Ask Todd Callahan about being in a tough spot, and he will probably tell you that you can turn it around. The public administration major is one of 23 recipients of the 2015-16 CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement, awarded each year to those students who demonstrate superior academic performance, personal accomplishments, community service and financial need.
While working full time, Callahan returned to school to become a fire inspector, enrolling in Santa Ana College in 2011. During his first semester, he had reconstructive surgery to repair damaged tendons in his leg. As he was recuperating, his mother was diagnosed with cancer.
“What I thought was a transformation for me, putting my life back on track, turned out to be an opportunity for me to take care of my mother,” he explains. “I thought it was about me, but I was actually there to help her with her journey and battle against cancer.”
She passed away before she had the chance to see him get married that year and before the birth of his new son. After that, says Callahan, “it became my passion to finish strong.”
In a daily struggle to “make things happen” that included having to choose gas over food, learning to walk again and blending together a family of seven, Callahan graduated with highest honors, a professional certificate and two associate degrees from Santa Ana College. He enrolled at Cal State Fullerton in fall 2014 and began a new job for the city of Long Beach Fire Department, working 10-hour shifts and going to school at night.
Callahan, a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, and Yuriy Dzyuba of California State University, Sacramento received the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation scholarships. The Sycuan Band is one of 13 Kumeyaay tribes, each a sovereign nation with their own federally established reservation.
A member of Phi Theta Kappa, the senior is also the recipient of several scholarships, as well as the President’s Volunteer Service Award from President Barack Obama for his volunteer work. Callahan plans to pursue graduate degrees in public administration and law, with eyes set on a teaching career: “I hope to help others to embrace, harness and maximize their potential via education.”