Class Notes

Joseph Woldu holding onto a guard rail standing on stairs


Joseph Woldu (B.S., ’12) has written a memoir about his battle to bounce back from devastating injuries. More Than a Survivor (Amazon Digital Services, ’19) tells the inspiring story of Woldu’s life, from his struggle to survive as a child refugee in North Africa to the 2001 motorcycle accident that nearly killed him. In the fall, both Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and the YMCA of San Francisco featured Woldu prominently in promotional campaign pieces. You can learn more about him at

Mary Egan

True Detective

The CLICHÉ PRIVATE DETECTIVE looks like Humphrey Bogart. He wears a trench coat and a fedora and has a cigarette dangling from one corner of his mouth. And he’s a he. But in real life a private detective can look a lot different.

A licensed private investigator (P.I.) and the CEO/managing partner of MRG Solutions in Sacramento, Mary Egan (MPA, ’98) coaches chief executives in the public and private sectors on how to identify and resolve workplace problems. She became a P.I. after learning of a little-known requirement in state law that says anyone conducting workplace investigations other than an attorney has to have a private investigator’s license. While legally she’s as much of a private detective as Sam Spade, that doesn’t mean she spends her time tailing mugs down dark alleys. She’s more interested in cracking “The Case of the Dysfunctional Office Environment.”

“I am fascinated with how people interact and why,” she says. “I try to figure out what the impact of the behavior is and how we can get to the root cause of the conflict.”

Over the years, Egan has learned that to get to the heart of workplace problems it’s less important to be a snoopy private eye and more important to use your private ear.

“If you listen to someone and really try to understand the core of the conflict — what are their misperceptions or belief systems — it’s only then, when you really hear someone’s story and understand it, that you can be effective,” she says.

In 2009, Egan founded the California Association of Workplace Investigators, which is now a national organization. She’s developed standards for workplace investigations and participates on legislation and best practices committees. In 2018, the Sacramento Business Journal recognized Egan’s achievements with its Women Who Mean Business award.

“I have learned that good things can come from conflict, and I’m not afraid of it. I run into conflict when other people are running out,” she says. “By unpacking and understanding the root causes of conflict, I can leave a place better than when I found it.”



Juanita Tamayo Lott (B.A., ’70) is the author of Golden Children: Legacy of Ethnic Studies at SF State: A Memoir, published by Eastwind Books of Berkeley last November. A participant in the 1968 student strike at SF State, Lott explores the origins of the strike and how it led to the creation of the University’s College of Ethnic Studies.

Lenore Chinn (B.A., ’72) was one of several artists with an SF State connection to contribute to “F213,” a recent California Women’s Caucus for Art exhibition. Short for “fahrenheit 213” — one degree above the boiling point for blood — F213 explored feminist protest in a time when women’s rights are being assailed. The exhibition was on display at San Francisco’s Arc Gallery April 13 through May 11 and also included art by Chimine Arfuso (B.A., ’07), M.A. student Burcu Döleneken and Liberal Studies Professor Tanya Augsburg.

Rae Armantrout (M.A., ’75) was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award in the poetry category for her collection Wobble.

Jim Friedman (M.A., ’75) contributed a photograph of Andy Warhol to Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings: 1976-1978, Volume 5A (Phaidon Press, ’18).

Rene Schneider (B.A., ’75) is the author of Phantom India: Biblical History Updated (Austin Macauley Publishing, ’17), which offers an alternative perspective on world history.


Andrew Studdert (B.A., ’80) has joined the board of directors for Cramo Plc, an international firm specializing in equipment rental services.

Scott Cooper (MBA, ’82) is a national youth advocate, writer and COO in private industry. His newest book, Rock and Water: The Power of Thought/The Peace of Letting Go (DeVorss & Company, ’17), was named 2018 Book of the Year by the Coalition of Visionary Resources, a trade association supporting independent retailers, manufacturers and publishers of visionary books, music and merchandise.

