SJSU Senior Hannah Bittar Earns 2021 CSU Trustee Award for Outstanding Achievement

SJSU senior and CSU Trustee Award Winner Hannah Bittar, '22 biology

SJSU senior Hannah Bittar is a student leader and nonprofit co-founder, who is galvanized to achieve her higher education goals while helping lift up others.

Last month, San José State University’s Hannah Bittar, ’22 Biology, was awarded California State University’s (CSU) 2021 Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement — the CSU’s highest accolade for student achievement.

Bittar, who is pre-med and studying molecular biology, is among 23 honorees recognized, one from each CSU campus. Each awardee — many of them first-generation college students — also receives a donor-funded scholarship* with their award.

“These 23 scholars wonderfully exemplify the ideals of the California State University,” said CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro. “Every year, and especially this year, our Trustees’ Award honorees demonstrate resilience, tenacity and resolve — together with a keen intellect — while making an indelible, positive impact on their families and their communities. They are truly an
inspiration.”

Upon graduating from high school, Bittar faced multiple personal challenges that nearly derailed her goal of attending college. But once she arrived at SJSU, she thrived, balancing work and school, and finding inspiration in giving back to others.

Her passion for making connections with her community, however, started well before she came to San José State. When she was just 17, Bittar co-founded her own nonprofit organization, J&H New Beginnings, which creates care packages and distributes them to residentially challenged people in her community. She also volunteers with a crisis helpline and at Stanford Medicine Valley Care Hospital.

So, what does Bittar say about receiving this recognition and what fuels her?

Hannah Bittar (HB): Receiving the 2021 Trustees’ Award means that all my hard work is paying off and being recognized, that all the obstacles and hardships I encountered and overcame were worth it and are finally paying off. And I am able to continue persevering and working toward my education and goals.

Besides this award, what are some of the major accomplishments you had at SJSU?

HB: Some of the major milestones I have had at SJSU include my recent Supplemental Instruction (SI) Leader job at SJSU’s Peer Connections. This is a big accomplishment for me because, for a couple of years now, I had been on the lookout for a tutoring job or something similar. Now that I have been an SI Leader for a full semester, I can proudly say that I have learned so many valuable lessons and formed numerous amazing connections.

What are the most valuable lessons have you learned from your experience at SJSU?

HB: Some of the most valuable lessons I have learned from my experience at SJSU revolve around teamwork, networking and friendships. A lot of my SI Leader job revolves around teamwork; hosting sessions for my students requires a lot of planning on my end as well as meeting with my peer leaders and supervisors to compare work and ask questions. I also learned the importance of networking and forming friendships, which greatly contribute to my overall happiness and balance in my personal and professional life.

What has the experience of co-founding your nonprofit been like?

HB: It has been a lovely experience giving back to those in need within my community and neighboring communities. Being a founder of this organization has reinforced the incredible value of humanitarian work for me. I cannot put into words how fulfilling it feels to assemble care packages and distribute them to people in need; it is definitely one of my favorite experiences of my life.

What are your career goals and next steps after graduation?

HB: I recently took my MCAT exam. My next step consists of applying to medical school this upcoming spring, which makes me excited and nervous! My ultimate goal is to get accepted into a California medical school and, four years later, get accepted into my dream residency. I would love to specialize in dermatology or obstetrics/gynecology. I’m looking forward to the journey!

How has being a student at San José State transformed your life?

HB: I have gained insight with so many programs, clubs and internships. Additionally, I have met and formed so many valuable connections with fellow students in my classes and in the Peer Connections department. I would not have the friends, connections and opportunities I currently have if it weren’t for SJSU!

 

*The award and scholarships are made possible by founding leaders from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation and Trustee Emeritus Ali C. Raz; in partnership with CSU Trustees, CSU Foundation board members and private donors.

Braven Releases Annual Impact Report Highlighting SJSU Student Fellows’ Outcomes

Nonprofit Braven is built on the premise that when students who have not had the benefits of affluent circumstances are provided the same level of support and opportunities, they will excel. The proof is in their new 2020–2021 Annual Impact Report — a testament to the power of Braven’s model and what can happen when you give these students the tools they need to maximize their potential.

“The co-development of the UNVS 101 Leadership and Career Accelerator course by business, engineering and science faculty jointly with Braven staff has provided a valuable opportunity for all students at San José State University, both undergraduate and graduate, to build important leadership and career-readiness skills in a structured curriculum, with support from fellow students, faculty and industry coaches,” said Thalia Anagnos, vice provost of undergraduate education at SJSU.

Braven’s program is designed to complement the work of career services by scaffolding for students as they learn and master key leadership, career and life skills in two phases: The first is a semester-long, for-credit Accelerator course — UNVS 101 at SJSU — bolstered by coaches and fueled by the community that arises in the cohorts of student “Fellows.” The second allows Fellows to access a “post-course experience,” including one-on-one mentoring and career-building activities that continue beyond college graduation to help ensure their career success.

“We hear from Fellows time and time again that Braven is a reliable support system and like a family,” said Diana Phuong, executive director for Braven Bay Area. “What’s more, the ongoing support students receive from Braven through graduation helps them navigate the challenges that college students, particularly those who are first-generation, often face, whether through advice about their job search, helping to perfect their portfolio, or other ways.”

Gabriel Miranda, who was a spring 2020 Fellow and now an area manager at Amazon says, “Braven helped me learn what I needed to do to be on my path to a successful career and unlocked so many doors for me. Who would’ve thought a boy raised by two immigrant grandmothers from Korea and Mexico would be able to graduate from college and change the lives of his family.”

The “secret sauce” of Braven’s programming is the involvement of more than 75 employer partners, including Adobe, Linkedin and the NBA Foundation, whose employee volunteers gain as much, or more than, they give while serving as the Leadership Coaches. The experience offers them the opportunity to develop themselves by leading diverse teams and motivating promising young professionals — transferable skills that meet their own professional goals.

Employers benefit by the investment made in their own existing workforce as well as by supporting the Fellows through internships and often post-graduation jobs. Partnership in this case is both a retaining tool and a recruitment pipeline.

Some employer partners have also found deeper impact from their support of Braven, especially through the pandemic. Meg Garlinghouse, ‍head of social impact at Linkedin, said that “in a time of deep uncertainty, partnering with Braven has been a concrete way to be part of the movement for racial and economic justice.”

Since starting out with San José State University as its founding partner in higher education in 2014, Braven has expanded its programming via independent college success organizations. Now through BravenX in Chicago and Braven Online, which is nationwide, students involved with these groups can receive a financial stipend to obtain a similar experience outside of the traditional academic model.

SJSU and Braven Impact Report

Former Fellows Esteban Barrios, ’20 Physics, and Cynthia Fernandez-Rios, ’21 Business, both successfully launched their careers after graduation with the skills and support they gained by taking part in SJSU’s partner-program with nonprofit Braven.

Highlights of the 2021 Impact Report

  • 69% of Braven Fellows who identify as female obtained what Braven refers to as “a quality first economic opportunity”* after college, outpacing 62% of Fellows who identify as male.
  • Female Fellows also outpaced male peers at public four-year universities (56% obtained strong first jobs) and peers nationwide (60%).
  • Across races, Braven Fellows surpassed their counterparts at four-year public universities nationally by 15% or more in obtaining quality economic opportunities.
  • SJSU Braven graduates were 7% more likely to have at least one internship — mostly completed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic — during college compared to students at four-year public universities nationally.
  • 87% of Fellows report that they have expanded their networks to include people with diverse careers and career interests after Braven, and 91% credit Braven’s program to helping them develop or strengthen skills necessary to pursue their goals, according to a study from the Search Institute and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • This year, SJSU supported 324 new fellows on their path to economic mobility.

*Either enrollment in a graduate program or a full-time “strong first job” that requires a college degree and offers a competitive salary, benefits, professional development and pathways to advancement.

See how Braven is helping SJSU students grow their social capital.

Two SJSU Social Sciences Professors Receive Prestigious Research Fellowships

San José State Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Carolina Prado and Assistant Professor and Undergraduate Advisor of Chicana and Chicano Studies Jonathan D. Gomez have been awarded noteworthy funded fellowships for the 2021-2022 academic year. Both awards grant Prado and Gomez the time, financial support and professional resources to focus on their research in social sciences.

Prado has been named a Career Enhancement Fellow (CEF) through the Institute for Citizens & Scholars, which is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Gomez has received a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, which is funded by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

“Both Jonathan and Carolina are deeply engaged in the classroom, do innovative work in their fields and are working directly with students in the Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Center,” said Magdalena Barrera, interim vice provost for faculty success and 2011-2012 recipient of the CEF fellowship.

“I’m not at all surprised that they won these awards because they work very hard, and their materials are outstanding.”

Champion for environmental justice

Carolina Prado.

SJSU Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Carolina Prado has been awarded a 2021-2022 Career Enhancement Fellowship.

Prado will study the sources and health effects of water contamination sites along the U.S.-México border in Tijuana. As a first-generation queer Chicana, she believes that the struggle for social and environmental justice should create an impact on both sides of the border.

“This award is very exciting to me because it incorporates work with a mentor to meet my writing and career goals,” said Prado, who also wants to help disadvantaged communities to live in clean and healthy environments regardless of their race, gender or income levels.

“A big goal I have academically is to build up the subfield of borderland environmental justice,” she added.

“Border regions, including the U.S.-México borderlands, experience environmental risks and goods in particular ways—and more research in this field is important. Pedagogically, I hope to integrate my training in environmental social science and feminist studies throughout my courses and build up our environmental justice curriculum in the Department of Environmental Studies.”

Prado joins Barrera and Faustina DuCros, associate professor of sociology and interdisciplinary social sciences, as pioneering SJSU faculty who have received Mellon Foundation fellowships.

Partner in self-expression

Jonathan D. Gomez.

SJSU Assistant Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies Jonathan D. Gomez has received a 2021-2022 Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Grant. Photo courtesy of Jonathan D. Gomez.

Gomez, whose research examines how Chicanx communities use cultural expression to make places for themselves in cities, sees the Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship as an opportunity to complete his manuscript, El Barrio Lindo: Chicanx Social Spaces in Forgotten Places of Postindustrial Los Angeles.

His faculty mentor will be Gabriela Arredondo, an expert on the relationships of Chicanx and Latinx urban everyday life to the process of racial, ethnic, gender and trans-national identity formation. She serves as chair of the Latin American and Latino Studies department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Gomez will also use the fellowship to further develop the Culture Counts Reading Series at SJSU (CCRS), which explores ideas of race and ethnicity through sharing poetry and exchanging ideas with a “story circle” pedagogy.

Participants use works they read as launchpads to share stories of their own life experiences as well as to explore how to make a difference in the world, especially as university students.

Gomez said he wants to expand the CCRS program by building partnerships with local high schools.

“The excitement in this work, for me, exists in the practice of listening and learning from young people in our community and figuring out how to best accompany them in educational projects to create the kinds of life-affirming institutions and relationships that are meaningful to them.”


