SJSU Celebrates Immigrant Heritage Month with Spartan Stories

During Immigrant Heritage Month, San Jose State University will be telling stories of our students, faculty, staff and alumni who have unique and inspiring immigrant narratives to share. In addition, we will be highlighting our research, scholarship and creative activities that enhance our understanding of immigration and the contributions of immigrant populations to the fabric of SJSU’s campus community and society at large.

Assistant Professor Minghui Diao is originally from China, but moved to the U.S. for graduate school.

Assistant Professor Minghui Diao is originally from China, but moved to the U.S. for graduate school.

San Jose State University Assistant Professor Minghui Diao’s research focuses on the impact of clouds and aerosols on global climate change and regional air quality. Her investigations take her to far-flung regions such as Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, where she completes aircraft-based field campaigns. Traveling far distances is nothing new to the assistant professor who was born in China, moved to New Jersey to complete her doctorate, did her postdoctoral research in Boulder, Colorado, and eventually landed at SJSU four years ago in the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science.

She received a bachelor’s in Environmental Sciences from Peking University in China and then applied directly to doctoral programs. She accepted the Francis Robbins Upton Graduate Fellowship at Princeton University, one of the highest graduate fellowships offered by the in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

“I moved here (the United States) as a student, and I have been very lucky to be in academia,” she said. “Everyone is supportive, intellectual and everyone works very hard.”

Assistant Professor Minghui Diao presents her research at SJSU's Celebration of Research on April 23.

Assistant Professor Minghui Diao presents her research at SJSU’s Celebration of Research on April 23. Photo by Nathaniel Agot

Diao noted it as not easy to get through graduate school, but she formed a close-knit group with fellow students and an advisor who introduced her to working with aircrafts and water vapor to research climate change.

“It appealed to me,” she said. “I wanted to do something that fits into the bigger picture. If I am going to do research for my life’s work, I want it to be important and worthwhile.”

In addition to the rigorous coursework and time spent on research, Diao said an unexpected challenge came when she moved out of the residence halls into an apartment. While living on campus, she had access to dining halls but when she moved out, she had to learn to cook. She said she and her boyfriend at the time, who is now her husband, learned to cook together.

“I am lucky I met him because we helped each other through the difficult times,” she said.

Following the completion of her doctorate in civil and environmental engineering, Diao received a postdoctoral fellowship with National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Advanced Study Program. After her postdoc, she said she was drawn to teaching at San Jose State’s Department of Meteorology and Climate Science as many of her colleagues spoke highly of the program, and because it was the only program in the state of California with a focus on meteorology.

She also noted that she knew the department was research-focused and “everyone was super friendly when I did my interview.”

Since arriving at SJSU, Diao herself has been successful in earning two faculty fellowships from NCAR. She was named one of SJSU’s Early Career Investigator Award recipients for 2018-19 for success in securing grants and publishing her research.

“In grad school, the entire faculty was really supportive of every single student,” Diao said. “They didn’t isolate international students and in the PhD program there were quite a few international students. They never treated us any different than our groupmates…More than that they treated us as peers.”

It is an approach that Diao brings into her own research lab at San Jose State, where she works with graduate and undergraduate students. One of her former graduate students was the lead author on two published papers and is now pursuing a doctorate at the University of Oklahoma. She also regularly invites students to conduct summer research with her through NCAR, and has also prepared students to give oral presentations at professional meetings at the American Mathematical Society (AMS) and the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

While Diao has made a home in academia, she doesn’t get to see her family much since they still live in China. She visits once a year or her parents come to the U.S. to visit her and her husband.

“The last time my parents visited we still lived in an apartment, but last year we bought a house,” she said. “We have space for them too now.”

Spartans, reach out to us at communications@sjsu.edu you would like to share your immigrant heritage stories.