CI Alumni Reach for the Stars
B.A., Liberal Studies, 2007 Entrepreneur and Founder of A Human Right
Kosta Grammatis was a gifted student, yet he nearly failed high school and almost didn’t finish his first year at CI. Struggling with ADHD and frustrated by an educational system that he says didn’t encourage student-led exploration, he almost gave up.
That’s when two important things happened that changed the trajectory of his life: He realized he had to take responsibility for his education and he met CI professors who encouraged him to pursue his dreams.
“At CI, I found my niche, I found my calling, and I found something to be passionate about. I was allowed to pursue what I actually wanted to do,” said Grammatis.
At the age of 26, Grammatis is an entrepreneur and founder of A Human Right, an organization working to create global Internet access. In the five years since he graduated from CI, he’s researched and consulted for the MIT Media Labs and has worked on groundbreaking projects including bionic eyes, satellites, spacecraft, and vision testing systems for developing countries. Projects he has worked on have been awarded TIME’s Best Invention of 2009, Vodaphone’s Wireless Innovation Award, and won the MIT Global Challenge and a Google Innovation Grant. He also has spoken at TEDx, the United Nations, space and communications conferences, and been featured in stories by TIME, ABC News and Wired.
Pretty impressive for a guy who never formally studied engineering, computer science or business. Grammatis gives much of the credit to the professors and administrators who went out of their way to mentor him. He praises Associate Professor of English Bob Mayberry, Chemistry Professor Phil Hampton, Associate Professor of Art Matt Furmanski and Vice President for Student Affairs Wm. Gregory Sawyer for giving him the support and encouragement to independently pursue engineering feats as a Liberal Studies major.
As a student, Grammatis sought and received $14,000 in CI Instructionally Related Activities funds to create The Balloon Project, an awardwinning, two-year research project in which he designed and launched a complex, high-altitude balloon to test air quality.
“The decentralized and interdisciplinary methodology allowed me to have a breadth of educational experiences that I think are unparalleled at any other university,” Grammatis said.
Today, Grammatis is using his engineering and technical knowledge for a humanitarian aim – getting Internet access to the more than 5 billion people who still don’t have it. He’s cultivated an impressive advisory board and powerful allies – from leaders of some of the world’s largest space and technology companies to high-ranking members of the United Nations.
“The Internet is what enabled me to make discoveries, solve problems, build and invent,” Grammatis said. “Imagine what humanity could do if everyone had that same opportunity.”
B.A., Sociology, 2011 Youth Policy Advocate and Special Projects Liaison for Casa Pacifica; Congressional Intern; Master’s in Public Policy student at Pepperdine University
Cristina Miranda defied the odds by even graduating from high school. A foster child who entered the system at 14 and bounced from school to school in low-level classes, Miranda said she “barely graduated” and had no intention of going on to college.
That all changed after a boss disparaged her on the job. Miranda realized “if I didn’t get an education, it was going to be that way everywhere I went.”
Miranda earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from CI last year, all while working 40 hours a week as a shelter youth advocate at Casa Pacifica, serving as President of a foster advocacy group called California Youth Connection, and raising her now 3-year-old daughter as a single mother.
“I went through the system and it was challenging, but it was a blessing in disguise,” she said. “I had so many people help me and believe in me, so I want to give back to others.”
Miranda is doing just that. She works with political leaders to reform and improve the foster care system as a youth policy advocate for Casa Pacifica, the shelter where she spent a year after entering foster care. She’s currently completing an internship in Washington, D.C., with U.S. Rep. Karen Bass of California’s 33rd Congressional District. At the end of the internship, she’ll write a report and brief members of Congress on the need to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for children in foster care. And this fall, she’ll begin working toward her Master’s in Public Policy on a scholarship at Pepperdine University.
Miranda says the education and personalized instruction she received at CI played a role in her success.
“My instructors at CI really cared about me and went above and beyond to support me,” she said. “They noticed when I was struggling and dedicated time outside of class to helping me. They genuinely wanted me to succeed and that meant a lot.”
B.S., Mathematics, 2004; M.S., Mathematics, 2009 Mathematics teacher and lecturer; Student Success Coordinator at CI’s Project ACCESO
Growing up in Mexico, Victor Moreno was a top student. But when he arrived in the U.S. at the age of 14 with a limited command of English, he was placed in low-level classes that tracked students into vocational school rather than college.
Determined to be his family’s first college graduate, Moreno worked his way through Ventura College and transferred to CI as a mathematics major in 2003.
“That opened so many doors for me,” said Moreno. “When I got there, I was super-shy. Even though I’d been in the U.S. for six years, my confidence in speaking to people wasn’t the best. My professors pushed me to present research, collaborate on projects, and interact and compete with students from prestigious research universities. Thanks to CI, I gained confidence and realized my potential.”
After completing his bachelor’s degree in mathematics, Moreno pursued a master’s degree at CI. All the while, he was working nearly 40 hours a week at a grocery store to help support his family. In 2005, a CI math professor encouraged him to teach a remedial university algebra class to students who had previously failed.
“I worked with them until they passed with As and Bs,” he said. “That motivated me to continue teaching. It shaped the teacher that I am today.”
Moreno continued to teach math at CI, Oxnard College and at high schools in Oxnard and Fillmore. He’s especially proud of influencing disadvantaged students to pursue their educations and talents, rather than getting trapped in menial, low-wage jobs and gangs.
That passion led him back to CI this year as a Student Success Coordinator for Project ACCESO, where he helps students in science, technology, engineering and math gain tutoring support, mentoring and encouragement. He’s also planning on pursuing a Ph.D. in Mathematics.
“I’m proud that I was at CI at the beginning and now I’m still here to be part of the 10-year anniversary,” Moreno said. “I feel lucky to have attended CI because all of my professors were interested in my success. Even though CI has grown, it hasn’t lost that sense of being a student-centered institution. CI started with those values and they’re as strong as ever after 10 years.”
B.S., Biology, 2011 Pursuing a Ph.D. in Genetics at Yale University
While participating in biology research with Dr. Nitika Parmar as an undergraduate at CI, Ashley Bonneau discovered her calling.
“When I started the project, I was just exploring an unanswered biological question that Dr. Parmar posed,” Bonneau said. “But after about a semester, it became almost an obsession. I genuinely cared about finding the answer. The fact that I had ownership of a project and was doing research that wasn’t in the textbooks led me to want a career in academia and research.”
Bonneau is now pursuing her Ph.D. in Genetics at Yale University, researching factors that are important in early embryonic development. She hopes one day to become a biology professor and lead her own research group, while also focusing on teaching and mentoring students.
She entered CI as a transfer student from Ventura College in 2008, after working in the mortgage industry for several years. Bonneau won several prestigious awards and scholarships as a student conducting research on the effects of gene silencing on the growth of human cells.
“I think that especially for a new and smaller state school, CI holds its own against any institution in the nation,” Bonneau said.