Eleven Sacramento State alumni make annual ’40 Under 40′ list

Every year, the Sacramento Business Journal honors the “40 Under 40” – a group of young Sacramento professionals who are making their mark on the region. And every year, Sacramento State alumni make up a significant portion of the list.

This year is no exception: 11 Sacramento State alumni have been named to the 2019 “40 Under 40” list, a testament to the tremendous impact Hornet alums have throughout Sacramento and beyond. They and their fellow recipients will be honored formally at an event in November.

The full list was announced Sept. 30 on the Business Journal’s website. This year’s Hornets included on the “40 Under 40” roster are:

  • Maggie Bender ’11 MBA, president, Bender Insurance Solutions.
  • Tiffanie Berkhalter ’04 (Business Administration), VSP Ventures chief operating officer, VSP Global.
  • Jita Buno ’13 MBA, director, Supply Chain Management, UC Davis Health.
  • Matt Ceccato ’11 (Communication Studies), district director, Congressman Ami Bera.
  • Sarah Correa ’03 (Criminal Justice), corporate sales and marketing manager, Westervelt Ecological Services.
  • Jessica Cruz ’04 (Communication Studies – Media Communications), CEO, National Alliance on Mental Health in California.
  • Lindsey Goodwin MA ’10 (Government), vice president of public affairs, Randle Communications.
  • Joseph Hernandez ’16 MBA, director of client relations, Premier Healthcare Services.
  • Lorena Martinez ’07 (Accountancy), owner, The Colour Bar.
  • Chelsea Minor ’15 MBA, corporate director, Consumer and Public Affairs, Raley’s.
  • Amber Rosen ’06 (Communication Studies – Public Relations), founder and program director, Breakroom Fitness.

A 12th individual, attorney Adrian Carpenter, is not an alum but participated in Sacramento State’s Capital Fellows Program.

“These young professionals, through their hard work, talent and leadership, are helping drive Sacramento’s economy forward. Moreover, they’re making the region a better place to live by supporting worthy causes,” the Business Journal writes. “By way of example, they’re leading the way for future generations of business leaders.”

The strong presence of Sacramento State alumni on the list continues a trend. Last year, 12 alumni were included in the “40 Under 40.” Nine alums were recognized in 2017 and in 2016, and a record 12 Hornets made the list in 2015.

The full list can be found on the Sacramento Business Journal website. (subscription required).

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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.”

Social work alumna blends homeless advocacy with humor

On stage during a comedy night in Chico just before the 2016 election, Shahera Hyatt ’08 (Social Work), MSW ’10 is talking about two homeless teenagers she met who, while rummaging through a trash can, had the police called on them.

What was that 911 call like, she wonders aloud. Perhaps you should check your privilege and recognize that these people are less fortunate than you and not causing any harm, she imagines the dispatcher telling the caller, before waiting a beat.

“Just kidding. We’ll arrest them,” Hyatt-as-dispatcher quips.

It’s the perfect example of how seriousness and humor blend in Hyatt’s life. By day, she is the director of the California Homeless Youth Project, a nonpartisan state organization that works to educate policymakers on the issue of youth homelessness and provide research-backed solutions to the crisis. At night, she’s a fixture on the Sacramento comedy scene, drawing inspiration from her work and using her stand-up act and monthly live current events show to shed light on social justice issues and politics.

“My day job is pretty heady, and comedy is, too, because the threshold for getting people to laugh out loud is pretty high,” she says. “But I do it in part to have more laughter and levity in my life, because I’m constantly mired in awareness of social injustice and human suffering. It doesn’t take that away. It’s still a huge weight on my head and my heart. But I get to explore a creative community and laugh every night.”

Hyatt’s past informs much of her present. The issues she experienced growing up in Rancho Cordova, including homelessness, are part of what inspired her to pursue degrees in social work, and they provide a unique and important perspective as she tackles youth homelessness at the state level. The social justice and political issues she deals with during the day form the basis of her comedy, which in turn serves as relief from the weight of her job.

Homelessness forced her to drop out of high school at the age of 16 and take the California High School Proficiency exam in order enroll at American River College, where her class schedule could accommodate a work schedule.

“It wasn’t about being disconnected to my education, it was about needing to work to be able to afford rent and have a place to live,” she says. “I knew I wanted a pathway out, and I had role models, a cousin who had been through similar situations and went on to get her Ph.D. It illuminated a path for me.”

During her first semester, Hyatt audited a class on the psychology of chemical dependency. That sparked an interest in the helping professions, which eventually led her to Sacramento State for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work. The University provided a practical education with field work at the core of both her undergraduate and graduate degrees. By the time she entered the workforce, Hyatt had more than six years of on-the-job experience, including at the Homeless Youth Project, where she first started working eight years ago as a grad student.

The makeup of Sacramento State’s student body provided an added, and equally important, benefit.

“The social work program at Sac State is one of the largest and most diverse in the country,” Hyatt says. “And something that prepares you well for working directly with communities of impact is studying with the communities that are impacted. Because our classrooms were so diverse and because the curriculum focused so much on introspection, the student body enriched my education.”

As the California Homeless Youth Project’s director, Hyatt educates state legislators, executive branch officials, and other policymakers about the issue of youth homelessness and works with them to develop evidence-backed solutions. She conducts academic research and meets regularly with children, teenagers, and young adults experiencing homelessness to gain their perspective and learn where gaps may exist in the state’s current support systems.

The need for such solutions is great: 5 percent of California public school students experienced homelessness during the 2013-14 school year, and roughly one in 10 CSU students are homeless, according to Hyatt.

“We try to speak and write in ways that are easy for folks to understand, no matter what their expertise level or how busy they are, to let them know what they need to know and how they can help,” she says. “We’re very research-informed, very solution-oriented, and I think that’s something we don’t see enough in policymaking.”

The project’s recent successes include passage of a bill requiring colleges and universities to develop a plan for housing students during academic breaks, as well as another that requires them to have a staff member on campus to respond to the needs of students experiencing homelessness. The latter bill led to Sacramento State hiring Case Manager Danielle Munozpart of the University’s ongoing efforts to help students in need – with whom Hyatt works closely. And the project’s connection to Sac State goes further: Both of Hyatt’s interns are current social work students.

As for stand-up comedy, that pastime began two years ago when Hyatt took a class at the Sacramento Comedy Spot, founded by comedian and fellow Sacramento State alum Brian Crall. She decided to perform at an open-mic night as a sort of one-off, “bucket list” thing and became hooked.

Today, she performs four times a week, is taking an improv class, hosts a weekly open-mic night and a monthly talk show called The Latest Show, and co-produces the Moving Van Show, a roving monthly pop-up comedy show.

“I talk about relationships and politics through a social justice lens,” she says. “It’s not like a TED talk. It’s funny jokes and they just happen to be about the things that I grapple with in my life. Taking it to the stage and making light of it, or even making some points while I’m just processing the world around me in funny ways, is a lot of fun for me.”