Tom Lehner (B.A., ’83; M.A., ’86) was named vice president of government relations for Bridgestone Americas.

Peter Brennan (B.A., ’84) has been named executive director of the Orange County Business Journal.

Monica Palacios (B.A., ’84) was selected by Smith College to be the Lucille Geier Lakes Writer-in-Residence for the spring 2019 semester. The writer-in-residence program brings distinguished poets, playwrights, novelists, journalists and critics to the college’s Massachusetts campus to lead classes and mentor students. A playwright and performer, Palacios presented her experi­mental piece BROWNER! QUEERER! LOUDER! PROUDER! as part of Occidental College’s Latino/a & Latin American Studies Spring Speaker Series last year.

Jeff Kazor (B.A., ’88) released a new album with his band the Crooked Jades. Like the band’s previous releases, Empathy Moves the Water blends alternative with folk, gospel and bluegrass.



Large scale city scape painting of All Star Cafe Public space

Emily Fromm (B.A., ’13) displayed a selection of her artwork at a solo exhibition, “NO VACANCY,” at 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco recently. The exhibition included large-scale cityscape paintings as well as several paintings created for a public art to be installed in San Francisco International Airport in early 2020.


Book Cover of a business man with his head replaced by a fox's head

Shepherd Siegel (M.A., ’85; Ph.D., ’88) is the author of Disruptive Play: The Trickster in Politics and Culture (Wakdjunkaga Press, ’18). Kirkus Reviews called the book “a historically panoramic examination of human playfulness” and said it “combines intellectual rigor with a bracing optimism.”


Stephen Meadows (M.A., ’91) contributed poems to two recent anthologies from Scarlet Tanager Books, Red Indian Road West: Native American Poetry from California and Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California.

Ken Goldman (B.S., ’92; M.A., ’96) has opened Captain’s Toy Chest, a store dedicated to educational toys in Homer, Alaska. A research scientist with the state’s Department of Fish and Game, he also teaches marine biology at the Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College.

Walter C. Cambra (M.A., ’93) contributed an article titled “Shades of the Craft” to a recent issue of The Enquiring Eye, the academic journal of England’s Witchcraft Research Centre.

Elisa Hahn (M.A., ’93) recently left KING-TV in Seattle after 22 years there as a reporter and digital content creator. She now works for Boeing leading communications for the firm’s flight test and flight operations teams.

Karen Paull (MFA, ’93) is co-creator of the Amazon series The Marijuana Show, a Shark Tank-style show spotlighting cannabis entrepreneurs.

Mario Robinson (B.A., ’94) is the new varsity football coach for Carpinteria High School in Carpinteria, California.

Garret Jon Groenveld (MFA, ’96; M.A., ’97) is the author of the play The Empty Nesters, which had a run at the Zephyr Theatre in Los Angeles in winter 2019.

Richard Struckman (B.A., ’96) is the new commander of the Menlo Park Police Department.

Laura Boykin (M.A., ’98), a senior research fellow at the University of Western Australia and a 2017 TED fellow, is using genetics to help farmers in East Africa control harmful insect pests.

Shelli Hendricks (B.A., ’98) has been named director of education for the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation.

Jay Johnson (B.A., ’98), a colonel in the Air Force, has been named vice wing commander for Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma.

Danny Deraney (B.A., ’99) is the founder and CEO of Deraney Public Relations, an L.A.-based firm representing such notable clients as actress Rosanna Arquette and artist Alex Ross.

Elizabeth Napoli (M.S., ’99) was appointed deputy executive director for the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority.

Jody Skenderian (M.A., ’99) was appointed chief institutional advancement officer and executive director of the Normandale Community College Foundation in Bloomington, Minnesota.


Susana Gonzalez (M.S., ’01) was named Rockwell Automation’s president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Anna von Gehr (M.A., ’02) was named executive director of development and strategic initiatives for Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts.

