San José State Recognizes Outstanding 2023-2024 Staff and Faculty at Award Ceremony

by | Apr 9, 2024 | Awards and Achievements, Featured

Outstanding San José State faculty and staff were recognized at a special ceremony in March. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

How does a campus with more than 36,000 enrolled students serve their needs and cultivate their curiosities day in and day out? At San José State, the answer comes in the form of the more than 4,000 faculty members and staff who dedicate their time to educating and supporting Spartans. Each spring, four extraordinary staff and four outstanding faculty are recognized by the university as leaders not only in their departments or fields, but also in their commitment to overall Spartan spirit.

The 2023-2024 award winners were recognized on March 28 at Celebrating Spartans: Honoring Faculty and Staff in the Student Union Ballroom. This was the first time the faculty and staff awards were celebrated at the same ceremony. The event also celebrated faculty and staff members who had reached milestone years of service at SJSU in 2023, beginning at 10 years. For the fifth year, outstanding staff members were recognized in four categories — Spartan Spirit, Distinguished Service, Staff of the Year and Critical Employee. Recipients were nominated by colleagues, who included submissions describing why the staff members deserved special recognition.

The four distinguished faculty members were recognized for noteworthy achievements in teaching, scholarship and service. This year’s winners represent the College of Social Sciences, the College of Science, the Connie L. Lurie College of Education and the College of Humanities and the Arts.

Staff Awards

Michael Heering, Vincent Del Casino and President Cynthia Teniente-Matson at the Spartan Service Celebration. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

Michael Heering (center), with Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Vincent Del Casino, Jr. (left) and SJSU President Cynthia Teniente-Matson. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

Critical Employee Award: Michael Heering
Lead plumber, Facilities, Development and Operations

Michael Heering, lead plumber with Facilities, Development and Operations, dedicates many hours to ensuring the campus plumbing system is running smoothly. His colleagues share that he is a key contributor in keeping the campus functioning. Although he may not interface with students, his presence, leadership and team player quality keep his team morale high. 

“What I like about SJSU is the community and the family here,” he says. “I appreciate the recognition of the award, though in my mind our work is a team effort from everyone in the plumbing shop and throughout FD&O. I’m just one moving part of a bigger operation.”

Heering, who has worked at SJSU for 18 years, responds to emergency calls on the weekend, something that has been more frequent and apparent during the recent storm season. Says one of his nominators: “Michael is always a pleasure to speak with. He is very professional and also very funny. No matter how much work he may have, he executes every request to the fullest.” 

Honorable Mentions:
Jason Lorton, Facilities, Development and Operations, Electrical Shop
Otis McInnis,  Facilities, Development and Operations, Energy & Utilities

Distinguished Service Award: Luann Chu, ’97 Accounting
SJSU Research Foundation


Luann Chu (center) with Vincent Del Casino, Jr. and Cynthia Teniente-Matson. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

Luann Chu (center) with Vincent Del Casino, Jr. and SJSU President Cynthia Teniente-Matson. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

Luann Chu, ’97 Accounting, has served a critical role as an analyst at the SJSU Research Foundation, providing administrative and business support to the campus research enterprise. As part of the Division of Research and Innovation, the SJSU Research Foundation collaborates with principal investigators whose work explores groundbreaking scientific theories, supports progressive engineering research and leads initiatives that transform the community.

“I have been working with the Research Foundation for 26 years,” says Chu. “The Research Foundation supports SJSU research and being nominated by SJSU faculty for this award confirms our strong partnership. I am honored to receive this award and appreciate the support from leadership, colleagues, faculty and staff.”   

Nominators add that “she has supported faculty and students in sponsored project activities with the utmost professionalism and a service-minded approach. Of particular note is the individual attention that Luann provides to SJSU students working on Research Foundation projects, as this is the first time that many of them have worked in this capacity.

Honorable Mentions:
Carol Santos, Justice Studies
Felicia McKee-Fegans, Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Spartan Spirit Award: Trisha Gilges
SJSU Career Center


Trisha Gilges (center) with Vincent Del Casino, Jr. and SJSU President Cynthia Teniente-Matson. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

Trisha Gilges (center) with Vincent Del Casino, Jr. and SJSU President Cynthia Teniente-Matson. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

As a career success promotion specialist and peer coordinator at the SJSU Career Center, Trisha Gilges helps lead campus efforts to prepare students for the transition to life after college and the path to lifelong career success. Spartans can access hundreds of resources through the Career Center website, as well as through in-person and virtual career fairs held by subject area throughout the year.

