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Class Notes: Notable Sac State grads and their accomplishments

What begins with students on campus results in important work in varied endeavors for Sacramento State alumni, who continue to have a profound impact beyond the University. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)



Lawrence Tom ’59 (Business Administration: Accountancy) is the co-author of four history books, including the recently published work, Gold Country’s Last Chinatown: Marysville California. In his most recent book, he and his brother share stories and photographs of the Chinese of Marysville. This book is part of The History Press series of the Arcadia Publishing Co.     


Thomas Nielsen ’66 (Government) was honored as one of the Sacramento Business Journal’s “Best of the Bar” recipients. Formerly an attorney at Arnold Law Firm, he recently became Senior Litigation Counsel for Jacobsen & McElroy PC. He also volunteers as a Settlement Judge Pro Tem for both Sacramento County and El Dorado County
Superior Courts.   


Jeff Fox ’77 (English) has joined the St. Luke’s Board of Directors after retiring as CSI President. Fox will work with the other 15 board members to help guide policy, development and service enhancement, as well as how revenue will be reinvested in local services and facilities.    


Jim Holifield ’81 (Accountancy/MIS) became the Owner/CEO of Jim’s Good Food and Stiff Drinks, a new breed of American diner, in late 2019. He has served as a local Sacramento voice about how COVID-19 is impacting operations and the recovery road ahead.   

Solange Fernandez Brooks ’82 (Business Administration) has been appointed by New America Alliance (NAA) as its new Chief Executive Officer. Mrs. Brooks has served as Portfolio Manager within the Investments Branch of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), where she manages a global portfolio of limited partnerships. She is widely recognized as a leader in the investment community and her contributions to capital access for emerging and diverse managers is well known.   

Kent Silvester ’82 (Accountancy) is the President, Chairman of the Board, and an attorney at Board for Boutin Jones, Inc. and specializes in all facets of tax, business and estate planning. He was recently featured in a Sacramento Business Journal piece on ‘What do you wish you had known about practicing law before you entered the profession?’     

Marnie Shuey ’84 (HR/Business Administration) currently serves as the Director of Human Resources/Facilities for WEAVE, Inc. Her career includes serving as the Human Resources Manager for Core-Mark International.  As a volunteer, she has been involved with the California Music Theatre and the Sacramento Special Olympics Association. She was recently featured in a Sacramento Business Journal HR Industry Spotlight: Booming Economy Creates HR Challenges and Opportunities.  

James Kimball ’86 (Business Administration: Finance) has been named as the Executive Vice President and Market President for the North Bay River City Bank branch. In this new role, Kimball will expand the bank’s commercial banking presence by establishing a footprint and hiring a locally based team to serve business clients and communities in Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties. He brings more than 30 years of experience building and leading commercial banking teams, having most recently led commercial banking, retail banking, wealth management and marketing efforts as Chief Operating Officer at Bank of Marin.    

Rick Martinez ’86 (Business Administration/Marketing), Senior Vice President at CBRE, Inc., was recently featured in a Sacramento Business Journal piece on “Commercial Real Estate’s Bumpy Adjustments.” As the economy deals with a pandemic and moves towards a recession, Rick and his team of experienced retail brokers are working to build plans to expand virtual tours.     

Cris Steller ’86 is the President of Aurum Sierra, Inc. (Dry Diggings & Amador Distillery) an El Dorado Hills distillery that pivoted amid the coronavirus outbreak to focus on making hand sanitizers and disinfecting sprays for workers in Amador, El Dorado and Sacramento counties. He also serves as the Executive Director of California Artisanal
Distiller Guild.   


Bryan Victor ’90 (Communication Studies) was honored as one of the Sacramento Business Journal’s “Best of the Bar” recipients. He is a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP where he practices in the area of public finance with a focus on transactions for 501 (c)3 organizations (health care), state general obligation bonds, and state Department of Water Resources financings.    

