Ed.D. Graduate Students on Creating a Meaningful Impact in Marginalized Communities

Mariana Alvarez and Phoebe Paxton are both current graduate students. Today they share their motivations, experiences, and aspirations on their path towards earning their Doctor of Educational Leadership (Ed.D.) degree at San José State University (SJSU).

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Mariana Alvarez – 25′ Doctor of Educational Leadership (Ed.D.)

At the core of Mariana Alvarez’s pursuit of an Ed.D. degree lies a profound inspiration drawn from her familial roots. Mariana tells us, “My family has inspired me to pursue an Ed.D. degree. As a Mexicana, I saw the sacrifices and dreams of the generations before me, and I see how those roots are impacting my children as well. I also see the same reflected in the community I grew up in and the community I am privileged to serve. I believe that education is at the heart of how we continue to make changes and make our dreams a reality.” Mariana envisions education as the cornerstone for effecting meaningful change and realizes her role in nurturing future generations.

Milestones at SJSU

Mariana’s incredible journey at SJSU has also been thanks to her advisor, Dr. Rebecca Burciaga. She tells us, “Having an advisor who brings a wealth of knowledge and understands my experiences as a Latina in Education has inspired me to continue pushing through the program’s challenges. She has been an anchor in this endeavor.” Through her experiences as an elementary school principal in the East Side of San Jose, where she grew up, Mariana says that the Ed.D. program provides her with language to capture her experiences as an elementary school principal and be able to more critically examine practices that impact her community.

Shaping the Future

Post-graduation, Mariana will continue her commitment for systemic change within the educational landscape. Grounded in her mission to serve and empower marginalized communities, she aspires to be the support and mentor that she once wanted while navigating the education system. By advocating for inclusivity and amplifying the voices of aspiring Latina leaders, Mariana hopes to leave a mark on the educational sphere.

Contributions and Research at SJSU

Mariana’s dissertation is focused on Latina elementary school principals and how they use their community cultural wealth and cultural intuition to lead schools, while exploring what is the most influential in their pathway to principalship. She tells us, “while Latinos are the fastest-growing population, Latina administrators make up only 13% of the administrators in California. Research on Latina administrators has recently begun to emerge, and it is exciting to be a part of this growing body of knowledge.”


Mariana is the first in her family to pursue a doctoral degree. SJSU has played an integral role in how she sees herself achieving this dream by providing her with a clear plan. She tells us, “My professors have also been extremely supportive and know how to guide me in my research to deepen my knowledge on the topic. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet with the university president, hear more about her vision for SJSU, and share my thoughts with her. Last spring, I also had the opportunity to welcome the newest cohort to the program and share my experiences with them at that point.”

For Phoebe Paxton, the pursuit of her Ed.D. degree is inspired by her grandmother, Willie Mae Mitchell-Willis. Despite facing adversities that curtailed her own educational journey, her grandmother

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Phoebe Paxton – 26′ Doctor of Educational Leadership (Ed.D.)

instilled within Phoebe a belief in the transformative power of education. 

Phoebe shared with us some of her grandmother’s story, “My grandmamma, Willie Mae Mitchell-Willis, inspired me to pursue my doctorate degree. And has always been my role model. She was pulled out of school at the early age of 12 when her family needed her. My great-grandmother got sick and she needed someone to help her with house chores and cooking and taking care of her younger siblings. My grandmamma loved school and wanted to continue her education, but her mother was a single parent  and her mother insisted that she quit her schooling and stay home to help her. She carried a lot of responsibility at such a young age. Despite quitting school early, she always told her children how much she valued education. Every chance she got she would tell us that receiving an education is very important, she would tell us that if you receive an education no one could take it from you.”

Charting a Vision

Post-graduation, Phoebe envisions harnessing her newfound expertise to assume leadership roles within her community. She currently works for a nonprofit organization using her creative business and leadership skills as an administrator. Her supervisor has been preparing her to become a next-generation leader, but she must first complete her doctorate. Phoebe expects to graduate in 2026, and when she does, she will be appointed an executive director position. Since starting the Ed.D. program, Phoebe is interested in working towards becoming a California lobbyist or policymaker.

Contributions and Reflections

At SJSU, Phoebe has learned how to apply research to resolve current real-world problems in the field of education and learning. Of her research, she tells us, “I have the opportunity to learn how to interpret the latest research, and then use that research to develop strategies to improve educational outcomes in a variety of settings. The problem-solving skills can give me the ability to effect meaningful social change.”  By leveraging the resources and support provided by SJSU, Phoebe has cultivated a skill set that will allow her to make an impact in education.

Choosing SJSU

Phoebe decided to pursue an Ed.D. degree at SJSU because of the university’s reputation, accessibility, and commitment to fostering community engagement. Phoebe tells us, “SJSU provides accessibility to high-quality education at a fraction of the cost. I consider the SJSU campus as a diamond in the rough. During my research on the different Ed.D. programs, I learned that many SJSU students intern at different Silicon Valley companies. I was accepted at three different Ed.D. programs, I chose this program because of Dr. Rivera’s support and integrity.”

