March 2017 Newsletter: Spartan Pride Increases Student-Alumni Engagement

Photo: Moses Kinnah SJSU Alumna Marina Donovan, '84 Public Relations, offers career advice to a current student during the Spartan Success Series 'Major to Career Exploring the Journey' event in fall 2016.

Photo: Moses Kinnah
SJSU Alumna Marina Donovan, ’84 Public Relations, offers career advice to a current student during the Spartan Success Series ‘Major to Career Exploring the Journey’ event in fall 2016.

By Barry Zepel

In the nearly four years since “Spartan Pride” became one of the five core areas of the university’s Vision 2017 Strategic Plan, San Jose State Alumni Association staff members have worked to engage and connect the various sectors that make up the campus community.

Two of the most important elements are students and alumni.

“We recognized what it means to be a Spartan,” said Brian Bates, associate vice president for Alumni Engagement and Annual Giving. “It is the determination, perseverance and grit that each of our students displays towards earning their degree and getting to be an alum, and the extra efforts that our faculty and staff members dedicate to helping the students reach their academic goals.”

Dozens of town hall sessions conducted by the university, in planning for Vision 2017, found that the campus community felt it was important to foster pride for “being a Spartan” in San Jose State University graduates even after they leave campus. Bates said it was important to make the extra effort to invite alumni back to campus and “make them feel welcome.”

“One of the things that emerged the last few years is how much they valued the opportunity to come back to campus and talk to the current students,” he said. “In addition to liking how the campus has changed, alums like how the students engage them and ask questions – many times the kinds of questions they might not ask their professors.”

One of the key initiatives related to the “Spartan Pride” goal has been the creation of a career-oriented program connecting students with alumni established in their fields or industries of interest.

The Spartan Success Series – hosted by the Student Alumni Connection of the Alumni Association – was created in partnership with the university’s Career Center, and held its inaugural events in the spring of 2015. It features career development events providing students and alumni with opportunities to network with industry experts made up of SJSU graduates. Sessions include on-campus and virtual workshops, panels and resume review conferences.

The program has continued to grow in the last few years as more than 400 SJSU alumni have volunteered as career experts, panelists and resume reviewers. That growth was aided by the creation of an online form on which alumni are invited to offer their time and expertise.

“Through providing a combination of both on-campus and virtual workshops, our students have learned to sharpen their skills, build their network, explore career pathways and acquire a competitive edge to carry them into the workforce,” the alumni leader explained.

“It is a win-win-win situation for our students, for our alumni and the university,” added Bates, who also serves as executive director of the SJSU Alumni Association.

Alumna Rene Siegel, ’88 Public Relations, is one of the most dedicated to current San Jose State students.

“I’m passionate about empowering people because I wish I had someone who believed in me when I was a scared and confused college student,” said Siegel, who is founder and president of High Tech Connect, a marketing and communications consulting agency located in Pleasanton. “I want to share my experience to help even more students find their confidence and build a career that reflects their own definition of success.”

Siegel, who earned a bachelor’s in Public Relations, also serves the university as a guest lecturer, was a keynote speaker for the SJSU Student Leadership Conference, and teaches a public relations class during the fall semester. In addition, she and her “team” at High Tech Connect have also provided job-hunting tips and advice for students as well as alumni, including online resume and LinkedIn profile reviews.

Bates noted that credit for the positive results of the Spartan Pride initiative, and specifically the Spartan Success Series, has to be shared by the entire San Jose State community.

“We (alumni association) couldn’t do it all ourselves. It wouldn’t have happened without buy-in from every academic and administrative department of the university, including Spartan Shops and Athletics,” he said. “Of course, having a dedicated force of alumni volunteers and enthusiastic students is key.”

December 2016 Newsletter: Peer Connections Provides Mentors and Tutors

Photo: David Schmitz Students visit Peer Connections location in the Student Services Center during an open house event in September. The program offers mentors and tutors.

