CSUF News Service

Record Number of CSUF Pre-Doctoral Scholars Named

Statewide Program Supports Underrepresented Students Working Toward Advanced Degrees

Nine Cal State Fullerton graduate students are getting a helping hand in achieving their educational dreams this fall. They are among the latest class of the California State University Pre-Doctoral Scholars. 

It is the largest class of Titans to be recognized as Sally Casanova Scholars, named for the program's late founder, a former member of the CSU Chancellor's Office staff who launched the program in 1989 to ensure that traditionally underrepresented students have more access to doctoral-level degrees and to broaden the pool of talented faculty members inclined to teach at the CSU. 

"I think it is an honor to be part of a select group of scholars that have the same drive and passion I do for academia," said Areli Gonzáles-Castillo, one of the new scholars.

Fellow scholar Nancy Vargas agreed. "It helps me to be a part of a community of students who have had similar struggles, aspirations and dreams."

Research Driven

González-Castillo plans on pursuing a doctorate in Latin American studies with an emphasis on transnational gender migration. "I am most interested in the human rights of this population and the policy making related to protecting their rights," explained the scholar. "As an undergraduate, I conducted an investigation on the journey Central American people travel to get to the United States. This experience gave me the ability to not only be interested in the factors producing immigration, but also the social effects on the immigrant's homeland from the mass exodus of its workforce."

Undergraduate research also led to Nancy Chen's desire to become a researcher. Chen traveled to National Taiwan University in Taipei in spring 2013 to conduct zircon uranium-lead dating. The lab experience gave her clues to how small materials "can reveal the components that affect the formation of rock ... objects that we cannot see ... can illustrate a bigger picture of how the Earth works."

The experience also allowed her to connect with and observe geologists from around the world. "They all came together to solve a problem and these discussions are a way to critically explain the unknowns. Seeing everyone’s passion enhanced my desire to become a researcher."

"I had aspirations to be a doctor," explained Vargas, who volunteered as a peer health educator during her undergraduate studies. She realized that she herself was not as healthy as she could be and her passion became to make a difference in her community and to study health disparities due to social, cultural and economic factors.

"I want to teach, motivate and inspire students to pursue advanced degrees," Vargas said. "The public health field is constantly evolving and new generations are needed to develop innovative ideas. Through my research, I have realized different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds are needed to provide different perspectives and values for meaningful research."

Making Connections


Being part of the CSU Pre-Doctoral Scholars program, González-Castillo added, "will help me meet people in the same field as I am now, as well as network and connect with fellow scholars that may share the same interests."

"One of my favorite aspects of this program is the guaranteed summer internship," said Chen. "The internship will allow me to work with other professionals in the field and gain more experience. My goal is to teach geology and advise students to be independent in their thinking and to be active on campus, which will help them learn other useful skills such as teamwork and leadership."

 The Cal State Fullerton scholars, their current degree programs and cities of residence, are:

  • Ralph Castellanos '13 (B.A. communication studies – argumentation and persuasion) of Montebello, human communication studies
  • Nancy M. Chen of Fullerton, geology
  • Jaqueline Contreras Bugarin of Long Beach, communicative disorders
  • Areli González-Castillo of Corona, Spanish
  • Anabel Hernandez of Anaheim, Spanish
  • Maria Olivas of Tustin, master of public health
  • Denia Ramos Jiménez of Costa Mesa, Spanish
  • Cristy Sotomayor of Fountain Valley, psychology
  • Nancy Vargas of Costa Mesa, master of public health


Each honoree will receive a $3,000 scholarship and be offered opportunities to explore and prepare for doctoral programs, including a summer research internship program at a University of California campus or other doctoral-granting institution, travel to national symposiums, conferences or professional meetings and other related activities. More information is available online.

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