When Dia Poole graduated with her master’s degree in communication studies at Cal State San Bernardino’s Commencement ceremony on May 20, she became a two-time CSUSB alumna. Filimon Fregoso, who graduated with his bachelor’s in English at the same ceremony, aims to become a two-time alumnus, as he plans to attend CSUSB for his master’s.

Their commitment to CSUSB is not the only thing these two have in common; both have been named this year’s College of Arts and Letters Outstanding Students.

Poole, who received her bachelor’s in business administration with an information management concentration from CSUSB in 1990, is a self-described lifelong learner and says she will always have a class or two on her “must-do” list.

“When I initially enrolled at CSUSB, I was a local government employee using the tuition reimbursement program to fund my bachelor’s degree,” she explained. “The requirement was that you applied your coursework to your field of employment, so my degree literally defined my ability to advance in my chosen field. My CSUSB degree later qualified me to transition my career into new directions within the legislative, executive and judicial branches of state government. The value of my first CSUSB degree was transformative, and I have only begun to imagine how this master’s degree will shape my future as I support my community.”

She chose to come back and major in communication studies to gain foundational communication-related theoretical and research skills to complement the practical skills she has developed as a career communication professional.  

I plan to use this degree to support community-based and nonprofit organizations through communication-related research and by helping them develop public policy advocacy programs,” she said. “I think that will be the best use of my combined academic and career strengths.”

While Poole says there have been many people at CSUSB who have supported and encouraged her throughout her academic journey, “Dr. Ahlam Muhtaseb and Dr. Thomas Corrigan are particularly responsible for my successful ventures into the world of community-focused research!”

With Muhtaseb, professor of media studies, and the African American Health Equity Collaborative, Poole completed the formal research study called, “Developing COVID-19 Vaccination Messages to the Inland Empire’s African-American Community.” And with Corrigan, associate professor of communication studies, she completed, “Connecting Students with Community-Based Organizations for Informal, Short-term Experiential Learning Opportunities: A Portal Proposal for CSUSB.”

Poole has always been committed to bettering the community, and although she worked many years as a legislative advocate, the accomplishment she is most proud of was something she submitted as a private citizen.

“The bill authorized legal representatives of a deceased disabled veteran to file certain claims with the county assessor on behalf of the veteran’s estate,” she explained. “It was signed into law by the governor and took effect on January 1, 2022. As the daughter of a deceased disabled veteran, I hope that it provides much needed relief for other families during a very difficult time.”

After taking his first-year composition class at CSUSB, Fregoso knew he wanted to be an English major.

I still remember learning how narratives shape the structural inequalities of our society,” he said. “I remember contending with the idea that what society says about a group shapes their lived experiences, with such experiences often culminating in a matter of life or death. Understanding the implication of narratives, I knew that I wanted to be a part of a discipline that not only explored the narratives used to marginalize groups, but also the narratives that groups employ to counter their marginalization.”

Through his coursework in rhetoric and composition, Fregoso designed research projects that explored the texts produced by social movements, including analyzing the open letters produced by the members of the book banning movement in K-12 schools. While he learned a lot in his research, the accomplishment that he is most proud of is when he participated in the fundraising and recruitment campaigns for the Inside-Out Prison Education Program, which allows CSUSB students to take an English class alongside incarcerated people.

“As a former student of the Inside-Out program, I had the privilege of informing faculty and students about the intellectual conversations that lie at the forefront of these courses,” he explained. “Inviting them to support the program through donations and enrollment, I had the honor of contributing to the vision of making education more accessible to incarcerated people.”

In the future, Fregoso would like to teach for community colleges and for the Prison Education Project, which is a volunteer-led program that offers educational workshops to incarcerated people.

“While I do not know at which colleges or prisons I will get to teach, I know I will be continuing the legacy of CSUSB’s English department by creating spaces where students can not only analyze the public narratives that threaten the well-being of their communities, but also produce texts that inspire social change,” he said.

Fregoso credits Karen Rowan, professor of English, and Alexandra Cavallaro, associate professor of English, for inviting him to think more critically about the ways in which reading and writing is taught across social contexts.

“They have also encouraged me to think about the most ethical approaches to research,” he said. “I will forever carry their values not only in my teaching, but also in my heart.”

And he credits his mother for inspiring him throughout his academic journey.

“Even though my mother did not have the chance to pursue an education,” he said, “she has taught me lessons about care and empathy that will forever manifest in my scholarship.”

Upon graduation, Fregoso will return to CSUSB as a graduate student, pursuing a master’s in English and writing studies. As a graduate student, he hopes to not only learn from the rich perspectives of fellow graduate students, but also deepen the scope of his research in rhetoric and composition.

“Drawing on my graduate coursework, I would like to start an archival research project that looks at the public documents produced by queer advocacy groups at the height of the AIDS epidemic,” he said. “This project would consider the social conditions that shaped the stories that were told through those public documents, and the role that such stories had in securing funding for AIDS research.”