Beyza Aktepe and David Murillo were selected as the 2023-24 outstanding students for the College of Natural Sciences. Aktepe, the Outstanding Graduate Student, and Murillo, the Outstanding Undergraduate Student, were honored at the college’s Spring Commencement ceremony on May 18 at the Toyota Arena in Ontario.

Aktepe is an international graduate student from Turkey who will be earning a master’s degree in nutrition science. While she aspires to pursue a Ph.D. in the future, Aktepe would like to gain hands-on experience in her field of study.

My career aspirations revolve around working as a registered dietitian in clinical settings, specializing in autoimmune disorders, such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis, a condition I myself have experienced,” said Aktepe. “Alongside clinical practice, I envision establishing my own private practice to offer personalized consultations. Additionally, I am committed to continuing my involvement in community nutrition education, ensuring I contribute to broader health initiatives.”

Aktepe decided to major in nutrition science because she wants to help people lead healthier lives. She was inspired by stories about how food can heal and improve well-being, so becoming a nutritionist felt like the right path.

“I'm passionate about communicating and connecting with others, and I saw this field as a way to combine that with my love for health and nutrition,” said Aktepe. “Choosing this major wasn't just a decision for me – it felt like answering a calling.”

As an international student, Aktepe has had to overcome challenges and is proud of what she has accomplished on her educational journey at CSUSB.

“Building a career and life from scratch, thousands of miles away from family, and in a foreign language environment presented significant obstacles. However, I view this journey as my greatest accomplishment,” said Aktepe. “Receiving this award is not just recognition of my hard work, but a testament to my resilience and determination to create a better life for myself.”

For Aktepe, her mother has been a constant source of inspiration in her life.

“Despite not having had the same educational opportunities herself, she prioritized our education, ensuring that my sister and I had access to every opportunity she didn't,” said Aktepe about her mother. “Witnessing her strength and independence has profoundly shaped my character, instilling in me a determination to emulate her resilience and fortitude as I navigate my own path.”

Aktepe’s experience at Cal State San Bernardino has had a positive impact on her life and has fostered her growth. She has taken advantage of opportunities and been involved on campus, serving as a teaching assistant and working as a CalFresh Healthy Living intern in Basic Needs and Student Support, where she creates programs and events that educate the campus community about nutrition and the benefits of the CalFresh program.

“CSUSB has played a pivotal role in shaping my future. The university has become more than just an academic institution; it's been a chosen family, where professors and directors have consistently inspired and supported me,” said Aktepe. “Their guidance has empowered me to maximize the resources available on campus, aligning with my ambitious goals. Through the encouragement and nurturing environment of the campus community, I’ve gained invaluable experiences that have allowed me to tailor and mold my career path.”

Murillo, the Outstanding Undergraduate Student, is a chemistry major with a minor in physics. He aspires to be a chemistry professor to “educate, research topics in sustainable polymer science, and support underrepresented/disadvantaged students in STEM,” he said. After graduation, Murillo will attend UC Berkley to pursue a doctorate in chemistry.

“I entered college because I had an inkling of wanting to be in science education due to my experience helping fellow students and my interest in science,” said Murillo. “At VVC (Victor Valley College), I had opportunities to take education, psychology and science classes and learned I most aligned with chemistry education at a higher education level.”

At CSUSB, Murillo has had multiple mentors who have provided him support, guidance and opportunities during his academic journey.

“I would definitely say that both Professor Renwu ‘John’ Zhang and Professor Kimberley Cousins have played a large role in my undergraduate career,” he said. “Professor Zhang is my direct research advisor and is responsible for helping me develop my research habits while supporting my academic pursuits. Professor Cousins has also been instrumental as she has served as a research consultant and supported me in preparing many of my written materials for scholarships, fellowships and graduate school.”

Murillo added, “However, I would be remiss not to mention Professor David Maynard and Professor Joyce Pham who have helped nurture me as an educator and also supported me in my academic and research pursuits.”

Zhang, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has had the opportunity to work with Murillo on research projects and has witnessed his growth in the field firsthand.

“David not only excels in his coursework but also demonstrates exceptional dedication and proficiency as a research assistant,” said Zhang. “He wholeheartedly commits himself to our projects and lab, showcasing remarkable passion and responsibility towards his work. David's proactive and independent approach to research enables him to tackle entire projects single-handedly. Moreover, he exhibits a strong aptitude for research lab management.”

Murillo’s experience and leadership in research has provided him opportunities, such as earning scholarships, awards and fellowships. He was the recipient of the GEM Fellowship, which fosters pathways for individuals to pursue graduate-level positions in the industry, particularly in fields like research and development, product development and other advanced technical careers. In addition, Murillo was selected for the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which recognizes and supports outstanding students who are pursuing full-time research-based master's and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. The fellowships will help fund Murillo’s graduate education, provide hands-on experience, and support his research endeavors.

“At the College of Natural Sciences, we are committed to fostering a supportive and inclusive environment where every student like Dave can thrive academically and personally," said Sastry G. Pantula, dean of the College of Natural Sciences. “Our dedicated faculty and staff are integral to the success of our students, providing mentorship, guidance and resources to help them reach their full potential. We are also proud of Dave receiving the Outstanding Undergraduate Student Researcher Award from our Office of Student Research on April 18, 2024. He has a bright future ahead of him.”

For Murillo, CSUSB has provided the support, resources and mentorship he has needed to pursue his dreams and accomplish goals.

“I view my success as something possible due to the many people at CSUSB that supported me, giving me guidance, assistance and their companionship,” said Murillo. “The faculty, staff and students are truly amazing here, and I felt welcomed to the on-campus community. CSUSB gave me the space to grow and gave me a community that I felt supported by.”