It takes hard work, determination and long hours in the library to master the art of juggling an often capricious schedule amidst the demands of midterms, multi-page papers and final projects. It pays off in the end, as thousands of family members, friends and fellow classmates will cheer as California State University, Northridge’s class of 2016, more than 11,120 strong, walks across the stage at graduation ceremonies.
Here are some of those students’ stories:
Charles Etienne, B.S. in Physics, with an emphasis in Astrophysics
Etienne, 35, of North Hills was born in Canada and grew up in New Jersey. He had dreams of being a musician, so after high school he moved to New York City, where he got a job as a sound engineer and played in a band. After six years, the band members moved to Los Angeles because of its thriving music scene and a lower cost of living. They settled in Van Nuys in 2001.
“I would work as a sound engineer during the day, temporary jobs here and there, and play shows at night,” Etienne said. “Wherever I worked, as things broke I would repair them. That sparked a curiosity about the principles behind why things work and why they don’t.”
After he got a job in technical support for the music equipment company Line 6, he started taking classes in 2009 at Pierce College to see if he could find the answers to his questions about how things worked. Eager to learn all he could, he decided to take a class at CSUN the following year.
While on campus, he stumbled upon CSUN’s Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Formula One car design project. Learning that the student team needed members, he volunteered.
“There was chemistry on the team and, lo and behold, a couple of months later, I was the project manager,” Etienne said.
He enrolled at CSUN that year as a physics major. Inspired by his time with the Formula One team, Etienne decided in his sophomore year to look for a similar experience in CSUN’s physics department.
In spring 2015, in the third week before the end of his last semester, Etienne, who had just landed a full-time job as a mechanical designer at the music technology company Strymon, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. His professors suspended his studies while he sought treatment. Etienne had surgery and is now cancer free.
A few months after taking a health leave from CSUN, Etienne returned to the campus, finished his assignments and completed the requirements for his bachelor’s degree in physics, with an emphasis in astrophysics.
Tamus Glunz, B.S. in Business Administration, with an emphasis in Real Estate and a minor in Business Law
Tamus Glunz’s world imploded in 2009, during the worst of the recession. She lost her home and investment properties, and was left homeless.
“Life changed dramatically,” she said. “It was a matter of reinventing myself.
The 58-year-old Northridge resident spent much of her childhood in Europe, living in Germany, Spain and Majorca and traveling. Her father was a pilot and her mother a stewardess for Pan American World Airways. The family moved back to the United States when Glunz was in fourth grade and settled on a ranch in Madera, Calif.
In 2006, Glunz enrolled at Hancock College — her sixth attempt at completing her college degree — before transferring to CSUN in 2013. It was during her time at a community college in Santa Barbara in the 1980s that an attentive professor realized that Glunz had a learning disability and made accommodations. When her world imploded during the recession, Gluntz was determined not to give up.
Despite being homeless — sometimes living on friends’ couches, housesitting or helping those in need of in-home healthcare assistance, or occasionally living out of her car — Glunz dedicated herself to her education. She said she owes her bachelor’s degree in part to the staff at Hancock College and CSUN’s Educational Opportunity Programs (EOP)and Disability Resources and Educational Services, who helped her when she needed it most with words of encouragement, guidance or accommodations for her disabilities.
In 2014, realizing that there were other students like her — homeless or unsure where their next meal would come from — Glunz started what is now the Matador Food Bank, with the help of Justin Weiss, former director of CSUN’s student volunteer service program “Unified We Serve.”
Nazanin Keynejad, M.A. in English
Nearly 23 years have passed since the first time Nazanin Keynejad stepped onto the CSUN campus. At that time, she was here to get a degree, and nothing else. Her employer at the time had promised her a promotion if she had a college degree. She applied to CSUN to finish a bachelor’s degree in English, which she had started a few years earlier at UCLA.
“I was here during the [1994 Northridge] earthquake,” said Keynejad, of Oak Park. “I went to classes in the trailers … It was a very interesting experience.”
Keynejad, who immigrated from Iran as a teenager with her mother, said she finished her degree and she was able to take advantage of the job promotion. She eventually got married, had a son and started her own event marketing company. Then the recession hit in 2008, and work became scarce.
One day, while cleaning, she found a journal dating back to 1989 in which she had written her dreams of getting a master’s and doctorate in English.
“I talked to my husband,” Keynejad said. “He said, ‘You’ve been thinking about this for 20 years. You don’t have a steady job right now. Maybe it’s time to do it.’”
She said CSUN’s English faculty have fueled her passion for English literature and encouraged her interest in studying the rise and progression of the strong female literary characters in the 18th century. Her efforts earned her the CSU’s prestigious 2015-16 Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral scholarship.
Laura Ontiveros, B.S. in Public Health
When Laura Ontiveros walks across the stage in front of the Oviatt Library as part of commencement, the loudest cheers will be coming from her parents, Jose and Hermalinda Ontiveros. They made the decision more than 26 years ago to immigrate to the United States from Mexico, in hopes of creating a better life for their children.
Ontiveros, 25, of Pacoima, the fourth of their five children, was the first in her family to go to college. Her sister, Yesenia, who will be finishing her degree in psychology this summer, is the second to get a college education.
An honors student at Arleta High School, Laura Ontiveros chose biology as her major freshman year at CSUN because she thought a career in healthcare would be interesting. She admitted to struggling that first year to find her foothold at the university, and being disappointed when she discovered biology just wasn’t her forte.
Aware that Ontiveros was looking for a new major, a Sigma Alpha Zeta sorority sister suggested she explore public health.
“I ended up taking a class with professor Carla Valdez, and that first day of class, I knew it,” Ontiveros said. “She showed us the big picture of what it means to be a public health educator and I was like, ‘This is it!’”
Ontiveros said she treasured her time at CSUN and the lessons, beyond the classroom, that it taught her.
“Sometimes, as a Latina woman, you don’t know how far you can go. You don’t know your worth,” she said. “Coming to college gave me a sense of who I am and how powerful I can be, and what I can do in the world.”
David Stamps, M.A. in Mass Communication
David Stamps, 35, of Simi Valley, is passionate about taking his thesis, the “We Matter Project, to the next level when he graduates from CSUN.
“It’s about how we use social media to change the narrative,” Stamps said. “People don’t understand that you don’t have to fit into a box just because someone has created a box for you. We have to be equipped to understand that no one can tell our story but ourselves.”
In 1999, he enrolled at St. Louis University to study communications and theater. Two years later, he transferred to Columbia College Chicago, where, in 2003, he earned his bachelor’s degree, with honors, in media studies with an emphasis in nonprofit administration.
After graduation, he moved to Los Angeles not exactly sure what he was going to do, but eager to spread his wings. He worked for NBCUniversal’s marketing department for about six years, handling talent and arranging media events for more than than 80 films, from “Despicable Me” to the “Fast and Furious” and “Bourne” franchises. He also managed the internship program, which included working with CSUN students.
When Stamps married in 2010, he and his wife talked about starting a family. Shortly after the birth of his first child in 2012, Stamps quit his job and enrolled at CSUN. He became a stay-at-home dad who juggled three part-time jobs — as a dance instructor, a graduate assistant in CSUN’s Department of Management and a fitness instructor at the Student Recreation Center — and a full course load.
He said his wife, Monique, an elementary school teacher, has been his biggest supporter. She offered him words of support when times got tough and has been steadfast in her faith that he will succeed.