“I am honored to receive this award especially since I was nominated by my fellow coworkers,” she says. “It’s an amazing feeling to be awarded for a job that I love doing!”

Gilges also helps run the Spartan Career Closet, a service that provides free professional clothing for students to help them put their best foot forward at their next interview or career fair.

“I enjoy my job because it is so rewarding,” she adds. “One of my favorite parts of the job is managing the Spartan Career Closet. Being able to help students get started on their career path is amazing. As a mom of two recent SJSU graduates, I know how important it is for these students to feel confident when they are ready to start their career journeys. If they look professional, then they will feel professional, and I believe that will help boost their confidence moving forward.”

Honorable Mentions:
Amanda Frank, University Personnel
Francisco Castillo, Undergraduate Advising & Success

Staff of the Year Award: Randy Rodriguez
Accessible Education Center


Randy Rodriguez (center), with Vincent Del Casino, Jr. and SJSU President Cynthia Teniente-Matson. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

Randy Rodriguez (center), with Vincent Del Casino, Jr. and SJSU President Cynthia Teniente-Matson. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

Randy Rodriguez, who has worked as an accommodations counselor and coordinator for students with autism at the Accessible Education Center for the past five years, believes that “every human being on this planet needs some form of assistance at some point in their lives.” He credits the support he has received throughout his life, from family and friends as well as his SJSU colleagues, as part of his motivation for helping others.

“I believe if every individual viewed the world from a ‘we’ perspective instead of a ‘me’ perspective, the world would be a much better place to live in and individuals wouldn’t suffer as much,” he says. “Receiving this award is really a reflection of the individuals I work with. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without them. I dedicate this award to my AEC colleagues.”  

His nominators add that “Randy is always looking to identify ways to support our SJSU community as our numbers continue to grow. Randy has been able to develop programs and workshops to address new or growing concerns and trends. Randy’s exceptional dedication and support extends to all who seek his expertise and support, be it his colleagues, students, or anyone in the SJSU community.”

Honorable Mentions:
Lars Rosengreen, Biological Sciences
Melanie Schlitzkus, University Personnel

Faculty Awards

Distinguished Service Award: Elena Klaw
Professor of Psychology, College of Social Sciences
Director, Center for Community Learning and Leadership


Elena Klaw, right, with Karthika Sasikumar, chair of the Academic Senate. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

Elena Klaw, right, with Karthika Sasikumar, chair of the Academic Senate. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

As a psychology professor and director of SJSU’s Community Learning and Leadership, the office that houses College Corps, as well as Veterans Embracing Transition (VET) Connect, Students Demand Action and a number of other projects focused on curricular community learning, Elena Klaw centers community in everything she does. 

I am honored to be recognized for providing meaningful services that aim to benefit our students, our community and our university, and contribute to the mission of higher education to secure a democratic and just society,” she says. “I feel deeply rewarded to have so many opportunities in my multiple roles at SJSU to support students and help them develop into empowered, civic-minded community leaders. I feel inspired by the students and colleagues who have committed themselves to creating a more equitable world through education.”

The CCLL offers grants to support faculty members as they develop teaching strategies, encouraging students to consider the real-world applications of their studies as they complete community-engaged work outside the classroom. Klaw and Assistant Director Andrea Tully hope programs like College Corps can serve as a model, not only at San José State, but at universities worldwide.

“Preparing students to be civically engaged means there’s a possibility of a better future in which our students will address intractable, complicated social issues [like poverty or institutionalized racism],” says Klaw. “They will have the emotional investment and the tools, the critical analysis and the skills to work on social problems. Their work goes beyond direct service, and I’d argue beyond career preparedness, too. We want students who can and will create a better world.”

Says one of her nominators: “Elena is not only committed to educating her students, but she also helps them develop into good community citizens. Her distinguished service over all these years should be recognized. She brings honor to this institution. Elena has provided mentorship, support, ideas and creativity as a leader and champion of service learning. Her zeal, energy and commitment toward justice and social change are unmatched.” 

Outstanding Lecturer: Thomas Langan, ’13 BA, ’15 MA Music
Lecturer, School of Music, College of Humanities and the Arts


Thomas Langan (left), with Shannon Miller, dean of the College of Humanities and the Arts. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

Thomas Langan (left), with Shannon Miller, dean of the College of Humanities and the Arts. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

Bassist, performing artist, composer and educator Thomas Langan has performed or appeared with artists such as Dr. John, Merle Haggard, Johnny Winter, Derek Trucks, Bill Watrous, Reese Wynans, Jeff Hamilton, Tom Politzer, Jiggs Whigham, Scott Whitfield, Ray Brown, Aaron Lington, and many, many others. 

