November 2016: African American College Readiness Summit


On Nov. 18, San Jose State University hosted nearly 500 high school students from 34 high schools in Santa Clara County at the African American College Readiness Summit. The high school students gathered at SJSU early Friday morning for a welcome and keynote speech from Dr. Anthony T. Browder, an author and cultural historian whose research is focused on the excavation and restoration of two 25th dynasty tombs of Kushite noblemen in Egypt. Throughout the day, the high school students heard from current Spartans about their educational journey, SJSU alumni, faculty and community members. All volunteers imparted tips for preparing to apply for college as well as advice on how to be successful once accepted to a university.

September 2016 Newsletter: Spartan Scholars Program Enhances College Readiness

Photo by David Schmitz Spartan Scholar Program students engage with a faculty member during a summer course before the start of their freshman year.

Photo by David Schmitz
Spartan Scholar Program students engage with a faculty member during a summer course before the start of their freshman year.17

On a July afternoon, new Spartans filled half of the tables in the Dining Commons, laughing and chatting with each other as though they had known each other for years. The 112 incoming first-year students had only met each other three weeks before when they moved into the residence halls to participate in a five-week summer transition program, but the 12-hour days they spent together allowed them to build strong bonds quickly.

The students were participants in the Spartan Scholars Program, a new summer residential program that provides college readiness support in English and math while also preparing admitted Spartans for the transition from high school to university life.

“It’s an opportunity to get familiar with the campus,” said Kevin Cardona, a student from Oakland who plans to major in civil engineering. “It’s exciting to try out this new thing and get ahead – to be prepared. We have our own little community.”

Cardona is the first in his family to attend college. He said the rigorous schedule for the program that includes English or math classes, tutoring sessions, study hall, and social activities has helped him set his expectations for his first semester.

The five-week summer program is free to students. SJSU covers associated summer costs, including tuition, room and board on campus, textbooks and weekend activities. Students who applied were selected based on admission to SJSU, academic need, financial aid eligibility, English placement test and entry level mathematics examination scores, educational and personal background.

Academic Affairs and Student Affairs submitted a joint proposal for funding for the program through the Student Success, Excellence and Technology Fee, approved by the Campus Fee Advisory Committee, which includes student representatives. SJSU plans to expand access to the Spartan Scholars Program through funding from the Koret Foundation, which awarded SJSU $2 million to use toward student success programs.

The program is one of many initiatives in SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success plan that is focused on improving college readiness. More than 30 percent of incoming freshmen admitted to SJSU require additional support in math, English or both to prepare for college-level courses.

Debra Griffith, the AVP for Transition and Retention Services in Student Affairs, said Drew Agbay, who served as the program director, coordinated with students, staff, faculty and other campus partners to make the summer session successful.

“Launching the Spartan Scholars Program was a huge undertaking and would not have been possible without (them),” Griffith said.

Sabrina Martinez, a kinesiology major from Stockton, said her father is an SJSU graduate who is proud that she is now a Spartan, too.

“It’s great to be able to have a head start and refresh your memory for school,” she said, noting that making friends was one of the best benefits of the program. “Everyone is getting along. We won’t be alone when the semester starts.”

Alyssa Vargas, a psychology major from Fresno, said she also appreciated making connections on campus.

“We will have help in the fall,” she said. “We have people to ask for help.”

Jessica Padron, who is from Long Beach, said the summer program offered a chance to settle in at SJSU from Southern California.

“It made the transition a lot easier,” she said. “I’ve made a lot more friends and I know a lot more resources.”

She wants to be a teacher and minor in public relations.

“It really helped with time management because it was a rigorous schedule,” she said.

Fatima Soriano, who is from Los Angeles, agreed with Padron that living on campus helped her adjust to life in San Jose.

“It’s an opportunity to come in knowing how college works and to build relationships, so you don’t have to come in alone,” she said.

Lia Castellanos, the community director for the Spartan Scholars Program this summer, is a graduate student, ’17, Biotechnology, and Fulbright Scholar.

“The academic part of the program is important, but we need to balance that with time to relax,” she said, noting that despite the stringent weekday schedule, the students had more free time on the weekends. “It’s been great getting to know the students. They have so much energy. I see their faces are so excited for the fall and the possibilities.”

