There are many sides to Sony Thao.
Whether the concrete industry management (CIM) major is testing sustainable concrete as a research assistant in the campus lab or volunteering on a community project through Chico State’s Women in Concrete student group, he is about as involved as he can possibly be in his field.
His interests outside the classroom equally run the gamut.
“I like to write poetry, I like to read, I like to play video games,” Thao said. “Then I also like to get outside and play sports.”
Similarly, Thao says he can be an introvert, at times preferring to remain quiet and behind the scenes. On the other hand, he’s sometimes an extrovert, tutoring younger CIM students and serving as a gregarious, outgoing, and engaged vice president for the International Concrete Repair Institute (ICRI).
Bridging these different sides is an acumen and passion for concrete that has set Thao apart from his classmates—and set him up for success.
Today, he was honored with a 2018 CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement, a systemwide award given annually to students who demonstrate superior academic performance, personal accomplishments, community service, and financial need. Thao received the William Randolph Hearst Scholar award, and a $6,000 scholarship to support him in his educational endeavor.
“It’s a huge honor that’s not just for me but also for the major, which itself is pretty small,” Thao said. “We’re not that well known around campus, so this award definitely gives us a lot of exposure. But, to be honest, I wouldn’t have had the chance to be nominated for this award if it weren’t for all of the opportunities I was given being in the major.”
This is the third consecutive year the CSU has honored a Chico State student from the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management (ECC). Malyssa Gunderson (Construction Management, ’18) received the award in 2017, and Claudia Martinez Pureco (Concrete Industry Management, ’18) represented Chico State in 2016.
Thao’s interest in concrete stems from when he was a Chico High School student tagging along with his brother, who is six years Thao’s senior, to work at job sites during his time as a construction management major at Chico State.
Seeing the work his brother was doing opened Thao’s world up to the possibilities of construction.
“I saw what he was doing, and I thought it was pretty cool,” he recalled. “I wanted to go out there and build form, put in steel rebar, tile them together, and build it from the ground up.”
While at Chico High, he enrolled in College Connection, which allowed him to take classes at Butte College while doing independent study. At Transfer Day, he asked Amanda Muller, associate director of development in the College of ECC and the CIM program, if construction management was represented there.
“She said, ‘No, but [CIM is] really similar,” Thao said, recalling how she explained the tight-knit feel of the small major and the strong job placement of its graduates. He was sold.
“‘It’s construction, I like it, I think I can do it,’” he told her.
Thao’s talents took over, whether in the classroom, in a club, or on community service projects, like collaborating on projects with civil engineering, building and installing environmental bioswales with Butte College, and helping with the restoration of the Caper Acres playground in Chico’s Bidwell Park.
CIM professor Mohammed Albahttiti said Thao possesses a curiosity and work ethic that is rarely matched.
“Sony is one of the hardest working students I have—always pushing, always wanting to learn,” Albahttiti said.
Likewise, Thao is grateful for the necessary tools and resources Albahttiti and fellow CIM faculty and program coordinator Feraidon Ataie provided to lead him onto the road of success. Thao says the way the faculty teaches prepares students to be successful on a number of levels in the concrete industry.
“They’ve studied concrete down to the micro level. They know a lot about concrete,” Thao said. “They teach us everything about concrete, down to the dust.”
Part of the University’s first-generation community, he is determined to better his socioeconomic status and the lives of his family members through career success. Following graduation (which he is anticipating after the fall 2019 semester), he said he aspires to land a career within the concrete industry. But, he also hopes to pursue a master’s in business administration.
The CSU Board of Trustees, the CSU Foundation Board of Governors, faculty, students, and staff will publicly recognize this year’s scholars at a Board of Trustees meeting on September 11 at the Chancellor’s Office in Long Beach.
More than 340 students have been honored with the Trustees’ Award since the scholarship program was established in 1984 by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation. In 1999, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation partnered with the CSU Board of Trustees to supplement the endowment with contributions from CSU Trustees, CSU Foundation Board of Governors, and private donors. Each student scholarship bears the name of a donor.