Distinguished Alumni Award winner shares her Sac State story

Over the past decade, few individuals have had a greater impact on Sacramento’s economic future than Christine Ault. Now, in her own words, the dynamic communications leader shares the impact Sacramento State had on her:

“Of course I would express my gratitude for the quality education I received, for many wonderful teachers I had the chance to study with, and for the foundation that my Communication Studies degree laid for me. But looking back after 25 years since graduation, it’s really the unforeseen opportunities that came about — for both Michael and me — that simply can’t be measured.”

Christine and Michael Ault with professor Gerri Smith
Christine (left) and Michael Ault return to campus to visit with communications professor Gerri Smith. The Aults met in one of Smith’s classes, and the professor attended their wedding years later. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

Tonight in the Harper Alumni Center, Christine and her husband, Michael Ault, executive director of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, will accept Distinguished Alumni Awards for the staggering amount of work they have done to bring a new vision of Sacramento to life.

Over the years, Christine Ault has worn many hats and played myriad roles, most recently as a project manager for Valley Vision, a regional think tank. The organization is responsible for some of the region’s biggest collaborative initiatives, partnerships, programs, and events.

With Valley Vision, she has helped bring in millions of dollars in state grants as a result of her work on the landmark jobs initiative Next Economy, which laid out a roadmap for continued growth and cooperative efforts across Sacramento’s vast economic landscape through 2017.

Though more than two decades have passed, she still hearkens back to her time at Sac State, the professors who inspired her, the connections she made, and friendships that continue to this day.

“Fast forward 25 years, and Michael and I find ourselves working alongside Sac State leaders every day. President Nelsen, Phil Garcia, Robert Dugan. Our work also crosses paths with probably hundreds of fellow alumni as we each do our part to help the region meet its full potential. Tim Murphy, Keri Thomas, Bill Mueller, Pat Fong Kushida, and so many others. I have no doubt that the opportunities that Michael and I have been afforded started from our relationship with Sac State. Not just the institution, but the people.”

Read Christine’s blog in its entirety over at Valley Vision; check out the Aults’ Made at Sac State story and video for more on how the couple is shaping Sacramento’s future.

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Children’s book author’s journey mirrors her award-winning story

It wasn’t until JaNay Brown-Wood reread her award-winning authorial debut that she realized her journey as a writer paralleled her protagonist’s quest to touch the moon.

JaNay Brown-Wood and her award-winning book, "Imani's Moon"
Imani’s Moon, the first book by children’s author JaNay Brown-Wood, is the award-winning story of a Maasai girl trying to touch the moon. (Courtesy of JaNay Brown-Wood)

Talk about a story that jumps off the page.

Brown-Wood (2011, M.A. Child Development) is the author of Imani’s Moon, a children’s book about a young girl in a Maasai village in Africa on a lunar adventure in the face of jeering peers and taunting animals.

It is a folkloric tale with themes of perseverance and determination that have resonated with children around the country —and it almost didn’t happen.

As she searched for a publisher, Brown-Wood received stacks of rejection letters, some of which didn’t even include her name, before she entered Imani’s Moon into the National Association of Elementary School Principals’ Children’s Book of the Year competition. The story, Brown-Wood’s first, won the grand prize: a publication contract.

“You have to get your ‘no’s’, and all those ‘no’s’ allow you to refine your work, refine your craft, and then finally get that final product that you feel is ready to go,” she says. “All the ‘no’s’ are just part of the journey.”

And what a journey it has been. Brown-Wood has been a creative writer from a young age, but it was always her dream to become a published author. She grew up in Fresno and earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCLA. But it wasn’t until she moved to Sacramento to pursue a master’s in childhood development at Sacramento State that she decided to bring her lifelong dream to life and “to go full-steam,” she says.

Published by Charlesbridge Publishing, Imani’s Moon was one of the most celebrated children’s books of 2014-15. It was named one of the Top 2014 Mighty Girl Books for Young Readers, a Northern California Association of Children’s Librarians Distinguished Book for 2014, and a Reading Is Fundamental 2015 Multicultural Book. Live Oak Media turned Brown-Wood’s story into an audiobook, which was subsequently named Best Audiobook for Children  in 2015.

Brown-Wood, who is also a professor at American River College, says that having a deep knowledge of early childhood development from her studies at Sacramento State allows her to capture and create more authentic characters, dialogue, and issues that are true to her readers’ demographic.

“With Imani, bullying is a big issue,” she says. “And with Imani, teachers can use that to start the conversation about it.”

Another conversation the author is facilitating is the relative lack of diversity in children’s literature. According to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, only 24 percent of books received by the CCBC in 2015 were by or about people of color. This issue is especially important to Brown-Wood, who is trying to move the needle by telling stories about characters who are more representative of the nation’s diverse makeup.

“Children need to see themselves reflected in books no matter what their race or ethnicity, no matter what their ability level,” Brown-Wood says. “We’re moving toward a better representation, but it’s far from it in my opinion at this point.”

Brown-Wood will have the opportunity to continue to further whatever discussion she chooses: Her next book, Grandma’s Tiny House, is due out summer or fall 2017 from the same publisher.

“It has just been highs and highs and highs that make me realize how blessed I am to be able to do this thing I’ve wanted to do for so long,” Brown-Wood says, “and to receive some accolades and so much success from it, it’s just indescribable.”

Sights (anything but) unseen

When Maritza and Roshaun Davis met at Sacramento State in their first communication studies class together, they had no idea how profound an impact they would have on the cultural landscape of the capital region.

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Maritza Davis (Unseen Heroes)

The Davises are the founders of Unseen Heroes, the events-marketing company behind some of the region’s biggest celebrations of local culture. Having helped launch and manage everything from local urban markets and art festivals to businesses and major conferences, these heroes are anything but unseen.

Last month, Comstocks Magazine recognized Maritza (’07, Communications) and Roshaun (’08, Journalism) as two of the capital’s top emerging young leaders, and this month they’re expanding their already-extensive portfolio in more ways than ever.

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Roshaun Davis (Unseen Heroes)

Kicking off April 15 at Folsom Boulevard and Power Inn Road, the Unseen Heroes’ latest venture, The Market at Power Inn, will feature the team’s signature blend of local food, art, design, beer, music, and more, transforming an otherwise empty lot into a bustling neighborhood hub for a few hours each Friday. “It was a blank canvas for us,” says Roshaun.

In addition, the company’s popular monthly neighborhood block party – Gather: Oak Park – is adding a second location in Rocklin, and its Midtown Farmers Market, which the Unseen Heroes took over in March 2015, is expanding down the block to accommodate nearly 100 vendors after starting out with a couple of dozen.

“Our intentions are always to build these third spaces so people can come out and connect,” Davis says. “It’s a connection point for people to have and explore and learn more about what’s going on in the region and their district, and then also have this place that they’re proud of as well.”

As the Unseen Heroes team gears up for the launch of The Market at Power Inn, which will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Friday, April through October, take a look at some of the sights from past events:

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