Nineteen students with major achievements in the classroom and in the community were honored in a special ceremony on November 7 as recipients of the 35th annual Lieutenant Robert Merton Rawlins Merit Award.

The award—one of the largest and most prestigious at CSU, Chico—celebrates scholarship, extracurricular activities, and outstanding academic and professional accomplishments. Awards are also based on evidence of a student’s sincere intent to complete their education, to increase their personal knowledge, and to achieve success in every aspect of life.

The Rawlins merit scholarships are named in honor of Lt. Robert Merton Rawlins, who died piloting a B-29 bomber over Tokyo Bay during World War II. Wishing to leave a legacy in the name of her son, Mrs. Fern Rawlins established the Lt. Robert Merton Rawlins Merit Award endowment in 1981.

Since the program’s inception, more than $1 million in scholarships has been awarded to more than 800 deserving CSU, Chico students.

Meet the students joining the ranks this year:

College of Agriculture

Holly Hockett

Holly Hockett
Nominated by Mollie Aschenbrener, professor of agriculture

Holly is a junior completing a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, with an option in agricultural science and education. She was an inaugural recipient of the Bell Family Presidential Scholarship. Holly has held two officer positions in California’s Future Farmers of American Organization and was awarded its highest honor, the California Golden State Degree, for her commitment to agricultural education. She also demonstrates exceptional leadership across campus, serving as a peer advisor for Summer Orientation and a facilitator for the Freshman Leadership Opportunity program. Holly’s nominator, Mollie Aschenbrener, said her “caring compassion and supportive mentorship of her fellow students, combined with her tireless work ethic and drive for excellence, make her a leader in our college.”

Kaeli McCarther

Kaeli McCarther
Nominated by Garrett Liles, professor of agriculture

Kaeli is a senior completing a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, with an option in agricultural science and education. She is the founding president of the United Students of Agriculture Club, a chapter of the National Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS) organization. The club promotes career preparation, outreach, philanthropy, and mentorship. She also serves as the cochair for the Field Day Leadership Team Awards Committee and is an agriculture ambassador for the College. During school breaks, she volunteers at the Yolo Food Bank and Yolo Employment Services. Nominator Garrett Liles said, “Kaeli’s leadership, spirit, and civic-mindedness give me hope for a career filled with passionate, high-caliber students with goals far bigger than themselves.”

College of Behavioral and Social Sciences 

Daniel Beaky

Daniel Beaky
Nominated by Mahalley Allen, chair of the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice

Daniel is a senior completing a double major in criminal justice and public administration. Daniel serves as a group leader for Community Action Volunteers in Education (CAVE), where he spends his time mentoring local
at-risk youth at the Boys and Girls Club and the Esplanade House. He has also been very engaged in campus life, working as an academic advising intern for the First-Year Experience Program and serving as an officer for both Alpha Phi Sigma, the national criminal justice honor society, and the Criminal Justice Student Association. In his nomination letter, Mahalley Allen said, “Whether volunteering with at-risk youth or leading fellow students in an on-campus club, Daniel has demonstrated that he will succeed in leading others.”

Jose Heredia

José Heredia
Nominated by Cynthia Siemsen, professor of sociology

José is a junior double majoring in criminal justice and sociology and minoring in diversity studies. Encouraged by his high school teachers and counselors, he demanded to be removed from the remedial education program he’d been placed in throughout elementary school and junior high. He went on to graduate from high school with multiple honors and high marks in Advanced Placement classes. José plans to return to his hometown of Sonoma and work with at-risk youth. Recognizing José’s extraordinary accomplishments in the face of serious challenges, his nominator Cynthia Siemsen describes his character as one with “tenacity, dedication, and a desire to give back.”

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith
Nominated by Jane Rysberg, professor of psychology

Joseph is a graduate student completing a master’s degree in psychology with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy. Joseph is a re-entry student who left a career in finance and insurance to pursue an education at Chico State. He is a member of Psi Chi International Honor Society. His field work included a competitive internship with the Iverson Recovery and Wellness Center, where the staff said he earned a reputation for excellence and an opportunity to serve a second internship in addition to his regular course load. At the center, Joseph assisted with outreach, staffs the North Valley Talk Line, and cofacilitates a peer group. Staff say he is “one of the most successful interns” they have ever worked with. Nominator Jane Rysberg says “he does what needs to be done” and “gives of himself ” to the people around him.

College of Business

Nicholas Howell

Nicholas Howell
Nominated by Kristin Minetti, professor of finance and marketing

Nicholas is completing degrees in both business administration and political science, along with minors in ethics, justice, and policy, and photographic studies. He will also earn a paralegal certificate before graduating. To finish these rigorous academic courses, Nicholas has averaged 21 units per semester. On top of all of these academic interests, Nicholas has demonstrated excellent leadership skills, serving as president for the Chico State Waterski Team, Pi Sigma Alpha—the national political science honors society, and Delta Sigma Pi—a coed professional business fraternity. In her nomination letter, Kristen Minetti, who is a former recipient of this award, wrote that Nicholas is “an inspiration and I am honored to work with him.”

