Nearly 8,000 Spartan Grads Celebrated at Spring Commencement

by | May 15, 2024 | Awards and Achievements, Campus Life, Top

SJSU graduates celebrate their achievements. Photo by Jim Gensheimer.

Nearly 8,000 Spartans will graduate this spring and summer, collectively becoming the Class of 2024. Their friends and family will celebrate them, they’ll toss mortarboards and they’ll take a moment to breathe and celebrate their collective and individual accomplishments. 

Bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees will be awarded during the spring 2024 commencement in ten ceremonies over three days. President Cynthia Teniente-Matson will preside over several spring commencement ceremonies for the second time.

“We are so proud of the 7,600-plus Spartans who will be going out into the world this week with a newly earned degree, building on an alumni network that’s nearly 350,000 strong,” she says. “Wherever in the world our graduates’ journeys take them, they will be in good company, with fellow SJSU alumni thriving in all 50 U.S. states, as well as in 73 countries across the globe.

“Whether as researchers, creators or consumers, we urge our new graduates to apply what they learned at San José State to not only understand, but improve and expand, the world around them. Spartans are not passive observers; we are leaders, and we are agents of change for the better.”

This year’s graduates will include the first-ever cohort of AuD (clinical doctorate in audiology) students. The first four graduates of SJSU Online’s economics program will also cross the stage, as will 67 graduates from the fully-online information science and data analytics and interdisciplinary studies, educational and community leadership programs.

Our Spartans will be graduating with an eye to the future and a wealth of new knowledge and experiences. We salute them as they take their next steps into the wider world. Below are just a few of their stories.

Two Spartans are receiving honorary doctorates from San José State in recognition of their illustrious careers and service to the community. 

Ken Noel

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, College of Social Sciences

Ken Noel, ’66 BA, ’68 MA, Sociology, received his Ph.D. in political science from UC Berkeley  in 1980. He also co-founded the United Black Students for Action (UBSA) at San José State along with Dr. Harry Edwards. The UBSA was formed to address housing segregation, unequal and racist treatment of student-athletes and limited educational opportunities for students of color. Noel also worked with the College Commitment Program (CCP), which helped recruit students to San José State who otherwise may not have had a pathway to college. In addition, Noel was one of the founding members of the Olympic Committee for Human Rights, the organizing body that later formed the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR).

Rod Diridon, Sr.

Honorary Doctor of Letters, College of Business

Rodney “Rod” Diridon, Sr., ‘62 Accounting, ‘64 MBA, is known as the “father” of modern transit service in Silicon Valley and has chaired more than 100 international, national, state and local programs, most related to transit and the environment. From 1993 to 2014, he was executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI), a transportation policy research center created in 1991 by Congress. Today, Rod is still affiliated with the Institute as its Emeritus Executive Director. He frequently provides legislative testimony on sustainability.

Dao Wang, ‘23 MS Meteorology, won the SJSU Outstanding Thesis Award.

Dao Wang, ’23 MS Meterology

Dao Wang, ’23 MS Meteorology, is this year’s recipient of SJSU’s Outstanding Thesis Award. His thesis, entitled “Cloud Phase Distributions At a Global Scale and the Governing Factors Using Satellite and In-situ Airborne Observations,” combines satellite and aircraft observations to understand the multi-scale factors influencing cloud formation. A manuscript based on his thesis work was recently published in the American Geophysical Union (AGU) journal “Earth and Space Science,” and Dao is also currently working with his thesis adviser Minghui Diao, associate professor of meteorology and climate science, on a second manuscript that uses machine learning models to understand the multi-scale factors influencing cloud formation using satellite and aircraft observations. As of fall 2023, he is a PhD candidate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake, working with Jay Mace, a world leading expert on satellite observations in their Department of Atmospheric Sciences.

Two undergraduates received the Outstanding Graduating Senior Award in recognition of their outstanding academic and extracurricular achievements.

Nikitha Fernandes, ’24 Biomedical Engineering

Nikitha Fernandes, ’24 Biomedical Engineering, is one of this year’s Outstanding Graduating Seniors. In her time on campus, she received the President’s Scholar award for 4.0 GPA seven times, as well as three SJSU scholarships — the Spartan Pride Scholarship, the Compean Merit Scholars Scholarship, and the Gordon Family Scholarship — while also becoming deeply involved in on-campus organizations. Her major contributions include her work with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), where she served as a WOW! committee chair, treasurer and director of professional development, and her time as a mentor in the SWE Big-Little program and an SWENext club counselor for Evergreen Valley High School. In addition, she conducted research in Alessandro Bellofiore’s lab, helping develop a clear mechanical heart valve for particle image velocimetry. She also completed two significant internships in manufacturing engineering at Intuitive Surgical (where she has accepted a full time position after graduation) and JunoPacific.

Kadin Tang, ’24 Computer Science

Kadin Tang, ’24 Computer Science, also received this year’s Outstanding Graduating Senior Award. In his undergraduate career, he won the 2022 SJSU Computer Science Department Merit Scholarship and received the President’s Scholar award for 4.0 GPA five times. He also served as a leader of the San José State Programming Team from 2020-2023 and interned as a software engineer at Google for three semesters and ByteDance for one, where he trained large-language models in quantitative reasoning and algorithms. He recently represented SJSU in the Grand Finale of Tata Consultancy’s CodeVita Season 11, the largest global programming competition, where he ranked in the top 25 programmers out of more than 100,000 participants from over 25 countries. He plans to return to Google this summer to work on Google Cloud’s large-language model experiments before beginning his MS in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in the fall.

As part of commencement, several graduating students looked back at their SJSU experiences.

“I got to put on and perform in my own senior recital, I learned so much about prioritizing my time and making sure that I do things that I think are worthwhile, and I learned about how to take charge of my education and truly make it my own.”

