50th Commencement Speakers and Awardees

“Commencement is a joyous time for our graduates because it marks the completion of a significant endeavor and leads to the next phase of their lives. Likewise, it is a celebratory time for the institution as well because we are so proud of the Class of 2017.”Cypress College President Dr. Bob Simpson



Claudia Villasenor, 2017 Outstanding Graduate of the Year

Like many first-generation college students, Claudia Villasenor began her time at Cypress College uncertain with what she wanted to do. Two associate degrees later, the honors student describes Cypress College as “a place that allowed me to find myself and discover the career that I was destined to do.”

Villasenor moved to the United States at age 11, an experience that has shaped her desire to go into education for a profession. She has transferred to California State University, Fullerton where she is working on a bachelor’s degree in child and adolescent development and a Multiple Subject Credential with a bilingual authorization. She plans to teach elementary school.

“I decided to enroll in Cypress College because of the atmosphere of inclusiveness and acceptance that Cypress portrays,” Villasenor said. “My older sister graduated from Cypress College, so she always mentioned the positive atmosphere shat she felt. She mentioned the attentiveness of the faculty and the enthusiasm of the staff.”

At Cypress College, Villasenor participated in the Honors Program, was a member of the Honors Club, participated in events such as Donate a Day of Service, and had her art and writing published in Gender Smash and Sole Image. She has also worked on campus throughout her time at Cypress College as one of the original members of the Student Ambassador team — a role in which she shares her experiences with potential new students.

“Most of these prospective students have the preconceived idea that college education is not something that is within their reach, so my job is to make them think otherwise,” Villasenor said. “I feel accomplished whenever new students come to Cypress College and thank me for helping them during their application process.”

Villasenor earned an associate degree in liberal social arts in social and behavioral science from Cypress College last spring and is completing an associate degree in art this spring.


Swen Nater, 2017 Outstanding Alumnus

If a person never played high school basketball, what are the odds he would win two NCAA championships? What are the odds of him being selected in the first round of the NBA draft and going on to stardom? Impossible, right? Not for Swen Nater. Swen never played high school ball, nor did he ever start a game in college; however, he was selected in the first round of the NBA draft and went on to play 12 years professionally. He not only started, he led the ABA and NBA in rebounding, became an All-Star, and set several records. Swen Nater never paid much attention to the odds. He loved basketball and dreamed of playing the sport at the highest level. That is exactly what he did, thanks to his inexhaustible industriousness and the countless hours he spent in the gym.

Swen enrolled at Cypress College as a math student. By then he was 6’ 9”, but weighed only 185 pounds. While Swen was eating lunch on his first day of school, the assistant basketball coach, Tom Lubin, noticed his height and asked if he was planning on playing basketball. When Swen said, “No,” Coach Lubin asked if he could work with him and Swen agreed. At Cypress, Swen became a Community College All-American his sophomore year and helped lead the team to a state title. After a game in which Cypress College played against the UCLA freshman team at Pauley Pavilion (he scored 25 points and grabbed 25 rebounds), Coach John Wooden recruited Swen to attend UCLA to play as Bill Walton’s back-up. Walton said Swen was the best center he played against in College — which he did every day at practice.

At a post-season All-Star game that included the best college seniors in the country, Swen started because another player was injured during pre-game warm-ups. Suffice it to say he more than held his own, scoring 34 points, grabbing 25 rebounds, and being named Most Valuable Player. Swen was ABA Rookie of the Year, and the following season he led the ABA with 16.4 rebounds per game. He went on to lead the NBA in rebounds and still holds the all-time record for defensive rebounds in one half at 18. He is one of only five members of the “30/30” club — scoring 30 points and getting 30 rebounds in a single game. The others are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Love, Moses Malone, and Robert Parish. Swen still holds the record for most rebounds in one game for the Milwaukee Bucks at 33. He also holds the all-time California Community College single game rebound record at 39.

Swen resides in Issaquah, Washington with his wife, Wendy. He’s a buyer for Costco and a motivational speaker.


Jeanette Vázquez, 2017 Commencement Speaker

Jeanette Vázquez is a passionate educator and proud graduate of Cypress College. She was raised in Fullerton and, as a daughter of immigrants, learned from her parents’ hard work, resilience, determination, and integrity. She has dedicated her personal and professional lives to serving her community.

Vázquez attended Cypress College as a first-generation college student. She was the Cypress College Associated Students president and graduated in 2009 with an associate degree in liberal arts. She transferred to the University of California, Berkeley where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and minor in public policy. Following some time as an AmeriCorps Fellow with Iowa Legal Aid, Vázquez then earned her teaching credential and master’s degree in education from Loyola Marymount University.

