New graduates exemplify academic excellence, commitment to positive change

Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Nico Storrow (M.S., Counseling, ’19) and Nirajan Chand (B.A. Criminal Justice Studies, ’19) had the honor of wearing the College of Health & Social Sciences academic hood. Pictured: Storrow (left) and Chand are hooded by Dean Alvin Alvarez.

Nico Storrow (M.S., Counseling, ’19) and Nirajan Chand (B.A. Criminal Justice Studies, ’19) had the honor of wearing the College of Health & Social Sciences academic hood. Pictured: Storrow (left) and Chand are hooded by Dean Alvin Alvarez.

At San Francisco State University’s May 28 Commencement, undergraduate and graduate students from the College of Health & Social Sciences received degrees in a wide range of fields promoting health, well-being and quality of life.

Below, read about some of our accomplished, newly minted graduates who are prepared to make a significant, positive impact on their communities and society.


Kale Blake’s perspective on social justice has been shaped by their personal experience of being a queer, non-binary person in the world and through their work outside of the classroom – including nearly a decade of work as an in-home caregiver for adults with developmental and physical disabilities and as an advocate for tenant and immigrant rights, LGBTQ organizations and “get out the vote” programs.

Faculty members have remarked on Blake’s insight, their ability to enrich conversations, their commitment to social justice, and their academic excellence. Professor of Kinesiology Kate Hamel describes them as being “one of those students that can change a classroom dynamic simply by the questions that they ask, challenging both faculty and students to view concepts and topics through a different lens.” These qualities served Blake well as both a teaching and research assistant in the program.

Blake will continue their education in the Master of Occupational Therapy Program at San Jose State University in the fall.


Nirajan Chand

Nirajan Chand was born in Nepal in the midst of a civil war. The violence he experienced in his youth fueled his ambition for a life of public service, a goal sharpened when he pursued a B.A. in Criminal Justice Studies from SF State.

At the age of 16, Chand started a four-month journey to the United States, exposing him to the hardships experienced by many in South and Central America. Upon arriving in the U.S. without documentation, he was detained for six months — time he used to study social injustices and teach himself English.

After eventually enrolling in Berkeley City College, Chand transferred to SF State, where both the University’s history of activism and his courses inspired him to deepen his commitment to social justice and human rights. Chand has been accepted into the Human Rights Education Master’s Program at the University of San Francisco.

Chand was chosen for the honor of wearing the College of Health & Social Sciences academic hood to represent CHSS undergraduate students at the 2019 SF State Commencement.


Jessica Hoi-Wan Chen

Jessica Hoi-wan Chen has focused her practice and scholarly work on mental health of Chinese immigrants and first-generation students. Her community work, interest in mental health and research are motivated by her desire to provide interventions to effectively address the subjugated experiences of first-generation Chinese Americans and immigrants.

Chen has provided bilingual and culturally sensitive support services to underserved youth and their families in San Francisco's Chinatown community for the past seven years. She received a distinguished award for her community work contributing to the strength, socio-emotional growth and overall well-being of youth and their families. She designed and led a team to implement a student centered after-school program that helped new immigrant youth develop leadership skills, self-confidence, courage, sense of belonging and other essential life skills. She coordinated large-scale monthly family dinners and outings to build relationships and trust, provide resources and promote a sense of community between staff, students and parents.

She has conducted presentations on relationship building and growth mindset and consultations on youth development to multiple YMCA branches in Hong Kong. As a clinical social work intern for the past two years, she’s contributed to the growth of her clients by providing bilingual, client centered, strengths-based, culturally sensitive and trauma informed mental health services to youth and their families.


Pardis Esmaeili is a strong advocate for marginalized, underrepresented and underserved communities.  In Esmaeili’s words, personal experiences have "led me to appreciate differences as jewels that invoke strength, resilience and compassion."

