“On 9/11, I was a NYPD Captain”; UPD Captain Belcastro Reflects 20 Years Later

San José State University Police Department (UPD) Captain Frank Belcastro can tell you in a heartbeat where he was and what he was doing on September 11, 2001. Back then, he was a NYPD Captain about to start his regular shift for the day. Then everything changed.

A picture of Captain Frank Belcastro in NYPD gear

San José State University Police Department Captain Frank Belcastro was a member of the New York Police Department and led the response following the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Now that two decades have passed since the life-altering terrorist attacks, Belcastro shared what it was like to be a first responder in this unprecedented situation that had worldwide impact. We captured the moments that still stand out to him today, and what he would like Spartans who did not experience these tragic events to understand.

Tell us about the events as they unfolded for you on that fateful day.

Captain Frank Belcastro (FB): On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a NYPD Captain, Commanding Officer of a Borough Task Force. My unit was charged with daily tasks such as crime reduction, auto crime and graffiti investigations, evidence collection, traffic enforcement, speed enforcement, DUI patrol, COBRA (Chemical, Biological, Radiological Action Team), Truant Team/school patrol and major incident response throughout the city.

On the day of 9/11, I was scheduled to work a 4×12 shift. But, as was my regular routine, I called my office to see if anything was going on. I learned that we were on alert for mobilization because a plane had hit the World Trade Center. 

At that time the thinking was “it was an accident.” I told them that I was going to come in and gave instructions on the personnel and equipment that I wanted for our response. A short time later, I called back because I wanted to change the equipment and add personnel. As I was talking, a second plane hit. 

I knew then it was a terrorist attack. I told them to get everyone ready, and I was on my way. When I arrived, the duty captain had directed my unit, officers from three precincts, vehicles, equipment and firefighters onto a waiting ferry. When I arrived, I assumed command, and we proceeded towards Manhattan. 

When we were about two thirds of the way over, the first tower collapsed. The ferry captain stopped the ferry due to dust and debris blocking visibility of the ferry terminal. I tried to arrange an alternate dock or smaller ferries. However, nothing would work. At that point, the police dispatcher radioed that I was directed to return to base. 

But, people needed help, I was not turning around. 

I was the field commander. I radioed the dispatcher; my call: We were going into Whitehall (the Manhattan Ferry terminal). I then directed the ferry captain to take us in.

When we exited the ferry in Manhattan, the second tower collapsed. Dust and debris filled the air. I couldn’t see the hood of my patrol car. Thousands of people were running in the street, away from the devastation. You could see the fear in their faces. The primary mobilization point was not reachable. I then directed that we respond to the secondary mobilization point. 

We were eventually assigned to patrol the World Trade Center area. We searched the area, including train stations, looking for people who needed help. As we patrolled, World Trade Center #7 became very unstable. A Police Chief advised me to pull my unit back because the collapse of it was imminent. As we pulled back, the building collapsed.

One of my young officers had a brother who was a firefighter. He was missing and unaccounted for. To protect my officer, because he was distraught, I brought him into the Patrol Officers Benevolent Association Offices, several blocks from Ground Zero, and asked the trustee to keep him there. 

When building 7 collapsed, the officer called me over the radio asking for help. He had left the PBA office to look for his brother. I formed search teams, and we found him. I assigned an officer to take him home and stay with the family. His firefighter brother is the youngest firefighter to die in the line of duty, at just 20 years old.

One of my vivid memories is the eerie silence as we patrolled into the evening. The dust and debris was falling like a heavy snowstorm. Ash was piled deep on the streets and sidewalks. We were not equipped with masks. I remember the air was thick with ash and debris, including fiberglass. I rubbed my eyes due to the irritation and had abrasions under my eyes from the fiberglass and other abrasive debris. When we were relieved in the early morning hours of 9/12, we were covered in ash.

In the days after 9/11, for that first week, I was in command of Ground Zero security and recovery. My unit was charged with providing security there and for safeguarding human remains. When human remains were recovered, we took custody and delivered them to a morgue trailer, documenting the recovery. 

At one point, a firefighter’s body was recovered. I gathered my unit. We stood at attention and rendered a hand salute as his body was escorted by his fellow firefighters.

My assignment posed many challenges. There were attempts by members of the media and other persons to access the dig site. One of the hardest things for me was when officers I had worked with handed me their phone number and asked me to call them if I found their brother. I knew the reality of our operation at that time. 