Photo: David Schmitz
Students visit Peer Connections location in the Student Services Center during an open house event in September. The program offers mentors and tutors.

During a Monday afternoon just before finals week, SJSU’s Peer Connections mentors and tutors were gathered at small tables in the Student Services Center, ready to help other students with last-minute study support. Sana Rahim, a third-year business marketing major, and Fatema Elbakoury, a fourth-year English major, were waiting for drop-in appointments.

“I like working with students, especially returning students,” said Rahim, a tutor. “We build relationships with them and see their growth throughout the semester.”

“It’s a cool community,” said Elbakoury, who completed the Humanities Honors program and now mentors other students in the program. “We have staff meetings to get to know everyone.”

Blake Lonero, a senior psychology student, learned about Peer Connections through his own mentor as a freshman. The program provides mentors and tutoring services to Spartan students at three locations on campus – the Student Services Center, Clark Hall and Living Learning Center in Campus Village B.

“I wanted to get involved with Peer Connections because I ultimately want to become a teacher and knew that I would be able to gain valuable experience,” Lonero said.

The best part of having a mentor for other students is the emotional and academic support they provide, he said. His favorite part of mentoring other students is when he can persuade them to try out a resource on campus that will help them.

“Peer Connections is a valuable asset to ease the experience of being a student and I hope that everyone takes advantage of the services that we offer,” Lonero said.

Rahimeh Ramezany, a communication studies graduate student specializing in intercultural communications, said she has gained skills as a tutor that will help her in the field of education after graduation.

“We try our best to help students become more effective learners and not just with the material they come in to work on,” she said. “They walk away with study skills that will help them when they can’t come in for an appointment, and eventually, hopefully, they won’t need to come in for tutoring at all.”

Joyce Lum, a senior business administration major, said she first learned about Peer Connections from a friend who worked there.

“My favorite part of being a tutor is knowing that I have developed genuine friendships with both my coworkers and my tutees alike, some of whom I see on a weekly basis,” she said. “Rarely are there jobs where you enjoy what you do, feel like you are truly making an impact on those around you and afford the opportunity to connect with such amazing people.”

At first, Lum struggled with being a full-time student, being involved on campus and juggling two jobs, including working at Peer Connections. Her supervisor noticed and offered her guidance, teaching her that it was okay for her to seek out help, too.

“I believe what my tutees get out of our sessions is more than academic help,” she said. “They often come into our sessions feeling uncertain and stressed but leave in a much more optimistic mood. I feel as if tutors are able to instill hope into their tutees and this alone makes me love what I do.”

November 2016 Newsletter: SJSU Adds Advisors, New Online Tools

Photo: David Schmitz San Jose State University Spartan Scholars students attended classes and study sessions during summer 2015. The program is one of dozens of initiatives in SJSU's Four Pillars of Student Success plan.

Photo: David Schmitz
San Jose State University Spartan Scholars students attended classes and study sessions during summer 2015. The program is one of dozens of initiatives in SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success plan.

As San Jose State University works to enhance advising on campus, efforts have been made in both increasing the number of professional advisors available to students as well as expanding online advising tools. The university is recruiting and hiring 20 additional professional advisors with plans to add advising staff in each of the college’s student success centers. The colleges have determined common goals for the success centers and responsibilities for the new advisors to ensure all students get the support they need.

“The need for the university to improve access to advisors was a strong and recurring theme from the campus community as the Four Pillars of Student Success plan was being created,” said Stacy Gleixner, AVP for the Office of Faculty and Student Success. “This showed up in all the focus groups, the Campus Climate survey and the National Survey for Student Engagement results. These new advisors will ensure students have the opportunity to connect face to face with a professional to help them make sense of the curriculum, sort through their own personal issues, and stay on track for graduation.”

