Cap and gown ready: USC’s graduating employees

They’ve balanced early morning commutes to work and late night study sessions. They’ve written reports for their managers and papers for their professors. And they’ve been besties with both Workday and Blackboard school year in and school year out. Walking across the stage in cap and gown with diploma in hand this Commencement are a few hard-working, hard-studying employees – many having taken full advantage of the university’s tuition assistance benefit. All along USC is a workplace, but in just a few weeks USC will be alma mater, too. Here are their names (please email gateway@usc.edu if you want to be added to this roster of grads!)… and here are some of their inspiring stories, as well – along with advice to the next group of employee-grads:

Kelsey Bradshaw

Master of Public Health with a community health concentration from the Keck School of Medicine
Senior Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admission, Office of Admission

Pick a program you really love

I decided to go back to school because I found a program that really sparked my interest and that I was excited about! I figured I still had the study habits I created as an undergraduate student but also had more free time in my work schedule at this point in my career than I would have later on.

The best advice I got about going back to school as a full-time employee was to pick a program you really love and are super interested in. It’s not easy to work all day and then come home and need to get a bunch of work done. Being enrolled in classes that you really enjoy and want to do the work for helped make the additional workload a lot more manageable. I’d also recommend asking for help when you need it. Whether it be at work or needing an extension on a project for school during a busy time, your coworkers, classmates, and faculty want you to succeed and are always willing to give you guidance or help to get you there.

Mikael Buencamino

Master of Business Administration from Marshall School of Business (with Graduate Certificate in Technology Commercialization)
Systems Administrator, Ostrow School of Dentistry

It must have been fate

I had grown up a big time fan of USC, having moved to Los Angeles early on in my life. Although I did not attend USC for my undergraduate years, it must have been fate for me to join the Trojan Family as an employee at the Ostrow School of Dentistry back in 2013. From stepping on campus for the interview process to my first day receiving my welcome materials, I felt giddy as if I were a little kid again. Within my first few days of stepping on campus as an employee, I had already felt the mystique of USC’s long and storied history. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to someday further my education and join the ranks of the proud, successful and philanthropic alumni.

It was a few years later that I decided to apply for the MBA at Marshall School of Business to further my personal and professional goals. From the first intensive weekend, to the home stretch of this semester, my journey has been one I’ll cherish forever. Beyond the exceptional educational experience in the classroom and out in the world (I went to Japan for my GLOBE trip), are the amazing people I have met who continue to inspire me, support me and ultimately impact my life in ways I had not predicted.

It’s important to understand your purpose for going back to school because you’ll want to pledge your time and effort to get the most out of fulfilling your own, unique experience. There will be times it may seem tough to balance all of the responsibilities you will have beyond school, but never forget the support system you have here with your Trojan Family. Most importantly, enjoy your time in school because it’ll be over before you know it – so have fun, build lifelong memories, and Fight On!

Viet Bui

Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership from Rossier School of Education
Academic Advisor, Thornton School of Music

Rosemarie Bravo

Masters in Gerontology from USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology
Practice Plan Administrator, Keck School of Medicine

Florence Bullock

Master of Communication Management from Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Multimedia Services Supervisor, Thornton School of Music

Chandra Caldwell

Master of Communication Management from Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication
Events and Business Administrator, Center for International Studies

Angel Cedillo

Master of Studies in Law from Gould School of Law
Accountant I, Fringe Benefit Accounting, Office of the Comptroller

Justin Chapman

Master of Public Diplomacy from Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Communications Officer, Pacific Council on International Policy at Annenberg

A lot to be gained from getting more involved

I first started working at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy (CCLP) in December 2014. My manager was Geoffrey Baum, who worked at USC for more than 15 years. He encouraged me to apply for a master’s degree at USC. I was accepted and started taking classes in January 2016. Shortly after that, I transferred to a new USC job, in the communications department of the Pacific Council on International Policy.

If it were not for the employee tuition assistance, I never would have applied for a master’s degree. I am extremely grateful to USC for that benefit it offers to employees. I am also grateful to Geoffrey Baum for encouraging me to apply. Through the Public Diplomacy program, I was able to travel to Washington, DC, and Iceland to meet with government, nonprofit, media and other officials to learn from public diplomacy practitioners in the field. I also wrote for the Daily Trojan and served as Editor-in-Chief and designer of the Public Diplomacy Magazine.

I have loved every minute of being on campus and attending classes at USC, and so it is a bittersweet feeling to be graduating. I continue to work as the Communications Officer at the Pacific Council as a USC employee, and everything I’ve learned in the Public Diplomacy program has been invaluable to my job.

What have you got to lose? Take advantage of the generous tuition assistance benefits that USC provides its employees, and then get involved in other extracurricular activities on campus as well. There is a lot to be gained from getting more involved with USC. It may seem like it’s going to take a long time to finish your degree, but it really does fly by and is over before you know it.

