Class Notes

a woman and child sitting peacefully on a cliff

Photo courtesy Cecilia Mellieon

Grappling with a Traumatic Past

Cecilia Mellieon (B.A., ’20), a graduate student in Anthropology, is the director of a documentary titled “He told us the sky is blue.” It traces her family’s trauma to Native American oppression, focusing on the Indian boarding school her father attended in Fort Apache, Arizona.

“If it hadn’t been for his experience there, he would have never left his family or his village,” says Mellieon, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The U.S. government established the boarding schools to teach English and trade skills to Native American children. Violent corporal punishment occurred often.

“The ultimate goal was to have fully assimilated secondgeneration children — children who were removed from their lands, children who didn’t grow up with their culture or their language or their family members,” Mellieon says.

In her 55-minute film, Mellieon’s family recalls surviving an abusive household. They share feelings of sadness and regret as they also work to resolve their anger.

“There are scenes where my brother and my mom are breaking down crying,” Mellieon says. “I was crying with them.”

Born and raised in San Francisco, Mellieon is passionate about telling stories of urban Native American life. She uses a supportive, collaborative approach that aims to not only create an ethnography, but also a work that will benefit the subjects. Her approach is an application of visual anthropology, a field of study that was founded by late SF State faculty members John Adair and John Collier. Anthropology Professor Peter Biella (B.A., ’72; M.A.,’75) was one of Collier’s students, and today he is Mellieon’s adviser.

Mellieon entered SF State as an undergraduate at age 42. Now, one of her children, Tatihn Melllieon, also attends SF State, as a Creative Writing major and a student assistant in the Poetry Center.

“If I had tried this at any other point in my life, I don’t think I would have had the life experiences,” Cecilia Mellieon says. “I don’t think I would have had the growth that I needed to be a confident student and be able to feel like I could tackle this.”

She is also inspired by her mother, Sheila Brown, who made her way through City College of San Francisco and SF State over 15 years before completing her bachelor’s degree in 2008.

Mellieon has screened “He told us the sky is blue” at film festivals and hosted a premiere at Los Medanos College. She plans to make more anthropological films about big-city Indigenous life.


Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles an exhibit depicting futuristic looking cars

Photo courtesy Petersen Automotive Museum

Jim Farber (BFA, ’68) is the guest curator of “Eyes on the Road” at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibition explores how contemporary artists have redefined views of automobiles, gas stations and highways.


Bonnie Ora Sherk

Photo by Robert Campbell, courtesy Bonnie Ora Sherk estate

Bonnie Ora Sherk (M.A., ’70) was the subject of a posthumous exhibition at the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture in San Francisco this year. Her memory lives on through A Living Library, the nonprofit she founded supporting environmental art and education projects in the city.


Annette Bening

“Nyad” photo courtesy Netflix

Annette Bening (B.A., ’80) received her fifth Academy Award nomination in 2024. She was nominated for Best Actress for “Nyad.” People magazine writes: “Bening doesn’t hold back. This is her boldest performance ever.”


Alie Ward

Photo by Robyn Von Swank

Leading with Authentic Curiosity

Alie Ward (B.A., Cinema, ’99) and her siblings grew up as “free-range feral children” in the ’80s, wading through ponds to find polliwogs, worms and bugs. She loved how weird and dirty the natural world could be. So naturally, she’s now an award-winning science communicator and host of the podcast “Ologies,” highlighting experts on bugs, worms and so much more.

On a personal level, science grounds Ward to something bigger. “My goal in science communication is to try to unlock that in other people — because everyone has it — and to help them look up from their own lives and find some solace and connection in that significant insignificance that we all kind of have,” she says.

Six years in, and her favorite part of her gig is still finding the “ologists”: experts in fields like scatology (poop), corvid thanatology (crow deaths), melittology (bees), radiology (X-rays), areology (Mars) and gelotology (laughter). There are few limits on what “Ologies” can cover.

Ward spent her early post-SF State years in the entertainment industry. The science podcast was a vehicle for her to be her authentic self — and she wants to highlight her guests in the same way. Knowing the “ologists” are passionate and intriguing folks, she asks questions that will light them up.

“It just starts to flow out of them. Then you’re conversing as people and the story is moving things along instead of just facts. The facts come with the story,” she says. “I think that our brains love to connect with people that way and I think that helps us retain and care about information. Context is so important.”


Larry the Musical with actors singing a song and production crew filming
Larry the Musical with actors sitting on chair doing a rehearsal

Singing a Heros Praises

“Larry the Musical” (shown in rehearsals) ran March 23 – April 14 at San Francisco’s Brava Theatre. Based on a book about Filipino American labor organizer Larry Itliong by late SF State Associate Professor of History Dawn Mabalon and alumna Gayle Romasanta (B.A., ’99), it was brought to the stage by a number of Gators. Romasanta served as an executive producer and writer, Bryan Pangilinan (M.Mus., ’15) composed the music and was also an executive producer, and Sean Kana (B.A., ’04), Kevin Camia (B.A., ’95) and Asian American Studies Professor Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales provided behind-the-scenes support. The play tells the story of Filipino American labor organizer Larry Itliong, who fought for fair pay and better working conditions for cannery and farm workers. “‘Larry the Musical’ is the first 100% Filipino American-created musical,” says Pangilinan. “It’s important to know our history and learn from it.”


Smith Rafael Film Center

Photo by Privette

Jim Draper (B.A., ’77) produced and edited “Something in the Air: A Rock Radio Revolution,” which premiered at the Smith Rafael Film Center last fall. The documentary is a wild and colorful creation tale of America’s original underground rock radio station — KMPX and KSAN. Draper and other alumni interned at KSAN through SF State’s Department of Broadcast Communication Arts.


