CSUF President Fram Virjee and Executive Communications Director Matt Olson chat with Titans from all walks of life about all things under the Fullerton sun — from good books and favorite food to student success and cultural agility. Unscripted and unrehearsed, these candid conversations provide a sometimes heartwarming and often times belly-rolling glimpse into the story of the Titan Family and the work that makes their home a University of Significance.
Gaddi H. Vasquez is the descendant of migrant farm workers who instilled in him a strong work ethic and the value of serving others. He was the first member of his family to earn a college degree and has been a lifelong advocate against world hunger, disease and poverty.
Before retiring, he was senior vice president of government affairs for Edison International and Southern California Edison, one of the nation’s largest investor-owned utilities. He was responsible for government relations activities at the federal and state level, as well as local public affairs.
From 2006 to 2009, Gaddi H. Vasquez served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Organizations in Rome, Italy, including the World Food Program and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. He led major reform efforts resulting in the adoption of some of the most sweeping changes in the organization’s history. From 2002-2006, Ambassador Vasquez served as director of the United States Peace Corps where he led the international volunteer service organization with volunteers and staff serving in 78 countries.
Early in his career, he served as an Orange County supervisor, as chief deputy appointments secretary to Governor George Deukmejian, and as a police officer for the City of Orange. He has served on the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, the California Criminal Justice Council, the California Film Commission, and the board of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund. He serves on the boards of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California, the Pat Brown Institute, the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts, the national advisory boards of the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program and of the Salvation Army, and the board of trustees of Chapman University.
Ambassador Vasquez has been named one of Hispanic Business Magazine’s top 100 Most Influential Hispanics in the United States. Ambassador Vasquez is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the recipient of five (and soon to be a sixth from CSUF) honorary doctorate degrees.
Dr. Soraya M. Coley is the sixth president of the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona). An accomplished educator and administrator with four decades experience in higher education, Dr. Coley is the first woman and first African American scholar to be named president of Cal Poly Pomona. She has ushered in a new era of strategic leadership for the campus, establishing a vision for Cal Poly Pomona as a model for an inclusive polytechnic university that inspires creativity, discovery and innovation, embraces local and global challenges, and transforms lives.
As president, Dr. Coley leads an institution with nearly 30,000 students and 2,700 faculty and staff. Under her leadership, Cal Poly Pomona has continued to grow its legacy as the most diverse polytechnic university in the country and as a national leader in promoting social and economic mobility. Dr. Coley formally took office in January 2015, and during her tenure enrollment has grown by 6,000 students and graduation rates have reached historic levels.
Niveda Rao graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and a minor in Pre-Health Professions from CSUF in May 2020. She was an eight-time Dean’s Scholar in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and completed the University Honors Program. While at CSUF, she had the privilege of being a President’s Scholar, Supplemental Instruction Leader, and member of multiple on-campus clubs. In addition to her on-campus involvements, she was a part of the COPE Health Scholars program for four years, where she interned and served on the leadership team at St. Mary Medical Center, in Long Beach. Niveda conducted medicinal biochemistry research in the Billingsley Lab Group for three years. In April 2019, her research on the synthesis of the PKC modulator (−)-Indolactam I was published in Tetrahedron journal. After graduating from CSUF, she continued to work as an Emergency Room Patient Care Technician at St. Jude Medical Center while applying to medical school. Niveda is currently a first-year medical student at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine!
Marco Mendoza, assistant director of client services in the Office of Financial Aid, is Cal State Fullerton’s 2021 Titan of the Year. This recognition, which is one of the highest honors the university bestows upon faculty or staff members, is awarded to just one educator per academic year. Marcus was selected from a pool of hundreds of nominees due to his transformative work in breaking down barriers and building equity through the dispersal of Financial Aid outreach and resources. A first-generation immigrant and college graduate, Marcus’s leadership and advocacy for historically underserved students elevated further during the pandemic as he and his team innovated virtual modalities that empowered countless Titans to reach their academic goals and life dreams.
Alumna Shaina Nguyen ’21 (B.S. biochemistry) graduated from CSUF with a perfect 4.0 after four years of serving as both a student leader in the President’s Scholar program and an undergraduate researcher in the lab of Dr. Nicholas T. Salzameda, associate professor of chemistry and science. She blazed a trail in both arenas, earning the Glenn Nagel Undergraduate Student Research Award for creating new therapeutics to treat the West Nile virus and a role as Social Chair in the CSUF Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) Scholars program. Shaina aspires to become a physician-scientist in a clinical setting, so when she isn’t skateboarding or surfing, she spends her time preparing to apply for M.D.-Ph.D. programs.
