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).

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.”

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.”