Both Prado and Gomez look forward to sharing takeaways from their fellowships with their students when they resume teaching at SJSU in 2022.

“I am really proud of Jonathan and Carolina for the work that they are doing and everything that I know they are going to contribute as scholars,” said Barrera. “We’re very fortunate to have them at San José State.”

“When we hired Carolina and Jonathan in 2018, I knew that they would achieve great success,” said Walt Jacobs, the Dean of the College of Social Sciences. “I’m very much looking forward to learning about their accomplishments of the 2021-2022 fellowship year!”

Two SJSU Students Win at CSU-Wide Research Competitions

Lupe Franco and Muhammad Khan

(From L-R): Lupe Franco, ’21 MS Environmental Studies, received the Audience Choice Award at the CSU Grad Slam. Muhammad Khan, ’22 Biological Sciences, won first place in the Biological and Agricultural Sciences Undergraduate category at the 35th Annual CSU Student Research Competition.

Turning months — even years — of in-depth research into a concise, engaging presentation isn’t easy. Yet two San José State students were triumphant at two recent California State University system-wide competitions that required them to do just that.

Lupe Franco, ‘21 MS Environmental Studies, received the Audience Choice Award at the first-ever CSU Grad Slam on May 6, which was hosted by San José State.

Her research analyzed how California cities and counties are considering homeless populations in their plans to address the effects of climate change. Franco placed first in the SJSU Grad Slam, held April 29 during the university’s annual Celebration of Research event.

Muhammad Khan, ‘22 Biological Sciences, earned first place in the Biological and Agricultural Sciences Undergraduate category at the 35th Annual CSU Student Research Competition — hosted by Cal Poly Pomona on April 30 and May 1. Khan presented his research on population control of a mosquito known for spreading diseases such as Zika, Dengue fever and yellow fever.

In the CSU Grad Slam competition, graduate students condensed the theses of their research projects into three-minute presentations to be understandable by a lay audience. Prizes are awarded based on the success of their presentation, and the Audience Choice Award is selected live by the attendees of the event.

At the CSU Student Research Competition, both graduate and undergraduate students present their research through pre-recorded videos followed by a live Q&A with a jury and an audience. The event is held to recognize outstanding accomplishments from students throughout the CSU system.

Giving a voice to a vulnerable population

In her presentation (shown here at the SJSU Grad Slam), Franco included a painting by student artist Gina Geissinger of Greg Tarola, a homeless man who died on the streets of Sacramento.

Franco began her presentation with the story of Greg Tarola, a homeless man who was found dead on the Sacramento streets in November. It was 37 degrees Fahrenheit the morning he was found, and his blankets were wet from the previous night’s rain.

What’s more, Tarola had told CapRadio News just days before that he had never heard of warming stations in Sacramento.

“This is the reality for over 150,000 Californians who are experiencing houselessness, of which 68 percent are considered unsheltered,” Franco said in her presentation.

“This danger is only going to increase as climate change brings California more frequent and intense weather events, such as heat waves and floodings.”

Franco analyzed 15 climate action plans from cities and counties in California with the largest unhoused populations to understand how they were considering that demographic in their strategies to address climate change.

Her findings? No jurisdictions had met with unhoused populations before developing their plans.

“This is what researchers call the power of representation dilemma, meaning that as outsiders, planners can only make assumptions of what the community faces, which leads to the development of strategies that do not accurately reflect what the local needs are,” she explained.

Franco’s research provided an analysis of the 15 plans, and she provided a list of recommendations that the cities and counties can consider as they continue to update their plans, such as “requiring planners to have on-the-ground training with local organizations in their jurisdictions, so they can learn about important street-level issues.”

Costanza Rampini, assistant professor of environmental studies and Franco’s thesis advisor, said that Franco is tackling issues most people see as completely separate.

“Her work speaks to people’s desire for better solutions, for better systems, for better communities,” she said. “Lupe is a fantastic researcher and asks all the right questions.”

Marc d’Alarcao, dean of the College of Graduate Studies, agreed.

“Lupe effectively engaged the audience by presenting her work through the lens of the tragic story of an unhoused man in Sacramento who suffered because the policies that could have helped him were not designed with his circumstances in mind,” he said.

Franco plans to continue her research and interview unhoused individuals to better understand their needs as she pursues a PhD in geography from UC Davis. She’s hopeful her research can make an impact on local communities.

“With these findings and recommendations, my research can spark the initial conversation about creating equitable and just strategies that give unhoused individuals a voice and access to critical resources,” she noted. “This is what Greg Tarola deserved.”

Watch the full CSU Grad Slam event, including Franco’s presentation, here.

A new approach to mitigating disease spread

Muhammad Khan research presentation

Khan’s research explores population control of the Aedes aegypti mosquito through mutagenesis and recombinant expression.

Khan researched mutagenesis and recombinant expression in the Aedes aegypti mosquito — known for spreading potentially lethal diseases like Zika, Dengue fever, yellow fever and chikungunya — in hopes of providing a safe, new approach to control their population.

“Studying the midgut digestive enzymes of the Aedes aegypti mosquito is important locally and nationally because simulated models based on current climate data predict the expansion of mosquito ecological niches in the near future,” Khan said in his presentation.

He noted one study that estimates 390 million Dengue fever infections every year, while another found that 3.9 billion people worldwide are at risk of the disease. Current control strategies for mosquito larvae and adults include pesticides and biocides. But Khan said most of these treatments can have devastating effects on the environment.

Khan began his research through FIRES, the Freshmen Initiative: Research to Engage Students program sponsored by the W.M. Keck Foundation and led by a team of SJSU chemistry professors.

“We are very pleased to see Muhammad Khan winning a first place award at the 35th Annual CSU Student Research Competition,” said Mohamed Abousalem, vice president for research and innovation at SJSU.

“This is a great achievement and a testament to his capabilities and the sound guidance he received from his faculty mentor, Dr. Alberto Rascón, Jr. We hope that Muhammad will be encouraged by this recognition to embrace research as a way of thinking and doing throughout his career.”

Learn more about Khan’s research here.

James Nguyen contributed to this story.

Celebration of Research Event Honors Investigators, Highlights Creativity

Ellen Middaugh

Ellen Middaugh, assistant professor of child and adolescent development, is one of this year’s winners of the SJSU Early Career Investigator Award. Her work was honored at the Celebration of Research on April 29.

Thomas Madura studies the lives of massive stars — from how they’re born to how they die a giant, explosive death.

He also investigates ways to teach young blind or visually impaired students about astronomy, which Madura, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at San José State, says is usually thought of as a “visual science.” By 3D printing models of nebulae, planets, star clusters and the like, Madura’s work lets those students hold pieces of the galaxies in their hands.

Madura was one of two faculty awarded the prestigious SJSU Early Career Investigator Award (ECIA) for his work at the university’s annual Celebration of Research, hosted virtually by the Division of Research and Innovation on April 29. The ECIA recognizes tenure-track faculty members who have excelled in research, scholarship and creative activity at an early point in their careers.

The Celebration of Research, which drew more than 400 attendees, honored both students and faculty for research, innovation and creative activities. In between awards and recognitions, the event also featured artistic performances and accomplishments.

Ellen Middaugh, assistant professor of child and adolescent development, also received the ECIA award for her work on youth civic engagement — particularly on how to teach social media and Internet skills to those aged 15 to 25.

The goal of Middaugh’s work is to create informed, empowered and ethical civic engagement among adolescents and young adults, “so that people really understand the issues that affect them, they feel that they can have a voice, and they’re mindful of how their words and sharing of information impact other people,” she said.

The event also recognized the work of the two ECIA recipients from 2019, who would have been honored during last year’s Celebration of Research had the event not been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kim Blisniuk, associate professor of geology and 2019 ECIA recipient, was celebrated for her work investigating how landscapes change overtime from earthquakes and climate change.

Also a 2019 ECIA recipient, Yue “Wilson” Yuan, assistant professor of justice studies, was honored for his research studying the origins of fear of crime and how individuals and communities — Asian and Latino, in particular — react to criminal victimization.

The program also featured a special highlight of the “Teeter-Totter Wall” design project, created by Virginia San Fratello, the chair of the Department of Design, and UC Berkeley professor Ronald Rael. Earlier this year, San Fratello was presented with the prestigious Beazley Design of the Year award for her creativity, which brought together people at the U.S.-Mexico border on bright pink seesaws and received international recognition.

Guadalupe Franco, a student in the MS Environmental Studies program, won first place in the SJSU Grad Slam. She presented her three-minute thesis presentation on tackling homelessness and climate change.

Recognizing student research and creative activities

SJSU students took part in two research-based competitions — the 2021 SJSU Grad Slam and the SJSU Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity (RSCA) Competition — for which the winners were announced at the event.

In a Grad Slam competition, graduate students condense the theses of their research projects into engaging, three-minute presentations — which must be understandable by a lay audience. Prizes are awarded based on the success of their presentations.

Guadalupe Franco, in the MS Environmental Studies program, received first place for her thesis, “Wicked Problems: Understanding How Cities and Counties in California are Tackling Climate Change and Homelessness.”

Second place went to Remie Gail Mandawe, who is in the Physiology master’s program, for “Targeting the Source of our Sixth Sense Using Blue Light.”

Celebration of Research attendees voted live for the recipient of the People’s Choice Award. They selected Holt Hanley, who is in the Meteorology master’s program, for his thesis “Estimating the Key Drivers of Wildfire Using Artificial Neural Networks.”

Both Franco and Mandawe will represent SJSU at the CSU Grad Slam on May 6 — the first system-wide competition, which San José State will host.

The eight RSCA Competition finalists — Aeowynn Coakley, Muhammad Khan, Terri Lee, Tomasz Lewicki, Victor Lui, Alaysia Palmer, Nicholas Roubineau and Hung Tong — went on to compete in the 35th Annual CSU Student Research Competition, held virtually on April 30 and May 1.

Khan, ’22 Biological Sciences, won first place in Biological and Agricultural Sciences – Undergraduate category at the state-wide event for his research, “Mutagenesis and Recombinant Expression of Aedes aegypti Serine Protease I (AaSPI), a possible N-Terminal Nucleophile (Ntn) Hydrolase.”

The SJSU Choraliers gave a socially distanced performance.

Amid the honors and recognition, the ceremony elevated artistic feats. Directed by Jeffrey Benson and featuring Vocal Performance major Daniel Rios, the SJSU Choraliers performed a socially distanced rendition of “I’ll Be On My Way” by Shawn Kirchner.

Spartan Film Studios showed their short film “Breakfast,” based on the short story by John Steinbeck and made in large part by SJSU students. The film has been accepted into the Beverly Hills International Film Festival.

The pathway to transformation

In 2019, Mohamed Abousalem joined San José State as the inaugural vice president of research and innovation with a goal: to realize the university’s potential for growth and increased societal impact through research. The Celebration of Research highlighted accomplishments in achieving that goal.

“No wonder San José State University is ranked the #1 Most Transformative University in the nation,” Abousalem said.

“Through the great research work that our faculty and students do, we are able to contribute to solving today’s problems and mitigate tomorrow’s challenges, alongside our industry and community partners.

