sexual Violence Advocate and Educator program.

Jamaela also is a proud member of Kappa Omicron Nu, a national honor society for human sciences. Her name is a regular presence on the annual Dean’s List.

“Jamaela Johnson exemplifies the values of the Human Development Department: civic engagement, social responsibility, and a commitment to helping communities in need,” said Rodney Beaulieu, assistant professor of human development. “In addition, she excels in the areas of academic achievement and campus wide leadership and activism. Her passion for addressing sociopolitical disparities, social justice and improving her own effectiveness as a leader has provided guidance throughout her educational career.”

Jamaela’s professional goal is to take the skills she has honed here and make a difference in world.

“My experience with the various student organizations helped me discover methods for mediating social problems, responding tot the needs of underrepresented groups, promoting social justice and equity, and enacting social change,” said Jamaela.

To review other Class of 2016 graduate stories, please visit http://news.csusm.edu/top-2016-graduates-honored-with-awards/


Two years, three honor societies later, Nikko Marabante leaves CSUSM with a bachelor’s


Photo by Jeffrey Davis

Andrea Martinez, Copy Editor

With just a two-year career at CSUSM, transfer student Nikko Marabante has left his mark on campus through six organizations, tying his academics and Filipino culture together.

Marabante transferred from Palomar in fall 2014 and joined the Kamalayan Alliance, a Filipino interest organization, the same semester. The following spring, he became an active member of Alpha Psi Rho, an Asian-Pacific Islander interest fraternity.

Marabante is also a member of the Human Development Club and three honor societies: Kappa Omicron Nu, Gamma Sigma Alpha and Order of Omega. He prides himself on being the first and only member of Alpha Psi Rho to be in Gamma Sigma Alpha and Order of Omega, as they both require a minimum 3.5 GPA for members’ junior and senior years.

Throughout his time with Alpha Psi Rho, Marabante has been influenced by alum Javier Enrique and members Sebastian Valadez and Joshua Foronda, all of whom he met through Alpha Psi Rho.

“Javi, Seb, and Foronda were my number one supporters since day one. They were there for me whenever I needed someone to look up to,” Marabante said. “They influenced me to be a greater student, friend and ultimately, how to be a true gentleman. I wouldn’t be where I am without their guidance. I have mad love for those three.”

Receiving guidance from them, Marabante said he wants to impact others in the same way.

“I want to show the newer kids in A Psi Rho how to step out of their shells and not just go with the flow and kind of do things that they aren’t really comfortable with, but at least they tried and gave it their all and experienced new things,” he said.

JJ Pilapil, a freshman and new member of Alpha Psi Rho, said Marabante has been there for him as his big brother, making sure he’s keeping up with his studies and has someone to lean on for support.

“I’m not one to share my feelings with a lot of people, so it was really cool to have someone that I’m able to open up to. And trust me, it wasn’t easy for him,” said Pilapil. “He had to open like a vacuum-packed sealed container. So that was really cool once I was able to find someone that I’m able to open up to and look up to.”

Marabante has held positions as Philanthropy Chair and Alumni Chair for Alpha Psi Rho, and will continue to be involved in the fraternity after graduation as Academic Chair and Co-Alumni Chair.

Upon graduation, he will receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in human development and plans to apply to the accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at CSUSM.

As part of a family filled with nurses, Marabante’s long term goal is to help kids as a pediatric nurse in a hospital.

“I just want to make it a better time for them and their families so they don’t really think about the suffering that they’re going through, but the help that they’re getting. I just want to make people’s day better.”

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Akilah Green reflects on an unforgetable CSUSM experience


Michael Tran, Health and Fitness Reporter

Akilah Green will never forget the education she received at CSUSM.

A human development major with an emphasis in counseling, she chose CSUSM because it was the first school that responded to her and she decided to give it a chance because it was a fairly new university.

“I was really excited to get accepted into this university,” she said.

Unsure of what she wanted to focus her studies on, Green changed her major four times. She majored in kinesiology, psychology and sociology before settling on human development because it combines all the disciplines she learned before.

“I realized I needed to graduate already,” said Green.

Her favorite class is Women’s Studies 101 because she gets to “see the issues beyond” herself and it “lit a fire” for her love of feminism and equality.

Green’s favorite professors are Dr. Alyssa Sepinwall, Cecili Chadwick and Dr. Dino Bozonelos.

“Being a black student and knowing the topic of slavery is going to come up is just going to feel really icky,” Green said, “[Sepinwall] just made it feel different. She’s really personable, and she was fun. She used Jay Z lyrics in one of our classes and related it to life.”

Speaking about Chadwick, Green said, “Not only is she fierce and empowering and an incredible intellectual, but she said not to be a passive consumer of education.”

