Exploring the Legacy of An Abolitionist

Photo: David Schmitz Professor Jennifer Rycenga

Photo: David Schmitz
Professor Jennifer Rycenga

Department of Humanities Professor Jennifer Rycenga’s expansive research interests include religion, politics, popular and classical music and lesbian history. An alumna of UC Berkeley and the Graduate Theologian Union, she has taught at SJSU for more than 20 years and coordinates the Comparative Religious Studies Program. Co-editor of The Mary Daly Reader (NYU Press, 2017), Queering the Popular Pitch (Routledge, 2006) and Frontline Feminisms: Women, War and Resistance (Routledge, 2001), she is currently working on a cultural biography of white abolitionist educator Prudence Crandall (1803-1890). She talked with WSQ about her Crandall project, research methods and the joys of birding.

Tell us about the subject of your research.

Prudence Crandall had an Academy for women in Canterbury, Connecticut, in 1831. In 1832, three extraordinary events occurred. First, Crandall was reading the then-little-known abolitionist newspaper from Boston, The Liberator, supplied to her by a household employee of hers, a young black woman named Maria Davis. The Liberator issues contained the second extraordinary occurrence: writings from black men and women, most notably the first American woman to give public political speeches, black Bostonian widow Maria Stewart. Stewart called for the establishment of a high school for black women, and encouraged education as the path to equality. The third extraordinary event occurred in the fall of 1832. Maria Davis’s future sister-in-law, Sarah Harris, asked Crandall if she could attend the Academy. Crandall agreed, and all went smoothly for a time. But the white parents of the students were not pleased with this change in the school. They threatened and cajoled Crandall to drop Harris from the roster; she refused. Instead, Crandall went to Boston, visiting with the editor of The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison, to discuss her plan to reopen the school for black women only. Garrison pledged his support.

And did Crandall reopen her school?

Yes. The new Academy was publicized with an advertisement featuring seven white and eight black male endorsers—one of the most racially integrated documents in the history of the abolitionist movement. Over the next 18 months, Crandall and her co-teachers maintained the school, and more than two dozen black women studied there. The townspeople of Canterbury opposed the Academy with persistent racist tactics, including cow patties thrown into the well water and the butchery of a black-and-white cat to mark the villagers’ opposition to racial integration. The leader of the opposition, Andrew Judson, had a law passed in the Connecticut Assembly, making the harboring of out-of-state blacks for purposes of education illegal in Connecticut. This led to extensive litigation against the school. Yet despite these assaults, the school continued until a vicious attack in September 1834 left the school building uninhabitable. My research has been able to demonstrate that, despite such opposition, the students went on to achieve places of importance in the free black community, affecting the movements for change that led up to and past the Civil War. The rock that Crandall threw into the complacency of white society in the north resulted in many generations of black self-determination and a richer sense of who we can be as a country.

When did you first become interested in Crandall?

I first learned of Crandall in the late 1990s, ancillary to my research on the black abolitionist Maria Stewart. My mother and I love to travel to historic places, so when I read about the Crandall Academy, now housing a museum, we included it on a trip in southern New England. That was in 1997! I was hooked as soon as I learned the trajectory of Crandall’s life. What I have discovered, though, turns out to be infinitely richer than I could have conceived when I began. Crandall’s school represented one of the strongest early coalitions across lines of difference in American history. Black women, black men, white women and white men not only worked together to launch and maintain the Academy in Canterbury, Connecticut, but they understood the need to protect each other. For instance, the names of the students were not revealed by the abolitionist press nor by Crandall herself. This creates some headaches for historians, but it demonstrates a perceptive incipient analysis of privilege and risk. Crandall’s legal team (who, of course, were white men) built an insightful argument for both black citizenship and female citizenship; their arguments would reappear in the Dred Scott case and Brown-v-Board. Part of what I have discovered is the existence of an American anti-racist genealogy. To be anti-racist means that you embrace the equality of all people, and do not seek to blame the victims of prejudice for the prejudice directed against them. Crandall grasped that the problems created by racism were in no way the fault of black people.

There seem to be several layers of discrimination operating in this higher education story.

