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The Class of 2024: Making the Most of Being a Triton

A photo taken from behind a crowd of graduate students wearing their caps, some of which have been hand decorated.
Graduates often decorate their caps to demonstrate Triton pride and words of gratitude during commencement. Photo by Erik Jepsen/University Communications.

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UC San Diego’s Class of 2024 is walking the stage in a series of commencement ceremonies this June. Adorned in cap and gown, thousands of graduates will have traveled a Triton journey all their own. Through uncertainty and challenges, they excelled in higher education to become our future educators, explorers, leaders, physicians, scientists, creators and more. With sights set on bright tomorrows, they are ready to celebrate and make us proud.

Read about a few of our outstanding graduates here.

Hannah Nguyen, B.S. in general biology, minor in education studies

portrait photo of a female smiling

Hannah Nguyen connected with her roots and laid down some new ones during her time as a Triton. Graduating from UC San Diego will be bittersweet as she says goodbye to her “second home” and prepares to tackle the Teachers College of Columbia University, the #1 graduate school of education as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

An undecided major when she came to UC San Diego, Nguyen said she felt a pressure common amongst children of immigrant parents: to pursue a particular field, like medicine, rather than follow her heart. She eventually found and fell in love with teaching and education leadership through the support of mentors, professors, family and friends.

“As a second-generation Asian American, it is hard to find representation in this field [education],” she said. “Minorities often struggle to preserve our relationship not only with our families but also the relationship with ourselves, our dreams and our passions to make a difference.”

Woman posing in front of mountains in Vietnam
Hannah Nguyen in Vietnam

Nguyen made the most of her undergraduate years. She joined student organizations, took education studies courses, worked as a part-time tutor and got involved with local high schools. Her most impactful experience, however, took place the summer she spent a month in Vietnam teaching English to a class of 7th graders from an underserved area.

“It was one of the most difficult but rewarding experiences of my life,” said Nguyen. “I implemented all the lessons I had learned from my classes at UC San Diego. I will never forget the immense amount of growth I experienced and the relationships I created with my students and cohort. I also felt the most connected to my culture than ever. I will definitely revisit my motherland [Vietnam].”

While Nguyen is moving on, her legacy as a Triton will continue to impact UC San Diego. In addition to education, Nguyen discovered her passion for disability justice while connecting with her peers. As Revelle College’s associated student senator, she collaborated on a new AI Notetaker Program, re-founded the Disabled Students Alliance,  identified inaccessible areas of campus for students with disabilities and laid the groundwork for faculty accessibility training and a potential disability cultural center. After obtaining a master’s in education and biology teaching credential, Nguyen plans to teach for a while and eventually return to the Golden State to instill a passion for science and increase access to education.

Dylan Shafer, B.S. in oceanic and atmospheric sciences, B.A. in political science, minor in chemistry

Man smiling in front of an ocean backdrop

Not many students can go from swimming in the ocean to a classroom in less than twenty minutes. For Dylan Shafer, showing up for lecture in sandy flip flops with a wetsuit and goggles in his backpack and a notebook in hand wasn’t out of the norm.

“My favorite memories at UC San Diego have been the numerous open water swims I have taken before class, after class and (sometimes) during class. These swims have pushed me physically and mentally but always helped me relax in the stress-filled life of an undergraduate. I have seen sharks, lobsters, seals, dolphins, guitarfish, Garibaldi fish, lots of stingrays and bioluminescence.”

Oceanic and atmospheric sciences is a field Shafer loves but never expected to pursue. The mechanical engineering program he originally applied for was impacted and he had to select another major to attend UC San Diego. Thinking back to his fascination with the earth sciences in middle school and his knack for physics and chemistry, Shafer made the jump to join Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Three friends taking a photo in a field with solar eclipse sunglasses on
Dylan Shafer with friends

“The past four years have been some of the best in my life, and I would never trade them for anything,” said Shafer. “Attending UC San Diego has been a chaotic, exciting adventure that allows me to meet new people, see new places and learn groundbreaking science. Graduating is a bookend to an era of my life which I know will be worth it.”

Shafer’s adventure with Scripps Oceanography will continue as he works to complete the contiguous bachelor’s and master’s degree program. After that, he plans for smooth sailing toward a Ph.D. focused on physical oceanography, polar regions and the Southern Ocean.

Calynn Wang, Master of International Affairs

Calynn Wang, an international student from China, has approached higher education with a sense of fearlessness and determination. After studying business at the University of Surrey in England, she turned down offers to complete her master’s degree in London to pursue a comprehensive understanding of economics, politics and quantitative analytics at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS). She then found herself in a new country adapting to the fast pace of the quarter system.

A woman smiling in front of a fence and flowers

“Rather than being daunted by the difficulties and unfamiliarity, I viewed this opportunity as a chance for growth and self-development,” explained Wang. “Mistakes and challenges became my learning opportunities, which drove me to ask questions, express myself and absorb feedback from professors and peers. I also developed persistence, patience and a positive attitude.”