Steve Margaroni ’91 (Civil Engineering) has been selected as the new Chief Executive Officer/President of Psomas. Margaroni takes the reins after several years as the company’s Chief Development Officer where he was focused on growing the company and leading the strategic planning process.    

Kevin Riley ’93 (Accountancy) is a CPA and President/Shareholder of Rossman, MacDonald & Benetti. In addition to working with individual clients, he works to share timely strategic tax planning to businesses. He was recently featured in the Sacramento Business Journal piece on “What are the biggest mistakes business owners make when preparing their taxes?”  

Shawna Chrisman ‘99 (Nursing), co-owner of Destination Aesthetics, specializes in facial and body rejuvenation. She was celebrated as one of the Sacramento Business Journals 2019’s Women Who Mean Business honorees. She, along with 13 others, were selected by a judge’s panel of previous winners. The awards honor women for their professional accomplishments and their contributions to the community.    

Mark Otero ’99 (Computer Science) has launched a new venture as managing partner/Co-Founder at Alice Capital. The name was inspired by Alice in Wonderland due to the both scary and magical nature of the markets. Mark’s previous ventures include success with online gaming company KlickNation which he eventually sold to EA.   


Aren Bazzocco ’00 (Accountancy), Division President at Taylor Morrison, was recently featured in a Sacramento Business Journal piece on “Planning Ahead: A homebuilder president helps his company weather the COVID-19 storm.”   

Neil Forester ‘01 (English) has been named a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Elected members are recognized as preeminent family law practitioners with the highest levels of knowledge, skill, and integrity. Neil is also a certified family law specialist by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization.   

Tiffanie Burkhalter ’04 (Business Administration) was announced as one of the 2019 recipients of the Sacramento Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award. She is VSP Ventures’ chief operating officer where she leads the newly created business unit responsible for acquiring optical practices nationwide. In addition, she serves on VSP’s Eyes of Hope program to provide access to eye care in the places they are needed the most.   

Jessica Cruz ’04 (Communication Studies) was announced as one of the 2019 recipients of the Sacramento Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award. She is the CEO for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) California. She leads the organization in educating families and individuals through programs and support groups, as well as spearheading partnerships with state organizations like the California Highway Patrol.     

Jim Watkins ‘05 (Public Policy and Administration) has been appointed as the chief financial officer for Covered California. Watkins had served as the deputy director of Financial Planning and Forecasting Operations within the Financial Management Division at Covered California since October, and prior to that was the chief of the Research and Analytic Studies division at the Department of Health Care Services for 12 years.   

Nubia Goldstein ’06 (Government) was honored as one of the Sacramento Business Journal’s “Best of the Bar” recipients. She is a partner at Churchwell White LLP and practices in the area of municipal law, litigation and legislative advocacy.   

Patrick Harbison ’06 (Communication Studies) is the Owner and Executive Director of Patrick Harbison Public Relations. PHPR is a full service firm specializing in strategic marketing campaigns, product placements, as well as earned and paid media. Patrick regularly volunteers his time and PR expertise to organizations such as WEAVE, the Make a Wish Foundation and more.   

Katie McConnell Olson ’06 (Accountancy) is the Founder and President of Hire Education Consulting Group, a full service talent optimization consulting firm located in Sacramento. She is passionate about helping companies thrive. As a volunteer, she serves as the Treasurer for the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). She was recently featured in a Sacramento Business Journal HR Industry Spotlight: “Booming Economy Creates HR Challenges and Opportunities.”      

Amber Rosen ’06 (Communication Studies) was announced as one of the 2019 recipients of the Sacramento Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award. She is the founder and program director for Breakroom Fitness, which provides companies with physical and mental wellness services.    

Lorena Martinez ’07 (Accountancy) was announced as one of the 2019 recipients of the Sacramento Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award. After discovering accounting in the Silicon Valley wasn’t the career path for her, she became her own boss and launched The Colour Bar in 2010 which now has two locations and a team of 17 hairstylists. She was also one of the Business Journal’s 2019 Women Who Mean Business honorees.   