As a student in the UCSF/SF State Graduate Program in Physical Therapy, Esmaeili has been a role model to students, staff and faculty. Esmaeili served as the co-chair of this year’s UCSF LGBTQIA+ Health Forum, a student-organized program that provides attendees the opportunity to learn more about the health care needs of the LGBTQIA+ community and become better prepared to serve LGBTQIA+ patients in the clinical arena.

Esmaeili was recently honored with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Minority Affairs Scholarship at the APTA NEXT conference. The award acknowledges and rewards students’ demonstrated contributions in the area of minority affairs activities and services, with an emphasis on contributions made while enrolled in their physical therapy education program, the potential for superior achievements in physical therapy and their academic excellence.


Beverly FongBeverly Fong, who graduated in December 2018, is the first in her family to graduate from college. She worked as a home health aide to pay for her living and college expenses. Despite the constraints this placed on her time, she engaged in an impressive amount of community service while excelling as a student in the nursing program.

She was elected by the Nursing Student Association to represent the SF State School of Nursing as co-director of the Hep B Free Ambassador Program. In this role, she worked closely with the SF Hep B Free Coalition and organized Hepatitis B testing events and educational outreach. In addition, she took an extensive training in influenza immunization and has volunteered on her own time to participate in flu vaccination sessions at SF homeless shelters. In 2018 she worked as a team leader in the annual effort, organizing and managing the influenza immunization clinics in many of the SF homeless shelters. She was responsible for coordinating with shelter staff, assuring adequate nursing staffing and safely transporting and storing the vaccine. She also volunteered for many other events, such as SF Sunday Streets and the Annual San Quentin Health Fair.

This spring, Fong passed her State Board exam to become a California Registered Nurse.


Laura HernandezLaura Hernandez has always had a passion for learning and giving back to her community. Ever since middle school, she and her mom planned and worked many events to support whatever school she was attending, from planning school festivals, to making food for spaghetti dinners, to coordinating volunteer opportunities at a local organization. After receiving the International Baccalaureate High School Diploma, Laura had completed more than 2,000 hours of community service.

She wanted to further her love for giving back when she came to college. Moving from Stockton to San Francisco, she had a hard time finding a community of her own until she joined the Department of Recreation, Parks & Tourism (RPT) at SF State. There she was able to learn how to plan events, how to create strong teams and explore her love for tourism and the outdoors. In RPT, Hernandez continued her love for giving back to her new community by completing approximatey 600 hours of community service in her field of study. She had led tours, cooked for hostel guests, helped visitors at the visitor center, organized alumni data for RPT, taught youth how to grow plants, to kayak, to sail and so much more. Now she is planning to move back to Stockton to pursue her love for the community by bringing back all the wonderful things she has learned at SF State.


Sean JonesSean Jones’ dedication to learning is extraordinary. His road wasn’t easy; at the age of 15, he began supporting himself and ultimately had to drop out of high school in order to do so. After obtaining his GED, he began volunteering as a firefighter, which entailed responding to 911 calls, teaching community CPR classes and mentoring EMT students.

Though he periodically had to live out of his vehicle, he continued to volunteer so he could learn and help others. After seven years of volunteering at fire departments and working in the local hospital’s Emergency Department, he returned to school at age 27 and obtained his undergraduate degree in kinesiology from Western Washington University, while maintaining his role as a firefighter engineer and fire academy instructor.

Jones’ master’s thesis examines the influence of synchronizing step rate with heart rate while running. He has already been first author and co-author on two research abstracts that have been presented at professional conferences, and he has a 4.0 GPA. Jones is also a self-employed personal trainer in Oakland. His unique business model offers sliding-scale fitness programs to an extremely diverse community, allowing him to share his knowledge of fitness and exercise training with others who may not normally have access to professional guidance.


Guadalupe Orihuela, described by her professors as “an assiduous self-starter,” has a 4.0 GPA and has maintained scholarship funding throughout her academic career to pay for her own education based on her academic achievement.

The first in her family to pursue an advanced degree, Orihuela wants to enter the field of dietetics to make a difference in the lives of families and individuals who may not have access or the financial means to nutritious food.  Her goals include working with organizations that help provide healthful food to underserved populations and getting a master’s degree in nutrition in order to teach nutrition to college students.