Another challenge was that we were working under the threat of the possible collapse of the Deutsche Bank, which was heavily damaged. We had to evacuate on several occasions when movement was detected. On one such occasion, I was notified to evacuate all personnel because city engineers had detected that the Deutsche Bank had shifted. They believed that the building was going to collapse. I directed everyone to evacuate. 

However, a fire chief and his men refused to leave. The chief told me he was not going to evacuate. I told him that I understood what he was saying and that if he wanted to stay, I would stay with him and his men. But, I said, “I want to ask you one question, and after that, if you want to stay, we will stay.” 

I said, “You and I know the reality of what we are doing here,” and I pointed to his men. “They are alive. Is what we are doing here worth their lives? If you say yes, I will stay with you.” 

He agreed to evacuate. 

What do you remember most about September 11, 2001? 

FB: I remember that 9/11 started out as a beautiful day that became a nightmare. I will never forget the uncommon valor of the police officers and firefighters who ran into those towers to save others. Many never returned to their families.They sacrificed their lives to save others, complete strangers. Police officers and firefighters ran towards the danger while thousands fled in panic and fear. 

Our mission was clear — save lives.

I will also always recall the ash and debris raining down like a heavy snowstorm. And, the deafening silence of a deserted city as we patrolled into the night.

I will never forget the thousands of innocent persons slaughtered in a heinous attack and the selfless sacrifice of the first responders.

As a first responder in that type of unprecedented situation, how much of your response is predicated on your training versus reacting on instincts? 

FB: We are well trained, and our training helps us to react. But training cannot prepare you for everything. Your instincts are a big part. As a leader, you have to look at the big picture and make split second decisions based on experience, training and instinct. The burden of leadership is great. You are making decisions that will not only impact you but will affect everyone under your command.

As you reflect back on 20 years since the Twin Towers fell, including the nation’s united response in the days and weeks after the attack, what stands out to you most? 

FB: In the 20 years since the attack, I see that our nation is fractured. After the attack, we were united in our grief, our anger and our determination to rise from the ash. We were one people. If anything positive could come out of that infamous day, it was the unity of New Yorkers and the nation. We came together as human beings, united in our grief, working together. 

Many of SJSU’s students were born after September 11, 2021. What do you think would be most important for them to understand about that day as someone who lived through it firsthand? 

FB: I think the most important thing for our students to understand is the selfless sacrifice of the first responders. They saw people who needed help and ran toward danger. It is also important to understand that first responders are still losing their lives due to the toxins we breathed on that infamous day and the days after. To this date, more than 200 NYPD officers have succumbed to cancers caused by those toxins.

What does it mean to you to be one of several Spartans (including Captain Jason Dahl, ’80 Aeronautics Operations, who piloted United Flight 93, and Meta Mereday, ’84 Advertising) whose heroic actions saved lives on this tragic day in American history? 

FB: I am humbled to be among such an elite group. I also feel guilty about being recognized with these heroes. I survived when so many died, and that guilt will always be with me. 

Belcastro started with SJSU’s UPD in June 2008, as the Special Operations Lieutenant, in charge of Emergency Preparedness and Library Security. He was promoted to Captain at UPD in 2011.

What Do Recent Historic Heat Waves Mean for Us? A Q&A With SJSU Meteorologist and Climate Scientist Alison Bridger

The SJSU Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center truck overlooks the drought-stricken landscape of Coyote Valley on the outskirts of San José. More wildfires, severe droughts and extreme heat waves are all results of climate change. Photo: Robert C. Bain

Last month, temperatures in the Pacific Northwest reached historic and dangerous levels, like nothing the region has ever experienced before.

In fact, more than 100 Oregon residents died from heat-related illnesses during the record-shattering heat wave, which drove temperatures up to 117 degrees Fahrenheit in some parts of the state. Compare that to 12 hyperthermia deaths reported statewide between 2017 and 2019, according to CNN.

Parts of British Columbia hit 121 degrees Fahrenheit during the heat wave — the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada.

Alison Bridger, professor of meteorology and climate science

What should we make of this phenomenon? Alison Bridger, professor of meteorology and climate science at San José State, has some answers about why this extreme weather occurred in an area known for its cool climate — and how likely it is to happen again.

Q: We know the recent record-breaking heat in the Pacific Northwest was extremely dangerous. Can you give insight as to just how abnormal it is to see temperatures that high in that area?

AB: In the old days, when a high-temperature record got broken, it would be by 1 or 2 degrees. The Pacific Northwest heat dome was shattering records by as much as 10 degrees, which is why there was so much buzz.

