The latest edition of Washington Square, SJSU’s Alumni magazine, features stories of Spartan alumni, students, staff and faculty, including a profile of 2016 Commencement Speaker Harry Edwards, ’64 Sociology, ’16 Honorary Doctorate. See photos of Spartans in action, read stories and review web extras online. Visit the Fifth Floor of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library to see an exhibit of items Edwards donated to SJSU.
When Jyotsna Kaki, ’06 Management Information Systems (MIS), was a student at San Jose State in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, she offered to help a classmate in need when the other student fractured a wrist and was unable to take notes. At the time, Kaki discovered the Disability Resource Center (DRC), now known as the Accessible Education Center, where staff members provided her guidance on how to best support her peer.
More than a decade later, Kaki, who became blind while she was a student at SJSU, is still helping others as a software accessibility test engineer for Google. She oversees a central accessibility team of test engineers and trains other Google employees to conduct accessibility testing. Her story was recently featured on CNN Money, with a video and article.
Kaki became blind a semester after she discovered the DRC while helping her classmate. In fall 2004, she woke one morning with blurriness in her right eye. She had been diagnosed with a benign, slow-growing brain tumor as a child. The tumor had grown into the optic nerve and she underwent surgery to regain her sight. Instead, her optic nerve was damaged during the surgery and she was left with a permanent visual impairment.
“It was unexpected,” she said. “I don’t remember much from the month after I found out.”
But her mother tells her less than 10 minutes after discovering she was blind, Kaki called her brother to ask him to help her get back on campus. Within a month, she was back at San Jose State.
When she returned to campus, she felt isolated from her peers who did not interact with her as they had before she lost her vision. Her professors tried to be accommodating, but sometimes did not know how to help her. She turned to the DRC for support. They provided training on how to use screen reading technology, helped her get accessible textbooks and she learned Braille to get through the rest of her coursework.
“Everything pretty much started there (in the DRC),” Kaki said. “Most professors were helpful, but they didn’t have the necessary information.”
Kaki completed her degree two years after she lost her vision with a 3.8 GPA, higher than her GPA before her impairment. After graduation, her brother passed her resume to a friend who worked at Google without telling her. She thought a professor might have sent her resume in, but later discovered it was her brother. When she was invited in for an interview, she did not think she would get the job. They offered her a position and she has since taken on the role of leading a team of engineers. In the last decade, she said she has seen the focus on accessibility increase at Google and she is proud to be part of the efforts.
“It’s been really great because at the end of every day, I can go to sleep satisfied that what I am doing is going to help someone,” she said. “I have been lucky to help other people get assistance and help make products successful. It’s been a great experience and I’ve learned a lot.”
Sami Monsur worked full time in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education while she was completing a degree in Spanish at San Jose State. She said Dean Elaine Chin offers $500 in professional development to each staff member every year.
“I was going for my bachelor’s and it really made a big difference with books,” Monsur said.
After she graduated with her degree in Spanish in 2011, she decided to donate $500 to create a scholarship for other staff members who are working toward their degree. She worked with University Advancement and Financial Aid to create the “Support Our Staff” scholarship, with the inaugural award given out in 2013.
This year, the scholarship fund received enough donations to give five $500 scholarships to San Jose State staff members who are completing a degree at SJSU.
Diana Fitts works as an assistant residential life coordinator while she is completing her master’s in occupational therapy. Fitts said she was inspired to pursue occupational therapy after spending time in El Salvador and the Philippines.
“People were in need of assistance, but they didn’t have resources,” she said. “I like figuring out what someone’s needs are and how to meet those needs.”
Fitts, who is scheduled to graduate in spring 2016, said the “Support Our Staff” scholarship allowed her to purchase books that will help her prepare for licensing exams and board certification.
Sarah Arreola, a specialist in teacher contracts and education projects in the College of Education, also received a scholarship this year. Arreola is working on a master’s in public administration.
“Getting a master’s has always been in the back of my head,” Arreola said. “I had strong family support and Sami (Monsur) encouraged me.”
Arreola, who uses the staff fee waiver program, said the scholarship has helped with books and other school supplies. She said her twin sons look up to her, and that she and her husband talk about college often with the boys.
The other 2015-16 recipients include: Amy D’Anna, a marketing coordinator in CIES who is pursuing a bachelor’s in public relations; Shawna Terry, a gift analyst in University Advancement, who is pursuing a bachelor’s in social science; and Nicole Arata, a barista with Spartan Shops, who is pursuing a bachelor’s in economics.
Applications for 2016-17 will be available in early summer.
A team of Spartans pedaled hundreds of miles along the California coast this spring to raise awareness about climate change and to support SJSU’s environmental outreach program, The Green Ninja Project. The team included two professors, one alumna, one staff member and three students. Some are avid cyclists, while others were beginning bicyclists when they started training for the 320-mile ride.
The team members included Clare and Eugene Cordero, Paul Schmitt, Kelly Chang, Huong Cheng, Ramya Shenoy, Leah Tremblay and Gaby De La Cruz Tello. They raised $25,000 for the Green Ninja Project. The project is an interdisciplinary effort to teach middle school students about environmental issues and sustainability.
The California State University Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program Recognizing Outstanding Undergraduate Distinction (PROUD) honored two San Jose State students and two alumni in its most recent edition. The publication summarizes the work of the LSAMP program statewide to support underrepresented minorities in pursuing degrees in STEM while also acknowledging outstanding scholars at each CSU campus.
Canaan Muluneuh, a chemistry student in his second year at SJSU, was selected for the Outstanding Academic award for SJSU. He has maintained a GPA of 3.83 and facilitated a summer workshop for general chemistry. He is interested in pursuing a doctorate or a medical degree. He is currently involved in research on mosquitoes to minimize populations of the insect to prevent viral transmission.
Christian Espinoza, ’09 Materials Engineering, was selected for the Outstanding Alumnus award for SJSU. He received a Ph.D in materials science and engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2014. He has participated with Engineers without Borders, where he worked to improve water quality in rural villages in Guatemala. He is currently employed as an advanced engineer/scientist at Owens Corning, in Ohio, and serves as a mentor for students as a member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and Scientists (SHPE.)
Angel Gonzalez, a third-year mechanical engineering student, was selected for the Outstanding Academic and Service Leadership award for SJSU. He is involved in the Society of Latino Scientists and Engineers and serves as co-vice president. He has been actively engaged with the Science Extravaganza, a one-day event that aims to generate interest in STEM fields for younger students.
Roberto Tovar, ’15 Chemistry, was selected for the Outstanding Research award at SJSU. Tovar started as an economics major before he took a general chemistry class and discovered he excelled in the field. He was involved with research with Dr. Gilles Muller. His research findings support two poster presentations and a publication in the journal of Tetrahedron Letters. He spent a semester in Germany and since graduation has traveled to France to work at a laboratory in Toulouse, France.
View the full CSU LSAMP Proud publication: PROUD_2015(Final_Oct20)_small