Torchlight | Spring 2014

Deans’ Award recipients benefit from out-of-class experience

Each year, seven students are put forward as a Deans' Award recipient —the outstanding graduate from their college. Across the board, this year’s recipients are notable for their academic achievements and determination to succeed. But what makes these students stand out has as much to do with their experiences out of the classroom.

Research projects, internships, participation in student organizations and other campus groups—many of which benefit from private support—have played a role in making them the best and brightest.

Best thing I ever did

     Maryam Ahmad

Maryam Ahmad says the diplomatic skills she learned as a delegate to Sac State’s Model United Nations are already helping her in interactions with constituents in her internship with California Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento).

“Honestly, Model UN was the best thing that I did during my time here. It helped me to overcome my shyness and use my interpersonal skills,” the international relations major says. “And it’s really in line with what I’m doing in (Dickinson’s office)

—crafting legislation, caucusing, coming to resolution. Everything I’ve done with extracurricular activities, I’m gaining experience I can’t learn elsewhere.”

Her campus pursuits also include founding the ACLU Club at Sac State and serving with the Odyssey Mentoring Program. “I came here from a smaller school and (Sac State) was so much bigger,” she says. “I could have used a mentor when I arrived, so as soon as I got settled in, I wanted to give back.”


Mechanical engineering major Troy Miller says his out-of-classroom activity changed his life.

The byproduct of his work with a mechanical engineering team took him to Uganda, where he is preparing to install a reliable energy source

troy miller
    Troy Miller

for a school that is educating more than 1,000 children way “off the grid.”

The school’s access to power is so limited that in the evening, Miller says, “The pastor has to choose between turning on the computer and turning on the lights in the students’ dorm.”

Miller and his teammates, all of whom worked with Sac State’s California Smart Grid Center learning how to make power more efficient, created a solar-powered micro grid. Not only will it keep the lights—and the computer on—but also it could power the village’s well and provide much-needed refrigeration for medical supplies.

Miller plans to use his post-graduate employment to fund further outreach efforts for those in need.

“I want to use my skills to help others. Seeing them inspired me.”

    Chinonyerem Kamalu

The desire to affect change is what led Nigeria-native Chinonyerem Kamalu to pursue a degree in social work. She’s taken advantage of a multitude of internship, volunteer and campus organization opportunities—from the Student Alumni Association to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention—to expand her knowledge base.

“When you go into social work you work with so many types of people,” Kamalu says. “I wanted to learn what different groups are like. I don’t limit myself. I want different perspectives.

“You need to meet with people face-to-face, to hear their stories.”

And after she completes her upcoming fellowship and doctoral program at the University of Illinois-Urbana, she eventually wants to pay back her profession as a teacher.

“I was inspired by passionate professors and social workers. I had great mentors so I have to come back to mentor someone else.”

It kept me going

Campus activities can also be sources of emotional and social support.

For Terry Petlowany, being among the first cohort of the College of Business Administration Honors Program offered both a sense of community but also some friendly competition. She says it fueled her determination to finish college ahead of her young adult children as well as her willingness to take risks.

“It challenged me and kept me going. It pushed me to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” she says. Pushing her boundaries led her to participate in a grueling collegiate business competition where she presented to a room filled with more than 400 people.

“I thought, ‘Can I do this?’ And one of my cohorts said, ‘Yes, you can do this.’ And I did. It was a win for me.”

It also inspired her to work with the College to create a speakers’ series featuring women in business. “I would like to see young women exposed to more strong women who have succeeded,” she says.

The art of expression

     Jamil Kochai

English major Jamil Kochai found his voice, as well as an outlet for maintaining his cultural identity, in writing for campus literary publications and awards programs. Although when his family came to the United States fromAfghanistan he could not read or speak English, reading and writing have become his passions.

“I love writing. Storytelling is an important part of my culture,” he says.

“There is not a lot of art coming out of Afghanistan these days. This gives me the opportunity to be able to read art, to absorb art and to express art.”

Kochai has also been the beneficiary of scholarship support, earning the Mariam Weed Scholarship and Bazanella Literary Awards.

“Scholarships helped me tremendously. I’ve been able to focus on my schoolwork,” he says. “It is an incredible relief to go on to graduate school with no debt. That’s not the usual circumstance.”

Meet all of the Deans' Awards recipients.

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