Being of service to others – for one, as a counselor, for another, as a college professor – is the goal of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences’ outstanding graduate and undergraduate.

Kaelyn Doyle, the Outstanding Graduate Student, and Viviana Alvarez Rodriguez, the Outstanding Undergraduate Student, were honored when Cal State San Bernardino’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences celebrated its Commencement with two ceremonies on May 19, at the Toyota Arena in Ontario. Doyle and Rodriguez were recognized at the evening ceremony.

Doyle, a Rialto resident, will graduate with a master of social work degree, and Rodriguez, from Fontana, will graduate with a bachelor of arts degree in history.

When received her master’s degree, Doyle became a two-time alumna of CSUSB, having earned her undergraduate degree in general sociology in 2020.

While she intends to pursue a doctorate degree in social work, for now she will continue working at her current job with Hemet Valley Recovery, as well as fulfill the requirements to become a licensed clinical social worker and licensed alcohol and drug counselor. “My goal is to have an eclectic career focused on working with individuals to find their voices and empower people to make changes in their own lives through clinical work,” Doyle said. “I also am hoping to move into program development and policy work in the future, and am looking forward to teaching my first class for the College of Extended and Global Education in the addiction studies program this fall. Ultimately, my goal is to find the spaces where I can be the most useful to my community and marginalized and oppressed.”

She said she chose social work as her career because she wanted to help people and communities prosper, and “the person-centered and strength-based approach to social work aligned well with my personal values. As a person who has gone through many personal problems and whose life was defined by addiction, incarceration, homelessness and so much more, I was able to see clearly the way that systems of oppression could hinder people’s ability to heal and recover.”

Recovering from addiction and becoming a mother are the two accomplishments Doyle said she is most proud of. Her education journey began in 2003, but she experienced trauma and turned to substance abuse as a way to cope. That led to a period of homelessness, being unemployable, a victim of domestic violence, and being in and out of institutions for nine years. She entered recovery in 2012, and, as a single mother determined to change her narrative for her son, she returned to school in 2013 at San Bernardino Valley College to become a substance abuse counselor.

“Everything starts there,” Doyle said. “I couldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t made that choice and set out with determination to make change in my life. It was through that change that I have been inspired to help others to make the changes in their lives that they want for themselves. It has been a hard road, but I am grateful for all of it. I couldn’t find the light in the world until I walked through my own darkness and with that understanding, I feel I was provided with the insight and understanding to sit with people in their darkest moments and be able to say, ‘I see you.’”

At the age of 33 in 2017, Doyle decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sociology at CSUSB with the intent of going into the Master of Social Work program immediately after. She counts her field instructor, Genevieve Rimer; her research advisor, Anissa Rogers; social work faculty member Gus Fierro, and Project Rebound program director Paul Jones as instrumental in her college experience.

“Working full time, as a mother and middle-aged Project Rebound student with my own insecurities and false narratives, I have had to work hard to overcome the internalized messages that tell me that I am not good enough and through that have learned to help others to do the same,” Doyle said. Her time at CSUSB “has allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of myself, my community and the world. Through my education I have been able to redefine myself and challenge my labels. Today I am a productive member of society, a leader and can proudly say an outstanding graduate student. Today my future is bright and that is in part through the wonderful and enriching experience I have had as a student at CSUSB.”

Rodriguez became the first in her family to earn a college degree. A Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow she plans to pursue a doctorate degree at UC Irvine in the fall. Her career goal is to become a professor at a Hispanic-Serving Institution “and become a mentor and resource to a diverse student body as they navigate their studies and academia if they choose to pursue it.”

Rodriguez said she chose to study history “because I have always been interested in learning about community histories and collective histories of resistance. Learning about history has helped me further understand contemporary issues and systems of power.”

Her first project as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, under the mentorship of CSUSB professor of history, Pedro Santoni, “was regarding student-youth protest and involvement in the Nicaraguan Revolution. Most recently, I had the privilege of participating in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship at UC Irvine where I did research on Afro-descendant student activism in urban Veracruz, Mexico.”

Rodriguez said her mother has been her biggest inspiration during her college career. “Growing up in a low-income household and the daughter of two Mexican immigrants, I didn’t see many people who looked like me pursuing higher education,” she said. “My mother didn’t have access to education past the fifth grade, but she always pushed us to do well in school. Without much free time, my mother constantly read to my siblings and I books in Spanish as children, and took us to the library after school almost weekly, which sparked my initial interest in learning.”

As a first-generation college student taking a full load of classes, as well as working full time, balancing her studies and work has been a challenge, Rodriguez said. “However, faculty mentorship has played a big role in overcoming some of these challenges and getting involved in more opportunities on campus,” she said. “Through faculty mentorship and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, I have been able to participate in undergraduate research, which is not an opportunity many working-class students have access to. I am incredibly grateful to have a number of faculty members who have been more than willing to offer me support and help me navigate the process of applying to doctoral programs.”

Her education at CSUSB has given her a number of opportunities to define her future. “The support of my mentor as well as other faculty within the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences allowed me to be accepted into several Ph.D. programs as an undergraduate student,” Rodriguez said. “Additionally, programs at CSUSB, like the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship and the CSU Pre-Doctoral Program, have been critical to my pursuit of a doctoral degree.”