Arts & Letters alumni are leaders and innovators in the global community, active participants in the life of the College, and strategic partners in our continued success. We have an extensive network of alumni that are diverse and serve as leaders of transformational change in education, non-profit, medicine, law, government, the corporate sector, the arts and many other professions. Their valued input helps shape the future of our students.
Meet some of our alumni who make the College of Arts & Letters a great place to be:
Chris Baron, 1998
By Leslie L.J. Reilly
It’s been a whirlwind year for author Chris Baron, M.F.A. in creative writing at SDSU. For Baron, the book publishing journey has been an eye-opening education in persistence and unbridled commitment.
His middle-grade novel, All of Me, published in June 2019 by Feiwel & Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, is a fictional re-telling of his life in verse. “It’s a body-positive book from a boy’s perspective. Diet is not the answer — it is about self-acceptance. The main character says, ‘I can do this,’ instead of resorting to, ‘I’m so fat,’” Baron said. This can-do spirit resonates in Baron’s adult life as he ushered in his first mainstream middle-grade book publication after many years of preparation.
Seeds planted for a middle-grade book
During a poetry reading event, years ago, Baron read from his book of poems, Under the Broom Tree, which was part of a group anthology Lantern Tree, Four Books of Poems (and, a San Diego Book Award winner for Best Anthology in 2013). After the reading, a friend told Baron that he needed to write a middle-grade book. Baron took the advice to heart. “I started writing my kid-lit book and finished the process in two years,” Baron said.
Once Baron established his goal of publishing the novel, he called on friends from his M.F.A. years at SDSU. One friend, Matt de la Peña, and Newbery Medalist, helped him understand the process and gave him great first-hand advice. Baron wanted to learn from writers who had previously worked with publishers. “Matt helped me with my query. I queried agents, and I am so lucky to have signed with the amazing Rena Rossner. We worked for six months getting the book ready for submission to publishers.” In January 2018, Liz Szabla at Feiwel & Friends acquired the book!
Working with Rossner and Szabla, he revised and edited more times in one year than he had in his entire career. With his editor, the most minute details were adjusted — like beats per line and specific language. “I know what it means to revise, coming from the M.F.A. program at SDSU,” Baron stated, half-jokingly.
Upon acceptance into the M.F.A. in Creative Writing program at SDSU in 1994 — he didn't know exactly what he wanted to do, but he knew he loved writing. Poet and Professor Glover Davis was teaching at the time and Baron remembered taking a poetry course from him as an undergrad. In one assignment, Baron wrote what Davis called a “garbage” poem. “It was a love poem with the word ‘pedestal’ in it,” Baron said with a wry smile. “Glover told me ‘you need to write what you know,’ and then launched into a ‘Glover speech.’” Davis told Baron he could have power in a poem — but that power had to come from a subject he knew well. Baron’s subject: rowing. Every morning he was up at dawn to head to the Mission Bay Aquatic Center to row with the SDSU crew team. “I wrote a poem called Waking the Boats. It was very specific,” Baron said. It became his first published poem and later the title of his thesis. It was a pivotal moment in his writing life.
A growing community of students and writers
Baron said, “During my M.F.A., my writing completely changed. I developed a community of writers that helped me learn and grow. It was foundational for me, as silly as that sounds.” At the time, M.F.A. students in his cohort created a critique group. More than twenty years later, they still connect. Writers Baron has collaborated with include Cali Linfor, Heather Eudy, Sabrina Youmans, Nancy Cary, and Matt de la Peña.
The M.F.A. program inspired him and gave him direction. “I fell in love with teaching when I was a T.A. in rhetoric and writing studies and English. I was engaged with teaching and mentoring,” Baron said. He was hired for a teaching position at City College one year after graduation. Now as an English professor for more than 20 years, and the director of the City College Writing Center, he enjoys influencing students while remaining student-centered. “It is life-giving, to share knowledge with a vast diversity of students at City,” he said.
Sandra Alcosser, founder, director of the M.F.A. program, editor of Poetry International (fall semester), and professor of English and comparative literature, said, “I chaired Chris Baron’s thesis and have continued to work closely with him as a colleague since graduation — he’s part of the SDSU family. I know when I recommend someone to him for the Writing Center at City College, that person will get first-hand experience in both teaching and ethical leadership.'
