San Francisco State University’s graduating class includes a number of exceptional Asian American students who have overcome obstacles, given back to their communities and achieved academically.
Of the 7,869 undergraduate and graduate students that will be honored at the University’s Commencement ceremony on May 19, three Asian American students stand out. Filipino American Marilyn Bunag, Nepalese American Apurwa Sharma and Thai American Andrew Suvunnachuen share stories that highlight SF State’s commitment to diversity and equal opportunity in education.
Marilyn Bunag: giving back after climbing out of poverty
Born in the Philippines, Marilyn Bunag grew up in poverty in San Francisco, helping to raise five siblings. As she grew older, she struggled with a series of relationships that led to an eight-year period of domestic abuse, drug addiction and homelessness, all while struggling to raise children of her own. Her children inspired her to turn her life around, and after time in treatment and transitional housing, she attended City College before transferring to SF State. “I realized the only way for me and my family to get out of poverty was through education,” she said. “But more than that, school just made me feel good about myself. It made me see the world through a different lens.”
While pursuing a degree in sociology, Bunag developed a strong interest in studying the poverty, inequalities and power structures that she had lived through. In addition to raising her four children, who range in age from 8 to 19, Bunag now works as a case manager at a vocational training nonprofit in the Mission District and serves on the Board of Directors for the shelter and family services program where she was once a client. After graduation, Bunag plans to apply to graduate school and continue doing social work in low-income communities. She will receive a symbolic hood at the Commencement ceremony to represent students in the College of Health and Human Services.
Apurwa Sharma: innovating and leading in the lab
Raised in a working class family in Nepal, Apurwa Sharma learned that hard work and education were essential to success, breaking social barriers and making the world a better place. Graduating magna cum laude with a degree in biochemistry, he has excelled in his four years on campus. His own research involves using a nanosecond laser-based time-resolved spectrophotometer to monitor protein dynamics, mutating and cloning a smaller protein to study the behaviors of a larger, more complicated one. Apurwa is one of the few undergraduate students to train and supervise his peers and even graduate students in the lab. He has contributed to three major projects and will co-author three publications, one of which will serve as the basis for grant applications to the National Science Foundation. Apurwa has also volunteered with SF State’s Chemistry and Biochemistry Student Association and with the American Chemistry Society, where he teaches Bay Area youth about science.
He will begin a doctoral program in biochemistry this fall at the highly competitive Washington University in St. Louis and wants to become not only a scientific researcher but an advocate for scientific education as well. “I want to go to a place like SF State where teaching and research go side by side, and I can get the next generation to be just as excited about biochemistry as I am,” he said. Apurwa’s older sister, Abriti, also is graduating from SF State this spring. Apurwa will receive a symbolic hood at the Commencement ceremony to represent students in the College of Science and Engineering.
Andrew Suvunnachuen: overcoming setbacks
Andrew Suvunnachuen was excited to continue his role as a catcher for the Gator baseball team during his senior year, but he was sidelined before the season started by an elbow injury. He returned to the team in February, but soon seriously injured his knee. With the support of his teammates, Suvunnachuen juggled his injuries, classes, daily physical therapy, team events and his job in the Athletics department all while coping with the loss of his mother, who passed away in December.
Suvunnachuen will be the first in his family to graduate from college, earning a bachelor’s degree in communication studies. He is looking to enter the professional sports public relations world — ideally for his hometown Giants or 49ers. “I’m eventually going to be a coach because baseball is in my blood, so learning ways to communicate was incredibly helpful,” he said. After graduation, he plans to visit his mother’s home country of Thailand for the first time.