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University Celebrates Faculty and Staff at 2021 University Awards Ceremony

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Cal State Fullerton celebrated its 2021 University Awards Program with a virtual ceremony featuring fun videos, jeopardy quizzes, scratch-off ticket prizes and sincere appreciation. Hosted by President Fram Virjee and David Forgues, vice president for human resources, diversity and inclusion, faculty and staff members were thanked for their service to Cal State Fullerton.

“While only a handful of faculty and staff will be recognized with awards today, all of us deserve this moment to revel in our collaborative success,” said Virjee. “I especially want to give a shoutout to our Re-Entry Leadership Team. Know that as we repopulate the campus over the summer and fall, this cross-campus group of Titan heroes is behind all of it. I also want to give special recognition to all the employees who have remained on campus from day one, supporting and maintaining the university’s ongoing operations.”

The highlight was the awarding of the 2021 Titan of the Year Award to Marco Mendoza, who works with students in the Financial Aid Office.

This year, 250 nominations were received for the Titan Excellence Award; 215 nominations were from students. Out of these nominations, three individuals were selected for the honor. Of these three, one was chosen as Titan of the Year.

2021 Titan of the Year

Marco Mendoza
Marco Mendoza

Marco Mendoza
Student Affairs (Student Services Professional, Financial Aid) 

The nomination for Marco Mendoza describes how he goes above and beyond. He is helpful to staff members and ensures that every student gets the assistance and support he or she deserves. He makes everyone feel comfortable, accepted, understood and valued. He makes an effort to include all students such as returning and older students, those with dependents, Dreamers and more. He creates a safe and diverse atmosphere every single time he engages with the campus, staff and students. 

In his role as a financial aid counselor training student peer advisers, Marco is generous with his time, making sure students are aware of and feel comfortable learning about the kinds of financial aid that are available. As peer advisers, students then feel well prepared to engage with students. Understanding the role that students play as peer advisers, he emphasizes that students are part of the Financial Aid team. 

Given the transition to remote work and the high volume in student intakes, his service to students and CSUF has grown. He goes the extra mile to ensure that all students he encounters feel ready to pursue their educational paths with ease and are knowledgeable about financial aid.

2021 Titan Excellence Award Winners 

Peggy Luna
Peggy Luna

Peggy Luna
Academic Affairs (Administrative Support Coordinator, Distance Nursing)

According to her nomination, “Peggy has been one of the ‘mainstays’ in the School of Nursing for several years. She has become essential for the smooth running of the nursing distance and online programs.

“Peggy is always available and incredibly patient in helping students and faculty with technology and TITANium issues, and she provides training for faculty and students. Always looking at new technology and teaching strategies, she frequently sends emails to faculty with links to articles or information about technology or strategies that might be useful.

“Her skills have been essential for first-generation and ESL students, who often do not have many computer skills. Her interactions help them create a feeling of community, especially for online students. 

“‘Ask Peggy’ is a phrase all students understand and use, even in weekly Zoom sessions.”

Debra Cote
Debra Cote

Debra Cote
Academic Affairs (Professor, Special Education) 

Debra Cote’s nomination notes that she is an excellent professor and an expert in her field. Not only is she knowledgeable about behavior and evidence-based practices, but she also is an excellent role model for future teachers. The student nominator notes that in one of the classes she took with Cote, she faced a daunting amount of technical reading and rigorous projects, and almost dropped the course. However, because the course was a prerequisite, she had no choice but to stick with it. 

“Professor Cote was always there to help her students. She held Zoom meetings to clarify information for upcoming projects and that made us all feel connected. She requested that we each make an appointment during her office hours so she could get to know each one of us on a more personal level. She spent 45 minutes getting to know me and when we were wrapping up the call, she said she was honored that I took the time to speak with her. I have never had a professor say something like that to me before, and it made me feel special. 

“She was always available to guide and support us. This kind of support and caring makes students want to work hard.

“We were assigned a group project where we had to work collaboratively with three other students we had never met. I remember thinking this would be difficult, yet it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my educational career. 

“When she noticed that I was turning classwork in on weekends, she reached out to me to see if I was okay. I shared with her my struggles of caring for a chronically ill husband and a daughter with autism. I was working and going to school full time. She showed great compassion, sharing a personal story that helped me. Professor Cote has made me wiser in so many ways, and she has touched my heart. I will never forget her lessons of inclusion, kindness and compassion.”

2021 Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Award

Health Equity and Advocacy Taskforce

The winner of this year’s Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Award is the Health Equity and Advocacy Taskforce. This work group, composed of staff from all areas of Student Wellness (including Counseling and Psychological Services, Health Services and Titan Well Health Promotion Services, focuses on building health equity into the Titan experience. They examine policies and advocate for changes that improve patient care, eliminate inequitable practices and reduce bias. 

“HEAT has discussed racial justice and its role in health care, anti-racism, privilege and mindfulness,” said nominator Mary Becerra, director of health services. “The goal is to provide ‘color insight’ instead of ‘color blindness.’ This past summer, HEAT provided the first of several training sessions to the Student Wellness team covering topics including systemic racism, privilege, the rise of white supremacy groups, anti-racism and more. They also distribute a monthly newsletter to the team for on-going awareness of the political, regional and local landscape as they relate to access and affordability of health care as a human right. 

