I-House Alumni Celebrate 40 Years

It was 1981. Bob Aron was a local student majoring in jazz. Yvette Young was from Panama and pursuing a degree in industrial management. For her, it made sense as a student from abroad to live at the International Center, now known as San Jose State University’s Phyllis Forward Simpkins International House. He ended up there as almost a fluke, when a friend who enrolled at SJSU the year before sent a dorm deposit to the wrong place and ended up with a spot reserved in the International Center instead of the residence halls.  Aron visited is friend and thought it looked like a nice place to live so he signed up, too.

“It is crazy to live with a bunch of people from different places,” Aron said. “I grew up in the ’80s in California (when it wasn’t as diverse). It was the first time I met someone from Bangladesh. You start to realize how little you know.”

Aron, ’85 Music, and Young, ’84 Industrial Management, started dating all those years ago after meeting in the university residence and 37 years later, they are married and retired from lucrative careers – Aron from Apple and Young from the mortgage industry. They both served on the planning committee for the 40th Anniversary Alumni Reunion hosted August 1-5 that brought more than 200 former residents and their family members back to San Jose.

“If more people in the world had an opportunity to live in the International House, the world would be a better place,” said Leann Cherkasky Makhni, director of the I-House. “When people from around the world live together under one roof, we start to know each other as individuals and make lifelong friendships.”

Located on 11th Street, the house is noticeable for both the many columns that adorn the front porch and the flags that fly from the rooftop. Those who have resided within its walls over the past 40 years endearingly call it I-House. Founded in 1978 by SJSU Alumni Alan and Phyllis Simpkins, the couple was actively involved in the development of the housing program and maintenance of the facility. They donated the building to the SJSU Research Foundation in 1997. Around 4,000 students have resided in the home in the four decades since it opened.

The reunion began with a kick-off reception and alumni music program; a trip to the redwoods and steam train, complete with a beach bonfire and s’mores in Santa Cruz; bowling on campus, a barbecue at I-House and a pub crawl; a 40th Anniversary Gala Dinner where the Simpkins’ grandson Mike Bordoni spoke about his grandparents’ legacy; and farewell brunch to say goodbye at the end of the five day event.

Whether they stayed for one semester, or lived there while completing an undergraduate or graduate degree, all the alumni gathered for a recent afternoon of bowling at the Diaz Compean Student Union recall their time fondly, and for some, like Aron and Young, their experience changed the course of their lives.

Young recalled the day and weekend trips she and her fellow students took to San Francisco and Yosemite.

“Those are still very fond memories,” she said, mentioning a hike in Yosemite when the hikers were not equipped with enough water or the right shoes. “It was very memorable and I did things I’d never done before.”

The pair kept in touch with a core group through the years, and reconnected with more people from I-House on social media.

“Facebook came along and it got easier,” he said. “I like watching other people here who haven’t seen each other in years and its fun watching people from the different eras.”

Stijn Van Den Broek is one of those more recent residents. He visited SJSU for one semester as a foreign exchange student in fall 2014 from the Netherlands. A week in, he and the other residents went to Santa Cruz for a bonfire. He started talking with a German girl Michaela Fuhlert who complained about how noisy the people were in the room next door. It turned out to be Van Den Broek’s room. The two started dating immediately and got engaged the day of the gala at the beach where they had their first conversation. They currently live in Germany where Fuhlert is beginning a teaching career and Van Den Broek is pursuing a master’s degree in marketing communication.

For Fuhlert living in I-House was an adjustment not only to a new culture, but to living with a roommate.

“In Germany, you don’t have roommates at university,” she said, noting that the study abroad experience helped her mature. “You get more confident in handling things and it makes you grow up.”

The alumni who attended travel from as close by as San Jose to as far away as China, some with spouses and families in tow. At least 40 countries were represented at the reunion, with alumni traveling from more than 20 countries to be back at SJSU.

Hiroki Moriomoto attended SJSU in 2013-14 as a Teaching English as a Second Language student. He served as a resident advisor in I-House where he also made many friends.

“It was exciting to meet people from all over the world,” he said. “I’ve had the chance to travel with friends in Taiwan and Italy.”

Eldita Tarani, ’18 MA, came to SJSU from Kosovo in 2014 as a Fulbright Scholar in research and experimental psychology. She selected the I-House because she thought it would be a good experience.

“I-House is like a little family,” she said. “The best part of it is the diversity. It offers a family in a foreign land for strangers who have never been here before.”

She said while many of the other residents were younger than she was, she still managed to connect with many of them.

