Tania Benjamin knew early, when she was a teenager caring for her sick grandfather, that she wanted to be a doctor. The 21-year-old cell and molecular biology major has spent her time at California State University, Northridge working toward that goal.
During the end of her freshman year, Benjamin joined professor Yann Schrodi’s organometallic and inorganic chemistry lab. One application of the research could eventually help pharmaceutical industries develop more effective drugs and therapies. In 2014, she was one of only 10 students from across the country chosen to intern for the Harvard Catalyst Summer Clinical and Translational Research Program. She worked in the Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology at Harvard Medical School, studying a human enzyme as a potential therapeutic target for cancer.
Despite the demands of her coursework and research in Schrodi’s lab, Benjamin still found time to found Big Buddies, a campus organization that pairs college students as mentors to homeless and disadvantaged youth throughout Los Angeles. The organization currently has partnerships with two shelters and the West Valley Boys and Girls Club. It serves more than 40 young people.
These are just some of the accomplishments that have earned Benjamin the distinction of being this year’s Wolfson Scholar, the top award for a graduating senior. The honor is presented each year in memory of CSUN’s first vice president, Leo Wolfson. Not only must the student have an exceptional academic record, but he or she must also have made significant contributions to CSUN or to the community through co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Benjamin has a 4.0 GPA.
In the fall, Benjamin will attend medical school at UC San Francisco. She plans to become an orthopedic surgeon.
“I plan to continue sharing the knowledge and tools I used to succeed to other first-generation Americans and college students,” Benjamin said. “Growing up, I found a calling in caring for others and now, I hope to extend that calling beyond the limits of my home to the larger world.”
Benjamin will be recognized at CSUN’s Honors Convocation at 8 a.m., Friday, May 15. Each year, four graduating seniors are presented with the Outstanding Senior Award in recognition of academic excellence, contributions to campus and community, and exceptional achievements or personal life circumstances they have overcome. These $1,000 awards are funded by the CSUN Alumni Association, the University Foundation and the Karen, Leon and Rita Goldstein-Saulter Memorial Fund.
The other 2015 Outstanding Graduating Senior Award Winners are:
Kimberly Arellano, 26, of Pacoima, is the recipient of the Karen, Leon and Rita Goldstein-Saulter Memorial Award. She is a public health major who has maintained a 3.83 GPA. Arellano is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including CSUN’s 2015 Dean’s Award for the College of Health and Human Development and a fellowship with the National Institutes of Health – Maximizing Access to Research Careers Predoctoral Fellowship. Last summer, she interned at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and has presented posters at both Harvard and Emory Universities on public health issues. She is active on campus as a member of Health Education Student Organization (HESO) and as an “alive and well” peer health educator, providing alcohol, tobacco and other drug-prevention education and programming.
Arellano is equally committed to community service. She served on the executive board of the Southern California Society for Public Health Education, and during her senior seminar in public health, she developed obesity-prevention programs for adolescents at local high schools. She is also passionate about animal welfare and rescue, and she volunteers at the East Valley Animal Shelter in Van Nuys. A first-generation college student and daughter of a single mom from Mexico, Arellano credits her success to the mentorship and support provided by CSUN’s Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program. “I’ve had opportunities I would have never gotten without this program,” she said.
This summer, Arellano will complete an internship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her career goal is to pursue a master’s in public health, earn a doctorate and come back to teach at CSUN.
Razmik Kajberuni, 22, of Sunland is the recipient of the CSUN Foundation Award. He is an accountancy and information systems major with a minor in business administration honors. He has attained a 3.98 GPA. Kajberuni has pursued academic success since immigrating to the United States from Armenia with his family at age 11.
“There were culture shocks and language barriers that were challenging, but I wanted to be successful,” Kajberuni recalled. “I worked hard to overcome my challenges.”
His hard work has resulted in numerous awards for academic excellence, including being selected as a University Scholar for two years in a row. He co-authored, with two CSUN faculty, an article published in the professional journal CalCPA Magazine.
On campus, Kajberuni has been active with the Business Honors Association, the Accounting Association, and he has worked as a tutor with the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics and as an income tax preparer for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. The graduate said he considers giving back to the community part of his “duty,” paying forward the help he received from the volunteers who helped him succeed. He volunteers with the environmental group Tree People and returns to his high school regularly to evaluate student presentations.
Kajberuni’s immediate goal is to pass the certified public accountant exam. But he already has been offered a full-time position at Ernst & Young, one of the most prominent accounting firms in the world.
Jesus Martinez-Ramirez, 21, of Santa Clarita, is the recipient of the Karen, Leon and Rita Goldstein-Saulter Memorial Award. He majored in political science with a minor in business law and has a 3.56 GPA. Martinez-Ramirez said he learned early in his college career that you get out of college what you put into it, so he has spent his time at CSUN focused on his goal of pursuing a career in politics and government.
His first venture into campus life was through his involvement with the cultural student club M.E.Ch.A (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan). He gained experience in organizing and went on to serve two years as a senator with Associated Students; as a member of the board of directors of the University Corporation; and as chair of the University Student Union’s board of directors. He also served as co-captain of the university’s award-winning Model United Nations Team. Martinez-Ramirez said he is inspired to succeed because of his status as an undocumented student and his single mother who has had to work multiple jobs to take care of him and his sister.
“I am a proud Matador because to me, CSUN means opportunity — since it has provided my family and me with access to a quality education, as well as opportunities to prepare me for a career in public service,” he said.
This summer, Martinez-Ramirez plans to participate in the Cal State D.C. Internship Program. He plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy and a juris doctorate. One day he hopes to serve in a local or state elected office.