One of the most important aspects of this story is how we can witness intersecting identities. The black students were facing prejudice primarily because of race, but also by virtue of their gender, age, sexuality, class status and class strivings. Crandall was dismissed by some opponents, then and now, because she was merely a woman. The Academy in Canterbury offered a unique opportunity for black families to give their daughters not only an advanced education, but the skills necessary to extend education more broadly through the black community, by training them to become teachers, too. I think of this when I interact with the many future teachers of California who come through the liberal studies program in our humanities department. Their wonderful diversity, across race, language, gender, sexuality and religion, shows me that the legacy of Crandall, Harris, and the other students lives on in America.

Did Crandall’s religion influence her academic mission?

Definitely. She was raised Quaker, and so the egalitarian ideals of that denomination were part of her deepest core. She also benefitted from the superior educational opportunities that the Quakers offered to women: she had attended a Quaker boarding school whose curriculum closely mirrored that of her own academy. However, Crandall left the Quakers and joined the Baptists in 1831. The Baptists were more open to the optimism of the Second Great Awakening and the evangelical tendency that maintained that reforming society was a way of manifesting one’s faith. Crandall used the Bible talismanically when Sarah Harris asked to join the school. She opened to Ecclesiastes 4:1, which speaks to the oppressed lacking advocates. She took this as a divine mandate to admit Harris and, later, the other black students.

What draws you to historical research? What about the process do you find most satisfying as a scholar?

To be able to rescue some names and lives from obscurity, to remember the warp and woof of how they lived out what it means to be human. History is the place where the big ideas of what is meaningful meet up with the details of life as it is experienced. In the case of those involved in the Canterbury Academy, I found that by examining women’s lives and interracial cooperation, I have discerned how the participants were expanding the boundaries of what was possible for women to do and be.

You’ve been teaching at SJSU since 1995. As someone keyed into cultural and academic shifts, describe some of the differences in your classroom and students then and now.

I think that in the 1990s, students still had fairly standard expectations of what to expect from college, in terms of curriculum and fields of study. With the geometric growth of the internet, both students and professors are in a perpetual candy shop of information, ideas, and opinions. On the one hand, research skills have improved. Students are easily able to locate scholarly articles and build extensive bibliographies. On the other hand, the internet inculcates lazy habits, such as stopping too early in a search and not knowing how to discern the quality of a source. Today’s students have easier access to knowledge, but a more difficult road to discover wisdom. That’s not a bad thing, really. By flooding students with information and opinions, the Internet forces them to learn how to swim intellectually!

You’re also an avid birder. Which bird “encounters” are currently on your wish list?

Any bird, through its behavior or unexpected appearance, can be a delight. I’ve maintained a list of all the species I’ve seen on the campus over the last 22 years and have now seen 64 species in our three-by-six block downtown oasis. The most recent addition was among the most welcome: families of Western Bluebird that I saw hawking insects off Tower Lawn in July 2017. I have now branched out, so to say, to an interest in all taxa and have been recording my sightings of insects, mammals, lichens and more in the stupendous online platform, iNaturalist. I urge WSQ readers to contribute their sightings to the project I’ve started on San Jose State Biodiversity: inaturalist.org/projects/san-jose-state-biodiversity. The platform is free to all (and open-source, too, for computer geeks), and works easily with your phone’s camera through the iNaturalist app. In fact, I regularly call iNaturalist “the smartest use of a smart phone” because it gives each of us the ability to document and learn about the world around us.


Interns at New Student Success Centers Guide URM Students

Photo: David Schmitz Janely Cerda, left, and Paola Quintanilla, welcomed students back to campus at the Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Center Welcome in January. They are both interns with the center.

Photo: David Schmitz
Janely Cerda, left, and Paola Quintanilla, welcomed students back to campus at the Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Center Welcome in January. They are both interns with the center.

This spring semester marks the opening of the African American/Black Student Success Center and Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Center, both located in the Diaz Compean Student Union. The goal of these new centers is to retain, empower, and graduate under-represented minority students, while providing support and guidance personally, professionally and academically. These spaces are dedicated to providing a welcoming environment, while enhancing student success through community building.

Alongside program directors, Lilly Pinedo Gangai (CLSSC) and Paula L. Powell (AABSSC) and faculty fellows, the student success interns are vital members contributing to the center’s mission and vision. They develop pre-professional skills by assisting students as peer mentors, liaisons and academic cheerleaders. Just a few of their responsibilities may include the planning and development of events, programs, marketing and research; however, they also serve as student ambassadors to increase awareness about resources around campus. We reached out to a dozen student interns to ask them why they got involved and why diversity is important on our campus. Below, we highlight responses from some of the students



David Mapapa

African American/Black Student Success Center

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Graduation Date: Spring 2019

Why did you apply to be a student intern in our new student success center?