Hannah Underwood, ’24 Music Education

“Your professors truly want to help you and watch you succeed. I felt very supported while I attended SJSU for my masters. Shout out to the Informatics program advisor! I’m just a small town girl from East Texas pursuing a masters degree in California! The sky’s the limit!”

Madison Cox, ’24 MS Informatics

“I was mentored by three amazing caregivers named Dra. Christine Vega and Drs. Marcos Pizarro and Jonathan D. Gomez. They helped me to understand my gifts and to bring them out in order to care for and support my fellow classmates. I earned multiple Dean’s and Presidential Scholar awards, and I was accepted to three graduate programs at Cal State Los Angeles, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Illinois, Chicago.

“It was through the care of the faculty and staff within the Chicana and Chicano Studies department that I learned very valuable and transformative values and ideas such as In Lak Etch, Community Cultural Wealth, Freedom Dreaming & Being, and caring for holistic wellbeing through prison abolitionist values. I owe all of my success at SJSU to the Chicana and Chicano Studies department. This department truly cares about the holistic wellbeing of its students. I consider it a hidden gem within the Cal State System.

“I will be working towards a PhD in Chicana and Chicano Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara.”

—Jorge Castillo Jr., ’24 Chicana and Chicano Studies

“My experience at SJSU was exciting, filled with adventures and enjoyment! I encountered numerous rewarding opportunities that were both novel and demanding but also fulfilling, achieved because of my dedication and perseverance. I was able to gain many valuable insights from my courses, projects and internships. As I approach graduation after two and a half years, I am eagerly anticipating obtaining my SJSU MSME degree and eager to see what lies ahead. My future plans involve pursuing a career in either the transportation, space or robotics industries while also continuing to contribute to school projects focusing on robotics and Formula SAE.”

—Eric Kwan, ’24 MS Mechanical Engineering

“During my journey at SJSU I learned many valuable lessons. I learned self-confidence. My interpretation of self confidence is to feel and face the fear but do it anyway. Those who keep going in spite of uncertainty will succeed. I learned to have perseverance not only in school but in life. I learned to have a positive attitude. No matter how hard it seems, if we see the best side of it, it is doable.

“Life is full of uncertainties and challenges, especially living in Bay Area cities. But SJSU transformed me to adapt to a new mindset: be flexible and have a good attitude in school and life. Thank you, SJSU! In the future I want to pursue an MBA at San José State University.”

—Gul Mohammad Malekzada, ’24 Business Administration with a concentration in management

“I am a first generation, bilingual, working-class Latina student who was raised in San José. I am a mom to a young son. I attended all K-12 public schools in Santa Clara County. I was a transfer student from San José City College. I earned my BA, MA, and now will be graduating with my Ed.D. degree in Educational Leadership. All three degrees were earned at San José State University. I am a true Spartan!

“When I first arrived on campus as an undergraduate, earning my bachelor’s degree seemed like an insurmountable challenge. However, in one of my elective classes, a transformative moment occurred. As our professor returned our graded essays, she took a moment to recognize some outstanding work in the class. To my surprise, my name was the first she called. She commended my essay and proceeded to read my introductory paragraph aloud to the class. In that moment, I felt seen, valued, and affirmed in my abilities as a student. I realized that San José State University was the right place for me. It was a pivotal moment that changed how I perceived myself and my potential. Three years later, I proudly earned my bachelor’s degree in English, and my love for learning only continued to grow. I pursued and achieved my master’s degree in History, and now, I have completed my doctorate in Educational Leadership, all at San José State University.

I am currently the coordinator for the Lurie College of Education Student Success Center in Sweeney Hall. I plan to continue in my position and gain more knowledge and skills for serving students. Later, I will pursue a leadership position as an MPP at SJSU where I can use the skills I learned in the doctoral program and dedicate myself to student access, retention, and timely graduation.”

–Nannette Regua, ‘94 BA English, ‘17 MA History, ‘24 EdD

Nursing students who worked with residents at a senior living facility called Hilltop Manor bonded with residents and learned how to help the community and let the community help them.

“My time in the nursing program at San José State University has prepared me to become a compassionate, devoted and knowledgeable nurse. I am grateful for the opportunities that I had and I am ready to give back to our communities.”

—Sofia Diaz-Infante, ‘24 Nursing

“The program definitely changed what kind of nurse I want to be to my patients and how I want to act around them. Even if you don’t end up being a community nurse, you’re still going to be working in the community. All the skills and all the resources that we’re learning about in class are things that you’ll be using in the future, no matter where you work.”

—Sierra Soltis, ‘24 Nursing

“I feel very grateful for my family and friends who have supported me throughout my journey.”

—Luis Sanchez, ‘24 Nursing

Two graduating MSW students spoke about the child welfare simulation lab course and how it’s affected their future plans.

“I really like the work that we do, and that’s coming from someone who has personal experience within the system. My reasons for doing this are still really fresh for me. I know my ‘why.’”

—Yvette Alamaraz Gonzalez, ’24 MSW

“The SJSU MSW program prioritizes hands-on and practical learning, which has been so beneficial in preparing me for my career in child welfare. I’m so grateful for the friendships I’ve made and the perspective I’ve gained being part of the Title IV-E program.”

—Maya Profio, ’24 MSW

And one graduating student offered advice to future Spartans.

“You really just have to realize that you’re creating the path for all the people who come after you. You can’t just think about yourself, because once you get to the finish line, what you’ll be able to do (and what I hope to do) is reach your hand back and pull all the others up along with you, all the people who have gone through hard times or think that they’re not good enough students.”

—Serena Ortiz, ’22 BS, ’24 MS Biology

See the full schedule of spring 2024 commencement ceremonies.