Sonia Perez-Gamboa of Redlands and Carmen Wardwell of Loma Linda will be honored as the 2021-22 Outstanding Graduate Student and Outstanding Undergraduate for the College of Natural Sciences at its live spring Commencement at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 21 at the Toyota Arena in Ontario.

Perez-Gamboa will graduate with a master’s degree in computer science. She plans on working as a research engineer in machine learning. Her long-term goal is to obtain a doctorate in a computer science related field and work toward becoming a professor.

She grew up near CSUSB and went to elementary and middle schools just down the street from the university campus.

“So in a way this campus has always felt like home and has given me a sense of comfort that I know has helped me succeed all of these years,” Perez-Gamboa said. “Additionally, I have been a student, staff, and faculty member here at CSUSB, and I can confidently say that I have met some of the most hardworking, passionate, and kind individuals during my time here.”

As an undergraduate, she was undeclared, not sure what she wanted to do, but Perez-Gamboa decided to become a physics major as she always had a curiosity on how things work. Part of the major required her to take a computer science course.

“I had no idea what computer science was, what software engineering was, and much less what coding was, but by the end of the class, I was in love,” Perez-Gamboa said. “I switched my major to computer science and loved every class I took.”

As an undergraduate, she noticed that she was one of the only female Latina students taking computer science courses.

“This was the first time I noticed the lack of Latina representation in computer science,” Perez-Gamboa said. “After graduating with my B.S., I felt compelled to help close this gap, so I pursued a master’s in computer science. And here we are.”

She has done research in her chosen field under the guidance of Qingquan Sun, an assistant professor in the CSUSB School of Computer Science & Computer Engineering. Her research is in the Deep Learning field, which is a subset of artificial intelligence that utilizes artificial neural networks to accomplish classification and prediction problems. Her research focuses on designing and implementing deep learning models that are trained and tested with raw inertial sensor data in order to achieve human activity recognition.

She considers Sun a mentor. “I approached him with no research experience, and he believed in me and pushed me to achieve more than I ever could imagine,” Perez-Gamboa said. “With his help I’ve participated in CSUSB research events and also international conferences.”

She said one of her student accomplishments is her research. Just three years ago she didn’t even dream research was a possibility.

“I think something that many first-generation students feel is pressure to just finish a degree. We come from backgrounds where our parents did not have the same opportunities as us, many never even reaching high school, so completing a degree is such a huge accomplishment on its own. And so that was my biggest drive during my undergraduate. I didn’t take the time to learn about research or internship opportunities, I just wanted to get it done to make my family proud,” Perez-Gamboa said.

“Pursuing a master’s and conducting research was something I did on my own, for myself, because I knew I needed to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone, and so I am very proud of taking on this challenge and doing something I had zero experience in,” she said.

As the College of Natural Sciences Outstanding Undergraduate, Carmen Wardwell will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology clinical exercise physiology (cardiac rehabilitation).

Wardwell will attend California Baptist University in the fall in its kinesiology-exercise science master’s program. She then hopes to pursue a doctoral degree in clinical exercise physiology, a new doctoral program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

After completing her master’s degree and the required clinical hours, she plans to sit for the Clinical Exercise Physiology certification. From there she hopes to work in outpatient cardiac rehabilitation, but is also open to other areas of clinical exercise rehabilitation. And she wants to pay it forward to future generations of kinesiology practitioners as an adjunct professor.

“I love our field, and I want to encourage others the way our faculty have encouraged me,” Wardwell said.

She said she chose exercise and fitness because it became a saving grace after dealing with significant weight gain and post-partum depression after the birth of her firstborn.

“Through trying to become physically and mentally healthy, I developed a love for fitness, and then became a fitness instructor,” Wardwell said. “Sharing this love with others, and helping them become healthier, happier versions of themselves drove me to seek the field of study in which I could help others through exercise and wellness at a greater capacity.”

She also did research in the field and is currently on a CSUSB research team led by Sang Ouk Wee, an assistant professor of kinesiology. The team is currently working on two research studies: 1) Ethnic Differences in Arterial Stiffness and Hemodynamic Regulation Following High Intensity Exercise; and 2) Effects of Long COVID-19 on Cerebral Circulation and Hemodynamic Regulation. The second study is in collaboration with Casa Colina Healthcare Centers, she said.

Wardwell said she was inspired to go back to school by her husband and their four children.

“My husband’s belief and support inspired me to make that leap into pursuing my degree after a long time away,” Wardwell said. “My children inspire me to be better, not just for myself, but for them, so that they can see what is capable when you apply yourself, as well as to show them that it is never too late to pursue your dreams.”

Wardwell said she has been fortunate to have several kinesiology faculty members as mentors, each in a different capacity, including associate professor Amanda Rymal, who was the advisor to the Kinesiology Student Association, where Wardwell served as president; Sang Ouk Wee, who helped her develop valuable research skillsets that she can apply in her intended field; lecturer Phillip Drouet, who served as an example for what she wanted to achieve professionally, as a full-time clinical exercise physiologist and academic instructor; and associate professor Jason Ng, who began as her statistics professor, but who become such an encouraging figure, guide, and advisor in her academic life.

She said her first proudest accomplishment is being a mother of “four amazing children, and I could not go without saying that they are my first greatest accomplishments. However, on May 21, 2022, I will be walking in the College of Natural Sciences commencement processional and receiving my bachelor’s degree.”

Wardwell said that outside of her life as a wife and mother, she credits Cal State San Bernardino for defining her future.

“This school, the people I’ve met in the kinesiology department, in student engagement, in recreation and wellness – they’ve all shaped me into the person I’ve developed into over the last two years,” Wardwell said. “I am stronger, more confident, more knowledgeable, and more aware of who I am, who I want to be, and what impact I want to make in my community, in the world.”