It also remained very warm at night, providing little chance for anybody to cool down. Plus, it was in an area where few people use air conditioners — and stayed in place for days — so there was a lot of potential for heat stress, which is when the body can’t get rid of excess heat. As a result, there were many sudden deaths in the Pacific Northwest and in Western Canada.

One more thing is in the west, the highest temperatures tend to occur in July and August, not June.

Q: You used the term “heat dome.” Can you explain what that is and why it’s important?

AB: We meteorologists measure and pay attention to air pressure. In particular, we pay attention to areas where air pressure is higher or lower than average. Our weather is closely linked to whether we have a high- or low-pressure area over us.

Low pressure is associated with warm and cold fronts, clouds and rain — the kind where it rains all morning. High pressure areas are generally clear and dry with no clouds and no rain.

So a heat dome is an example of a high-pressure system — with clear skies, long days and the sun high in the sky. These are typical in the Southwest on really hot days in Death Valley, Las Vegas, Phoenix, etc. When they form, they can sometimes spread their influence further west and can even reach us at the coast, hence our Bay Area heat waves that occur one to three times a year.

We had another notable heat dome event this year, which was centered south and east of us and resulted in a temperature of 128 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley. This was a very strong heat dome and covered much of the west. We got over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in San Jose!

Q: How likely is it that we’ll see these temperatures again soon? Will this become a regular occurrence?

AB: I think so. Climate scientists have been warning about the impacts of climate change for decades, and here we are, seeing those predictions come true. More extreme heatwaves? Check. More rain in the Northeast? Check. More drought in the Southwest? Check. Melting ice caps? Check.

We might not see this type of occurrence every year, but it’s going to be more frequent and will likely occur again within the next five years. As we continue to add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, we will continue to warm, and new extreme events will continue to emerge.

Q: What kind of impact do higher than normal temperatures have on our environment?

AB: Here are some major impacts:

  1. Changes to growing seasons — but if there’s less or no water for irrigation, that won’t matter.
  2. Less snow in the mountains, hence less water in reservoirs for western cities.
    More electrical demand for AC.
  3. Drier forests (trees and vegetation dry out more rapidly after rains due to warmer temperatures), leading to more wildfires.
  4. Animals that live in the mountains are being forced uphill to cooler areas. But when they reach the top, then what?
  5. I’ll bet there’s a human stress impact. People have been told for decades that climate change is coming, and now it’s obviously here, and we’re not doing anything. I know I’m stressed!

Q: Is there any hope that we can make improvements and possibly limit this in the future? If so, what needs to happen?

AB: If we were to suddenly stop adding more greenhouse gases and our carbon dioxide levels become stable, I think the atmosphere would continue to change for maybe 10 to 20 years due to its inertia. Then in 20 years, say, things would settle down to a “new normal,” which would be warmer, but we could start to deal with the consequences.

But, if we wait another 20 years and keep adding greenhouse gases, and then do the above, we’ll be at a warmer new normal, with more impacts that are more extreme and more widespread.

One way we could tackle this is to move faster on colonizing the moon and Mars, so we have an escape hatch. Or, we could work to fix this by moving much faster on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This has to be a global effort, but we in the U.S. can get started regardless.

Let’s generate more solar, wind and tidal energy; do a better job on battery storage; do a better job on power transmission; and use smart devices to use less energy. And let’s provide serious incentives for getting these big tasks done.

Learn more about the SJSU Department of Meteorology and Climate Science.

How To Do Your Part During One of California’s Worst Droughts Yet

Recycled water sign at SJSU

San José State uses recycled water as part of its irrigation system. Photo: David Schmitz

California is in the middle of a severe drought that keeps getting worse.

Last month, the Santa Clara Valley Water district board declared a water shortage emergency, urging the community to conserve water by 15 percent compared to 2019 levels. In May, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency in 41 counties.

Editor’s note: On July 8, Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded the drought emergency to 50 counties and asked all Californians to cut water usage by 15 percent compared to 2020 levels.

The drought is accelerating faster than those of previous years, which can cause more wildfires that spread faster and quickly decimate wildlife habitats, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Climate change may be one of the reasons this drought arrived so soon after the last one, which lasted from 2011 to 2017, said Katherine Cushing, professor of environmental studies at San José State, in a recent ABC News report.

“It’s not just about people conserving water in their homes,” she said in the report. “It’s also about agencies thinking strategically about how to amplify the use of non-conventional water sources like recycled water.”

Unfortunately, she added, more frequent and more severe droughts could be our “new normal.”