Jason Dietrich, the sixth head coach in CSUF baseball’s Division I history, comes to Cal State Fullerton after spending the last two seasons as the pitching coach at East Carolina where he helped lead the team to the NCAA Super Regionals this year. Dietrich is returning to the Titans program after serving as the pitching coach in 2013-16. He also had stints at UC Irvine (2008-12) and Oregon (2017-19) that resulted in eight NCAA Regionals and one College World Series appearance. During his 14 full seasons at the Division I level, which includes two as director of operations, Dietrich has worked under ABCA Hall of Fame Coach Mike Gillespie as well as George Horton and Rick Vanderhook.
Dawn Person is Professor Emeritus in the Educational Leadership Department at California State University, Fullerton. She serves as the Director of the Center for Research on Educational Access and Leadership (C-REAL), a solution-focused, data-driven research center that serves community partners in Los Angeles and Orange county as well as national and international associates committed to issues of educational leadership and student achievement. Throughout her tenure at CSU Fullerton, she served as coordinator of the higher education programs, the doctorate in Community College Leadership and the masters of Science in education with a concentration in student affairs. Prior to her decade of college teaching, Dawn served as a counselor, advisor, and administrator in student affairs, coordinator of programs and services in support of students of color, international students, first-year students, and student athletes. She serves as a consultant to colleges and universities on program evaluation, student retention, organizational change, and equity issues. Dr. Person has co-authored books and written numerous articles and book chapters on student retention for African Americans, and women and student athletes of color. Among her many honors and awards, Dawn received the American College Personnel Association’s Diamond Honoree Award, a lifetime achievement award and the Most Valuable Professor Award. She remains active with the ACPA, NASPA, and other professional associations.
Bobby McDonald is a proud Titan alum and the president and executive director of the Black Chamber of Commerce of Orange County. Under his leadership, the Black Chamber of Commerce of Orange County has partnered consistently with minority business associations, local chambers, and legislators to provide support and advocate for the county’s many small-business owners.
McDonald is also a U.S. Navy Vietnam Veteran; a member of the 9th and 10th (Horse) Calvary Association-Buffalo Soldiers; and was recently re-appointed to the Orange County Veterans Advisory Council, where he is now chair of the council.
Ted Mitchell is president of the American Council on Education (ACE) and served as the U.S. undersecretary of education during Barack Obama’s presidency.
In every facet of his wide-ranging career — from president of a private liberal arts college and senior administrator at a state university, to a trustee of a major research institution and professor at an Ivy League university — President Mitchell has focused on equity, access, and academic success for all students.
Mitchell received his bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degrees from Stanford University. He lives in Washington, DC, with his wife, Christine, and their two children.
Rev. Ivan S. Pitts, a native of Los Angeles, is the 11th pastor of Second Baptist Church (SBC) in Santa Ana, CA. Prior to pastoring at Second Baptist Church, Rev. Pitts served 10 years as the senior pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in Danbury, CT. Known for his unique style and enthusiastic delivery of the Word, Rev. Pitts earned a Bachelor of Arts in Social Science from San Diego State University; a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Clark Atlanta University; a Master of Arts in Religious Education in Pastoral Studies from Fordham University; and a Doctorate of Ministry in Pastoral Care and Counseling from the New York Theological Seminary.
Having traveled the globe while and after serving in the United States Navy, Rev. Pitts now leverages the power of his education, training, and worldview to enhance pathways to Titan degrees as an adjunct professor at Cal State Fullerton. Rev. Pitts is a devoted husband to his wife, Tanishé, and a loving father to his four children.
Asha Bhattacharya is a President’s Scholar as well as a University Honors and Business Honors student at Cal State Fullerton. Poised to graduate Summa Cum Laude this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Marketing and a Minor in Psychology, Asha is currently conducting her Honors Senior Thesis on the relationship between mindset and leadership emergence in class settings, and has been selected to present her findings at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. Throughout her time at CSUF, Asha has taken on myriad leadership roles, including serving as a Senior Resident Advisor, the Executive Director of Media Marketing for the Business Honors Program, the Programs Director for the Resident Student Association, and the VP of Public Relations for the Business Honors Program.
Asha’s most meaningful area of impact with the university is also the avenue by which she met President Virjee: her dedication to provide CSUF students with better mental health care. In 2019, President Virjee appointed her to represent the university at the American Council on Education’s Mental Health Summit in New Orleans where she advocated for more accessible mental health resources for all CSU students. Upon graduation, Asha will begin a full-time position working for Amazon, but her leadership and legacy will continue to shine at her alma mater.
