Class Notes

Catie Thow Garcia holding an apparatus for a student to look at environmental readings

Tides of Change

The coastal city of Sausalito is no stranger to the impacts of climate change, particularly sea level rise. Now SF State alumna Catie Thow Garcia (M.S., ’22) has been named Sausalito’s first resiliency and sustainability manager to help mitigate the potential consequences of climate change. In this new role, Thow Garcia will work on projects related to climate change, energy efficiency, shore habitat protection and sea level rise. The job will require her to work closely with government agencies, community groups, nonprofit organizations and local experts in energy and waste reduction, solar implementation and more.

“It’s one of the reasons why I was really interested in working at the local level rather than at the state level … ,” Thow Garcia said of all the collaborations in her future. “I’m excited to see where it takes me, but I recognize that there’s still a lot of learning to do on my part.”

It’s the type of integrative and collaborative work that originally brought the New England native to the Bay Area. She was drawn to SF State’s Estuary & Ocean Science (EOS) Center’s master’s program in Interdisciplinary Marine and Estuary Sciences. Sausalito is in Marin County just like the EOS Center, so Thow Garcia is familiar with the needs and environmental issues in the area. She’s particularly interested in nature-based adaptations incorporating live organisms, something she learned about as an undergraduate but first saw in practice at the EOS Center.

Though she decided to stay local, Thow Garcia says she’s aware of EOS Center alumni who work in local, county, state and federal government jobs throughout the United States.

“That spread of knowledge is really special, and it all started with this little tiny marine science campus in Tiburon,” said the alumna proudly.


Mary M. Geong

Mary M. Geong (B.A., ’71; Secondary Teaching Credential, ’72) became the first Asian American president of the Oakland Rotary Club No. 3 in its 114 years. Comprised of nearly 270 people, the club, formed in 1908, is the third oldest in the Rotary World and one of Rotary’s most diverse.


Sota Watanabe

Sota Watanabe (International Business Certificate, ’18) was named one of “100 Japanese people the world respects” by Newsweek Japan in 2023. In the year prior, he was selected for the Forbes “30 Under 30 Asia” list. After SF State, Watanabe founded Stake Technologies, the first company in Japan to adopt blockchain acceleration.


Lori Caldwell

Curing with Compost

Lori Caldwell (B.S., ’07) says, “There’s a battle taking place inside our soil.” Chemical inputs to the soil and the extractive nature of industrial farming have inflicted severe damage. Compost, she believes, is the best means of building healthy soil, which has a greater ability to allow roots and water to penetrate, hold carbon and stay in place when we have droughts.

Caldwell has loved gardening since she was a child, weeding and tying up tomatoes with her grandparents. While pursuing her degree in Environmental Studies at SF State, she became interested in composting as a way to improve the function of her garden. From classmates she found out about and enrolled in a Master Composter program offered by the organization Stop Waste.

“I learned everything there is to know about making compost out of yard waste or food scraps, making compost with worms, and just all the wonderful benefits of it,” she says.

Thus began her 16-year engagement as an educator with Stop Waste, which continues to this day. She also runs her own company, Compost Gal, through which she consults, teaches, develops curricula and does hands-on sustainable work in gardens. Her clients include libraries, sustainable goal organizations and other institutions, including the Oakland Zoo, for whom she is currently providing technical assistance to improve the quality of herbivore manure composting.

Recently, Caldwell has intensified her focus on composting because of California Senate Bill 1383, the California Compost Law, which went into effect at the start of 2022 and aims to divert organic waste from landfills. Together with Stop Waste, Caldwell is working with California cities to implement the law so they can meet their procurement requirements and make quality compost available to the public.

When it comes to healing our soil, Caldwell says, “Compost is going to be the cure.”


Randy Hayes in Hopi

Big Thinking, Bold Choices

Environmental activist Randy Hayes (M.A., Environmental Studies, ’80) thinks big, and for good reason. As executive director of Foundation Earth, he leads an organization whose aim is no less than the transformation of human civilization.

“The big rethink,” Hayes says, requires detailed roadmaps for the shifting of multiple systems — economic, energy consumption, energy production, agricultural production and the planet’s life support— to solve the current clash of nature and humanity. For starters, he calls for citizens of the world’s largest economies to mobilize community-level campaigns to demand change from their governments — and those campaigns will require billions of dollars.

“Current societal systems won’t transform themselves. That is our job,” Hayes says, “and we especially need more business leaders that seek to be responsible. What might get the job done? And more importantly who has drafted a plan? Who is implementing it? Do they have the resources they need?”

Hayes’ work on high-visibility corporate accountability campaigns earned him a description as “an environmental pit bull” by The Wall Street Journal. The founder of the Rainforest Action Network, Hayes has held environmental leadership roles including president of the City of San Francisco Commission on the Environment, director of sustainability in the office of then-Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and special adviser to the World Future Council. He was one of the original set of inductees into the National Environmental Hall of Fame.