I applied for the student intern position at the African American Black Student Success Center (AABSSC), because I wanted to be involved on campus. I am a Mechanical Engineer, therefore I wanted to help STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related activities. I had met Ms. Paula Powell (Director of the AABSSC) few days before the opening of the center and she expressed a great interest in improving student resources in those specific fields, then I knew I wanted to be on board.

What do you most hope to accomplish as an intern?

As an intern, I wish to be able to improve the opportunities that students will have from this center as far as STEM related topics. Therefore, holding events such as study nights, having programs that would allow freshmen or sophomores aspiring to be engineers or scientists to be matched with a senior that was successful doing so, informing students about any career fairs on campus also having as many students as possible integrate the NSBE (National Society of Black Engineering) would be a great start.

How does SJSU benefit from its diverse student and faculty population?

I truly believe that the more diverse the student and faculty body is, the better. Simply based on the fact that a more diverse team can easily benefit from different inputs, opinions, views that can be the motor of great improvement in problem solving.

What would you share with incoming students to help them on their college journey?

I would also like to encourage incoming students, whether they are freshmen or transfer to get involved on campus activities as much as they can. Based on my experience, being able to reach out to different students through orgs or even knowing what resources were available to me, was very crucial in my college experience success.


Ana Ferretiz

Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Center

Major: Kinesiology

Graduation Date: Spring 18

Why did you apply to be a student intern in our new student success center?

I applied to this position to continue helping people navigate this institution. Many first generation students, including myself, have no idea how to navigate through this institution. With various trials and errors, and working closely with the Chicanx Latinx Student Success Task Force, I saw this role as an opportunity to continue helping my peers navigate through this experience without feeling intimidated or embarrassed to ask. Many of us carry a lot of pride and sometimes it gets in the way of asking for help, but this center will be a safe haven where people will be able to ask without feeling ignorant

What do you most hope to accomplish as an intern?

As intern I hope my fellow interns are able to create and foster this sense of community and familia in and out of the center, which then leads to more students coming into our space and our events, and connect them to various opportunities and organizations.

How does SJSU benefit from its diverse student and faculty population?

Diversity in SJSU, in our country, is here to stay. Our workplaces are colored with various people from different culturas and different upbringings. We must be able to learn to interact and be open to listen to our similarities and differences. We are fortunate to live in a community where there are so many people from various backgrounds, we learn from the time we attend that we can all work together for similar causes, that we are all human most importantly. Diversity promotes understanding, which in turn can enhance the positive human experience, and therefore work collectively for the rights of all.

What would you share with incoming students to help them on their college journey?

Do not be afraid to ask questions, seek for help, join an organization, participate in on campus activities, and remember, there are so many people here that want to see you succeed!

Is there anything else you would like to add about diversity and inclusion at SJSU or the new student success center?

Please take advantage of our services and the center itself! This center came together due to the work and effort of various students, staff, and faculty members. Our center open to all walks of life, please join us!


Chandlor Jenkins

African American/Black Student Success Center

Major: Television, Radio, Film and Theatre 

Graduation Date: Spring 2019

Why did you apply to be a student intern in our new student success center?

I applied to be an intern because I love being involved and giving

back to this campus and the community. I feel that this success center brings a lot of positive potential to our African American community and being apart of the inaugural group that will foster change within us, is something that I hope inspires not only me, but my peers as well.

What do you most hope to accomplish as an intern?

I hope that I’m able to impact the lives of everyone who enters the doors of the center. I hope that everyone is inspired to take their education and success as Spartans seriously. I also hope to unite all of our African American/Black orgs within the community.

How does SJSU benefit from its diverse student and faculty population?

Having such a diverse campus allows SJSU students the opportunity to learn and grow, not only as individuals within their own culture, but coexisting with other cultures as well. The combination of backgrounds and ideologies inside and outside of the classroom has given me insight and perspective. Although at times it’s challenging to be on the lower end of the population spectrum here, the AABSSC is a beautiful start to the creation of more inclusive spaces for all of our students.

What would you share with incoming students to help them on their college journey?

