Three Graduate Students from CAL Awarded Sally Casanova Scholarships

Latin American Studies Students Elybeth Alcantar and Sophia Rodriguez and Rhetoric and Writing Studies Student Lorise Diamond Are 2020 Recipients

By Leslie L.J. Reilly

Lorise Diamond

Lorise Diamond

The CSU California Pre-Doctoral Fellowship Program, designed to increase diversity within university faculty, supports the doctoral aspirations of CSU students by awarding scholarships each year. Three students, Lorise Diamond, Elybeth Alcantar and Sophia Rodriguez, from the College of Arts and Letters were among eight designated Sally Casanova Scholars from SDSU (a total of 77 scholarships were awarded throughout the CSU system).

Sally Casanova Scholars have unique opportunities to explore and prepare to succeed in doctoral programs. Scholars receive one-on-one guidance provided by faculty members within the CSU, and the opportunity to work with faculty from doctoral-granting institutions.

“The unbelievable jubilance I felt began overflowing into tears as I read the acceptance letter out loud to my family members,” Elybeth Alcantar said, when she learned she was named a Sally Casanova Scholar.

Sophia Rodriguez said, “Being awarded the Sally Casanova Scholarship gave me a sense that people believe in me and are invested in my future.”

Both Alcantar and Rodriguez are graduate students in the Latin American studies master’s program in the College of Arts and Letters — Alcantar is a second-year student and Rodriguez is in her third year of the program and also earned an MPH in Health Promotion & Behavioral Science.

Alcantar said, “A doctorate degree was inconceivable to me a year ago, however, this fellowship opportunity provided me the mentorship possible to attain a doctoral degree in my near future.”

CSU’s California Pre-Doctoral Scholarship was precisely what she needed to gain assistance in obtaining a doctoral degree. “What prepared me the most was encouragement from those I love and trust to apply and continue searching for opportunities for research,” she added.

Rodriguez said, “This program is a stepping stone on my journey to becoming a professor and researcher. I never would have imagined this profession as a possibility, if you had asked me at the beginning of my master’s program.”

Unique Research Focus Areas

Lorise Diamond’s thesis proposal outlines an inquiry into the rhetorical functions of location, space, and linguistic messages, a comparison between policy statements and written messages from chief diversity officers that encourage diversity, equity, and inclusion on university campuses and the spaces where those messages are either spurned or enacted. Conducting site visits and fieldwork at three minority-serving institutions, Lorise intends to connect scholarship in rhetoric, cultural studies, and critical race theory and contribute to contemporary conversations about equity and inclusion in higher education. Moreover, research findings will offer insights to campuses and initiatives committed to the academic success of diverse student populations through both policy and practice.

Elybeth Alcantar

Elybeth Alcantar

Rodriguez’s research is focused on colorectal cancer screening for the Latinx community. She looks at the organizational-level processes and determines how to implement screening programs in community clinics. ”I am also interested in exploring colorectal cancer screening perspectives and access to screening at the individual level — specifically focused on indigenous Mixtec and Purépecha migrant populations,” she said.

“I am looking forward to continuing to work with my mentor, Dr. Ramona L. Pérez.. She is a great support system and she inspires me to aim high,” Rodriguez said.

Alcantar’s current research focus is in two fields: geography and anthropology. “I have engaged in both these disciplines to focus my research on alternative forms of education that encompass the implementation of Mixtec language revitalization in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca, Mexico,” she said.

“I believe it is my duty to highlight the lives and efforts of indigenous communities in Mexico, as well as our struggles for the revitalization of our languages and educational autonomy,” Alcantar said.

Graduate Advisors Share Their Perspectives

Cezary Ornatowski, Rhetoric and Writing Studies professor and advisor said, “Beneath a quiet exterior, Lorise Diamond packs astonishing intellectual power and social commitment. She is passionate, very articulate, and literally turns on a dime to get things done (I can never figure out where she gets the energy or time, with all her commitments). Obstacles seem only to energize her. In her professional trajectory, she is committed to the CSU and its mission of providing higher education to a broad spectrum of California's population.”

Ramona Pérez, Center for Latin American Studies director and graduate advisor said, “Elybeth is an amazingly strong, determined and passionate daughter of the Mixtec diaspora in the United States. She has excelled in both her academic work and in her research agenda.

“Her ideas to forge mentoring and educational opportunities across the geospatial divide of the U.S. and Mexico in order to validate the places in which indigenous peoples live is novel and represents a new way of thinking among the current generation of youth who have lived transnational lives.

“Elybeth’s ability to forge long-term relationships with teachers and their union representatives in Mexico, one of the nations in which she identifies, while creating opportunities for collaborative educational models in the U.S., her other nation, are progressive, possible, and in the end an answer to the struggles of indigenous youth to feel empowered and proud of who they are and what they have to contribute to their families, communities, and the world. Elybeth has immense potential to succeed in her pursuit of a research-based doctorate and to be a teacher/scholar to our future generations.”

Sophia Rodriguez

Sophia Rodriguez

About Sophia Rodriguez, Ramona said, “Sophia joined the Center for Latin American Studies master’s program in fall 2019. Sophia had completed the two years of study in the master’s in public health program but realized that she would need more knowledge to be effective in addressing the health concerns of our many migrant, refugee and multi-generational families with heritage in Latin American cultures.

“She has an outstanding academic record and has performed at an exceptional level.

“Sophia is expanding her research interests into a comparative analysis that allows her to analyze the similarities and differences in cancer outreach between a Latin American based public health program and the one she knows in the U.S.

“Sophia’s passion for creating equitable and accessible health care that respects the cultural nuances of migrant, refugee, and multigenerational families will be the focus of her doctoral degree in medical anthropology.”

Gratitude for Opportunities

Both Alcantar and Rodriguez are grateful for the opportunity to continue in pursuit of their goals.

“I thank my past academic professors who have provided me the academic and emotional support to continue in school,” Alcantar said. ”The professors within the CSU system teach their courses passionately with an immense dedication to their students. I want to become a part of this faculty to continue the same teaching fervor I have experienced.”

Rodriguez said, “As a daughter of immigrants receiving this scholarship was bigger than me. This was for my family, especially my parents. My parents sacrificed so much to provide my five siblings and I with opportunities they did not have. I am the first in my family to pursue a doctoral degree and this is for us.”


Read the SDSU NewsStory about this year's awardees. | Learn more about the The Sally Casanova Scholars program.