Mariana Alvarez and Phoebe Paxton shine as examples of perseverance, determination, and dedication. Their stories highlight how education can profoundly change lives and inspire others, and cannot wait to see what they do with their Ed.D. doctoral degree and how they impact their communities.

SJSU’s HELM Program: Empowering Voices, Cultivating Leaders

For Lorena Martinez-Carrasco, Behin Noormanesh, and Chris Changras, the Higher Education Leadership (HELM) master’s program at San José State University (SJSU) has been more than just an academic endeavor—it has been a transformative journey towards empowerment and leadership. 

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Lorena Martinez-Carrasco – 23′ M.A. Higher Education Leadership

Lorena Martinez-Carrasco: Finding Voice and Belonging

Lorena chose to pursue a HELM master’s degree for one reason: “to prove to myself that regardless of obstacles, finances, and tribulations, I was going to obtain that degree to further myself and get ahead. I have worked for the district for 20+ years and realized that I needed a master’s to secure myself, find a meaningful career, and also for a transformation.”

The HELM program has given Lorena a space of belonging and has allowed her to think critically. It has given her the confidence she needed, stating, “The HELM program has been a place where I felt I was accepted, which allowed me to have a voice for the first time. The program is tailored with specialized and compacted courses and the professors offer a welcoming peer-to-peer safe environment, which allowed me to focus, prioritize, and facilitate. The curriculum was catered to helping me with my capstone and eased my way through the research process.”

Lorena shared how the exceptional professors at SJSU and her cohort have enriched her learning, supported her throughout the program, and led her to success, saying, “with my super supportive, genuinely caring cohort and a power force that is hard to dismantle, we together have a powerful stance. The instructors whom I find phenomenal are those who served, challenged, and who represented tactfully. While I was in the program, they were very committed, and they did so in aiding me towards my success.”

Lorena currently works part-time with an adult’s program through the community education department for Mission College and told us how the HELM program has given her the confidence she needed to teach efficiently and effectively. She will continue to use the skills and tools the HELM program has given her in future positions, saying, “My hope is to lead in management, in a program that I will help facilitate those who are marginalized and where I can make a significant difference. I find that I am my best version of myself when I am able to stand up to those barriers that are placed to shut individuals from advancing.”

Behin Noormanesh: Advocating for Equity and Inclusion

HELM’s core focus on equity and justice is what attracted Behin to the program. She says, “The HELM program has played a pivotal role in shaping my ability to make a significant impact in my field. Through the program, I gained a deep understanding of equity and justice issues within higher education and acquired the tools and skills necessary to address these challenges effectively. For individuals like me who are passionate about effecting positive change but require guidance on where and how to start, this program is a beacon of light.”

The program has instilled a deep commitment to these values in Behin’s professional life, allowing her to become an effective leader in her current leadership role. She states, “The HELM program helped me commit to equity in my new leadership role. The program has allowed me to foster positive change and promote fairness in higher education. Even though I graduated, I’m still learning and adapting to keep up with the best ways to promote fairness.”

Chris Changras – Empowering Leadership and Advocacy

Chris has seamlessly integrated the tools, voice, and values instilled by the HELM program into her role within higher education administration. She tells us, “HELM has allowed me to transition into a leadership role within a new university and within a new department. It has provided me with the resources, connections, and confidence to be a successful contributor and thought leader for my division.”

Chris ends by telling us her hopes for the future, saying, “My impact I hope will be with the daily interactions I have with managers as we work together to make each of their staff successful contributors as well as equity-conscious university citizens.”

Lorena, Behin, and Chris’ stories exemplify the profound impact of SJSU’s HELM program in shaping leaders. Through supportive communities, innovative curriculum, and dedicated faculty, the program empowers individuals to find their voice, advocate for change, and lead with integrity and compassion.

M.A. Emancipatory K-12 School Leadership Graduates Continue to PhD Programs

Cheralen Valdez and Anthony Rodgers are M.A. Emancipatory K-12 Leadership graduates. They both spoke to us about their educational journey and their passion for implementing social justice and equity in education. 

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Cheralen Valdez – 23′ M.A. Emancipatory K-12 Leadership

Cheralen Valdez reflects on her intentions as an educator, her purpose and goal in the classroom. Cheralen hopes to make an impact within the field of Early Childhood Education (ECE). “Such impact is driven by a commitment to justice and equity especially for young children and my fellow ECE teachers. I hope to continue to do the kind of work where even the earliest learners can have an educational experience that is reflective and responsive of critical histories, and their teachers are prepared to support the learning environments they deserve.”

Cheralen’s commitment to education led her to SJSU’s M.A. Emancipatory K-12 School Leadership program. When we asked Cheralen about her experience in the program, she excitedly said, “from the beginning, I felt seen and valued, and that feeling was something I wanted to learn more about, and so that I could one day be in a position to make sure students and teachers also feel seen and valued.”

The program allowed Cheralen to fulfill her passion and delve into the world of research, and inspired her to do the “work that is necessary to make change, and any positive impacts that I contribute to the field is hugely because of this program and the people.” 

