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Cal State LA honors outstanding faculty at University Convocation 2022

August 23, 2022
Cal State LA faculty and administration pose for a group photo at Convocation 2022.
Photo: Seated from left to right, Special Education Lecturer Brenda Naimy, English Professor Michael Calabrese, Music Professor Sara Carina Graef, and Social Work Professor Siyon Rhee. Standing, from left to right, Outstanding Professor Awards Selection Committee Chair Patrick Krug, Technology Professor David Blekhman, President William A. Covino, Academic Senate Chair Kris Bezdecny, Provost Jose A. Gomez, and Management Professor Stephen McGuire.  (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State LA)

Cal State LA honors outstanding faculty at University Convocation 2022

August 23, 2022
Cal State LA faculty and administration pose for a group photo at Convocation 2022.
Photo: Seated from left to right, Special Education Lecturer Brenda Naimy, English Professor Michael Calabrese, Music Professor Sara Carina Graef, and Social Work Professor Siyon Rhee. Standing, from left to right, Outstanding Professor Awards Selection Committee Chair Patrick Krug, Technology Professor David Blekhman, President William A. Covino, Academic Senate Chair Kris Bezdecny, Provost Jose A. Gomez, and Management Professor Stephen McGuire.  (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State LA)

Six Cal State LA faculty members were recognized for excellence in teaching and outstanding achievements during University Convocation 2022.

Four Outstanding Professor Award recipients and an Outstanding Lecturer Award recipient were honored for significant achievements in scholarly inquiry or creativity, as well as professional activities and community service.

A President’s Distinguished Professor Award was presented to a previous Outstanding Professor Award recipient. This award recognizes faculty member’s superlative teaching and exceptional commitment to students, as well as their professional accomplishments and services.

During University Convocation, President William A. Covino marked the start of the new academic year and celebrated Cal State LA’s 75th anniversary. Professor Kris Bezdecny, chair of the Academic Senate, also welcomed new faculty members.

The six faculty award recipients were introduced by Professor Patrick Krug, chair of the Outstanding Professor Awards Selection Committee.

President’s Distinguished Professor

Stephen McGuire is a professor of management in the College of Business and Economics, where he has served as director of the Entrepreneurship Institute, coordinator of the healthcare management program and director of graduate programs for the college.  

An active researcher, McGuire has published more than 150 papers in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings. His current work examines status and happiness in organizations, and he has also recently published on entrepreneurial organizational culture and teaching negotiation skills to business graduate students. In addition, he prepares case studies on organizations in the Los Angeles community that face business, ethical and legal challenges.

McGuire is a recipient of the college’s Outstanding Teaching Award and the university’s Outstanding Professor Award. He has mentored more than 300 students on their theses, projects and advanced field studies. Hundreds of his students have been published in journals or conference proceedings to date. He has also mentored more than 600 students on business consulting or applied research projects with nonprofit, for-profit and governmental organizations in the community.

McGuire co-developed with colleagues the Fully-Employed Master of Business Administration Program for the Cal State LA Downtown campus, and revitalized the main campus’ MBA and Master of Science programs in business administration. He increased the MBA/MSBA census from 90 to 280 students, and renewed the MSBA and MBA curricula, adding applied research classes and courses allowing students to consult for organizations in L.A. Under his leadership, Cal State LA’s MBA program was ranked as the top MBA program in Southern California by Best Value Schools, and was included in U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Business Schools. 

A Long Beach resident, McGuire earned his Ph.D. from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Outstanding Professors

David Blekhman is a professor of technology in the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology and a technical director for the Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility at Cal State LA. The station is the only facility in the world on an academic campus that produces its own hydrogen via electrolysis.

An internationally recognized expert in hydrogen transportation, Blekhman has received multiple awards recognizing his contributions to clean transportation research and community outreach. He was also selected for the prestigious 2019-20 Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Alternative Energy Technology at Chalmers University, Sweden. He has helped to secure numerous grants totaling up to $12 million, including most recently a grant from the California Energy Commission to collaborate with Cerritos College on hydrogen workforce development.

Blekhman’s targeted training and student-centered research of rapidly evolving alternative fuel technologies are fundamental to the development and advancement of California’s clean energy workforce. Blekhman is dedicated to training the next generation of professionals in the field and has developed the Sustainable Energy and Transportation Program in the College of ECST to provide students with hands-on “living lab” experiences.

As an educator and mentor, Blekhman is proud of supporting the social mobility of hundreds of his students, who are now employed at hydrogen infrastructure companies and clean vehicle manufacturers. From 2011 to 2018, he served as the lead advisor for the EcoCAR 2 and EcoCAR 3 student teams, which represented California in the EcoCAR premier North American competition to build plug-in hybrid cars.

A South Pasadena resident, Blekhman received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University at Buffalo in New York.

Michael Calabrese is a professor of English in the College of Arts and Letters and co-director of the Chaucer Studio, a nonprofit organization that produces quality recorded performances of medieval literature in various languages for classroom use and scholarly study.

