A drone camera captures the sunset over CSUN’s final Commencement ceremony of 2022. Photo by David J. Hawkins.

Media Contacts: Javier Rojas, javier.rojas@csun.edu or Kaley Block, kaley.block.788@my.csun.edu 

Of the approximately 3,500 graduates invited to take part in California State University, Northridge’s Honors Convocation on Saturday, May 11, six individuals will be singled out for special recognition as outstanding graduating students.

This includes Mitul Kalra, this year’s Wolfson Scholar, the top award given to a graduating senior. It 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 the community through co-curricular and extracurricular activities.

Mitul Kalra, 2024 Wolfson Scholar

“It’s such an honor being selected as the Wolfson Scholar and is something I never could have imagined,” said Kalra, 21, of Irvine, who will receive her bachelor’s degree in communication studies with a minor in political science in two weeks. “It doesn’t happen without the support of those that pushed me and believed in me these last four years.”

Since she began her studies in fall of 2020, Kalra has been actively involved on campus taking on leadership roles and public service in the community. She currently serves as the Chair of Legislative Affairs for CSUN’s Associated Students — a role where she has worked to increase political and voter engagement on campus — and Vice Chair of Legislative Affairs as member of the Cal State Student Association, representing half a million CSU students to the state legislature.

“I’ve been able to represent half a million students to the state legislature and get really involved in the CSU system, which is something I was really proud of,” said Kalra. “Whether it was advocating for EBT on campus, wage transparency in AS and opposing tuition hikes at the state level, it’s an embodiment of the change I want to see in the world,”

Kalra previously worked as a district intern for US Senator Alex Padilla — gaining familiarity with federal policy and issues — then, as a LEAD California fellow, completing voter engagement projects and, most recently, she joined Indian American Impact, a political action committee where she supports South Asian candidates running for office.

She credits the support of faculty members at CSUN for her success and ability to constantly seek new opportunities. This includes her role as president of CSUN’s Communication Association, a student-run group that worked to provide community, networking opportunities and support professional development.

“Mitul deserves the Wolfson because of her love of CSUN and her unflagging devotion to creating and maintaining community on and off campus,” said CSUN communication studies professor John Kephart, who worked with Kalra as an instructor and advisor. “I have never seen anyone work harder to do more in the time they have, nor have I seen anyone with that commitment that also has her humility, her grace, and her compassion. She is among the top 1% of thousands of undergraduates and graduate students I have worked with over the previous 16 years at CSUN. I can’t wait to see what she does next.”

Following her studies, Kalra will be moving to Sacramento this fall to work in the state Senate as a member of the prestigious Capital Fellows Program. She will be working full-time as a Senate Fellow while also working towards a Graduate Certificate in Applied Policy and Government.

“This is an opportunity like no other to learn more about the inner workings of our state government and grow as a leader,” Kalra said. “I’m definitely really drawn to both leadership and public service roles, so I can’t wait to get started. “

Kalra will be taking part in the Honors Convocation ceremony at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 11, on the lawn in front of the Delmar T. Oviatt Library, located in the heart of the CSUN campus at 18111 Nordhoff St. in Northridge.

The other students being recognized at Honors Convocation are:

Natalie McDonald, recipient of the 2024 Nathan O. Freedman Memorial Award for Outstanding Graduate Student

Natalie McDonald, 2024 Nathan O. Freedman Memorial Award for Outstanding Graduate Student

While she grew up in Los Angeles, McDonald always saw herself as a global citizen willing to learn and discover history and how the world came to be. Set to graduate with a master’s degree in history, McDonald hopes to pursue a career devoted to historical research and education.

McDonald arrived at CSUN having already published two peer-reviewed articles, while her research work received acclaim, both at her undergraduate institution, Pomona College, and from the wider scholarly community.

For the past two years at CSUN, she had the chance to develop her research interests and strengthen her candidacy for future doctoral studies. This includes the opportunity to pursue public history work as an intern on the LA State Historic Park Relevancy & History Project; as a columnist for the American Historical Association’s newsmagazine; and as a curatorial intern at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Garden.

She has also served as a member of the CSUN Office of Graduate Studies TA Fellowship Program, a teaching assistant for multiple History courses and as a tutor in the CSUN History Department’s Writing Center.

“I am eager to pursue a career devoted to historical research and education because I firmly believe the stories we tell about the past have the power to inspire contemporary change,” McDonald said.

Notably, in January, McDonald did an extensive interview about her research and was featured on Marketplace, the daily business and economics news show on National Public Radio. Her goal is to pursue a Ph.D. in history, she said.

“Now, more than ever, I believe historians share a responsibility to complicate ascendent nativist narratives, instead turning our attention to the ways transnational movement and cross-cultural interaction have shaped our contemporary world,” McDonald said. “I look forward to dedicating my career to this pressing historical project.”

Outstanding Graduating Senior — Nicole Ayala

Nicole Ayala, Outstanding Graduating Senior

As a first-generation Paraguayan American woman from a low-income background, Ayala has overcome societal expectations by earning a degree in cell and molecular biology and biotechnology and hopes to become a family medicine doctor. During her time as an undergraduate student, Ayala has used her experiences to fuel her commitment to developing her campus community and empowering underrepresented populations in healthcare and sciences. 