For his environmental activism, Hayes was named SF State’s 2010 Alumnus of the Year. In his student days, Hayes’ master’s thesis was a film, “The Four Corners,” which won the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award for Best Student Documentary in 1983. The film showed the hidden impacts of coal and uranium mining in remote areas.

While Hayes calls for immediate, large-scale change to save the planet, he also has a longer-term vision — a 500-year seven-point plan for a sustainable society, including halting deforestation.

“The Earth is over four billion years old,” Hayes says. “We must make ecologically bold and just choices if we are to see nature, as we know it, survive.”


Juan Mendoza checking a molecular apparatus

Photo by John Zich, courtesy Pritzker Molecular Engineering

Juan Mendoza (B.S., ’03) is part of the inaugural cohort of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Freeman Hrabowski Scholars Program. The research award provides up to $8.6 million for each scholar for the next 10 years, recognizing early-career faculty committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in science. The award supports Mendoza’s work as an assistant professor of molecular engineering at the University of Chicago, where his lab studies how proteins function and interact in hopes of improving immunotherapies.


Alex Borstein

Photo by Nicole Rivelli, courtesy Prime Video

Alex Borstein (B.A., ’92) garnered two Primetime Emmy Award nominations — yet again for her iconic voice as Lois Griffin on “Family Guy” and supporting role as the no-nonsense Susie Myerson on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Overall, Borstein has been nominated for 10 Emmy Awards and won three times.


Antar Johnson running a marathon at Tokyo

Antar Johnson (B.A., ’92) is senior counsel for the Office of Lottery and Gaming in Washington, D.C. He recently won the Six Star Medal for completing six world marathons. On his fiveyear distance-running journey, he raised $24,000 for various charities, including childhood cancer.

Chris Ikeda fishing at SF Bay
Charles Wingert holding a jug of ocean water

Brian Bill (M.S., ’07), Chris Ikeda (B.S., ’11; M.S., ’14) (above, left) And Charles Wingert (M.S., ’17) (above, right), all of whom did their thesis research at SF State’s Estuary & Ocean Science Center, have presented research with Biology Professor Emeritus William Cochlan and Vera Trainer. They presented at the Fifth International Symposium on the Effects of Climate Change on the World’s Ocean last spring in Norway and the 2023 Ocean Acidification Science Symposium in Seattle. Their research explores the effects of ocean acidification on two of the most harmful diatom species found in coastal waters off California. Bill and Ikeda are also co-authors with Cochlan, their former adviser, on another related toxic phytoplankton study which was presented at the International Conference on Harmful Algae in Hiroshima, Japan, in November. “These three former SFSU students are making major contributions to understanding the causes of these toxic blooms and whether climate change is a significant factor,” says Cochlan.


Raymond "Boots" Riley

“I’m A Virgo” photo courtesy Prime Video

Raymond “Boots” Riley (Attended, ’92) was inducted into the SF State Alumni Hall of Fame in 2023. He is the writer and director of “I’m a Virgo,” the critically acclaimed Amazon Prime series about a 13-foot-tall young Black man in Oakland (left). Michael J. Payton (B.A., ’15), Anthropology Professor Dawn-Elissa Fischer and Africana Studies Lecturer Dave “Davey D” Cook hosted a special advance screening of the series in June at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.


George Marcus (B.A., ’65) received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Connect Commercial Real Estate and the Nicholas J. Bouras Award for Extraordinary Archon Stewardship.

Gwynned Rose Vitello (B.A., ’74) was inducted into the SF State Alumni Hall of Fame in 2023. She is principal and president of High Speed Productions, the publishing company behind skateboard magazines Thrasher and SLAP, and Juxtapoz, an arts and culture magazine. Her late husband Fausto Vitello (B.A., ’71), whom she met at SF State when they were both students, co-founded Thrasher Magazine in 1981 and transformed the thendeclining sport into a thriving culture and industry.

Brad Schreiber (B.A., ’77) won the 2022 William Randolph Hearst Award for Outstanding Service in Professional Journalism from the Hearst Journalism Awards Program. His books include “Music Is Power: Popular Songs, Social Justice and the Will to Change” and “Becoming Jimi Hendrix: From Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London, the Untold Story of a Musical Genius.”

Melanie Hoffman (B.A., ’78) is an energy healer, fine artist and photographer based in Berkeley.

Erica Hunt (MFA, ’80) won the Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize for “The Mood Librarian Tells Stories.” She is the Bannerman Visiting Associate Professor of the Practice at Brown University.

Mark Pavlakovich (B.A., ’80), vice president of business development at health-care information technology company MedInformatix, won the 2023 President’s Award from the Radiology Business Management Association.

