California State University, Fullerton

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President’s Scholars Program Launches Careers

Aug. 31, 2012


Patricia (Patti) A. Thomas

More than a decade ago, Patricia (Patti) A. Thomas was selected as a President’s Scholar, joining the Cal State Fullerton program for high-achieving students demonstrating strong academic achievement, leadership and community service.
Today, Thomas holds a doctorate and a master’s degree in sociology from Duke University and is a postdoctoral scholar at the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. She is studying how social relationships and race, class and gender influence health.
“I get to create knowledge with the studies I publish, and I also have a lot of autonomy,” said Thomas, who earned a bachelor's degree in sociology and American studies in 2005 and was a President's Scholar from 2001-05. “I greatly enjoy the academic life. There are a lot of very smart, productive people, and it’s great to discuss ideas, get feedback and collaborate on projects together.”
Her four years in the President’s Scholars program guided her on a pathway to realize a career in academia.
“The President’s Scholars program set me up on an upward trajectory for my career. The academic standards, encouragement and opportunities were invaluable to my college experience. The people I interacted with at CSUF helped me develop greater potential as a young scholar,” said the now-published author with articles in several academic journals, such as the Journal of Health and Social Behavior and American Journal of Public Health.
The scholars program enabled Thomas to focus on her academic studies while giving her opportunities to interact with faculty members and others on campus and in the community, which helped her to reach her academic pursuits.
“I had many people at CSUF who helped me achieve my academic and career goals,” said the Glendora native, adding that one of her main mentors was Rae R. Newton, emeritus professor of sociology.
“He encouraged me to take part in a research project with him and Dr. Edythe Krampe. Dr. Newton also encouraged me to pursue a Ph.D. and mentored me on the research process. Others, including Dr. Joseph Weber and Dr. Hilla Israely in Sociology and Dr. Michael Steiner in American Studies, also played important roles in my academic success. … I am very grateful to all who contributed their time, money and energy to the President’s Scholars program, which had an immensely positive impact on my life.”

2012 Incoming Class

This fall semester, 17 students — including three military veterans — have joined the 33-year-old President’s Scholars program seeking the same kinds of opportunities Thomas and other former scholars had to achieve college academic goals and successful careers.
“Our new scholars bring with them an excitement and dedication to pursue their dream of a quality college education,” said Deanna Merino-Contino, program director.
President's Scholars began on campus in 1979 and since its inception, 316 students have graduated from the program. Traditionally, only incoming freshmen were selected as scholars, but last fall, the program began accepting students who have served in the armed forces. The veterans undergo the same screening process, conducted by a selection committee that includes administrators, faculty, staff, donors, community leaders and current scholars.
“Including veterans in this program is not only our way of thanking them, but also of helping them on their higher education pathway,” said Merino-Contino. “The veterans have added a degree of maturity and leadership to the program, and our freshmen scholars have learned from the veterans’ real-world stories and experiences of serving our nation.” 
Plans are to continue to increase the number of veteran scholars, who are community college transfer students beginning their Cal State Fullerton studies as juniors.
The merit-based program is designed to provide a foundation for high-achieving students to develop and realize their potential for academic, personal and professional success, as well as build confidence and skills to become effective campus and community leaders and role models.
Freshmen accepted into the four-year program receive a variety of benefits, including a full scholarship that covers all tuition fees, a $750 annual stipend for textbooks and the loan of a laptop computer. Transfers students receive the same benefits for two years. Scholars must maintain a 3.5 GPA, participate in university and community service activities and have the opportunity to meet with CSUF President Mildred García.
To make the program possible, a significant amount of support comes from individual donors, including parents, alumni and friends of the university, Merino-Contino said. For the upcoming academic year, including the 2012 class, a total of 69 students — six of them veterans — are part of the President’s Scholars Program.

The 2012-13 incoming President’s Scholars who are veterans are:

Scott Hookey
Major: sociology
Hometown: Hawthorne
Community College: El Camino
Michael Jenkins
Major: biological science
Hometown: Lancaster
Community College: Antelope Valley College
Christopher Mellard
Major: communications-public relations
Hometown: Phelan
Community College: Citrus College

The 2012-13 incoming freshman President’s Scholars are:
Kaylin Deeth
Major: biological science
High School: Buena Park
Hometown: Buena Park
Samantha Galarza
Major: communications-journalism
High School: Valley View
Hometown: Moreno Valley
Christopher Harraka
Major: prebusiness administration
High School: Valencia
Hometown: Yorba Linda
Nicholle Knapp
Major: undeclared
High School: Apple Valley
Hometown: Apple Valley
Gabrielle Martinez
Majors: physics and communications-journalism 
High School: Mater Dei
Hometown: Garden Grove
Jacquelyn Moffitt
Major: child and adolescent development
High School: Capistrano Valley
Hometown: Mission Viejo
Amanda Nguyen
Major: biological science
High School: Esperanza
Hometown: Yorba Linda
Monica Nguyen
Major: kinesiology
High School: Valencia
Hometown: Yorba Linda
Candice Punzalan
Major: prebusiness administration
High School: Bear Cross
Hometown: Stockton
Tarlochan Rakhra
Major: biochemistry
High School: Valencia
Hometown: Yorba Linda
In the News:
Kelsey Smith
Major: theatre arts
High School: La Sierra
Hometown: Riverside
Timothy Smith
Major: political science
High School: El Dorado
Hometown: Yorba Linda
Wyatt Walsh
Major: mechanical engineering
High School: Rim of the World
Hometown: Twin Peaks
Jeremy Wilson
Major: mathematics
High School: Canyon
Hometown: Anaheim
For more information about the program, visit

By: Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

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