First Presidential Scholars of Distinction Cohort Selected for Class of 2019

Cypress College has selected its first cohort of Presidential Scholars of Distinction, a new scholarship intended to recognize nine students who exemplify what it means to be a Cypress College student. The criteria include that each recipient must be in good academic standing and they must have illustrated perseverance in their achievement.

The Presidential Scholars of Distinction were nominated by the faculty in their specific academic major clusters, selected by the members of that academic pathway, and affirmed by President JoAnna Schilling.

Cypress College highlights eight meta majors and an exploratory pathway as part of its implementation of the California Guided Pathways Program — a philosophy intended to help students complete their studies in the most-efficient timeline possible. The pathways are: Business and Computer Information Systems; Career Technical Education; Fine Arts; Health Science; Kinesiology; Language Arts; Science, Engineering & Math; Social Sciences; and We Journey Together (“Exploratory” including Counseling and L/LRC).

Cypress College’s first Presidential Scholars of Distinction are:

  • Sagidah Karakra, Business/CIS
  • Jessica Button, Counseling
  • Claudia Espinoza, Career Techinical Education
  • Nhi Nguyen, Fine Arts
  • Evelyn Hernandez, Health Science
  • Jane Woodward, Kinesiology
  • Jene Viray, Language Arts
  • Selina Jaimes Davila, Science, Engineering, Math
  • Sandra Enriquez, Social Sciences

Sagidah Karakra

Cypress College’s appreciation and value for diversity, along with her older sister’s academic success at the college, motivated Sagidah Karakra to pursue higher education at Cypress College. Sagidah has been involved in a number of extra-curricular activities, including the Muslim Student Association and Business Club. She found her niche in accounting after participating in Accounting Career Day and this semester served as a supplemental instruction leader for Accounting 101.

Sagidah is graduating with an associate of science degree in business administration. She is transferring to Cal State Fullerton in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting. She one day hopes to become an accounting professor like the ones she’s had who have motivated her to work hard and never give up on her educational goals.

When asked what she is most passionate about, Sagidah said it’s “inspiring students to excel.”

“I want to make a positive impact on the success of my students,” she added. “I hope that I can continue to support and inspire accounting students to work hard and stay motivated when it comes to achieving their goals.”

Jessica Button

Jessica Button has said she’s come further than she ever thought realistic. A fun-loving girl with endless creativity, she chased many different opportunities that deferred her degree completion, but for a third time, she found herself registering for college classes at Cypress College.

Jessica is graduating with her associate of science degree for transfer in business administration and associate of science degree in marketing. She is transferring to Cal State Long Beach in the fall and is the first graduate from the leadership team of FITE (From Incarceration to Empowerment) Club, a new club that was started last fall.

“I am ecstatic to be graduating today as a role model to those who also thought they’d never get this far,” she said. “We can all graduate successfully and change our lives. We take this journey together!”

Claudia Espinoza

Claudia Espinoza was born in Santa Ana, but at the age of two, moved to Mexico where she grew up for 14 years. At 16, her family moved back to California where she spent long days going to school, completed homework in the afternoon in a language she barely understood, then attended ESL classes until 10 p.m. Through hard work and dedication, she started to speak and write in English within a year.

After high school, Claudia earned a medical assistant certificate from Santa Ana College and continued pursuing an associate degree until realizing that she was not passionate about the field. It wasn’t until she started working as an assistant manager at a restaurant that she discovered her love for hospitality.

Claudia is graduating with associate of arts degrees in hospitality management, and food and beverage management. She is transferring to Cal State Long Beach in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management and ultimately aspires to become a director of food and beverage at a full-service resort.

Nhi Nguyen

At the age of 19, Nhi Nguyen emigrated from Vietnam to the United States with her mother. In a completely new environment and having to cope in an unfamiliar language, Nhi initially intended to earn a degree in a health science field because she thought she would have a higher chance of finding a stable job; however, her first art professor helped her believe in her skills and abilities, and inspired her to pursue art instead.

Nhi is graduating with an associate of art degree for transfer in studio art. She is transferring to Cal State Fullerton to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in graphic and interactive design. She also hopes to pursue a master’s degree and dreams of becoming a successful graphic designer.

