CSSA President Mia Kagianas promotes student voices, a ‘caring campus’

It’s a story Mia Kagianas probably has told more times than she can count. During her first year as a Sacramento State student, unsure how to make friends, she sat at a table outside the campus Starbucks with a sign reading “Free conversations,” waiting for someone to join her.

Eventually, as she was packing up to leave, another student finally took her up on the offer. The conversation was awkward, she says, but it gave her enough confidence to walk to the University Union and sign up to host a radio show on KSSU, an action that set off a chain of events culminating in her election as Associated Students Inc. president for the 2017-18 school year.

“Being able to express myself through KSSU, even if there wasn’t anyone listening, was my chance to share what my experience had been and let out some of the struggles I was facing,” Kagianas says. “That’s when I first realized the power of sharing student stories, what we face each day.”

Sharing student stories will remain at the center of Kagianas’ life in the weeks and months ahead: She recently was elected president of the California State Student Association (CSSA) and will spend her final year at Sacramento State advocating on behalf of students across the CSU.

“It’s important that students’ voices are heard because (ours are) the lived experiences,” Kagianas says, adding that challenges students face such as housing insecurity and loan debt can have a ripple effect throughout the entire regional economy. “We can be the representation and symbols behind whether a system is working properly.”

As ASI president, she focused especially on fostering a “caring campus” at Sacramento State. The topic hits home for Kagianas, who came to the University from a small suburb outside Chicago knowing very few people and unable, because of work obligations, to devote any time to extracurricular activities. She felt isolated. Faculty and even Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen were there for her in her time of need, offering support and directing her to campus resources.

Over the previous year, she worked to make ASI and its programming more accessible to students, changing election bylaws so more students can participate, improving communication to students, and raising the visibility of ASI programs such as Peak Adventures, the Aquatic Center, and the weekly food pantry.

“We’ve redefined what it means to belong,” she says. “We have experiences on campus that are available to students, but maybe students are timid or they don’t feel like it’s for them. Sacramento State and the people on this campus try to tear down those ideas of ‘You can’t do this’ and make it, ‘You can do this, this place is for you.’ ”

Creating a more caring campus is a goal that has been shared with Nelsen, with whom Kagianas has developed a strong relationship and considers a mentor.

“I’ve learned a lot from (Nelsen) and how he leads, which has inspired my leadership,” she says. “But he also trusts me with decisions. Before he makes certain university decisions, he’ll ask me what my perspective is. I feel really empowered by that trust.”

Nelsen praised Kagianas’ commitment to her fellow Hornets and her work to promote a caring campus.

“It has been my absolute privilege to get to know Mia over the past few years, and to work so closely with her during her presidential term,” he says. “Mia’s heart for her fellow students and her tireless efforts to make Sac State a place of belonging are outstanding. I look forward to seeing her over the next year while she completes her degree, and then to watch her journey after she leaves Sac State.”

Though she came from out of state, Sacramento was not completely foreign to Kagianas. It’s where her father spent much of his childhood, and where she visited often as a kid to see family and to go skiing in Tahoe. Growing up in a family of small business owners, she knew she wanted to major in a business-related field, eventually settling on human resources management and entrepreneurship as concentrations, the latter of which she had been interested in since it was the result she got after taking a careers test in the sixth grade.

“I was really thankful Sacramento State offered a concentration in entrepreneurship because it’s becoming more and more relevant in our society and not that many colleges have it as an emphasis,” she says.

Sixth grade also was where she began her time in student government, becoming elected to her middle school student council. In high school, she broke the mold by serving as the student body president all four years. At Sacramento State, she previously served with ASI as director of undeclared students and director of business administration, as well as vice president of finance for the CSSA.

“This is a campus where I’ve found who I am, I’ve found what my passions are, and I found a family that will be very, very hard for me to leave,” she says. “I hope to always be very strongly connected to it no matter where I am or what I’m doing in my life.”

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Alumnus and new Sacramento police chief Daniel Hahn sworn in at Sac State

A week after being sworn in as Sacramento’s 45th police chief – and the first African American to lead the force – Daniel Hahn ’95 (Marketing) is comfortably settled into his new office at the city’s Public Safety Center, 5770 Freeport Blvd.