SJSU allowed Cheralen to graduate with research experience, which she says is crucial in the education landscape. “I often look back at my experience and am so grateful for the research experience and the ways in which the program has challenged me as a scholar, but also as a researcher. Engaging in research that focused on student voices, their stories and their experiences reminded me of how powerful student-focused research is.”

Because of SJSU’s supportive faculty and her positive experience in the program, Cheralen learned that she wanted to continue with higher education and is now at the University of California, Santa Cruz pursuing a PhD in Education.

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Anthony Rodgers – 23′ M.A. Emancipatory K-12 Leadership

Anthony Rodgers shares a similar reason for entering the program “I sought admission to the Emancipatory K-12 School Leadership Master’s Degree with the intention of broadening my role as an educational leader and to transcend mere pedagogy to establish a praxis grounded in principles of equity.”

Anthony said that the program has allowed him to focus on “deconstructing the prevailing educational paradigm (status quo) and mitigating manifestations of marginalization and oppression within educational settings.”

He ends by telling us what he gained from the program, “[The program] heightened awareness of the urgency to integrate the voices of both families and students comprehensively across all aspects of the educational landscape.” Anthony is continuing his graduate education right here at SJSU in the Educational Leadership doctoral program (Ed.D). 

The experiences of Cheralen Valdez and Anthony Rodgers highlight the impact the M.A. Emancipatory K-12 School Leadership program at SJSU has had for each of them, and further cultivated their passion for social justice and equity in education. Their journeys reflect a transformative process of self-discovery and empowerment, allowing them to advocate for marginalized voices within educational settings. As they transition into their doctoral studies, their steadfast commitment to confronting systemic inequities paves the way for a more inclusive future in education.

M.S. Economics Graduate Received a Job Offer Within a Week of Graduation

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Sana Husain – 22′ M.S., Economics

The College of Graduate Studies spoke with Sana Husain, a 2022 M.S. Economics graduate. Sana was drawn to Economics by its complex factors and the opportunity to delve deep into its dynamics, motivating her to pursue a master’s degree at San José State University.

Why Did Sana Choose SJSU?

Sana lived in Boston and relocated to Mountain View, California. When she started looking for a master’s degree program in Economics, her friends gave her positive reviews about SJSU’s education. SJSU then became her top choice, not only because of the great feedback, but also because of the easy commute, and the beautiful campus located right in the heart of Downtown San Jose. 

Life after Graduation

Sana was amazed that she received a job offer within one week from Ernst and Young. She did not take the job offer because she relocated to Asia to pursue her passion for teaching, where she taught economics for a year in an online program affiliated with a renowned UK university. 

Sana is currently exploring opportunities in the field of data analytics, which was inspired by her discovery and interest in econometrics during her graduate studies at SJSU. She hopes to publish a research article in the near future.


The M.A. Mathematics Program Paved the Way to a Ph.D.


Luis Torres – 20′ M.A., Mathematics

Luis Torres, 20’ M.A. Mathematics at SJSU, spoke to the College of Graduate Studies about his research experience and how SJSU helped him develop into a mathematics researcher. Before considering the SJSU Mathematics program, Luis was a Computer Science major, but after taking an abstract linear algebra course, he quickly learned that mathematics was the right pathway for him, and then applied to the SJSU M.A. Mathematics program.

Luis shared that he thoroughly enjoyed the program, “I loved navigating the twists and turns involved in proving a mathematical statement true or false, especially when it involves big surprises such as tying together ideas that seem totally unrelated at first glance, or proving a result that goes against preconceived notions and challenges current understanding.”

The Mathematics program at SJSU supports its students, and allows them to develop their own research. For his thesis, Luis said he studies “topologically minimal surfaces,” and couldn’t have done it without the support of Dr. Marion Campisi, and excitedly shared, “together with my advisor Dr. Marion Campisi, we proved that most surfaces in the 3-dimensional sphere are of this kind. This was an exciting twist, because it was believed that no topologically minimal surfaces should exist in the 3-dimensional sphere! It’s this kind of surprise that makes mathematics such a fun and exciting field.”

On why he chose SJSU, Luis said, “The graduate program in mathematics at SJSU was a wonderful opportunity for me to develop as a mathematics researcher. While I was exploring master’s programs to apply to, the faculty at SJSU were so inviting and easy to talk to, and it became clear that I would be welcomed with open arms. I had lively discussions with faculty every day during the program, and they really made me feel that I was a part of the mathematical community at SJSU.”

He ends by noting the incredible support he received in at SJSU “I’m grateful for all the conversations and mentorship that helped me grow as a researcher, with special thanks to my advisor Dr. Marion Campisi and mentors Drs. Wasin So, Jordan Schettler, Slobodan Simić, and Tim Hsu.”

SJSU provided Luis immense opportunities for connections and allowed him to develop as a researcher. His SJSU graduate experience prepared him to pursue a Ph.D.in Mathematics at The University of Texas, Austin.

We are excited to see where his research journey will take him!