Vázquez is now a sixth grade teacher in North Orange County and was elected to the Fullerton School Board in November 2016.

During her time at Cypress College, Vázquez became known as a change agent in her student government roles. As president, she reinvigorated the Associated Students Council, oversaw the first formal legislative advocacy efforts of the governing body, and revamped the organizational structure which facilitated greater effectiveness in meeting students’ needs.

She and a group of peers from Associated Students have remained connected to Cypress College in a variety of capacities — including work to help form the first alumni association through the Cypress College Foundation.

End Your Semester Strong: Resources to Help You

Does the quickly approaching end of the semester have you stressed? We know that this point in the semester can be very hectic, with papers and projects coming due, and finals rapidly approaching. We want to see you succeed, so we’ve rounded up resources at the College to help you survive (and thrive) these last two weeks. The LLRC even has extended hours to help you succeed!

Academics: Support at the Library & Learning Resource Center

    • Resources for research: Books, periodicals, and article databases are available through the Library,  which you can find here. Librarians are also available to assist you in your research. Not near a computer? They have an app! You can also text a librarian—simply text “Cypress” to 66746.
    • Computers: Both the Library and Learning Resource Center have desktop computers, and the library has laptops that you can check out as well.
    • Math Learning Center: Need help with a problem in math, stats, or physics? Go here! They have tutors available for questions, as well as computers for online math work.
    • English Success Center: Having problems with a specific part of a paper, or need formatting assistance? They can help, and have computers available for research and writing as well.
    • Individual tutoring: It is available in several subjects, including English. Tutors can work with you on research papers.  See how to make an appointment. Not on campus? Online tutoring is available! Click here for details.

Supplies and Food: Associated Students Finals Fuel

  • Supplies: The Associated Students will have those items vital for your exams- They will be handing out Scantrons, Blue Books, and pencils!
  • Food: A.S. will have snacks as well, so you can grab a quick bite to keep you fueled!
  • Finals Fuel will be Monday, May 22nd & Tuesday, May 23rd from 11:30 am- 1:00 p.m. outside the Student Activities Center.

Stress Relief: Resources through the Student Health Center and LLRC

  • Health Journeys Online Resources: Download tools to help reduce stress and get you through finals here.  These resources have been made available by the Student Health Center via the CCCCO.
  • Chill Zone: Relax your mind doing puzzles, filling out coloring books, or making buttons!
  • Guided meditation: Stop by the second floor classroom in the LLRC on Tuesday, May 16 or Thursday, May 18 from 12 to 2 p.m.
  • Raffle: The LLRC will give out colored pencils, coloring books, and more to help relieve stress, Thursday, May 18 from 3 to 5 p.m.
  • After-hours cart: At the College, in the evening hours, there will be a self-serve cart full of items to help alleviate stress.

United Faculty Donates to College Food Bank

Keith Vescial, United Faculty membership chair and Cypress College English professor, presented the check to Associated Students President Amanda Aros and Activities Coordinator Fernando Lizarraga.

Keith Vescial, United Faculty membership chair and Cypress College English professor, presented the check to Associated Students President Amanda Aros and Activities Coordinator Fernando Lizarraga.

United Faculty, the faculty union of the North Orange County Community College District, donated $1000 to the Cypress College Food Bank to help address food insecurity among Cypress students.

The Food Bank, located in the Student Activities Center, opened this semester to help students focus more on their academic successes rather than where their next meal is coming from. All Cypress College students are welcome.

Students may register by scheduling a confidential appointment with David Okawa, Student Activities Director, at (714) 484-7197 or dokawa@cypresscollege.edu. Students can also walk in on Thursdays from 1-3 p.m.

When registering, please:

  • Have your Cypress College photo ID and current class schedule;
  • Be enrolled in a minimum of three units at Cypress College; and
  • Complete a Food Bank Registration form to be connected with all eligible services.

To support the Food Bank, donate non-perishable, sealed food items with clear expirations printed on the label at the Student Activities Office during normal business hours (Monday and Thursday 6 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Friday 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.). Monetary donations, 100 percent of which is used to purchase non-perishable food items, are also accepted.

For more information, contact Becky Rojas at (714) 484-7199 or rrojas@cypresscollege.edu.

Baseball Team Recognized for High Academic Achievement

The 2015-2016 Cypress College baseball team has been recognized as a Scholar Team awardee by the California Community College Athletic Association for high academic achievement and competition.

“The entire campus community is proud of Chargers baseball for maintaining a high level of academic excellence and athletic competition,” said Cypress College President Dr. Bob Simpson. “Our student athletes are students first and our baseball team has a long tradition of academic honors along with their athletic successes.”