As an advocate for change and the youth within the community, I think the biggest advice I would give is to not count the days. As college students it’s easy to get caught up in the future— what’s due, the next project, the next break, as opposed to feeling every moment as it comes. The biggest lesson I’ve learned thus far is that the time will never stop, so there’s no need to rush. Even though things get hard, the good and bad will come at the same pace, but it’s about

staying focused on what’s right in front of you.


Flor Sabrio

Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Center

Major: Management Information Systems, minor: Mexican American Studies

Graduation Date: Spring 2021

Why did you apply to be a student intern in our new student success center?

I applied to be an intern at the Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Center (CLSSC) because I have always been passionate about empowering our Chicanx/Latinx population on campus. San Jose State is a very big school, which is great, but it can sometimes be alienating especially when many of our students are first-generation college students. This is why I believe it is critical for us to have spaces like CLSSC because it gives students a sense of belonging and I absolutely love being part of the progress that will hopefully close the graduation gap within my community.

What do you most hope to accomplish as an intern?

What I hope to accomplish most as an intern at the CLSSC is to ensure that our students graduate with a better sense of self and their culture.  Unfortunately, often times, we as Chicanx/Latinx students think that we have to choose between higher education and our culture. My hope is for the center to prove otherwise.

How does SJSU benefit from its diverse student and faculty population?

San Jose State benefits from its diverse student and faculty population in many ways. I’m a strong believer that college should be a place where people become educated, not just go for a degree and being on a campus that offers different experiences and different people is crucial to become a well rounded individual.

What would you like to share with incoming students to help the on their college journey?

As an intern, my message to all my peers is that college is not meant to be easy. Failure is part of the journey as much as success is. For every good grade, there are countless sleepless nights that go into it. However, in the Chicanx/Latinx culture, it is frowned upon to ask for help because we were raised to be self-sufficient. My message to all my peers is that there is no shame in needing help and that the CLSSC has been established to do just that.


Chidinma Kalu

African American/Black Student Success Center

Major: Psychology

Graduation Date: Spring 2018

Why did you apply to be a student intern in our new student success center?

I applied to work as a student success intern at the African American/Black Success Center, to work close to campus and to become a more active and contributing student at San Jose State University.

What do you most hope to accomplish as an intern?

As a student intern, I hope to help students find their paths to professionalism by helping the center to coordinate events that focus on developing professionalism. I will do this by helping with resume writing, mock interviews, informational interviews and school and career advice. I’d also like to contribute to student success by providing an effective environment and methods for productive studying.  As an incoming transfer student in Fall 2016, I had to seek out mentorship, guidance and opportunities outside of school that enabled me develop the skill sets for the real world and great professional experience at fortune 500 companies like Facebook. I was also able to pursue my interests and talents and also build a network of people I could turn to with an idea or for advice. Knowing what I know now, I feel that I am in a better place to inform the decisions of students help them to reach their academic and career goals.

How does SJSU benefit from its diverse student and faculty population?

I believe SJSU benefits from its diverse student and faculty population by allowing classrooms and campus experiences that are open to diverse points of views and cultures. I believe these are the things that help build empathy and teamwork, and this is also what the country needs to collectively grow. Students from different backgrounds, especially international students, have different ways of learning and succeeding, they also have different values developed through family upbringing and ambition that have motivated them to be a student at SJSU.

What would you share with incoming students to help them on their college journey?

To incoming students, I would advise them to be explorative inside and outside of the school campus through internships, attending of networking events, STEM and Arts competitions and explore more of their interests towards what makes them happy and is impactful to the world. I will also advise students to have a goal towards graduating in 2-4 years or less. To seek out advising, and follow an academic plan, that will help them with those goals as well as too seek out resources to help them excel.  I believe the diverse student success center is a place where students can feel safe, seen and connected to people like them who seek the best interests.



Erick Ignacio Macias-Chavez

Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Center

Major: Sociology

Graduation Date: 2020

Why did you apply to be a student intern in our new student success center?

I pursued the opportunity at the CLSSC because creating community in educational environments is my passion. In my academic experience, I’ve had limited opportunities to create inclusive spaces, but the opening of the CLSSC at SJSU came as a blessing. A space dedicated to the Latinx community, specially having it exist in a university, is important to me because it motivates me to continue on, and assures me that those in my community are welcomed in the university.

