EastBay Today

Posted April 26, 2017

Introducing Cal State East Bay's 40 Under 40 Awards

The university prepares to honor 40 alumni at an inaugural ceremony April 28

The university's first class of 40 Under 40 honorees will be celebrated at a ceremony in Oakland.

An Emmy-winning newscast producer. A world-renowned composer. The minister of agriculture of a foreign country. They’re just a few of Cal State East Bay’s inaugural 40 Under 40 Alumni Award recipients, who will be honored by the university Friday, April 28 at Lake Chalet restaurant in Oakland. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. and includes a cocktail reception followed by the awards presentation. 

"Cal State East Bay produces many talented young alumni who make substantial contributions to their communities and professions," said Richard Watters, executive director of alumni and constituent engagement. "Our 40 Under 40 recipients are great role models for the university's current students, and shining examples of how Cal State East Bay helps elevate the region and the state."

Award honorees encompass Cal State East Bay alumni from all colleges and career paths, including educational leaders, entrepreneurs, social justice advocates, tech and marketing gurus, health care professionals and civil servants. While many universities in the area claim the same successes among their alumni, according to Jennifer Case, president of the Alumni Association, the achievements of Cal State East Bay graduates frequently hold deeper meaning and greater value, both for the individuals and those who helped them along the way.

“We know that many Pioneer alumni are first-generation college students and most worked their way through college with at least one job, sometimes two or three,” Case said. “Our alumni often persevere through challenging situations to complete their degrees and support their families and communities. Knowing that [these honorees] are age 40 or under, we look forward with excitement to see what’s next on the horizon.”

Cal State East Bay is honored to announce its 2017 class of 40 Under 40 Alumni Award recipients:

Will Adams (B.A. ’99, Mass Communication), TV newscast director, NBC Universal/KNTV

Adams is an Emmy award-winning director, who also directs live-to-tape shows, runs the teleprompter and even gets the anchors water. After 17 years with KNTV/NBC Bay Area, he still loves the excitement of live news.

Aaron Aguirre (B.A. ’16, International Relations), head of operations, Copia

Aguirre helps run a San Francisco-based company that aims to end hunger and food waste through data and analytics. Using a proprietary algorithm, Aguirre helps pair businesses that generate excess food with communities in need. He became passionate about food waste and its effects on the environment while doing field research at Cal State East Bay.

Jason Allen (B.A. ’01, History; Teaching Credential, ’02), deputy city attorney, City of Oakland

Allen is a deputy city attorney within the Oakland City Attorney's office. He is experienced in a variety of litigation matters, including civil rights, torts and employment disputes. While in private practice, he worked to serve the community through pro bono advocacy for environmental groups, tenants, immigration rights, prisoners and U.S. military veterans.

Gerardo Alvarado (M.S. ’15, Taxation), managing partner, Coates, Cortese & Alvarado

Alvarado is a tax accountant, who founded his own tax and asset management firm in 2003. He went on to merge that business with Legacy CPA Inc., and then to acquire a large book of business from William Coates, CPA, requiring the formation of a new LLP, Coates Cortese & Alvarado. In 2013, Alvarado sold his stock in Legacy CPA Inc. to become the majority interest holder of Coates Cortese Alvarado LLP.

Ella Bell (MSW ’09), medical social worker, Kaiser Permanente

Bell is the founder of Build My Heart Foundation, which serves at-risk families affected by heart disease. She started an annual gala to raise awareness and funds for these families, and in 2011 received a proclamation from Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom for her philanthropic work with at-risk families in the Bay Area. Bell is also a certified life care planning specialist.

Penelope Bernhisel (MSW ’08), clinical director, Telecare

Bernhisel has been with Telecare, a complex health recovery delivery systems corporation, since 2008. In that time, she has implemented two new pilot programs that have been approved by Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors. On a day-to-day basis, Bernhisel oversees an integrated assertive community treatment team in the day-to-day delivery of services for both the assisted outpatient treatment and community conservatorship programs.

