Success Stories

We're proud to honor the achievements of our students and alumni.

These students and alumni of the Graduate School of Education are fulfilling the values and mission of the university and their achievements have been recognized and submitted by Cal Lutheran family members. 

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Mina Chun


Mina Chun: A brief 2023-2024 scholarship description

At the beginning of the 2023-2024 academic year, Mina joined Cal Lutheran as an assistant professor and Special Education program director for the Preliminary Education Specialist Credential in Mild-to-Moderate and Extensive Support Needs. Her research primarily focuses on promoting access, equity, and inclusion for individuals with developmental disabilities and supporting their families in the current diverse society. During her first year at Cal Lutheran, Mina collaborated with colleagues from different institutions on multiple projects, resulting in five publications and three conference presentations.


Mina and her colleagues collaborated with 14 K-8 educators on projects that aimed to center marginalized voices and address systemic inequities through curriculum implementation. These projects explored teachers’ collaborative strengths and the importance of perspective-taking in building connections within the classroom and integrating diverse perspectives through project-based learning. Additionally, they explored the effective implementation of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) during school-wide change and the significance of effective implementation and support of PLCs in achieving student success and promoting inclusivity, collaboration, effective leadership, and continuous improvement.


Mina also collaborated with her colleague on a project that reflected on the life of an individual with Down syndrome, who was born in 1961, before the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act), and passed away in 2021. The project aimed to share family members’ perspectives and reflections on the lessons they have learned through their relationship with their brother/uncle. The project deconstructed the deficit view of disability by challenging the existing ideologies that traditionally reinforce inequity, discrimination, and segregation against people with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. The family life history demonstrated the positive and reciprocal outcomes of relationships that could challenge stereotypical perceptions of intellectual and developmental disabilities and increase awareness and acceptance in the current diverse society.


Full list of accomplished scholarships:


Chun, M. & Bachrach, T. (2024, January 17-19). A family’s journey: Reminiscing on a life fully lived with Down syndrome [Conference Presentation]. The 25th International Conference on Autism, Intellectual Disability & Developmental Disabilities, Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities of the Council for Exceptional Children, Waikiki, HI.


Chun, M. & Bachrach, T. (2023, October 30-November 2). From disenfranchised to included: Creating an inclusive culture for special education teachers [Conference Presentation]. The 2023 Teacher Education Division Conference of the Council for Exceptional Children, Long Beach, CA.


Chun, M., Fisher, M. E., Petty, J. A., Del Rosario, S., Maghzi, K. S., Achieng-Evensen, C., Tickel, D., Dorner, M. A., Cavallaro, J., & Pearson, H. (2024, April 26). Prismatic narrative inquiry: Examining educator perspectives on professional learning communities for inclusive practices [Conference Presentation]. American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies Online Conference.


Fisher, M. E., Petty, J. A., Chun, M., Wan, K., Beaty, I., Maghzi, K. S., Dorner, M. A., McDonald, P., Cavallaro, J., & Ramirez, J. (2023). Integrating equitable inclusion: Proposing restorative practices in the K-8 educational setting. California Council on Teacher Education Fall 2023 Research Monograph, pp. 66-72.


Fisher, M. E., Petty, J. A., Dorner, M. A., Johnston, H., Cho, C., Chun, M., Maghzi, K. S., Beaty, I., Cavallaro, J., & Tickel, D. (2023). The power of perspective: Project-based learning and ethnic studies. California Council on Teacher Education Fall 2023 Research Monograph, pp. 11-22.


Fisher, M. E., Dorner, M. A., Petty, J. A., Wan, K., Petersen, A., Beaty, I., Cavallaro, J., Ramirez, J., Chun, M., McDonald, P., & Maghzi, K. S. (2023). Leadership, professional learning communities, and change: Building a better special and general education team. California Council on Teacher Education Fall 2023 Research Monograph, pp. 118-131.


Maghzi, K. S., Fisher, M. E., & Chun, M. (2023). Living critical race theory through a DisCrit Lens: A prismatic case study of teaching and disability. California Council on Teacher Education Fall 2023 Research Monograph, pp. 91-101.


