Twelve students with major achievements in the classroom and in the community will be honored in a special ceremony on March 4 as recipients of the 40th annual Lieutenant Robert Merton Rawlins Merit Award.
The award—one of the largest and most prestigious at Chico State—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, 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 California State University, Chico, students.
Meet the students joining the ranks this year:
College of Agriculture
Nominated by Sarah DeForest
Michelle is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science, with an emphasis in agricultural communications and a minor in agricultural business and public relations. On top of her school responsibilities, Michelle works as a public information intern with the College of Agriculture where she manages and facilitates digital communication for the college by utilizing social media, press releases, and website updates to ensure students’ success and sense of community. In addition, she works as a greenhouse assistant on the University Farm, handling a variety of daily functions to safeguard the greenhouse’s operational success.
Since attending Chico State, Michelle has made a name for herself as a leader. She has served as student senator for the College of Agriculture and was recently elected as commissioner of sustainability affairs for Associated Students Government Affairs. Michelle has also served as a member of the Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers program, the Collegiate Future Farmers of America (FFA), and the Collegiate Farm Bureau, and her achievements include earning an American FFA degree, winning an FFA Agriculture Education State Proficiency Award, and being a Dean’s List honoree. Michelle is also a founding member of the University’s Ag Ambassadors, a student-led group dedicated to recruitment, outreach, and leadership development.
Sarah DeForest, director of external relations for the College of Agriculture, shared her admiration for Michelle in her nomination letter, writing, “Michelle is a remarkable leader. She cares deeply for this campus and her fellow students, as demonstrated in the countless ways she has stepped up to serve in her first two years. She has had an incredible impact on students as well as faculty and staff, which will only grow as she continues her academic career.”
Haeryeong “Harry” Cheong
Nominated by Logan B. Smith
Harry is an international transfer student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in animal science. Since attending Chico State, he has maintained a 4.0 GPA, been a Dean’s List honoree, and received plenty of praise for his engagement and enthusiasm inside and outside the classroom, including participating in research on methane mitigations in cattle as a way of fighting climate change.
Harry has an associate’s degree in natural science from Sierra College, is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, is a recipient of the Non-resident Tuition Fee Waiver Award at Chico State, and is fluent in three languages: Korean, Japanese, and English. With a dream of becoming a veterinarian, he has also shown a deep dedication to community service through his volunteer work with various veterinary clinics and animal shelters, the Salvation Army, and during his tenure in the Korean military.
Logan B. Smith, assistant professor in the College of Agriculture, wrote in his nomination letter, “Harry embodies the qualities that the College of Agriculture strives for in a student: hard work, social and academic excellence. I have confidence that he has the commitment, intelligence, and work ethic to be successful in his pursuits.”
Breanna “Bre” Holbert
Nominated by Mollie Aschenbrener and Garrett C. Liles
Bre is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science and education, and building an impressive, ever-expanding record of extracurricular activities and service devoted to bettering her community. Since becoming a Wildcat in 2016, Bre has demonstrated a deep commitment to the University, farming and agriculture, diversity and inclusion, and her peers, through an inspiring display of leadership, activism, and mentoring.
She was elected the first female African American national president of the Future Farmers of America (FFA), and served as associated students (AS) president, director of legislative affairs, board chair, and government affairs chair at Chico State. Bre worked as a peer advisor for the College of Agriculture and as a contracted leadership facilitator for the FFA, was named 2020 Trustee Emeritus Ali C. Razi Scholar for outstanding achievement, and received the 2020 Chico State Office of Diversity and Inclusion Teach Back Award and the Bell Family Presidential Scholarship in 2018. Bre currently works as a freelance columnist for AGDAILY, where she writes about minority and marginalized communities in agriculture and supports her editors in better understanding minority issues through a social justice lens.
Garrett C. Liles, associate professor of soil science, said in his nomination letter: “Breanna is an exemplary student, an impactful, service-minded individual, and a great person to simply chat with due to her depth and compassion. . . . The maturity of her work, leadership, and overall approach make her a pivotal component of any environment she finds herself in. I am honored to know and work with Bre and am most excited to see what she achieves in the classroom not as a student but leading others in thought and exploration of agriculture.”
Emmanuel “Manny” Lopez
Nominated by Celina Phillips
Manny is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in animal science, with a focus in pre-veterinary medicine. He is a first-generation Hispanic student, and since attending Chico State he has maintained an excellent GPA and made the Dean’s List every semester. Manny works as lead shepherd for the sheep unit at the University Farm, and he is currently assisting Celina Phillips, professor in the College of Agriculture, with a research project in partnership with the California Department of Food and Agriculture that explores the judicious use of antibiotics in the California sheep industry. He received his American Future Farmers of America (FFA) degree in 2020, and is a member of both the Chico Sheep Association and the Young Cattlemen’s Association.
Phillips praised Manny’s integrity and commitment to his studies in her nomination letter, writing, “. . . Emmanuel Lopez is a lifelong learner who is engaged in our program and the community. He has the academics, drive, and work ethic to achieve his dream of becoming a veterinarian. He is intelligent, inquisitive, diligent, and thorough in everything he does.”