Charles Cole III (B.A. ’05, Political Science), community engagement specialist, Oakland Unified School District

Cole is an educator focused on the advancement of all youth of color, but specifically black males. He has served as a social worker, director for Teach for America, vice chair of the California Young Democrats, member of the Black Caucus, community engagement leader for the Oakland Unified School District and at the director level for various youth-focused non-profits. He is also a national speaker, writer and Porsche 30 Under 30 recipient.

Bridget Devine (MBA ’15), senior operations analyst, Salesforce.org

Devine began her career at Oracle but after completing her MBA at Cal State East Bay, was hired as manager of sales strategy at Salesforce.org, where she analyzes business trends and sales forecast information for the CEO. In her spare time, she regularly volunteers in the MBA Leadership Communication program, and she also finds ways to give back to her community by feeding the homeless, volunteering at activities for elementary school students and encouraging young women to reach their potential through the organization Women in Technology.

Michael Gebhardt (B.S. ’02, Criminal Justice Administration), senior detective, Fremont Police Department

Gebhardt was hired by the Fremont Police Department as a patrol officer after graduating from Cal State East Bay, and he has risen through the ranks of the department, from field training officer to detective in the Crimes Against Persons Unit to his current position as senior detective in the Homicide Unit. Gebhardt is also active in the California Robbery Investigators Association’s board of directors, to which he was elected president of the association in 2016.

Harjit Gill (MSW ’09), access and crisis services manager, County of Yolo

Gill is an experienced caregiver in the area of specialty mental health services and has spent the bulk of his career treating people who are in crisis or in need of emergency psychiatric support. Today, he oversees mental health clinics for Yolo County and works to expand access to crisis services.

Jasmine Gill (B.A. ’05, Economics; M.A. ’08, Economics), senior channel analytics manager, Genentech

Gill’s upbringing by a single mother and experience attending West Contra Costa Unified School District convinced her at a young age that social determinants play a huge role in why certain populations are more likely to maintain specific levels of socioeconomic status. In addition to her career at Genentech, Gill hopes to change the future for women of those communities through the business she founded in 2014, Gyals Network. Gyals Network offers a safe space for women from diverse backgrounds, who have all the qualities to become leaders, to talk about issues in their careers and communities, and to take part in professional development events with industry leaders.

Joe Gura (B.A. ’02, Mass Communication), senior product marketing manager, Microsoft

Gura is an integrated marketing professional, who brings a journalist’s eye for storytelling and a technologist’s passion for technology to his work. He currently leads global product marketing strategy for Microsoft’s advanced enterprise support offerings. He has also worked in marketing and communications for cybersecurity, executive communications and digital and broadcast media.

Ryan Hansen-Vera (M.S. ’12, Educational Leadership), site director, Lobo School of Innovation

Hansen-Vera joined Quimby Oak Middle School in 2014, and in 2016, was asked to design a school-within-a-school model for seventh- and eighth-graders. She was soon promoted to school site director and recruited the founding teaching team for this new educational adventure. In August 2016, Lobo School of Innovation opened its doors to 162 seventh-graders, and this year, the school will also build an eighth-grade class and welcome a new group of seventh-graders, creating an established school of 300 diverse learners.

Dr. Long Huynh (B.S. ’03, Business Administration; MBA ’04), associate dean, Kansas State University - Global Campus

Huynh is a father, educator, learner and higher education advocate. Before joining the Kansas State University Global Campus, Huynh served as director of graduate and professional education programs and services at CSUN. Before that, he was executive director of graduate services and administration at AAU. Huynh is actively involved with the community and in professional organizations that promote excellence in continuing and online education.

Courtney Jamieson (B.A. ’11, Communication), global client director, Cision

Jamieson is an experienced marking professional who has worked across multiple industries. She has worked for Voce-Porter Novelli in the Bay Area, where she helped coordinate campaigns for DC Comics; in marketing and advertising for iHeartMedia; and in technology at Oracle for clients such as Disney, Microsoft and Apple. Currently, she is a director at a Microsoft marketing company in Seattle, but continues to give back to the Bay Area through the George Archer Literary Foundation, which raises funds for school and libraries in the region.

Heidi Rachelle Johnson (B.A. ’13, Sociology), lead case manager, United Council of Human Services

In addition to several years in non-profit administration, Johnson is best known for her innovative work in San Francisco’s marginalized Bayview neighborhood, where she has spearheaded programs to help homeless veterans find permanent housing, increase their income and maintain sobriety. Currently, she is a lead case manager with the United Council of Human Services and responsible for 73 formerly homeless veterans in the Bayview area.