Susan Cooper

Master of Law in Dispute Resolution from Gould School of Law
Senior Director, Finance and Human Resources, Alfred Mann Institute

Veronica Cruz-Schwerin

Master of Education in Educational Counseling from Rossier School of Education
Academic Advisor/Registration for Residential Programs, Gould School of Law

Patrick Irish

Master of Education in Learning Design and Technology from Rossier School of Education
Administrative Assistant, Department of French and Italian, Dornsife School of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Two-time Trojan, two different disciplines

I graduate from a rigorous, online-flipped classroom program of study in a discipline so far removed from my previous academic foray at USC…who knew? This May is not my first Commencement rodeo. I have the distinction (cough, cough, ahem) of being the OLDEST of the FIRST Dornsife graduates (Bachelor of Arts in History, Minor in Russian Area Studies, 2011). I am also a first-generation baccalaureate.

Coming to do both of these degrees at USC, working full time at the Department of French and Italian, is no mean feat. Doing either degree alone, let alone both, here at USC would not have been possible had it not been for educational benefits we are provided as employees. I cannot adequately thank the successive chairs and my fellow staff of the Department of French and Italian allowing me to do these courses of study and supporting my desire to do so.

I still have my bachelor’s diploma in an envelope behind my chair – my master’s diploma will probably go there as well. I was waiting for the matched set before I asked the department chair for permission to mount them as an “ego wall.”

Ruth Joya

Master of Aging Services Management from Davis School of Gerontology
Project Specialist, Marshall School of Business, Department of Management and Organization

First-generation college graduate paving the way for my daughters

As a teen mom, I had to work at a very young age and had to put off college. Living in Los Angeles and part of the USC neighborhood, my husband and I would bring my two daughters to campus and had dreams of them attending one day.

In 2006, I started working at USC with no college education – just work experience and many dreams. I was very fortunate the manager that hired me gave me the opportunity. She believed in me, and took a chance on me.

I wanted to be a great role model for my daughters and further my career at USC, but it was scary and intimidating at first. I knew that helping my daughters with homework was going to be a challenge. My manager at the time shared about a weekend program offered at West Los Angeles Community College and encouraged me to apply. I am so grateful she did because I felt encouraged and supported. The program gave me the push I needed.

I started with one class and increased to three classes per semester. After three years, I transferred to Azusa Pacific University and graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership. I am a first-generation college graduate and the only one in my family to have a college degree.

During one of my daughter’s college application process, I knew I had to take a risk and apply to grad school. Having the tuition benefit that the university offers its employees its huge, and I wanted to raise the bar for my daughters. Shortly after my daughter’s acceptance to USC, I received my acceptance letter too. I was shocked and couldn’t believe that I was accepted. I was now a USC staff, parent and grad student; a true Trojan!

I love USC and I am so proud to be here. I’ve had great support and encouragement from our faculty, my supervisors, staff, and students. This university has provided me with amazing opportunities and I’m forever grateful. My oldest daughter will be graduating from USC next year and my youngest daughter will be applying to USC this fall. They both attended schools within the USC boundaries including USC Hybrid High School founded by USC Rossier School of Education. This year, I will be celebrating 13 years at USC and I cannot imagine working anywhere else.

This May as I graduate from USC, I have paved the road for my daughters and I hope I can inspire others to create a positive multi-generational change. This could not have been possible without my husband’s support and for the Trojan Family who have been so supportive. It takes one person’s courage, hard work and determination to bring change to our families, communities and society. The change starts with you.  

Michelle Juarez

Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership from Rossier School of Education
Associate Director of Student Affairs, USC School of Pharmacy

Karen Juday

Doctor of Education in Organizational Change and Leadership from Rossier School of Education
Director of Customer Service, ITS Customer Service

Applying my research to my work at USC

I love learning and research. From the time I completed my master’s degree in 2011, I began looking for a doctoral degree to complete my studies. I was drawn to Rossier’s program because it focused on a dissertation of practice that allowed me to study my own organization and make recommendations for improvements, while deepening my skills as a leader. I began in May 2016.

Throughout the program, I was able to apply much of my learning immediately to my work in ITS. My dissertation of practice focused on improving customer satisfaction with IT service quality in higher education, using ITS as the basis for my study. I evaluated some of the practical challenges of delivering high-quality IT services and identified research-based recommendations and solutions. Now that I am graduating with a doctoral degree from USC, I am very glad to be able to give back to the university by applying what I have learned. The EdD program’s four pillars of accountability, diversity, leadership and learning are especially valuable at this time of change and growth for USC.

For USC employees thinking of going back to school – go for it! The USC tuition assistance program is one of the most valuable benefits we have as employees. You will benefit as an individual, and USC will benefit from your new knowledge and skills.

Nick Kennedy

Master of Business Administration from Marshall School of Business
Senior Associate Director of Annual Giving and Direct Marketing, Shoah Foundation

Keri Marroquin

Master of Public Administration from Price School of Public Policy
Benefits Retirement Navigator, Human Resources Division

Motivated by my children

When my children were younger, I read about a study that found that a child’s entering and graduating college was strongly correlated to the mother having completed a degree. My children entering and completing college has fueled my drive for completing an education. Additionally, USC is an R1 research university. The opportunity to receive a rigorous education from an institution with name recognition, through the tuition assistance benefit – was an opportunity I could not pass up.

