Christiane Ochoa, ’10 B.S. Psychology &  B.A. Spanish

By Kim Lamb Gregory

Christine Ochoa

If not for the CSUCI faculty members who showed her a world of possibilities, 2010 alumna Christiane Ochoa wonders if she ever would have become a U.S. diplomat.

Ochoa, now 34, is a Population, Health and Nutrition officer with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), helping to provide health programs to developing countries all over the world. 

The first in her family to attend college, Ochoa and her sister were the children of a single mother in North Hollywood.

“My mom just worked all the time,” Ochoa said. “Sometimes we lived with friends, sometimes with family. But we had food on the table and a roof over our heads.”

It wasn’t until she enrolled at CSUCI that she learned she could reach for the stars — like when retired Professor of Physics Jerry Clifford, Ph.D., guided her through the night sky.

“He had these binoculars and he showed me a little red star and said, ‘If you look at this, you can see it’s really an entire galaxy,’” Ochoa said. “I felt so small and it filled me with wonder.”

The faculty members who helped her discover her potential were numerous, including Associate Professor of Psychology Beatrice de Oca, Ph.D., who helped Ochoa with a research project, or Art Lecturer Christophe Bourély, who helped her discover her inner artist. Ochoa’s charcoal drawing won second place in a student art show.

Professor of History Frank Barajas, Ph.D., taught a version of U.S. history that was “honest, raw and real,” Ochoa said. 

And Ochoa credits Professor of Spanish Antonio Jiménez Jiménez, Ph.D., for encouraging her to study abroad in Spain — the year that changed her life.

Each night in Granada, Spain, Ochoa would hike up the hill to the Alhambra palace and watch the sun set over the city. 

“I’m Spanish on both sides of my family,” she said. “It gave me a very deep connection with my ancestors and that country.” 

After she returned home and declared a second major in Spanish, Ochoa signed up for the Peace Corps in Madagascar, where she counseled mothers about nutrition and vaccinated undernourished babies. 

She graduated from CSUCI with a dual degree in Psychology and Spanish, then went on to earn a Master of Public Health (MPH) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York, which led to her current job as a U.S. diplomat.

Ochoa is now living in Eugene, Oregon, preparing for her next overseas assignment, and making plans to marry her fiancé, Jake Coalwell, whom she met at CSUCI. Professor of Psychology Kevin Volkan, Ph.D., Ed.D., wrote her a recommendation to help her get into Columbia.

“Christiane is really an exceptional person,” Volkan said. “She is truly a testament that our students have no limits to what they can accomplish.” 

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© Spring 2022 / Volume 27 / Number 1 / Biannual

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