Allen Kwan (B.A. ’04, Mass Communication), vice president and business development manager, Swiss Re Corporation Solutions

Kwan has been described as a “natural leader” by his colleagues, and his prowess for relationship-building and passion for inclusion is why he is a founding member of two networking groups: the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation and the San Francisco Chapter of Emerging Insurance Professionals. Kwan also continues to serve Cal State East Bay as the treasurer of the Alumni Association, where he manages the annual budget and creates long-term financial strategies.

Phillip La Corte (M.S. ’12, Health Care Administration), CEO, Heart Institute of Texas

Before his current position, La Corte was the CEO of a $50 million-plus private oncology practice in the Bay Area, whose focus was to treat all patients with equanimity and provide comprehensive, compassionate and personalized cancer care, regardless of insurance coverage. Taking those values with him, La Corte joined a cardiology practice in East Texas in 2015, where the patient population has the worst health habits and outcomes in the state, but he has already seen a decrease in cardiovascular-related mortality.

Robert Litton (B.A. ’01, Music; M.A. ’04, Music), composer/orchestrator

Litton is an American composer whose compositions have been performed by almost all major orchestras between the San Francisco Symphony and the New York Philharmonic. His first work, “One for All – A Fanfare for Wind Ensemble,” has delighted audiences on four continents and been performed at Carnegie Hall. Litton has since graduated at the top of his class from the USC Scoring for Motions Pictures and Television program, and he now keeps a busy schedule of concert and chamber music commissions, and television and movie projects. He recently completed the rousing score for an adventure/fantasy game from Lightbound Studios called Star Chasers – Rooftop Runners. 

Edward Marcel (B.S. ’08, Psychology), senior procurement analyst, Ghirardelli Chocolate Company

At Ghirardelli, Marcel has led strategic sourcing and inventory management initiatives that have eliminated operational waste, generated cost savings and improved customer experiences. His ability to facilitate change and deliver results recently earned him the Domingo Ghirardelli award, a peer-nominated honor from the company’s leadership team. Marcel also supports community outreach programs through the Boys & Girls Club and Oakland Athletics.

Elisa Márquez (B.A. ’01, Sociology; MPA ’12), council member, City of Hayward

Márquez is a proud “Farmer to Pioneer,” having graduated from Hayward High School before attending Cal State East Bay. Her involvement in local government began more than 13 years ago as the former chair of both the city’s human services commission and planning commission. As a current council member, she provides leadership that shapes local legislation to improve public safety, strengthen the local economy and create more affordable housing.

Antonio Martinez (B.A. ’13, Communication), community education coordinator, STAND! For Families Free of Violence

Martinez works with young men within the Contra Costa Unified School District. He provides a safe, encouraging and uplifting space to discuss issues such as violence in the community and at home, as well as racism, male privilege and what it means to be a man in our society. His passion for this work stems from his upbringing in a single-parent household.

Markita Mays (MSW ’10), licensed clinical social worker, UCSF/SFGH Child Trauma Research Program

Mays provides direct clinical services to children and families, clinical supervision to doctoral clinical psychology trainees, lectures on multiculturalism in psychotherapy and she consults on community-based programs on trauma-informed practices. She is also an advocate for children of incarcerated parents and co-founder of the Alameda County Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, a coalition focused on those who work with and care about children of incarcerated parents.

Christa Mekki (B.S. ’13, Hospitality & Tourism; M.S. ’16, Recreation), founder/senior planner, Magnetic Magnificent Events

Mekki is a certified meeting professional and motivated entrepreneur who launched her event planning company, Magnetic Magnificent Events, prior to graduating from Cal State East Bay. She was awarded the 2013-14 Meeting Professional of the Year award from Meeting Professionals International, Northern California Chapter. Mekki can also be found on stage, where she is a speaker and provides training seminars and master of ceremony services.