Mark Nagales (B.A., ’03) has been elected to the South San Francisco city council.

Omar Percich (B.S., ’03) is the new chief operating officer of wine company Don Sebastiani & Sons.

Bryer Garcia (B.A., ’04) has opened a specialty coffee shop, Wolf’s Brew Coffee, in Long Beach.

Kenny Loui (B.A., ’05; M.A., ’08) was appointed to Civil Air Patrol (CAP) National Headquarters as the new assistant National Cadet School program coordinator. He also serves CAP as Region Staff College assistant director for the Rocky Mountain Region. Loui completed a Ph.D. in criminal justice from Nova Southeastern University and currently works as director of undergraduate programs for the Global Education Institute at Namseoul University in South Korea.

Erin and Jamie Schonauer (both M.A., ’06), twin sisters, were recently presented with the San Fernando Valley Award for Nonfiction for their book Early Burbank (Arcadia Publishing, ’14), which explores the city’s transformation from a sleepy farm town to a bustling hub of aviation and media activity.

Zulema Renee Summerfield (B.A., ’06; MFA, ’10) is the author of Every Other Weekend (Little, Brown and Company, ’18). The novel, about siblings coping with their parents’ divorce in late 1980s Southern California, was called “funny and fierce” by the New York Times. Summerfield returned to campus last fall to talk to creative writing students about her journey from SF State to the world of publishing.

Tanuja Mehrotra Wakefield (MFA, ’06) was the poet laureate of Belmont, California, from 2015 to 2018. Her first collection of poems, Undersong, was recently published by FutureCycle Press.

Durryle Brooks (M.A., ’09) has been selected to be a fellow of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Leadership Net­work, which brings together local leaders committed to creating transformational change on behalf of children, families and communities. More than 800 people applied for 80 fellowship positions.

Sean David Christensen (B.A., ’09) is working on a documentary titled Ghost Tape #10, which will explore a Vietnam War-era U.S. Army operation that attempted to weaponize Buddhist beliefs about the afterlife for psychological warfare. The film was inspired in part by a journal article by Department of Anthropology Assistant Professor Martha Louise Lincoln, “Toward a Critical Hauntology: Bare Afterlife and the Ghosts of Ba Chúc.”



Donald E. Lacy JR. giving a performance

Setting the Stage for a Better World

Whenever Donald E. Lacy Jr. (B.A., ’84) performs his one-man show ColorStruck, he’s drawing from class lessons at SF State — and life lessons about racism. A light-skinned African American, Lacy grew up almost feeling like an outsider in the black community even while bearing the brunt of bias from whites. ColorStruck examines that experience through a mix of humor, hip-hop, drama and improv, exposing how cultural assumptions based on skin color fuel institutionalized racism.

“It’s gratifying to give audiences food for thought rather than just another rendition of ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’” Lacy says.

ColorStruck debuted in the mid-2000s, and since then Lacy has performed the show at venues across the country (including SF State’s McKenna Theatre). Its latest run was this spring at New York City’s Theater for the New City, an off-Broadway venue known for community commitment and radical political plays. Whenever performing the play, Lacy follows the final curtain call with an open discussion with the audience, giving everyone an opportunity to share their own experiences with prejudice. According to Lacy, that reflects a lesson he learned while studying theater at SF State: It’s not all about the star.

“Never be concerned with ‘I,’ but with ‘we,’” Lacy says his professors told him. “A play is a puzzle. You are one piece of it. Everyone including the director is a tool to serve the story.”

Long before ColorStruck, Lacy was grappling with important issues through his work. While still a student, for instance, he wrote the play The Loudest Scream You’ll Never Hear, which grapples with the Atlanta child murders of the late ’70s and early ’80s. A personal tragedy — the killing of his teenage daughter LoEshé in 1997 — inspired him to create the LoveLife Foundation, which offers youth mentoring, a school safety program and training in radio and video production and theater performance.