Castellanos said the group activities included a mix of reflective activities and more fun competitions such as a water balloon challenge.

“They understand it is a great privilege to be here,” she said. “It is helping them understand their own skills and they are realizing they can do it. It is amazing to see that process every single day.”

SJSU Professor Discusses Chemistry Education in Brazil, Cuba

Dr. Resa Kelly, an SJSU chemistry associate professor, second from left, presented at the Brazilian Society for Chemistry and American Chemical Society meeting in May with Dr. Charles Atwood, Dr. Marcy Towns, Dr. Norb Pienta and workshop organizer Dr. Fernando Galembeck.

Dr. Resa Kelly, an SJSU chemistry associate professor, second from left, presented at the Brazilian Society for Chemistry and American Chemical Society meeting in May with Dr. Charles Atwood, Dr. Marcy Towns, Dr. Norb Pienta and workshop organizer Dr. Fernando Galembeck.

San Jose State University Associate Professor Resa Kelly learned that a desire to increase student success transcends borders this summer when she traveled to Brazil and Cuba to meet with researchers and educators who are focused on improving learning outcomes in chemistry.

Kelly serves as secretary of the American Chemical Society’s (ASC) Division of Chemistry Education (DivCHED) and is co-chair of its International Activities Committee this year. The committee is involved in finding ways to collaborate with international partners on improving learning in both secondary and university-level chemistry courses.

As a member of SJSU’s Science Education team and a faculty member in the chemistry department who began her teaching career at the high school level, Kelly brings a unique understanding of the challenges of teaching chemistry at different educational levels.

She was invited to Goiânia, Brazil in May as part of ACS’s International Activities Committee to present at the Sociedade Brazileira de Quimica (Brazilian Society of Chemistry.) The goal of the visit was to promote global collaboration among chemical education researchers.

Kelly is one of three DivCHED representatives who participated in a workshop on “Teaching Chemistry: Vision, Practice and Achievements” hosted by Dr. Fernando Galemback. Kelly’s presentation, “Insights into US Science Teacher Preparation in California and Research Exploring the Design and Development of Chemistry Visualizations,” provided an overview of the SJSU teacher credentialing process emphasizing the role of Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Standards in teacher training.

She also addressed research she is conducting that is funded by the National Science Foundation that is aimed at developing visualizations to boost deeper learning. She has worked with animators to create short videos about the atomic level details of chemical reactions that are in conflict with each other.

“The overall goal is that we shouldn’t tell students this is right or wrong,” she said. “We want to connect them to the evidence and hope over time, with practice, they will be able to justify why one model is preferred over another.”

In June, Kelly traveled to Villa Clara, Cuba to present at the International Symposium of Chemistry. She and Dr. Charles Atwood, DivCHED IAC co-chair, were invited to speak during the Ernest Eliel Symposium on Chemical Education. The symposium brought together 50 Cuban educators to discuss the nature of teaching and learning in Cuba and the United States.

“In spite of the different cultural background, we discovered that many of our educational concerns were mutually shared,” Kelly said. “For example there was much discussion about motivating students to learn, easing the transition from secondary school to college chemistry, dealing with the limitations of technology and recognizing its usefulness, and embracing collaborative learning models with practice-based approaches.”

Dr. Kelly Resa, far right, spoke at the International Symposium of Chemistry in Cuba. She is pictured here with Dr. Luis Montero Cabrera, Dr. Manuel Alvarez Prieto, Dr. Thomas Bussey and Dr. Charles Atwood.

Dr. Resa Kelly, far right, spoke at the International Symposium of Chemistry in Cuba. She is pictured here with Dr. Luis Montero Cabrera, Dr. Manuel Alvarez Prieto, Dr. Thomas Bussey and Dr. Charles Atwood.

Atwood and Kelly plan to visit chemistry classrooms and laboratories at the University of Havana as well as some secondary schools in the near future. Along with Atwood’s colleague Dr. Joel Harris, they were awarded ACS Innovative Project Awards to invite Cuban delegates to visit SJSU and other universities in the U.S. in spring 2017 to brainstorm ways to collaborate on future teaching and learning projects.