“Public impact is the primary goal for the San José State University research enterprise,” he continued. “We are focused on bringing real value to our local and global communities, while supporting the scholarly careers of our faculty and providing our students with unique experiential learning.”

SJSU President Mary Papazian noted that when the university developed its Transformation 2030 Strategic Plan, leadership “quickly realized that research was a strategic growth area for the university.”

For example, one of the goals within the plan is to Excel and Lead.

“One of the ways we do that is by engaging students through faculty-mentored research, scholarship and creative activities,” Papazian explained. “Another one of our Transformation 2030 goals is to Connect and Contribute. And indeed, our research aligns with this goal.

“Our research and innovation brings value to our communities by contributing to an improved overall quality of life and by fueling economic growth. This will become even more critical as the state and regional economy emerges from this pandemic.”

Those who missed the event or want to catch it again will soon be able to access a recording on the Division of Research and Innovation website.

Mother-Daughter Duo Named to San José State Honor Roll

The college experience throughout 2020-21 was anything but typical, but what makes the past academic year that much more unique is Yaneth Gutierrez and her daughter Eunice Romero — who were both recently named Dean’s Scholars in recognition of their academic excellence during the year.

Yaneth Gutierrez and her daughter Eunice Romero.

(L-R) Mother and daughter duo: Yaneth Gutierrez and Eunice Romero.

“My mother played a huge role towards me becoming a Dean Scholar,” says Romero. “It was her constant motivation and determination that really inspired me to push through the semester with great accomplishments.”

“It is truly an honor to continue achieving our educational goals alongside one another,” she added. “I am extremely excited for what the future holds for the both of us.”

Twice a year, SJSU honors undergraduate students’ outstanding academic achievements by including them in the Semester Honor Roll. The Honor Roll includes two special designations, Dean’s Scholars and President’s Scholars, which are reflected on the student’s transcript in recognition of their accomplishment.

To become a Dean’s Scholar, students must earn an SJSU GPA of 3.65 or higher for the spring and/or fall semester. President’s Scholars must achieve a 4.0 GPA for the spring and/or fall semester.

It’s not every day that a mother-daughter duo has the opportunity to share this type of accomplishment, and it’s not the first time they’ve marked a milestone together in their education. In 2018, they shared a memorable moment when graduating together from De Anza College in Cupertino.

Yaneth Gutierrez credits her daughter as her source of inspiration, even more so during the COVID-era when she struggled to concentrate and keep up with her coursework.

“By giving up easily I would be sending a wrong message to my daughter,” said Gutierrez.

“I wanted her to see that even during difficult times, we can still succeed, but only if we believe in ourselves and the changes we can make amongst us and our communities.”

Eunice Romero and Yaneth Gutierrez

Eunice Romero and Yaneth Gutierrez in regalia at their 2018 graduation ceremony from De Anza College.

In addition to the transition to remote learning, the past year was full of chaotic events and stressful challenges for Gutierrez and Romero. Gutierrez praises her SJSU professors not only for helping make learning enjoyable during these hard times but also challenging her to think beyond the problems our society faces.

And when Gutierrez faced unforeseen personal tragedy during the pandemic, her professors provided an outpouring of support. “My father lost his battle to COVID-19 on February 3, and [SJSU faculty] supported me, checked on me and encouraged me to do my best.”

Gutierrez will graduate this spring with a BA in Political Science. Romero is currently working toward a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and helping her father expand his welding company — which she plans to one day take over.

“[At SJSU] I have discovered an interest in entrepreneurship, and I have plans to pursue other business opportunities because I now have the necessary building blocks to pursue my career goals,” expressed Romero.

After graduation, Gutierrez plans to pursue law school, so she can help those who can’t afford legal representation.

“To me, a degree has no worth if it is not used for the betterment of everyone,” said Gutierrez. “My mother taught me that it is important to care for all, not just for a few.”

Honoring academic success

This year, SJSU students proved not even a pandemic can dampen their dedication to their academic scholarship. More than 7,900 students earned Dean’s Scholars designations and over 2,700 were named President’s Scholars — the largest number for both groups in the university’s history.

On April 23, the university hosted its 59th Annual Honors Convocation ceremony to acknowledge those undergraduates who earned the distinction of President’s Scholars. The event was canceled in 2020 due to the outbreak of COVID-19 but resumed this year with a live-streamed virtual ceremony to commemorate these students’ achievements.

President Mary Papazian and Provost Vincent Del Casino served as hosts, with a keynote address by 2020-21 Outstanding Professor Lionel Cheruzel and congratulatory remarks from Associated Students’ Director of Sustainability Jocelyn Jones-Trammell, in addition to the Deans’ presentation of the honorees.

“Recognizing the academic success of San José State University’s top-performing students is always a delight,” said President Mary A. Papazian.

“The achievements of these scholars are an important indicator that they will make significant contributions to our society and serve as tomorrow’s civic, business and community leaders,” she added. “They are to be commended for their accomplishments and future promise.”

Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies at SJSU Announces 2021-2022 Steinbeck Fellows

The Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies at San José State University has named six Steinbeck Fellows for the 2021-2022 academic year: Ariel Chu, Rose Himber Howse, Tammy Heejae Lee, Uche Okonkwo, Timea Sipos and Brian Trapp. The Steinbeck Fellowship program offers emerging writers of any age and background a $15,000 fellowship to finish a significant writing project.


Ariel Chu

Ariel Chu.

Ariel Chu is a Taiwanese American writer from Eastvale, California, and an incoming first-year student in USC’s creative writing and literature PhD program. She completed her MFA in Creative Writing at Syracuse University, where she received the Shirley Jackson Prize in Fiction. A former editor-in-chief of Salt Hill Journal, a 2019 P.D. Soros Fellow, and a 2020 Luce Scholar in Taipei, Chu has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the Best Small Fictions Anthology, and the Best of the Net Award. Her writing can be found in The Common, The Masters Review, and Sonora Review, among others. She is currently working on a short story collection and novel.


Rose Himber Howse

Rose Himber Howse

Rose Himber Howse is a queer writer from North Carolina and a recent graduate of the MFA program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she served as fiction editor of The Greensboro Review. Howse’s fiction and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Joyland, The Carolina Quarterly, Hobart, YES! Magazine, Sonora Review, and elsewhere. She has been awarded fellowships and residencies at the Millay Colony, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and Monson Arts. 


Tammy Heejae Lee

Tammy Heejae Lee.

Tammy Heejae Lee is a Korean American writer from Davis, California. She holds a BA from UC Davis and an MFA in fiction from the University of San Francisco, where she received a post-graduate teaching fellowship. A Tin House Summer Workshop and VONA/Voices alum, her writing has appeared in The Offing, PANK, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Split Lip Magazine. She is currently at work on her first novel about expat and hagwon culture in Seoul. 


Uche Okonkwo.

Uche Okonkwo. Photo by Rohan Kamicheril.

Uche Okonkwo has an MFA in fiction from Virginia Tech and a master’s in creative writing from University of Manchester, UK. Her stories have been published or are forthcoming in One Story, Ploughshares, The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2019, A Public Space, Lagos Noir, Per Contra, and Ellipsis. She was a 2019 Bernard O’Keefe Scholar at Bread Loaf, and a 2017 resident at Writers Omi. She is the recipient of the 2020-2021 George Bennett Fellowship at Phillips Exeter Academy—a fellowship established to provide time and freedom from material considerations to a selected writer each year. She is working on her first short story collection.


Timea Sipos.

Timea Sipos. Photo by Cris Kith.

Timea Sipos is a Hungarian American writer, poet, and translator with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her writing and translations appear in Prairie Schooner, Passages North, Juked, The Offing, Denver Quarterly, The Bisexual Poetry Anthology, and elsewhere. She is a proud 2021 Pushcart Prize nominee, a PEN/Robert J. Dau Prize nominee, a Miami Book Fair Emerging Writers Fellowship Honorable Mention, and a Cecelia Joyce Johnson Award finalist. Her work has received support from the MacDowell Colony, the Vermont Studio Center, Tin House, the American Literary Translators Association, the Hungarian Translators’ House, the Black Mountain Institute, and the Nevada Arts Council, among others. During her fellowship year, she will be finishing her short story collection and making headway on her novel.


Brian Trapp

Brian Trapp. Photo by Marjorie Celona.

Brian Trapp is a fiction and creative nonfiction writer from Cleveland, Ohio. He has published work in the  Kenyon Review, Longreads, Gettysburg Review, Narrative, Brevity, and Ninth Letter, among other places. He won an Oregon Arts Fellowship and had an essay selected as the #1 Longread of the Week by Longreads.com. He received his PhD in comparative literature and disability studies from the University of Cincinnati, where he was an associate editor of the Cincinnati Review. He now teaches at the University of Oregon. He will be at work on a memoir about his twin brother Danny, who had cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities and was also very funny. 


Named in honor of author John Steinbeck, the program is guided by his lifetime of work in literature, the media and environmental activism. The Steinbeck Fellows program was endowed through the generosity of SJSU Professor Emerita Martha Heasley Cox. The next deadline for applications is January 2, 2022. For eligibility and application instructions, visit sjsu.edu/steinbeck/fellows/.

How Has COVID-19 Impacted the Health and Well-being of the LGBTQ+ Community?: A Q&A With Laurie Drabble

Laurie Drabble.

Laurie Drabble, associate dean for research and faculty.

It’s known that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning+ (LGBTQ+) community face health disparities driven by social stigma and discrimination. But what happens when you introduce a global pandemic?

Laurie Drabble, associate dean for research and faculty with the San José State University College of Health and Human Sciences, explored the impact of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ+ community by serving as co-editor of a special issue of the Journal of Homosexuality, which was published earlier this year.

The issue also featured her recent research exploring alcohol and marijuana use among LGBTQ+ women during the pandemic.

The SJSU Editorial and News team sat down with Drabble to learn more:

What is the biggest takeaway from this special issue?

Laurie Drabble (LD): Social stigma and discrimination are important drivers of disparities in risk for depression, anxiety and suicidality among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender non-binary groups. LGBTQ+ people also reported more job loss and financial difficulty compared to heterosexual and cisgender people. These risks were amplified during the with COVID-19 pandemic and need to be addressed.

What surprised you about the research findings?

LD: Research in the special issue found that LGBTQ+ individuals were more likely than heterosexual people to adhere to social distancing guidelines. This may not be entirely surprising, given collective experience with the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.

That past experience heightened community buy-in about the importance of public health strategies to curb disease transmission—and contributed to viewing adherence to public health guidelines as more of a collective responsibility than an individual choice.

However, adhering to guidelines was also associated with psychological distress, which underscores the importance of both formal and social support in public health crises.

This issue pulls together data and research that spans the globe. Did the U.S. stand out?

LD: I was struck by the commonalities between countries. In particular, studies described the negative impact of losing access to LGBTQ+ positive spaces, reduced access to social support, and concerns about invisibility and potential discrimination.