“I have one more,” Green said, “Dr. Dino Bozonelos. He’s so straight up and matter of fact with you. He has a lot of knowledge and background in his field. He brings an emphasis on asking us what we thought… That will forever stick with me,” Green said.

When asked about the wildest thing she’s done at CSUSM, she said, “I try to keep my wild side off of campus, but so far the wildest thing I’ve done was the Undie Run.”

Approaching graduation, Green has “a salad bowl of emotions.”

“I’m thrilled, excited and proud for getting to this point. Before college, I had doubts of surviving it. It’s a bittersweet feeling. This has been my life for the past six  years, a big chunk of my life. But I’m ready for the next chapter,” she said.

After graduation, she plans to travel and then go to Officer Candidate School for the Marines.
“From there, I’ll pursue a master’s degree in whatever my heart tells me to do.”

Solving Critical Issues: Dr. Devan Romero, Dedicated to Improving the Health of Others

By David Ogul


Dr. Devan Romero is dedicating her career to improving the health of others.

The Cal State San Marcos assistant professor of kinesiology has helped establish a wellness program at a local high school, works with the community to adopt healthier strategies, and has long focused her research into factors determining substance abuse and other risk-taking behaviors.

“I have a passion for learning, teaching and discovery,” said Romero. “I love science and am excited to be able to approach it from an applied prospective to improve health and promote positive changes in people’s lives.”

A native of Southern California who grew up primarily in Nevada and Arizona, Romero has run a marathon, competed in aquathlons/triathlons and was a member of the rowing team at Barry University, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in exercise science. After securing a Master of Science in kinesiology from Cal State Fullerton, Romero earned her doctorate in public health from Loma Linda University.

Her research investigates behaviors related to tobacco, health programming among adolescents, and risk taking among adolescents and young adults.

“My greatest accomplishments have been in the success of my students’ professional and personal growth and the impact of my research in improving quality of life and enhancing health outcomes,” she said.

Teaching at CSUSM has been a blessing. The diversity of our University is very special and we are committed to engaging our community with our educational, research and service efforts,” she said. “I’m really proud to work at Cal State San Marcos.”

Operation Art brings support to local veterans, homeless


CSUSM Human Development students (from left to right) Lauren, Nicole and Emily, and Dr. Eliza Bigham (far right) help paint a mural for Operation Art at one of their biweekly Friday meetings.

Lexy Perez, Arts and Entertainment Editor

It is believed that art holds the power to heal. In Operation Art, those struggling to share their voice find comfort in art, for it allows them to express themselves in ways they never imagined.

Located at  Interfaith Community Services  Hawthorne facility, the project aims to support the homeless and veteran population. Project driver, Communication Specialist and artist/advocate Marilyn Huerta helped create the project and has partnered with CSUSM’s Dr. Eliza Bigham and Joanne Tawfilis.

To participate in research for their applied research class, Human Development 497, taught by Dr. Bigham, seniors Emily Rosenthal, Lauren Brickley and Nicole Robertson have attended sessions with the veterans and homeless of the Hawthorne facility every other Friday throughout the spring semester.

“By participating in Operation Art, my students get the chance to interact with veterans who are staying at the resource center while they transition through medical issues, housing challenges or similar situations six times during the course of the semester,” said Bigham. “I believe that having meaningful experiences with persons from populations that are different than your own, by reason of any dimension (i.e. culture, ethnicity, SES, ability, military status, etc.), helps the students to develop empathy, social responsibility, and cultural humility.”

Working with Dr. Bigham and Huerta, students encourage the clients to paint anything of their choosing on a mural. They found that many of the struggling individuals began to express a part of themselves each and every session.

“I love how the participants like to point out what they created and tell the stories about what’s behind the imagery. One speaks of imagery that depicts his military unit, whereas another tells me of a peaceful mountain landscape he painted. I love seeing the pride in their eyes as they share with me,” said Huerta.

Witnessing how much the clients find comfort in art, Rosenthal recalls how one client shared their grief through their painting.

“I have worked with a client who experienced the loss of a close family member and one day he began to paint angels that represented the person he had lost. This helped him heal emotionally by having a piece of art he made that was a constant reminder of his faith. It is important to realize that each person has unique ways of healing through art,” said Rosenthal.

Robertson adds that it’s rewarding to see how much a simple art project can lead to such happiness.

“I loved seeing a person who was once afraid to pick up a paint brush finish our two-hour session with a completed canvas. They are so excited to show people what they made,” says Robertson.

While Huerta, Bigham and students strongly believe in the power of art, they don’t see themselves as therapists.