Team members include Kerri Crooks, Shireen Ady, Jenna Ainis, James Alvarado, Olivia Benson, Lynnette De Los Angeles, Jennie Ho, Suzanne Knutzen, Phi Loan Le, Anne Luecha, MiaSabrina Marucut, Raymond Nguyen and Stephanie Toledo.

2021 Teamwork and Collaboration Award

Information Technology Device Request Team

The winner of this year’s Teamwork and Collaboration Award is the Information Technology Device Request Team. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, this group was created to rapidly serve the entire campus community’s device request needs. For more than a year, team members have worked closely with one another to effectively service students, faculty, staff and administrators. Communication, trust, cooperation and respect has been crucial because many of the requests are urgent and, at the start of the semesters, occur in high volume. 

Additionally, the team has worked with other Division of IT team members to ensure the campus community is able to request and pick up critical devices needed for teaching, learning and work. They also are in close contact with various campus departments and colleges to ensure that appropriate equipment — laptops, webcams, headsets, microphones, cell phones, tablets, minis and more — is provided to those who need it. 

They have gone beyond providing computers — when the decision was made to distribute face masks to those who needed them, the Device Request Team volunteered to distribute them at the Device Request pick-up location.

More than 9,000 devices have been distributed to those in need. 

“While many of us shifted to working from home, the IT Device Request team never left the campus,” said Rommel Hildalgo, associate vice president for information technology innovation, who nominated the team. “They stayed because there was an urgent need to provide the critical technology required to teach, learn and work remotely.” 

Members of the team include Torin Truong,  Michael Lam, Hector Ramirez, Kenneth Bacos, Jason Tsang, Vu Ho and JP Marquez.

Employees Honored for Years of Service

Hundreds of employees were honored for their years of service (in five year increments) including two employees who have served the campus for 40 years. 

For a complete listing of those who were honored for years of service or have earned an advanced degree during the 2019-20 academic year, visit HRDI’s website.

Joyce Cross Honored for 40 Years of Service to CSUF

Joyce Cross
Joyce Cross

When Joyce Cross first arrived at Cal State Fullerton 40 years ago, she was responsible for reviewing what were then called national direct loans (now known as Perkins loans — low-interest federal student loans for undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need).

“I saw an ad in the newspaper for someone to help with student loans and since I had prior experience with a student loan program, I decided to apply,” she recalled. “The campus was a lot smaller then. A colleague and I had a tiny spot in the procurement office on the second floor of Langsdorf Hall. We had to go to the main office that was at the opposite end of the building to pull the files we needed. Today, there is a coffee shop where the main office used to be located.”

Cross noted that although the campus has grown significantly, it retains its aura of friendliness.

“I think a lot of people like working here because we like working with people,” she said. “The campus community is still a great group.”

Needless to say, her job has changed considerably over the years.

“I used to come in early, pick up the blank check stock and take it to the computer center, which was then located in the basement of McCarthy Hall,” she recalled. “The computer operator would print the checks. I had to stay and watch the process. Once that was done, I’d bring the checks back to our department. The checks would then be run through a check-signing machine and we would get them ready for disbursement, which was always in person. Today, checks are mailed or handled by direct deposit. I also used to type out the check for Athletics disbursement.”

In her current role as associate director for student business services, Cross’s team handles student accounts, collections for the university and customer service for the department.

Prem Gupta Celebrates 40 Years of Teaching at CSUF

Prem Gupta
Prem Gupta

Forty years ago, Prem Gupta, a lecturer in Information Systems and Decision Sciences, joined CSUF as a part-time lecturer.

“After completing my doctorate degree from Stanford, I worked for two years at a pharmaceutical company in the Bay Area,” he recalled. “After that, I joined Hunt-Wesson Foods in Fullerton, but I was always interested in teaching business to students.”

He began teaching evening classes in the College of Business.

“The campus was much smaller,” he recalled. “We didn’t have a College of Business building. Parking was easy. My classes were about 20-25 students — about half the size of classes today.”

Gupta remembers grading exams and assignments manually and using calculators for mathematical equations.

“There were no personal computers, email, internet,” he recalled. “We taught using blackboards and whiteboards. Our emphasis then was more focused on math skills and less on practical business skills.”

Today, Gupta teaches classes that number 40-45 students and has been teaching online for the past year.

“We were already utilizing online interactions when COVID-19 hit,” he said. “In a sense, we were ready for distance learning. I can’t imagine how much bigger the disruption would have been if we’d been in a pandemic 40 years ago.”

When Gupta took early retirement from his job at Hunt-Wesson Foods, he began teaching full time.

“The college has shifted its focus to business decision-making rather than calculations,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed teaching at Cal State Fullerton. I love interacting with young adults and mentoring them for their future career paths. It also keeps my outlook young.”

Valerie Orleans