A product of public schools — from kindergarten to Ph.D. — and a first-generation college graduate who calls CSUF her alma mater and second home, Dr. Thomas’s passion for equitable access to quality public education is matched only by her lifelong commitment to reinvest its transformative power in others. This is evident throughout her nearly 20-year career at UC Davis in myriad academic and administrative roles — from undergraduate faculty advisor, professor, and department chair in the Department of American Studies to Vice Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Education (UE). In her new role at Cal State Fullerton, Provost Thomas provides leadership for division student success initiatives and the planning and management of academic, instructional, and financial resources supporting teaching and scholarly activities.
Cameron Cook enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on September 11th, 2001, where he served as an Aviation Logistics Technician in Okinawa, Japan; Camp Pendleton, California; and Al Asad, Iraq. After his Honorable Discharge in 2005, Cameron utilized several VA education programs including the Montgomery and Post 9/11 GI Bills, Work Study, and On the Job Training. This firsthand experience gave him an in-depth understanding of multiple benefits, which is the foundation for his veteran service career. Since separating from active duty, Cameron has spent the last fourteen years pursuing his passion of serving veterans and their families, and he currently serves as the Director of the Veterans Resource Center (VRC) at California State University Fullerton. With expertise in program oversight, student services, benefit advising, donor cultivation, community engagement, data management, and many veteran-specific areas such as employment, mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness, Cameron is an active and well-qualified leader of the VRC.
Born in Kansas and a journeyman resident of nine states over his lifetime, Cameron’s path to CSUF is chock full of soul-enriching life experience and adventures. Take a listen as Fram and Matt dive into a terrific conversation with this husband, father, veteran, creative writer, and proud Titan leader of our VRC – Cameron Cook!
After immigrating to the United States from Hong Kong at the age of three, Cecil Chik grew up in Florida where she navigated and embraced Latinx culture while living in a traditional Chinese home and simultaneously learning three languages — Chinese, Spanish, and English. This intersection of cultures and identities sparked a lifelong passion for education and social justice that continues to be the foundation of her work and leadership today. Currently serving as the Director of Engagement and Learning in Cal State Fullerton’s Division of Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion, Cecil is integral to the university’s nationally recognized diversity and inclusion work that creates and enhances learning and community building opportunities for all Titans.
Cecil earned a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics Education and a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from the University of Central Florida, and she is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Education from — where else? — Cal State Fullerton.
Congressman and CSUF alumnus Lou Correa represents Anaheim, Garden Grove, Orange, and Santa Ana in California’s 46th District. He formerly served Orange County in the California State Assembly, State Senate, and as an Orange County Supervisor.
Congressman Correa is a longtime Orange County resident, with deep local roots. To this day, he lives only three miles from his childhood neighborhood. He is the son of working class parents who’s hard work gave him a chance at the success. He has spent his career fighting to protect the American Dream, and ensure anyone can reach the middle class, just as he did.
Congressman Correa serves on the House Judiciary Committee, and is a member on the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security and the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet. He also serves on House Homeland Security Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security, and a member of the Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, and Operations.
Lou lives in Santa Ana with his wife of 28 years and their five children. He can be found at community events every weekend.
Kelly Ford, who has enjoyed success as a collegiate athlete, community college head coach, and a Division I head coach, enters her eighth season as the head coach of the softball program at Cal State Fullerton for 2019-20.
Ford and her Titans took home their fourth consecutive Big West Conference championship in 2019, marking just the third time in Big West history that a program won four straight crowns. Fullerton went 38-18 overall and 18-3 in conference action claiming their 12th Big West title and making their 29th NCAA Regional appearance.
The 18-3 mark ties the 2018 squad for seventh-best conference winning percentage in a single season. For the second straight season, the Titans did not lose a single Big West series now winning 14 straight and 25 of their last 28 going back to 2016.
Coach Ford made history of her own claiming her fourth straight Coach of the Year honor becoming the first time in Big West softball history to accomplish the feat.
Dr. Kristi Kanel is a two-time CSUF alumna and a full professor and chair of the university’s Department of Human Services. She has served the Titan Family as an educator, mentor, researcher, and academic leader for more than 35 years, and quite literally wrote the book on crisis intervention (A Guide to Crisis Intervention). As a practicing psychotherapist, she served as a counselor in myriad settings, including non-profits, public agencies, and in private practice. All of her research — from crisis intervention theory to skill building for crisis workers — makes her ideally suited to join her colleague, Dr. Michele Wood, in maintaining healthy shared community experiences during in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Michele Wood is a full professor and chair of Cal State Fullerton’s Department of Public Health. Her research interests include disaster preparedness, risk communication, HIV/AIDS among high-risk populations, and program evaluation. Dr. Wood has served as a subject matter expert for the National Academies of Science in a series of workshops examining mobile alerts and warnings, and has helped several agencies study, develop, and test mobile alert and warning messages, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS), National Fire Protection Research Foundation, and the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES). She is currently a subject matter expert for the USGS ShakeAlert Joint Committee for Communication, Education, and Outreach and for the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC). She has recently been awarded funding by the USGS to conduct research on public response to ShakeAlert, the new earthquake early warning system for the US West coast.
