Top Flight Scholars
story by Laurie McLaughlin
image by Matt A. Brown

President Scholars
President’s Scholars Joseph Gazman, a physics major, and Jolene Harris, a math major, enjoy a view of the Cassini spacecraft at Jet Propulsion Laboratory during a private tour offered recently by alumnus Jerry Hattoz ’84. Cassini is exploring both Saturn and its moon, Titan, during its space sojourn.
Peggy Hammer keeps labeled file folders in her home for each of the Cal State Fullerton students she’s supported over the last three decades. The folders are filled with mementos marking the milestones in their lives—wedding invitations, birth announcements, news clippings and birthday and holiday greetings.

“I hear from kids from all over the world,” says Hammer. “I get mail and telephone calls from several former students I’ve supported, and I have a lot of folders.”

Hammer and her husband, Joe, have been active donors at Cal State Fullerton for 35 years. “We moved here just so that we could be closer to the school,” says Hammer, a retired teacher and reading supervisor for Placentia Unified School District. She received her undergraduate degree in speech from the university in 1966 and an M.A. in reading in 1970. In 1983, Joe surprised her by establishing the Peggy Hammer Scholarship for Teachers. She also serves on several university boards and supports several scholarship funds.

However, the President’s Scholars program, which attracts the best and the brightest students to CSUF, may be the nearest and dearest to her heart. “We serve on many committees, and for some of them there’s no hoopla. But, with President’s Scholars, everything is top of the line— the students and their activities.”

Established in 1979, the President’s Scholar program, now in its 25th year, was by then-President L. Donald Shields, and the scholarship is the most prestigious status university accords to incoming students. Funded entirely by donors, the program attracts high school students with superior academic and extracurricular credentials—undergraduates that have considered Ivy League schools—to Cal State Fullerton.

“The President’s Scholars program, which has grown from an initial 10 students to 94 scholars today, brings a depth and sophistication of scholarliness to our university that sets Fullerton apart,” said President Milton A. Gordon, who has made the program a top priority of his administration. “In celebrating 25 years of success, it is good to recognize the achievements of these bright students, past and present, for their achievements on campus and beyond. I look forward to many more years of excellence from the President’s Scholars.”

In addition to the use of personal laptop computers, these select students receive full scholarships that cover all student fees and $750 stipends for textbooks for four years. President’s Scholars are also granted automatic admission to the University Honors Program, priority registration, complimentary parking permits and consideration for on-campus housing. Scholars attend special seminars and meet periodically with President Gordon. In return, scholars are required to be enrolled full time, maintain a 3.5 grade-point average and contribute to university and community activities. The President’s Scholars also are active in community service, including fund-raising walk-a-thons, Thanksgiving dinners at the Ronald McDonald House and counting ballots on election nights.

“We are able to recruit top high school graduates with this scholarship,” says Verne Wagner, who has also supported the university for many years. “This program proves that Cal State Fullerton is able to compete with the best universities and recruit the most talented students.” Wagner, who received her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the university in 1977, serves on the President’s Scholars selection committee along with Hammer and a panel made up of university administrators, faculty, community leaders, alumni and current scholars.

“The popularity and prestige of the President’s Scholars program is now much better known,” says Wagner. “The people who come out of this program are the high-achieving leaders in our community.”

Catching up with President’s Scholars, both past and present, serves to underscore Wagner’s assertion. From California, to London, these high-achievers have become exemplary ambassadors for CSUF.

Favorable Verdict

Vince Fabrizio is a deputy district attorney in Riverside County who earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from CSUF in 1989. “When I enrolled at Fullerton as a scholar I thought I’d transfer to a small, private school after a couple of years,” he says. “But after I got here, I didn’t want to transfer at all.”

Fabrizio is involved in the President’s Scholar alumni group and especially appreciates the exchange on career nights, where past scholars share their professional insights with current scholars. “I think they appreciate our perspective because at one time we were sitting in the exact same seats they are.”

Successful Formula

“We all had offers from other universities,” says Suzanne Sindi, “but this was a complete program.” From student fees to special attention, she says, being involved in the President’s Scholars program “was the first time I felt like I was part of a community— a community of serious-minded students.” Sindi graduated in 2001 with a mathematics degree and now works on mathematical modeling of DNA while she earns her Ph.D. in applied mathematics and scientific computation at the University of Maryland, College Park. “My dream is to return to Southern California as a math professor,” she says.

Over the Moon

Because Fullerton’s business school is so good, says Jerry Hattox Jr., “there wasn’t a reason to go anywhere else.” Now a business operations manager for the Mars exploration directorate at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Hattox received his bachelor’s in business administration in 1984 and was a member of the first class of President’s Scholars. “Frankly, the priority registration and parking pass were worth a lot, but the honor of being selected as a President’s Scholar superceded the benefits,” he says. He’s now reaching out to scholar alumni to get them re-involved in, and “re-inspired,” as he says, about the program that he feels gave each of them so much. “You will find universally that all of the scholars are successful. Whether they are economically successful or interpersonally successful, we all have had our own drives and desires and acted on them.” end

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