Oliver Montalbano

Oliver Montalbano
Nominated by Peter Straus, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship

Oliver is a junior completing a degree in business administration. The senior has impressed faculty with his initiative and leadership. Oliver has also been involved in the Collegiate Entrepreneurial Association, serving as its community liaison and an executive board member, as well as Delta Sigma Pi—a professional business fraternity—where he has served as the chamber of commerce director. Oliver has already placed his foot in the door of the business world, working as a strategic buyer in 2015 for Marketfleet, where he collaborated directly with CEOs to implement strategy. Nominator Peter Straus said, “I am convinced he is bound for great things.”

College of Communication and Education

Elizabeth Castillo

Elizabeth Castillo
Nominated by Susan Wiesinger, professor of journalism and public relations

Elizabeth is a senior completing a degree in journalism with an option in news. Elizabeth is a first-generation college student who initially dropped out of a competitive private university for medical and financial reasons. She returned to community college, overcoming enormous family and financial responsibilities, and eventually transferred to Chico State. She is paying her own way through school, working 20 hours a week, and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. Elizabeth is currently the news editor for The Orion, as well as editor-in-chief for Renegade Rip and a freelance writer for Bakersfield Life magazine. In her nomination letter, Susan Wiesinger said, “Elizabeth is a remarkable and determined young woman who represents many of the best qualities of J&PR and the values of Chico State.”

Gabriel Sandoval

Gabriel Sandoval
Nominated by Dave Waddell, professor emeritus of journalism and public relations

Gabriel is a senior majoring in journalism. After finishing an associate’s degree at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, where he won numerous awards for his reporting and writing for the student newspaper, The Sun, Gabriel transferred to Chico State. Committed to a career in journalism, he has written articles for Chico State’s award-winning student newspaper The Orion, in addition to articles for the Chico News & Review. This past summer, Gabriel served as the first Chico State journalism student to intern at the Chronicle of Higher Education in Washington, DC. He was named to the Emerging Reporters Program by ProPublica, a national-level recognition. In his nomination letter, Dave Waddell said, “Gabriel Sandoval is going places, in a big way.”

College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management

Erin Baumgartner

Erin Baumgartner
Nominated by Hadil Mustafa, professor of electrical and computer engineering

Erin is a senior completing a degree in electrical engineering, with a double minor in computer engineering and manufacturing. Erin exemplifies a strong commitment to her studies, which has been acknowledged with both the Outstanding Student Service Award and the Outstanding Student Leader Award for the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Construction Management. She has held several officer positions, including in the Society of Women Engineers. She strives to inspire young girls to pursue a career in STEM subjects, organizing and volunteering for Imagineer Day since 2013. In her nomination letter, Hadil Mustafa described Erin as “smart, thoughtful, and wonderfully engaged” and said she represents a “combination of academic achievement, leadership, and personal character.”

Kylee Davis

Kylee Davis
Nominated by Tyson Henry and Jaime Raigoza, professors of computer science

Kylee is a senior completing a degree in computer science and expects to graduate with honors in general education and computer science. She is vice president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and a regional SWE Future Leader. This year, Kylee will represent SWE Region A, which represents 14 universities in California, and manage the section’s presidents. She also serves as vice president of Upsilon Pi Epsilon—the computer science honors society—and is involved with the Association of Computing Machinery, where she helps organize and run a local programming contest. Kylee has interned at Chevron and Google. In her free time, she volunteers with Girls Who Code, a national organization that teaches programming to girls in grades 6–12. Henry considers Kylee “one of the strongest students I have ever had the pleasure to teach.”

Sara Luther

Sara Luther
Nominated by Denny Gier, professor of construction management

Sara is a senior completing a double major in both construction management and concrete industry management, with a minor in business administration. She holds a 4.0 GPA. Sara has shown exceptional leadership skills both in the classroom and with her involvement with the Women in the Concrete Industry Club, which she co-founded. Sarah interned with Brown Construction, Inc., as an assistant project manager, and she is committed to serving her community, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, Green Apple Day Community Service, AGC, and the Children’s Choir of Chico. Praising Sara’s commitment to education, positive attitude, and work ethic, Gier said, “She has constantly proven herself to be a devoted student and a dedicated student leader.”