The university launched a suite of online tools to support students in planning out their graduation pathways in spring 2016. Called MyGPS (Graduation Pathway to Success), the suite of tools includes:

  • MyRoadmap – allows students to see the required classes for their major and provides a four-year pathway for freshmen and a two-year pathway for transfer students to complete a 120-unit degree.
  • MyProgress – allows students to see their own progress toward completing GE and major requirements as well as courses they still need to complete for graduation.
  • MyScheduler – a scheduling tool that allows students to create and compare multiple class schedules as well as other commitments such as work, sports or family obligations.
  • MyGradApp (pilots of online graduation application in three colleges) – creates a more efficient way for students to apply for graduation compared to the current hardcopy paperwork they are required to file.

Academic Affairs and Information Technology staff members are working together to add another tool to MyGPS in fall 2017 that will be piloted in select majors. The MyPlanner tool will allow students to plan out a personalized plan for their entire SJSU career. It will be especially helpful in allowing students to see the impact that each course they select will have on pre-requisites and course sequences and their intended graduation date. It will further familiarize students with the need to take at least 15 units each semester for first-year students to complete a degree in four years or for transfer students to complete a degree in two years.

Through awareness efforts this summer with #FinishInFour, the number of first-year students taking at least 15 units doubled from last year. The average unit load has increased by 0.5 units for new students and is up 0.2 units for continuing undergraduates.

“Together the combination of the MyGPS tools and the additional advisors will help students connect the degree requirements with their own personal situations to create a clear path to graduation that works for them,” Gleixner said. “Advisors will be able to monitor and work with students throughout their SJSU career to help them stay on this path.”

September 2016 Newsletter: Development Efforts Support Student Success

Photo by David Schmitz Students in the Spartan Scholars Program gather with a peer mentor after class. The Koret Foundation gave $2 million to SJSU to support student success initiatives, including the Spartan Scholars Program.

Photo by David Schmitz
Students in the Spartan Scholars Program gather with a peer mentor after class. The Koret Foundation gave $2 million to SJSU to support student success initiatives, including the Spartan Scholars Program.

As Student Affairs and Academic Affairs staff and faculty launch initiatives to support student success, two recent gifts to the university are specifically earmarked to fund such efforts. University Advancement received a $15 million gift from Lupe Diaz Compean and a $2 million gift from the Koret Foundation last spring.

Compean’s gift will support student success initiatives and scholarships. The donation will also support the maintenance of SJSU’s newly renovated and expanded Student Union, and the many activities housed in this structure located in the heart of campus.

“San Jose State has been in conversation with the Compeans for the past two decades,” said Vice President for University Advancement Paul Lanning. “Throughout this time, Lupe Diaz Compean has been crystal clear that her motivation in making the gift was to benefit students, honor her family and her late husband by naming a facility, and demonstrating that by working hard and getting an education, anyone can achieve what she has in her lifetime.”

The new student union was dedicated in honor of her and her late husband on Sept. 1. The facility is now known as the Ramiro Compean and Lupe Diaz Compean Student Union.

In addition, SJSU received $2 million from the Koret Foundation as part of a multi-year $50 million initiative to support higher education at a dozen institutions in the Bay Area. SJSU’s funding will be used to create a new student information analytics system that will improve advising; support the Spartan Scholars Program, a newly launched summer bridge program that is aimed at increasing retention and graduation of underrepresented students; and provide scholarships for students with the most need.

“This is a significant start to our efforts to seek funding to support student success initiatives, and it will be complemented by what will ultimately be the $8 million Compean Endowment for Student Success Initiatives once that fund matures,” Lanning said.

The goals of the gifts are in line with SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success plan, which is focused on college readiness, advising, student engagement and clearing bottlenecks.

“The Koret Foundation is proud to fund this initiative that builds on and expands our longstanding commitment to these important Bay Area academic institutions,” said Michael Boskin, President of the Koret Foundation. “This program is designed to be a catalyst for new approaches to optimize student success, improve completion rates, and bolster career advancement opportunities, particularly among underserved populations.”

In support of the campus priority, Lanning created a new position in University Advancement to continue fundraising efforts around student success. Emily Lane, hired in August, is the new director of development for student success.

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