Petty, J. A., Fisher, M. E., Chun, M., Dorner, M. A., Del Rosario, S., Beaty, I., Maghzi, K. S., Cavallaro, J., Ramirez, J., Tickel, D., & Cho, C. (2023). Uncharted waters: Building an ethnic studies capacity into a predominately white charter school. California Council on Teacher Education Fall 2023 Research Monograph, pp. 35-42.


Melissa Dennin '22

Preliminary Teaching Credential

in March 2023 at the National Association for School-University Partnerships annual conference in Anaheim, California. Brandy Yee and graduate student Melissa Dennin ’22 presented “Celebrating Identity: Empowering Young Learners through Name Stories.”

Vanessa Contreras '23

MA in Educational Leadership

in 2023 Vanessa Contreras MA ’23 in Educational Leadership was announced as the new principal at E.P. Foster Elementary. Contreras also has earned a Pupil Personnel Services Credential, Preliminary Administrative Services Credential and an additional Master of Science Degree in Counseling and Guidance at Cal Lutheran.

“If I ever return to school to obtain an additional degree, I would absolutely return to Cal Lutheran. The programs I have taken at Cal Lutheran have been so beneficial and have really helped prepare me for my varying roles in education. The faculty that I have had at Cal Lutheran has given me so much guidance, support and encouragement in all of my classes. I truly believe Cal Lutheran would never let me fail. I have so much respect for my professors and feel so honored and grateful that I had such a prestigious faculty at Cal Lutheran. I highly recommended Cal Lutheran to anyone looking for a graduate program.”


Sawyer Merrill '10

Sawyer Merrill ’10 graduated Cal Lutheran with an emphasis in education and was honored with 2023 Sandy Lundberg Educator of the Year Award by the Rotary Club of Sun Lakes. Merrill is a special education teacher at Chandler Unified Auxier Elementary School in Queen Creek, Tempe, AZ. Click here to read the article from Queen Creek Tribune.

Steven Blum '21


GSOE Dean, Mike Hillis and adjunct faculty member, Steven Blum ’77, MA ’91, published an Op-Ed article in the Ventura County Star: Teachers impact the lives of children and communities Click here to read the article.

Ryan Keller '13

MS in Special Education

Congratulations to alum Ryan Keller MS ’13, named Special Education Coordinator for CUSD in 2022.

Lorelle Dawes '19

EdD in Educational Leadership (K-12)

Alum, Lorelle Dawes EdD ’19, principal, Cabrillo Middle School, Ventura USD Region 13 and adjunct faculty member was selected 2022 ACSA State Middle School Principal of the Year. Dawes recently accepted a promotion as Director of Expanded Learning in Ventura Unified School District, a new position. She says, “I am excited at all the opportunities we get to create for students who have not had much access to them in the past.”

Paige Mariko Gonzales '20

MA in Educational Leadership

Paige Mariko Gonzales, MA ’20 in Educational Leadership with a Preliminary Administrative Services Credential, shared on LinkedIn that she started a new position as Dean of Student Services at Los Cerritos Middle School in the Conejo Valley Unified School District in 2022.

James Jenkins '20

MEd in Teacher Leadership

Congratulations to doctoral candidate and Cal Lutheran alum, James Jenkins, MEd ’20, on becoming the principal of Los Colinas Middle School for PVSD.

Michelle Bennett '08

MA in Educational Leadership

After a two-year pause due to the pandemic, CRLP was thrilled to re-boot our 2022 summer camp program for elementary and middle school students! Read2Write and Study Skills and Art of the Masters were returning favorites and we also introduced a brand new camp this year, Finding the Poet/Writer Within.

From the last week of July through the first week of August, CRLP hosted a total of 65 elementary and middle school students. The teachers were pleased with both the level of student engagement and parent satisfaction. CRLP will continue to gather additional feedback from both parents and campers to help inform our planning for next year’s camps.

We are very grateful for CRLP’s incredible summer camp teachers, Michelle Bennett, MA ’08, Kim Ernest, and Julie Hughes. The planning, preparation, and creativity they put into the camps is what made them such a huge success.  Michelle, Kim, and Julie worked hard to inspire and motivate their students, which is certain to have a positive impact on their future studies!