Mateo Morelos Bedolla (B.A. ’15, Political Science), legislative correspondent, U.S. House of Representatives

Morelos Bedolla is a legislative correspondent and internship coordinator with the U.S. House of Representatives, where he works to serve the consituents of California's 9th Congressional District. He manages and responds to the district’s legislative correspondence; assists in securing money, benefits and military medals for constituents; and communicates how to understand and navigate the federal bureaucracy.

Vincente Mozell (MSW ’14), regional manager, Aegis Treatment Centers

In his role as regional manager of Aegis Treatment Centers, Mozell oversees program development in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties. He is also passionate about increasing diversity in health care and actively participates in events aimed at inspiring and mentoring minorities. Former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom presented Mozell with a Dedication to Urban Community Award. Mozell is a California Social Work Education Center and Integrated Behavioral Health scholarship recipient, and in addition to his MSW in social work, he also holds an M.S. in health care management from Champlain College.

George Nashed (B.S. ’04, Biochemistry/Computer Science), solution engineering director, SAP

Nashed has enjoyed an award-winning career in the field of sales and technology, with an emphasis on employee development and customer engagement. He has built a reputation for hiring, developing and leading strong teams that consistently deliver by aligning the right people with the right opportunities. He currently leads the Western solution engineering team for SAP’s database and data management solutions, and has previously worked for BusinessObjects, Inxight and Autonomy.

Lucy Ogbu-Nwobodo (B.S. ’07, Biological Science), medical student, UC Davis

Born in Nigeria, Ogbu-Nwobodo was brought by relatives to Oakland when she was 11. She graduated from high school at 15 as the class valedictorian and obtained her undergraduate degree from Cal State East Bay before the age of 20. After graduation, she went on to start Operating Room Experiences, a pre-medical surgical observation program. As one of few programs in the nation allowing extensive access to undergraduates, OREX has matriculated more than 30 students into medical and other graduate health education programs, and serves as a model for other teaching hospitals. Ogbu-Nwobodo currently serves as the director of this program while attending medical school at UC Davis. She hopes to become a neurosurgeon. 

Christian Rieta (M.S. ’16, Health Care Administration), director of quality and compliance, Washington Hospital Medical Foundation

After graduating in 2008, Rieta began his career as a graduate nurse at Washington Hospital in Fremont. He was able to flourish as a nurse by refining and growing his skills and assuming leadership roles as they were presented. He has been a new graduate nurse, staff nurse 2, charge nurse, preceptor who trains senior nursing students and a staff educator who trains new nurses and nurses moving into specialty departments.

Dr. Victor Rios (B.A, ’00, Human Development), professor, UC Santa Barbara

Using his personal experience of living on the streets, dropping out of school, being incarcerated as a juvenile and his academic research, Rios has developed interventions for marginalized students to promote personal transformation and civic engagement. These programs have been implemented throughout Southern California. Rios has been featured in TED Talks, on the Oprah Winfrey Network and NPR. His TED Talk, “Help for kids the education system ignores,” has garnered more than 1 million views.

Rebecca Roudman (B.A. ’99, Music), musician and music director

As a member of both the Oakland Symphony and the Santa Rosa Symphony, Roudman is an experienced orchestral musician who has toured with orchestras to Brazil and throughout Europe. In addition to her classical skills, she performs extensively with an amazingly diverse selection of contemporary musicians and her own band, Dirty Cello. Led by Roudman, Dirty Cello has become a Bay Area favorite that performs more than 100 shows a year and has toured China, Italy, Germany, Spain, the UK and Hawaii.

Christopher Rozeville (M.S. ’15, Mathematics), dean of STEM, ARISE High School

After graduating from UC Riverside in 2005, Rozeville’s passions drew him toward teaching math and assisting those who face financial and social hardships. Christopher obtained his teaching credential and began working at high-need schools in East Oakland and Richmond, where he has been instrumental in the development of math programs and math curriculum.  While pursuing his master’s degree, Christopher was selected as a teaching associate. Based on his success, he was invited to work on a project restructuring developmental/remedial math at Cal State East Bay. This work resulted in an entirely new curriculum for developmental math and a series of workbooks that were subsequently adopted for use beyond the university.