“We stress that we are not therapists, but coach others to use art as a tool. This particular [project] is helping veterans and homeless clients to cope, communicate and connect with others. It’s also a fun activity that brings people together,” said Huerta.

Brickley reiterates that art can in fact be a powerful healing tool.

She said, “I think that people should be aware of how healing art can be when dealing with certain mental and physical issues. The art is unique to each individual because it can tell a story of what they are going through on the inside.”

With the semester coming to an end, Huerta and Bigham hope that the success of this project can not only show how art can be a powerful healing tool, but a foundation for building a positive community amongst those in need of one.

“Art gives them a voice and a project for them to focus on when reality can be difficult. By creating the mural, it provides an opportunity to feel a sense of belonging,” said Huerta.

Through this project, Bigham’s students were able to witness the power art can truly have on making a positive change in people’s lives.

“Art can improve the emotional well-being of one’s life by providing a type of therapy and self-expression that traditional ‘talk therapy’ is unable to do,” said Rosenthal. “Art gives them a way to heal without the need to speak.”

To learn more information about Operation Art and how you can be involved, contact Marilyn Huerta at mhuerta@csusm.edu and Dr. Eliza Bigham ebigham@csusm.edu.

Operation Art brings support to local veterans, homeless

Social Work Hosts Colloquium on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)


On April 7, 2016, the Department of Social Work at CSUSM hosted a colloquium on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) with nationally renowned speaker Carol Redding M.A.

Adverse Childhood Experiences, commonly known as ACEs may be the most import social science discovery in the past several decades. ACEs are adverse/traumatic childhood experiences that harm the development of individuals and may have long lasting influences on health and well-being. The original study by Kaiser Permanente in San Diego with over 17,000 participants investigated 10 main ACEs which occurred prior to age 18 and the impact of these on health and well-being. (see https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/)

Ms. Redding stated: “The higher the ACE Score, the greater the behavior (smoking, alcoholism, drug use), the condition (e.g. depression, obesity, STDs), or risk. An ACE Score of 4+ is the “tipping point” where behaviors, conditions, and risk increase dramatically.”

Ms. Redding reported that ACEs were surprisingly common, even among the participants in the original ACE study who were primarily white and middle class.

Resiliency was a main theme in Ms. Redding’s presentation; “ACEs create risk, but resilience mitigates risk. A trauma-informed approach to services fosters individual, organizational, and cultural resilience.” She stated the key to a resiliency informed approach with health providers is instead of asking individuals; “What’s wrong with you?”, ask “What happened to you? How has this affected you in your life?”

It has been stated regarding ACEs: “History may well show that the discovery of the impact of ACEs on noninfectious causes of death was as powerful and revolutionary an insight as Louis Pasteur’s once controversial theory that germs cause infectious disease. His ideas were slow to be adopted but are now universally accepted. Similarly, ACEs parallel what Pasteur offered—an underlying syndrome implicated in noninfectious causes of death. This is truly a remarkable discovery that is likely to change the way in which the field of medicine [social work, and many other fields are] …viewed and practiced (Larkin & Records, 2007, p.1).”

Ms. Redding was an ACE
Fellow with
the Centers for
Disease Control
and Prevention from 2003‐2006 and created a
highly successful marketing campaign for The ACE Study and is currently a doctoral candidate at Northcentral University. She is the CEO of Health Presentations, a non-profit organization, and continues her work of sharing ACE Study findings.

To learn more about the Social Work program in the College of Education, Health & Human Services at the California State University San Marcos (CSUSM), please contact our Student Services at 760.750.4277 or cehhs-ss@csusm.edu.


CSUSM & Social Work Promoted on Padres Pre-Game Show


Saturday April 23, 2016 was Social Work Day at the San Diego Padres. The purpose of this annual event is to promote public awareness about the many ways in which social workers support and enrich the lives of community members across San Diego County. Each year the four social work programs in the region (CSUSM, SDSU, USC, and Pt. Loma) join together with the San Diego Padres to host the event.

The theme of this year’s event was “Social Workers: Enhancing Healthy Aging”. Specifically, this event honored social workers in gerontology, and the individuals they serve.

Dr. Beecher, Program Director for the Master of Social Work at CSUSM, was interviewed during a pre-game segment by Mike Pomeranz of Fox Sports. Dr. Beecher gave a brief history of the MSW program at CSUSM and highlighted the program attributes, including but not limited to: low faculty to student ratio; faculty research and scholarship activities; and how the program fills North San Diego County’s need for an advanced training degree in Social Work.

To learn more about the Social Work program in the College of Education, Health & Human Services at the California State University San Marcos (CSUSM), please contact our Student Services at 760.750.4277 or cehhs-ss@csusm.edu.