Student Spotlight: Gunnar Jaffarian and Kristen Darnell

Gunnar Jaffarian and Kristen Darnell, both physics graduate students and leaders in the physics club at SJSU, have found their stride in research and community-building despite the pandemic.

Gunnar Jaffarian headshot

Gunnar Jaffarian, graduate student, physics program

“The community at SJSU betters everyone around them,” says Jaffarian. “I made it a point to join the physics club on day one because I wanted to join that community. During the first semester, they helped me feel like others knew my struggles and led me to resources that could help.

“Because I wanted to give back, I was elected to a leadership position in January – right before the pandemic started. The clubroom became empty because of the virus, so the other two leaders, a friend, our faculty advisor, and I put together a virtual clubroom [using Discord] so we could maintain the community and help people who needed it.”

Darnell, who worked with Jaffarian to establish this virtual space, says the Discord server allowed members of the Physics Club to continue their collaboration online. The department even made it official. According to Jaffarian, the virtual clubroom is used daily for a variety of purposes, from organizing study sessions to posting memes. “The faculty in the department are incredibly supportive and many have joined the server with us,” he says.

Both Darnell and Jaffarian credit their departmental faculty for offering sustained support of their academic endeavors.

Kristen Darnell headshot

Kristen Darnell, graduate student, physics program

“My experience at SJSU has been great for so many reasons,” says Darnell. “I came into the physics master’s program with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and only a vague idea that I wanted to do interdisciplinary research. Within my first month here, the dean of science, Dr. Kaufman, took the time to chat with me about his research. Because of that conversation, I was nominated for a research fellowship in Poland with one of Dr. Kaufman’s collaborators. There, I was so excited to learn about the world of Astrochemistry and attend a seminar series with other grad students in the field.”

“Since then, the department has found funding for me to attend another seminar series in Europe. I’ve been able to listen to Dr. Kress speak at Astronomy on Tap. When the Physics department needs to hire new faculty, they request the opinions of the graduate students and listen to them,” says Darnell. 

Jaffarian says his professors helped him with his resume and public speaking skills earlier this year. “Then, I scored a summer internship at a laser production company,” he says. “It ended up becoming a virtual internship, but the company offered me a full-time position when it was over because of what I learned. This is a difficult time for everybody, but the people at SJSU really pushed me to be the best I could be. Between the faculty and the student organizations, there was always somebody who could give guidance or resources.”

Darnell’s thesis advisor, Dr. Madura, is a great example. Dr. Madura encouraged Darnell to connect with a faculty member at Benedictine College who has since become her collaborator. 

“I’m helping to create the reaction network for water inside dust grains in the interstellar medium,” Darnell says. “At SJSU, I have grown so much, not just in my academic knowledge, but also in my relationships with other scientists.”

Student Spotlight: Annie Ronning

Annie Ronning headshot

Annie Ronning, graduate student in MA Kinesiology – Sport Management program

This month, kinesiology graduate student Annie Ronning took first place in the Lightning Talk Competition at the inaugural Institute for the Study of Sport, Society, and Social Change (ISSSC) virtual conference: “Dream with Your Eyes Open: (Re)Imagining Sport in the Age of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter.” The event was designed “to continue the legacy of equity and social justice by addressing the issues and challenges in sport,” according to the program’s webpage.

Ronning, who interns at the ISSSC, says the event was a great success. She enjoyed presenting her research at the Lightning Talk Competition, which represented an important intersection of activism and athletics.

“I chose to focus on cultural competency in athletic training education,” Ronning says. “Being an athletic trainer and a recent graduate from an athletic training program, I felt very close to this topic as it is meaningful to me and my colleagues. The profession of athletic training has room for improvement, much like many other facets of sport, and the momentum of positive change begins with conversation and awareness. The goal of my literature review presentation was to do just that in an educational format.”

With an expected graduation date of Spring 2021, Ronning hopes to infuse this passion into her final kinesiology independent study project from a sport management perspective. “My goal with this research is to make it applicable as something that can be utilized to create change within the athletic training profession. Athletic trainers are a significant element of sport and I want to do what I can to improve this field in a progressive way…I am thankful that the ISSSSC has given me that opportunity and I am excited to continue.”

Annie Ronning holds an athlete's kneeRonning began her SJSU career as a graduate assistant athletic trainer. Later, she was contracted to work with the athletics program at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco until COVID-19 put a pause on sports. “Since then, I shifted my focus and created my Lightning Presentation with the ISSSSC in efforts to better my profession while promoting social change,” says Ronning.

“My internship at the institute paired with my graduate coursework has allowed me to grow personally and professionally while providing me an incredible support system along the way. I am lucky to work with such great advisors at San José State and want to thank Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique, Dr. Amy August, and Dr. Cole Armstrong for their help throughout my academic journey. I look forward to continued work at the institute and with my KIN 298 final project. I feel grateful to have these enriching opportunities at SJSU.”

Katy Jiang, MS Software Engineering student, wins 2020 Deepfake Education Competition

Congratulations to 2020 Deepfake Education Competition winner Katy Jiang, a Software Engineering MS student at SJSU! We were thrilled to hear this news in the College of Engineering newsletter this week.