It was also notable that LGBTQ+ people across countries use technology to connect with community, friends and family more than heterosexual and cisgender groups. This is likely a consequence of being part of a community that is defined by common identity rather than location. So, many LGBTQ+ people already used apps, social media and technology tools to find community before the pandemic.

Health disparities already existed in the LGBTQ+ community. Are we making any progress in closing these gaps?

LD: We were making progress in some ways. For example, research has consistently found that reducing structural stigma—such as the legalization of same-sex marriage—has helped reduce disparities in mental health outcomes.

However, research from our special issue and other studies suggest that LGBTQ+ people—particularly LGBTQ people of color—are disproportionately experiencing health and economic harms associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to make sure that policies and services intended to address the impact of the pandemic include the needs of LGBTQ+ populations.

Let’s talk about your research focusing on LGBTQ+ women and marijuana and alcohol use during the pandemic. What surprised you about what you learned?

LD: One of the more interesting findings was the degree to which routines or norms associated with alcohol and marijuana use were disrupted or changed.

For example, some study participants described drinking more because they used alcohol to mark the end of the day, and many described using more alcohol and marijuana to simply relieve stress or boredom. Others used less, because they were not spending time in social settings where they would typically drink alcohol or use marijuana with friends.

Sexual minority women had greater risks for hazardous drinking and drug use compared to heterosexual women before the pandemic, so it will be important to continue to study [post pandemic] whether or not these risks have been amplified over time.

Now that we have this information, what do we need to do about it?

LD: First, we need to continue to reduce stigma and address the economic impacts of the pandemic that disproportionately impact people of color and sexual and gender minorities.

For example, a growing number of states have passed harmful laws allowing health and social service providers to be exempt on religious grounds from laws prohibiting discrimination based on sex or gender identity. These trends are deeply concerning, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Second, given our research suggesting that LGBTQ+ people are frequent users of Internet-based communications and apps, enhancing access to online and remote health and mental health services would be timely.

Third, the research in this issue highlighted the importance of access to community and social support. So it is critical to provide financial support to ensure the survival of LGBTQ+ health and social service organizations, as well as LGBTQ+-centered physical spaces.

How can this information help us better care for the LGBTQ+ members of our SJSU community?

LD: For many LGBTQ+ young adults, university communities are important for finding safe and affirming support, particularly for students who may need to live with unsupportive families for financial reasons. Providing opportunities for social support and counseling—such as those provided by the SJSU PRIDE Center and Student Services—are crucial.

Read more about Drabble’s research and these topics.

San José State Honors 2021 Faculty Award Winners

SJSU will host its 22nd Annual Faculty Service Recognition Event with a multi-day virtual celebration this year—culminating with a live presentation on April 15 of this year’s four exemplary faculty award winners and two remarkable 40-year honorees.

From April 12 to the 14, the university will celebrate 135 faculty who have reached milestones of service for 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35 years. Faculty members will share what they love about SJSU via videos.

“These honorees are to be lauded for their dedication, passion and commitment to their students’ personal and academic growth, and to the advancement of knowledge in their respective disciplines,” said SJSU President Mary A. Papazian. “Each one has made important contributions through teaching, research and scholarship, and we are grateful for their service.”

The four distinguished faculty members below are selected to receive the following awards for noteworthy achievement in teaching, scholarship and service.

President’s Scholar: Matthew Spangler, Professor of Performance Studies, Department of Communication Studies

Distinguished Service: Anuradha Basu, Professor, Lucas College & Graduate School of Business

Outstanding Professor: Lionel Cheruzel, Professor, Department of Chemistry

Outstanding Lecturer: Mary Juno, Lecturer, Department of Justice Studies

Read a Q&A with each recipient below.

How the faculty awards started

Each of San José State’s four faculty awards has its own unique story, but they all emerged from a need to acknowledge exceptional faculty, starting with the university’s core mission of teaching and service.

In 1966, SJSU bestowed its first faculty award for Outstanding Professor, based on teaching effectiveness. The next award for President’s Scholar was bestowed in 1974 for remarkable scholarship and creative pursuits.

The third, Distinguished Service, was initially presented in 2000, to recognize outstanding service and the substantive contributions of SJSU faculty to their professional communities and beyond. In 2005, the Outstanding Lecturer award was created to recognize the contributions and teaching of a lecturer faculty member.

Who makes the nominations and decisions?

All areas of the campus community are invited to contribute nominations for faculty awards. Committees consisting of previous award winners, administrators and students (except for the President’s Scholar award) review the nominations and make their recommendations to the president, who then makes the final determination of the winners.

Read the full list of award criteria.


2021 Faculty Award Winners

Matthew Spangler, Professor, Performance Studies

Matthew Spangler, Professor of Performance Studies
Department of Communication Studies

President’s Scholar Award

Joined SJSU: 2005 | Research Focus: performance studies, an interdisciplinary field that uses performance as an artistic practice and theoretical lens to explore topics of social significance. Spangler’s research explores the representation of refugees and immigrants through the literary and performing arts.

Creative Activities: In addition to his scholarly work, Spangler has written numerous plays, among them an adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner, which premiered at San José State, and has since won many awards and been produced by theatres around the world, including on London’s West End and the Dubai Opera House.

Print-Based Scholarship: Spangler has published many journal articles on immigration in the performing arts, an academic book, several plays, and has a new book currently under review about adaptation and immigration in Irish theatre. The National Communication Association recently bestowed him with the Leslie Irene Coger Award for Distinguished Performance, the most prestigious award for live performance in the field of communication studies.

What brought you to San José State?

Matthew Spangler (MS): I was hired to create a curriculum in performance studies within the Communication Studies Department. I was living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at the time, where I did my PhD, and the idea of creating an entire curriculum in my area of research and artistic practice was very exciting to me.

What inspired you to study this subject area?

MS: I was a first-year undergraduate at Northwestern University, thinking I would study law, and I happened to take a few courses in performance studies with amazing faculty who literally changed my life. The idea of using the performing arts and storytelling to engage the world felt like the only thing I ever wanted to do.

Later, I was studying for my master’s degree at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and immigration became a topic I was gradually more and more interested in.

What do you enjoy and/or surprises you the most about your work?

MS: When you work at the intersection of the performing arts and immigration, as I do, you get to meet some incredible people from all over the world. It never ceases to amaze me how fortunate I am to work with the people I do. In some cases, I might be writing an article about their work, or maybe we’re collaborating on a theatre project together, or I’m bringing them to campus to meet with my students. Sometimes I stop and think how lucky I am to know such amazing artists and scholars.

What does it mean to you to receive the President’s Scholar Award?

MS: To receive the President’s Scholar Award is a tremendous honor, and to say that does not do justice to how deeply moved I am. In the nearly two decades I have been at San José State, this university has provided a terrific home for my creative and scholarly work.

I am exceedingly grateful to my colleagues, and, in particular, I am grateful to the students who have deepened my work, inspired me, taught me, and occasionally, have traveled with me around the world on research trips, or whom I have proudly watched give conference presentations in far flung locations. San José State is a special place for a number of reasons, probably the biggest being the students.

And to receive this award during the current era of COVID-19—an award for work at the intersection of the performing arts and immigration—at a time when most theatres have been completely dark for over a year, and immigrants are facing ever more obstacles in their ability to move, is testament to the humanity of this university.

There is probably no time in my life when this award will mean as much as it does right now.


Anu Basu, Professor, Business

Anuradha Basu
Professor of Entrepreneurship and
Director of Silicon Valley Center for Entrepreneurship
Lucas College & Graduate School of Business

Distinguished Service Award

Joined SJSU: Fall 2003 | Research focus: immigrant and minority entrepreneurship.

Latest Research:A Review of Immigrant Entrepreneurship Research.” Basu is also researching the experiences of LatinX entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, in collaboration with a former student, who is a young SJSU alumna and Latina entrepreneur.

What brought you to San José State?

Anuradha “Anu” Basu (AB): In 2002, I was a visiting scholar at Stanford’s Center for International Development, having relocated with my family from the UK to the Bay Area. At a Silicon Valley networking event, I learned that SJSU was looking to hire a tenure-track faculty to launch their entrepreneurship program. I had recently set up an Entrepreneurship Center at the University of Reading, UK (my previous employer). Now, I could try my hand at doing the same here, in the heart of Silicon Valley.

What inspired you to study this subject area?

AB: As an Indian immigrant in the UK, I was curious to understand why South Asian immigrants in the UK were motivated to establish their own businesses in an unfamiliar business environment. I wanted to highlight the fact that, contrary to the public perception that immigrants were a burden on society, many British South Asians had created successful businesses, were large employers, and had a significant positive impact on the UK economy.

My research continues to be driven by a passion to shatter myths and preconceived notions about minority and immigrant entrepreneurs.

What do you enjoy and/or surprises you the most about your work?

AB: The most enjoyable part of my job is interacting with students, helping them learn, and encouraging them to do their best and achieve their potential. Sometimes, a quiet student in class turns out to be the one who writes the most thought-provoking essay, aces the exam, or comes up with the most innovative business idea.

Perhaps the most gratifying part is following my students’ careers after they graduate. Just recently, a former student who won our Silicon Valley Business Plan Competition shared his experience of pitching his startup on Shark Tank.

What does it mean to you to receive the Distinguished Service award?

AB: I am truly honored and humbled to receive this award. It is a wonderful recognition of my effort and commitment to build the entrepreneurial ecosystem at San José State. I could not have achieved it without the support of my wonderful colleagues in the College of Business and beyond, who have helped and continue to help build our entrepreneurial community on campus.


Lionel Cheruzel, Professor, Chemistry

Lionel Cheruzel
Professor, Department of Chemistry

Outstanding Professor Award

Joined SJSU: Fall 2009 | Research focus: bioinorganic chemistry focusing on a particular family of metalloenzymes called Cytochromes P450.

Research activities: Cheruzel recently initiated a Freshman Research Initiative to expose a large number of freshman students to research opportunities in the Department of Chemistry. He has given more than 60 invited talks worldwide including in the US, Europe, Japan and Australia and is the recipient of the 2019 Henry Dreyfus Teacher Scholar Award in recognition of his dedication to teaching and research.

What brought you to San José State?

Lionel Cheruzel (LC): I was attracted to the unique opportunity that SJSU provided to combine my love of teaching with scholarly activity in the heart of the Silicon Valley. I started in fall 2009 right after the economic downturn in the midst of the furloughs. I was very fortunate to receive an offer from SJSU.

What inspired you to study this subject area?

LC: I have always been fascinated by the intricate connections in nature and the central role
that chemistry plays. Being a postdoc at Caltech was an eye-opening experience and
really inspired me to work in this unique field at the frontier between chemistry and
biology.

What do you enjoy and/or surprises you the most about your work?

LC: I have enjoyed supervising and mentoring a diverse and inclusive group in the laboratory
over the years. I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by very talented and
motivated SJSU students. I am proud that many of them went on to successful careers
in prominent graduate programs, professional schools or local biotech companies.

What does it mean to you to be named an Outstanding Professor?