“No matter what language an artist speaks, I can understand what he is trying to represent and express through his art piece,” she said. “So, art seems to have a power of speaking in a universal language, which is why I’ve been interested in art.”

Evelyn Hernandez

A first-generation college student and single parent when she first started on her educational journey at Cypress College, Evelyn Hernandez said the college has been her home away from home since day one. She is a proud member of EOPS, a program she learned of by happenstance.

“I recall accidentally walking into some random office hoping they’d be able to help me, and it was the best mistake I ever made,” she said.

Evelyn is graduating with an associate of science degree in radiologic technology. After earning her American Registry of Radiologic Technologists credential, she hopes to work in computed tomography (CT) and possibly cross-train in a catheterization lab. She also hopes to attend Cal State Northridge in the future.

“I want to continue growing and set an example for my kids,” she said. “I want them to be proud of the person I worked so hard to become. I want them to know anything is possible with hard work and a little effort.”

Jane Woodward

Jane Woodward was a four-sport standout in high school, participating in varsity women’s volleyball, basketball, track, and tennis at Woodrow Wilson High school in her hometown of Portland, Oregon. After high school, Jane moved to Orange County on her own to attend Cypress College and play on the college’s volleyball and beach volleyball teams. She finished her career at Cypress with 321 career kills and 122 blocks, earning a 2018 all-Orange Empire Conference First Team selection and earning a spot on the 2018 All-State Tournament Team.

Jane is graduating with an associate of science degree in kinesiology. She is transferring to Cal Poly Pomona on a volleyball scholarship and will pursue a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology. She aspires to become a physical therapist and high school volleyball coach.

“I am most passionate about being the best version of myself that I can be,” she said. “Coming from a troubled background, losing my mother at a young age, I have an internal drive to succeed and make the most out of my life.”

Jene Viray

Born in the Philippines and raised in the United Arab Emirates, Jene Viray is an international student at Cypress College who is graduating with her associate of arts degree in communication studies. She hopes to transfer to Cal State Long Beach in fall 2020, and until then, will continue working in the college’s International Students Program to gain practical work experience.

In addition to working part-time in the International Students Program office, Jene was cast and has performed in the college’s dance productions, and was a member of the Cypress College Forensics Team. She aspires to earn a master’s degree in speech language pathology and become a certified speech therapist with the goal of helping children improve their speech and ability to communicate.

“I find joy in helping others in a way that can encourage their success and well-being,” she said. “Knowing that my actions and words have the power to impact other peoples’ lives positively is rewarding in itself.”

Selina Jaimes Davila

Selina Jaimes Davila has been a high-achieving student from a young age and worked hard to graduate with high honors from Huntington Park High School, only to be rejected admission by four Cal States. Uncertain of her next step, Selina ended up at Cypress College pursuing a diagnostic medical sonography certification until deciding that she wanted to pursue a degree. After changing her major three times, she discovered a passion for mechanical engineering.

Selina is graduating with associate of science degrees in mathematics, physics, liberal arts in math and science, and pre-engineering. She is transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and later hopes to earn her master’s degree from UCLA. Passionate about helping others, Selina hopes to work in the prostheses industry and also aspires to become a STEM counselor for undocumented students.

“I have faced many challenges on my path to graduation: poverty, no transportation, lack of guidance, my undocumented status, coming from divorced parents, being a first-generation student, starting in the lowest math course, and not having a place to live at times,” she said. “No matter what, I overcame the barriers placed in front of me.”

Sandra Enriquez

Sandra Enriquez was still in high school when she had her first child. As a young mother who, admittedly, did not understand the reality of being a mother, she rebelled and found herself in an “extremely negative environment.” Pulling from her own experiences, Sandra said she is most passionate about helping others overcome obstacles, especially single parents, “because I know how difficult life can sometimes get.”

After years overcoming the difficulties in her life, Sandra has earned three certificates from Cypress College in family studies, addiction studies, and human services generalist. She is graduating with associate of arts degrees in human services and liberal arts with an emphasis in social and behavioral science. She is transferring in the fall to Cal State Fullerton.

“I am a living testimony that regardless of how deep you think you have dug yourself into a hole, you are not buried; you can get yourself out and, most importantly, ‘You deserve it’.”