September 2016 Newsletter: Mentor Program Pilot Continues for Fall

About two dozen students, faculty and staff members gathered on Sept. 9 to discuss how to expand mentor programs at San Jose State University.

About two dozen students, faculty and staff members gathered on Sept. 9 to discuss how to expand mentor programs at San Jose State University.

Janelly Ruiz, a third-year justice studies student, said the first time she met Assistant Professor Faustina DuCros they discovered they had a lot in common. Ruiz did not meet with DuCros in class or through an advising center; she connected with the professor through a new program, mentorcommunity@sjsu, that is designed to pair students who are seeking a mentor with a committed volunteer from SJSU’s faculty or staff.

“I’m from Southern California, so I came up here on my own,” Ruiz said. “I am also a first-generation student, so my parents don’t know about or understand everything I am doing. I wanted a mentor I could share my experiences with.”

Ruiz selected DuCros from an online tool that helps to match students with a faculty member. DuCros had lived in Southern California and worked with legal aid, attributes that made Ruiz more comfortable reaching out to the faculty member.

“I was nervous to send the first message, and it did take a while for her to get back to me, but she finally did,” Ruiz said, adding that the first time they met in person they ended up talking for two hours.

Ruiz learned about mentorcommunity@sjsu through Adelante, the Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Task Force. A U.S. Department of Education Title III Strengthening Institutions five-year grant supports the pilot program. It is one of five initiatives a group of faculty and staff members is focusing on as sustainable best practices for student success.

“We want to provide support to students in the first two years of college,” said Pat Backer, the director of the grant program titled Project Succeed and a professor in the College of Engineering. “Many of our students are the first in their family to go to college, and they are not from traditional college-going backgrounds. They need to learn how to navigate the college environment.”

Maria Luisa Alaniz, a professor in the Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences department and faculty director, worked with Marlene Scherer Stern, the program coordinator who created an online mentor program and community at Stanford, to implement SJSU’s online pairing tool. The goal is to use high-tech tools to promote and increase high-touch mentoring opportunities and experiences. The two hosted a discussion session on Sept. 9 that was open to students, faculty and staff to find out what they believe is needed to expand the program beyond two pilot departments.

“We are doing this roll out very deliberately,” Alaniz said. “We want the program to be integrated into the campus culture. The only way to do that is using an incremental approach to ensure that we are integrating campus feedback as we develop the program.”

The group will be surveying campus community members to find out more about other existing mentor programs to discover how they can collaborate and foster mentorship on campus. A second discussion group will be scheduled in the spring.

In the meantime, Alaniz is visiting select classes within the two pilot departments to recruit students who will complete an orientation before creating a profile on the site. Faculty and staff from across campus are invited to sign up at or email Alaniz for more information.

Ruiz, an intern with the program, is happy to share with interested students how the mentorship program helped her.

“It definitely gave me confidence to reach out to professors,” she said. “When I had other opportunities such as a faculty/student dinner, it gave me the confidence to take the initiative to attend.”

The mentorcommunity@sjsu program is one of several initiatives that Backer and her collaborators selected because they believed the programs could be sustainable once the grant period is completed. Other areas include block scheduling, peer educators and mentors, first-year experiences, and student living learning communities in the residence halls. The activities support  SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success plan around student engagement and advising.

A discussion will also be held on first-year experience programs on Sept. 23. It will aim to answer questions about what type of programs are sustainable at SJSU, what will fit in with SJSU’s culture and what students want. Models could include a general education course, an extended orientation model, or programming in the dorms.

“We are looking at funding multiple models next fall,” Backer said. “We are interested in putting it together and running assessments to see which work and which don’t.”

Project Succeed Discussion Session
Brainstorming session on first-year experiences and its future at SJSU
Sept. 23, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., in ENG 285
Lunch will be provided
RSVP at or to

September 2016 Newsletter: Faculty Find Themselves at Home in Residence Halls

Photo by David Schmitz Faculty members Wilson Yuan, far left, Carolyn Glogoski, center right, and Cristina Tortora, far right, pose for a photo with a student on Move-In Day in August. They are part of the Faculty-In-Residence program this year.

Photo by David Schmitz
Faculty members Wilson Yuan, far left, Carolyn Glogoski, center right, and Cristina Tortora, far right, pose for a photo with a student on Move-In Day in August. They are part of the Faculty-In-Residence program this year.

