Alumni Weekend: Dons Talk

Cici Gomez

Contributing Writer


Alumni took the time to present their success stories to other alumni and attendees this past Saturday during a Dons Talk for Alumni Weekend. The forum style talk hosted alumni who are changing the world from their respective career fields. Each of their stories was connected to USF’s ideals about social justice, as each were able to pursue careers that would allow them to make a difference in the communities around them.


Stephanie Sears, who graduated with a Master’s and Doctoral degree in Sociology and African American Studies from Yale University, began her presentation by having the attendees sing along to the classic song “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang. She then transitioned over to how Hip Hop influenced her life at a young age and how it encouraged her to study the genre by the time she was in college, where she found she could connect the genre to social issues. Sears said, “People thought that it [Hip Hop] would be a fad, people thought it would be gone, and yet 40 plus years later, it still exists.” She has taken the time to teach her Sociology of Hip Hop class about how the genre has helped embody the opinions of many regarding these social issues. “Hip Hop continues to be a space where young people’s voices can get out and a place for them to be seen,” said Sears. She has a career as an associate professor at the USF, and continues to teach at the university to this day.


Sears was followed by Hal Urban, who has had successful careers in teaching and writing, and graduated from USF with a Bachelor’s degree in History in 1962, then with a Master’s degree again in History in 1966, and then graduated once more with a Doctoral degree in Education shortly after receiving his Master’s. Urban ended up writing six books after graduating from USF, and his first book, Life’s Greatest Lesson, ended up receiving an award as the “Inspirational Book of the Year” by Writer’s Digest. Urban talked about how the experience at USF encouraged him to become a teacher who taught good character and morals just as much as the regular courses, such as English or Mathematics, and how the teachers were an inspiration to him when it came to teaching. “What I most remember here are my teachers, they were just incredible. They were not only great scholars, but they were really great people.” Urban’s admiration for this idea of good character carried over into his career, where he took the time to inform students how good character matters just as much as the arts and sciences. Urban now works as a teacher, author, and speaker, and holds speeches that elaborate on the meaning of having good character.


Rachel Brahinksy, the Urban Affairs program Director at USF, took the time to speak about how she teaches students about gentrification, the renovation of a neighborhood in order for it to fit the standards of middle-class state, and how it affects the urban and modern world. She describes gentrification as “capitalism playing out in a landscape” and said it affects many urban neighborhoods; especially those of San Francisco. Brahinsky spoke about how millennials will move into the neighborhoods of San Francisco with these economic ideals that shape their expectations of how their new neighborhoods should look. “In the last 15 years, the millennials have come forth,” she explains, “as people talking about the new urban century.” She concludes by saying that gentrification helps people sort of see their true ideas come to life. “It may be in the heart of nostalgia that we find this kind of embodied, grounded longing that that we need to reclaim in both the urban and the human,” said Brahinksy. She works as an urban affairs program director, a public affairs program director, and an assistant professor for USF.


Stephan Crawford, and alumni who graduated in 2011 with a Master’s degree in Environmental Management, has received multiple awards for innovation and community service, and spoke about how he found a way to use music to explain climate change. “Even before the MSEM [Master’s of Science in Environmental Management] program, I’ve longed to work with climate change as it is a very serious issue and my time here at USF deepened my understanding of the issue and also underlined the illiteracy of action now,” said Crawford. He found a way to help remove this climate illiteracy by combining art and science to explain the issue through motion and rhythm. Crawford took the time to show the science behind his research by conducting an experiment that involved performing the scientific music in front of a live audience. Crawford continues to work as an artist and the founder and co-producer of The ClimateMusic Project.


Yvonne Gomez, an alumni who graduated in 1991 with a Master’s degree in Sports Psychology from USF, is a former Olympic figure skater and two-time Emmy-nominated International Sports Television Director. She took her 20 years of experience and created a unique brain training sports program that specializes in optimizing performance to match or surpass physical ability. Gomez spoke to the attendees about the Five Rules of the Purple Panther that she uses in her program; a set of rules Gomez gave herself while working in a group in elementary school with children who were much slower at learning than the rest of her class. She used these lessons to encourage herself all throughout her life, and in doing so, she was able to pursue many goals. After graduating from USF, Gomez still uses these five lessons to encourage students who need a little push or inspiration. “Courage and bravery is something they [students] can choose,” she explains, “it’s a choice you make.” Gomez now works as a Mental Performance Coach for USF.


Many of the attendees found the Dons Talk enjoyable, and found it refreshing to hear the success stories of other alumni. At the end, the audience took the time to speak to each other about their own stories after USF, and how USF helped them accomplish their career goals. One attendee, Anna Hernandez, and alumnus from 2008, talked about how she appreciated the support she received from going to USF, saying, “That’s what USF means to me, is the support system that’s in place and set up by the curriculum.”

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