Announcing the 2021 Bertha Kalm Award Recipients

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 

Nicole Calande

“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.”

Michell Hawkins

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)

Kathy Reyes

“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

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.

Huy Le

“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

Taylor Zavala

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!”

Alumna Hawi Gemeda Leverages Program Resources to Advance Career, Research Prospects

Hawi Gemeda headshot

Hawi Gemeda ‘2018 MS Biomedical Engineering

Hawi Gemeda graduated from SJSU’s MS biomedical engineering (BME) program in Fall 2018. During her time as a student, Gemeda became interested in the way that the field integrates engineering and biology. 

My master’s project with Professor Melinda Simon’s Laboratory at SJSU opened a path for my internship, which has allowed me to continue my master’s project at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL),” says Gemeda. “The project focused on developing a microfluidic device for DNA extraction of single cancer cells. This experience has allowed me to grow professionally and improve my technical skills.”

Gemeda says the BME program and its professors served as valuable resources during and after her time as a graduate student. She enjoyed working with peers in the BME program and engaging with extracurricular activities that exposed her to the local industry.

I was part of the Silicon Valley Innovation and Entrepreneurship Scholarship Program (SVIES) and the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES). These opportunities were instrumental to my career development,” says Gemeda.

“The SVIES program has enabled me to attend different entrepreneurship events and visit several innovative biomedical companies in Silicon Valley. It has empowered me to gain valuable exposure to the biomedical engineering field’s numerous opportunities. The BMES program, through its various events and programs, has enhanced my understanding of several research topics in BME.”

Gemeda plans to continue her contributions to the BME field through research and innovation.

Hawi Gemeda was nominated for an Alumni Spotlight by bioengineering faculty member Folarin Erogbogbo. Professor Erogbogbo is a strong advocate for students looking to incorporate industry experience into their academic studies.

SJSU DNP Alumna Accepts Leadership Role at Campbell University

Photo courtesy of Campbell University

On July 20, 2021, Dr. Stacy Wise will begin a new position as director and chair of the Catherine W. Wood School of Nursing at Campbell University in North Carolina. Dr. Wise previously earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from SJSU. We are pleased to see our graduate alumni thriving long after they graduate. Congratulations, Dr. Wise!

MS Student Lupe Franco Recognized for Grad Slam Achievements

Lupe Franco headshot

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!


Alumna Ashley Hall Forges Path into Medicine through Biomedical Engineering

Ashley Hall pours liquid into beaker

Ashley Hall found her way into biomedical engineering after completing her degree in materials science and engineering at the University of California, Merced. Though nervous about starting an M.S. program in a new discipline upon arrival at SJSU, Hall became more enthralled with the multifaceted nature of the field from each course she took. 

Ashley Hall Headshot

Ashley Hall
’18 MS Biomedical Engineering

“Some classes were powerhouse classes for me, such as Prosthetics and Orthotics, Introduction to Biomedical Engineering, Medical Device Regulation, and Medical Imaging. In those courses, I found that I could sit and listen even if I wasn’t being graded. The professors were interested in the topics and the ideas presented were personable to me. From there, I felt inspired and pitched my own project for my thesis work.” That project was titled Conductive Graphene/PLGA Hybrid Composite Created by Environmentally Friendly Ink Formulation for Use in Peripheral Nerve Repair. 

“Having to write a project proposal was a nerve-wracking and rewarding experience,” says Hall. “Having to inch through all the parts that go into putting together a research project has become invaluable. The skillset translates into many different situations outside of research.” 

While working on her M.S. degree, Hall was able to intern at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “[This] allowed me to see how much networking and external help is needed to have a functional project. Initially, I thought once you have an idea, you are good to go. That cannot be farther from the truth. Just as important as your research question, you will have to be able to explain why your project is essential and your results in an understandable way. The easier it is to see why your project is amazing, the easier to get the funding, and the easier to get backing for the things you need. I didn’t realize early on that research projects are a marriage of IQ and EQ skills. Don’t underestimate those soft skills.”

Hall says that the courses she has taken at SJSU only helped her fall more in love with the field of biomedical engineering. 

“I knew I wanted to be in medicine, but I know I didn’t want to be an MD. The variety of topics available quickly helped me find what I was interested in and [what] I am not. I plan to continue pursuing higher degrees. My M.S served as a springboard [for] me to experiment with research in academia and understand the connections between research and commercialization.”

Post-graduation in 2018, Hall was hired at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab under the Materials Division. “At the lab, I can interface with many up-and-coming technologies. While not directly in biotechnology, I have seen many exciting and new ways that biological concepts are being utilized for different applications in seemingly dissimilar fields.”

This research and development experience offered Hall a wider perspective on the different directions she could as a professional in STEM. 

“I didn’t have to be an MD to work in medicine; I could work in regulatory or quality control. I can research industrial scale-up. I can do academic research. The path I take is led by my interest and not caged by the degree that I have.”

Ashley Hall was nominated for an Alumni Spotlight by bioengineering faculty member Folarin Erogbogbo. Professor Erogbogbo is a strong advocate for students looking to incorporate industry experience into their academic studies.