When some San Jose State students arrived with family and friends for Move-In Day on Aug. 20 and 21, they learned their next door neighbor in the residence hall might not be a new student, but a faculty member.

A collaboration between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, the new Faculty-In-Residence program launched this fall with nine faculty members who will live in the halls, eat meals with students and plan activities to help them acclimate to university life. The program is one of many initiatives in SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success plan that is focused on improving student engagement and advising. The faculty members, who are provided with housing to forge connections with students outside the classroom, will be planning activities and working with students about 10 hours a week.

Carolyn Glogoski, an associate professor in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts Occupational Therapy department, said she was looking forward to connecting with first-year students through the program. A 27-year veteran at SJSU, she said she was a first-generation student from a working class background which allows her to relate to many SJSU students.

“Transitions are so difficult so we want to look to see if we can develop connections that will help them to seek support,” she said. “Professors can seem intimidating and students have to do more on their own in college. It’s so very different from high school.”

As part of the pilot program, the faculty members will be working closely with housing staff, specifically resident advisors and residential life coordinators, to develop activities throughout the semester to engage students.

Cristina Tortora, a new faculty member in the College of Science Mathematics and Statistics department, said she had already connected with some students who were interested in starting a running club.

“I enjoy living at the university,” she said. “I am new as well so I will get to know the students and the campus.”

She was especially interested in connecting with international students as she herself comes from Europe by way of Canada.

“If they have an issue, I hope they will be comfortable coming to me,” she said.

Steven Del Chiaro, a lecturer in the College of Social Sciences Psychology department, said his career in higher education started in housing and the Faculty-In-Residence program will allow him to have one foot in Student Affairs while still teaching.

His area of focus in psychology is student development and career development.

“The stereotype of faculty is that they are unapproachable and they should be revered,” he said. “We can help to put more of a human face on the faculty, get students more engaged in class and help students find their own strengths.”

The team of Faculty-In-Residence sent surveys to students to see what types of activities they most want to see with a goal of creating a mix of social, educational and recreational programming. The faculty members also plan to develop assessment tools to determine which activities are most successful during the pilot year so the program can be improved next year.

“The biggest challenge will be having students get used to having a faculty member around,” Del Chiaro said.

Both Glogoski and Del Chiaro have the ultimate ice breaker – they both have a dog living with them in the residence halls that draws the attention of the students. Glogoski’s yellow Labrador Cammie is a trained service dog while Del Chiaro’s Boerboel/Ridgeback mix Chiana is a therapy dog, both whom occasionally visit classes with their owners as a teaching tool.

“During Welcome Day while students were moving in, they were so excited that Cammie would be in the dorms with them,” Glogoski said. “And parents were pleasantly surprised that we (faculty) would be in the dorms, too.”

Photo by David Schmitz Faculty members Wilson Yuan, far left, Carolyn Glogoski, center right, and Cristina Tortora, far right, pose for a photo with a student on Move-In Day in August. They are part of the Faculty-In-Residence program this year.

Photo by David Schmitz
Faculty members Wilson Yuan, far left, Carolyn Glogoski, center right, and Cristina Tortora, far right, pose for a photo with a student on Move-In Day in August. They are part of the Faculty-In-Residence program this year.

Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #5

Today’s tip addresses the disconnect between what we teach and what students learn. What may have seemed very comprehensible to us may have seemed less so for some of our students. Providing an opportunity for students to recognize (and let us know about) what wasn’t clear can help in many ways: (1) it encourages students to take a more active role in monitoring how things are going, (2) it encourages us to reflect more systematically and more “constructively critically” on our own teaching and to think about ways we might get our points across more successfully, (3) it allows students to come to feel more comfortable letting us know when they are having trouble following what we are trying to help them understand, and (4), as a result, it can help students engage more fully with you, with their classes, and with their education in general.
Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #5 – Provide regular opportunities to address content that students may find unclear

Muddiest point activity: 

  • Allow a few minutes at the end of class for students to review what you have just covered, and then write a brief note about anything that is unclear. This can be done on index cards, sheets of paper, or uploaded to your course website.
  • Review students’ feedbackbefore the next class period, so that you can identify and address points of confusion.

This technique can provide you with very useful and TIMELY information about where students may be getting lost, or about where you may have been less clear than you thought you were.