College of Behavioral and Social Sciences
Nominated by Chelsea Cornell
Yulisa graduated from Chico State with a bachelor’s degree in social work in June 2021 and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in the same area of study. Bilingual in English and Spanish, she is a first-generation, DACA student who shines as an advocate and source of support for students with similar backgrounds. Yulisa is a leader in the Dream Center on campus, expanding awareness regarding the experiences of undocumented and mixed-status students, and she has worked with Upward Bound at Yuba College as a tutor and mentor helping first-generation, low-income high school students prepare for higher education.
Yulisa has worked particularly hard to finance her schooling on her own. During school breaks, she works in the fields with her father planting almond trees, and on the weekends she helps her mom make and sell tamales. She has also maintained a job at a grocery store during the pandemic, all while maintaining an exceptional GPA.
Her nominator, Chelsea Cornell, shared her admiration for Yulisa’s tenacity and spirit in her nomination letter: “She excels and stands out in her attendance, motivation, class contributions, reliability, and ability to manage multiple demands successfully. . . . She is a hard worker, a critical thinker, a natural leader, and she is always willing to ask the hard questions and seek clarity.”
College of Business
Nominated by Kristin Minetti
Katelyn is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration, with an option in marketing. She is currently president of the American Marketing Association at Chico State, where she co-directs the executive board and helped to guide the organization through a difficult transition to online during the pandemic, and she is an active member of the Association of Women in Business, where she strives to empower women through networking, entrepreneurship, and education.
Katelyn has also maintained an exceptionally high GPA while in school and attained honors in general education. Katelyn independently supports her education and has worked multiple jobs to relieve the financial stress of tuition, books, rent, and utilities. After graduation, Katelyn plans to pursue her MBA and begin a career in digital marketing.
Kristin Minetti, professor in the Department of Finance and Marketing, said of Katelyn in her nomination letter, “She is one of the most humble, inspiring, adaptable, and driven people I have ever met. . . . She does not expect recognition for her actions, she simply does them because she is such an amazing person. . . . She has excelled in any professional position she has had, relates well to all people she meets, and overall is a hardworking and successful person who I am confident can achieve anything she puts her mind to.”
Nominated by Kathryn R. Mercurio
Michaelina is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting, with plans to become a certified public accountant. She has maintained an overall GPA of 3.81 while at Chico State and is considered one of the top students in the College of Business. In addition to her schooling, Michaelina has taken on a number of leadership roles and internships, as well as various community service positions in the area of accounting: she was elected as secretary of Beta Alpha Psi (an international honorary organization for accounting students); has volunteered with the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program; worked as a tax preparer for David K. Spring CPA; and earned a spot with the prestigious KCoe Isom Summer Leadership Program.
She has been praised as a generous mentor and tutor to her fellow classmates, and she is known to consistently go above and beyond for class projects and assignments, raising the bar for all students as a model of enthusiasm and commitment. Michaelina has had her share of hardship—she grew up in poverty, lost her home in the Camp Fire and became homeless for several months, and has endured the challenges of the pandemic—yet, throughout all of this, she has managed to remain in service to others. She teamed up with the American Red Cross to give free haircuts to Camp Fire survivors, volunteered to do trash pickup with the Butte Environmental Council, volunteered at the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve, and served as a volunteer staff member at the Butte Humane Society.
Kathryn R. Mercurio, assistant professor of marketing, described Michaelina’s many remarkable qualities in her nomination letter: “Students like Michaelina are one in a million in a business school. . . . She has greatly impressed me with her diligence, initiative, and leadership skills. Together with a very determined personality, these skills suggest Michaelina will be a successful business leader when she graduates.”
College of Communication and Education
Nominated by Susan Wiesinger and Debra Johnson
Ava is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in journalism, with a minor in creative writing. She has made the Dean’s List four semesters in a row and maintained a 3.8 GPA while managing a heavy load of both school and personal responsibilities. Ava’s ability to adapt, challenge herself to learn and practice new skills, and to overcome hardship is exceptional. During her freshman year, Ava lost her home to the Camp Fire, spending more than a year bouncing from town to town and motel to motel while keeping her grades up and missing only one class. Ava has also spent most of her life as the primary caregiver for her mom, chronically ill and disabled since Ava was four years old. Ava’s mom died suddenly in 2020, leaving Ava uprooted again and on her own. Yet, education has remained a steady presence in her frequently unpredictable life.
In addition to her studies, Ava has worked as a digital assistant and mentor in the journalism and public relations program at Chico State where she provided one-on-one support to students in a wide variety of technology topics. She was also chosen to join a small, select number of students in the University’s Media, Entertainment and Technology Experience (METX) program, an interdisciplinary collaboration that allows students to get hands-on experience by working directly with real-world clients to develop immersive stories through the use of emerging technologies. Ava helped to build two METX websites, wrote content for an immersive VR experience, and worked as a photographer for various projects.
