Star of Sac State’s rocket-themed holiday video ready for acting career to take off

In Sacramento State’s inspiring 2018 holiday video, she is reaching for the stars as an aspiring NASA scientist whose dreams are made possible by her attending Sacramento State. In real life, the talented actress who stars in the video is headed for a more immediate goal: graduating in 2019 and kicking off her professional acting career.

The acting bug bit Monique Crawford, a theater major and musical theater minor, at an early age, but it wasn’t until she enrolled at Sac State in 2015 that her dream started to become a reality. Crawford’s first theater history class led to her first role, followed by others that have become part of a burgeoning resume. She has performed in on-campus productions of “Stories to be Told” (ensemble), “Annie” (Mrs. Pugh) and “Peter and the Starcatcher” (Molly).

She also has performed off-campus with The Fourth Wall and community theater organizations – all while balancing her schoolwork and commuting up to 90-minutes each way to and from Fairfield, her hometown.

We spoke with Crawford about her love of acting, her experience at Sacramento State, participating in the holiday video, and her post-graduation plans.

Transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Was acting always something you were interested in?

HolidayCard_Students_20181012_0088_FB
(Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

It actually was. I always wanted to act as a child. But in the child mentality, I thought you had to move to either New York or L.A., and I’m like, “Well my parents are never going to do that,” so I just kind of forgot about it. And then once I hit 18, I was in college and I was like, “Oh, I’m free now. I can do whatever I want.” It took a couple years. I was psychology major, and then I changed it after I had my first theater history class with Dr. (Roberto) Pomo. In the class you get into groups and then you perform certain scenes of whatever play you’re assigned. Afterwards (Pomo) came up to me and said, “I want you to audition for the play in the spring,” so I said OK, and I got my first role in his play, “Stories to be Told.” That got the ball rolling. He played a major part in that. I’m very grateful.

Why did you decide to come to Sac State?

I actually didn’t want to come to college at all after high school, but I got to come tuition-free to any university in California because my dad is retired military. My parents were really pushing. “It’s going to be really good for you,” they said. My mom graduated from Sac State, so I said, “All right, the only college I’m going to apply to, the only one I want is Sac State.” So that’s what I did. I got it, and I wasn’t going to take anything else.

Was being in the holiday video your first time acting on camera or film versus on stage?

No, I’ve had a little bit of experience with industrial filming, filming videos for schools. I also have done a lot of background work. A lot (of that) was in (the second season of the television series) “13 Reasons Why.” So if you watch it, you’ll see a whole lot of me. (There have been) other things, independent films, being a background extra, that sort of thing. But as far as major roles, yes, this was the first one that will be more widespread.

Did you get a lot of screen time in “13 Reasons Why”?

I did. During the second half of the second season you can see me all over the place.

When you first saw the completed Sac State video, what was your reaction?

I watched it again. I watched it once, and I didn’t know what to think, and then I watched it again, and I thought, wow, (videographer Rob Neep) really put it all together and everything blended just like he said it was going to. His work was very, very well done.

Did you get to meet the young girl who stars alongside you?

No, I didn’t. I didn’t get to meet any of the kids, but they were so adorable.

How has what you’ve learned in the theater program helped you with the acting you do on campus and elsewhere?

(Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)
Monique Crawford (center) sits with two of her co-stars as they film the 2018 Sacramento State holiday video. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

The class that helped with that the most would be Acting 3, taught by Professor Michelle Felten. We focused a lot on different methods of acting, and very minute details such as being in your environment, feeling your environment. For example, me feeling this chair (that I’m sitting in now). I feel the soft cushion underneath, and I can feel the sharp edges of the wood, this kind of warm chair; so allowing those kinds of things to ground you and to focus in on your scene partner. And so when it comes to film, a lot of it is really close up, and so that’s when you see a whole lot more of the minute details. It’s from doing all that hard work that a lot of people may not really see behind the scenes, but that’s what we did in that class.

What do you plan to do after graduation?

My original plan was to go to L.A., and I’ve seen a few performances at Cap(ital) Stage, and they were just brilliant. I loved it, I fell in love with it 100 percent. So I may be moving down to L.A. or I may be auditioning for Cap Stage to keep going with my career in Sacramento.

What advice do you have for a new student who wants to be a theater major and an actor?

To manage your time well. College is all about time management, but so much so in theater. You really have to know yourself. You get to know yourself so much more just being in the department through classes and workshops and everything. You learn how much physical activity you can take, how much mental activity you can take, how much emotional activity you can take. Manage your health as well as your time because your body and your voice are the only two instruments that you have to use. You have to keep them in tune, keep them healthy. Eat. Always eat healthy. Get as much rest as you can and really make time to keep yourself well as well as passing classes.

What do you do in your spare time?