Sponsors Silicon Valley Leadership Group Foundation and the CITRIS Policy Labs at the University of California Berkeley said Katy’s “creative and informative 3-minute submission” will help educate the public on deepfakes.

Read more about the contest and watch her video here.

Student Spotlight: Francesca Fanucchi

Francesca Fanucchi headshot

Francesca Fanucchi, Graduate Student, Justice Studies Program

Justice studies graduate student Francesca Fanucchi never envisioned attending university. 

“As a child I struggled in school, often being labelled as lazy and unmotivated. I felt inferior, inadequate, undisciplined, and hopelessly disorganized,” says Fanucchi. A diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and sensory processing disorder soon granted her the clarity she needed to move forward.

“I was able to understand and address these struggles,” Fanucchi says. “I learned that these disorders limited my ability to process and comprehend information, compared to my peers. It took me years of practice before I was able to learn how to succeed in school.”

Fanucchi completed high school in Brighton, England. This was a turning point for her. “For the first time in my life I was excelling in school and was presented with opportunities I never thought achievable. I continued my education in England, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology at the University of Sussex.” 

Now, Fanucchi is in her last year of her master’s program at SJSU. She has already published an article on the problematic nature of lethal injections in the United States and the People’s Republic of China and is finishing a second paper on botched lethal injections. 

“My professors have helped transform the view I have held of myself through their encouragement and mentorship, including receiving the Paula Stone Memorial Scholarship. This has validated my hard work over the past decade and reinforces that students with learning disabilities are capable of excelling in higher education,” says Fanucchi. “I am excited to explore revenge pornography in my thesis and pursue my ultimate goal of a career in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I hope my experience encourages other students with learning disabilities to achieve their goals in higher education and reach their full potential.”

Student Spotlight: Eileen Hsu

After earning her MFA in graphic design from the California Institute of the Arts, Eileen Hsu found herself hungry for a new avenue to apply her artistic skills.

“I am a process-oriented person, so I just try to take solid and big steps in life with faith that such an approach will take me to an interesting destination,” Hsu says. That destination turned out to be SJSU’s MS in transportation management (MSTM) program through the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI).

Eileen Hsu's educational background“As a Graphic Designer at LA Metro and as a huge proponent of shared mobility and mass transit, I decided to pursue the MTI transportation management master’s degree out of sheer fascination and the urge to be a more integral contributor at work,” Hsu says. “At first, I wondered if I may be out-of-place coming from the arts, but in time, tremendous applicability between the two disciplines of art and transportation emerged.”

Eileen Hsu headshot

Eileen Hsu.
Image credit: ©2020 Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA)

Hsu views artists as “conceptual synthesizers” who draw connections between the different domains that comprise our interdisciplinary world. She has thoroughly embraced the intersections between her arts background and her current immersion in the realm of transit. These intersections emerged while she was developing content, illustration, and publication design for the Metro’s 10-year strategic plan; conducting user-experience mapping and qualitative research on rider experiences to identify service needs; and boosting civic engagement via creative public outreach programs. Hsu notes that transportation is “the nexus of many social issues, government partnerships, and professional practices.” Public art overlaps well with these domains.

“I have expanded beyond painting canvases to painting murals in alleys to increase pedestrian throughput. A flowing thoroughfare naturally improves public safety,” Hsu says. She aptly describes public art as “a launchpad for commencing dialogue” among community members who, upon encountering these installations, are moved to ask questions about the complex policies and social issues that affect them. Simply stated, art is a powerful catalyst for civic engagement. This truth underlies Hsu’s work and study.

Eileen Hsu poses in front of a mural

Hsu believes in the power of public art, including murals, to spark civic engagement and discourse.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic upended the basics of daily life, Hsu found herself “designing in the abstract” without her usual engagement with public transit. “Under-appreciated until now, my daily commute between home and the office on Metro was a regular ethnographic study, which I miss and value. The ridership demographic and experience is always fluctuating. Observations reveal new user needs…I miss the daily connection with the pulse of onboard culture. At the same time, I don’t undervalue the communication design work that I must currently deliver for Metro: transit faces unprecedented challenges today, which require the cooperation of both staff and the public, to ensure a healthful and safe trip.”

Hsu expects to graduate from the MSTM program in December 2021. “The program continuously astounds me with its rewards of learning and knowledge, professors who are experienced and passionate about their disciplines, and classmates who are a self-selecting team of ambitious transportation professionals, many of whose employers expressly recommend the MTI MS program,” she says, citing Dr. Asha Weinstein Agrawal and Dr. Michelle Waldron as key supporters in the department. A working professional, Hsu finds that her MSTM coursework nicely compounds the learning she engages in at work.

“Prior to Metro, I practiced graphic design for the LA County Museum of Art and various design firms, often focusing on public works and arts projects,” says Hsu. “For each course project that I undertake, I consult relevant experts at Metro, who are supportive of this academic pursuit. The [MSTM] coursework enables me to be a better communications partner to any internal department, informs my design with greater richness and intelligence, and helps me better advance mobility programs for Los Angeles County.”