Samir ShresthaBorn in Nepal, Samir Shrestha is a first-generation, formerly undocumented, transfer student graduating magna cum laude. His father — an educator and a writer who was also often a target of political persecution — exposed him at a very young age to the importance of organizing communities against systems of oppression. After immigrating to Montana as an international student, Shrestha found out he could not afford his schooling, and he relocated to the Bay Area and became undocumented. Gaining his documentation through political asylum, he dedicated his academic work to sharpening his sociological analysis on systems of power.

Shrestha is one of the founders of Liberation Logistics, an alliance of people of color that supports other organizations around logistics/sound/security for marches in the Bay Area. He has contributed to the eight-year campaign in Alameda County to “Stop Urban Shield,” a weapons expo that would further the damaging criminalization and militarization of communities of color. He is active in Asians for Black Lives, Buddhist Peace Fellowship and Anti-Police Terror Project.

In the future, he hopes to continue to graduate school to investigate how caste travels into the South Asian diaspora and how that is impacting non-Hindu South Asians and Dalit folks in the diaspora.


Nico StorrowAs a teenager, Nico Storrow experienced the isolation that can accompany coming out as queer and trans and saw how important it was to meet others who encountered similar challenges. That has driven their passion for working in schools to build community and provide accessible mental health services.

Storrow will graduate with an M.S. in Counseling with a concentration in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling and an emphasis in School Counseling. While at SF State, they provided therapy and facilitated support groups in year-long internships at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, Pinole Valley High School and the San Francisco nonprofit Queer LifeSpace. Along with conducting research and serving as a student leader in the Counseling Student Association, Storrow also worked as an instructor for the International Institute for Restorative Practices throughout their time in the program.

Storrow was chosen for the honor of wearing the College of Health & Social Sciences academic hood representing graduate students at the 2019 SF State Commencement.


Xiaoxian TanXiaoxian Tan's social justice orientation is exemplified by her leadership roles both on campus and in the community. Tan currently interns at On Lok Lifeways, where she conducts cognitive assessments of clients, facilitates a women supportive group and works with a multidisciplinary team promoting holistic health of clients. As a former peer advisor at Laney College, Tan engaged with fellow students from underrepresented communities in working on such programs as EOPS and Cal WORKS. As a CalFresh Navi-Gator at the CalFresh Health Clinic, she works with students in signing up for CalFresh. Tan has also participated actively in the NASW Legislative Lobby Days for two academic years.

Her off-campus involvements include being an after-school teacher at Starlite Child Development Center; serving as community ambassador for Alameda County Social Services Agency; and as a recreation aide for the City of Oakland Parks & Recreation. While studying abroad in Hochschule Fulda, Germany last fall, she interned at Grümel gGmgH in Bad Salzschlirf, working directly with refugee youth and families on refugee resettlement and community development programs. The experience honed her competencies in transnational social work and allowed her to reflect on her own standpoint as a transnational social work student who shares parallel experiences with the refugee youth with whom she worked.


Margaret VuongMargaret Vuong is a native San Franciscan, raised in the Tenderloin to Southeast Asian refugee parents. She is the first in her family to go to college. She worked to pay for her education, often managing three jobs at a time. Her heavy work/school load has not kept her from giving back to the community and providing clinical preventive services to low-income senor residents Bayview District of SF at Rafiki Wellness Program, for inmates of San Quentin State Prison, and by vaccinating adults in San Francisco’s homeless shelters against influenza, truly a labor of love.

Through her graduate internship, Vuong helped change policy and practice within the SFDPH Family & Children’s Services (FCS). Her research and analysis of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act led to policy changes in FCS on data collection and reporting of substance-affected infants. As a result of Margaret’s work, the agency is working toward real policy change at the local level and are in the process of building a longer-term coalition of regional community-based professionals all working toward the goal of strengthening families and communities and the institutions that serve them.