Mary A. Papazian Inaugurated as SJSU’s 30th President

SJSU President Mary A. Papazian shortly after her formal investiture ceremony (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Photojournalism).

SJSU President Mary A. Papazian shortly after her formal investiture ceremony (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Photojournalism).

At her inauguration May 4 as San Jose State University’s 30th president, Mary A. Papazian brought her father and brothers to tears when she took to the podium to describe her late mother as a teacher who inspired generations of students to excel.

“A mentor strongly encouraged my mom to pursue her doctoral degree in education at Stanford,” Papazian said in her inaugural address. “But she had already met my father at UCLA, and they married young—which is what you did in those days—and my three brothers and I were born in short order. So rather than pursue her doctoral degree, my mom earned a teaching credential.”

She said her mother prepared all her students—her own children included—for college. Papazian followed through with her mother’s dream of completing a doctorate and has eclipsed it by becoming the first woman of Armenian descent to become president of a major public university.

Spartans, educational leaders, local and state officials, faith leaders and community members gathered at 9:30 a.m. on Tower Lawn for the festivities. A recording of the event is available on the SJSU website.

Association of American Colleges and Universities President Lynn Pasquerella lauds Papazian's commitment to education (Photo: David Schmitz).

Association of American Colleges and Universities President Lynn Pasquerella lauds Papazian’s commitment to education (Photo: David Schmitz).

Chancellor Tim White secures a medallion President Papazian received to mark the occasion (Photo: David Schmitz).

Chancellor Tim White secures a medallion President Papazian received to mark the occasion (Photo: David Schmitz).

The ceremony started off with a procession of visiting honorees and SJSU community members decked out in a rainbow of regalia colors. Papazian was the last one to enter the ceremony, aptly dressed in robes of Spartan blue and gold.

“It is with enormous gratitude and deep humility that I embrace the opportunity to lead this storied institution,” she said.

Hundreds of people gathered on the sunny morning, with President Papazian’s husband Dennis, her two daughters, and extended family who traveled from as far as Taiwan and Switzerland, present to celebrate the momentous occasion. Papazian, who joined SJSU in July, was officially invested as university president in the moment when CSU Chancellor Timothy White placed a ceremonial gold medallion around her neck after dozens of campus and community members lauded her.

The theme for the morning’s festivities included the legacy of SJSU as the founding CSU campus and the promise that the university holds for the future, especially as a leader in the community.

Academic Senate Chair Michael Kimbarow, a professor of communicative disorders and sciences, and Mayor Sam Liccardo acknowledged the important connection between the campus and the neighboring community.

“A great city like San Jose is even greater for having a world-class university in its midst,” Liccardo said.

When Liccardo presented Papazian with a resolution from the city, he mentioned the exuberance and joy she expresses when she talks about the university. He touted the institution’s importance to driving innovation in the most technologically-advanced region in the world. He also noted the sense of community she has built since joining the campus.

“It’s more than just Mary’s 30 family members here today,” Liccardo said. “It’s Mary’s 35,000 family members.”

CSU Fullerton Mildred Garcia, who has known Papazian for many years, remarked on her accomplishments through the years.

“There are shards of glass on her shoulders because of all the glass ceilings she had to crash through to be here,” Garcia said, adding that Papazian joins 10 other female CSU presidents. “Welcome to the CSU, Sister Mary Papazian.”

After the event, President Papazian receives hugs from daughters Ani and Marie Papazian (Photo: David Schmitz).

President Papazian's father, Hagop Arshagouni, was among 30 family members who attended the inauguration (Photo: David Schmitz).

President Papazian’s father, Hagop Arshagouni, was among 30 family members who attended the inauguration (Photo: David Schmitz).

Papazian weaved in personal anecdotes about her background as the daughter of immigrants, as a scholar of Renaissance literature and as a mother of two with thoughts on the university’s future during her inaugural address.

She mused about how she came to lead a university in the middle of Silicon Valley that is best known for its science, technology, engineering and math programs.

“The Renaissance was a transformative moment in human history,” she said. “And we now are in the midst of another period of transformative change.”

Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and a long-time friend of Papazian’s, offered some personal reflections during the morning ceremony and lauded her commitment to education.

“It is a dedication informed by her profound empathy, moral imagination, her own lived experience and her Armenian heritage,” Pasquerella said. “She understands the link between liberal education and civic engagement….Her leadership holds a potential for the re-envisioning of the landscape of higher education because of her moral courage, intellect and commitment to the community.”

Papazian closed the ceremony with a reflection on the greatest asset of the university.

“The true greatness of San Jose State University is revealed in its people,” Papazian said during her inaugural address. “In each of you. Our people are our legacy. And they are our promise.”


Spartan Alumna Premieres Feature Film at Cinequest


As in previous years, students and faculty from San Jose State University will be well represented at the 2017 Cinequest Film and VR Festival staged at various venues throughout San Jose and Redwood City starting this week.

“Disaffected Youth,” billed as a “punk-rock coming-of-age” film directed by Patrick Mattes and co-written and produced by Jacob Ohlhausen, is a short film produced by Spartan Film Studios.

“I’m very excited,” said Mattes, a December graduate of the university’s Television, Radio, Film and Theatre (TRFT) department, about his film’s inclusion at Cinequest. “We’re both excited. I texted Jake the moment I heard.”

It will be shown as part of the College Shorts program on March 7, at 8:45 p.m.; March 10, at 7:15 p.m.; and March 11, at 12:45 p.m. at the Cinemark Century 20 theater complex, 825 Middlefield Road, Redwood City.

Also selected for Cinequest was “swiPed”, a four-minute, 38-second animated film both humorous and poignant about the detrimental impacts of smartphones on society. It’s the creation of David Chai, associate professor of Design and Animation/Illustration in the Department of Design, whose tagline for the film is: “Texters texting, tweeters tweeting, likers liking, posters posting, Googlers Googling, Amazonians Amazoning, webheads surfing, snappers chatting, pinnters pinning, tubers tubing, tenders tindering, Netflixers chilling — are we binging too much? More connected than ever, but more distant by the day. Is humanity being swiped away?”

Chai was a Silicon Valley smartphone holdout until recently.

“I had a flip phone until last year,” he said. “I don’t want to be emailing when I can be out enjoying life. People have become so disconnected from one another through technology. Even when you are with them, you’re often not.”

Chai’s film debuts on March 3, at 9:30 p.m. It will subsequently be screened March 5, at 1:05 p.m.; March 7, at 4:30 p.m.; and March 11, at 6:45 p.m. All presentations will be at the Cinemark Century 20 in Redwood City.

A 2008 alumna of the TRFT program, Los Altos resident Saila Kariat, will also be represented at Cinequest with her dramatic, one-hour, 38-minute film titled “The Valley” that she wrote, directed and co-produced. The movie will premiere at 7 p.m. March 5 at the California Theatre, 345 S. First St., San Jose. The feature-length film centers on an Indian-American entrepreneur who has an existential crisis following the suicide of his young-adult daughter.

Kariat — who grew up in India, Canada and the United States — said the film project took three years to complete. Professor Scott Sublett, chair of the SJSU’s TRFT department, said Kariat studied film and screenwriting and distinguished herself in student screenwriting competitions before becoming the department’s Valedictorian.

Kariat partially self-funded the production, which cost $500,000, but also attracted several investors. It had a cast of 30 and crew of 35. She said its international cast includes actors from Pakistan, Alyy Khan; India, Suchitra Pillai; and American Jake T. Austin.

For those who miss the premier, “The Valley” will also be shown on March 6, at 4:15 p.m.; March 9, at 9:15 p.m., and March 11, at 4:15 p.m., at the Cinemark Century 20 theater complex in Redwood City.

The annual festival, which has grown dramatically in size and prestige in recent years, provides matchless industry exposure for SJSU film students.

“We want our students to have a professional experience and Cinequest provides a great opportunity for them,” said Barnaby Dallas, coordinator of production for Film and Theatre, and the director of Film Production for Spartan Film Studios, which produced “Disaffected Youth” last summer. “Every year, the film industry comes to San Jose for 10 or 12 days.”

Tickets for events and more information about the Cinequest Film and VR Festival are available online.

Celebration of Life Set for Dr. Gus Lease

Dr. Gus Lease, a beloved faculty member of San Jose State University who taught music for 66 years in the College of Humanities and Arts School of Music and Dance, passed away on Sept 4. He was 93.

A celebration of life for Dr. Gus Lease will be held Saturday, Oct. 1, at 1 p.m. in the Concert Hall (Music 176) at SJSU.

“Gus loved San Jose State University and his students, so much so that he simply didn’t want to leave or ever retire,” said Janet Averett, the associate director of Music and Dance at SJSU.

Even after his retirement and attainment of emeritus professor status, Lease continued to teach in the School of Music and Dance, as well as the history department.

Averett first met Lease in 1986, when he was chair of the music department. Lease had hired her straight out of graduate school from the University of Michigan. Averett said that she was young and felt alone after her cross-country move.

“I was very appreciative of the hospitality that he and his wife Lois displayed in having me over for dinner at their lovely home in the east San Jose foothills,” she said. “He was always very supportive of me.”

Before coming to SJSU in 1950, Lease taught vocal music at the University of Colorado and the University of Oklahoma. He earned his bachelor’s degree in music from Morningside College, a master’s in music from the University of Colorado, and his Ed.D. from the University of South Dakota.

Throughout his years at SJSU, Lease was dedicated to expanding musical opportunities on campus. He organized and directed a 350-voice chorale ensemble in 1950, which performed many oratorios and cantatas. In 1955, he founded the first Men’s Glee Club at the university. Lease served as chair of the Department of Music from 1982-1989.

Lease raised many Spartan spirits with his rendition of the alma mater “Hail, Spartans Hail,” along with the national anthem, through the years. He performed as vocal soloist at more than 63 homecoming football games and 65 commencement ceremonies.

“Gus was a loyal Spartan who was dedicated to enhancing SJSU through music,” said Provost Andy Feinstein. “He always brought a smile to my face when I saw him because of his enthusiasm and his good-natured sense of humor.”

The Director of the School of Music and Dance, Fred Cohen, added, “Gus was a direct link to the storied and proud past of the Department of Music at SJSU. He often shared memorabilia from his days as professor and chair, from newspaper articles about the new music building in the 1950s to his personal minutes from faculty meetings in the 1960s-70s. Gus always had a story to tell, and I inevitably walked away from a conversation with a greater sense of the wonderful and life-changing accomplishments achieved during the long history of music at SJSU.”

Averett said, “I especially admired the fact that nothing ever seemed to get him down,” noting that he bounced back after a serious car accident left him with hip injuries that affected him for the rest of this life. “He proudly walked to his office and classroom every day he was on campus, even with the aid of a walker, always with a smile.”

Beyond campus, Lease remained active in his craft. He was a member of the San Francisco Opera Company, and for 17 years he produced “The Gus Lease Show,” which performed on military bases throughout the world. He was the music director of the San Jose downtown Kiwanis Club for more than 50 years, and served as music director at many churches.

Lease’s community service extended beyond music. He was past president of the Tennessee Ernie Ford Chapter of the Air Force Association and past vice president of the Santa Clara County Navy League. His awards include “National Outstanding Professor” from Vector Marketing, as well as awards from the Department of the Army. He was active in the California Faculty Association, California State Employees Association, California Teachers Association, California State Retirees, and the National Education Association.

For more information about the celebration of life scheduled for October 1, please call the School of Music and Dance Office at 408-924-4673.


SJSU Hosts Celebration of Life for Charlie Whitcomb

Dr. Charlie Whitcomb

Dr. Charlie Whitcomb

Dr. Charles (Charlie) Whitcomb, a beloved member of the SJSU community for more than four decades, passed away July 15. He earned two degrees from San Jose State, and then served as a faculty member, department chair and academic leader.

At his request, a celebration of life will be held on campus in the Music Concert Hall on July 25, at 11 a.m., with a reception to follow immediately (directions to campus and parking).

In lieu of flowers, friends can donate to the Charlie Whitcomb Scholarship Fund. Gifts can be made online or by mail (Tower Foundation of SJSU, One Washington Square, San Jose, Calif., 95192-0183).


His impact is readily apparent from the many personal reflections and expressions of affection for Whitcomb received since his family shared news of his passing.

“He was the kindest person you ever met,” said Jessica Larsen, who worked with him in the Provost’s Office. “He was always positive, cheerful and never said anything bad about anybody. He always took bad situations and found the goodness in it.”

Larsen noted that he was an advocate for SJSU students from less fortunate backgrounds, who didn’t have as many opportunities.

“I will always remember his smile,” she said. “That is how I remember him.”

Devoted to diversity

Whitcomb was especially devoted to diversity and his passion is reflected in his many speaking engagements during his tenure as a faculty member and chair. He presented on issues related to diversity and athletics at multiple National Collegiate Athletic Association events and served as SJSU’s NCAA faculty representative for 20 years. In 1991, Whitcomb was appointed the first chair of the NCAA’s Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee. The group was, by any measure, incredibly impactful during his 10-year tenure.

In addition, he served on dozens of college and university-wide committees, including the University Commencement Committee, the Accommodations Review Board, the University Campus Climate Committee, Academic Senate and multiple search committees, among others.

He started his distinguished career at SJSU in 1971 as a faculty member in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies (now part of Health Science and Recreation), serving as a department chair from 1988 to 2002. He was appointed executive assistant to the provost in 2003, eventually serving as vice provost of academic administration and personnel through his retirement in 2012.

He earned two degrees from SJSU: a bachelor’s in Justice Studies with a minor in Psychology in 1971 and a master’s in Recreation Management in 1975, before going on to earn his doctorate in higher education from the University of Northern Colorado.

Positive and hopeful spirit

Those who knew him best describe Whitcomb as bringing a positive and hopeful spirit to every situation, with an infectious laugh and smile, and an unwavering dedication to our students.

“He took with him his fun, playful spirit, his undeniable dedication to SJSU for over 44 years, his belief in dignity and justice across all people, his love of students, athletes, faculty, staff and friends, regardless of race,” said colleague Dr. Kate Sullivan, a hospitality management professor. “He listened AND he heard. So many considered him a friend on this campus! I will always see his smile and hear his laughter and remember all the things he taught me as my dear mentor over the last 28 years.”

Before joining SJSU as a tenure-track faculty member in 1972, he worked as a counselor for Santa Clara County Juvenile Probation Department Children’s Shelter for six years. He was involved with many community organizations as well. He served on the board of directors for the National Park and Recreation Association from 1978 to 1981 and as a board director with Community Kids to Camp from 1985 to 1988,