(Laughing) We have no spare time! Besides acting, I have been dancing hula for the majority of my life. I’m a professional Polynesian dancer. I always love swimming, I love being outdoors, seeing movies and crocheting, playing chess. I’m one of the people who likes puzzles, like Sudoku. I like mentally stimulating things as well as adventures like dirt biking, jet skiing, parasailing, all kinds of stuff to get your adrenaline pumping

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Nicholas Haystings brings no-cost STEM education to underrepresented youths

Nicholas Haystings ’16 (Mechanical Engineering) held several engineering jobs while attending and after graduating from Sacramento State. At all but one of them, he was the only person of color.

If that’s going to change, he says, it’s critical that young people from underrepresented backgrounds receive the message early that the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – are a place for them, too.

“It can’t start in college. It can’t even start in high school,” Haystings said. “The conversation has to happen when they’re at a young age, before the pressures of life and society get to them. Before they’re told that STEM isn’t for them, STEM isn’t for girls, STEM isn’t for people that look like you.”

Haystings is doing his part. He is the co-founder and executive director of Square Root Academy, an organization that provides STEM-based education and experiences to underrepresented groups, all at no cost to the participants. The program works with several local school district to provide after-school programming for fifth- through 12-graders, while also sponsoring STEM-focused community events.

Going into its third year, Square Root Academy anticipates it will have about 150 scholars in its after-school programs, while reaching thousands more through its annual Great STEM Summit and Hack the Park festivals.

“Growing up, I always had two goals: Become an engineer, and give back to the community,” Haystings said. “Once I realized my goal of becoming an engineer, got my degree, had some industry experience under my belt, there were a few things that were still bothering me. When you succeed, you’re supposed to bring people up with you, and that was why we started the academy.”

His work is getting noticed: The Sacramento Business Journal named Haystings to its 2019 “40 Under 40” list, which recognizes young professionals in the Sacramento region who “excel in their workplaces and in their communities.”

Interested in science and engineering from a young age, Haystings, a first-generation college student and Sacramento native, enrolled at Sacramento State to be close to home. He eventually decided to major in engineering and appreciated the University’s focus on experiential learning.

“A lot of STEM-based majors at universities, they’re very theory-based,” he said. “Sac State allowed us to get hands-on with the technology, to really experiment.”

The University also exposed him to a diverse range of people, who came with diverse ways of thinking and approaching problems, something he learned from and has carried into his professional life.

“It was a bit of culture shock, in a good way, in a way that helped me grow,” he said. “It expanded my understanding of the world and also my understanding of people.”

While a student, Haystings approached Lorenzo Smith, now the dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, to discuss Square Root Academy. Smith was instantly struck by Haystings’ maturity, vision and commitment.

“He had a full time job and he gave that up to advance the mission of Square Root Academy, which, I’m not sure I would do that,” Smith said. “I can tell you I would not have done that. (It takes) someone like Nicholas who has that dedication to the community and also confidence in his abilities.”

Because he is from the neighborhoods Square Root Academy serves, Smith added, Haystings has credibility when he goes into the community to spread awareness of STEM careers.

“There’s a hunger for what Nicholas is providing,” Smith said. “He’s tapping into a need.”

After graduation, Haystings worked as an environmental engineer in both the public and private sector before helping to start Square Root Academy in 2016. The organization was funded entirely by Haystings and his two co-founders its first year. Today, private and corporate donations as well as partner school districts provide financial support.

At Valley High School, Haystings’ alma mater, working with Square Root Academy has helped students who may not have seen STEM as an option realize that it is.

“It changes their future, their life trajectory,” said Alex Gibbs, Valley High’s engineering chair. “A lot of these students wouldn’t believe that they could go to college and become engineers. But once you get them to believe in themselves, you’ve overcome the hardest hurdle.”

After utilizing Square Root Academy’s after-school programs last year, Valley High has transitioned to a mentorship model, in which the high school students receive résumé; review, help with college applications and other guidance from someone either studying a STEM field in college or working in a STEM career.

“We just really appreciate the work (Nicholas) does with us,” Gibbs said. “I’m glad he’s come back to Valley and given back to where he came from. We can’t appreciate that enough.”

Haystings and Square Root Academy have made accessibility – that is, ensuring their programming is available and relatable to the populations they serve – a priority. The Great STEM Summit and Hack the Park events are held in underserved neighborhoods such as Meadowview and South Sacramento, so that transportation is not a barrier to attendance. They are open to the public, which provides parents with the opportunity to see and engage with what their kids are learning. And the after-school programs are taught by professionals, academics and students who come from similar backgrounds as the participants.

“That representation piece is so huge,” Haystings said. “If a scholar doesn’t see themselves or anyone that looks like them in that position, they assume it’s not for them. It’s important that we show them they can do it and people who look like them can succeed in this field.”

For more information about Square Root Academy, visit the organization’s website.