Due to a rare form of eye cancer, Ahmet Ustunel (M.A., ’09) has been completely blind since the age of 3. Growing up in Istanbul, Turkey, he heard the legend of Phineus, a blind king who guided sailors across dangerous seas. Ustunel dreamed of being a captain like Phineus — and with a little help from SF State, that boyhood dream eventually came true. As a student in the Graduate College of Education, Ustunel applied for and won a $2,500 Larsen Scholarship. He used the money to create a non-visual guidance system that allows visually impaired people to independently navigate boats. After graduating with a master’s in special education in 2018, Ustunel became a teacher of visually impaired students in San Francisco public schools. He also won a grant to develop a non-visually operated smart kayak, known as NOSK. During the summer of 2018, he took to the waters of the great Bosporous Strait with NOSK, becoming the first person to cross the sea from Asia to Europe without any visual cues.

Ahmet Ustunel kayaking with land viewable in the distance




Dr. Phil McGraw with his show’s interns and staff, many of whom are SF State alum and students.

Diagnosis: Success

An intern on a daily TV show has to be ready for anything. Technical glitches. Last-minute script changes. Guest no-shows. Blue hair.

Wait … blue hair?

Yes, blue hair (or blue anything) can be a problem for shows that use a blue or green screen to superimpose desired background scenes, as anything in those hues captured on camera would, in effect, disappear. So when a guest scheduled for the number-one daytime talk show in the nation, Dr. Phil, dyed her hair blue before her appearance, an intern was dispatched to find a quick cover-up. Which is how SF State senior Tyler McKinney ended up racing through a Los Angeles wig store phone in hand.

“I was on Facetime with the production assistant the entire time, and it was madness!” recalls McKinney. “We were in such a rush, but luckily I found a wig that suited her perfectly.”

McKinney is one in a long line of SF State students who’ve gained experience through a Department of Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts (BECA) internship course, “BECA 395: Close-up on Los Angeles.” The class is taught by Associate Professor Miriam Smith, who takes students to L.A. to rub elbows with BECA alumni, building relationships that could lead to that all-important first gig. That’s what happened for Jodi Sanders (B.A., ’17). Three years ago she was a Dr. Phil intern. Today she’s the show’s executive production coordinator, managing the very internship program that got her started in the biz. “These are huge doors that have been opened,” she says.

Currently, seven of the show’s 10 interns are SF State students or recent graduates. And there’s a not-quite-so-recent graduate overseeing it all: Carla Pennington (B.A., ’85) is executive producer of Dr. Phil and several other CBS programs. She remembers how helpful internship opportunities were for her, so extending a hand to those still climbing the ladder is important to her.

“It is incredibly fulfilling to be able to give back to SF State by offering internships to their BECA students,” she says.


Bianca Lucchetti (B.A., ’11) is the new Northern California sales manager for Silverado Vineyards.

Dane Eifling (B.A., ’12) is the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Stephanie Doeing-Nicoletti (M.A., ’13) has been promoted to marketing team associate at Soderstrom Architects in Portland, Oregon.

Torres Esquer (B.A., ’13; M.A., ’16) was profiled in the San Francisco Chronicle for his work as a special education teacher at the city’s Lowell High School.

Juliana Lustenader (B.A., ’13) had the title role in a recent production of the musical Violet at San Francisco’s Alcazar Theater.

Skye Montante (B.A., ’13) is a teaching artist with the Notes in Motion Dance Theatre program in New York City.

Macheo Payne (Ed.D., ’13) has been named CEO of the community-based nonprofit Youth Uprising.

Marisa Cozart (B.A., ’14) played Dora, one of the lead roles, in the musical Fiorello! at the Gateway Theatre this spring.