My advice to a USC employee considering going back to school: Do it!!! You do have the time, you do have the energy, you do have the ability to be a life-long learner.

Carlos Mora

Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership from Rossier School of Education
Assistant Registrar, Office of Academic Records and Registrar

Tina Nguyen

Master of Education in Educational Counseling from Rossier School of Education
Assistant Director, Office of Undergraduate Admission

From an immigrant refugee family, inspired by my parents

Growing up in an immigrant refugee family, my life has consisted of various transitions in navigating the sacrifices my parents have made to ensure my sister and I have a better life of opportunities. Although our family didn’t have much, the one thing that was constant was the value my parents placed in education despite the obstacles and sacrifices they made for us to survive and thrive.

Navigating the systems of education as a Vietnamese American student whose first language was not English and with minimal resources was challenging. I recall translating for my parents for parent-teacher conferences, and being placed in lower level courses because teachers and administrators thought more advanced courses would be too challenging. Seeing the obstacles and sacrifices my parents made for us to continue our journey in higher education empowered me to build a career in higher education.

I started working in the Office of Undergraduate Admission in 2015 because I was interested in working with students, to help them navigate the complex admission and application process that was once very unfamiliar to me. During my first year in the office, I realized I wanted to be able to do more by working with students more directly as a counselor. Therefore, I looked into graduate programs in counseling with the hopes of becoming an individual that could educate, inspire and empower others to resist and continue fighting through their own journeys. Working full-time as an admission counselor while navigating graduate school and internships, all while balancing out life itself hasn’t been easy. Seeing my father navigate the challenges he faced with fighting stage five Parkinson’s has continued to push and motivate me to continue fighting for that finish line. It’s taken a lot of sacrifice and persistence to get to where I am today. And graduating this spring means a lot to not only myself but also all those around me – because it’s taken a village to be the first in my family to graduate with my master’s.

Tom Thien Pham

Master of Business Administration from Marshall School of Business
Accounting/Financial Supervisor, Financial and Business Services

Felicia Renty

Master of Health Administration from Sol Price School of Public Policy
Program Coordinator, Department of Orthopaedics, Keck Hospital of USC

Juan Sepulveda

Master of Studies in Law from Gould School of Law
Department Business Manager, Business Operations, Rossier School of Education

The importance of education to prepare leaders

Every day working at the Rossier School of Education, I am reminded of the importance of higher education in preparing effective leaders that encourage the success of others and their institutions. This inspired me to enroll in the Master of Studies in Law program in 2017. Graduating this May with a means for me becoming a Trojan in every sense of the word – staff, student and alumnus. Of course, it couldn’t have been done without the unwavering support of my advisor, friends, family, amazing colleagues and mentor at Rossier – who have all taught me to Fight On!

Wilson Vu

Master of Science in Applied Psychology from Dornsife School of Letters, Arts and Sciences
Student Services Coordinator, Kaufman School of Dance

Leading the army of change in dance education

Being a part of the USC family has taught me a lot about support, community and perseverance. After graduating from UC Santa Barbara with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance and Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, I began my journey at USC in 2014 where I was hired on to be a part of the “founding” staff at Kaufman School of Dance. I have made a lot of life-long friends and colleagues, and have truly discovered a second home within USC.

Being a part of something new at Kaufman, I was intrigued with the idea of how to manifest a successful organization and how human behavior effects that success. That led me to pursue a master’s in Applied Psychology. I chose my program because I love interacting with people and figuring out how people function. The program gave me exactly what I needed to better understand human beings in an organizational realm and how to be a more compassionate towards my colleagues, peers, and those around me.

Kaufman is rapidly changing the landscape of dance education in Los Angeles, and I am thankful to be a part of that process. With this degree I hope to no longer be a part of the army of change, but to lead that army. I want to make a difference in dance education, question what has already been established, and challenge the norm. Kaufman has taught me to take risks and so far that is what I have been doing – taking risks with my future and chasing to become the individual that I have already dreamt of becoming.

I am extremely grateful for the unwavering support from my colleagues, family, friends and faculty at Dornsife. As a full-time grad student and full-time staff member at USC, my mental and physical limits have been tested these past two years. I have learned from my experience that it is okay to slow down. Work at your own pace and understand that no one is expecting you to do more than needed besides yourself. You are the one that sets your own standards and expectations. Be patient, breathe, and take the time to care of yourself. Don’t feel like you need to sprint to the finish line.

Deann Webb

Master of Studies in Law from Gould School of Law; Graduate Certificate, Human Resources Law and Compliance; Graduate Certificate, Compliance
Public Communications Assistant, Dornsife Office of Communication, Dornsife School of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Ariel Williams

Bachelors in Business Administration from Marshall School of Business
Project Specialist, Keck School of Medicine

Steven Wong

Master of Communication Management from Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Systems Administrator, Thornton School of Music

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