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Student programs key to Chico State grad student’s success

Krystle Tonga is Program coordinator for the Cross-Cultural Leadership Center at Chico State.

Krystle Tonga is Program coordinator for the Cross-Cultural Leadership Center at Chico State.

Photo By jason cassidy

Krystle Tonga wasn’t college material. So she thought. In fact, Tonga says there was a time when she couldn’t even imagine life outside of her hometown of Reno, Nev.

“College was never part of my plan,” she explained. “Graduating high school was my goal, which is normal in the Pacific Islander community. I wanted to find a job and help my parents.”

That was eight years ago. Since that time, Tonga graduated from Chico State with a degree in political science, and is currently working on her master’s degree in public administration. Her proudest achievement, however, might be her role as assistant program coordinator for Chico State’s Cross-Cultural Leadership Center, a campus resource that the 25-year-old says helped her get to where she is today.

But getting to that point was a challenge.

It wasn’t until Tonga’s family moved to the Del Paso Heights neighborhood of Sacramento that she even considered the idea of college. During Tonga’s junior year in high school, one of her teachers stressed the importance of an education. “I was like, ‘OK, I need to get my stuff together.’”

Tonga was accepted into a college-track program, but it was right around the same time her family made the decision to move again—this time to the Bay Area. With a little persistence, Tonga convinced her parents to let her stay in Sacramento, where she ended up living with her older brother during the school week, and taking a Greyhound bus to the East Bay on weekends to stay with her parents and to work.

Staying put paid off, as she was soon applying to universities in the area, and getting accepted. But a campus tour of Chico State convinced Tonga that this was home. “Chico was the only school where, when we said ‘hi,’ everyone said ‘hi’ back.”

Even with the university’s personable atmosphere, Tonga initially found it hard to get involved in her new community. She recalls one of her advisers telling her: “If there isn’t a Pacific Islanders group, why don’t you just start one?” said Tonga. “I started to think, ‘I can really be myself here.’”

But it was the campus’ Cross-Cultural Leadership Center—where Tonga has served as assistant program coordinator since December 2012—that she says has helped shape her. The center offers programs in which students of all backgrounds can engage with others, learn about what makes us diverse, and gain leadership skills in the process. Tonga says one thing she’s come away with is that diversity goes beyond race, religion and socioeconomic factors.

“When I look at diversity through my lens, I look at it in terms of the different experiences that create your identity. Experiences are what bond you.”

At the Cross-Cultural Leadership Center’s 2013 iLead leadership conference, participant Courtney Silver busts through a “barrier” to success (here and below).

PHOTO courtesy of csuc cross-cultural leadership center

Tonga points to the three-day Diversity Summit, which brings together 120 students in Nevada City, as a pivotal experience in her life. The retreat gives students (many of whom are freshmen and transfers) a chance to meet others, and maybe tap into their own talents.

“I went up with a group of strangers and came away with a family,” said Tonga of the experience. “That retreat changed my entire outlook on what I wanted to do.”

She says the summit is a good way for students to build support groups early in their college career, which Tonga explains can be the difference between dropping out and graduating. “That’s what will make or break a student—having someone to turn to when they need it.”

Tonga isn’t just dropping hyperbole. She’s proof of the power of a strong support group and mentors. And now she’s paying it forward.

“I’m proud to be a Wildcat. I’m proud to be a product of Chico State,” Tonga said. And she doesn’t take her current role for granted. “It’s a great opportunity. It’s a privilege.”


Broaden your education:

There is a lot going on at Chico State, and the Student Life Leadership office (room 190 in the Student Services Center) is where to start your journey beyond the classroom. Call 898-5396 or visit for info. Or visit the office of one of the individual Student Life programs:

Cross-Cultural Leadership Center

MLB 172


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Greek Life

BMU 213


Recreational Sports

WREC 166


Student Organizations

SSC 190