Three things you can do, starting today

Katherine Cushing, professor of environmental studies at San José State

Katherine Cushing, professor of environmental studies at San José State. Photo: David Schmitz

To get through this emergency — and help address the bigger, long-term issue of water conservation — we all need to pitch in. Cushing provided three ways we can join the collective effort to conserve our state’s water. Here’s how you can help:

1. Make changes — both big and small — to your everyday habits.

There are lots of easy things to do: take shorter showers, turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth, only run the dishwasher when full. And those things make a difference, Cushing said.

Or, “the average person flushes the toilet five to seven times per day,” she explained. “If you could reduce that to four to six times, that’s a big improvement.”

When it comes to making bigger, more lasting changes, Cushing advises looking outside.

About half of the water the average household uses is for watering outdoors, Cushing pointed out. She suggested collecting rainwater to use for watering your yard.

If you have a spare $200, you could also turn your used laundry water into an irrigation system. Installing a laundry-to-landscape system can be done without a permit and just requires a plumber to route the used water to your outdoor plants. (Note: If you live in Santa Clara County, you could qualify for a rebate if you install this system.)

Or, you might reevaluate your landscaping altogether.

“Even if we’re not in a drought, the average rainfall for San Jose is 17 inches a year. That doesn’t really go with having a huge green lawn in your front or back yard.

“A lot of the water providers and government agencies are offering incentives to homeowners to convert their lawns to drought-tolerant or native landscaping. And that kind of landscaping is beautiful; it’s designed by nature to thrive in this area. It doesn’t need any water in the summer.”

2. Brace yourself for restriction mandates and follow them.

Restrictions are a crucial part of addressing the water shortage crisis. The state is trying to avoid overtaxing its groundwater supply, Cushing explained, because that can cause subsidence, which is gradual sinking or caving of the landscape. That can impact the structural integrity of buildings, causing salt water to infiltrate groundwater and increase flood risk, she noted.

Restrictions vary by county, and most include limits on watering outdoor landscape. Take a look at restrictions and advisements in your area.

In the face of extreme drought, “you have major crop or pasture losses, so there are significant impacts to the agricultural industry,” Cushing explained. “This drought rivals the dryness we saw in the 1970s, during a very, very severe drought for California. This could be a really bad one, and we don’t know how long it will last.”

3. Look out for future policy and infrastructure changes.

While there are natural fluctuations in precipitation levels, the fact that this drought arrived less than five years after the state’s longest dry spell, which started in 2011 and ended in 2017, is concerning.

“It’s an impact of climate change,” she said. “We’re entering a time where more severe droughts, floods and wildfires are going to occur more frequently, and there’s a higher risk that they’ll be more severe.”

The state needs to be looking for ways to introduce recycled water into its agriculture systems, Cushing said. Construction codes also need to change, so water is used more than once where possible.

“We need to make water conservation and water use a priority,” she added. “It’s an exciting time to think about what we can do, and since we’re in California, in Silicon Valley, we’re in the hotbed of innovation. We are poised to be leaders in this area.”

Learn more about how SJSU’s Office of Sustainability is working to use water more efficiently.

SJSU’s Thalia Anagnos Named a YWCA Tribute to Women Honoree

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Thalia Anagnos.

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Thalia Anagnos in action in the classroom. Photo: David Schmitz

Thalia Anagnos, San José State University’s vice provost for undergraduate education, has been named a Tribute to Women Award winner by the YWCA Golden Gate Silicon Valley.

Anagnos is part of a select group of more than 40 emerging and executive women honorees who were celebrated at their 37th annual awards ceremony in May. The recipients, according to the YWCA’s recent press release, “have excelled in their fields and have made significant contributions to Silicon Valley through their dedication and leadership.”

“We’re so excited to recognize the 43 honorees who have been selected to receive the Tribute to Women Award this year,” said Adriana Caldera Boroffice, Interim CEO, YWCA Golden Gate Silicon Valley.

Borroffice added that celebrating these women this year is particularly special, in light of the distinct challenges “women — especially mothers, senior-level and BIPOC women — have been experiencing” during COVID-19 and the “fortitude and resilience” they showed through it all.

The Tribute to Women Awards has recognized more than 1,400 women for their remarkable achievements at work and in their communities.

“Thalia’s passion, work and impact over the years provide a model for women leaders in higher education, whose obligation is to pay it forward for upcoming generations,” said President Mary Papazian. “Working quietly and behind the scenes, she has been instrumental in the education, training and success of countless California students, many of whom have gone on to add their own valuable contributions to our communities. I can think of no one more deserving than Thalia for this year’s YWCA Tribute to Women Award.”