“I’ve been at SJSU as an instructor since August of 2015,” he says. “I am also an alum, and worked as a TA/GA during grad school and finishing my undergrad (2011-2015). I am very humbled and honored to receive this award. I’ve had so many great teachers, students, and colleagues at SJSU. Honestly I just feel lucky to talk about, study, and perform music with others who share my love of music.” 

His nominators share that Langan helped revise the music theory curriculum to make it more inclusive of musical traditions around the world, adding that he “makes a conscious effort to encourage deserving students to continue on to graduate school, especially those students who don’t see themselves as graduate school material. He uses his own personal examples to help students see the myriad of ways in which one can create a career in this industry. Professor Langan is always trying to help students find their path through to graduation.”  

Outstanding Professor: Saili Kulkarni
Associate Professor of Special Education, Connie L. Lurie College of Education


Saili Kulkarni (center), with Vincent Del Casino, Jr., and SJSU President Cynthia Teniente-Matson. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

Saili Kulkarni (center), with Vincent Del Casino, Jr., and SJSU President Cynthia Teniente-Matson. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

Saili Kulkarni’s research interests reflect her longheld belief in the intersectionality of education. A former Oakland Unified School District special education teacher, she specializes in the intersections among disability studies and race, critical race theory, qualitative research and teacher beliefs.

Much of my work with teacher candidates and undergraduate and graduate students has focused on helping students (un)learn the often deficit or limited framings of people of color with disabilities,” she says. “One of the best parts of my job is when students share how they’ve learned to view disability through an identity-based, intersectional perspective. I’m additionally grateful to have cultivated an affinity space for special education teachers of color which has continued to exist as a network for current and alumni candidates from our program to come together in support and collective care.”

Kulkarni is also one of the first recipients of the Spencer Foundation’s Racial Equity Grant, which funded a collaboration between San José State and the University of Illinois, Chicago to address discipline disparities for disabled children of color using the knowledge of families, teachers, and administrators across the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Chicago. She was also the inaugural BIPOC educator fellow for the National Center for Research on Educator Diversity (NCRED)’s Handbook of Teachers of Color and Indigenous Teachers, supporting projects and initiatives to increase the diversity of the teaching workforce.

“I am deeply honored to receive this recognition for my teaching and work with students on our campus,” she adds. “A huge thank you to all of the faculty, students, family and friends who have supported my journey as a faculty member here at SJSU!”

President’s Scholar: Gilles Muller
Professor of Chemistry, College of Science
Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar


Gilles Muller

Gilles Muller. Photo by Robert C. Bain.

Since joining SJSU in fall 2004, Chemistry Professor Gilles Muller’s research endeavors have successfully obtained more than $2 million in funding, engaged nearly 90 students and led to the publication of 71 peer-reviewed articles and 43 seminars and lectures. Muller is a world-renowned expert in circularly polarized luminescence (CPL), so his work allows him to collaborate with scientists around the globe: for instance, four of his more recent publications are with co-authors in China, Poland, Spain and the Czech Republic. 

Circularly polarized luminescence (CPL) is a phenomenon where emitted light has a preferred handedness of polarization. This property finds applications in various fields including chemistry, biology, materials science, and optics. His lab has hosted graduate students, post-docs and visiting scholars from Japan, Spain, Poland, Germany, Iran and China, as well as students from community college and even some local high school students.

“As a teacher-scholar deeply engaged in research projects, I find immense joy in the dual aspects of my work,” Muller says. “Firstly, the opportunity to delve into research allows me to continuously expand my knowledge, explore new ideas and contribute to the advancement of my field. Secondly, I derive great satisfaction from sharing this knowledge and experience with my students, guiding them through the research process and witnessing their growth and development firsthand. The dynamic interplay between teaching and research enhances both aspects of my work, fostering a rich and fulfilling academic experience.”

Over the past two decades, Muller has seen his students succeed — 70 students have actively co-authored 54 publications affiliated with SJSU. His students have collaborated with scientific partners domestically as well as internationally. In addition to teaching, Muller served as the associate dean of research for the Office of Research for four years and chair of the Department of Chemistry and director of Nuclear Science at SJSU.

“I am honored and grateful to receive the 2023-24 President’s Scholar Award,” he says. “This honor represents more than just an individual accomplishment; it underscores the significance of collaboration and the value of engaging students in enriching research endeavors. It serves as a testament to the remarkable outcomes that arise from collective scholarly efforts, highlighting the transformative potential when we unite as a community dedicated to a shared purpose.”

See the full list of 2023-2024 staff and faculty award recipients.