LC: It means a lot to me to receive this award and to have my name in the company of other
great SJSU colleagues. I am also hoping this will bring a bright light on our research
and academic activities and help us recruit motivated students eager to learn. SJSU has
been a unique place to influence and develop young minds in both classroom and
laboratory settings. Watching students develop as scientists and succeed in their
endeavors has been personally rewarding and encouraged my mentoring efforts.


Mary Juno, Lecturer, Forensic Science

Mary Juno holding a model of a modern forensic skull.

Mary Juno
Lecturer, Department of Justice Studies and Coordinator, Forensic Studies Minor

Outstanding Lecturer Award

Joined SJSU: Fall 2006 | Research focus: identifying causes and sources of error in crime scene investigation, and the relationship between crime scene error rates and CSI education level.

Faculty Advisor: Themis Research Journal of Justice Studies and Forensic Science, a student-run academic journal that publishes original justice-related research by SJSU students. Juno launched Themis in 2013, and as of March 2021, more than 264,000 researchers worldwide have downloaded articles.

What brought you to San José State?

Mary Juno (MJ): I was originally hired to teach one section of one class [in Justice Studies] for one semester. I was asked to return in spring 2007 to teach the same course, and again in fall 2007, to teach two sections of that course. In spring 2008, I taught the same two sections plus a new course. The job had begun to snowball.

I decided to leave my regular full-time job as a crime scene investigator (CSI) at Oakland Police Department and work only at SJSU. This was an enormous leap of faith, but I enjoyed teaching so much that I felt compelled to do it and confident that it was the right move. I have never regretted this decision.

What inspired you to study this subject area?

MJ: I have always been interested in the intersection between science and justice. I studied forensic anthropology as an undergrad and thought I might go in that direction, but I got hired as a CSI first. That was a fascinating job, but also quite difficult—and nothing like TV. In my classes, I stress the realities of crime scene investigation and try to dispel the myths, so that students are clear-eyed about the field they’re getting into.

What do you enjoy and/or surprises you the most about your work?

MJ: I’ve been at SJSU for 15 years, and there is so much I love about it. First, teaching is loads of fun. My students have great senses of humor, and we find something to crack up about almost every day in class. I learn from them every semester, and I keep in touch with many students after graduation. Second, I feel lucky to work in a department with many brilliant and talented colleagues, who make critical contributions to social, economic, racial and criminal justice. And lastly, I very much like the feeling that I am trusted to do my job, to create new classes, and to revise and build programs. I’m grateful to SJSU that I was given that opportunity to contribute.

What does it mean to you to be named Outstanding Lecturer?

MJ: When I first got the news that I had been named Outstanding Lecturer, I couldn’t believe it. I know many lecturers who give so much of their time and energy to this university and to their students, and they all deserve an award. It feels fantastic to be recognized for my hard work and reconfirms for me that I made the right decision all those years ago when I left my job as a CSI!


Please visit the Faculty Service Recognition event website to see the full list of honorees and register for the live presentation on April 15 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

 

College of Social Sciences Establishes First Endowed Professorship With $1 Million Gift

New role will help grow the Advanced Certificate in Real Estate Development program

San José State University recently received a $1 million gift from Scott Lefaver, ’68 Social Science, ’72 MUP, to create the first-ever endowed professorship in the College of Social Sciences. The first to take on this new role will be Kelly Snider, urban planner and development consultant, who  has been named endowed professor of practice and director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Real Estate Development (CRED) in the Urban and Regional Planning department.

“Kelly has been teaching in our CRED program since it launched in 2014 and has helped establish the program as a well-respected and sought-after credential for professionals in the real estate industry,” said Department Chair Laxmi Ramasubramanian. 

“Increasing her influence and oversight to a year-round position means we can grow the number of graduate students in the CRED program and also reach more students from the community.”

Developing community, curriculum and CRED

Lefaver has championed the Urban and Regional Planning program for 50 years, ever since he graduated with the first cohort of master’s in urban planning students. Throughout his career, he has worked for both the public and private sectors, serving as the first city planner of Gilroy and the founder and former president of Community Housing Developers, Inc., a Santa Clara County-based nonprofit housing corporation.

Scott Lefaver

SJSU alumnus Scott Lefaver’s gift enables the CRED program to bring urban planner Kelly Snider on as endowed professor of practice and director of the CRED program.

Lefaver served on the Santa Clara County Planning Commission for 12 years and is currently serving on the board of directors for HomeFirst Services of Santa Clara County, the largest provider of shelter and services to the unhoused in the county. In 1997, Lefaver and business partner Stephen Mattoon established Cabouchon Properties, LLC, which specializes in purchasing, rehabilitating and managing affordable housing across the United States. 

An Urban and Regional Planning lecturer since 1974, Lefaver helped establish the CRED program in 2014 with Mark Lazzarini, ’84 MUP; Eli Reinhardt; and the late Charles Davidson, ’57 Engineering, ’14 Honorary Doctorate. Their goal? To provide practical and well-rounded approaches to planning, community development and real estate that can be applied in public agencies and government as well as private businesses.

“Development doesn’t take place on a piece of land—it takes place in a community,” said Lefaver. “Planners need to understand what development is about, and developers need to consider how communities are affected.”

The CRED program combines instruction in fundamentals of real estate development, such as project financing, legal challenges and land use entitlements. The program also addresses traditional development practices, including privately funded mixed-use and transit-oriented development, which use less energy and lower greenhouse gas emissions. 

It also explores new and emerging industries, like self-driving cars, data centers and long-term collaboration between private companies and public agencies.

“Endowed professorships generate funds that faculty can use for research, creative and scholarly activities, including employing student assistants,” said Walt Jacobs, dean of the College of Social Sciences. 

“We are so grateful for Scott’s commitment to the college. By endowing Kelly’s position, he is enabling us to make an even bigger impact not only on our students but the greater Silicon Valley community.”

“Scott’s gift beautifully represents his dedication to the university, as well as his commitment to his chosen field,” said Theresa Davis, vice president of University Advancement and CEO of the Tower Foundation. 

“San José State is fortunate to have philanthropic alumni such as Scott, who go above and beyond to support the next generation of Spartans.”

Building the future

Lefaver first met Snider in 2014, when Urban Planning Professor Emeritus Dayana Salazar and Urban Planning Professor Hilary Nixon recruited her to teach for the CRED program. 

Kelly Snider.

Urban planner Kelly Snider has been named the endowed professor of practice and director of SJSU’s CRED program.

Impressed by her track record in both the public and private spheres, Lefaver knew that the next logical step in building out the certificate program would be establishing an endowed professorship. As an expert in Silicon Valley land use, with experience as a public planner and as a private developer, Snider was the perfect fit.

“We’re trying to educate both the nonprofit, city or county government professionals and the for-profit developers, so there is a value add for everybody,” explained Snider. 

“We want to take advantage of the profitability of building and make sure that it has guardrails, so it builds inclusive, family-friendly, multicultural, healthy and safe communities. The CRED program provides the foundation that professionals need to do just that.”

Snider plans to develop mentoring and internship opportunities within the real estate development industry and expand the CRED program by partnering with regional leaders. She hopes to prepare graduates to create inclusive and sustainable projects in the communities where they work. 

This is especially important as Silicon Valley is currently experiencing one of the biggest development booms in the United States, according to Lefaver.

In its first five years, CRED alumni have landed positions in the highest levels of city administration and in prominent companies across the Bay Area. CRED alumni include senior executives at Colliers, HMH Consultants, Marcus & Millichap.

“The great thing about our environment and how people interact with it is that everyone has a story,” said Snider. “Everyone lives somewhere—we all have our environment in common. We’ve got to do a better and faster job of transforming the private, for-profit developments into places for everyone to thrive.”

For more information on the Certificate in Real Estate Development, visit SJSU’s Department of Urban & Regional Planning.

 

Electrical Engineering Faculty Receives NSF CAREER Award for Cryogenic Electronics Research

Hiu-Yung Wong, assistant professor of electrical engineering at SJSU, with graduate students

Assistant Professor Hiu Yung Wong; Johan Saltin, ’20 MS Electrical Engineering; and Varada Kanchi, ’20 MS Electrical Engineering in the SJSU M-PAC lab.

Hiu-Yung Wong, assistant professor of electrical engineering at San José State University, has received a Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award, a prestigious honor bestowed by the National Science Foundation. The award supports his research of cryogenic electronics—electrical systems that operate at extremely cold temperatures—as well as his project to expand education and research opportunities while building a diverse workforce in the field.

Wong is the first faculty member in more than 15 years in the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering to receive a CAREER award, which supports early-career faculty who show potential as leaders in both their academic and research roles and in advancing the mission of their department or organization.

Wong will receive about $500,000 over five years to implement his project, “Understanding and Modeling of Cryogenic Semiconductor Device Physics down to 4.2K.” While scientists understand the physics of electronics and their surroundings at room temperature, they still don’t fully grasp what happens at extremely cold, cryogenic temperatures, Wong explained.

He wants to close that knowledge gap, which could pave the way for the large-scale realization of quantum computers—as well as interstellar voyages. “Cryogenic-integrated circuits (ICs) are the natural candidate for the exploration of deep space, in which the temperature can drop below 4.2K,” Wong noted. (That’s equivalent to minus 452° Fahrenheit.)

In addition to the research, Wong wants to expand access to cryogenic electronics education, which is not as prevalent in electrical engineering programs today.

He’ll use the funding to develop two courses at San José State focused on cryogenic electronics that will be part of a specialization in the Electrical Engineering master’s program and create hands-on research opportunities for undergraduates.

Ultimately, Wong wants to build a future workforce in the field in a way that promotes diversity and uplifts underserved populations. For example, he plans to introduce a new session on cryogenics and quantum computing at the Silicon Valley Women in Engineering Conference, which connects female students—a minority in engineering programs—with women engineering professionals.

He will also develop a free summer course on cryogenics that will be geared towards socially and economically disadvantaged high school students.

“The goal is to build a pipeline of future students in quantum computing to create a diverse workforce and become an economic driver for vulnerable communities,” he said.

“We are so proud of Hiu-Yung’s achievements,” said Sheryl Ehrman, the Don Beall Dean of the College of Engineering. “He joined our college in 2018 with 12 years of industry experience, and he is a proud graduate from the Engineering Grants Academy program. This is our first home-grown CAREER award since the early 2000s.”

Wong said the award opens up several new research possibilities as well as collaboration opportunities with quantum computing companies.

“This award allows me to venture into more uncertain but also more rewarding research areas,” he added. “I particularly want to thank Dean Ehrman and Electrical Engineering Department Chair Thuy Le for creating a very supportive research environment.”

San José State University Ranks Among Top Colleges in the West for Diversity

Diverse students talking on SJSU campus

From most transformative to one of the most diverse colleges in the nation, SJSU has proved itself to be a leader, once again, in preparing students to live, work and thrive in an increasingly diverse global world.

San José State University ranks #8 in the nation, and #6 in the west, in the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education (WSJ/THE) College Rankings released earlier this month. In WSJ/THE 2021 rankings, diversity accounts for 10 percent of a school’s overall score

These rankings measure diversity in school environments based on factors including the racial and ethnic diversity of students, faculty and academic staff, the percentage of Pell Grant recipients and the percentage of international students. 