“I was really honored that the president nominated me,” said Anagnos. “YWCA organized a meet-and-greet with some of the other women who were nominated, and we had a lot of commonalities in terms of professional experiences and volunteer activities; it was fun to connect with them and talk about their paths, too.”

Anagnos started at San José State as a general education advisor and assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering and taught for more than 30 years before her transition to administration. Over time, she has been involved with numerous committees and held a variety of other roles, including chair of the civil and environmental engineering department, SJSU’s first director of assessment, associate vice president of graduate and undergraduate programs and, currently, as vice provost for undergraduate education.

Presently, she oversees curriculum development and assessment of general education and undergraduate programs, as well as SJSU’s articulation agreements with the state of California’s community college system. She also supervises the university’s accreditation, academic program catalog, academic scheduling and e-advising, and coordinates some student success programs.

“Being a member of SJSU all these years has been really fun because of the variety of opportunities that working at a university provides such as research, teaching, working with the community, collaborating with other universities and mentoring students and colleagues,” said Anagnos.

The strong roots she’s built at the university over time have made all the difference in the impact she’s been able to make in leadership and directly with students.

“Having those relationships with people across campus has helped me to do the work I need to do — and learn what I need to know to help me change and grow,” she added.

Read the full story of Anagnos’ impact on SJSU here.

Valerie Coleman Morris Receives Honorary Doctorate from SJSU

SJSU conferred an honorary doctorate degree to alumna and trailblazing journalist Valerie D. Coleman Morris, ‘68 Journalism, as part of the university’s celebration of the Class of 2021 on Wednesday, May 26. 

Coleman Morris served as a reporter for the university student newspaper “Spartan Daily” during her time at SJSU, covering significant campus events such as the Dow Chemical protests and the Black Power salute by Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympic Games.

Coleman Morris went on to become a broadcast journalist in San Francisco and Los Angeles and also created and narrated the CBS network radio show “With the Family in Mind.” In 1996, Coleman Morris joined CNN, and in 2011, she published the book “It’s Your Money So Take It Personally.” 

Coleman Morris has three California Emmy awards and was a major contributor to KCBS radio’s Peabody Award team coverage as co-anchor following the 1989 Loma Prieto earthquake. Other awards she’s received include Black Woman of the Year and Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting from American Woman in Radio and TV. 

During her speech to the graduating class, Coleman Morris spoke about her love of threes and how it has played a role continuously throughout her life before imparting this wisdom on SJSU’s newest alumni:

“Congratulations to each member of the class of 2021. I leave with this thought: My late father and his regularly repeated lesson about looking in the rear view mirror. It’s important to do, he’d tell me. Glancing in the rearview mirror reminds you where you’ve come from. 

“And then dad would pose the question, and then he would also pose the answer and say, ‘What happens if you look in the rearview mirror for too long or too often?’ The answer: You won’t know what you run into. I need to explain, my dad was not talking about having an accident. He was talking about running past opportunities that were right in front of you. 

“Graduates, for each of your rearview mirror memories or realities, always hear you say, I am looking forward.”

View Coleman Morris’ entire speech above.

Spartan Gold Standard: Remembering Lee Evans (1947-2021)

Above: Watch NBC’s TODAY segment “A Life Well Lived” on Lee Evans that aired Sunday, May 23, 2021.

Editor’s Note: This story originally ran on the SJSU Athletics website.

Best known as a 1968 two-time Mexico City Olympic Games track and field champion, Lee Evans, ’70 Physical Education (1947-2021) died at age 74 in Nigeria.

At 21 years old, the Madera, Calif., native was a pillar of San José State’s world-renowned brand known as “Speed City.” As a slender 158-pound college student by his own admission, he won gold medals in the men’s 400 meters and the men’s 4×400 meter relay at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games in world and Olympic Games record-setting times. Mr. Evans is the university’s first and only two-time Olympic Games gold medal winner.

Lee Evans was the first person to run 400 meters under 44.0 seconds with his winning time of 43.86. And, Mr. Evans ran the anchor leg of the victorious USA 4×400 relay team that crossed the finish line with a clocking of 2:56.16. The gold-medal winning 400-meter time remained a world record until 1988 and the 4×400 relay world mark stood until 1992.