Kenneth W. Fong (MBA, ’82) was recently selected for Marquis Who’s Who in America. Fong was a general partner and manager of Fong and Associates, which owned and managed several Las Vegas shopping centers and offices. He is a certified property manager emeritus.

Maria Elena González (MFA, ’83), originally from Cuba, is an internationally known artist working in sculpture, sound, video and works on paper. The revered teacher has taught at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Cooper Union and the San Francisco Art Institute.

Pramukti Surjaudaja (B.S., ’85) was inducted into the SF State Alumni Hall of Fame in 2023. A 30-year veteran in banking, he was CEO and president director before assuming the role as president commissioner of Bank OCBC NISP in Indonesia. He has served as the non-executive director at OCBC BANK Singapore since 2005.

Vincent Matthews (B.A., ’86; M.A., ’90; ED.D., ’10) was inducted into the SF State Alumni Hall of Fame in 2023. An educator for more than 30 years, Matthews was the superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District — where he attended his entire youth. He is now an SF State assistant professor of Equity, Leadership Studies and Instructional Technologies.

Dai To (B.A., ’91) was named SF State’s associate vice president of disability access and student wellbeing. She has 20 years of management and leadership experience, 25 years of clinical experience and 12 years in student affairs and health and wellness services.

Okorie Ramsey (B.S., ’92) is the new chair of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. He is the first Black man to hold the position in the institute’s 136-year history. Ramsey is a vice president for the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. and Hospitals (Kaiser Permanente). He has been with Kaiser Permanente since 2009.

Jason Beaubien (B.A., ’93), a longtime radio reporter, is included in “The Best Audio Storytelling of 2022” from Malcolm Gladwell’s Pushkin Industries. The anthology includes a profile Beaubien produced about an 11-year-old Ukrainian girl killed by a Russian missile strike outside the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

John-Carlos Perea (B.A., ’00) joined the University of Washington this fall as an associate professor of music. He previously served as chair and associate professor of American Indian Studies in the SF State College of Ethnic Studies (2010 – 2023) and as visiting associate professor in the Department of Music at UC Berkeley (2021 – 2022).

Whit Johnson (B.A., ’04) is an anchor on “Good Morning America” and “ABC World News Tonight.” Once a soccer player for the Gators and a waiter at Olive Garden, he now covers national news and special events, including the 2023 Academy Awards champagne carpet.

Patricia Sullivan (B.A., ’04; M.A., ’07; ED.D., ’14) is an SF State Elementary Education lecturer and an instructor at the Pipeline for Black Early Childhood Educator program, which is part of San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s Dreamkeeper Initiative to invest in the city’s Black communities.

Elizabeth Robinson (M.M., ’06) released “Aviary,” a whimsical album of new music for flute on Meerenai Shim’s (M.M., ’05) Aerocade Music label. Audiences know the trope of the flute-asbird: light, graceful, airborne. What happens when the familiar becomes unexpected? These compositions explore the familiar sounds of the flute as a bird, but with a twist: chickens, penguins and other avian oddities.

Kyle Bustamante (B.A., ’07) was recently promoted to executive sous chef at Las Vegas-based Divine Events, one of the 50 leading caterers in North America.

Stephen Lam (B.A., ’09), a photojournalist for The San Francisco Chronicle, was a finalist for the 2023 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Photography.

Nelson Mitchell (M.A., ’10) is head of design and co-founder at Swing Therapeutics, where Mantasha Khan (B.S., ’21) is a software engineer. In 2023, the Federal Drug Administration authorized the company’s prescription-only mobile app, Stanza, to be marketed to treat symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Mantasha Khan (B.S., ’21) is a software engineer. In 2023, the Federal Drug Administration authorized the company’s prescription-only mobile app, Stanza, to be marketed to treat symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Shruti Swamy (MFA, ’11) won the 2023 – 2024 Rome Prize in Literature for “Margret and Vishnu: Stories.”

Lina Jurkunas (M.A., ’17) was named by the U.S. Department of State as an alumni ambassador for its English Language Programs in 2023 – 2024. Jurkunas is one of 11 English Language Programs alumni to represent the programs at events nationwide.

Juan Acosta (B.A., ’19) was named to Advocate magazine’s “30 Under 30” list for his nationally recognized work supporting mental health in the LGBTQ+ community. In 2023, he was invited to the White House for the second time as President Biden announced plans to increase access to mental health care.

Antony Fangary (MFA, ’20) won a 2023 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry. He wrote the chapbook “HARAM” (Etched), and his work has appeared in New American Writing, the Sycamore Review, West Branch and elsewhere. Fangary is also a painter featured in exhibitions throughout the Bay Area and Los Angeles.