He has surrounded himself with photographs of his wife and two daughters, as well as his collection of Oakland Raiders memorabilia. A football player Herky bobblehead has a prominent spot amid the keepsakes.

It’s long been a tradition for Sacramento police chiefs to be sworn in at City Council chambers. Hahn chose instead to have his ceremony in the University Union Ballroom at Sac State, his alma mater. More than 1,000 people witnessed the joyous event.

“The council chambers wasn’t big enough, and I wanted to have it out in the community, as opposed to downtown, because we need to include all of our neighborhoods as we move forward as a city,” Hahn says. “Downtown is extremely important, and it’s really the hub of the city, but I wanted to give a little love to the neighborhoods. And I’m from Sac State.”

There was green and gold and plenty of blue in the University Union on Aug. 11 as Hahn was officially sworn in. Family, friends, law enforcement officers, and other guests were on hand for the occasion, including Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

Hahn was sworn in as chief surrounded by his wife, his daughters, and his adoptive mother. In his remarks, he talked about growing up in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood, the importance of community, and returning to the campus where he earned his degree.

“I can’t think of too many places that are more important to our city, and our community, and our youth, and the future of our community, than my alma mater, Sac State,” Hahn said.

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Once an ESL student, recent graduate begins her career as ESL teacher at Sac State

The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Hannan Hawari MA ’17 (TESOL) grew up speaking Arabic, was placed in an English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom at an early age, and received early lessons about the importance of how not knowing a language can be a barrier to opportunity.

“I felt that barrier when I was younger and when I was growing up,” she says. “A lot of times, when I was with my mom, she wouldn’t have the right words to negotiate something on the phone, or ask about something at the store. It seemed like language was a very powerful tool.”

Today, she’s helping international students in Sacramento State’s English Language Institute (ELI) overcome that barrier, serving as an instructor and teaching American Language and Culture. ELI, run through Sacramento State’s College of Continuing Education, offers several programs throughout the year to help international students become stronger English speakers and learn about American culture to prepare them for study at a four-year college or university in the United States – often Sacramento State. Hawari also has spent time leading ELI’s Conversation Clubs, weekly meet-ups where ELI students can practice their language skills with Sac State students.

“Language is very powerful,” she says. “I feel like I’m giving them another tool. A powerful tool.”

Hawari grew up loving reading, writing, and school. A Stockton native, she earned her undergraduate degree in English literature at nearby University of the Pacific before enrolling at Sacramento State for her master’s in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) – combining her lifelong passion for learning with her first-hand knowledge of the power of language.

She came to Sacramento State for the same reason many others do: access and opportunity. The University was nearby, affordable, and allowed her the flexibility to continue working. Plus, her brother already was at Sac State as an undergraduate. But the campus quickly became much more than a place to get a degree.

“I felt like (Sac State) was the place where I truly grew. There are a lot of services for students as well as a strong, inclusive community,” Hawari says. “It seemed to be a very diverse campus. There were a lot of people I felt were like me, who had the same struggle, and were first-generation college students. There seemed to be a real acceptance of that on this campus and it felt like a good environment to be in.”

Working at the University Writing Center and as an instructor for a first-year composition course provided her with real-world experience tutoring and teaching. She also worked off campus at a private learning center in Stockton and as an intern with ELI, where she also volunteered with Conversation Club.

“That was a wonderful program that helped me build my knowledge of how to teach ESL speaking and listening skills,” Hawari says. “It gave me valuable practice in classroom management and standing in front of the class.”

She ultimately was hired to teach summer courses with ELI and hopes to continue in the fall. Longer term, she plans to continue working with adult ESL students, perhaps at the K-12 level, or perhaps even abroad: Her bigger goal is to return to her parents’ home, Palestine, to teach English.

In the meantime, Hawari is cherishing the opportunity to share both her experience with the power of language and her passion for teaching and learning with students from across the globe.

“I feel like I’m a part of them because I’m kind of that in between where I’m not really American, I’m not really Arab,” she says. “I understand the struggle of coming to a different place and having to feel like a foreigner. They have their own culture and they’re excited to share it, but at the same time they’re excited to learn so much more about American culture. I just love the idea of teaching and being part of their language experience.”