Heather Soldonia (B.A. ’05, Communication), social media manager, Delta Dental Insurance

Soldonia is the manager for social media in public affairs at Delta Dental Insurance Company, a multinational enterprise with nearly $10 billion in revenue that provides benefits to more than 35 million enrollees. Before working in-house to oversee the online reputation management for Delta Dental, Soldonia was on the agency side at Edelman, the world’s largest independently owned public relations firm. During her time there, she sharpened her aptitude for delivering digital strategies and brand management in the complex regulatory environments of financial services, tech, energy and health care.

Darcy Stanley (B.S. ’14, Nursing), doula and co-founder, Birth Justice Project

Stanley is a Bay Area native who, as a Quaker, was raised around activists who taught her that our lives are an expression of our values. She has been a doula for seven years, offering support to families during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. While completing her B.S., Stanley co-founded Birth Justice Project, a group that provides doulas for incarcerated women in San Francisco and Alameda Counties. The organization has since partnered with Black Women Birthing Justice and UCSF to create the East Bay Community Birth Support Project and other programs addressing birth disparities within families of color.

Jenner Stimpfig (B.A. ’00, English), first vice president/wealth management advisor, Merrill Lynch

Stimpfig started his financial services practice at Morgan Stanley in 2002 and joined Merrill Lynch in 2006. In his role, he runs a team that focuses on helping individuals and families reach their financial goals and plan for the various stages of life. His team also has expertise in working with local corporations, small businesses and startups to manage compensation and retirement plans while educating employees financially for better outcomes across the company base.

Shaun Tai (B.A. ’02, Digital Art), executive director, Oakland Digital Arts & Literacy Center

Tai is the executive director of Oakland Digital, which he cofounded in 2009. He dedicates himself to enhancing tech literacy and opportunity among entrepreneurs and students. Tai also leads the direction and product strategy for BRIDGEGOOD, a web application that connects early stage creatives to professional opportunities. The platform is funded by Google.org and the Golden State Warriors Community Foundation. In 2015, he was named Cal State East Bay’s Distinguished Young Alumnus of the Year.

Dr. Nick Vasallo (B.A. ’07, Music), director of music industry studies and music composition, Diablo Valley College

Vasallo is an award-winning composer, sound artist, teacher, vocalist and guitarist. His music reveals an eclectic array of influences and his compositions have been internationally performed by world-renowned groups such as the Selesian Philharmonic, Contemporary Music Ensemble Korea, Music Now, Bridge Chamber Virtuosi, Atlanta Schola Cantorum, Borromeo String Quartet and Watsonville Taiko. He currently composes, sings lead vocals and plays bass for the modern extreme metal band, Oblivion.

Gary Walker-Roberts (B.A. ’15, Ethnic Studies), trustee, Contra Costa Community College District

Innately passionate about leadership and education, Walker-Roberts dedicates his life to making a positive impact through his every venture. He shattered the glass ceiling by becoming the first openly LGBTQIA individual to serve on the CCCCD Governing Board. In addition, he was instrumental in establishing the Veterans Resource Center at Los Medanos College, and he has led the charge to implement gender-neutral bathrooms on community college campuses, and helped with the creation of the “preferred name” option on administrative forms.

Cathreene Watters (B.A. ’99, Liberal Studies, Teaching & Administrative Credentials; M.S. ’07, Educational Leadership), principal, Newark Unified School District

Watters began her career as a third-grade teacher in 2000 and quickly excelled to teacher leader, serving as the administrative designee and leading many school and district-wide committees within Newark Unified School District. In 2013, she was appointed principal at Musick Elementary School, where she supported 300 students and 30 staff members. In 2015, she was given the opportunity to lead Milani Elementary School to develop and implement a school transformation in response to a housing boom in Newark, which resulted in the transformation of the school to the newly-named Birch Grove Intermediate School.

Assadullah Zamir (M.A. ’07, Economics), minister of agriculture, Irrigation & Livestock, Government of Afghanistan

In his role, Zamir focuses on restoring Afghanistan’s agricultural economy through empowered human resources, agricultural production and productivity, natural resource management, improved physical infrastructure and market development. He has more than 15 years of leadership experience focusing on rural development, education, agriculture and natural resource management.

For more information about Cal State East Bay’s 40 Under 40 Alumni awards ceremony, please visit the event website