Ayala’s campus and community involvement includes significant leadership roles within CSUN’s Mentor Collective, the Matadors 4 Wellness Education Program, Big Buddies, University Ambassadors Program, two Greek-letter organizations – TriDelta sorority and the co-ed medical fraternity Phi Delta Epsilon – and off-campus nonprofits like Chicas Mom Inc. and Olive View-UCLA Medical Center. During her time as philanthropy advisor for the University Ambassador’s Program, Ayala coordinated the campus’ Cuddle ‘N’ Read literacy initiative, funding books for underserved schools in the community. Ayala’s experience also includes work as a homecare provider and as a Science, Math, and Related Topics (SMART) Lab student assistant at CSUN, as well as a National Science Foundation Research Experience Undergraduate Fellow at Princeton University and shadow experience in geriatric palliative care and hospice care medicine at Kaiser Permanente.

Earning scholarships and researching opportunities, Ayala has demonstrated a commitment to community service and “to excelling in the face of adversity.” Upon graduating, Ayala is determined to become a skilled physician and an advocate for underprivileged communities within the San Fernando Valley encouraging women to join STEM.

Outstanding Graduating Senior — Seth Almaraz

Seth Almaraz, Outstanding Graduating Senior

As a first-generation student, Almaraz plans continue his studies in psychology and eventually earn a doctorate, with the goal of one day becoming a CSU faculty member conducting research and mentoring students from culturally diverse and historically underrepresented groups. Having discovered a passion for statistics during his time at CSUN, Almaraz plans to pursue clinical research – aimed at helping marginalized ethnic and racial communities – in the university master’s graduate program.

While an undergraduate, Almaraz was selected as a BUILD PODER scholar, a training program funded by the National Institutes of Health designed to increase underrepresented students in scientific research. He was awarded the CSUN Presidential Scholarship, established to provide opportunities for intensive research with a faculty member and $10,000 in grant funding for the project. Almaraz has spent more than a year volunteering for a community crisis center near the campus called Strength United, which provides resources to those seeking help who have experienced sexual assault. Almaraz has worked as a teaching assistant in graduate psychology courses, and in two labs, psychology professor Scott Plunkett’s “Adolescent and Adult Adjustment” research lab and psychology professor Jill Razani’s “Neuropsychology Dementia and Multicultural Research” lab, conducting bilingual research.

Almaraz attributes his multiethnic and blended family — which included members from Argentina, Bolivia, El Salvador and the Philippines — to the “strong sense of cultural humility” that ground his goals and future work within academia and within his community.

Outstanding Graduating Senior — Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith, Outstanding Graduating Senior

With a degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing, Smith hopes to become a professor of creative writing and adding to the number of Black faces present in higher education. Smith’s work, inspired by authors like Toni Morrison and Nnedi Okorafor, centers around the feminine subject and meaningful experience of being Black.

Smith’s work in genres such as surrealism and Afro futurism has been published in The Northridge Review, The Sundial, and Kapu Sens: Africana Studies Literary Journal and three of CSUN’s printed magazines. Smith has conducted research on literature and Africana studies and has soon to be published, with Kim Young, as part of the Los Angeles Public Poetry and Prose Project. Smith revived the on campus group the Northridge Creative Writing Circle (NCWC) and is graduating as the NCWC Vice President after holding multiple significant leadership roles. In addition, Smith received the 2023-2024 Priscilla Moyer Scholarship and has been an active member of the Trans Wellness Alliance, the Black Student Union, CSUN’s Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society and Students for Justice in Palestine. Smith has also worked as a Los Angeles Valley College outreach representative, mentoring and aiding students at Panorama High School in applying for higher education.

Striving to spread the message that “every story matters,” not only does Smith want to express creativity as a writer, but also aims to break barriers, disprove existing stereotypes and give back to university-level writing students who seek meaningful experiences in education.

Outstanding Graduating Senior — Sadie Eldredge

Sadie Eldredge, Outstanding Graduating Senior

As a transfer student, Eldredge hopes to use her Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Sciences (BSRS) to become a pediatric MRI technologist, a dream she has had since she was young.

At CSUN, Eldredge served as a cabinet member for the Radiologic Sciences Student Association, organizing events and dedicating herself to community service opportunities. Among these events were a food drive via Valley Food Bank; holiday card writing via Operation Gratitude; a holiday event for elementary school children in the San Fernando Valley under the Title 1 No Child Left Behind Act; blankets given for foster children; and a donation drive via the My Stuff Bags Foundation in which everyone in the Department of Health Sciences were invited to participate. Dedicating herself to the CSUN and surrounding community, Eldredge has volunteered time at high schools to discuss the importance of radiologic sciences and offered guidance regarding acceptance into the program. Additionally, Eldredge has committed time and energy toward aiding the radiological sciences department in planning events and serves as the BSRS Alumni Association Student Liaison.

Serving as valedictorian after obtaining two associate degrees before her time at CSUN, Eldredge is “humbled by the challenges that allowed” her to achieve current goals and looks forward to her career as a radiologic technologist.

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Media Contact: javier.rojas@csun.edu - (818) 677-2497

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