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Chico State

Celebrating Our 2023 Distinguished Alumni

Distinguished Alumni Thomas Butler, Marti Sutton, Kimate Richards, Haley Willis, Rick Callender, Armando Ibarra Jr., Melanie Mello, and Roy Beck (left to right) take a group photo on Friday, March 3, 2023 in Chico, Calif.
(Jason Halley/University Photographer/Chico State)

At Chico State, we recognize our outstanding alumni for many reasons. As leaders in their professions, we depend on them to ensure the excellence and integrity of our academic programs, while acting as an enduring inspiration to our students, faculty, and staff. Through their work and their service, they are an inspiration to us all, but especially our students as they, too, hope to transform tomorrow.

On March 3, we celebrate our most talented and successful alumni, affirming the vivacity and contributions they bring to the legacy of Chico State. Not only do the 2023 Distinguished Alumni honorees reflect our longstanding University values, but they have led exceptional lives and made a profound impact through their careers.

Please join us in congratulating our 2023 Distinguished Alumni! Click on their names to read their personal stories in detail and with a Q&A!

College of Agriculture

Roy Beck

Roy Beck

Agriculture, ’75; Teaching Credential, ’77; MS, Agriculture, ’83;

Retired Educator

Roy Beck put himself through college by working at the University Farm. He went on to teach agricultural education for 42 years and still advocates on behalf of his beloved discipline.

“If you are serious about a career in agriculture, the farm is where you need to be. I worked in many units to help pay for my education. For students these days, the farm is there for hands-on experience. It’s where you take what you learned in the classroom and see if it still makes sense in the field.” 

College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Armando Ibarra

Armando Ibarra

Faculty Member, Department of Labor Education, University of Madison, Wisconsin

(Sociology, Spanish, ’99; MA, Public Administration, ’02)

Knowing firsthand the exhaustive challenges of agricultural labor—coming of age in a farmworker labor camp—Armando Ibarra has channeled that experience to fuel his scholarship and fierce advocacy for the rights of workers.

“What we see here in the Midwest is that working people in the agriculture and food processing industry face many of the same challenges as I saw growing up in Northern California. There’s a lot to be done in terms of elevating the voices of workers, especially food processing workers or agricultural workers, and actually giving these folks the placement in American society they deserve.”

College of Business

Marti Sutton

Marti Sutton

(Business Administration, ’92) 

Chair, Tri-Valley Nonprofit Alliance

After discovering her advocacy voice as a student at Chico State, Marti Sutton has since worked on Capitol Hill and in community nonprofits to support causes dear to her heart.

“I once heard someone say, ‘They tell me to pull myself up by my bootstraps, but what if I don’t have boots?’ I am always looking to get people their own boots—and not just boots, but boots that fit them. … To me, making change is raising your hand if you see something that is not right and saying “What can I do to help?'”

College of Communication and Education

Hayley Willis

Haley Willis

Owner, Advantage Therapy Services

Haley Willis is helping advance the field of speech-language pathology as her office specializes in neurogenic communication disorders—and in her work as a lecturer at Chico State, teaching the next generation of speech pathologists. 

“[By] using a multidisciplinary and individualized approach to help our patients grow in ways they want to grow, and finding functional solutions that work for an individual rather than taking the same approach with every client, we see big positive impacts in each of our patients’ lives.”

College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management

Kimate Richards

Kimate Richards

(Mechatronic Engineering, ’05)

Strategic Architect, Amazon Web Services

Kimate Richards cultivated success as a strategic architect—making AI-powered robots that perform a growing number of basic and important tasks o that people can focus on doing more important work—but discovered that dedicating himself to service keeps him grounded.

“The trope about me is that I am always talking about building the singularity—technology so advanced that it surpasses human intelligence and results in a Terminator-like situation. I’m the one who makes jokes about stopping the Terminator from coming to get us. I am the extrovert in a group of introverts and force them to just enjoy the process. … One thing Chico State will do is enable you to be social—teamwork and collaboration are a part of the experience.”

College of Humanities and Fine Arts

Melanie Mello

Melanie Mello

(English and German, ’07)

Founder, Director, Teacher, Arizona German Language School; Faculty, School of International Letters and Cultures, Arizona State University

A decorated educator, Melanie Mello also works as an instructional designer for a Silicon Valley startup focused on building applied educational programs for distance learners. Yet her most prominent role over the last 14 years has been that of an award-winning high school German teacher in Indiana and Arizona.

“I believe it is important for everyone to look at things from other perspectives and to realize there are cultural beliefs that are different from your own. It helps you learn to be open-minded and ok with things being different in different cultures.”

College of Natural Sciences

Thomas Butler

Thomas Butler

(Chemistry, ’03)

Founder, Biomea Fusion

Thomas Butler has been on a search for answers since he was a child. He found his passion in a Chico State lab and today, he’s the CEO of a company creating medicines designed to attack cancer and diabetes.

“I always put myself in other people’s shoes and ask big questions. What kind of research facility would I want to be a part of? How would I want to be treated? What drives me to want to be a part of this team? I’ve learned that if you have a very flat and inclusive organizational structure, there’s no ‘your fault’ or ‘my project.’ It’s our project. I’m constantly asking myself why someone would want to be a part of this company.”

Distinguished Alumni Service Award

Rick Callender

Rick Callender

(Industrial Technology, ’94)

CEO, Valley Water District

As president of the California-Hawaii chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Rick Callender is advocating to end systemic racism in the water industry and greater society.

“When you look at service and what it truly means, I think it really exemplifies what you’re taught at Chico State in terms of responsibility. … The ‘Today Decides Tomorrow’ saying is real—what you do today decides what happens tomorrow and how the world will look. I’ve taken that to heart.”