We are thrilled to see this new story from the SJSU Newsroom, “SJSU Students Use Data to Help Serve City’s Most Vulnerable Communities.” Congratulations to Saritha Podali, ’22 MS Data Analytics, and Fengling Zhou, ’22 MS Data Analytics, on their innovative work using data to illuminate resource needs across communities.
The College of Graduate Studies is delighted to present six graduate students with the 2021 Bertha Kalm Award.
“There were an unprecedented number of outstanding student nominees this year,” says Associate Dean of Inclusive Student Success Dr. Amy Leisenring, “[but] the committee was particularly impressed by [these] applicants. Huy Le Is committed to addressing educational disparities as a counselor faculty in a community college setting and as a dance therapist. Taylor Zavala is dedicated to helping trafficking survivors as a professional social worker. Jo’Leysha Cotton’s work involves housing advocacy, using a research-based city planning approach to modify zoning codes. Katherine Reyes is focused on advancing health equity through work in the public sector in Santa Clara county. Nicole Calande is interested in developing community arts programming, especially for those who may be searching for ways to express their voice. Mitchell Hawkins is committed to working on human rights and social justice issues through the lens of medical sociology.”
In the spirit of Bertha Kalm herself, who established this scholarship in 1995, we asked our students, “What defines your passion to make a difference?”
Nicole Calande | MFA Creative Writing
“As a queer writer, I’ve often been concerned with voices on the margins. Going back to school to get my MFA in creative writing was as much about being connected to diverse peer writers and artists as it was about finding my own voice. With my previous experiences in independent podcasting and book publishing, I’ve seen the potential to shift power and resources towards underrepresented voices and artists. I hope to continue this passion through creating platforms that directly serve artists and community members in a variety of ways—always with accessibility and empowerment in mind. This year, being involved with Reed Magazine and the CLA will allow me to get the leadership experience in community arts programming that I hope to implement on my own after graduation.”
Mitchell Hawkins | MS Occupational Therapy
“I think what has contributed the most to the passion I have to make a difference is simply having my eyes opened to the suffering of others and the injustices they face. What started with me taking a single Sociology course on race and ethnic relations has transitioned my entire way of viewing the world and my place in it. I have always wanted to help people and make a difference in the lives of others, which is the main reason that I am currently pursuing my Master’s in Occupational Therapy. But after taking that Sociology course, I am aware of the daily injustices people face that I can not ignore. I feel empathy for all of those suffering, and I believe that it is my responsibility to help as many people as I can for as long as I can. It is no longer my goal to seek to help only individuals but to seek social justice for all of those who need it. This scholarship will help me as I push to pursue a Ph.D. in Sociology. With that degree that I hope to use to create change and impact our [country’s] healthcare system to better serve those that it currently neglects and to serve those that it currently ignores. Everyone deserves an equal opportunity for a happy life and we have the power to help make that a reality.”
Katherine Reyes | Master of Public Health and Recreation (MPH)
“As a graduate student and public health worker, I am guided by my personal experiences as someone who was incarcerated as a young person. I am resourced by those who have paved the way for generations before me, fighting for the rights of Black, Indigenous, disabled, immigrants, women, trans people, and other oppressed groups. I believe public health as a field has an important role and responsibility to support marginalized communities in our fight for dignity and liberation. Specifically, I believe that racial justice is central to public health and envision a world where public health is a leader in addressing structural racism through bold action such as divesting from carceral solutions and investing in community-centric efforts like housing and healthcare for everyone and universal basic income.”
Jo’Leysha Cotton | Master of Urban Planning (MUP)
“The impetus for my passion to make a difference is because someone before me had the courage to make a difference, so I could live a more fruitful life. In particular, these people include my enslaved ancestors, civil right leaders, community activists, community members, and my parents and other family members. Making a difference is not always easy, the best way to pay homage to our ancestors is to pay it forward to generations following us.”
Huy Le | MS Counselor Education
“My greatest passion for making a difference in the world stems from my educational experience toward higher education. As a first-generation, low-income Vietnamese American man, I grew up in a single-parent household where I, as the eldest son, had the sole responsibility of taking care of my family while my mother, a Vietnamese immigrant, worked incredibly hard to make ends meet to put food on our table and keep a roof over our heads. Although I successfully became the first in my family to graduate from college, my journey toward achieving this goal was not easy due to my low socioeconomic background and not having the navigational assistance to steer me toward higher education. Through my own educational journey and my work as a Counselor Intern at West Valley College in EOPS, I realized that students like me are often challenged with attaining their educational goals due to various circumstances that make it difficult for them to do so. In fact, achieving my educational goals of transferring to a 4-year university and earning a college degree was something that I initially thought was out of reach for someone like me.
“As a future community college counselor, I am keenly determined to decrease these unequal, recurring rates by closing the achievement gap among first-generation, low-income college students from diverse backgrounds so that they can attain their educational goals. I strive to use my education to provide opportunities for college students from underserved communities to help them achieve their dreams and aspirations through higher education, ultimately fueling my passion and drive to continue making a difference for humanity and in the world entirely.”