Adam T. Willoughby ‘07 (Government) & ’14 (Government) has been appointed assistant director for legislation and public affairs at the California Department of Aging. Willoughby has served as acting assistant director for legislation and public affairs at the California Department of Aging since 2019.  

Karin Bailey ’08 (Government) was recently hired as a new associate for Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard. Karin represents public and private sector entities in all employment matters.   

Ashley Downton ’09 (Journalism/Women’s Studies) is the Communications Officer for the City of Rancho Cordova. She has also served as the Secretary for the California Association for Public Information Officers and currently sits on the Board of Directors for Leadership Rancho Cordova.    

David W. Vanderbout ’09 (Music Education) & ‘18 (Conducting) is River City Chorale’s new artistic director. He was selected by the chorale’s committee last summer from a pool of 12 applicants, the majority of whom have master’s degrees in choral conducting and significant choir conducting experience. He also serves as the choral director at El Camino Fundamental High School and Arden Middle School.    


Lindsey Goodwin ’10 (M.A. Government) was announced as one of the 2019 recipients of the Sacramento Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award. She is the vice president of public affairs at Randle Communications where she develops and leads statewide public affairs programs for critical issues such as healthcare, housing, finance, and transportation.    

Kone Lathipanya ’10 (Graphic Design) has worked on a mural, alongside Daniel Paniagua, dedicated to Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, on a building near the corner of American Street and Miner Avenue in downtown Stockton. Lathipanya and Paniagua wanted to use their passion to celebrate Kobe’s legacy and lift up the community
of Stockton.    

Maggie Bender Johnson, MBA ’11 was announced as one of the 2019 recipients of the Sacramento Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award. She is the President for Bender Insurance Solutions. She is the third generation of the family to lead the firm, Sacramento region’s largest employee-owned insurance brokerage. Maggie is active in many community organizations, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Roseville Chamber of Commerce and many more.     

Matt Ceccato ’11 (Communication Studies) was announced as one of the 2019 recipients of the Sacramento Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award. A U.S. Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, he is currently the district director for U.S Representative Ami Bera.    

Garrett Dutter ’11 (Electrical and Electronic Engineering) is an Electrical Engineer at Glumac, a company that designs and commissions Green Buildings. He specifically works on lighting, power, signal, and fire alum systems. He was recently featured. In the Sacramento Business Journal piece on “How can we make STEM education more appealing to young people in order to strengthen the engineering workforce?”    

Stephanie Swain ’11 (Interior Design) currently serves as the Director of Interior Design for Dreyfuss & Blackford Architects, who specializes in planning, design and project delivery for corporate, public, healthcare and institutional markets.    

Alyssa Nakken ’12 (Psychology) is the first female full-time coach in Major League Baseball.
She was hired by the San Francisco Giants as an assistant coach. Nakken has been with the Giants since 2014 and was responsible for developing, producing, and directing health and wellness initiatives and events.     

Elaine Welteroth ’12 (Communication Studies/PR), New York Times best-selling author, Project Runway judge, and former editor in chief of Teen Vogue, recently married musician and longtime friend, Jonathan Singletary. The wedding was held in the midst of the COVID pandemic on the stoop of their Brooklyn home and was followed by a virtual block party with socially distant dancing in the street.   

Jita Buno, EMBA ’13 was announced as one of the 2019 recipients of the Sacramento Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award. From serving in the U.S. Air Force focusing on medical readiness to serving as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy, Jita joined UC Davis Health in 2007 as a senior budget analyst. She has since been named director of supply chain management, making significant improvements in technology, processes, and overall management.

