The Distinguished Service Award recognizes a faculty member for exemplary service in a leadership capacity to the university and/or community or profession that brings credit to San Jose State. This year’s winner comes from the College of Social Sciences. She will be honored at the 17th Annual Faculty Service Recognition and Awards Luncheon on March 15, 2016. Tickets are available for purchase.
When Maria Luisa Alaniz talks about her former students, she talks about them by name. She recalls the challenges they face in attaining their SJSU degrees, the doubts they express when she encourages them to apply to graduate programs and the potential she sees in them that keeps her inspired semester after semester.
“When I arrived at SJSU as an EOP student in 1976, I never would have dreamed that someday I would go to graduate school and become a university professor.” “Our students are so humble, but they have the talent and skills to make it anywhere,” she says.
Alaniz, ’78 Social Work and Psychology, ’80 MA Counselor Education, was working for the Ford Foundation after completing an education specialist degree in educational evaluation and a doctorate in sociology of education from Stanford University when she received a call from a friend who was the chair of the Mexican American Studies program at SJSU in 1988. She says the chair asked her to teach one course as a lecturer on Mexican American families.
“I spent the summer at the library at Stanford to develop a course reader,” Alaniz says. “It was not my area of expertise. I remember walking into class and thinking I didn’t know how to teach. As the semester went on, I realized I felt a connection with the students.”
A professor in the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Science, Alaniz currently serves as the coordinator of Social Science Teacher Education. Alaniz is engaged with Student Academic Success Services on a U.S. Department of Education grant to create a mentorship program that will pair students with faculty and staff mentors, and she has served as a mentor through the McNair Scholars Program.
Alaniz relishes being a mentor, a role that continues with former students who are now teachers throughout the Bay Area and Central Valley. When she visits them in their classrooms, she says it’s great to see the relationships they have with their own students.
“They have such good, supportive connections with their students,” she says, noting that teachers have an enormous opportunity to connect with students they see in class every day.
Alaniz has been integral to bringing role models to SJSU, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who visited the campus in 2014. The judge who serves on the highest nation in the court has a background that parallels many SJSU students.
“Many students are first-generation college students and they will do anything they can to attain their degree,” says Alaniz, who was herself a first-generation Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) college student from a working-class background. “They are working to help their families and trying to attain their degrees to become part of the professional middle class.”