Comparing notes activity: 

Once a month or so, or perhaps as part of your planned review for an up-coming exam, allow 15-20 minutes for students to go over their notes in pairs or small groups.  Have them:

  • identify and clarify places where they have gaps or where they are unclear
  • discuss points they have found particularly interesting or surprising
  • summarize briefly, in writing, what they discussed

This technique is beneficial in many ways:  It provides an opportunity to students to identify and repair holes in their understanding of class material, it engages them actively with each other and with the material, and it gives you a window into how they are doing and what they are making of the course content.

Please add your own strategies using the comment button below.


May 2016 Newsletter: Graduate Equity Fellowship Fosters Mentorship

As a working mom and full-time student, Xochlit Garcia said it was a sacrifice to enroll in graduate school. Garcia is one of several SJSU students who received 2015-16 Graduate Equity Fellowships. The program provides a scholarship of $1,000 to $3,000 to offset the cost of tuition and also provides a faculty mentor component to help students focus on their career objectives.

“Between family, school and interning, it has helped me keep my mind on track and focus,” she said. “I’m not worried about paying additional tuition.”

Garcia, who works on the weekends, is finishing her master’s in counseling education in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education this semester and working towards a Pupil Personnel and Services credential that requires 600 internship hours.

“One of my biggest challenges has been trying to support my family in terms of time and money – juggling both those things,” she said. “The scholarship makes life a lot easier.”

She also appreciates the faculty mentor component of the program and has worked closely with Dr. Jason Laker.

“It’s good to have a mentor to discuss academic plans and the steps to achieve that,” said Garcia, who graduates in May.

Karly Comfort, a master’s of social work student in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts, also completes her degree this spring. She especially appreciated having a faculty mentor. She worked with Dr. Peter Allen Lee, who helped her think critically about how the work done in classes applies to real-world situations. Comfort said the fellowship allowed her to put in many internship hours that have provided practical experience. SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success student engagement pillar aims to increase high-impact practices such as mentor programs and internships.

“It was a huge part of my professional development,” she said. “A lot of school learning is theoretical, but when we get to be in the field we really learn the skills you need to be a social worker.”

Comfort interned with a mental health family enrichment program working with children ages 0 to 5 on building parent-child relationships through play and with Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, where she rotated through different departments. Her experiences at SJSU prepared her for a position at a health clinic in east San Jose where she will begin working in June.

Applications are now being accepted for the 2016-2017 Graduate Equity Fellowship awards through June 24.

May 2016 Newsletter: College of Science Students Share Research

Biological sciences majors Bianca Opara, left, and Dania Abid share their findings at the College of Science Student Research Day.

Biological sciences majors Bianca Opara, left, and Dania Abid share their findings at the College of Science Student Research Day.

On May 6 at the 12th Annual College of Science Student Research Day more than 60 undergraduate and graduate students presented work from a variety of disciplines.

Bianca Opara, ’18 Biological Sciences, and Dania Abid, ’17 Biological Sciences, both worked in Professor Shelley Cargill’s hands-on physiology lab. Abid wants to pursue a medical degree, while Opara is interested in combining research and medicine. At the recent event, they presented the process they are using to discover the effects of a high-fat diet on follicle count ratios in mice.

Opara, who is part of the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) Program, said she was first approached by program director Karen Singmaster when she was a sophomore. While Opara was at first hesitant to join the program due to timing, she decided to take Singmaster’s advice to apply when she heard from other students involved in RISE.

“I am so excited they let me in,” she said. “It helped me figure out that I like hands-on procedures.”

Carlos Rojas, ’16 Geology, with a minor in Business, used connections near his hometown of Hollister to gain access to private property for geochemistry research on the Quien Sabe volcanics of west Central California. His faculty advisor Ellen Metzger and other student researchers had completed an analysis of areas north and south of the spot he studied.

Rojas, a Marine Corps veteran, said he has loved rocks since he was a kid and was interested in learning how the landscape was created.

“It was really exciting, exploring the area and finding new results,” he said. “It is a beautiful area.”

Organic Chemistry Professor Roy Okuda has helped to organize the Student Research Day each year since its inception. He said it originally started because he realized many students were attending off-site meetings to present their posters but the work wasn’t being shared on campus. Its location in the breezeway of Duncan Hall allows lower division students to mingle with upper division and graduate students between classes.

“It gets so busy and so noisy with everyone talking,” Okuda said. “We learn a lot. Sometimes we don’t realize everything that is going on in the college.”

The College of Science event is one of many on campus that highlights the benefits to both students and faculty members of working together on research, scholarship and creative activity, a high-impact practice that is highlighted inSJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success student engagement pillar.