Chelsea Minor, EMBA '15 wa announced as one of the 2019 recipients of the Sacramento Business Journal's 40 Under 40 award. Chelsea came to Sacramento to work in politics, then transitioned to the corporate world with KP Public Affairs and now as the corporate director of consumer and public affairs for Railey's. In this role she manages and executes the company's reputation-management strategy.




Shadi Khattab ’18 (Entrepreneurship)

Along with other enterprises, he launched Onit Coffee, the first mobile gourmet coffee truck in Sacramento. Onit Coffee’s motto is “Impacting Lives One Cup at a Time,” and each month the company is donating a percentage of its profits to a different nonprofit organization.


I’m most proud of:

Shadi Khattab
Shadi Khattab

I’m most proud of the team I’ve built and our mission to impact lives in Sacramento and beyond. I’m also the COO of Precision MD cosmetic surgery center. In October 2019, my team, Team Precision, raised $10,000 for breast cancer research and donated that to the American Cancer Society and supported their Making Strides of Sacramento walk. In December 2019, Team Precision did a campaign for FosterHope of Sacramento and Shriners Children’s Hospital, where we collected hundreds of toys, letters, and gifts to brighten their holiday season. I’m an immigrant from Syria, and the war in my country broke out … when I was a senior in high school. I dedicated three years of my life right out of high school going into community college working for a nonprofit called Syrian American Council to lobby Congress to send humanitarian aid to the refugees, raise awareness on the situation there and set up dozens of fundraisers throughout the U.S. to provide humanitarian aid for the refugees. So, to clarify, I’m most proud of the lives I’ve impacted at 25 years old, and I’m proud of the legacy I’m building, I want to impact thousands of lives in Sacramento and elsewhere and help as many human beings as I can during my time on this beautiful planet we call Earth.

What Sac State means to me:

Sacramento State had a huge impact on my communication skills, leadership skills, and business mindset. My experience there really taught me the importance of teamwork and networking. I found ways to work with all kinds of students. I built relationships and partnerships that have helped me tremendously in the business world.

Sacramento State also taught me problem-solving and to maintain relentless effort to achieve my goals and dreams. I truly hope to inspire the students at Sac State.Chelsea Minor, EMBA ’15 was announced as one of the 2019 recipients of the Sacramento Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award. Chelsea came to Sacramento to work in politics, then transitioned to the corporate world with KP Public Affairs and now as the corporate director of consumer and public affairs for Raley’s. In this role she manages and executes the company’s reputation management strategy.   


Joseph Hernandez ’16 (Business Administration MBA)

He was announced as one of the 2019 recipients of the Sacramento Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” recognition. He is the director of client relations at Premier Healthcare Services. In this role, he is the face of a company that provides nursing care, adult and pediatric care, medical social work, and home health aid.


I’m most proud of:

Joseph Hernandez
Joseph Hernandez 

I am most proud of my client relations team and department at Premier Healthcare Services. I  joined Premier, one of the state’s largest service providers for the developmentally and intellectually disabled, as a specialist and have since built a department that helps to interface with our clients, stakeholders, and community in an advantageous and lucrative way. This elevates our brand and continues to produce year-over-year growth while retaining our current families.

What Sac State means to me:

Sac State has had a huge impact on the trajectory of my professional and personal life. As an MBA student in the College of Business Administration, I was equipped with the knowledge and tools to lead. More importantly, I was introduced to the foundation of networking which has allowed me to establish and build a network of colleagues and friends that has become indispensable. Building relationships is at the heart of any successful business and life. The workshops I attended while in my MBA program have led me to seats on multiple boards where I have offered expertise and helped shape our community.


Monica A. Velez ’15 (Journalism)

She joined The Fresno Bee’s new education lab as its early education/K-12 education reporter after working as a reporter at Valley Public Radio, a role she took in 2018 after spending more than two years as a reporter at the Merced Sun-Star.