What do you most hope to accomplish as an intern?

As an intern I hope to contribute to the education of my peers. I wish to build the support systems they are in search for and so desperate to create. I hope to build relationships founded on principles of community and trust, so that the campus reflects the cultures of our homes.

How does SJSU benefit from its diverse student and faculty population?

The array of voices and ways of thinking contribute to creating intersectional and international forces that fuel our love for our societies. The presence of peoples from around the world helps create a global and understanding community. Our experiences not only help distinguish our beauties but too help see the similarities. We benefit through the presences of many perspectives.

What would you like to share with incoming students to help the on their college journey?

For the upcoming student, I say to you that this is simply another challenge of the many you’ve already faced and will continue to face. Don’t not be frightened, rather, be excited. You recognize the growth you’ve been through, and just as you have grown through your previous struggles, you will only continue to grow through this one. You are powerful! Come find out how powerful you can truly be.


Janely Cerda

Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Center

Major: Psychology

Graduation Date: Summer 2018

Why did you apply to be a student intern in our new student success center?

I applied to this position because I wanted to make a change in the lives of students of color and serve as a role model to them. This is an amazing opportunity for me to connect with students and provide advice from what I learned throughout my college experience.

What do you most hope to accomplish as an intern?

My goal is to help guide and maintain a diverse community in the educational career. I want to make sure students understand that they are not alone and that they can count on me, or the other interns in the center. Everyday, each and every one of us are learning something new from each other and as the days go by, I hope that we can continue to grow as a whole. Lastly, as an intern, I hope to be able to provide students with any necessity that they need in order to achieve their goals.

How does SJSU benefit from its diverse student and faculty population?

With everything going on in the world, I believe it is important that people understand that diversity enriches a college students experience in different ways. SJSU benefits from its diverse student and faculty population because it increases a students self-insight by engaging and interacting with others whose lifestyle or customs are different from their own. As a student or faculty member, you learn from one another and gain knowledge and understandings that will also help you navigate through life. Having a diverse community opens many doors of opportunities and builds an inclusive community.

What would you share with incoming students to help them on their college journey?

After being a Spartan for fours years, some advice I would share is to explore their interests but to remember to always take care of themselves first. Get involved, step out of your comfort zone, and get to know your professors. You have a big support system guiding you every step of the way, you just need to seek it.

Is there anything else you would like to add about diversity and inclusion at SJSU or the new student success center?

Do not miss out on the opportunities that the school or the center offers. I am extremely happy that the center is finally open and that we are able to provide students with comfort and assistance. Diversity is such an important factor in our school and our center; therefore, never be ashamed of who you are or where you come from.

Connie L. Lurie College of Education Dean Appointment

Editor’s Note: This message was emailed to all faculty and staff March 22, 2018.

Dear SJSU Community,

I am very pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Heather Lattimer as the dean of the Connie L. Lurie College of Education, effective August 1.

Dr. Lattimer joins us from the University of San Diego (USD), where she is a professor of education and the executive director of the Jacobs Institute for Innovation in Education at the School of Leadership and Education Sciences. Her areas of expertise include disciplinary literacy, teacher education, action research, learning design and international education.

Dr. Lattimer brings with her a breadth of knowledge about teaching and learning through her time as a faculty member and in various administrative roles. She is an inclusive and collaborative leader who has experience with new program development, establishing strong ties with community partners and working closely with industry leaders to create innovative teaching techniques. At USD, she helped to create an on-campus Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) lab in partnership with HP and developed an open source learning management system in partnership with Qualcomm. In addition to her higher education experience, Dr. Lattimer also taught at the middle school and high school level for nearly 10 years.

Dr. Lattimer completed a bachelor’s in Social Studies magna cum laude with a certificate in African Studies from Harvard College; a master’s in Social Studies Education from Stanford University as well as her California Teaching Credential in the subjects of history, mathematics and English; and a doctorate of education with a focus on teaching and learning from the University of California, San Diego.

I look forward to working closely with Dr. Lattimer to enhance K-12 and higher education at SJSU. I am confident the university community, alumni, K-12 partners and supporters of the Connie L. Lurie College of Education will find Dr. Lattimer to be a dynamic and innovative leader.

As we prepare to welcome our new dean, please also join me in thanking Interim Dean Paul Cascella for his ongoing leadership, service, and dedication to the college and SJSU.