Dr. Chris Peterson is a Professor of Music at Cal State Fullerton where he directs the CSUF Concert Choir, the Titan Men’s Chorus, and teaches myriad classes in music education. One of Fram’s closest Titan friends, traveling companions, and co-conspirators on many cross-campus shenanigans — see the 2019 Holiday Video or the now legendary “choral meeting interruption”— Chris is a harbinger of the joy, inclusion, engagement, and academic excellence that CSUF aims to provide all Titans at all times. He is also an internationally recognized vocal performer, judge, author, choral clinician, and guest conductor who transforms lives and lifts communities through the power of higher education and music.
Mir earned his Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, with an emphasis in deviance and crime, from Cal State Fullerton in 2019. He was awarded the 2019 Steward of Place Award from the CSUF Center for Internships and Community Engagement for his work mentoring youth from underserved communities. Mir has a passion for student affairs and is pursuing a Master’s degree in Counseling, with an emphasis in student development in higher education, at Cal State Long Beach.
Dr. Timothy P. White is the seventh chancellor of the California State University, the largest and most ethnically and economically diverse four-year university in the United States. A champion of inclusive excellence and student achievement, he leads the CSU as it implements Graduation Initiative 2025, an ambitious systemwide plan to increase graduation rates, decrease time to degree and eliminate achievement gaps for students from all walks of life. White is also renowned for his commitment to environmental sustainability, diversity of leadership and compassionate action on behalf of Dreamers.
White deeply believes in and is a product of California’s Master Plan for Higher Education, having pursued his higher education from Diablo Valley Community College; Fresno State; Cal State East Bay; and the University of California, Berkeley. Like many CSU students and alumni, White was the first in his family to attend college and earn a degree.
Alumnus Tam Nguyen ’05 (MBA) is the former president of the CSUF Alumni Association, founding president of the Vietnamese American MBA Alumni Chapter, and the current president and owner of Advance Beauty College. Tam also serves on the Cal State Fullerton Philanthropic Foundation and myriad non-profit organizations throughout the community, including the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce. A first-generation college graduate, Tam’s life story — from being separated from his father, a South Vietnamese Naval Commander, during the Vietnam War, to reuniting with his family in the United States and creating one of the largest manicuring programs in the nation — epitomizes both the American Dream and the integral role Cal State Fullerton plays in making that dream a reality for so many.
Dr. Gregory “Chris” Brown is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Academic Senator, and the CFA President at Cal State Fullerton. Born in Watts, California, Brown’s childhood surrounded by gangs sparked his intense interest and study of criminal culture. Now a widely recognized academic expert in the areas of crime, gangs, and corrections (as well as a transformative leader in his community through myriad volunteer efforts), Dr. Brown embodies the theme we instill in and expect from all faculty, staff, and students: Titans Reach Higher. And while he is arguably the best-dressed man on campus, he is inarguably the loudest laugher – an assertion that is more than proven on this awesome episode of Fram & Friends.
Jim Donovan is CSUF’s 11th Athletic Director, and since his arrival in 2012, student-athlete graduation rates and team Academic Progress Rates have consistently risen, annual fundraising for Athletics has nearly quadrupled, and student attendance at athletic events has increased by more than 1,200%. On the field, Titan Athletics has been equally impressive under Jim’s leadership, including two College World Series appearances, a historic run to March Madness for men’s basketball, the first Women’s Track & Field conference championship, and the first Big West Commissioner’s Cup in school history. Due to the transcendent nature of Jim’s leadership throughout the campus community, he is the 2018 Titan of the Year and recently became the first AD in school history to serve on the President’s Cabinet.
Amber Lambert is a double major in Mathematics and African American Studies whose May 2020 graduation will be the culmination of four years of Titan excellence. After successful stints as a key leader for both the Black Student Union (first as Finance Chair and then as President) and the African American Resource Center (Social Justice Chair), Amber now serves as Chair of the Afrikan Black Coalition Conference. For these reasons and so many others, including Amber’s infectious laugh and fearless pull-no-punches voice, Fram proudly invited Amber to be the inaugural guest on Fram & Friends.
An introduction to the “Fram & Friends” podcast by Cal State Fullerton President, Framroze Virjee.