Many of the students credit Makhni with creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

“Leann has been running the house for the last 25 years and she does such a great job of maintaining the feeling of a home,” Aron said. “Everyone feels that way.”

“If more people in the world had an opportunity to live in the International House, the world would be a better place,” Makhni said. “When people from around the world live together under one roof, we start to know each other as individuals and make lifelong friendships.”

SJSU Celebrates Innovation Design Collaborative with Partners

By Melissa Anderson

On June 8, in the basement of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, students, educators and industry leaders mingled together at the soft launch of San Jose State University’s new Innovation Design Collaborative.

The lower level of the library, which houses the first public materials library as well as shelves of periodicals, is now home to a new interdisciplinary innovation space for students and faculty to work together, and test out ideas.

“A few weeks ago, you would have seen a very different space,” said Paul Lanning, vice president for University Advancement. “This is just the start and we are excited to unveil it for all of you. This is a glimpse of what is to come, not just for San Jose State University, but all the representatives here. This is an interdisciplinary space to work together on every type of unit imaginable.”

The IDC started several years ago when representatives from the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering connected with a handful of industry partners to discuss ways the university could better prepare students to meet evolving workforce needs. The group grew to include more than 30 industry and educational partners from off campus as well as campus representatives from each college. Now in addition to the advisory group, the university also has a dedicated space for students and faculty to work together to incubate ideas and gain just the type of experience needed to succeed in Silicon Valley after graduation.

During the event, teams of students and recent graduates showcased prototypes of products that are close to launching or ready for national competition. The teams included representatives from different degree programs and colleges who have grappled with technical development, legal questions and marketing.

One team was on the verge of launching a beta version of a digital jukebox that will allow multiple users to develop playlists at gatherings that include songs that appeal to the group – unlike existing music applications that are controlled by individuals.

Another team created an application called Gratis Food that will connect food vendors with excess products to students with food insecurities. The team, which won best overall innovation at SJSU’s Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge and were selected to participate in ZinnStarter through SJSU’s IDEAS program, moved from a nonprofit to a profit model that will be more easily scalable.

“We’ve created a beta version and we plan to expand to community colleges and universities,” said Raghav Gupta, founder and project manager of Gratis Food.

The final team demonstrated Spartan Hyperloop, a magnetic levitation system that they have entered into the SpaceX 2018 Hyperloop Pod Competition, on July 22.

After the networking hour and lunch, President Mary Papazian welcomed the more than 30 industry and educational partners who attended the event, including Joe Pinto, senior VP Technical Services at Cisco Systems, Donna Bell, director of Ford Innovation Research and Innovation Labs, Mark Roenigk, head of hardware at Facebook, Jennifer Andaluz, the co-founder and executive director of Downtown College Prep, and Andrea Schwarz, founding Bay Area executive director of Braven.

“One of the wonderful things about today is that our various programs across the campus are represented and that is where a lot of the magic happens,” Papazian said. “San Jose State University is a place to innovate as evidenced by the Paseo Public Prototyping Challenge and Festival and the Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge, our excellent interdisciplinary academic programs, and the high rate at which our graduates are hired in the Bay Area.”

Pinto, of Cisco, said the IDC is an opportunity for SJSU to play a different role than just supplying talent.

“Silicon Valley is unique with intellectual property, venture funding and a group of universities in an area that people from around the world want to come to innovate and design,” he said. “We are strengthening the ecosystem.”

Dean Sheryl Ehrman, of the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering, spoke about how important collaboration across disciplines is in grounding innovation with the critical thinking that comes from “cross pollination” with others in the humanities, applied health sciences, business or other perspectives.

While SJSU has a vision for an innovation wing that will become part of a science and innovation complex on campus, the library space is helping to increase capacity for interdisciplinary learning immediately.

“Why are we in the library?” asked University Library Dean Tracy Elliott. “This is where multidisciplinary work happens—the university, the community, all of you use the space. We have all disciplines represented throughout the building.”

#ImmigrantHeritageMonth: “Use Your Voice”

Fernanda Perdomo-Arciniegas was on a path to become a lawyer in her native Colombia when she immigrated to the United States. But when she arrived, in California, most of her university credits were non-transferable and she felt unsure about her written English skills. So she enrolled at West Valley College where she completed an associate’s degree in math while enhancing her language proficiency. She transferred to San Jose State University, where she earned a bachelor’s in mathematics/statistics  in 2001 and a master’s in Public Administration in 2008. Now the deputy diversity officer for SJSU, she started her career at SJSU in 2002, working first in Academic Affairs in the math and biology departments for five years and then in Student Affairs, as director of Campus and Community Relations for 10 years.

