Meet Our 2023 Outstanding Graduates
Get to know the 11 individuals from across our college who earned COE’s top honors for academic success.
Get to know the 11 San Diego State University College of Education students who earned the title of Outstanding Graduate from the Class of 2023, as selected by their department, school or program. Follow @sdsucoe on Instagram to watch video spotlights on our top grads, Commencement highlights and more.
Outstanding Graduate for: Department of Special Education
Program: MA in Education, Special Education (Autism)
Most Influential faculty member: Alicia Ritter-Smirniotis, lecturer, Special Education
"I think that I got a really well-rounded education — it wasn't just learning in textbooks and quizzes and exams. We really got to apply our projects directly with students with autism and learn about ethics and cultural competency. I fully am confident now that I will be able to make an impact on individuals with autism in all different aspects of their lives."
Outstanding Graduate for: Liberal Studies (December Graduate)
Major: B.A. in Liberal Studies
Most Influential faculty member: Emily O'Sullivan, Graduate Teaching Assistant, Department of Mathematics
“I see math as something that everybody should be able to do and everybody should be able to enjoy. Unfortunately we don't see a lot of that in our classrooms nowadays. My main focus is to teach students how to appreciate math and better understand it — and to not think of themselves as bad at it, but to be OK with failing and (then) succeeding."
Outstanding Graduate for: Department of Child and Family Development (graduate)
Program: M.S. in Child Development
Most influential faculty member: Vanja Lazarevic, Associate Professor, CFD
"I want to be a professor — that's the goal. This is something that really excites me because I would like to do what Dr. Lazarevic does and be a mentor for students. I also do mentoring now through volunteering but I would love to do it in higher education."
Wendy Antunez Verbyla
Outstanding Graduate for: Department of Child and Family Development (undergraduate)
Program: B.S. in Child Development
Most Influential faculty member: Dan Bacon, Lecturer, CFD
"I hope to make a difference in the field of child and family development by putting what I have learned in my classes and all the advice I have received from my professors into practice. But also by looking at children through a different lens — one based on their strengths."
Outstanding Graduate for: Department of Educational Leadership
Program: Ed.D. in PK-12 School Leadership
Most Influential faculty member: James Marshall, Ed.D. program co-director and professor, EDL
"I'm all about equity and making sure that every single person has an opportunity to advance and better themselves regardless of their race, their gender, their religious beliefs or where they come from. I'm all about making sure everyone has an opportunity for what we call the American Dream."
Lawson Hardrick III
Outstanding Graduate for: Department of Administration, Rehabilitation and Postsecondary Education
Program: M.A. in Postsecondary Educational Leadership, Specialization in Student Affairs (PELSA)
Most Influential faculty member: Marissa Vasquez, associate professor, ARPE
"It's most definitely the community that I'll take with me from this program. One of the most powerful things I've heard throughout my journey of being a student is that they can't take our education away from us. And although that's true, they also can't take our communities away from us. Because my program is a cohort model, I'll have that network of the other students in my program with me throughout my professional journey."
Outstanding Graduate for: Joint Ph.D. Program in Education with Claremont Graduate University (Rey Monzon Award)
Most Influential faculty member: Critsina Alfaro, Associate Vice-President for International Affairs
"I definitely want to make a difference by bringing the research that I started into a more mature state. I am studying empathy and storytelling to address some of the disparities in nursing education and I'm excited to identify ways we can create micro-story interventions to help nurses and nursing students really understand the stories of their patients."
Outstanding Graduate for: Liberal Studies Major (May Graduates)
Program: B.A. in Liberal Studies
Most Influential faculty member: Kimberly Hilanto, Lecturer, Linguistics
"I hope that I'll be able to help anyone that has any sort of speech impediment or hearing disability. A few people in my family have hearing impairments. ... I'm hoping I can be the person to give them support and help them be successful in their communication."
Outstanding Graduate for: Department of Counseling and School Psychology
Program: M.S. in Counseling, Specialization in School Counseling
Most Influential faculty member: Selam Gebekristos, school counseling director and lecturer, CSP
"This program has really helped give me additional guidance and knowledge around trauma-informed care and restorative justice practices. I have learned so much from all of my professors and all of my classmates and I look forward to taking this experience and this knowledge with me as I continue to serve our students within the California community college system."
Outstanding Graduate for: Department of Dual Language and English Learner Education
Program: MA in Education, Dual Language and English Learner Education (Critical Literacy and Social Justice)
Most Influential faculty member: Claudia Dunn, visiting professor, Special Education
"With my program we focused on a lot of pedagogies and theories that help students find a sense of belonging and community in the classroom, and how we as educators can really build those safe environments and safe spaces for our students so they can truly express themselves. … My goal is to not stop right now. I know I'm graduating with my master's degree but I really hope that I can keep expanding my research so that we can increase the number of Latino students or marginalized communities attending higher education."
Outstanding Graduate for: Liberal Studies, ITEP Pathway
Program: B.A. in Liberal Studies plus ITEP
Most Influential faculty member: Kelly Johnson, Lecturer, STE
"I hope to make a difference to ensure that students feel welcomed in the classroom, to feel appreciated and to want to be there. ... At the beginning of the school year, when I got to meet the students that I would be student teaching, I made sure to go up to every single one of them and ask about their interests, what they like to do outside of school and their favorite subjects — just to deeply get to know them and understand them as students."