A reputable scholar and educator, Calabrese teaches medieval literature, global classical literature, Italian American literature and a variety of classes in the medieval narrative. His research is focused on Chaucer, Langland, Middle English literature, medieval continental authors, manuscript studies and electronic editing. He has authored numerous papers and articles and has presented at national, international and regional conferences on these topics.

His most recent achievement is translating the medieval English poem Piers Plowman. This work was informed by his theory and practice of multicultural teaching and his efforts to relate and bring medieval literature to global reading communities interested in social justice narratives from ancient cultures. He has been frequently invited as a guest lecturer at other colleges and universities.

As a first-generation college student born in in Irvington, Essex County, New Jersey, Calabrese remains humbled and honored to work in the Cal State LA community and with a predominately first-generation student body, helping and empowering his students to fulfill their dreams. He has mentored numerous graduate students, teaching them about the stages of writing and submitting peer-reviewed work to professional journals.

Calabrese, who resides in the Monterey Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, received his Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia.

 Sara Carina Graef is a professor of music in the College of Arts and Letters. She teaches theory and musicianship, a “Women in Music” course, and directs the Cal State LA New Music Ensemble.

Graef is passionate about programming music by diverse composers and using music as a platform for advocacy through art. Much of Graef’s music focuses on feminist issues, gun violence, social justice and climate change. She received the inaugural Northridge Orchestral Composition Prize, and has held residencies at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico, the Ucross Foundation, the Ragdale Foundation, the Hambidge Center, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival.

At Cal State LA, Graef regularly serves as a project advisor, has served as the Department of Music’s principal undergraduate advisor and has been instrumental in curricular revision and various program reviews over the years. She was president of Friends of Music at Cal State LA for eight years, helping raise scholarship funds for music majors.

Her music has been performed throughout North America and Europe. Her commissions include pieces for Elizabeth Pitcairn, violinist and owner of the 1720 Red Mendelssohn Stradivarius; baritone Daniel Neer, for a project with Polar Bears International; the Newport Symphony in conjunction with the Yakona Nature Preserve and Portland’s Meadowlark Trio.

She has also served on the faculty of the Luzerne Music Center, the board of the L.A. chapter of the American Composers Forum and for several years as stranding coordinator for the Alaska Whale Foundation.

A Pasadena resident, Graef earned her Doctor of Musical Arts in Composition from USC.

Siyon Rhee is a professor and director of the School of Social Work in the Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Humans Services. 

Recognized in the field of social work, Rhee’s research focuses on health, mental health, intimate partner violence and culturally sensitive social work practice with children in Asian American immigrant families.

She has been instrumental in securing grants totaling approximately $3.1 million. As part of the California Social Work Education Center (CalSWEC) Title IV-E Program, she has collaborated on child welfare workforce development activities with CalSWEC at UC Berkeley and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.  

Rhee has authored and coauthored seven books about multicultural social work practice in child welfare, multicultural approaches to evidence-based social work research, the health of immigrant Koreans and human rights for people with disabilities. She has authored and coauthored more than 40 peer-reviewed journal articles and delivered more than 60 conference presentations nationally and internationally. 

Rhee has worked with Korean American Family Services to evaluate their long-term projects, aiming to improve community knowledge of domestic violence and coping mechanisms among immigrant Korean Americans and faith leaders.

Additionally, Rhee served as the inaugural director of the Master of Social Work, Advanced Standing, which has been housed in the Cal State LA Downtown campus since 2016. She has mentored and guided more than 300 graduate thesis projects since the inception of the MSW program in 1998.

An Arcadia resident, Rhee received her Ph.D. in social welfare from UCLA.

Outstanding Lecturer

Brenda Naimy is a lecturer in the Division of Special Education and Counseling in the Charter College of Education.

A veteran educator, Naimy has taught classes in the college’s Orientation and Mobility Graduate Program for more than two decades. The specialized program prepares students pursuing careers in education and rehabilitation for people with visual impairment, where they impart skills to blind and visually impaired individuals to further their independence.

Naimy is recognized for her creative and engaging teaching style. She is also known for her sleep-shade classes, an immersive experience where students are blindfolded several hours per week and learn how to travel independently on campus and in community environments. In this course, students also practice teaching each other the skills of independent movement and travel, simulating the experience of teaching a visually impaired individual how to navigate life.

Naimy co-chaired a statewide committee that passed legislation to amend California’s Education Code to address the rights of visually impaired students and also served as a board member of the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals.

Before teaching at Cal State LA, Naimy worked as an orientation and mobility specialist at the Foundation for the Junior Blind, eventually becoming director of educational services. She has published articles in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, co-authored the book Basic Spanish for Orientation and Mobility and contributed to numerous educational publications.

A Culver City resident, Naimy received her master’s degree in special education at Cal State LA.

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California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 26,000 students and has more than 250,000 distinguished alumni.

Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit