Immigrant Heritage Month: Uyen Bui

Uyen Bui is an incoming transfer student.

Uyen Bui is an incoming transfer student.

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.

Uyen Bui is an incoming social work student who is transferring to SJSU from DeAnza College in the fall. She wrote to us to share her immigrant story:

I am an immigrant living in the United States for five years. In this foreign land, without parents, I have had to take steps to start a new life by myself. I have learned and experienced many valuable lessons. I was never discouraged, but feel worth myself for every bad and good things I got in life. After being broken, I became stronger, overcame my fears and achieved what I used to think was impossible.

I am proud to be an American soldier. I remember that day at basic training when I tripped and fell four times on the ruck march. I felt super hurt and exhausted under the heavy gear. I was left behind the whole company in the darkness of night, but still kept moving on with a thought in mind to “never give up.” I was not alone on that hard way. Walking with me, my drill sergeant said that I would make it happen. All memories and experiences of the Army and American life are worthwhile to me. I have continued to take new challenges and strived to be my best. I love all of my friends and my family giving me care and motivations.

I love the new country giving me opportunities to grow up and improve myself a lot. Human abilities are unlimited; therefore, never doubt your instinct. What other people can do you also can do. Take pride in your scars!

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

Immigrant Heritage Month: Serena Alexander

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.

Serena Alexander, assistant professor of Urban and Regional Planning, is of Armenian descent and grew up in Iran.

Serena Alexander, assistant professor of Urban and Regional Planning, is of Armenian descent and grew up in Iran.

Serena Alexander is an assistant professor with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. She is of Armenian descent, but was born and raised in Iran.

“I immigrated to the U.S. in January 2009 with my family and resided in Los Angeles. I later moved to Ohio so that I could complete my doctoral studies,” she said. “I became a U.S. citizen in 2014. Coming back to California and starting an academic position was a dream come true. Aside from the fabulous weather, California’s diversity was a major draw for me.”

Alexander joined SJSU in August 2016 and her research focuses on strategies that communities can employ to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to adverse impacts of climate change. She is working with 23 cities in California to examine ways to reduce transportation emissions and build more resilient communities. She is also involved in analyzing the potential impacts of autonomous vehicles and shared mobility on transportation emissions, among other projects.

She said her immigration experience taught her she is stronger than she thought she was, especially when pushing herself outside her comfort zones; it taught her patience in pursuing goals; and to keep trying to achieve her dreams even when facing obstacles.

“I refuse to accept that my goals might be virtually impossible to reach, I convince myself that I have to work harder or be more creative,” she said.

Her heritage allows her to understand the importance of openness to racial, cultural and value diversity, and the role that building strong and connected communities can play in creating an inclusive environment. She ensures her classroom is an inclusive environment and her students are trained to lead strong and diverse communities effectively.

“Most immigrants want to fully integrate into their new society as quickly as possible, but they may not realize that their unique experiences can help them better solve the problems their families or communities encounter in the new context,” she said. “Maybe we can all encourage them to see a greater value in cultural differences and unique experiences.”

And, of course, she also has her favorite Armenian and Persian foods.

“I will never get tired of sweet but not overwhelming Armenian traditional pastries such as gata,” she said. “Persian food is particularly creative and very balanced but takes a long time to prepare. My favorite is fesenjan, a chicken stew with walnut and pomegranate sauce served over basmati rice.”

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

Immigrant Heritage Month: Erika Onyeise

Erika Onyeise will graduate in December with a degree in psychology and minor in public health. She is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants.

Erika Onyeise will graduate in December with a degree in psychology and minor in public health. She is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants.

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.

Erika Onyeise was born in 1997, the year after her mother moved to American from Nigeria. Her father first arrived in the U.S. in the 1980s, following a sister to Chicago. He attended college and completed a degree in finance with a minor in business. Around 1995-96, he returned to Nigeria, married Onyeise’s mother and they returned together to the United States. During her childhood in San Diego, her parents worked hard to maintain a connection to their culture in Africa, through get togethers hosted by Nigerian community groups and clubs.

“Growing up, I met a lot of other people and kids who are now like my cousins,” said Onyeise, who is the incoming president of the Nigerian Student Association this fall. “I’ve noticed since my freshman year, there seems to be a bigger population of Black students and Nigerian students. I hope to encourage more people to come and learn more about Nigerian heritage.”

A psychology major who is minoring in public health, Onyeise will be completing her degrees in December. She was first drawn to psychology after taking an advanced placement class in high school at that time in 2015 with several gun violence incidents prominently featured in the news she also wanted to better understand people’s behavior and actions.

“One of my favorite parts of begin an SJSU student is meeting new people from different backgrounds,” she said. “I’m not from the Bay Area and I grew up around a lot of diversity in terms of race, but here there is more diversity, such as sexual orientation and religion.”

She said it is interesting as well to hear the different experiences of African American students, those whose families more recently moved to the U.S. and those from other places such as the Caribbean. One easier identifier is the types of food each group enjoys.

Onyeise has her own favorite foods her mother made while she was growing up, and though she has attempted to make some of the, she said they never quite come out the same as her mother.

“I love eating jollof rice,” she said, of a traditional rice that is turned orange by the tomato paste used to cook it. “It’s served with chicken or meat or fish.”

Another favorite is fried plantains, though Onyeise said the fruit has to be just right – not too soft or too hard – for her liking. When she visited over winter break, her mother showed her how to make a favorite stew dish called egusi. Soups are often accompanied by fufu, a dough-like food traditionally made from cassava flour that Onyeise’s mother has adapted to use Quaker oats.

Being the daughter of immigrants has taught her to persevere, said Onyeise. Her mother taught her to never say she can’t do something.

“‘You don’t say can’t.’ It’s something I will use on my kids someday,” she said. “It helped me. Things happen, but you can always overcome that.”

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

 

Immigrant Heritage Month: Maliha Williamson

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.

Maliha Williamson,' 04 BS, '11 MS Chemical Engineering, moved from Pakistan to Oakland with her family in 1991.

Maliha Williamson,’ 04 BS, ’11 MS Chemical Engineering, moved from Pakistan to Oakland with her family in 1991.

Maliha Williamson, ’04 BS, ’11 MS, Chemical Engineering moved to Oakland from Pakistan in 1991.

“My parents decided to move for a better opportunity for their children and we made full use of that,” she said.

The SJSU alumna prides herself on being the first woman engineer in her family and notes that her older sister is a dermatologist with her own practice in Avon, Conn. and her brother Mohsin Waqar, ’06 Mechanical Engineering, is also a Spartan. After completing his degree at SJSU went on to pursue his masters in Mechanical Engineering with an emphasis in Robotics at Georgia Tech University, and  is now a Servo Control Manager in Advanced Mechatronics Group at Applied Materials and

Maliha Williamson and her brtoher Mosin Waqar both graduated from SJSU.

Maliha Williamson and her brtoher Mosin Waqar both graduated from SJSU.

When the family first arrived, Williamson said they were not without their struggles. Her father opened a video store, and although business was good, he had to work 12-hour shifts. She and her mom would help after school in the shop, to relieve him for an hour or two.

“I would take my textbooks along and still remember spreading them out on the main checkout counter,” she said. “The customers would appreciate a little 11-year-old girl making the best of her time.”

She said she learned about running a business and customer relations. When she was admitted to SJSU and decided to major in chemical engineering, she stepped away from the family business to focus on her studies. She counts her college years as some of the best in her life.

“I even came back and got my master’s at SJSU because I loved it that much,” she said.

Still, one of her greatest challenges came in 2003, when Williamson’s mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. She was faced with the decision of continuing her education or being there for her mom.  She considered her mom her greatest strength, and even wrote an essay on her in her freshman year at SJSU titled “An Angel By My Side.”

“I almost decided to take some time off, not knowing how much time I had with my mom,” she said. “But my advisor and mentor Dr. Melanie McNeil was really there for me and made me think about dropping out. I decided to stick it through and am thankful to her to this day.”

Williamson’s mom also wanted her to complete her education and didn’t want her illness get in the way of her daughter’s dreams. Her mom went through seven chemotherapy treatments over the next four years and eventually lost her battle to ovarian cancer on December 13, 2007.

Williamson went on to complete her master’s at SJSU and has had a successful career. Today Williamson is working as a technical sales engineer at Heatcraft Refrigeration, one of the largest manufacturer of Commercial Refrigeration in the U.S and was the best salesperson for the Southwest region Sales Team in 2018.

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

Immigrant Heritage Month: Norma Acosta

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.

Norma Acosta, '93 Criminal Justice Administration, is a deputy city attorney for the city of San Jose.

Norma Acosta, ’93 Criminal Justice Administration, is a senior deputy city attorney for the city of San Jose.

Norma Acosta, ’93 Criminal Justice Administration (now Justice Studies), is senior deputy city attorney for the City of San Jose. She wrote to us to share her immigrant story:

I am an immigrant. I am here because my parents wanted a better life for their children. I was 5 years old when we arrived to the U.S. from Mexico, and 6 when we were all deported. We returned and eventually became permanent residents, but my parents never fully recovered from the setback of being deported. With an unstable home to live in, I struggled through high schools and spent several years in community college. My transfer to SJSU was my turning point. SJSU believed in me and gave me a sense of accomplishment and the courage and preparation to succeed in law school. Now a lawyer for over 20 years, I still look back at my time at SJSU and am grateful and honored to be a SJSU alumni.

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

Immigrant Heritage Month: Karl Cheng

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.

Karl Cheng, '19 Business with a concentration in corporate accounting and finance, immigrated from the Philippines to California with his family.

Karl Cheng, ’19 Business with a concentration in corporate accounting and finance, immigrated from the Philippines to California with his family.

Karl Cheng, ’19 Business with a concentration in corporate accounting and finance wrote to us to share the following story:

I am an immigrant from the Philippines. I arrived here when I was 13 to Los Angeles and I have lived half my life in this country. With my immigrant story, I have found strength within myself and appreciation of my fellow immigrants who have moved to the States for greener pastures. I am armored with a sense of adventure and growth. I am living in Orlando, Florida to start a college program in Walt Disney World and I am hoping for success in this place. I went to San Jose State from Los Angeles with the same push for adventure and I can proudly say that I have achieved what I hoped for in the Bay Area, to finish my degree in two years. Thanks to San Jose for teaching me to find strength and value in diversity. I will always apply what I learned beyond the College of Business towards my professional journey and personal growth.

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

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.