Cal State LA Newsroom



For Media

Student Success 2024

Christine Figueroa

Cal State LA graduate, Charmaine Chui
Graduating Cal State LA student driven to support individuals with visible and invisible disabilities
Koreatown resident to receive bachelor's degree in rehabilitation services

College of Education

College of Education

Christine Figueroa likens themself and their collegiate career to a Roomba.

“You know those little vacuum cleaners that bump into the wall forever? I feel like one of those,” they said. “I’m constantly in a maze, a labyrinth where I’m constantly bumping into walls and turning. And now I think I’ve finally made a map and am navigating with a lot fewer bumps.”

Figueroa, 27, is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Services from Cal State LA’s College of Education. After transferring to Cal State LA in fall 2021, Figueroa was diagnosed with autism and ADHD, which turned out to be one of the first steps in figuring out their maze.

Shortly after their diagnoses, Figueroa switched their major from urban learning to rehabilitation services and met fellow students who were also on the autism spectrum through the University’s Office of Students with Disabilities. They convened a panel during Autism Acceptance Month in April 2022, and later founded the Neurodivergent Collective, a campus organization that supports students with visible and invisible disabilities.

“A lot of the people who gravitate toward my student organization also received diagnoses later in life, or they are unable to pursue a clinical diagnosis, so they self-diagnose. Our conversations revolve around making sense of those identities, our lived experiences, having our needs met, and sharing different coping skills,” said Figueroa, a certified Medi-Cal peer support specialist.

The Los Angeles-Koreatown resident also co-organized a disabled students town hall and facilitated meetings with the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging on campus, which led to a revision of the university programmatic calendar to include Disability Pride Month and Judy Heumann Week, and the establishment of the Disabled Faculty and Staff Affinity Group. Additionally, Figueroa co-organized a four-day disability justice tour at the University of California, Berkeley, with a group of 10 Cal State LA students, faculty, and staff.

“I am honored to be in the community with Christine, and I have learned so much from their scholarship and activism,” said Natalie Williams Awodeha, assistant professor of rehabilitation services in the college’s Division of Special Education and Counseling.

Figueroa, a second-generation Mexican American, said issues such as disabilities and mental health are often taboo within communities of color. In their family, they were neither discussed nor acknowledged.

But Figueroa takes the opposite approach. An important message they learned from their undergraduate work—one that they share with the Neurodivergent Collective members—is to embrace what makes you different.

“When you look at diversity initiatives in the California State University system,” Figueroa said, “they talk about first-gen students, and students of color, and student-parents. That’s excellent, and those diversity initiatives need to exist. But disability is never part of the diversity conversation. There are no spaces or opportunities for students to have pride in their disabled identities, or even learn about disability rights history. Learning about that, and learning about myself in my undergraduate programs inspired me to offer that education to my community.”

Figueroa will return to Cal State LA in the fall to pursue a Master of Science in Counseling with an option in rehabilitation counseling. They aspire to work in academia in the role of a counselor for disability management.

Figueroa struggled early in their academic career. They dropped out of junior college after three semesters, not realizing at the time they were not suited for the typical learning environment of the classroom.

After two years, they enrolled at Glendale Community College and thrived in welding classes, only to have the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the labs.

Figueroa said they found inspiration in their son, Eloy, now 6, to continue with their studies.

“My broader education developed once I became a mother,” they said. “Watching him grow and learn things pushed me to support learning for young people because it’s such a beautiful experience.”

# # #

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