The honor is the highest academic team achievement awarded annually by the CCCAA. To qualify, nominated teams must have a collective GPA of 3.0 or higher and have demonstrated notable accomplishments in intercollegiate athletic competition.

In addition to maintaining a team GPA of 3.17, the 2015-2016 Chargers baseball team competed in the postseason, advancing to the state semi-finals.

“The 2016 team epitomized what it means to be a student athlete,” said baseball Coach Anthony Hutting. “Their dedication to excelling in the classroom was evident on a daily basis. Not only were they committed to being successful on the field, which resulted in a Final Four appearance, more importantly the team strived for excellence as students. I am very proud of them.”

The accomplishment will be acknowledged at the Celebration of Student Athletes Award Luncheon at the CCCAA Convention on Wednesday, March 29 in Concord, CA.

Veterans Resource Center Receives Generous Anonymous Donation

Supporting student veterans is a priority taken seriously at Cypress College. In January 2017, the College received an anonymous $27,000 donation to directly benefit the academic and personal needs of student veterans.

“We are deeply appreciative and honored to have received this donation,” Cypress College President Dr. Simpson said. “With the help of generous members of the community and the voter-approved Measure J Bond program, we are expanding our capacity to serve and support the College’s student veterans.”

In 2014, voters approved the Measure J school construction bond program, which includes construction of a new Veterans Resource Center building on campus. The project is currently in the design phase, with construction slated to begin June 2018. It is expected to open late 2019.

The College’s Veterans Resource Center, established in 2010, strives to support the transition, integration, and personal development of individual student veterans as they pursue their higher education goals.

“We are expecting to receive additional awards through other competitive grants we have submitted in the hopes of building a large sum of resources to support a large number of veteran students,” said Rick Rams, dean of Student Support Services, Physical Education, and Athletics.

Cypress College currently serves over 600 student veterans and provides them with a variety of services including help navigating GI Bill and other government-funded educational benefits, academic and mental health counseling, career planning, and tutoring.

Improve Study and Job Skills with Free Online Workshops

Need to brush up on your time management skills? Want to learn how social media could be affecting your marketability and how to address it? The Career Services Center is offering a series of free online workshops to help students succeed in class and beyond.

Workshop topics include:

  • Time Management
  • Social Media Reputation
  • Goal Setting
  • Procrastination
  • Resume Tips
  • Study Strategies
  • Determining the Right Major for You

Other workshops covering interview techniques, writing cover letters, and networking are coming soon.

Workshops offer quizzes, slide decks, handouts, and evaluation forms. An attendance verification can be provided for students assigned to take a workshop for extra credit.

To learn more and access the online workshops, visit the Career Services Center Online Workshops page.

Mortuary Science Alum First in Line as Baccalaureate Application Opens

Steve Crawford was so determined to be the first applicant for Cypress College’s Funeral Service baccalaureate program, he flew to Southern California from the Bay Area a day early to hand in his completed application Monday.

“I’m very excited. I wanted to make sure that I was that person who was the first one in,” the alumnus said after he handed in his application. “I came down yesterday so I could be prepared, so I could be here, print all my stuff at eight o’clock, drive over here, and be done.”

Crawford graduated with an A.S. Mortuary Science degree in Fall 2014.

Applications for Cypress College’s first baccalaureate program opened Monday. The bachelor’s degree is part of a statewide pilot program signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2014 to offer four-year degrees at California community colleges. Under the pilot, these degrees do not compete with programs at UC or Cal State schools.

While a student, Crawford championed the program to the District Board of Trustees, helping to secure their support to submit the program to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office for consideration. Each district could only submit one program. Cypress’ Funeral Service proposal was up against Fullerton College’s proposal for a law enforcement supervision degree.

In January 2015, the CCCCO selected Cypress as one of 15 community colleges to participate in the pilot.

Crawford credits Cypress Mortuary Science faculty member Jolena Grande with making the program a reality.

“If not for her, the program wouldn’t have made it,” he said. “I’m sure I helped, but the credit really goes all to her. She went all out for this. It’s really her baby.”

Cypress’ Mortuary Science program is just one of two public programs in the state and the only one offering a four-year degree on the West Coast. Courses for the program start next fall.

Crawford said his interest in mortuary science started with a desire to land a job in a coroner’s office. One way to meet job requirements was a degree in mortuary science, and Cypress was his school of choice “because it’s ranked really highly just in the list of mortuary programs nationwide,” he said.

“I don’t know if I would be where I am within my own organization without the education from Cypress,” he added.

Crawford is currently completing an embalming apprenticeship working as a crematory manager for the Holy Angels Funeral and Cremation Center in East Bay. He hopes to finish up his professional licensing while completing the bachelor’s program.

He said he hopes that having a bachelor’s program in funeral services will help to start change the way the mortuary and funeral industry is viewed by the public.

“The funeral industry kind of gets a bad rap,” he said. “People think they’re basically used car salesmen for death, trying to upsell people…taking advantage of people when they’re grieving.

“Hopefully, through furthering the education process and really getting involved more in the professional organizations, we will change that outlook.”

2017 Scholarship Applications Available Now

Each year, the Cypress College Foundation releases two different scholarship applications: The Bernard Osher Scholarship for Community College students and the Cypress College Foundation Scholarship.

The application forms for the 2017 scholarships are available now. Applications are due no later than 5 p.m., Thursday, February 16, 2017, at the Financial Aid Office. However, it is strongly recommended that applications for the Bernard Osher Scholarship be submitted early, as priority is placed on the submission date.

Applications are available in the Foundation Office, the Financial Aid Office, and online.

Dr. Simpson Delivers Annual Report to Trustees

President Bob Simpson presented his final Annual Report to the NOCCCD Board of Trustees on Tuesday night, lauding Cypress College students and the employees who support their success. The annual report presentation encompasses the Cypress College Annual Report and the Cypress College Institutional Effectiveness Report.

In providing an overview of the two printed documents, Dr. Simpson covered eight primary topics:

  • Measure J Bond Projects
  • Participation in the Baccalaureate Degree Pilot Program
  • Diversity and Inclusiveness
  • Equity
  • Academic Achievement
  • Completion and Transfer
  • Environmental Stewardship

“It is my honor this evening to present to you an overview of the 2015-2016 academic year at Cypress College. The College’s accomplishments will resonate and propagate decades into the future,” Dr. Simpson said in opening his presentation to the Trustees for the North Orange County Community College District and other leaders.

The Board’s decision to approve a new Science, Engineering, and Math Building served as the first significant highlight in Dr. Simpson’s report.

“This new building will support the education of our next generation of scientists, engineers, technology experts, and mathematicians,” he said. “In this new facility, students will learn concepts we can’t yet conceive.”

Construction of the new SEM building is scheduled to be completed in 2020. The project will run in tandem with construction of a new Veteran’s Resource Center and Memorial Plaza that includes a bridge spanning the pond.

The presentation continued with an update on development of the College’s baccalaureate degree in Funeral Services. One of 15 programs included in California Community Colleges pilot program, instruction in the Funeral Services B.S. degree program will begin in fall 2017. In the past year, curriculum has been developed and the accrediting agency approved the key components of the bachelor’s degree.

A highlight of the year was the Yom HaShoah event in May. Focusing on the College’s core value of Inclusiveness, the Yom HaShoah commemoration featured portraits of Holocaust survivors created by Photography Department Chair Clifford Lester. About 1,000 people attended the event, which featured survivor Dr. Jacob Eisenbach.

In the area of equity, Dr. Simpson highlighted the first-ever Equity Summit held in April and the shift in employee demographics to more-closely resemble the student body. He also noted that nearly half of the incoming freshman class were first-generation college students.

Speaking about academic achievement, Dr. Simpson said the number of associate degrees awarded has grown significantly in the past five years from 753 to 1,201.  The number of certificates awarded has also increased over that same period. In addition, 458 transfer degrees were awarded in 2015-16, up from 114 in 2012-13.

The College also exceeded its target for both degree and certificate completion. The most common degrees awarded by Cypress College are in Liberal Arts, Social and Behavioral Sciences, Life and Physical Sciences, Math, and Business. Students earn the highest number of certificates in Automotive Technology, and in the Hotel, Restaurant, and Culinary Arts program.

Finally, speaking about environmental stewardship, Dr. Simpson noted a recent state award presented to the College as a leader in energy efficiency.  Water consumption at the College was reduced by 30% and electricity usage by 5.4 million kilowatt hours last academic year. More than 8,600 energy-efficient lighting fixtures and bulbs were installed by College employees — generating an annual savings of approximately $80,000.

“These are good times at Cypress College and the unsolicited accolades we have received are the result of commitment, hard work, and a true investment in our students,” he said. “Fifty years ago, people of foresight and vision committed to the development of a new college serving the needs of North Orange County.  We and the students who have been served over the years are the recipients of that grand vision. Today, we are laying the groundwork for the next 50 years. It is a privilege to be a part of that legacy and to know that because we have dared to Dream Big Dreams, we are now positioned to Do Great Things.”

