Distinguished Alumni

Distinguished Alumni

Chico State alumni are making a difference all over the world. This year, we recognize eight who have risen to the top of their fields.

photo of Jeanette E. LoweJeanette E. Lowe
College of Agriculture

Jeanette Lowe (BS, Agricultural Business, ’85) serves as a consultant for the California Department of Education and has been the advisor for the Superior Region of the National FFA Organization for 15 years. From her office on CSU, Chico’s University Farm, she coordinates leadership activities, conferences, and career development events for more than 8,400 students annually. Lowe monitors state and federal career and technical education grants, provides in-service training and technical assistance for teachers and administrators, is a guest lecturer at the University, and works directly with 52 schools from Sacramento to the Oregon border to improve agricultural education. The former Hamilton Union High School teacher and counselor is the recipient of many accolades including induction into the Glenn County Office of Education Hall of Fame, the Honorary America FFA Degree, and the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association Outstanding Young Teacher and Teacher of Teachers awards. She has three children (Matthew, 20, and twins Mitchell and Megan, 18) studying agriculture in Idaho.

Matt PetersenMatt Petersen
College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

The former president and CEO of Global Green USA, Matt Petersen (BA, Political Science, ’90), is the first chief sustainability officer for the City of Los Angeles. He was a leader in the green rebuilding of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and in helping communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy. He has been instrumental in the greening of cities, schools, and affordable housing across the United States and worked with then-Los Angeles Councilman Eric Garcetti to create the first large-city municipal green-building policy. At CSU, Chico, Petersen organized an alternative transportation event which pitted Bob Linscheid (former CSU Board of Trustees chair) against Jane Dolan (CSU, Chico University Foundation Board of Governors member) in an SUV-versus-bicycle race. Petersen has been named a Green Hero by Outside magazine and is a member of the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations and a board member of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles. He is a proud father to his son, Aidan, 12.

Len JessupLen Jessup
College of Business

In January 2015, Len Jessup (BA, Information and Communication Studies, ’83; MBA, ’85) became the 10th president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). Jessup assumes leadership at a time when UNLV aspires to Tier-One status and is launching a new medical school. Jessup, who holds a doctorate in organizational behavior from the University of Arizona, has a demonstrated record of success in teaching, research, commercializing technologies, and fundraising. Prior to starting at UNLV, Jessup served as dean of the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management. He is credited with helping the business school become a self-sustaining program and improving the rankings of Eller College. He also launched Eller’s highly successful online MBA and Master of Management Information Systems programs. Before moving to Arizona, he served at Washington State University in several leadership roles and helped with the launch of a $1 billion capital campaign. Jessup lives with his partner, Kristi, in Las Vegas and has two children (Jamie, 17, and David, 12).

Natalie KerrisNatalie Kerris
College of Communication and Education

With more than 25 years of experience as one of Silicon Valley’s top public relations professionals, Natalie Kerris (BA, Information and Communication Studies, ’89) has spent the past 14 years introducing Apple’s most iconic products to the world, including the iPod, iTunes, iPad, iPhone, App Store, and most recently, Apple Pay and Apple Watch. As the senior director of worldwide corporate communications for Apple, she has shaped the company’s narrative from tech underdog to industry disrupter, through the meteoric rise of the iPhone to becoming the world’s most valuable company. An innovative team leader and creative problem solver, Kerris has managed crisis communications, strategic partnerships, and public relations campaigns with iTunes artists in music, television, and film. She resides in Los Gatos with her husband, Richard, and two daughters (Scarlett, 9, and Madeline, 8). In her free time, she volunteers for the Girl Scouts and the Los Gatos Ballet.

Grayson D. BeckGrayson D. Beck
College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management

Grayson Beck (BS, Electrical Engineering, ’92) is owner and co-founder of Aduro Laser, a company that makes precision laser-cut and machined tubes. His latest project involves modifying a Jeep Rubicon into an off-road, rock-climbing vehicle. He has enlisted the help of his four sons (Ronin, 14; Corbin, 13; and Orion and Maksim, 9) in the process of adding roll bars, winches, an onboard welder, and an air compressor to create a vehicle capable of withstanding a two-week mountain expedition. In addition to being a thrill seeker—and raising his sons in similar fashion—Beck serves on the board of TechDAVIS, an organization dedicated to developing a robust technological ecosystem in Davis and the surrounding region. Beck resides in Davis with his wife, Olivia (BA, Communications, ’92).

Terris McMahan Grimes
Terris McMahan Grimes College of Humanities and Fine Arts

Terris McMahan Grimes (BA, English, ’73; BA, Social Welfare, ’73) is the winner of the Chester Himes Black Mystery Writers Award and double Anthony Awards for best first novel and best paperback original—an unprecedented achievement. She owns Patent Leather Press, a company providing services to self-publishing authors, and is a self-described literary evangelist. McMahan Grimes always knew she would write, even though her professional writing career didn’t begin until she was in her forties. The author of the Theresa Galloway mystery series, including Somebody Else’s Child and Blood Will Tell, admits she had a difficult time killing off her first character (the elderly and kind Mrs. Turner in Somebody Else’s Child). She does say, though, that after the first murder, it gets easier. Grimes’ latest novel, Smelling Herself, a coming-of-age story set in 1964 Oakland won the Northern California Publishers and Authors 2014 first-place award for general fiction.

Debra Geary HookDebra Geary Hook
College of Natural Sciences

Debra Geary Hook (BS, Food and Nutrition, ’85) serves as a pediatric dietitian at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, at Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital in Long Beach, and in private practice. She also serves as a consultant dietitian for Ultragenyx, a clinical-stage biotechnology company, and works on a number of clinical studies for the National Urea Cycle Disorder Foundation. Geary Hook has been named an outstanding dietetics educator by the American Dietetic Association and serves on many committees working on nutrition protocols. She serves as a volunteer at the California Coalition for Phenylketonuria and Allied Disorders, a Pasadena animal rescue, and the March of Dimes. Geary Hook lives in Southern California with her husband, Frederic Hook (BS, Engineering, ’85), and spends her spare time finishing up her doctorate.

Farshad AzadFarshad Azad
Distinguished Alumni Service Award

As owner of Azad’s Martial Arts Center and a lecturer in CSU, Chico’s Department of Kinesiology, Farshad Azad (MPA, ’89) is known locally for his service to the community. He founded the Rock Solid Teens program, which uses martial arts to help teens gain confidence, and serves as vice president of the World Hapkido Association. His annual Thanksgiving Basket Brigade has helped thousands of needy families. Azad is chair of the University Advisory Board, sponsors a scholarship for international students, and has served on the University’s safety committee and diversity council. He was inducted into the U.S. Martial Arts Hall of Fame as most distinguished master in 2008 and has been named member of the year and citizen of the year by the International Exchange Club and the Chico Noon Exchange Club, respectively. This year, Azad will be promoted to the highest rank in martial arts, a 10th-degree black belt, and will unveil a new system he founded, the art of Jung Shin Do (The Way of Mind and Spirit).