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. 

Lorena smiling.

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. 

cheralen smiling.

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.

Anthony smiling.

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 Mathematics at The University of Texas, Austin.

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

The M.A. Child and Adolescent Development Program Supports its Students from Day One

Sara Black and Cheyenne Grant are in the midst of completing their M.A. Child and Adolescent Development program (CHAD) degree at San José State University (SJSU) and expect to graduate in Spring 2024. We reached out to Sara and Cheyenne to learn more about their experience in the program and why they choose SJSU to pursue their CHAD degree.

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Sara Black – 24′ M.A., Child and Adolescent Development

Sara’s desire to pursue a CHAD degree stemmed from wanting to fortify her competency when she enters the job market. She spoke to me about how the CHAD  program has been preparing her: “I am learning so much and I am super engaged in the content being taught. Both my professors and my cohort have been very supportive and fun to learn with. I couldn’t ask for a better academic environment.”

Sara said there were various reasons for selecting SJSU among other universities. Proximity to family was important, which is why Sara decided to look in her own backyard and chose SJSU. This felt like the right decision for Sara because she felt like belonged in the program since day one, “SJSU stood out to me as an institution that takes pride in its students and wants to support them in every way. When I got my acceptance letter, it was personalized, which told me that the graduate coordinator took the time to write a welcoming letter to every applicant that was accepted to the program. This made me excited to join the CHAD program at SJSU because I felt that I would be seen and recognized not only as a student, but as a person. This program gave me a sense of belonging before I even stepped foot on campus, which I really valued in my decision-making.”

Sara hopes to become a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) after graduation where she will work with children and families in hospitals to prepare them for procedures, provide therapeutic play, and to overall decrease their experienced stress. Her advice for prospective students is to “build relationships with others in the field (i.e. professors, students, staff). This really helps when you want to learn more about working in the field of child development, and having a professional support system you can lean on.” Sara ended by highlighting how supportive and kind the professors have been in the first year of the program.

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Cheyenne Grant – 24′ M.A., Child and Adolescent Development

For Cheyenne Grant, her desire to pursue a CHAD degree stemmed from her undergraduate education. Her passion in her undergraduate project “The Influence of Authoritarian Parenting on the Student-Teacher Relationship,” is what ignited her desire to attend graduate school. The CHAD program at SJSU stood out to Cheyenne because it was in line with her interests and because of SJSU Professor, Dr. Nadia Sorkhab’s work on parental influences on development.

The CHAD program provided Cheyenne numerous research, academia, and community engagement opportunities. Cheyenne worked for the Center for District Innovation and Leadership in Early Education (DIAL-EE) to review the visibility of California’s universal preschool program. She also worked as a Project Assistant with SJSU’s Healthy Development Community Clinic under Dr. Cara Maffini where she hosted community events and disseminated health information.

On how SJSU has transformed her professional and personal life, Cheyenne says, “I am genuinely surprised and elated by the changes I’ve seen in my life, both personally and professionally. This program unexpectedly initiated a deeper exploration of my identity, which has greatly reframed how I see myself. As a young professional, I was able to develop a supportive network with my professors and peers that felt empowering, impactful, and educational.”

The CHAD program at SJSU is providing a well-rounded education and Cheyenne and Sara are a testament to that. We can’t wait to see them make a difference in their communities.