Lee Evans with coach Bud Winter

Lee Evans (right) with coach Lloyd (Bud) Winter. Courtesy: SJSU Athletics

The winning performances were in the shadow of controversy. Evans had considered withdrawing from Olympic competition following San José State and USA teammates Tommie Smith and John Carlos were expelled from the Olympic Village. After Smith won the men’s 200-meter dash with Carlos finishing third, both athletes raised a clenched fist in the air during the victory stand ceremony. Approaching the victory stand following his 400-meter victory, Mr. Evans, silver medalist Larry James and bronze medalist Ron Freeman wore black berets as their sign of support for the Olympic Project for Human Rights.

For his gold medal-winning performances, he was named Track & Field News’ U.S. College Athlete of the Year. From 1966 through 1968 and again in 1970, he was ranked #1 in the world in the 400 meters by Track & Field News. Mr. Evans also was ranked in the top-10 in the 400 by Track and Field News in 1969 (second), 1971 (ninth) and 1972 (third).

The 1970 San José State graduate was captain of the Spartans’ 1969 team that won the NCAA Division I Men’s Outdoor Track and Field championship in Knoxville, Tenn. While at San José State, Mr. Evans also was a member of the Spartans’ 1967 world-record-setting 880-yard relay team that included Tommie Smith, Ken Shackelford and Bob Talmadge.

Editor’s Note: Watch SJSU’s profile of the SJSU Speed City legacy

“Social Justice Advocate”

His track and field notoriety runs parallel to his humanitarian contributions in the United States and, particularly, in the African continent.

According to Dr. Harry Edwards, the founder of the Olympic Project for Human Rights and San José State graduate, “Lee Evans was one of the greatest athletes and social justice advocates in an era that produced a generation of such courageous, committed, and contributing athlete-activists.

“He was an originating founder and advocate of the Olympic Project for Human Rights and what evolved in the late 1960’s into an all-out revolt among Black athletes over issues of injustice and inequality both within and beyond the sports arena. In no small measure, today’s athletes can stand taller, see farther and more clearly, and reach higher in pursuit of achievement and change in both sport and society because they stand on the shoulders of GIANTS such as Lee Evans.”

From left to right: Ken Noel, Tommie Smith, Lee Evans, Harry Edwards, San José State student body president James Edwards.

1967 – The Olympic Project for Human Rights first/organizing meeting. From left to right: Ken Noel, Tommie Smith, Lee Evans, Harry Edwards, San José State student body president James Edwards. Courtesy: Dr. Harry Edwards

Mr. Evans shared his knowledge and experiences in track and field with interested parties of all ages domestically and internationally.  There were college coaching appointments at San José State, the University of Washington, and the University of South Alabama.

He served as the director of athletics for Special Olympics International from 1988 to 1990. Evans provided technical assistance to Special Olympics programs in the United States, its territories and 90 countries around the world.

The United States Information Service (U.S.I.S.) agency appointed Mr. Evans as a track and field clinician for Sports America as a leader of coaching clinics throughout the world, particularly, in developing countries.

Editor’s Note: Read the 2018 Washington Square feature on Lee Evans

The Humanitarian – Nelson Mandela Award Recipient

A Fulbright Scholar, Mr. Evans spent much of his post-competitive life on the African continent as a track and field coach and a humanitarian. He was a professor of biomechanics at the Cameroon National Institute of Youth and Sports and an associate professor of physical education at the University of Ife in Nigeria.

Mr. Evans coached the national track and field teams of Qatar, Cameroon and Nigeria.

In 1991, he was a recipient of a Nelson Mandela Award given to those who “…stood for the values of equality and friendship and respect of human rights, against apartheid and any form of racism.” In the 1980’s, Mr. Evans was focused on the Madagascar Project which included providing a fresh water supply, power, and electricity; creating economic self-sufficiency through profitable cash crop farming; improving the transportation system; and access to medical care.

Lee Evans in 2016

Lee Evans at a Hall of Fame banquet in 2016. Evans won two gold medals at the 1968 Olympics. Courtesy: SJSU Athletics

More Honors

A member of the San José State Hall of Fame, he also is enshrined in the United States Olympic Hall of Fame, U.S.A. Track and Field Hall of Fame, the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, the city of San Jose Sports Hall of Fame, and the African American Athletes Hall of Fame. Mr. Evans also was a 1994 recipient of a NCAA Silver Anniversary Award honoring exceptional student-athletes for their life’s work 25 years after completing a college career.