Nancy Pullen (B.S., ’74) taught psychiatric nursing at Dominican College for 11 years until 1996 and completed her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the Wright Institute in 2001. She moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and worked as a psychologist/psychotherapist in private practice and retired six years ago. Now she teaches hatha yoga and enjoys retirement, travel, her cat and partner.

Dan Mosier (B.A., ’77) won the Mark Harrington Award for conservation archaeology from the Society of California Archaeology for his work at the state parks of Tesla and Carnegie. Based on his book “History of Tesla: A California Coal Mining Town,” the California Registered Historical Landmark for Carnegie was recently revised.

Stephen J. Meadows (M.A., ’81) is the poet laureate of El Dorado County. His collections include “Releasing the Days” (Heyday) and “Winter Work” (Nomadic Press). His ancestry is Ohlone Indian, and he is a descendent of early California pioneer James Meadows. He lives with his wife and son near Placerville.

Val Dolcini (B.A., ’85) was elected unanimously to the American Farmland Trust board of directors. He is the U.S. head of sustainability and government affairs for Syngenta, a global agriculture company in Switzerland.

Ethan Van Der Ryn (B.A., ’85) received his seventh Academy Award nomination this year. The two-time Oscar winner was nominated for Best Sound for “The Creator.”

Celia Esposito-Noy (B.A., ’86) retires this year as superintendent and president at Solano Community College after 33 years in higher education. She credits her time at SF State, where she was 1985 – 86 student body president, with igniting her passion for public higher education.

Tani Girton (MBA, ’90) is executive vice president and chief financial officer at Bank of Marin. The San Francisco Business Times named Girton one of the Most Influential Women in Bay Area Business in 2023.

Caryn R. Mcclelland (M.A., ’90) is the U.S. ambassador to Brunei Darussalam. She is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of minister-counselor, and is leading this year’s celebration of the establishment of U.S.-Brunei diplomatic relations.

Sheryl Evans Davis (B.A., ’91) won the 2023 Presidential Medal of Freedom from the San Francisco branch of the NAACP. She serves as executive director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and is an advocate for equity, access and educational opportunity for all.

Lisa Thompson (B.S., ’92; M.S., ’96) is a professor in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University. She received the 2023 Episteme Laureate award from the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. SF State Nursing Professor Emerita Shannon Perry, Thompson’s master’s thesis adviser, attended her conference presentation.

Kirby Michael Wright’s (MFA, ’94) “The Writer Type” was the cover story for the San Diego Reader in May 2023. He was a guest lecturer at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland.

Erin Hill Freschi (B.A., ’95; M.A., ’99) received the Senior Early Learning Impact Fellowship through the Federation of American Scientists. She began her tour of service at the U.S. Department of Education and works with the deputy assistant secretary of policy and early learning.

Artemis Patrick (MBA, ’01) is the president and CEO of Sephora North America. She has been with the beauty store chain since 2006, starting as director of e-commerce merchandising.

Geoffrea Morris (B.A., ’02) won the 2023 Civil Rights Activist Award from the San Francisco branch of the NAACP. She is a social worker and attorney who has dedicated nearly 20 years to improving the lives of people in San Francisco’s most disenfranchised communities.

LeRoid David (B.A., ’03) is the artist behind a Sacramento advertising campaign fighting anti-Asian hate. It is featured throughout the region, including at the Golden One Center.

John Fadeff (B.A., ’05) animated and directed “Things in Between Other Things,” which won the Radar International Award at UNDER_the_RADAR Festival and Conference for Artistic Film, Animation and Experimental Sequential Media in Vienna, Austria. It also won the Jury Prize in Experimental Short Animation at the CutOut International Animation Festival.

Paul Ratner (B.A., ’05) was selected as a 2023 Leader of Impact nominee with the American Heart Association. He dedicates his campaign to his father, who suffered a stroke.

Lisa Dreyer (B.A., ’07) is the director of Fantastic Fest, the largest genre film festival in the U.S.

Melina Jones (B.A., ’08) is principal of Sans Hype Design. Based in San Francisco, she is a brand strategist, creative director and digital product designer.

Ryan Vego (B.A., ’08), a founding partner of Glendale-based law firm Glauber Berenson Vego, won an early Super Lawyers Rising Star Award and a Top Attorney Award for Professional Achievement. He is a member of the Pro Bono Honors Society at California Western School of Law.

Gritchelle Fallesgon (B.A., ’09) of Portland, Oregon, centers her photography on fitness, lifestyle and portraits. She has worked with companies such as Vvolt and Specialized Bicycles. Her editorial photography has been featured in The New York Times, Wired, Insider and more.

Alicia Chambers (B.A., ’12) is a major in the U.S. Marine Corps. The former Gator sprinter spoke at the “Women in Coaching” seminar for the 2023 U.S. Track & Field and Cross-Country Coaches Association.

Kenneth James (B.A., ’14) is the founder of Qylo Technologies. The company offers an all-in-one platform to simplify connections between businesses and people.

Shayle Matsuda (M.S., ’15) is a full-time research biologist at the Daniel P. Haerther Center for Conservation and Research following a postdoctoral fellowship. The center is at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

Rebecca Alvarez Story (M.A., ’17) is the founder and CEO of Bloomi, a company offering intimate health products with an emphasis on bilingual marketing.

James Brooks (M.A., ’20) and SF State Communication Studies Professor Leah Wingard published an article in the journal Discourse & Society. It is titled “Evolutions in hegemonic discourses of climate change: An ecomodern enactment of implicatory denial.”

Leshaun Mcclendon (B.A., ’23) works for the Alameda County Clerk Recorders Agency.