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Top Scholars in Class of 2006 Honored During Cal State Fullerton Commencement
The President's Associates Awards are given in recognition of high academic achievement, leadership and community service.

May 26, 2006 :: No. 264

From among the 9,000 eligible to take part in Cal State Fullerton’s Commencement 2006 festivities this weekend, three students were chosen for the university’s top honors. The President’s Associates Awards are given in recognition of high academic achievement, leadership and community service.

Undergraduates Julia Tran of Rowland Heights and Laura Sirikulvadhana of Whittier join graduate student Dia Nanette Alejandro Flores of Norwalk as this year’s honorees.

As the recipient of the President’s Associates Scholastic Award, Julia Tran maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout her academic career while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biological science and a minor in chemistry.  She has been accepted to the Southern California College of Optometry, where she will start classes in the fall.

Tran is also this year’s recipient of the Miles D. McCarthy Health Professions Award for students who demonstrate high academic achievement, integrity and commitment to serve humanity. Combined with the Kenneth L. Goodhue-McWilliams Award for Outstanding Community Service in the Health Professions — which she received last year — Tran swept the top honors accorded to CSUF students preparing to enter the health professions.

“I feel like I’ve won the lottery: I am so happy!” she said. “I want to do well for my parents. I was born in Vietnam, my parents have worked hard all their lives and have told me how lucky I am to be in America and have the opportunity to get an education and become successful,” said Tran, who arrived in the U.S. at age 5 as a Chinese immigrant. “I don’t want them to feel they wasted the fruits of their labor on me.”

Reflecting on her five years on campus, she said: “I am happy that I decided to go to Cal State Fullerton. I feel the faculty care about students,” she adding, noting “their dedication and their willingness to guide students, like me, toward their goals.”

Tran spent three semesters working on a plant genetics research project. “This hands-on experience enhanced my time management skills, laboratory skills, critical analysis and most of all, carefulness,” she noted. “By doing research, I confirmed that the health profession was a fitting career for me because I need to be in a setting where I can constantly interact with people.”

Tran served as president of the Student Health Professions Association and volunteered for a number of community organizations, including the Red Cross, Orange County Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity and the Orange County Rescue Mission, among others. 

She is one of two selected to deliver a senior address during Saturday’s commencement exercise for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, set to begin at 9:45 a.m. on the lawn west of the Engineering Building.

Dia Nanette Alejandro Flores, who is earning a master’s degree in anthropology, is the recipient of the President’s Associates Outstanding Graduate Student Award.

“Every since I was in the sixth grade, I’ve been interested in anthropology. I had a teacher who taught us about prehistoric things,” said Flores. “I always liked it. When I decided to get my undergraduate degree in broadcast journalism, I minored in anthropology and decided to pursue anthropology for my graduate degree.

“I wanted a career that would give me an opportunity to travel, and I also wanted to help make the world better. I looked at the different anthropology programs in the Cal State system. I was looking for a program that had a four-field approach— linguistics, biological, cultural and archeology,” she said, noting that approach is what sets Fullerton apart from most.

In addition, “the labs were really nice, and the faculty was very friendly and accommodating,” she said. “I felt I was welcomed at CSUF, even before I was even accepted.”

Flores has been active in campus clubs and organizations, holding leadership positions in the Anthropology Student Association and the Visual Anthropology Club, while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. Like Tran, she is graduating summa cum laude.

“Being active in clubs and organization has taught me countless and valuable skills, such as delegating, organizing, time management as well as patience and compassion. I have gained so many new insights, friends and knowledge by participating in campus activities,” she said.

Flores will be working alongside Carl Wendt, assistant professor of anthropology, on an archeological survey in Sari Lanka this summer before going on to Nepal. When she returns to California, she is planning to teach and pursue a doctorate in the field. “I want to teach my students the value of seeing the world from a different viewpoint.”

Laura Sirikulvadhana, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in health science, is the recipient of the President’s Associates Service Award. Sirikulvadhana has been active with a children’s vision therapy program at Southern California College of Optometry. As part of the National Institutes of Health’s Minority International Research Training Program, she went to Thailand to work for the Ministry of Public Health in Chiang Mai. Since Sirikulvadhana is of Thai descent and can speak the language, she was assigned to work with the deputy of health.

“Among other things, I translated the script he was presenting at the International World AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand,” she said, recalling that she accompanied the deputy to the conference.

“I was able to listen to some of the great leaders of the world. The most thrilling experience for me was when I was able to listen to Nelson Mandela speak. As a health educator, I felt so honored to be among such brilliant minds and motivators.” The following summer, Sirikulvadhana returned to Thailand to conduct research on HIV and AIDS, working with the Ministry of Public Health.

“I had the opportunity to travel with medical students to help hill-dwelling tribe people with basic medical care, food and hygiene,” she explained. “It’s hard to believe, but these people would climb an eight-mile-high mountain, which was very steep and rocky, to see the doctor or get medicine. “I stayed in the mountains with the tribe where I served as a health educator. The people worked so hard and had so little; it made me grateful for what I had.”

In her senior year, Sirikulvadhana became vice president of the local chapter of the Eta Sigma Gamma, a National Health Science Honor Society. The group was responsible for organizing the first Health Science Research Symposium, where she presented the research she had conducted in Thailand.

Sirikulvadhana currently works for the AIDS Service Foundation in Orange County, where she teaches and conducts outreach programs. She has been accepted to Boston University School of Public Health for the fall, and her next goal is to work for the World Health Organization.


Media Contact: Paula Selleck, Public Affairs, 657-278-2414 or

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Julia Tran
Julia Tran

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Dia Nanette Alejandro Flores
Dia Nanette Alejandro Flores

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Laura Sirikulvadhana
Laura Sirikulvadhana

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