“The first time I walked into the old gym at SJSU as an undergraduate, I learned of the legend of Lee Evans,” said Marcos Breton (Class of 1986, journalism) and a Sacramento Bee columnist. “The records of Mr. Evans were emblazoned on the wall along with Tommie Smith, John Carlos and other world class sprinters and Olympic champions who were Spartans. His Olympic gold medal will always be a source of pride for all Spartans. I’m honored to have met a kind and truly humble man and like many, I’ll never forget the grace with which Lee Evans represented his country and our university.”

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.

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 Yanet 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: Yanet 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.

Yanet 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.”

Making an Impact on Earth Day and Beyond: A Conversation with Climate Scientist Eugene Cordero

Eugene Cordero and the Green Ninja

Eugene Cordero is a climate scientist and professor in the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science. He is also the founder and director of the Green Ninja Project, an educational initiative that supports teachers and students with digital media and curricula designed around climate science and solutions. Photo: David Schmitz

We’re big fans of Earth Day here at San José State. After all, the founder of the annual celebration is a Spartan. So we’re looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint on April 22 and beyond.

Eugene Cordero — SJSU professor of meteorology and climate science and fellow Earth advocate — has some great ideas for how we can all make a difference in protecting our environment. Whether it’s opting for chicken instead of carne asada on his burrito or choosing a bicycle as a primary mode of transportation, Cordero stresses that even the smallest changes can make a difference.

But there are ways to make a big impact, too, Cordero says — through the power of education.

Cordero’s research published last year found that students who enrolled in a university course that educated them on ways to reduce their carbon footprint adopted environmentally friendly practices that they kept for years down the line. Cordero is also the creator of Green Ninja, a comprehensive curriculum that uses solutions to environmental problems as a framework for teaching science and engineering to middle school students.

He wants to see education about protecting the environment more widely adopted — both at the university level and as early as middle school. We asked Cordero about the wider implications of his research and how we can all be Earth advocates — on Earth Day and beyond.

Last year, you published research that illustrated the impact universities can have on climate change through education. What surprised you most about your findings?

Eugene Cordero (EC): I was actually quite surprised to see how the course really had an impact on students, even many years later. The data that we collected and the stories we heard from alumni demonstrated that educational experiences, if well-designed, can have a lasting impact on students’ lives.

The study centered around one two-semester course at San José State, Global Climate Change I and II. What about this course sets itself apart?

EC: We identified three elements in the course that stood out as significant contributors to the lasting impact it had.

First, it made climate change personal, helping students understand how climate change was relevant to their personal and professional lives.

Second, it provided empowerment opportunities: Students developed projects where they created their own local solutions to climate change.

And third, it encouraged empathy for the environment — creating opportunities for students to observe and connect with living things.

The course also had a unique format as it was taught over a year (six units in the first semester, three units in the second) and used an interdisciplinary approach with three faculty from different departments team-teaching the course.

You have said it’s important to bring this type of education to a younger audience. What impact could that have?

EC: Our analysis suggests that this type of education, if scaled appropriately, could be as important in reducing carbon emissions as rooftop solar panels or electric vehicles. So for us, the big take-home message from this research is that climate-action plans need to include education as part of the strategies being used to reduce carbon emissions.

Are there other SJSU courses or programs you’d recommend for a student who wants to learn more about reducing their carbon footprint?

EC: SJSU has a lot of amazing courses where students can learn about the environment and what we can do to support a more sustainable world. These range from the courses we offer in our Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, to courses in Environmental Studies, Public Health and even Business. Students could take a look at this listing from our Office of Sustainability as a starting point.

Can you share about other ongoing or upcoming research?

EC: Our research program continues to look for innovative ways to educate and empower our youth in the area of climate and environmental solutions. We recently completed a study where students used data from their smartphone to coach drivers in their family towards more energy efficient driving behaviors, such as reducing driving speed and reducing the frequency of hard accelerations and hard brakes.

In the past, you’ve emphasized that our food choices can help reduce our carbon footprint. We love your example of the difference in carbon emissions when ordering chicken instead of beef in a burrito. Are there other ways the food we eat can make a difference?

EC: I think food choices are a great way to think about our personal carbon footprint since we have a lot of control over what we eat. We don’t always get the opportunity to purchase a new car or choose how to power our homes, but we typically get the chance to choose what we eat every day, and these choices can make a really large impact on our personal carbon footprint.

For example, choosing a diet lower in red meat and dairy can reduce our carbon footprint a similar amount as switching to a very fuel efficient vehicle. I also find learning about food — how it’s grown and the social and environmental impacts — to be fascinating!

We are seeing more effects of climate change every day. Standing up for the environment can sometimes feel like fighting a winless battle. Is there anything we can do to really make an impact as individuals?