Taylor Zavala | Master of Social Work (MSW)
“It is my passion to see others succeed and live a life that is authentically theirs that drives me to make a difference. Witnessing the special moments when someone is at their best are truly touching. It is in these moments that anything is possible. That is what I want for everyone in this world to be able to experience: moments of
endless hope, peaceful contentment, and unbridled joy. While working with youth in schools, the LGBTQ+ community, and juvenile detention facilities alongside adults suffering from mental health issues, substance misuse, and experiencing domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking, I have learned that humans are extremely resilient. We are able to traverse the most debilitating and frightening corners of existence and still find hope, a reason to get out of bed to show up for ourselves as we strive for a better life. I know I am one person, and I may not always make a difference, however, if there is a chance I can possibly help one of these individuals get to a place in their lives where they are self-sufficient and free from abuse, then I will continue providing support by showing up however I am needed. We all deserve to feel safe, heard, understood, and loved. As I work toward receiving my Master’s in Social Work at San Jose State University, I know I am learning the tools I need to help others feel exactly that. It is time we all live authentically. It is my passion to help others learn how so they can shine!”
We are thrilled that our first place winner of the SJSU Grad Slam, Guadalupe Franco, also received the People’s Choice award at the CSU Grad Slam on May 6. Click here to check out a recent article from our SJSU newsroom celebrating her achievements in the realm of environmental studies and advocacy for the houseless population. Lupe is graduating this semester and we are grateful to have been able to see her flourish as a graduate student. Congratulations, Lupe!
Graduate student Samuel Semahegn has leveraged the power of Silicon Valley and student research opportunities at SJSU to build a meaningful career in the mechanical engineering industry. In recent months, he has been active in packaging and design for NVIDIA: a prominent company that reinvents computer graphics.
The NVIDIA Scholars program, established by biomedical engineering professor Folarin Erogbogbo, enables students to work with industry professionals while completing their master’s projects, and Semahegn has integrated industry experience into his studies quite successfully. Prior to NVIDIA, Semahegn worked for a Pennsylvania-based company, where he assisted in mechanical design, publication, production and coding.
“Before I went to Philadelphia, I worked in Oakland full-time at a 3D bioprinter corporation. That was my first internship. From July to September 2019, I was assisting with mechanical design for 2D and 3D parts, physical assembly of the bioprinters, electrical assembly, laser cutting, miscellaneous activities,” says Semahegn.
Semahegn spent most of his time in academics and research before entering the industry. Notably, he spent the Spring 2019 semester working with mechanical engineering faculty under an appointment through the Tower Foundation at SJSU.
“I was researching and manufacturing PDMS and other experimental chips that helped me do my project in the labs. I developed a microfluidic system for sensitivity and continuous bacteria detection from aqueous solutions,” Semahegn says. “In some parts of the world, they don’t have clean water, so we are doing research on how we [can] filter contaminated water by using this system. I’m from Ethiopia—that motivates me to do this research.”
Not long ago, in 2018, Semahegn was finishing up his undergraduate career in mechanical engineering at UCLA. There, he co-founded an Eritrean and Ethiopian Student Association (EESA) with the goal of connecting UCLA students to the community while celebrating Eritrean and Ethiopian culture. Semahegn’s history of student support can be traced back to the four years he spent as a certified tutor for physics and upper-level applied mathematics at Fresno City College.
“I love teaching because it provides me with an opportunity to develop communication abilities [to solve] complex physics and math problems,” Semahegn says, adding that tutoring has helped him cultivate greater patience with students. “Now, when I work as a researcher, I can explain why we are doing practical activities in the labs.”
Practicality is a common thread running throughout Semahegn’s research, including the undergraduate senior project he completed at UCLA.
“We designed and manufactured a robot that could navigate around obstacles and arrive at a specific location,” Semahegn says. Using a sensor, the robot could detect and collect household items—such as shoes or children’s toys scattered across a room—then organize and transport them to their proper locations. It could even retrieve clean dishes from a dishwasher and put them away. “If the robot sensed any object [in its way], it would stop,” says Semahegn.
Upon graduating from UCLA, Semahegn entered the mechanical engineering graduate program at SJSU. He describes his favorite course, ME 230 – Advanced Mechanical Engineering Analysis with Professor Younes Shabany, as “the hardest class at SJSU.” Yet, he thrived, receiving an A+ grade: a testament to Semahegn’s drive and Professor Shabany’s teaching skill. “I was comfortable with him,” Semahegn says. “The way he teaches, I love it.”
Semahegn is projected to graduate from SJSU in May 2021 with a 3.9 GPA. In March, he’ll begin a new full-time role as an associate test engineer with KLA Corporation until this fall, when he will embark on a new journey as a mechanical engineering PhD student at the University of Arizona at Phoenix. In the meantime, Semahegn plans to enjoy the remainder of his time in California. “Here, [in Silicon Valley], you can see people from different cultures. It’s diversified. That’s why I like it,” Semahegn says.
“I think San José State is the key for anyone who wants to work in industry. Right after my first semester [at SJSU], I got my very first internship in Oakland.” Semahegn urges other students to take advantage of the Career Center, whose resources helped him to land valuable opportunities.
“Handshake is the best resource to get a job. It’s even better than LinkedIn or Indeed because according to my experience, most companies trust you when you apply from the school’s website. SJSU is famous and [companies] like to take San José State students,” says Semahegn, noting that Silicon Valley opportunities are plentiful not just in engineering, but in other realms such as human resources or psychology.
“If anyone wants to work in the industry, San José State is the right place [to be].”
Samuel Semahegn was nominated for a Student Spotlight by bioengineering faculty member Folarin Erogbogbo. Professor Erogbogbo is a strong advocate for students looking to incorporate industry experience into their academic studies.
Lurie College of Education graduate student Janeth Canseco, ’19 Psychology, has been determined not to let COVID-19 slow her learning. Check out this great new post by SJSU’s Washington Square! Canseco is a fantastic example of perseverance as a graduate student making progress towards her goals during the pandemic.