Public universities’ ability to draw students from across diverse backgrounds, particularly socioeconomically diverse populations, is largely due to their accessibility and affordability to local and low-income students alike. 

“San José State is incredibly proud of its distinction as one of the most diverse public universities in the country,” said President Mary A. Papazian.

“But diversity, on its own, does not necessarily lead to the kind of transformative learning environment we aspire to. Our university’s shared values of inclusion, equity, fairness, and respect for one another—combined with the richness of ideas, creativity and approaches that diversity offers—define who we are at San José State.”

San José State is home to a uniquely diverse environment, in which 41 percent of its students are first-generation college students, 37 percent are Pell Grant qualified and approximately 3,000 are international students. 

In addition, 42 percent of students identify as Asian American, 28 percent identify as Chicanx and Latinx—making SJSU a Hispanic-serving institution—and 16 percent identify as white, 3.4 percent as Black and 3 percent as Indigenous. 

In total, 14 California universities are among the top 20 schools in this category and eight of them are in the California State University (CSU) system. Only one, La Sierra University, is a private institution.

Within a year ripe with uncertainty from the pandemic, intersected by last summer’s protests and debate for racial equality and justice, San José State has been reinforcing its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and addressing systemic racism

“This national recognition of being one of the most diverse campuses reinforces our focus addressing historical systemic inequities, so that the diversity that we are known for translates into equity, cultural and global engagement, and an atmosphere where our students, faculty and staff can thrive,” said Chief Diversity Officer Kathy Wong (Lau). 

“At the heart of this work is building our organizational capacity for change, opportunities to learn, and accountability that reflects our core values of diversity, equity and inclusion. We are thrilled to receive this ranking but know that there is responsibility for continued work.” 

Recent SJSU Success in National Rankings

In August, San José State was named the #1 Most Transformative College in the United States by Money magazine. In a region known for constant innovation—and as the second-largest employer in the 10th largest city in the nation—San José State continually transforms to meet the needs of its students, Silicon Valley and the world. 

The university also embodies the diversity of Santa Clara County and the region. 

“This ranking recognizes SJSU as an institution where first-generation college students from economically challenged communities gain the knowledge and skills to not only enter their careers achieving high salaries shortly after gradation but also having low debt—thereby transforming the lives of their families, communities and their workplaces,” said Wong (Lau). 

In addition, the school’s breadth of academic programs, research and applied learning, and its extraordinary legacy of education and opportunity, perfectly position San José State to examine essential questions facing our community and our world—while incorporating a forward-looking view to solve 21st century problems.

These two rankings reflect San José State’s ability to not only attract and prepare a diverse body of students for success in a global workforce but also to transform the world in which they live.

 

SJSU Honors Fall 2020 Graduates

Photo credit: David Schmitz

San José State University is proud to honor and celebrate Fall 2020 graduates as they complete their studies and earn their degrees. On December 18, SJSU will launch the Fall Class of 2020 graduate recognition websites. Eight of the university’s colleges will have their own recognition website, which includes slides of each graduate, congratulatory videos and other memorable content. Graduates will also receive a cap and tassel, diploma, diploma cover, and commencement book in the mail prior to the launch of the websites.

The Fall Class of 2020 graduate recognition websites are not a virtual commencement ceremony and do not replace a live commencement ceremony experience. SJSU invites all graduates from Spring and Fall 2020 who could not participate in a live ceremony due to COVID-19 restrictions, to return to campus and walk across the stage in-person at a future commencement ceremony.

“When the history books are written, and the current pandemic is a distant memory, this year’s graduating class will be remembered as a class with everlasting grit and determination,” said SJSU President Mary A. Papazian. “The Class of 2020 will be remembered for staring down the innumerable challenges they faced and for completing their long journey amid extraordinarily difficult circumstances.”

The Fall Class of 2020 graduate recognition websites will showcase the accomplishments of SJSU’s nearly 4,000 fall graduates. Each college’s site will include personalized slides that “speak” the graduates’ name, degree, and applicable Latin honors for all Spartans completing undergraduate and graduate degrees and those earning credentials from the Connie L. Lurie College of Education. The sites will also feature congratulatory messages from President Papazian, Provost Vincent J. Del Casino Jr., deans of eight colleges and community members.

Graduates can view their slides as well as their fellow graduates, download and save them to their electronic devices, and share them on their social media accounts and with friends and family throughout the world.

“The class of 2020 won’t simply be remembered as a generation in a global pandemic, but how this generation initiated change; the sacrifices made along the way, and the tremendous resilience of many communities,” said Associated Students President Zoebeida Delgadillo. “Congratulations to the Fall 2020 class. Thank you for continuing to pave the way for future generations to succeed and excel amongst it all. The future will be owned by those who overcome adversity and seek to empower a brighter and safer future.”

The Fall Class of 2020 graduate recognition websites will be on the SJSU homepage from December 18 through mid-January and will remain on the commencement website for one year.

San José State University Receives First International Sustainability Ranking and Listed Among Green Colleges Nationally

Photo by David Schmitz.

Once again, San José State University’s sustainability rankings have made headlines.

This fall, San José State was listed as one of the Princeton Review’s Green Colleges for 2021 and one of the Sierra Club’s top 50 2020 Cool Schools. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) named San José State a top overall performer in sustainability, with special recognition of the CSU Single Use Plastics Policy and the Housing Crisis Mitigation Plan. To top it off, this week, SJSU has received its first international ranking in sustainability, listed in the top 15 percent of universities for the 2020 UI GreenMetric World University Rankings, an initiative of Universitas Indonesia.

What are the criteria for being “green” or “cool?” Princeton Review surveyed 416 schools on everything from solar-powered dorms to clean energy career preparation. The Sierra Club included SJSU among the top 50 of 312 schools to receive a valid Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) rating, which provides a framework for understanding sustainability in higher education. The GreenMetric rankings were established in 2010 to establish a way to measure sustainability across universities worldwide, taking into consideration university enrollment and size, campus location and green space, energy use, transport, water use, recycling and waste treatment.

“We follow the United Nations’ sustainability goals, which define it as not just taking care of the planet, but taking care of the people on the planet,” Debbie Andres, ’07 Chemical Engineering, SJSU senior utilities and sustainability analyst. “People often think of sustainability in terms of science and engineering, but you can really incorporate sustainability in every college, in every discipline.”

Andres collaborated with multiple departments across campus when submitting data for sustainability rankings. She worked with Ben Falter of the SJSU Cares program and senior student affairs case manager, to submit data about the Housing Crisis Mitigation Plan, which includes over $3 million in grants for student housing insecurity and basic needs support from the California State University system, as well as the development of new housing for undergraduate and transfer students. In addition, the State of California transferred a surplus, obsolete building to SJSU, which will be used to develop up to 1,200 housing units for faculty and staff, graduate students, and students with families.

“Yes, we use recycled water, but we are also trying to make it easier for students, faculty and staff to live nearby and go to school,” said Andres.

Andres added that the Princeton Review’s 2020 College Hopes & Worries survey found that 66 percent of nearly 13,000 college applicants consider a school’s environmental commitment when deciding where to go.

“San José State is the oldest CSU, the oldest university west of the Mississippi, and we are also a feeder school for the biggest tech companies on the planet,” said Andres. “It’s really important for us to reflect that we care about the environment and sustainability, just like many companies in Silicon Valley. It’s important that future students know that we are doing things that are very important to you—we are doing what’s right for the environment.”

Andres said that 30 percent of SJSU classes are designated sustainable, though that number could be higher now that courses are being offered online due to the pandemic. She has partnered with resources across campus, including the Gender Equity Center and the Black/African American Student Success Center, to offer sustainability-related programming. Currently enrolled students can visit the Office of Sustainability website to browse courses across all ten colleges that offer topics in sustainability, read the 2020 Sustainability Report and discover easy ways to make their lives a little greener.

Spartan Recreation and Aquatic Center Achieves LEED Gold Certification

Night shot of the SRAC pool and exterior building.

Spartan Recreation and Aquatic Center Photo: Kevin Korczyk

For its energy efficiency and green building sustainability achievements, the Student Union at SJSU Spartan Recreation and Aquatic Center (SRAC) received confirmation of its LEED Gold Certification on October 8.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)—the world standard for green buildings—is a certified rating system offered through the US Green Building Council. SRAC’s LEED Gold certification marks its superior achievement of numerous sustainable and environmental stewardship measures. For example, SRAC met USGBC’s world-class standards for energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, and indoor environmental quality.

Traci Ferdolage, senior associate vice president for Facilities Development and Operations (FD&O), said “SRAC is a beautiful building and an amazing asset for the campus and the community. But it’s always extra special when we can attain a level of sustainability that contributes over time to our goals around having a lighter footprint. Achieving a LEED Gold certification certainly is something we can point to that aligns with campus and CSU goals around achieving carbon neutrality, as we move forward in the future.”

Tamsen Burke, executive director of the Student Union, Inc. at SJSU who oversees SRAC, Provident Credit Union Event Center, and the Campion Diaz Student Union, said, “Leading the industry in sustainability practices, building construction and design allows us to minimize our carbon footprint by reducing energy, lower operating costs, and creating a healthy environment for the recruitment and retention of employees and prospective students to SJSU.

Ashraf Fouad, FD&O senior director of planning, design and construction, said the long process of achieving the distinction was much more complex than is commonly understood. “LEED Gold certification is not as simple as people might think,” Fouad said. His team examined everything from choosing flooring materials that don’t release volatile organic chemicals to planning an efficient HVAC system for cooling large spaces. “I want to highlight that it’s not easy to do,” he emphasized. “Every decision affects the target.”

LEED certification requires not just green design, but meticulous attention at each stage of construction, Fouad said. Even the handling of the building’s waste construction materials—leftover bits of two-by-four or sheet metal, for example—must be precisely accounted for. Details like vehicle miles driven while disposing of construction waste are counted. The LEED certification process tracked sustainability practices from design through construction, Fouad said. “You have to maintain it throughout, with checkpoints every single step of the way.” Fouad credited “the willingness of our design and construction partners” for their persistence during the process. To win LEED Gold, he said, exhaustive documentation of each sustainability measure is essential, “because maybe you’re doing it—but if you’re not documenting it, it’s not counted.”

The interior of the SRAC with curving blue, grey and gold ceiling with workout equipment on the floor.

Spartan Recreation and Aquatic Center interior Photo: Kevin Korczyk

Numerous credits toward the Gold certification were awarded in the indoor environmental quality category for SRAC features such as outdoor air delivery monitoring, air circulation, and minimizing dust. Fouad said large gymnasium spaces were challenging because “people generate a lot of heat, playing basketball and so on. We did computer modeling of where that heat is, where you can push and extract air.” Ventilation systems were sited based on the model. Ferdolage said SRAC’s ventilation design efficiently moved warm air away, taking advantage of natural heat flows. Exterior wall vents draw in outside air, and destratification ceiling fans help keep temperature consistent. “It takes a lot of creativity,” she said.