Andy Feinstein

March 2018 Newsletter: Women in Engineering Conference Promotes Equity

Photo: David Schmitz Representatives from high-tech companies and other industry professionals met with women engineering students during the 2018 Silicon Valley Women in Engineering Conference March 17.

Photo: David Schmitz
Representatives from high-tech companies and other industry professionals met with women engineering students during the 2018 Silicon Valley Women in Engineering Conference March 17.

By David Goll

For the fourth consecutive year, hundreds of women — students, university faculty and industry professionals — gathered in the heart of Silicon Valley on a chilly late-winter day to raise the profile of women in engineering and technology.

The 2018 Silicon Valley Women In Engineering conference drew a sold-out crowd of 450 community college and university students from throughout California to San Jose State University (SJSU) on March 17. They listened to inspirational speeches from trailblazing women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) occupations, presentations of products and services being created at their companies, and participated in panel discussions featuring life and career stories and advice from those who have already ascended to technical and senior leadership positions.

“We need you to stick with it,” Maggie Johnson, vice president of Education and University Programs at Google Inc., told the audience during the morning keynote address, encouraging women to stay in STEM fields. “We cannot make products for everyone or overcome bias without a balanced workplace. The future is female. Lead like a girl.”

Even in 2018 — more than 50 years after the feminist movement began changing American society during the 1960s — there’s still a long way to go. Despite more than 44 percent of the nation’s full-time workforce being female in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM industries have smaller percentages of women – in some cases, dramatic imbalances. Though 42 percent of full-time workers in life, physical and social science jobs are occupied by women, only 25 percent of computer and mathematical positions and 14 percent of jobs in engineering and architecture are filled by women.

During the conference, women who have already cracked the glass ceiling in these male-dominated fields urged their younger counterparts to continue to pursue STEM studies in school and jobs after graduation.

“When you enter a room, know that you earned your right to be there,” said Lakecia Gunter, chief of staff and technical assistant to the CEO at Intel Corp. “Stand in your power. Take a seat at the table, know what you can bring and what you want, and use your voice.”

Young women who will enter that workforce either later this year or in the near future were treated to a glimpse into what to expect today and tomorrow in the tech sector. Antonella Corno, an industry veteran and senior manager of Product Strategy at Cisco Systems Inc., described how the job of her brother, a doctor, has shifted due to technology. Instead of using his hands, he does surgery today by manipulating surgical instruments through computers.

“Because of rapidly changing technology, we regularly have talent gaps,” Corno said, describing how education must catch up with the dizzying rate of technological innovations.

The new economy is all about data analysis, she said. The IoT (Internet of Things) trend is creating a network of physical devices, vehicles and home appliances embedded with electronics, software and sensors. There will be 30 billion such connected devices by 2020, up from 12 billion in 2015. Corno said 220,000 new control engineers will be needed by 2025.

Kaijen Hsiao, the chief technology officer for Mayfield Robotics, both charmed and intrigued her audience of prospective employees, introducing them to Kuri, a 20-inch tall, 14-pound home robot that can smile, blink and beam blue and pale yellow light from her “heart.” She also records video, plays music and rolls around the house to inform absentee owners what’s going on at home througha camera behind her eyes. Kuri was designed by Doug Dooley, a former animation specialist at Pixar Animation Studios.

“This is the robot to fulfill people’s home robot dreams,” Hsiao said. “She might not exactly be Rosie, the robot maid from ‘The Jetsons,’ but she’s designed to be humble, curious and courteous.”

Career panel discussions featured engineers and top executives from a wide range of Silicon Valley companies, including Intel, Google, HP, LinkedIn Corp., NASA Ames Research Center, KLA-Tencor Corp. and Applied Materials Inc. Many of the same companies, along with SJSU and the City of San Jose, had informational booths and product demonstrations at the Innovation Showcase display.

SJSU students Shivani Parmer, a second-year student in biomedical engineering; Lalitha Donga, a second-year student in software engineering; and Cindy Carrillo, a first-year software engineering major, were impressed with the conference.

“It’s powerful to have all of these women from the industry come together,” Carrillo said. “It’s inspiring to see such support for women in the workplace.”

Both Donga and Parmer said they feel better about their academic and career paths.

“There was awesome energy here today,” Parmer said. “It’s empowering and makes me feel confident of my career choice.”