Growing up in a town close to the Korean Peninsula, Wang became interested in the cultural exchange and cooperation between China and Korea at a young age. This made Mannam, a GPS graduate student organization focused on Korea, the perfect group for Wang. She served as Mannam’s vice president for marketing and collaborated with other groups focused on China, Japan and Southeast Asia to host cultural and communication events. “The group provided me opportunities to talk with some elite Korean guests from both the economic and political worlds. I really gained a deeper understanding of Korea thanks to the comprehensive resources and faculty at GPS,” said Wang.

After graduation, Wang hopes to find a career that complements her knowledge in analytics or research. She also hopes to have more time for her interests, such as working with animals, decorating cakes and taking her Real Madrid soccer club fandom to new heights by learning more about Spanish language and culture. 

To sum up how she feels about graduating, Wang said, “I feel excited because from now on, my entire life will become more flexible and freer. I have a stronger and more determined heart, which means I can explore more about the world on my own bravely.”

Ricardo Altamirano, Master of Professional Accountancy

Financial hurdles, immigration issues, a language barrier, stress from divorce and grief over loss – Ricardo Altamirano’s graduate experience was not easy. Still, he managed to give as much as he received while at UC San Diego's Rady School of Management.

Man posing in a business suit for a portrait photo

“I overcame challenges through a combination of community support, academic resources and personal resilience. I accessed counseling, engaged with financial aid and participated in first-generation student groups which provided mentorship and guidance,” Altamirano explained, adding that psychologist Araceli Lopez from Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) deserves special recognition. 

Originally from Nicaragua, Altamirano embraced support systems throughout UC San Diego to meet the demands of his graduate program. In doing so, he feels that he has honored his mother who passed in 2019. He also used his time to help others and cultivate a commitment to social advocacy in his roles as a volunteer for the Triton Food Pantry and member of Speech and Debate.

“Both roles had a profound impact on me, enhancing my communication skills, expanding my understanding of pressing social issues, and reinforcing my dedication to community service. They allowed me to make a tangible impact on my peers and the broader community, helping to create a more informed and supportive campus environment,” said Altamirano.

Man smiling with outstretched arms

Through feelings of nostalgia and excitement, Altamirano is preparing for the next big chapter in his life. He’ll move to San Francisco this fall to work as an auditor at Ernst and Young. After gaining experience, he aims to become a certified public accountant and explore the world of forensic accounting or financial counseling. His ultimate goal: 

“I aspire to mentor others entering the field [of accounting], especially those from diverse or non-traditional backgrounds, sharing knowledge and opportunities that promote inclusivity and professional growth. I also plan to engage with community initiatives that promote financial literacy to help others understand and manage their financial well-being effectively.”

Maribel Patiño, Doctor of Medicine and Ph.D. in neuroscience

“I think my story truly represents that the impossible is possible,” former farm worker turned physician-scientist Maribel Patiño said. To help her family financially, Patiño worked in the watermelon fields of rural Lamont, California, alongside her parents during her high school summers. She grew up reliant on government aid programs like free and reduced lunch and attended Title 1 schools with limited educational opportunities. She also noticed her community’s restricted access to health care and the medical issues endured by agricultural laborers.

Woman posing on the beach in her graduation regalia

From watermelon fields to UC Berkeley for her undergraduate years and then UC San Diego School of Medicine, Patiño has now earned two doctorate degrees through the eight-year Medical Scientist Training Program. In that time, she also created pathways for more students from diverse backgrounds to surpass dated expectations historically placed on minority groups.

In 2016, Patiño and a group of other graduate students established the Colors of the Brain (CoB) student organization to diversify STEM graduate education. The organization provides undergraduate students from historically underrepresented backgrounds with graduate student mentors who have experienced Ph.D. or M.D./Ph.D. research programs. Furthermore, Patiño helped establish the CoB-KIBM Scholars Program in 2020 to provide minority undergraduate students an opportunity to engage in summer research and earn a $7,000 stipend. 

Reflecting on her contributions to UC San Diego, Patiño said, “Creating an avenue for minority students to immerse in research was a step toward addressing inequities in science and medicine. Innovation extends beyond the lab and clinic – transformative innovation also lies in how we reshape paradigms to become more inclusive.” With this conviction, Patiño has helped turn CoB into an official non-profit organization and secured more than $100,000 in funding from the Kavli Institute of Brain and Mind for the CoB-KIBM Scholars Program, which has supported 19 UC San Diego undergraduates to date.

Patiño’s story as a UC San Diego student may be coming to an end but her ambition remains limitless. “I envision a career that incorporates conducting basic systems neuroscience research, interacting with patients, collaborating with early translation research scientists, and mentoring the next generation of physician scientists,” she said. “To achieve this, I plan to use my expertise in molecular and systems neuroscience to investigate the biological underpinnings of psychiatric disorders while simultaneously leading initiatives to diversify the medical and scientific communities."

A large group of diverse students posing with their program leadership for a photo
Colors of the Brain leadership with the 2023 CoB-KIBM scholars cohort. Photo courtesy of Maribel Patiño.

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