Cal State San Bernardino’s College of Arts and Letters has selected its 2021-22 Outstanding Graduate Student and Outstanding Undergraduate Student: Naim Aburaddi, communication studies major, is the Outstanding Graduate, whose goals include pursuing journalism, becoming a professor and conducting research; and Ferris Strachan, liberal studies major, is the Outstanding Undergraduate, who hopes to become an editor, writer and teacher.

Both graduates will be recognized at the College of Education and College of Arts and Letters live spring Commencement ceremony at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, at the Toyota Arena in Ontario, where about 534 students are expected to walk.

Aburaddi, who is originally from Palestine and currently resides in San Bernardino, chose to major in communication and media studies because he wanted to study and change the stereotypes of Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians in Western media and Hollywood.

“It was sad to see how my community and other minorities and marginalized groups were misrepresented in media,” he said. “Most movies and many major media outlets showed Arabs and Muslims as camel-riding, terroristic, villains, and not modern. These stereotypes are completely wrong because they are created by colonial economic and political forces.”

Aburaddi has immersed himself in various research projects exploring essential issues related to marginalized groups and indigenous peoples, such as his thesis, titled “Advancing Pride: How New Turkish Historical Dramas Challenged Western Media’s Stereotypical Images of Muslims,” which studies how Turkish historical drama challenged the stereotypes of Muslims in Hollywood and Western media.

He also presented a competitively selected paper at the 2021 National Communication Association Convention, which examined how Israeli government used digital platforms to re/deterritorialize Arabs by excluding Palestinians and by creating commonalities between Israel and Arab countries. In addition, he was awarded the 2021 Graduate Extended Reality Research Scholarship ($3,000) from the CSUSB Extended Reality for Learning (xREAL) Lab to conduct an applied project intended to aid Palestinians groups/organizations that get accepted to present their work at international conferences and festivals but cannot attend because of the Israeli blockade on Gaza.

“I plan to collaborate with a nonprofit organization in Gaza to establish a lab that has 360-camera technology that helps those groups to present their work at those conferences,” he said. “This project, thus, applies media theories that I have learned to aid marginalized groups’ use of digital technologies to offer their self-representation.”

Aburaddi has been personally affected by the Israeli blockade on Gaza, and has been unable to visit his family in Palestine since 2014, causing him many struggles throughout his master’s program. Through the challenges, he continues to stay focused on furthering his future and hopes to become a professor and scholar in media studies, specializing in studying how indigenous peoples utilized digital media for self-representation.

“I will start working on my Ph.D. this upcoming fall. I got admitted to the Ph.D. program in media studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, which is a very prestigious program,” he said. “It is considered one of the top programs in the states and even around the world.”

He credits Ahlam Muhtaseb, CSUSB professor of media studies, for mentoring him throughout his master’s program.

“She helped me to improve my research and to be the scholar I am today. She went beyond being a professor,” he said. “Dr. Muhtaseb has been always there for me day and night. I really consider her my ‘academic mother’ for supporting me academically and personally.”

In addition to Muhtaseb, Aburaddi is appreciative of the overall opportunities CSUSB has provided him.

“CSUSB put me on the path to be a critical scholar and professor in media studies,” he said. “I would not be able to do that without the mentorship and support that I got from my professors. I am grateful and thankful to all of them especially those who supported me and believed in me throughout my journey at CSUSB.”

Strachan, who is from Canada, chose her degree in liberal arts because of her multiple interests.

“I have a lot of interests, so a liberal arts degree was ideal. And because I am a mature student returning to school, I wanted a well-rounded education,” she said. “I also wanted the credentials of a BA. In this degree you can have a minor and a focus field interest, so even though it is a general degree, there are specifics.”

Because of this, Strachan ended up getting two minors: English as well as Entrepreneur and the Artist, with her focus field in environmental health science.

Strachan is also a proud business owner for clinical skincare, but when she was forced to close during the pandemic, she was presented with numerous challenges.

“Having my business close made it very stressful as I am here on a business visa (from Canada) and every two years I go through a major audit,” she explained. “However, the business was legally closed, but the business visa protocols and regulations had not changed.”

On top of working to save her business during the pandemic, it was also a struggle for her to learn in a remote setting.

“Because I am a mature student returning, I’ve had the struggles of the computer as everything is digital,” she said. “I was so nervous being a mature student returning as I was not current with the digital world and needed a lot of hand holding. However, I learned to keep engaged, ask a lot of questions, and seek out the specific department for the help needed. It has been all the patience of many at CSUSB with their different departments who truly have helped me, and for that I am grateful.”

Strachan credits CSUSB’s technical support, professors and guidance counselors for helping her throughout her academic journey. And through it all, Strachan persevered.

“I just believe that I must try and do my very best as I do not just represent myself but represent the immigrant, the first-generation of educated in the family, the mature student returning, and the student who dreams about having their own business one day, and also now, represents a graduate from CSUSB,” she said.

And she doesn’t plan on stopping her CSUSB journey here. Her goal is to continue her education at the university and get her master’s degree in English.

“Overall, it has been the CSUSB attitude of pure love, where this attitude helps one not give up,” she said. “Everyone, and I mean everyone, has made me feel comfortable, which only concurs that I made the right decision to go back to school and to go back to school at CSUSB. Everyone has been so kind and patient, and I have never felt judged. Studying at CSUSB truly has brought me joy.”