He closed with the observation that the two printed documents “validate the commitment of the College to our Core Value of Excellence.”



#CYProud: Michael Gonzalez

Commencement is a celebratory time on campus. To capture this year-end spirit, we asked our faculty to tell us which students they are most proud of. Some of those profiled in this year’s #CYProud 2016 feature have overcome significant personal and financial hurdles to reach their educational goals; others have distinguished themselves as exemplars of academic achievement and/or student leadership.

As part of this year’s series, we are pleased to introduce Michel Gonzalez who will transfer to UCLA in the fall. Michael is a History major and on a Pre-Med track. He was involved in both the STEM(2) program and Puente at Cypress. #CYProud 2016

#CYProud 2016: Michael Gonzalez, Cypress to UCLA
#CYProud 2016: Michael Gonzalez, Cypress to UCLA

#CYProud: Michael Gonzalez
Cypress to UCLA

  1. Origin — what is your back story (hometown, high school, personal story…)

I first attended Fullerton College, but soon found out it was not the right fit. I ended up at Cypress College because of a close friend of mine who convinced me to come check out the campus. I really enjoyed the first class I took and felt that Cypress was a better fit for me. The instructors are awesome, the campus is beautiful, it’s not overly crowded. Plus, it’s close to home. When I began going back to school, I wasnn’t sure if I wanted to further my education in nursing or pursue medicine, but with such great programs like Puente and STEM I’ve decided to go for medicine.

  1. Why Cypress?

I am Puente Program graduate and an active member in the STEM(2) program. I initially got involved in Puente when I attended a counseling session with Dr. Therese Mosqueda Ponce. She explained what the program was about and I took an interest. Through the Puente Program I learned about STEM and all the opportunities available.

  1. @Cypress — what have you been involved with? How has your path unfolded?

There is a whole list of faculty and staff that have helped and supported me here on my journey at Cypress College, but I’ll keep it at my top three. The following three faculty are among the very few people that I can openly discuss issues with. I am truly honored to have not only to have worked with them, but also to simply have met them.

  1. Faculty or staff that have helped you get where you are today.

Dr. Mosqueda Ponce from the Puente Program has been a huge influence in my academic career. She is by far the best counselor I have had while at Cypress College and has been – and remains – a big support to fueling my academic dreams.

Cypress College President Dr. Robert Simpson has also been a huge support and wonderful mentor.

David Halahmy is one of the greatest history professors I have had.

Carlos Sandoval an awesome Psychology professor who is very passionate about his classes. There’s never a dull moment in his class.

  1. Post Cypress — what do you hope to do in the near term? What are your plans at UC Sand Diego?

I plan on finishing up my bachelor’s degree in History at UCLA and completing all my premed requirements. I’d then like to go to medical school. While at UCLA I would love to do scientific research in stem cells and HIV therapy.

  1. Longer-Term Vision — what do you aspire to?

I aspire to become an MD PhD Doctor working in the field of stem cell research.

  1. What are you most proud of?

I am proud of my accomplishment here at Cypress College and how far I have come as an individual.

  1. Anything else you’d like to add…

As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in this world.”

#CYProud 2016: Michael Gonzalez, Cypress to UCLA

Cypress College is recognized as one of California’s top community colleges. Recent accolades include:

– #1 in the U.S. | Top Toyota T-TEN Auto-Tech Program in the Nation.

– #2 in C.A. | Top Two ESL & Basic Skills English Programs in California.

– #3 in C.A. | Ranked as a Top Three California Community College (Schools.com)

– #3 in the Region | Ranked Top Three in Greater Los Angeles & Orange County for Student Transfer and Graduation Rates (EdSmart.org)

– 15 of 113 | California Community Colleges piloting a Bachelor’s Degree (Mortuary Science)

– #17 in the U.S. | National Ranking on MTV-U’s website “Rate-My-Professor”

– Top National Licensure Exam Pass Rates | Perfect state licensure pass rates for students in the following programs: Dental Hygiene, Diagnostic Medical Sonography: Abdomen; Diagnostic Medical Sonography (OB/Gyn); Diagnostic Medical Sonography: Physics; and Mortuary Science: Sciences. 90+% state licensure exam pass rates for students in the following programs: Dental Assisting; Mortuary Science (Arts); Radiology Technology. And 85%+ state licensure rates for students in: Health Information Technology; Nursing; and Psychiatric Technology.

– 2/3ds of the Class of 2015 qualified for transfer to a UC or CSU institution.

– 76 Orange Empire Athletics Conference Titles

– 25 California Community College Athletic Association State Championship Titles