Daphne Morgen (B.A., ’14) is the co-founder and executive director of Youth UnMuted, a program for refugee and migrant youth in Greece. Launched last summer, the program focuses on creating opportunities for young refugees to express themselves in an accepting environment. Learn more at

Phillip Barron (MFA, ’16) won the 2019 Nicolás Guillén Outstanding Book Award for his poetry collection What Comes from a Thing. Given by Jamaica’s Caribbean Philosophical Association, the award honors outstanding contributions to philosophical literature.

Caitlin Hernandez (Masters in Special Education, ’16) contributed an essay to the anthology Firsts: Coming of Age Stories by People with Disabilities. Blind since birth, Hernandez teaches elementary-school special education in San Francisco.

Mahelet Gezachew (B.A., ’18) is on her way to a successful career in the film industry. Just before graduating, Gezachew, who majored in Communication Studies and minored in Africana Studies, was accepted into the internship program of the Evolve Entertainment Fund, an initiative founded by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Director Ava Duvernay to provide young Angelenos access and resources into the show business. She was offered a position with the production company Anonymous Content as an activism intern, and after four months she narrowed her interests to film and television development and landed a position as a development intern with Hello Sunshine, Reese Witherspoon's anchored media brand dedicated to female authorships across all storytelling platforms. She then served as an executive assistant at the Walt Disney Company in Marketing Partnerships.


In Memoriam

Dorothy Grace Boyajian (A.B., ’51) taught in the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District for 53 years. She was inducted into the San Mateo County Women’s Hall of Fame in 1987, and a San Mateo County honor — the Dorothy Boyajian Honored-Teacher Award — is named after her. She retired in 2004.

Ludmila Ershov (B.A., ’67; M.A., ’69; Teaching Credential, ’70) passed away in San Francisco last November. Born in a French district of Shanghai in 1933, she spent part of World War II in a displaced persons camp in the Philippines. Later her family moved to Paris and, after that, the United States. She taught at SF State for 20 years, establishing a summer study abroad program in St. Petersburg that frequently took her to Russia with her students. After retiring from the University as an emerita professor of foreign languages and literatures, she donned a sarafan (a Russian folk dress) to help bring the old Russian settlement at Fort Ross alive for visitors.

Marty Balin was a founding member of the seminal rock band Jefferson Airplane. He dropped out of SF State to pursue his passion for music, writing and recording as a folk performer before hitting it big with the Airplane’s breakthrough 1967 album “Surrealistic Pillow.”

Robert “Bob” Hirschfeld (B.A., ’69) put his experience as photo editor of the Daily Gater to good use throughout a decades-long journalism career. Though his first post-graduation job was with Time Magazine, he eventually switched from print to broadcast journalism, working in a number of different roles for KCBS, KIOI, KGO and KTVU. He spent the last 10 years of his career as a public information officer for Lawrence Livermore National Lab, retiring in 2013.

Nicole Sawaya (B.A., ’92) began her post-SF State career as a reporter and producer at KQED. She went on to a number of other radio broadcasting positions, including a stint as general manager of KPFA. In 2005, the Society of Professional Journalists of Northern California named her Journalist of the Year for her support for local reporting as general manager at San Francisco’s KALW.

Jessica Mae Orozco (B.S., ’12) was shot to death in Golden Valley, Arizona, last October. A member of the Pit River Tribe, she minored in American Indian studies at SF State. Her major was plant biology, and at the time of her death she had what family members describe as her dream job: working as a range specialist for the Natural Resources Department. Orozco was killed while dropping off a family friend late at night. A resident of the friend’s home, mistaking Orozco for an intruder, fired a shot at the door, killing her.

Bernard Bragg performing a mime act

Bernard Bragg (M.A., ’59) broke barriers for deaf performers by bringing his special brand of mime to such San Francisco nightspots as the hungry i and co-founding the National Theater of the Deaf. A student of the legendary mime Marcel Marceau, Bragg had his own KQED TV show (The Quiet Man, which ran from 1958 to 1961). He came to SF State for a master’s degree in special education, which he put to use over the following decades as a mentor to scores of young deaf actors, including Marlee Matlin.



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