March 2018 Newsletter: McNair Scholars Look Toward Graduate School

Students involved in the McNair Scholars Program complete a project or research that prepares them to pursue graduate study after completing a degree at SJSU. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Students involved in the McNair Scholars Program complete a project or research that prepares them to pursue graduate study after completing a degree at SJSU. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By David Goll

Puneet Sanghera is the daughter of immigrants from India, a first-generation American college student and she is on the verge of earning a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology.

“I grew up in a conservative family,” she said. “Because my parents didn’t attend college in this country, they didn’t know all of the opportunities available to me when I was in high school.”

The San Jose native entered SJSU as a pre-nursing major, but she discovered nursing “wasn’t the right fit for [her].” After taking a semester off to help her grandmother recover from surgery, she returned to school. She switched majors, became a McNair Scholar and found a mentor in Dr. Katherine Wilkinson, an assistant professor of Biological Sciences.

“I really want to learn more about my field, so decided to pursue graduate studies,” she said.

On March 11, Sanghera reached her goal. She got word she was accepted at her first-choice school, San Francisco State University.

Sanghera credits hard work and her involvement with SJSU’s Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program for helping her gain admission to a graduate program. The McNair Scholars program is named for the second African-American to fly in space who overcame long odds to earn a PhD in physics and become an astronaut. After he died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion, Congress created the program in his honor to increase the number of underrepresented students pursuing doctoral degrees.

Dr. Maria Elena Cruz, director of the SJSU McNair chapter, said the university’s two-year program started more than two decades ago. It is funded entirely by federal dollars. Students typically get involved during their sophomore or junior years.

“Through the work we do with students in the program we can see if they’re a good fit for graduate education,” she said.

Most are, Dr. Cruz said. The group is comprised of at least 28 students who start the program in January. They hail from a variety of SJSU majors. During the first spring semester, students meet weekly to learn about research methods, weigh research subjects and prepare for GRE (Graduate Record Examination) tests. Fifteen of the students receive a stipend of $2,800 during the summer to work on research projects. A summer “boot camp” open to McNair scholars and all students from SJSU, and other universities gives instruction on how to choose a graduate school, how to write a great personal statement, and how to write to some of their dream schools and professors.

During the fall, McNair scholars do research analysis and begin the writing process, so that they can publish in our yearly McNair Scholars Journal. Dr. Cruz said she supports them by enlisting writing specialists, such as Taylor Dawn Francis, who is working on a master’s in English. At SJSU Students have up to 10 years to complete work on master’s and doctoral degrees from the time they graduate with their bachelor’s degree.

“Some students end up just pursuing a master’s degree, though they may eventually pursue a PhD,” Cruz said. “We’ve had students attend Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Stanford, Maryland, the University of Chicago and UC-Berkeley. On average we have two people who have earned their PhD every year. Compared to the national average of 3.3% according to the National Science Foundation, the McNair Scholars Program at SJSU has earned an 11.11% for 2016-2017.”

Dr. Cruz states that “participation in doctoral education by underrepresented minority groups such as African Americans and Chicanx/Latinx groups who are first-generation and are awarded a PhD is lower than 2 percent of the national average (NSF 2017). Thus, the McNair Scholars Program is pivotal for the future of our communities.”

Sanghera’s classmate, Daniel Kelley, also graduates in May. Though interested in attending graduate school, Kelley said he knew little about it until a friend introduced him to McNair.

“I want to stand out and be more competitive,” said the psychology major from southern California’s Lancaster. He hopes to attend either SJSU or UC Berkeley for grad school. “McNair has prepared me.”

Kelley already works with his mentor, Dr. David Schuster, an assistant professor of Psychology, in conducting research into cyber-security issues in private companies.

Isaac Gendler, a junior mechanical engineering major from Los Angeles, also had an early jump on research, studying automatic transit system guide ways. His report is in the process of being published. He said McNair has provided valuable information about graduate school applications and securing research funding. It even helped him attend a recent Chicago conference on heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems. The greatest value to McNair, he said, is its diverse, multi-disciplinary approach.

“It gave me the opportunity to talk with people from different backgrounds and perspectives,” Gendler said. “When you have homogeneous groups of people talking to each other, nothing new results. McNair brings together people from all over, offering fresh viewpoints. This is how you innovate and disrupt the status quo.”