Alcosser added, “He’s always been a leader. When he was a graduate student, he determined that MFAs needed a center, so he organized a group to raise money through book sales – enough to purchase M.F.A. student mailboxes. I was also able to buy furniture, and Chris and his fellow students moved everything into a room the size of a closet in Adams Humanities.” That small room served as a writing hub for students.
“Even when he married, had children, and served as director of the Writing Center, he continued to grow his poet’s dream.,” Alcosser continued. “The publication of his first novel-in-verse is cause for great celebration for M.F.A.s, not only for the publication, but also because of the persistence of one writer’s discipline — something to which all of us, as writers, aspire.”
Faith and persistence pays off
Baron understands the necessity of persistence. For students of his City College poetry and English courses, he recommends practice. “No matter how you write, do it every day,” Baron said. Whether it is a note on the phone or an app that converts speech to text, a writer’s life necessitates a commitment to writing every single day. Baron practices what he teaches. “Sometimes after the kids go to bed I find my voice, and on my best days I give my first fruits to writing,” Baron said. Having faith in the project, is paramount. He concluded, “Finish your book and go on to the next.”
And, now that All of Me is finished, he has three “next” book projects in the works.
David Born, 1994
By Leslie L.J. Reilly
Ensuring the safety of sports teams, performers, and fans is the daily responsibility
of David Born, Senior Director of Security at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles. His career
choice was cultivated on San Diego turf. Born graduated from the College of Arts and
Letters in 1994 with a B.A. in political science and a minor in history.
Born came to SDSU from the Bay area in 1989 as an undeclared major. During his first
year he took Political Science 101 and enjoyed it. “The next semester I remember taking
Political Science 102 from Professor Stoddard,” Born said. “He was a significant influence
on me and one of the main reasons I selected political science as my major.” Born
pondered running for political office. To fulfill his internship requirement, he landed
in Washington, DC in 1992. During that internship, he noticed people were handing
out business cards, more than they were connecting with people and shaking hands.
At that point, he decided being a career politician wasn’t in the cards for him.
“When I returned to San Diego after my internship in March 1992, I decided to look
at the job board on campus. I noticed an index card stating: ‘San Diego Padres are
Hiring Ushers,’ so I applied,” Born said. “My parents told me to always ask an employer,
‘What more can I do?’’
He was hired, thus setting his career in motion in the sports industry. He worked
part-time driving a shuttle for seniors and the disabled in the stadium parking lot.
Two years later, it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. It was 1994 and an operations assistant left the Padres and Born applied, “Two days after my June graduation, I began working for the Padres full-time.” And, the rest is history.
Fond Memories of Political Science Professor “Doc Stoddard”
Every four years, professor Michael Stoddard, affectionately known as “Doc Stoddard,” traveled with students to Washington, D.C. He was voted multiple times “Best Professor” in The Daily Aztec’s “Best of State” issue and was also recognized with an Associated Students’ “Outstanding Service Award” on several occasions.
“I’ll never forget in 1989 or so, when the Cold War was still going on and threats
were still happening, Professor Stoddard said, ‘If we had a nuclear attack, we would
have about ten minutes notice. If that ever happens, come find me. I’ll be in the
parking lot with a case of beer and a carton of cigarettes.’”
Leadership & Networking Skills
Born doesn’t technically work in the field of politics, but in his role, he works
with internal clients and the thousands of guests who attend events annually. With
more than 240 events per year at the Staples Center, his degree has helped him understand
the value of networking — and, that foundation helps him develop relationships in
the private and public sector today. “I deal with law enforcement, FBI, and Homeland
Security on a daily basis and maintaining relationships is essential to being successful
in this industry,” Born said. He consistently networks with other venue managers across
the U.S. to share best practices.
The networking experience he gleaned from his time as an SDSU student has proven invaluable — learning how to make connections has brought career success for Born. He’s worked in the security department at STAPLES Center since 2011, moving into the Sr. Director position in 2016. Previously he spent four years with Dignity Health Sports Park as Director of Security, nearly seven years with the St. Louis Blues as Senior Director of Security and Guest Services, and nearly four years as Stadium Operations Manager for the LA Dodgers. After graduation he spent nearly six years as Operations Manager for the Padres.
“What is my advice for students who wish to enter the field of security? I encourage people to make connections in the industry as soon as possible. When you know someone in the business, it’s so important. You’ll stand out among the hundreds that apply,” Born said.