One of her nominators, journalism professor Susan Wiesinger, commended Ava’s perseverance and passion for storytelling, stating: “Ava persists against all odds and looks forward to being the first person in her family to graduate from a four-year university. She is a voracious reader and an avid learner. She wants to make a difference in the world and sees journalism—telling stories that matter and change lives—as her means to do so.”
College of Engineering, Computer Science & Construction Management
Nominated by Jaime Raigoza
Juan is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He is a first-generation college student and commutes to school from Gridley. Since attending Chico State, Juan has maintained an excellent GPA and been on the Dean’s List every semester. He is active in many aspects of the University, including working as a tutor in the computer science department, holding a public relations position for the Upward Bound Alumni Association (UBAA), and working as a summer residential advisor for UBAA.
Juan has also volunteered and served in various leadership roles around campus and beyond—the Latinos in Technical Careers (LTC) organization, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), and the Math, Engineering, Science, and Achievement (MESA) program. He has been inducted him the international honor society (UPE) for computer science, earned a MESA Engineering Program (MEP) Chico STEM Connections Collaborative (CSC2) award for undergraduate research, earned an internship research position with Chico STEM Connections Collaborative (CSC2), and co-authored a research paper that has been accepted for publication in ACM ITiCSE, a competitive, international conference for computer science education.
Jaime Raigoza, assistant professor in the computer science department, said in his nomination letter, “Juan’s academic and extracurricular accomplishments are unprecedented. He is a very mature student and I really see leadership qualities in him and how he relates to fellow students. . . . I am confident Juan will eventually have a successful career and be able to help others too.”
College of Humanities and Fine Arts
Nominated by Jed Wyrick
Benito is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in humanities. He has a cumulative GPA of 3.728 and a record of commitment and enthusiasm for his studies that spans his academic history. Benito was recognized as Outstanding Student of the Month at Merced College (October 2017), and while at Butte College he founded and led a student group called “Ascending Scholars.”
Benito is a nontraditional returning student and former gang member, incarcerated at age 19 until being released at 42. While in prison, Benito was awarded first place in fiction in the PEN America 2017 Prison Writing Contest. He also submitted a short film to the Pembroke Taparelli Arts & Film Festival in that same year. Benito has recently been working with student admissions in outreach to share his experience as a nontraditional returning student, and he is taking courses in museum studies, with an eye toward political art exhibition, and Arabic to fulfill his humanities major requirements. Benito is currently co-curator at the Greenhouse Studio & Gallery, a community gallery that features the work of local artists who are involved in activism.
In his nomination letter, Greg Cootsona, professor in the Department of Comparative Religion and Humanities, described Benito’s exceptional qualities as a student: “Benito is consistently prepared, consistently engaged, and consistently demonstrates his interest in the course material. He’s the kind of a student any teacher loves—the kind who creates discussion and interaction.”
College of Natural Sciences
Nominated by Raymond J. Bogiatto and Donald G. Miller
Kevin earned his bachelor’s degree in 2020, with a major in ecological, evolutionary, and organismal biology, and he is now pursuing a master’s degree in biology—his thesis will investigate the importance of the perceived risk of attack by bald eagles on overwintering waterfowl. Kevin is active within his area of study on and off campus, participating as a member of the Western Section of The Wildlife Society, Omicron Theta Epsilon (Chico Biological Sciences Honor Society), and the Chico State chapter of the California Waterfowl Association.
As a graduate student, he will be continuing an undergraduate project that evaluates whether the observed distribution of male pintail ducks engaging in courtship flights follows a Poisson distribution. Kevin presented his initial findings at the Annual Meeting of the Western Section of The Wildlife Society in February 2020 and hopes to write and submit a manuscript to a refereed scientific journal soon. Kevin has finished at the top of his class throughout his time at Chico State, and has been commended for his perfect attendance record and consistent enthusiasm.
Donald G. Miller, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, praised Kevin’s qualities as a student in his nomination letter: “He has shown a degree of sophistication rare in my 20 years’ experience, as someone who not only remembers important concepts and details, but is able to synthesize these elements in profound and novel ways.”
Nominated by Jing Guo and Thomas Mattman
Skip is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in three majors: pure mathematics, applied mathematics, and statistics. He is a first-generation college student who has already accomplished a remarkable amount during his time as an undergraduate at Chico State. He consistently performs at the top of his classes and has been awarded six scholarships in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. While earning his degree, Skip has worked on two different research projects with faculty and co-authored an honor’s thesis that has since been published in a high-level research journal. Skip plans to pursue a PhD in a mathematics-related field after graduation, with a goal to educate and enlighten the next generation in learning mathematics in higher education.
Thomas Mattman, professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, praised Skip’s accomplishments as a student and researcher, writing, “Undergraduate research in math remains a rarity. To be involved in two fundamentally different projects puts Skip in very exclusive company. I, myself, was very proud to have two research papers when I finished my PhD. Skip will have reached the same milestone by the time he finishes his undergraduate degree. I consider this very impressive and a testament to Skip’s energy and devotion to his studies and research.”