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News Release| CSULA; Masons Nursing Scholarship

November 4, 2009

Scholarships to 2 at CSULA to advance nursing leadership

Masonic Foundation $100K boosts master’s program,
launches Cunningham scholarships

Los Angeles, CA — Recognized for leadership potential, dedication to health care and drive for education, Cal State L.A.’s nursing master’s students Luis Avitia (Whittier resident) and Virginia Castaneda (South Pasadena resident) received the inaugural Claire V. Cunningham Masonic Scholarships Supporting Leadership in Nursing.

The scholarships are funded through a recent $100,000 gift from the California Masonic Foundation to Cal State L.A.’s School of Nursing. They support graduate students in nursing administration and education. 

Avitia and Castaneda each overcame personal obstacles to become successful nurses. Avitia, inspired to go into nursing after the birth of his first child, had to take evening classes to earn his high school diploma since he dropped out of school at age 14. Castaneda started college in 1985 with the hope of becoming a teacher, but along the way her career passion changed. As a single parent, she juggled her time between work, school and family.

Now a registered nurse at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, Castaneda started her health care career in 2000 with an associate’s degree in nursing. She returned to school in 2007 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Cal State L.A. Now, she said, “I am embarking on a new journey of my education.”

To improve patient care and nursing, Castaneda has helped develop tools and staff education to bring awareness to patient safety as a member of the Falls Prevention Committee at Huntington. Recently, she began co-chairing Huntington’s Policy and Procedure Committee.

Avitia, an admission planner in the Los Angeles Sheriff Department’s Men’s Central Jail, has been a registered nurse since 2003. He began his nursing career working in the emergency department at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.

Avitia completed his bachelor’s degree in nursing this past summer. He would like to further his education ultimately to teach in a classroom setting and improve the profession of nursing. He said, “My intent is to use my education and master’s degree to further my career—and to serve as a recruiter, an advocate, and an educator for minority nurses.”

Doug Ismail, CMF executive vice president, said, “The California Masonic Foundation recognizes the importance of health care to our society, as well as the significance of nurses and all health care professionals in our lives. By supporting these future nurse leaders, we hope to play a small part in creating a healthier and safer world.”

Through the Claire Cunningham Masonic Fund for Leadership in Nursing, established in 2008, the California Masonic Foundation is partnering with state organizations to support leadership development and excellence in nursing. The California Masonic Foundation donation to Cal State L.A.’s School of Nursing brings the Foundation’s total gifts and pledges in support of California nurse leaders in 2009 to more than $340,000. The support addresses critical needs within the nursing profession: building a strong infrastructure of administrative and faculty leaders, and providing access to advanced education at all levels of practice.

The Cal State L.A. nursing programs have been in existence within a department since the late 1960s and have been a unit in Cal State L.A.’s College of Health and Human Services since its inception in 1984. Programs in nursing at Cal State L.A. are approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing and accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC). Since 2000, when it began surveying nursing graduate programs, U.S. News and World Report  “Best Colleges” issue has listed Cal State L.A.’s nursing graduate program among the top programs in California and the highest-ranked in the CSU system.   

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Freemasonry is the world’s first and largest fraternal organization. The Masons of California have supported public education since 1850, and invest in our communities and our future with programs that touch the lives of thousands of Californians each year. For more information, visit  

Working for California since 1947: The 175-acre hilltop campus of California State University, Los Angeles is at the heart of a major metropolitan city, just five miles from Los Angeles’ civic and cultural center. More than 20,000 students and 210,000 alumni—with a wide variety of interests, ages and backgrounds—reflect the city’s dynamic mix of populations. Six Colleges offer nationally recognized science, arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education and humanities programs, among others, led by an award-winning faculty. Cal State L.A. is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Jazz Orchestra and to a unique university center for gifted students as young as 12. Programs that provide exciting enrichment opportunities to students and community include an NEH- and Rockefeller-supported humanities center; a NASA-funded center for space research; and a growing forensic science program, housed in the Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center.