The project received points for its half-mile proximity to public transportation and its accommodations for bicycle parking and storage. Lights activated by motion sensors reduce wasted electricity. Showers and bathroom facilities were designed for water efficiency. To top it off, SRAC’s special roof has a high solar reflectance index—reflecting more than 75 percent of sunshine that hits it—keeping it cooler on the inside. Moreover, Ferdolage said, its roof is an example of how SRAC planners thought carefully about ongoing life cycle costs, with an eye to future savings.

“When they constructed the building, they made it solar ready,” Ferdolage said.  “We just now learned of our LEED certification, but through a separate project we’re already starting to install PV panels. The campus didn’t just think about LEED rating points; we plumbed it for future solar, which also demonstrates our commitment to sustainability overall. It’s a wonderful use of that flat roof to further decrease our carbon footprint.” Ferdolage said she was pleased to pass by recently and see workers “on the roof tugging some panels around.” Sustainability improvements are ongoing.

Fouad said, “Our campus user group, stakeholders from the Student Union and others, were very supportive of making the goal a reality.”

Ferdolage said any new CSU building must now achieve LEED Silver equivalency status—but the SRAC planners aspired for more. By achieving Gold, the team far exceeded the CSU minimum. “It demonstrates a commitment by the campus to ensure that it’s taking steps to achieve our carbon neutrality goals,” Ferdolage said. “Not every project in the CSU ends up LEED Gold. It takes a client and a campus valuing the goal. It took leadership and desire. It’s not easy to achieve these levels of certification while also managing a project that meets the budget. It’s something we’re quite proud of.”

“It’s a healthy building,” Fouad said. “You will be healthier inside that building, using it or breathing the air inside. That’s very important, because you will feel it.”

“As operators and managers of SRAC, one of our main responsibilities once you receive the LEED Gold standard is to continue to maintain the life of the building to that standard,” Burke said. “Moreover, strategically, it is how we complement the overall CSU and university sustainability plan which provides a healthier space for students and for the environment.”

LEED-certified buildings not only save resources, they save money and offer the university many economic benefits. From 2015–2018, LEED-certified buildings worldwide saved an estimated $1.2 billion in energy savings, $149.5 million in water savings, $715.3 million in maintenance savings, and $54.2 million in waste savings. Reduced energy use means green buildings also reduce carbon emissions, to help protect the climate. A USGBC scorecard details each LEED points-winning category the SRAC was awarded.

“My hat’s off to the entire SJSU team that worked on this important project,” Ferdolage said, “and for delivering a facility that not only exceeds the CSU goals but also is sustainable into the future with regard to its operation and maintenance lifecycle.”

Fouad added, “As an educational institution, we’re proud that we’re actually practicing what we’re teaching. We teach students how to do better, more thoughtful engineering—of buildings or roads or what have you. So we’re actually practicing that as well.”

Senior Utilities and Sustainability Analyst Debbie Andres said, “the great thing about LEED certification for any of our buildings is that it allows a broad campus coalition to be involved with implementing sustainability at the facility level. Not only is the building an amazing achievement on its own, but we ensured that the building functions as an integral part of the sustainability mission of the whole campus. For example, shower facilities and bike storage are available to our students, faculty and staff to complement biking to campus efforts. Recycled water usage was expanded to use for irrigation and will be used in toilets. Educational materials and signage will be available for students to learn about environmentally friendly buildings. And construction waste was virtually all diverted, contributing to our zero waste efforts. We even show that green cleaning procedures that are in place for the campus are in place for the SRAC.”

A 128,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility for reaching and maintaining fitness goals, SRAC has three full-court gyms for basketball, volleyball, badminton and more, four fitness studios, an indoor track, a climbing wall and bouldering area, and a 50-meter lap pool. SRAC’s Gold certification recognized not only its electricity savings, water savings and maintenance savings—but also the design innovations that amplify the sensory human experience of using the space.

Master’s Student Katy Jiang Wins 2020 Deepfake Education Competition

 

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, in partnership with the CITRIS Policy Labs at the University of California, Berkeley, announced that Katy Jiang, ’21 MS Software Engineering, won the 2020 Deepfake Education Competition with her three-minute explanatory video. The competition challenged students of all levels to create engaging video content to educate the public on deepfakes, the use of artificial intelligence to manipulate images and video to influence public opinion.

“Deepfake is a form of artificial intelligence. The word deepfake combines deep learning and fake,” said Jiang. “It can produce a persuasive counterfeit by studying photographs and videos of a target person from multiple angles, and then mimicking its behavior and speech patterns. By making this video, I want to educate people about the technology behind their day-to-day entertainment application and raise people’s awareness that deepfakes can also be used in committing crimes such as frauds and scams.”

A 2019 Pew Research study reported that two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) say made-up news and information cause a great deal of confusion. Associate Chair of the Computer Engineering department Magdalini Eirinaki, who is teaching Jiang’s Web and Big Data Mining course this semester, recommended that Jiang submit her video, originally a class assignment, for the Deepfake Education competition.

“Identification and spread of fake news (whether in text or deepfakes) has been on my radar as a very interesting and critical research problem,” said Eirinaki. “This technology can be very easily weaponized and used to enhance the perceived credibility of fake news and disinformation campaigns. This can have even more devastating effects than current fake news, ranging from politics, to the environment (e.g. global warming), to public health (e.g. spreading disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic). It is therefore more critical than ever for the research community to develop more sophisticated techniques to keep up with the deepfake technology to promptly identify and remove/flag them before too much harm is done.”

Jiang’s video explains how deepfakes can be used to impact how people interpret fake news—especially timely during a hotly contested presidential election and a global health pandemic. Using engaging visuals, music and voiceover to describe the dangers that deepfakes pose to democracy, she encourages viewers to assess content carefully before sharing it on their social media platforms. She demonstrates how many free apps are available to superimpose public images with false or misleading suggestions, inserting her own face over that of celebrities and politicians. Her winning submission will be featured on CITRIS media channels and through the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s media channels. The recognition also includes a $2,500 prize.

“As we are in the pandemic and the election is coming, deepfakes pose a danger to democracy,” said Jiang. “Fake news will influence everything from stock prices to the election. People should be critical about what we see online.”

 

Steinbeck Fellow Yalitza Ferreras Earns Rona Jaffe Award

Yalitza Ferreras wearing an orange top and smiling in front of some green hills.

Yalitza Ferreras is the fourth Steinbeck Fellow and seventh Spartan to receive the prestigious Rona Jaffe Award in recognition of her writing. Photo courtesy of Yalitza Ferreras.

On September 17, six woman writers were recognized with 2020 Rona Jaffe Awards by the New York-based Rona Jaffe Foundation. Among this year’s recipients is Yalitza Ferreras, a Dominican American fiction writer and recipient of the 2014-2015 Steinbeck Fellowship. Ferreras is the fourth Steinbeck Fellow and seventh Spartan to receive this award, joining Vanessa Hua, Gabriela Garcia and Dominica Phetteplace. Three other SJSU-affiliated writers have also received this recognition: Assistant Professor of English Selena Anderson, English Lecturer Aamina Ahmad, and former Lurie Visiting Writer ZZ Packer.

The prestigious honor awards $30,000 to emerging woman writers of exceptional promise and includes a reading at New York University. This year’s event was hosted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ferreras read an excerpt of her novel-in-progress, The Four Roses, which follows Altagracia, a Dominican artist who immigrates to Spain in the 1990s to create art while struggling to survive.

“The characters I’m writing about are usually poor people, often people of color and very often women,” said Ferreras, whose work has been published in Kenyon Review, Bellevue Literary Review, The Southern Review, Aster(ix) Journal, and The Colorado Review. Her story “The Letician Age” was included in the 2016 Best American Short Stories, edited by Junot Diaz. “I like to explore everyday, quotidian situations—people trying to work and survive. There’s so much conflict in people’s lives as they go about their days and feed their families. I want readers to truly see my characters, to insert them into the stories that everyone is reading. That is very worthwhile to me.”

Born in New York and raised in both New York and the Dominican Republic, Ferreras identifies with the immigrant experience and sees fiction as an opportunity to “bear witness” to the daily triumphs and challenges of negotiating new places. The first in her family to attend college, Ferreras intended to pursue a career in law before discovering a fiction workshop as an undergraduate at Mills College. At the urging of her professor and 2010 MacArthur Genius Fellow Yiyun Li, Ferreras went on to earn an MFA in creative writing at the University of Michigan, where she worked on a short story collection and began writing her novel. She has since received fellowships from Djerassi Resident Artist program, Yaddo, Voices of Our Nations and the Tin House Writing Workshop. She describes San José State’s Steinbeck Fellowship as a turning point in her writing career, which was interrupted in 2011 when she suffered a brain injury in a car accident. The fellowship allowed her to visit Spain and the Dominican Republic, research trips for her novel. It also introduced her to a network of writers, fellows and alumni.

“The Steinbeck Fellowship was really timely for me; it allowed me to really begin working on the project in earnest,” said Ferreras, who has often supported herself as a graphic designer. “I’ve finished a draft of the manuscript and the support from the Rona Jaffe Foundation is going to allow me to finish the novel. I’m really grateful to both organizations for their support because they’re helping me make this happen. It feels really amazing to be a part of these two communities.”

“When a former Steinbeck Fellow wins a major award, or finds a large audience for a new book, I am thrilled for them first of all, but I also feel validated,” said Nick Taylor, professor of English and comparative literature and director of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies. “It demonstrates that our program is good at finding and supporting talent. And these successes aren’t rare anymore. At this point we’ve had 64 Steinbeck Fellows who have received something like $750,000 in support from the program. They’ve gone on to publish 40 books—a number that increases every year without fail. Not every former fellow publishes a book every year, but every year some do, and each of those publications gives us an opportunity to call attention to what we’re doing here at SJSU.”

Current Steinbeck Fellows are Rita Chang-Epigg, Tammy Delatorre, Brice Particelli, Daniel Pearce, Kate Osana Simonian and Anthony Veasna So. Applications open January 2 for the 2021-2022 fellowship.


Watch Ferreras’ Sept. 17 Rona Jaffe reading.

SJSU Center for Community Learning and Leadership Launches Civic Action Fellowship

A young girl with long brown hair hovers over her desk as she works on an electric device.

Photo: David Schmitz / San José State University.

San José, Calif.— San José State University’s Center for Community Learning and Leadership (CCLL) is pleased to announce the launch of the Civic Action Fellowship—a partnership between the California Volunteers within the Office of the Governor, AmeriCorps and a coalition of public and private universities—designed to help students pay for college while addressing regional challenges.

This unique collaboration between federal and state funds will allow 44 San José State undergraduate and graduate students from diverse disciplines to become AmeriCorps Civic Action Fellows and engage in virtual service during a time of great crisis triggered by the COVID-19 global pandemic. CCLL received $75,000 for planning and $480,868 ($136,106, federal funds and $344,762, state funds) for implementation as part of the grants.

