SDSU GRADUATES ON PATH TO SUCCESS

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First-ever Zahn Spirit of Innovation Award among pomp and prizes at SDSU commencement celebrations on May 13 to 15 at Viejas Arena

By Jill Esterbrooks, SDSU News Center

May 13, 2016 (San Diego)--This year's crop of San Diego State University graduates is more diverse, determined and decorated than any in its 119-year history.

Take Austin Owens. He'll receive his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and the first-ever Zahn Spirit of Innovation Award at the College of Engineering's commencement ceremony on May 14 at 5:30 p.m. Owens, who is "passionate about solving problems and making things happen against all odds," has been a four-year SDSU standout for founding the on-campus Mechantronics Club, competing in international RoboSub competitions and landing a post-graduation job at SpaceX, a space exploration company founded by Elon Musk.

The newly created Zahn Spirit of Innovation Award, which will be given annually to a graduating senior for exceptional entrepreneurship, includes a substantial cash prize funded by seed money from long-time SDSU supporter and award name-sake Irwin Zahn.  He is well-known on campus for endowing the Zahn Innovation Platform (ZIP) Launchpad and his endless support of entrepreneurship programs and fostering student innovation and cross-interdisciplinary collaboration.

Zahn, along with AMN Healthcare CEO Susan Salka, MBA ’89, will be recognized during commencement celebrations with honorary doctorate degrees for their vision and dedication to the university and greater San Diego region.

Aztec success abounds

Owens’ Spirit of Innovation Award is just one of the many academic success stories that will be shared among families, friends and faculty during commencement exercises for an estimated 9,852 red-and-black clad undergraduate and graduate students receiving SDSU degrees in more than 200 specialty areas from seven distinct colleges. 

For Eliana Moustakas, her path to SDSU success started in East San Diego being raised by a single mom, and has taken her to far-flung Botswana in Africa to do fieldwork research on genetics and wildlife conservation for her undergraduate biology degree program.

After receiving her diploma from the College of Sciences on May 14, she will continue with the job that has helped pay for her college tuition at a small Lakeside animal zoo. And, she’ll be applying for the Fulbright Scholars Program to continue her studies and research on African vultures and raptors. 

SDSU graduate student McKayla Watkins will receive her master’s degree from the College of Arts and Letters on May 13. A Presidential Graduate Research Fellow, she chose to study at SDSU because of its “global and diverse approaches to writing.”  Creative writing has been her passion since first grade, and after graduation she plans to pursue a Ph.D, teach college writing classes and establish a nonprofit organization that provides writing resources to grade school students in underprivileged areas.

SDSU President Elliot Hirshman says this year’s bounty of highly diverse and accomplished graduates “reflects the university's ongoing commitment to community service, academic excellence and student success.”

This is achieved, in part, by providing transformational experiences both in and out of the classroom — ranging from hands-on research opportunities and access to internationally recognized mentors and on-campus innovation labs to entrepreneurship centers and business incubators for cultivating ideas and creating solutions to real-world challenges. 

#SDSUGrad by the numbers

This month approximately 9,900 degree candidates will participate in seven SDSU Commencement ceremonies May 13 to 15 at Viejas Arena.  SDSU’s Imperial Valley Campus will host a commencement ceremony for its 320 graduates on May 12 on the Rollie Carrillo Quad.

The SDSU Class of 2016 includes students earning 7,662 bachelor’s degrees, 2,189 master’s degrees and 171 doctoral degrees.

The College of Sciences will host the largest ceremony on May 15, honoring 1,786 degree candidates and awarding 1,236 bachelor’s, 506 master’s and 44 doctorate degrees.

The most intimate ceremony is for the College of Education on May 15 with 617 degree candidates, including 143 bachelor’s degrees, 421 master’s and 53 doctorates.

SDSU graduates have been involved in more than 300 student organizations, studied and conducted research around the world in 335 study abroad programs and been exposed to or participated in more than 350 arts campus activities — all part of the unparalleled Aztec experience.

According to SDSU’s Chief Diversity Officer Aaron Bruce, the Class of 2016 also set a record as the most diverse in the history of the university with a pool of the graduates representing a wide-range of racial, ethnic, socio-economic and under-served populations, including Veterans, LGBT, varying abilities and nationalities.

More Commencement information

By tradition, SDSU’s Commencement ceremonies include a processional, introductions, awards, speakers and a recessional. Each processional is led by a grand marshal carrying a college banner, followed by faculty marshals in full academic regalia.

For more information about parking and schedules, visit the SDSU 2016 Commencement website.

Social media users can follow SDSU commencement tweets and posts by students, alumni, faculty and staff by searching for #SDSUGrad.