Three Sacramento State alums win 2019 Estrella awards

Sacramento State was well represented at the 2019 Estrella awards, which were presented Dec. 10: Three of the four honorees are Hornet alums.

Leslie Valdivia-Rivas ’14 (Public Relations), co-founder of Vive Cosmetics, received the Rising Estrella award; Maritza Davis ’07 (Public Relations), vice president of experiences and social responsibility for the Sacramento Kings, received the Inspiration Estrella Award; and Alice Perez ’99 (Finance and Insurance), a director with AT&T External Affairs, was honored with the Legacy Estrella Award.

The awards are given annually by the Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (SHCC) to recognize Latinas making an impact in the Sacramento region.

In addition to the alumna honorees, Sacramento State alumna and award-winning mariachi singer Beatriz Figueroa ’19 (Sociology) provided entertainment during a lunch before the award program. Figueroa is a familiar face to the Hornet Family, having served as the national anthem singer at Commencement for the past three years.

Davis, who was introduced by SHCC Board Chair and Sacramento State Vice President for Public Affairs and Advocacy Phil Garcia, spent a decade redefining community in Sacramento as the co-founder, with her husband and fellow alum Roshuan, of Unseen Heroes, a marketing and events agency responsible for events such as GATHER: Oak Park and the Midtown Farmers Market. Last year, she took a position with the Kings, where her responsibilities include managing programs such as the Junior Kings and more than 350 community events annually.

In her remarks, she encouraged attendees to continue to work on behalf of the city and the city’s youth.

“Sacramento is an amazing city, we are amazing people that all come together,” Davis said. “It really does take a village every single day.”

At AT&T, Perez is the public safety and emergency response lead and a liaison to local governments and nonprofits in 11 counties. She previously worked as president/CEO of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and as vice president and director of U.S. Bank’s national multicultural banking initiatives. She has been recognized widely for her work in the community, and currently serves on the board of the University Foundation at Sacramento State.

Perez was introduced by her daughter Renee Nelson, and took the stage to standing ovation. In her remarks, she highlighted the importance of putting words into actions when it comes to making change in Sacramento.

“It’s important that we lead the change that we want to see, and we don’t just talk about the things that need to occur to make a difference in the community, but that we take a stance and that all of us owns it,” she said.

Valdivia-Rivas was unable to attend the ceremony, and her sister accepted the award on her behalf. The first in her family to graduate from college, Valdivia-Rivas co-founded Vive Cosmetics in 2016 after realizing the lack of Latinx representation in the beauty industry. The company has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Buzzfeed, Teen Vogue and Latina magazine.

Rapper Consci8us uses music to share his strong message of community

DeWayne LaMont Ewing Jr. ’18 (Sociology), stood on a stage in the University Union Ballroom, looking out at an audience still filled with raw emotion. It was the day after the announcement that no charges would be filed in the death of Stephon Clark, fatally shot a year earlier by police in a South Sacramento backyard.

Sacramento State was holding a campus event featuring music and dance performances by students and alumni. Ewing Jr., a Hornet alum and rapper better known by the public as Consci8us, was the opening act. Since his teens, he had focused his music on empowering individuals to improve their community. Between songs, he issued a call to action.

“The change comes from what we do on a daily basis. Every single one of us has a role,” he said. “It’s a serious obligation that we all have to use our voice, use our platform and use our resources to make a change.”

In ways, the moment was a culmination of Consci8us’ life experiences. Growing up in Oakland provided a deep appreciation of culture and community, but also opened his eyes to the realities of inequality and injustice. Listening to artists such as Tupac Shakur, Black Ice, Nas, Lauryn Hill and Immortal Technique – “conscious rappers” who used their art to promote awareness and spark social change – inspired him to attempt to empower others with his music. Enrolling at Sacramento State challenged him intellectually and provided a platform to spread his message.

“Sacramento as a whole is a place that has a strong community,” Consci8us said. “I always had faculty and professors who encouraged me to be my best, and who provided me with opportunities and platforms, artistically and educationally.”

During the day, Consci8us works for the city of Sacramento, developing and leading youth programs (where he’s known as “Mr. DeWayne”), building partnerships between the city and community, and training other city employees to work with young people.

When he’s not working, he’s performing – at local schools, at community events such as the Sacramento Martin Luther King Jr. Day march, and at venues such as the California State Fair. Most recently, he received two Sacramento Music Awards, also known as SAMMIES, in the emcee and hip-hop/rap categories.

Consci8us began rapping in middle school, but didn’t think of it as anything beyond a hobby until his teens, when he was exposed to conscious rap.

