Ephraim Williams, most senior Sacramento-area pastor, to receive honorary degree

Ephraim Williams, center, stands with Jody and President Robert S. Nelsen during an event in his honor earlier this month.

Ephraim Williams, who leads the St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church and is the Sacramento region’s most senior pastor, will receive an honorary doctorate from the CSU at Sacramento State’s May 19 Commencement ceremony.

Williams has been at the helm of the Oak Park church since 1971, growing it from 133 members to more than 4,000 today, making it one of the region’s largest congregations. During that time, he has performed more than 900 marriages, 2,200 funerals, 2,100 baptisms, and 6,100 sermons while becoming, in the words of the Sacramento Bee during an article last year celebrating his 50th year as a pastor, “a major force in Sacramento civic and spiritual life.”

You don’t need to look farther than around Oak Park to see evidence of his impact. The Ephraim Williams Family Life Center – which promotes physical fitness, proper nutrition, recreation, health, and wellness – is adjacent to St. Paul church, and Ephraim Williams College Prep Middle School is close by as well.

Williams participates regularly in the CSU and Sacramento State’s “Super Sunday” effort to encourage college enrollment. He also spearheads the St. Paul and Oak Park Community Outreach Program, which provides recreational, educational and family support programs, including an after-school tutorial program, emergency assistance, health and wellness programs, a culinary program for at-risk youth, and summer programs for children and youth. He also has served in community organizations such as the Sacramento Baptist Ministers Conference, the Sacramento Urban League, the NAACP, and the Sacramento City Unified School District, and also was instrumental in changing the name of Sacramento Boulevard to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Williams received the 2014 Peace Award from Sacramento State’s Center for African Peace and Conflict Resolution in recognition of his “exemplary leadership in building bridges between religious and civic life in the Sacramento region.”

Williams will receive an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. Honorary doctorates recognize excellence in areas that benefit humanity, CSU campuses, the state, nation, or world. They are conferred by the CSU Board of Trustees jointly in the name of the CSU and Sacramento State. For a full list of past winners, visit csus.edu/commencement/honorarydoctorate.

For more information about Spring Commencement, visit csus.edu/commencement.

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Alumni couple are community leaders in West Sacramento

Oscar and Katie Villegas’ first date was probably not the most romantic – they were working on a Sacramento City College professor’s campaign for the Yolo County Sheriff – but it certainly presaged their years as a couple since.

VillegasThe Sacramento State alums have been active in politics and in the community virtually their entire post-graduation life, Oscar ’89 (Criminal Justice) as a longtime city councilmember in West Sacramento and now as a member of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, Katie ’89 (Psychology), MSW ’92 as the executive director of the Yolo County Children’s Alliance and a former member of the Washington Unified School District Board of Education.

“My parents were always involved in social issues,” says Katie. “It was a natural thing for me to go into this. It was just kind of what we always did, like my kids have always been involved in social issues. It’s a cool thing to do that as a family and feel like you’re making a difference in your community.”

Katie spent plenty of time on the Sacramento State campus growing up, since she lived in East Sacramento just a mile from campus. But no matter where she lived, she would have been connected to the University: Her mother, brother, and sister are fellow alums. Oscar, who grew up in West Sacramento, was the first in his family to attend college. Both of their children now attend Sacramento State, making three generations of Hornets in the family.

Throughout both Oscar and Katie’s careers, public and community service is a common thread. After graduation, Katie went to work for the Sacramento Children’s Home before returning to Sacramento State for her master’s degree. From there, she trained HIV counselors at the state’s Office of AIDS before moving to the Yolo County Children’s Alliance, where she has been since 2006. She also served on the school board in West Sacramento from 2012 to 2016.

Following his graduation, Oscar landed one of several newly created positions in the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs’ (ADP) investigations unit. He stayed with the department for more than a decade, was appointed by Gov. Gray Davis to be the deputy director of the California Mentoring Partnership in 2003, and in 2008 began working as a field representative with the Board of State and Community Corrections. He was a member of the West Sacramento City Council from 2000 to 2014, when he was appointed to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors.

While at Sacramento State, both Oscar and Katie participated in internships that ultimately led to jobs following graduation: Katie worked at the Office of AIDS as a graduate student, while Oscar interned at ADP. Both say the ability to learn from professors with real-world experience was instrumental in preparing them for their careers.

“I actually got to sit in a class and listen to a former FBI agent, a Sacramento County district attorney, the current probation chief for Sacramento County, police chiefs,” Oscar says. “These were folks that had very real-world experience and could share their experiences in a way where they engaged you in a very real way.”

For the Villegas, West Sacramento is a town on the rise, where everyone knows each other and has bought into the city’s success, and where it’s easy to see the impact of your hard work.

“In West Sacramento, one of the things I hear often is, ‘Hey, I want to get involved,’” Oscar says. “And I say, ‘What are you actually interested in? Not what you think will get you where you want to be, but what are you interested in today? Where does your heart tell you that you want to be impactful, and in what arena is that? And I can guarantee there’s an opportunity for you to volunteer, to participate where you can make a difference.’”

And as for the advice they would offer to current Sacramento State students like their two children?

“Just soak it all up, really enjoy your college years, make friends and have fun” Katie says. “Appreciate it for what it is. You’re not going to love every class that you have to take, and that’s OK, because in the real world, you’re going to be working in environments that aren’t necessarily the best. It’s important to learn to know what you like and learn to know when you need to make a change.”

Former Sacramento Bee publisher and alumna Cheryl Dell to receive honorary doctorate

Cheryl Dell, former publisher and president of the Sacramento Bee, stands with Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen at an April 28 event in her honor. She will receive an honorary doctorate during the Spring Commencement ceremony on May 20.

Cheryl Dell, a Sacramento State alumna whose three-decade career in the news industry was capped by serving as publisher and president of her hometown newspaper, will receive an honorary doctorate from the CSU during Sac State’s Spring Commencement on May 20.

Dell ’82 (Communication Studies), retired in March after nine years heading the Sacramento Bee. Her 30-year career as a newspaper executive included positions at The Fresno BeeThe News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., and the Tri-City Herald in eastern Washington. She returned home in 2008 to assume the top spot at her hometown paper, where her goal was to ensure that the more-than-150-year-old Sacramento paper continued to play an essential role in informing the region. Under her leadership, the Bee received virtually every major journalism award, including a 2016 Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartoons.

Throughout her career, Dell also has been heavily involved in volunteering. She has served on the board of directors for numerous organizations, including the Sacramento Tree Foundation, Valley Vision, Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization (SACTO), The Salvation Army Advisory Board, and MLK 365. She also served on the executive committee and was chairman of the board of the Inland Press Association, one of the oldest and largest newspaper membership organizations, serving more than 1,000 member newspapers in the United States.

In 2013, Dell received a Distinguished Service Award from Sacramento State, and in 2014 she was named to the Sacramento Business Journal’s list of “Women Who Mean Business.” She also has returned to her alma mater as an invited speaker and gave a presentation on the state of the newspaper industry at the launch of the Spring 2014 Sac State Magazine.

Dell will receive an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters during Commencement. Honorary doctorates recognize excellence in areas that benefit humanity, CSU campuses, the state, nation, or world. They are conferred by the CSU Board of Trustees jointly in the name of the CSU and Sacramento State. For a full list of past winners, visit csus.edu/commencement/honorarydoctorate.

For more information about Spring Commencement, visit csus.edu/commencement.