“One thing I focused on was access to college,” she said. “For immigrant parents or first-generation children, navigating K-12 can be confusing. I wanted to demystify the college process and help families get their students on a path to higher education. We, as parents, want our children to succeed regardless of our national origin or education background.”

As a mother of two, she said she also wanted to learn more about the United States K-12 system to help her own children.

Perdomo-Arciniegas helped to create College Day, where families of K-12 students could visit SJSU to learn more about preparing for college, and also oversaw the Advancing Latinx Achievement and Success Conference. She helped to facilitate the Spartan East Side Promise, an agreement that offers a clear roadmap for admission for students in the East Side Union School District to San Jose State University.

“As  an immigrant, I feel a responsibility to advocate, to speak up, to use my voice now that I have a place at the table,” she said. “It is very important to remember where you came from and to use your voice to set the stage for those who are coming after you.”

She found herself quite literally using that voice as a Spanish-language translator at times during community meetings between the university and neighborhood families who worried about the effect of impaction on admissions. Through the years, she also found herself advocating for underrepresented minority students, specifically undocumented students.

As the daughter of educated parents who was privileged to immigrate through legal channels, she said she has always empathized with undocumented students.

“While working on a resource guide by and for undocumented students, I learned of their dreams, hopes, difficulties and fears,” she said. “As an immigrant, I related to undocumented students at some level (learning a second language, being misunderstood often, culture shock, etc.), but I could never equate my privileged experience to theirs. They taught me so much during our work together.”

And she also appreciates the importance of cultural traditions, no matter where one lives. She and her family continue to participate in Novena de Aguinaldo (Nine Days of Christmas), in which they pray, sing and tell a special story of the birth of Jesus. Different friends host each year, and the Colombian Consulate collects toys to donate to their native country.

“For us, Christmas is always about family and it’s also a time to give back and be generous with our gifts, spiritual and/or material,” she said. Giving back is a mantra for Perdomo-Arciniegas.

In celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month, San Jose State University’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion along with the University Advancement Strategic Communications and Marketing team collected and shared stories of Spartan students, faculty, staff and alumni who have unique and inspiring immigrant narratives. In addition, the university is highlighting research, scholarship and creative activities that enhance our understanding of immigration and contributions of immigrant populations to the fabric of our campus community and our society. See some of the photos posted on SJSU’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

April 2018 Newsletter: Honors Convocation Celebrates Top Students

San Jose State University celebrated the 56th Annual Honors Convocation April 20, with a record number of students earning the distinction of Dean’s Scholars and President’s Scholars. This year, 4,105 Dean’s Scholars maintained a GPA of 3.65 or higher in two contiguous semesters of the last three while 505 President’s Scholars maintained a 4.0 during the same period. Read personal stories of some of the 2018 scholars online.

Faculty May Nominate Students For Bertha Kalm Scholarship, Due May 4

The Office of Graduate Studies, Graduate and Undergraduate Programs, is pleased to offer the Bertha Kalm Scholarship for graduate students attending SJSU. From a donation made several years ago, this endowment has grown enough to provide six $5,000 awards to “support graduate students in any field of instruction, who need financial assistance to continue their education, and who demonstrate a desire to make a difference for humanity” (Bertha Kalm
Memorandum of Understanding).

Awards are restricted to first-year students in a master’s degree program at SJSU. Only faculty members who mentor graduate students can put forward for consideration the name and supporting documents of an applicant. Students may not self-apply. Applicants will be evaluated on the quality of scholarship that established eligibility for admission to a graduate program, application information including the student’s personal statement regarding the goals to be achieved by obtaining a master’s degree, the mentor’s letter of support, and an additional letter of recommendation from a professional source (another professor, business contact, volunteer organization). Additional consideration will be given to applicants with financial need.

This is a significant scholarship award. We are looking for the best and most rewarding of your graduate students. Please push this message out to all faculty in your programs. Only one award per program will be granted. Faculty should contact those students they believe are deserving of this generous scholarship. Students must complete the application available online and provide all of the supporting documentation to their mentor. Supporting documents include graduate and undergraduate transcripts, a letter of support from the student’s mentor, a second letter of recommendation, and a Statement of Purpose from the student.

The mentor will thereafter deliver the completed application package to Graduate Studies, ADM 146. Applications will not be accepted from students. The application is due by May 4, 2018 by 5:00 p.m. Please direct any questions you may have to Cheryl Cowan at 408.924.2485 or cheryl.cowan@sjsu.edu.