Then: A 1997 graduate in Social & Behavioral Sciences, Balza transferred from the Army and entered CSUMB as a junior. He left the service (and entered CSUMB) only a few days before school began, moving from one government housing unit to another. During his time at CSUMB, Balza's activities included:
- National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR-10) Presenter
- Worked in SBSC (Social & Behavioral Sciences Center)
For SBS: taught classes; performed field research; wrote several grants
Now: Balza has been a Research Analyst for the Office of Institutional Assessment & Research at CSUMB since 2003. He is the father of four.
Balza says: "Sometimes 1995-1997 feels like a long time ago, and other times it was yesterday. As a member of the Army and stationed nearby, I watched Fort Ord go from a thriving military base to a ghost town [1992-1995], and now  somewhere in between. Other than a few signs and balloons, you couldn't tell that this was a university. Those early years really cultivated a sense of possibility."
Then: Sarah Lerma graduated in 1998 with a B.A. degree with distinction in her major, Human Communication (HCOM). Lerma is originally from Gilroy and is the youngest of three children, all of whom are first generation college students. At CSUMB, Lerma's activities and accomplishments included:
- Dance Team Founder
- Service Learning Award Winner
- University Advocate
- Employed at Student Information, then Academic Advising (helping start the office with its founder, Ross Miyashiro)
- Otter Days instructor
- Published a book with HCOM on welfare reform
- One of two student presenters at the Associate Writing Program gathering in New York (with Erin Silva)
- Worked in Student Information & eventually in Outreach
- Junior year: served as Academic Senator for Upper-Division students
- Senior year: President of Student Voice (student government)
Now: Sarah lives in Southern California and
intends to enter a graduate creative writing program at either
Antioch University in Los Angeles or Naropa University in Boulder,
Colorado. Her plan to pursue a career in education is a family
tradition started by her mother, a teacher's aide, and shared by
her two siblings, who are both teachers.
Lerma says: "There was such a great need for people to work together, for student input, and they were actually asking for our feedback, both student-wise and academically. Everyone and anyone could get involved. It was incredible, a new feeling-very open, not cliquish. And it was like that from the very beginning."
Then: Nicole Mendoza graduated from CSUMB in 2000 with a double major in Teledramatic Arts and Technology (TAT) & Telecommunications, Multimedia, and Applied Computing (TMAC). Mendoza's activities at CSUMB included:
- Peer Adviser for TAT
- Helped start the first Rugby Club
- Otter Days instructor
- Worked at the Wellness Activities Center (starting the second week of school)
- Also worked in HR, for TAT, World Theater, & Campus Service Center,
- Taught two semesters of Tech Tools (after graduating)
Now: For the last two years, Nicole has worked on the CSUMB campus as the External Relations Coordinator for University Advancement. She is also attending SJSU graduate school for a degree in Educational Leadership, with an emphasis in Higher Education Administration.
Mendoza says: "I don't think I could have had a better college experience. I would have been another number at another university, trying to find my way. Here it was so personalized, and continues to be that way to this day. I walk around campus today and most of the faculty still knows me by name. They say 'hi' and ask how I'm doing. Friends of mine who went to other schools hear me say, 'I went to this place and talked with President Smith . . . ' and they say, 'You know the president of your university? I don't even know his name, let alone what he looks like . . .' It's definitely been a great experience."
Then: Cynthia Fernandez graduated from CSUMB in 1999 with a B.A. in Liberal Studies and a multisubject teaching credential for science, social studies and math. Her activities at CSUMB included:
- Worked as a recruiter freshman year, then at the administration office, and World Languages & Cultures
- Co-Founder of the Chicano-Latino Graduation Association
- Co-Chair for MEChA (and, later, historian & secretary)
- Involved in several student panels
- Completed her thesis on her experience as a first-generation college graduate
Now: Fernandez has been an elementary school teacher, teaching 2nd grade bilingual students at Ohlone Elementary School in Watsonville for the past three and a half years.
Fernandez says: "First thing I remember is that there were no doors in the bathrooms [in the residence hall]. The campus was very desolate, but the professors and teachers were awesome. I truly, truly enjoyed it. I was just out of high school and everything was a new experience. It was a home away from home. I wasn't thinking about going to college until very late in high school; I didn't really have the grades. But I was in a program for at-risk youth and took college-prep courses. This [high school] counselor pushed me to go to an orientation for CSUMB, and I got all my paperwork ready in a month before graduating [high school].
"My favorite story is during my freshman orientation. They were presenting all the professors and the president, and they were all being announced as 'Doctor So and So' and 'Doctor So and So,' and I leaned over to my friend and said, 'What are doctors doing at a university?' I was really, really naïve about higher education.
"They [staff and professors] would invite me over to parties and get-togethers all the time. They were all really nice; I consider them part of my family, my extended family. My experience really brought in my whole perception in life. I was the first in my family to go to college. It was never mentioned-higher education-in my household until I decided to go. I never knew I could be a leader. I never had the opportunities in high school to be in a position of leadership, and I really got the opportunity to do that at CSUMB. It wasn't coming from my family, but from advisers and professors and people in charge of MEChA*. They're the ones who really pushed and encouraged."
*MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) is part of a national network of student organizations in colleges, universities, and high schools. The group is a political, educational, cultural, and social organization advocating educational equality, social justice, and cultural integrity.