The goal of the fellowship is to ensure a new cohort of California citizens committed to addressing local and state challenges, public concerns and a life of public engagement. The students who dedicate time to public service will receive financial support to obtain a college degree designed to position them for success in career and life.

“San José State students will meet some of the highest needs in our country during this time, first, by providing STEM education to underserved youths in surrounding neighborhoods. And second, by contributing to health promotion around COVID-19 through high-impact social media campaigns,” said CCLL Director and SJSU Professor of Psychology Elena Klaw.

The Civic Action Fellows will primarily work with local after-school programs to provide computer programming enrichment for underserved third- and sixth-grade youths. In addition, Civic Action Fellows will participate in the city of San José and Santa Clara County initiatives. For their efforts, the fellows will receive a monthly living allowance and an education award upon completion of the program.

“The Civic Action Fellowship enabled our center to expand upon our Cyber Spartans program. We now have the capacity to increase our partnerships, reach more youths and expand the content the youths are taught from only cybersecurity to civic engagement and health promotion,” said CCLL Assistant Director Andrea Tully.

Since the once completely in-person program is now entirely virtual, Tully said, “Our fellows are learning how to teach computer programming in unplugged ways through interactive kits that have puzzles and other games. They’re learning how to provide social-emotional support virtually to youths who struggled with online learning when the stay at home orders were first issued in spring.”

Joshua Lawson, ’23 Computer Science, who worked earlier on the Cyber Spartans Program said the Civic Action Fellowship program offered him the opportunity to design a lot of the curriculum being used. “I was actually in charge of a lot of the design of the curriculum and had written a lot of programs and units of work that were designed to be either in person or in small groups with mentors,” said Lawson.

Due to COVID-19, the team had to dramatically change the curriculum over the last couple of months to adapt to the online environment. Lawson enjoyed the transition process as it allowed him to build a critically thought out creative project. Now, the virtual program model includes time to interact virtually with San José State fellows, as well as kits that students can work on at home.

Mercedes Mansfield, ’22 MS Occupational Therapy, who is working with the CCLL for the first time, said, “the program is important, as it will help me gain experience in hands-on work with members in underserved communities, as well as help me develop leadership skills.” Mansfield and Lawson both agree that the CCLL weekly seminars have helped to broaden their knowledge on societal issues and what they can do to create a larger change in the communities they serve.

“Our model at the Center for Community Learning and Leadership has always been innovative in that although there are many organizations on campus that provide service, our emphasis is long-standing mutually beneficial relationships that address ongoing community needs,” said Klaw.

CCLL works closely with Campbell Unified School District’s Expanded Learning Program, as well as its long-standing partner, Third Street Community Center, located very close to the SJSU campus.

“The pandemic caused unprecedented challenges to our program launch, as it has for our community partners and for the families of the youths our fellows serve. They are learning patience and resilience that I know will serve them well in their future careers,” Tully added.

SJSU Recognized as Adobe Creative Campus

A female and make student smile while admiring graphic design posters lined up on the wall.

Students look at graphic design posters on the wall prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Jim Gensheimer / San José State University.

San José State University has been named an Adobe Creative Campus for its commitment to using technology to provide students with a transformative path to success.

SJSU is among a select group of colleges and universities Adobe identified as higher education innovators actively advancing digital literacy skills across the curriculum. By making Adobe Creative Cloud available to its students, SJSU provides creative and persuasive digital communication tools that will give them an edge in the competitive modern workplace.

“San José State is honored to be recognized by Adobe as a Creative Campus,” said Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, Vincent J. Del Casino Jr. “There is nothing more important in today’s world than creative and digital literacy. By providing our students with access to these creative software tools, we can enable them to do wonderful things in the digital world, but also to gain expertise at productive collaboration. Being named an Adobe Creative Campus is one of the many puzzle pieces we are putting in place to ensure that SJSU students can take advantage of as many opportunities as possible.”

SJSU students have access to all the Adobe Creative Cloud apps and services at no additional cost. Universal access to these industry leading communication tools is part of SJSU’s endeavor to prioritize equity and inclusion, leveling the playing field in the classroom. By becoming proficient in the software used every day by so many employers, SJSU students can gain valuable experience and soft skills to better demonstrate their digital literacy capabilities when entering the job market.

There are more than 20 Adobe Creative Cloud applications that students can practice with every day, including InDesign, Photoshop, Premiere Rush and Illustrator—leading industry standard applications across the curriculum used by many employers where SJSU students will be working.

“Digital literacy and fluency are quickly becoming core competencies for employment opportunities on an international scale,” said Sebastian Distefano, director, education strategic development. “One of the most effective ways academic institutions can ensure their students become digitally literate and fluent before they enter the competitive workforce is through early and frequent exposure to creative tools. We are delighted that San José State University has embraced Adobe Creative Cloud, as students will now have the tools they need to seamlessly unlock their creativity and share their stories in more visually compelling ways. As a result, students of all majors can nurture the fundamental soft skills that will be critical to success in their future careers.”

As an Adobe Creative Campus, San Jose State University will also have access to peer-to-peer collaboration with other Adobe Creative Campus institutions, support for driving student adoption in the classroom, and thought leadership opportunities within the global higher education community.

John Delacruz Named as a 2020 Adobe Master Teacher

Professor John Delacruz gestures with his hands while teaching his class.

John Delacruz teaches a course prior to COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Jim Gensheimer / San José State University

Associate Professor John Delacruz was included as one of Adobe’s inaugural Master Teachers, one of 35 educators in K-12 and higher education selected from across the globe. The program recognizes pedagogical expertise, educational innovation, and a commitment by “master teachers” to share their best practices, insights, and curricular materials with educators across the globe. The summer program included a professional learning community within the cohort, training on instructional design and professional curriculum writing, and a badge to share on professional profiles.

An experienced educator in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Delacruz is responsible for the Creative Track of San José State’s advertising program. The fellowship recognizes his expertise in using Adobe Creative Cloud in his teaching, his ongoing development of industry and education partnerships, and his success guiding student collaborative projects nationally and internationally.

Delacruz said, “The collaboration tools, Adobe Creative Cloud, that I’m using in the classroom now are the collaboration tools that they’re going to be using when they get out into the working world.”

Last spring, in Delacruz’s senior capstone course in design for advertising, students created awareness campaigns for a local business or local nonprofit organization. Using the Adobe Creative Cloud, students make real-world advertising creative projects and pitch them to real clients. Delacruz said the projects his seniors did in class matched how they will work once they start their jobs.

“For a lot of my students, this is such a big taste of the real world,” Delacruz said. “They’re learning a bunch of digital tools they’re going to have to use to move forward. They get to present orally, they ideate and collaborate in teams, and they work through a problem using critical thinking and understanding user groups and people.

“Adobe Creative Cloud is what industries are built on,” he said. “Even in this online moment, our students are learning skills that are really going to help them in the workplace.”

Delacruz has been a campus and statewide leader in using Adobe communication tools to augment his teaching. Last year, SJSU hosted a unique virtual Adobe Creative Jam with participants from seven other California State Universities.

All of these partnering initiatives are part of the connection that becoming an Adobe Creative Campus brings with it. SJSU collaboration with other Adobe Creative Campus institutions is designed to foster the sharing of ideas and innovations that expand digital literacy on the path to student success.

Urban and Regional Planning Department Chair to Lead a National Professional Organization

Laxmi Ramasubramanian in a black blazer and white top smiling.

Photo: Robert Bain / San José State University.

Professor Laxmi Ramasubramanian, chair of the SJSU Department of Urban and Regional Planning, was elected vice president and president-elect of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP).

ACSP, a consortium of more than 100 university departments and programs offering planning degrees, is a scholarly association dedicated “to promoting the field of planning as a diverse global community that works collectively toward healthy, equitable and sustainable neighborhoods, cities and regions,” according to its website.

Ramasubramanian described taking an ACSP leadership position as a “personal calling.” She said she felt now was a good time to help shape how planning professionals do their work because the current era demanded more active promotion of the values she teaches her students to keep forefront.

“My area of research is participatory planning,” Ramasubramanian explained. “I use every opportunity, whether in service, teaching or research, to think about process issues. Planning is about thinking about the future. To me, the governing board of the planning association should reflect the ethos of the field: Our processes should be transparent, accountable, participatory, engaged—all the things we want our public planners to do.”

Ramasubramanian said once the thought of contributing to her profession’s national leadership entered her head, she could not dismiss it. “I’ve been thinking this summer about the national mood,” she said, “which has refocused our attention to inequality in city after city, community after community. So I was struggling with this as an individual. And often I find that I need to be with other people to make change.”

Ramasubramanian said important structural changes could rarely be made by individuals alone, but only in concert with others. “We can’t do what we need to do by ourselves, and we shouldn’t try to do it by ourselves. How can we work in partnership with groups of people to create the kind of transformation they’re aspiring for?” Mulling that over led her to seek her new leadership position.

Ramasubramanian will serve as vice president through 2021, after which she advances automatically to president for the term 2021-2023.

“My goal is to spend this year really listening to the interest groups that are part of our association and who share the same anxieties and fears and mood that is going on around the country,” she said.

A professional organization undergoes the same struggles happening outside it, she said. Ramasubramanian said her role would be to actively support planning faculty and students who are Black, indigenous or people of color through both policy and action. “We’re a good organization,” she said. “We’ve always said the words. An academic organization with our heart in the right place. But that’s not enough right now. That’s what the world is telling us: It’s not enough.”

As a public university, SJSU is accountable to a wide range of people. “At public universities we have a teaching mission,” she said. “We are preparing planning professionals who go out in the world and solve the difficult problems of climate change and environmental degradation, build resilient and inclusive communities, fix our transportation problems. So I’m really proud of the work that universities like ours do.” Ramasubramanian said she hoped to represent the voices of public universities in the ACSP governing board. You have to have diverse points of view in the room to change the conversation.”

SJSU offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in geography and an accredited master’s of urban planning degree—the only programs of their kind in Silicon Valley. The department’s diverse student population includes working students who prefer to attend the program on a part-time basis—a rare opportunity, given that few fully accredited master’s in urban planning programs offer graduate students an entirely part-time option. Emphasizing experiential learning and career preparation, the department’s faculty members teach about architecture, communication, economics, history, public policy, and sociology. Through public service projects, students assist local communities in addressing topical planning issues. SJSU has excelled in the field of urban planning since 1970.

College of Social Sciences Dean Walter Jacobs said, “Laxmi was outstanding in her first year as the chair of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, so I was not surprised to learn that she was selected as vice president of a national organization. I have absolutely no doubts about her ability to thrive as the vice president and then president of ACSP while she continues to excel as a department chair.”

Ramasubramanian said she saw this step as part and parcel of the university’s larger mission. “I’ve chosen a narrow pathway to have an impact—trying to serve my peers in the academy, a membership organization of university people—but the work that we do, the professors, is hugely important because we impact young people,” she said. “One reason I’m at San José State is that here we can see so clearly how education is the pathway to transformation. The education you receive at SJSU prepares you to move in your career, your life, to move your family and your community to the next aspirational goals you set for yourself, whatever they may be.”