“It really started a whole new direction for me in life, because it showed me that I could be more than a rapper who raps about random stuff that does not add value to my community,” he said. “I realized I could really tell my story, provide insight into my community, and spread positive messages that could impact people and change culture.

“I maybe wasn’t that deep back then, but it was really inspiring to see that, whoa, I could use music to make an impact.”

He adopted the stage name Consci8us as well as an often-issued call to action for people to “stay consci8us” – which he describes as being aware of one’s decisions, God, and one’s purpose in life. The “8” in his name symbolizes the neighborhood in which he grew up, the “80’s” in East Oakland; the day he was born, March 8; and the infinity symbol.

When hoped-for football scholarships didn’t pan out, and his initial application to Sacramento State was rejected, he decided to relocate to Sacramento anyway and enrolled at Cosumnes River College.

“It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life,” he said. “It gave me an opportunity to get a fresh start.”

A few years later, Consci8us transferred to Sacramento State and majored in sociology, exposing him to classes that engaged him as other subject matter had not and helped put his life experiences into context. A course on African American history and the civil rights movement, for example, connected to his childhood in Oakland. While a student, he also worked in the MLK Scholars program, leading lectures, workshops and other programs aimed at keeping students from dropping out.

His work also has been highlighted by California state Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, the Sacramento Housing and Development Agency, and the Los Rios Community College District.

Whether through his work with the city or his music, he hopes he can be an inspiration to young people in Sacramento.

“They see the professional Mr. DeWayne, and then they see Consci8us who comes to their school to perform,” he said. “I think the biggest way I bridge them together indirectly is just by being a fixture in the Sacramento community, and them seeing that I’m this positive, dope rapper that does all of this cool stuff.

“I’m working every day to make an impact with young people and build community.”

Derek Minnema builds on a Sac State foundation as he leads region’s largest transportation project

Homing in on a career path while a Sacramento State student, Derek Minnema gravitated toward civil engineering because it offers the most tangible evidence of one’s work.

“At the end of the day, what you’re building are roads or water systems, bridges, buildings,” he said. “They are things that are real, that you can touch, and that can have a big impact on society.”

It’s no surprise, then, that he’s leading creation of a 34-mile highway connecting Interstate 5 in Elk Grove to Highway 50 in Folsom, the region’s largest transportation project, one with the potential to transform Sacramento County.

Minnema, as executive director of the Capital SouthEast Connector Joint Powers Authority, is responsible for all aspects of the project, from budgeting and approvals to engineering and design work. And much of that work draws on skills he learned at Sac State.

“Everything is hands on,” he said of the University’s Engineering program. “The professors were available and wanted to see you succeed. I still, to this day, have great relationships with professors who are still there.”

The department also brought industry representatives into the program to share their knowledge and experience, he said. And a semester-long capstone assignment allowed senior students to work in teams on a longer-term project – exactly the kind of work they would undertake once entering the workforce.

Minnema didn’t forget those experiences after graduating. He has mentored Sacramento State students, serves on the University’s Industry Advisory Council, and offered the SouthEast Connector project as a host organization for a senior project. Students spent the semester figuring out how to construct the road through the small town of Sheldon in a way that the community would support and that minimized disruptions – ultimately presenting their findings to the project’s board of directors.

“It was one of the best meetings we ever did,” Minnema said. “The board members loved it. The students did a great job.”

A passion for civil engineering and a desire to give back weren’t the only things Minnema got from Sacramento State. His fellow students, he says, became crucial business contacts down the line. And his time with Associated Students Inc. – he served as director of Engineering and Computer Science – prepared him for a job in which communicating with the public and gaining its input is essential.

“Being in student government was the first taste of that for me, because not only do you have to run a campaign, but you’re constantly interfacing with the local organizations, clubs and students,” he said. “That created the foundation for a lot of public advocacy and outreach work that I do now.”

Before his time with the SouthEast Connector project, Minnema worked in the private sector on a variety of regional projects, including the redevelopment of Kaiser’s South Sacramento medical center, a street beautification project along Del Paso Boulevard, and numerous transportation projects such as interchanges and railroad grade separations. Early in his career, he had the opportunity to work at Sac State on the new University Bookstore and the Academic Information Resource Center.

Many engineering students graduate with dreams of working around the world on massive, landmark construction projects, said Minnema, who grew up in Dixon and now lives in Fair Oaks. But there is an entirely different, and potentially greater, satisfaction that comes from staying local.

“Working on big projects is great. You do get a certain amount of pride with large, complicated, challenging projects,” he said. “But at a certain point you want to have an impact in the neighborhood and the community where you live.

“I can get in the car with my kids and show them things I had a role in building. As a parent, as a father, that’s a cool thing to do.”