Joanne O'Hara

Joanne O’Hara
Nominated by Feraidon Ataie, professor of concrete industry management

Joanne is a senior completing a degree in concrete industry management, with a minor in business administration. She is cofounder of the Women in the Concrete Industry Club. Joanne has worked for the CSU, Chico Research Foundation as a laboratory assistant, conducting research on various concrete properties, and as a student ambassador, attending college and career fairs as an advocate for the concrete industry management program. As a presenter at the 30th Annual CSU Student Research Competition, she was selected as one of the top 10 presenters statewide. As Feraidon Ataie wrote in his nomination letter, “what Joanne has accomplished so far at Chico State is beyond outstanding in every aspect.”

Lucas Pico

Lucas Pico
Nominated by Clarke Steinback, director of the Computer Animation and Game Development Program

Lucas is a senior majoring in applied computer animation and game development. He has been on the Dean’s List every semester at Chico State. His work was chosen by faculty to represent the major in the DreamCrit event, where students’ work is critiqued by DreamWorks animators. He also received the first-place excellence award in computer graphics for body mechanics animation. In addition to his academics and student activities, Lucas works part time to help support his education. In his nomination letter, Clarke Steinback wrote, “Lucas’ passion for animation is inspiring…He embodies the best of the computer animation and game development program, and his work will go on to inspire others.”

Sara Sanders

Sara Sanders
Nominated by Kenneth Derucher, professor of civil engineering

Sara is a senior completing a degree in civil engineering. She has been a member of Tau Beta Pi, a national engineering honor society, and has been very involved with the American Society of Civil Engineers Chico chapter, participating in the American Society of Engineers Mid-Pacific Conference in the concrete canoe race. Sara has served as a summer intern with the Bureau of Land Management, overseeing field data collection, drought assessment, and a variety of other tests. Not only recognizing her as an “extremely capable engineer,” Kenneth Derucher described Sara as “one of a kind in her course of study, her extracurricular activities, and her outstanding professionally related academic qualifications.”

College of Humanities and Fine Arts

Daniel Caravez

Daniel Caravez
Nominated by Char Prieto, professor of Spanish

Daniel is a senior completing a triple major, studying mathematics education, Spanish education, and Latin American studies. A first-generation college student and second-language learner, Daniel is committed to teaching and inspiring others. In addition to his academics, Daniel served as vice president of Phi Sigma Iota–the international foreign language honor society—which provides tutoring in the community, including affiliation with Project Math and Upward Bound. His nominator, Char Prieto, said, “He has never—not for one minute—allowed his financial hardship and personal challenges to stand in the way of his education… He is intelligent, goal-oriented, and passionate about his studies. Moreover, he is a wonderful human being.”

Gabrielle Fasano

Gabrielle Fasano
Nominated by Jason Nice, professor of history

Gabrielle is a junior double majoring in history and theatre arts, with a minor in international studies. This past year, Gabrielle produced an original research essay, “Acting Guilty: 1690-1915,” exemplifying her energy and commitment to history and theatre. She has appeared in three University productions: The Tarzan Project (2015), The Rover (2015), and Hidden in the Picture (2016) and cowrote a script. Her service to the community includes volunteering as a Girl Scout, with Venture Crew, and for Meals on Wheels. In his nomination letter, Jason Nice described Gabrielle as representing “both sides of the creative coin” and as a student who personifies the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, with her understanding of “aesthetic experience, intellectual inquiry, and historical understanding.”

College of Natural Sciences

Carina Chiodo

Carina Chiodo
Nominated by Dawn Clifford, professor of nutrition and food science

Carina is a graduate student completing a master’s degree in nutrition and food science, with an emphasis in nutrition education. In a society where 97 percent of women report they are unhappy with their bodies, Carina is a fierce advocate for change. She has published many articles and blogs for About-Face, an organization that advocates for women’s self-esteem and body image in the media. Currently working at Chico State’s Center for Healthy Communities, she has partnered with Oroville High School to lead new sustainability and nutrition curriculum. In her nomination letter, Dawn Clifford wrote, “Carina is a gift to our department and will be a gift to the field of dietetics. She is committed to making a difference in the world.”

Jongwoo Choi

Jongwoo Choi
Nominated by Thomas Mattman, professor of mathematics and statistics

Jongwoo is a senior completing degree options in both mathematics and statistics. Jongwoo is committed to earning honors in both mathematics options by submitting two honor’s theses simultaneously—which would make him the first math student to do so at Chico State. Jongwoo’s path is unique in exploring both theoretical and practical applications of math. He presented statistics research with a fellow student at the California Undergrad Math Conference, demonstrating why football teams should not punt on the fourth down, and is preparing to submit their findings to a research journal. As a university student in Korea, he volunteered with KKOT Welfare Facilities. In Chico, he serves as treasurer for the Korean Student Association and is active in the Korean Presbyterian Church. In his nomination letter, Thomas Mattman recognized Jongwoo as an outstanding researcher whose academic prowess matches his commitment to community service.