Christian Martinez, 2019
By Leslie L.J. Reilly
Recent Chicana/o Studies + Political Science Graduate Finds Inspiration to Aid His Community Through Volunteer Work
Christian Martinez connected deeply with his roots and culture during his time at SDSU. He double majored in Chicana/o Studies (CCS) and political science which helped him develop the goal of helping people struggling with immigration issues.
His recent pro bono work for CAL Western’s Community Law Project offered a chance to work with an underserved community by writing, translating, and giving legal advice. “Finding loopholes in the law is rewarding, especially when people are at a deadend with the government,” Martinez said. He plans to enter law school in the future and once he gets his J.D., he’ll pursue a Ph.D. in order to teach.
Martinez was inspired by Professor Roberto Hernández while taking a CCS course called Chicana/o Community Studies. In class, the professor’s passion for activism, social justice, and community engagement gave Martinez motivation and a clear plan for his future. In that class, he discovered his passion for teaching and immigration law.
Martinez’s parents immigrated from Mexico, and he grew up in San Diego. When he was young, understanding politics was not valued. He remembered feeling his voice was not needed – that others would make decisions for him in government. In college, however, he began to really understand the value of politics and decided to major in it to expand his knowledge base. Political science coursework, coupled with studies in Chicana/o history changed his life.
While doing research in the CCS program, Martinez learned “there was a different side to the story” — of his history. “The Eurocentric system I learned in elementary school was non-inclusive,” he said. CCS helped him see his culture in a different light. “It allowed me to acknowledge the struggle of my forefathers; that I am standing on their shoulders,” Martinez continued.
Now, he volunteers to help underserved communities whether it be immigrants or kids from the barrio. Martinez wants to make a difference in their lives. He wants young kids to see that their community is valued and that they can succeed. “Take a look at AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) — she was a bartender last year, and this year a U.S. Representative. I want to show students that now more people of color are in positions of power, and thus now more than ever we are finally able to see that anything is possible,” he said.
With passion, Martinez plans to apply his knowledge to help his community actively
work toward a prosperous and engaged future. He plans to give back to CCS by volunteering
during the yearlong 50th anniversary celebration. And, he aspires to do more volunteering
with the ACLU and San Diego Rapid Response Network, where he hopes to continue celebrating
the richness of the Chicana/o community by helping those in need.
Latrel Powell, 2019
By Leslie L.J. Reilly
It all clicked during his junior year.
For Latrel Powell, a political science and africana studies double major, (and CAL’s Outstanding Graduating Senior 2019), it was on the day he took the helm as CAL’s Student Council president that he realized his voice would be heard. “The experience literally changed my life,” Powell said.
He applied his talents to CAL’s Student Council while maneuvering his way through the college experience accepting every volunteer and leadership opportunity he encountered along the way. Powell said, “It was very rewarding, and very hard. I was fortunate to have council members, the executive team, and deans surrounding me.”
Powell was able to move from his position as the president of the CAL Student Council into the California State University Student Association as a vice president, which gave him an opportunity to advocate for CSU students from all campuses on a statewide level. He worked with the chancellor’s office, state legislators, Governor Newsom, and others to draft legislation and policy for the betterment of students. He even had a chance to give a speech on the California State Capitol steps one year.
About the CAL experience, Powell said, “We have the opportunity to poke our head in, to put our toes in the water, but also really put our hands on the steering wheel to make an impact and seek change.”
Powell remembers the impact of CAL faculty. “Dr. Barbone was my professor during my first semester freshman year and he taught the freshman seminar class and Philosophy 101. Barbone spoke about the importance of applying for scholarships, which was a foundational stepping stone for me,” Powell said. He applied for scholarships every semester upon hearing Barbone’s sage advice. ”I wouldn’t have the freedom to do my research projects or student government without those scholarships.”
Powell’s advice to incoming students: “If you show up, it will be there for you. You will find faculty who will take you under their wings. You will find programs, organizations, and mentors, who will steer you in the right direction,” he said.
He added, “Give yourself the chance, and you’ll be rewarded. Take your knowledge beyond the classroom, because San Diego has so many unique circumstances to take advantage of, like professional networks and volunteering.”
And, lastly, Powell recommends, “Always remain fearless. Your heart will take you so much further. Be bold, be willing to take risks, now is the time to do that.”