I’m most proud of:

Monica Velez
Monica Velez

I am most proud of the reporting I’ve done in small rural communities in California’s San Joaquin Valley. These are communities that lack the most basic resources, like water, health care, transportation, and schools. Through stories I’ve written at the Merced Sun-Star, Valley Public Radio, and now The Fresno Bee, I’ve been able to humanize issues that put these communities, that are often ignored and overlooked, at the forefront. Holding elected officials and those in power accountable for what they are doing to help these populations has also been a vital part of my reporting.

What Sac State means to me:

The Journalism and Creative Writing professors I had at Sac State helped me figure out that storytelling is my passion. Writing for the State Hornet gave me the confidence to realize I had the drive and skills to pursue a career as a journalist. Thank you, Stu VanAirsdale, Molly Dugan, and Sigrid Bathen, for showing me how powerful journalism can be and that stories have the capacity to change the world.




Baldwin Chiu ’98 (Mechanical Engineering)

He released a 76-minute documentary, Far East Deep South, about Chinese families in the Mississippi Delta at the 30th Annual Cinequest and Creativity Festival. Named one of the festival’s “top picks,” the film presents a personal and unique perspective on immigration, race, andAmerican identity.


I’m most proud of:

Baldwin Chu
Baldwin Chu

I’m most proud of the fact that I am a fifth-generation American and my daughter will be the sixth. All my life I was told I wasn’t American enough because I’m of Chinese descent, but people would also say I’m not Chinese enough because I was born in America. But discovering my family’s harsh past in this country has made me cherish all the work that was laid out before us just so that future generations and mine can have something better. I’ve always felt stuck between Chinese and American, but now I feel like I’m a bridge.

I’m proud that Far East Deep South will tell this story on a national and international stage and that it will encourage others to not only discover their story, but find out how significant they all are.

What Sac State means to me:

Sac State gave me the opportunity to train to become an engineer and, through various activities of the school, allowed me to be creative and learn other things as well. It was all the other things like DJ’ing on the radio station, taking martial arts and golf classes, playing intramural sports, and meeting other students of diverse backgrounds, that made me a successful engineer. I wasn’t only focused on engineering. I learned that it was the relationships I built with people that would afford me the opportunity to both follow and lead as an engineer and as a person. The real-life and hands-on applications I learned at Sac State’s College of Engineering and Computer Science allowed me to relate well with clients, and I was able to appreciate and enjoy “getting my hands dirty.”  This allowed me to move into project management quicker, and those skills have transferred well into my entertainment career now as a music and film producer. It was all the other things of interest that helped me relate to other people, and that would eventually open up career opportunities.


Dr. Kimo Ah Yun ‘90 (Communication Studies)

He is the first person of color to serve as provost for Marquette University, a private Jesuit research school in Milwaukee, and was chosen after a national search to fill the position. He served as acting provost for the university from Oct. 31, 2018, until receiving the permanent appointment.


I’m most proud of:

Kimo Ah Yun
Dr. Kimo Ah Yun

As a first-generation graduate, I am grateful for my parents who instilled in me the ethic of working hard because that is the right thing to do. I am grateful for the many Sac State faculty who became my mentors and allowed me to see my potential. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work in higher education for my entire adult life to help improve the lives of others.

What Sac State means to me:

Sac State provided me an education that allowed me to understand the value of being a student-centered university, which has carried through my entire academic career. Sac State offered my first job out of my Ph.D. program, where I then worked for 20 years and was part of an incredible community. I learned valuable lessons on how to think about students, how to engage faculty, and how to lead a university. Finally, I met my wife, who received two degrees through Sac State almost 30 years ago. I will always be grateful to Sac State for making my life complete. 

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About News and Communications Staff

Sacramento State’s News and Communications team writes and shares stories about the University, its students, faculty, and alumni, revealing the accomplishments, achievements and milestones that characterize its standing as an educational leader and an important community center. The department’s writers, editors and public relations personnel look across the broad spectrum of the campus and the people who thrive here to support the University’s mission.

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