San Jose State receives $2M for Student Success

San Jose State University is one of a dozen Bay Area institutions to receive funding from the Koret Foundation as part of a multi-year $50 million initiative to support higher education.

SJSU will receive $2 million from the Koret Foundation to support student success, with University Advancement’s Tower Foundation administering the gift. The influx of funding comes on the heels of the recently released SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success: College Readiness, Advising, Student Engagement and Clearing Bottlenecks plan. The data-driven campus-wide student success strategy has one goal: to significantly increase retention and graduation rates for all students while improving the quality of their educational experience.

The $2 million has been earmarked to support college readiness, advising and student engagement at San Jose State. It will be used to create a new student information analytics system that will improve advising and to support the Spartan Scholars Program, a newly launched summer bridge program that is aimed at increasing retention and graduation of underrepresented and first-generation students.

SJSU’s Four Pillars plan was created by Provost Andy Feinstein and Vice President for Student Affairs Reggie Blaylock, with input from multiple campus stakeholders, including students. The plan was highlighted in a recent NPR story in which Feinstein shared that the university is offering up to 500 additional course sections to help students make progress toward degree (with funding from the university’s general fund.)

“They (SJSU students) are the inspiration that keeps me going and get me up in the morning,” he said, during the NPR interview.

According to its press release, Koret believes that education not only enables individual success and mobility, but also helps build a vibrant Bay Area. The initiative addresses a number of high priority needs at each institution, including capital, research, scholarships, technology, and recruiting, advising, and retention programs for low-income, first-generation students.

“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.”

Read the full press release and view an outline of the initiatives at all of the higher education institutions partnering with Koret online.

Based in San Francisco, the Koret Foundation supports civic, cultural, and educational organizations that promote a vibrant and distinctive Bay Area. Koret focuses its giving in two major areas: strengthening Bay Area anchor institutions and fostering Jewish connection and identity. Since its founding in 1979, Koret has invested $500 million to contribute to a higher quality of civic and Jewish community life. For more information, visit

May 2016 Newsletter: Spartans Prep Middle School Students for College

Alissa Macklin, a freshman art major, volunteered to share her Spartan story with dozens of middle school students at the African American College Readiness Summit on Feb. 13

“I had a rough start in middle school,” she said, noting that her grades dropped and her GPA bottomed out at 1.167 when her parents divorced. “I was going through a lot, but I learned you can’t let a situation with your family end your education.”

Macklin said she worked extra hard in high school to increase her GPA by taking classes from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. While she considered universities in Chicago, she opted for San Jose State to be close to family members who live in the East Bay.

“Chicago is cold and it was far from my family,” she said. “I wanted to be close so I could go to my parents’ (homes) to eat.”

Macklin was one of many SJSU students, alumni and community members who talked to hundreds of middle school students from schools in Santa Clara County about how they can prepare for college. The two African American College Readiness summits – a fall event for high school students and a spring event for middle school students – served at least 1,000 students this year.

The program is one of many hosted at San Jose State with K-12 schools and community partners to foster a college-going culture in Santa Clara County. As part of SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success, university leaders are focused on working with partners to increase college readiness. The plan calls for increasing participation in the college readiness summits from 1,000 to 1,500; increasing College Day participation from 1,400 to 2,000; and increasing participation in the Advancing Latino/a Achievement and Success conference from 1,000 to 1,500 students, among other initiatives. The pillar aims to ensure high school students are eligible for CSU admission and prepared for college-level courses.

Macklin, who wants to be a teacher and an artist, advised students to seek out help to understand financial aid, stay positive about their ability to thrive in college and to make connections on campus.

“I got involved in a lot of clubs such as the Black Student Union,” she said. “Only four percent (of SJSU students are African American), but we are close knit.”

Katasha Blade, a teacher with one of the visiting middle schools, also talked about her journey to college.

“I wanted to become a teacher because I was in foster care with one sister,” she said. “I didn’t grow up with parents. I wanted to be a teacher to help other people.”

Blade, who attended historically-black Hampton University, in Virginia, said she focused on keeping her grades high, preparing for college entrance exams and engaging in extracurricular activities. While in college, she said she had two jobs and took 18 credits a semester.

“You have to know that you can do it,” she told the room full of middle school students. “Never settle. You need to push yourself harder.”