Overcoming challenges to succeed in their college careers is a trait the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences outstanding graduate and undergraduate share.
Melody Robinson, the Outstanding Graduate Student, and Simeone Miller, the Outstanding Undergraduate Student, will be honored when Cal State San Bernardino’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences celebrates its commencement at 8 p.m. Friday, May 20, at the Toyota Arena in Ontario.
Robinson, a San Bernardino resident, will graduate with a master of arts degree in psychological science, and Miller, also of San Bernardino, will graduate with a bachelor of arts degree in political science.
When she formally receives her master’s degree, Robinson will become a two-time CSUSB alumna, having earned her undergraduate degree in psychology in 2019, when she was named the college’s Outstanding Undergraduate.
She will attend the University of Tulsa in the fall as a Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology, and plans to continue her research on sexual violence and trauma to help support local crisis services. “If I can,” she said, “I would like to return to academia as a professor and create meaningful and impactful projects that improve sexual violence treatment and prevention.”
As with many students the past two years, she faced the challenges of pursuing her studies while faced with the restrictions the COVID-19 pandemic brought. On top of that, Robinson said she also had to overcome health care and chronic pain barriers that created additional hardship. “As a physically disabled person, I navigated my graduate education alongside multiple days of pain and fatigue,” she said. “I also faced typical accessibility barriers such as struggling to receive disability services at both a state and university level as well as needing to advocate for improved disability awareness on campus. Although chronic health challenges are never easy, it is always an added challenge to navigate inaccessible spaces both in and outside of school.”
While working to overcome those challenges, Robinson was able to succeed. “Firstly, I am especially proud of becoming a sexual assault crisis advocate in the last year,” she said. “Although I conduct and explore research involving sexual violence, being able to support and empower local survivors has been a rewarding and impactful experience.
“In addition, I’m incredibly proud of myself for persevering through the doctoral application and interview process, including preparation across many months from summer to spring,” Robinson said. “It has always been my goal to earn my Ph.D., and I will be achieving my dream after years of dedication and work.”
She said she has had many mentors throughout her graduate education at CSUSB, and counted among them are psychology department faculty members Christina Hassija, her thesis advisor; David Chavez, her community research mentor; and Maria Santos, her research lab advisor.
“All of them have provided me with numerous learning opportunities that helped me become a well-informed researcher, and they all believed in my ability to obtain my doctorate and build a successful career,” Robinson said. “The support of my department at CSUSB has been crucial in my life.”
Overall, the university provided a foundation on which she will build her career. “CSUSB provided me with the guidance, opportunities, and hope I needed to have a successful career,” Robinson said. “As someone who struggled immensely in high school, I was excited to finally find a home full of peers and professionals who were incredibly supportive and kind. I hope to continue supporting others and creating positive change for my community in the way it was done for me.”
Miller, whose career goal is to be a diplomat and, later, a professor of international affairs, said his decision to major in political science was born in the tragedy of the Dec. 2, 2015, mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, in which 14 people, including five CSUSB alumni, died. “I heard a lot of different things said about it, about the perpetrators, and whole communities that these perpetrators didn’t speak for. I knew that. However, what I did not know, and wanted to find out, was how a tragedy like that could happen in my city, not far from my high school campus,” he said. “Political science largely seemed to address most of those questions I had, alongside a few other classes that I’ve been required to take for my minor in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies.”
Next for him is to be admitted to CSUSB’s Social Sciences and Globalization MA program “due to my specific interests and multidisciplinary view of conflict and terrorism. I believe that while it is important to review the political dimensions of terrorism and conflict, we need to look at the other dimensions that may drive it as well such as economics, sociology, and history,” Miller said. “I want to gain a better understanding of those dimensions, which is important for any diplomat or professor to have if they are to produce adequate projects or instruction to students.”
Miller said he faced obstacles as a Black student on the autism spectrum, thinking that “academia had some very hostile views towards people who checked off some of those views.” But his experience at CSUSB helped him, and empowered him, to meet and move past those challenges.
“CSUSB helped define my future because it has developed my self-confidence in a way that I didn’t believe was possible. It has empowered me to be an advocate, not just within my field but even outside of it,” he said. “I think that’s what I’ve been able to do in my capacity as an intern with the Virtual Student Federal Service, where I’ve supported efforts to help others who are very much like me. I want people like me to have a chance and see that while they think they may not have a place in the world of international relations or any other field, they do.”
His grandfather inspired him to be “politically engaged and involved because politics touches everyone, for better and for worse,” as well as enlist in some form of public service to help one’s neighbor.
Academically, he said he was grateful for the guidance of political science faculty members Luba Levin-Banchik and Steven Childs. Working with Childs, he served as a contributor to a forthcoming book on global terrorism by Childs, having written an essay on the history of current trends of far-right terrorism in the United States after the Jan. 6, 2020, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. “Taking their classes helped me better hone my interests and then narrow down my career path,” Miller said. “I don’t think I’d be where I am at present without their support, and I look forward to continuing to work with them in the future if I have such an opportunity.”
Looking to the future, Miller said, “I think I can safely say that CSUSB has changed my life and I cannot wait to get out there and do the same for others and empower them to do the same and create a positive cycle in and around the neurodiverse community and in my actual field.”