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OLLI-CSUF Awards Three First-Gen Students for Commitment to Aging Science, Gerontology

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Cal State Fullerton’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute provides older adults with opportunities to continue learning in a university setting, engage with peers, serve their communities, and support and enhance CSUF activities. One meaningful way OLLI-CSUF supports and enhances CSUF activities is by offering scholarships to two undergraduate students and one graduate student who are pursuing a degree or minor in gerontology or aging studies. The scholarships, which add up to $4,500, are fully funded by OLLI member contributions.

The award recipients are high-achieving students seeking a career in the human development, medical or health fields and want to uplift the lives of aging adults, their families and the communities they serve, with a focus on inclusivity.

“OLLI-CSUF is proud to support these three amazing and resilient students — Reilly Burns, Nora Mahmoud and Lisbeth Roberts — in their academic, research and personal pursuits. We are excited for their current and future successes,” said Daisy Thomas, executive director of OLLI.

Freshman Explores Passion in Gerontology 

Stepping foot on CSUF’s campus as a first-generation college student was daunting for Burns, whose high school career was severely impacted by the pandemic. She said that she felt lost during her first year. It wasn’t easy. She dreamed of graduating from college and becoming a physician assistant, but the future seemed unclear.

Her second year was a turning point as she stepped out of her comfort zone and explored clubs and organizations. Becoming a member of Eta Sigma Gamma, the school’s national honor society and the Pre-PA Club were highlights. Reilly also sought research opportunities and discovered the two-year Medicine, Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Scholars Trained in Aging Research Program funded by the National Institute on Aging, a division of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

“This was extremely monumental in my academic career as I now felt as if I belonged somewhere and now felt as if I was being called to something new, gerontology,” said Burns.

Burns’ vision of becoming a physician assistant is now crystal clear, and she is on track to achieve that goal. She is aptly preparing to join a doctoral program related to the aging population.

For her academic achievements and intent in becoming a physician assistant, Burns earned a $1,500 aging science scholarship from OLLI-CSUF. She is currently majoring in public health with a minor in aging studies.

Transfer Student Aspires to Be a Doctor

Mahmoud’s parents were immigrants to the United States, facing hardships and stress. When she was younger, Mahmoud was incessantly curious. She enjoyed high school and actively participated in extracurricular activities, such as Science Olympiad and marching band.

Mahmoud’s desire to learn and curiosity inspired her to transfer to CSUF and major in biological science. She enjoyed the rigorous courses that foster a critical thinking learning environment.

“Doctors must be able to make diagnoses and problem-solve, a skill that CSUF has cultivated in me,” said Mahmoud.

Her curiosity led her to research programs on campus, such as the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program and the two-year MSTEM STAR program.

“By being a part of such an inclusive and supportive learning environment that allows me to engage in hands-on experiences, I am confident in CSUF’s ability to prepare me for the real world and to make a meaningful impact in my profession and community,” said Mahmoud.

Mahmoud also earned a $1,500 aging science scholarship from OLLI-CSUF. She is currently majoring in biological science with minors in aging studies and criminal justice.

Graduate Student Receives Master of Science in Gerontology Award

Supported by OLLI-CSUF, Roberts was named the Outstanding Master of Science in Gerontology Student, which includes a $1,500 award.

A first-generation college student, Roberts grew up in poverty, experienced food insecurity and endured familial struggles with alcohol addiction.

“Despite the challenges, school became my refuge, igniting within me a passion for continuous learning and a commitment to breaking the cycle of hardship,” said Roberts.

Together with the unwavering support of her family and her relentless perseverance and determination, Roberts became the first in her family to attend a university in the U.S.

Earning a bachelor’s degree in history from UCLA, Roberts felt compelled to return to school for a master’s degree in gerontology from CSUF.  Her work experience commenced at the Council on Aging Orange County, where she led the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program and gained insights into program management and community outreach. She gained leadership experience at SCAN Health Plan, where she began as the manager of marketing outreach, went on to become the director of innovative programs and served most recently as the chief togetherness officer, directing cost-efficient initiatives and fostering alliances in health care quality.

“I am fueled by a deep-seated desire to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others, particularly within the Latino community,” said Roberts.

Her commitment includes “compassionate care, advocacy and innovative solutions” to empower older adults to live with dignity, purpose and joy.

As the sole provider for her family, Roberts maintains a 3.5 GPA and is a member of Sigma Phi Omega national gerontology honor society. Her ability to drive innovation in gerontology and create a more inclusive and equitable society will be fueled by her eagerness to combine her academic strength, leadership skill set, and personal and cultural experiences.

“Through research, advocacy and community engagement, I aspire to make a lasting impact on older adults’ lives and ensure they receive the care and support they deserve,” said Roberts.

For more information about the Osher Lifelong Institute at Cal State Fullerton, visit the OLLI-CSUF website.

Debbie Vengco