EC: I understand that it’s a huge problem, and many of us feel helpless to make any real change. But I’d like to encourage people to believe in their power to create change, and just start.

Writing a persuasive letter to a lawmaker, attending a city council or school board meeting, getting involved in a local group that supports the environment — these are all ways we can get involved to make a difference. We can’t just sit on the sidelines and expect things to get better, we need more folks involved in advocating for and creating change.

I think if we do this, we can stop climate change, and we can make real progress towards a more equitable and habitable planet.

We also hear a lot of bad news or about how bad things can happen if we don’t make change fast. Is there any good news out there?

EC: There are a lot of committed people and groups working on climate change, but for me, the really good recent news is the U.S. government appears to be finally taking climate change seriously. We need individuals pushing for change, but having the government open to such changes is really a game changer.

What, if any, impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on fighting climate change?

EC: I believe the pandemic has demonstrated that technology can help us connect in ways that can reduce our need to travel as much as we did in the past. Do we need to attend a physical workplace every day? Do we need to attend every conference physically, or could a remote meeting accomplish similar outcomes in some cases?

Certainly, there have been reductions in transportation-related carbon emissions as a result of the pandemic, and moving forward, this experience now offers us more options for how and when we do travel for work in the future.

What has the pandemic taught us about the impact we can have as individuals when a big issue faces us collectively?

EC: For me, it was amazing to see how science and policy worked together so quickly to create solutions to the pandemic. It didn’t go perfectly for sure, but having a vaccine out within a year and already distributed to hundreds of millions of people is really amazing.

If we can develop a similar focus on climate change, we can absolutely respond to climate change.

Want to learn more about Cordero’s research? Take a look at One Carbon Footprint at a Time, a documentary that highlights his findings.

New SJSU Performance “Alone Together” Explores Life During the COVID-Era at the Hammer Theatre April 24

When Elisha Miranda, chair of San José State’s Film and Theatre Department, saw Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Kirsten Brandt at the Hammer Theatre Center for the first time in more than a year, she felt like crying. Though they had collaborated closely on many creative projects over the past year, they had yet to work together face-to-face. 

They came together in person in March 2021 to collaborate on “Alone Together,” a series of plays and monologues written during and about the pandemic. The production is the department’s first in-person performance on the Hammer stage, which will be performed by SJSU actors and livestreamed by Film and Theatre Lecturer Christine Guzzetta, ’86 Radio, Television, Video and Film (RTVF). 

“COVID is a universal issue, though it has impacted different communities in different ways,” said Miranda, who is the show’s co-producer with Barnaby Dallas, SJSU’s director of production for film and theatre.

“Even with our students in “Alone Together,” COVID has become the universal fulcrum that ties us all together and makes us stronger storytellers, more accountable educators and artists.” 

"Alone Together" at the Hammer Theater.

SJSU students rehearse “Alone Together” on the Hammer Theatre Center stage. Photo by Oluchi Nwokocha.

Film and Theatre Lecturer Oluchi Nwokocha, ’12 Theatre Arts, is directing the evening, which features eight short plays and monologues written by professional and distinguished playwrights who were commissioned by UC Santa Barbara’s LAUNCH PAD program in spring 2020: Jami Brandi, Anne García-Romero, Lynn Rosen, Enid Graham, Brian Otaño and Arlene Hutton.

“‘Alone Together’ deals with all the emotions that we have been going through during this time, either with our partners or with ourselves, friends or family,” said Nwokocha. 

“It’s very funny. I think it’s actually pretty cathartic.” 

“With so much death and so much decay happening in the world, knowing that we can create art out of this has been really important,” said Brandt, who is the play’s artistic director. 

Because the plays were written during the pandemic, stage directions recognize the need for actors to socially distance themselves on stage. Most of the pieces are performed by one or two actors to allow them to stay six feet apart. 

In addition, cast and crew are required to comply with strict COVID-19 protocols inside the theater. 

Performing pandemic challenges in real time

Nayeli Roman in "Alone Together"

Nayeli Roman is one of the SJSU students performing in “Alone Together” on April 24.

For Nayeli Roman, ’24 RTVF, “Alone Together” is her first time performing at the Hammer—and her first time performing beyond the confines of her computer screen in over a year. 

During her first semester at SJSU, she performed in “Betty’s Garage,” a radio play adapted by Miranda, and co-wrote a play inspired by folk tales that was produced remotely as part of Brandt’s fall show, “Mementos: Tales for a New Century.” The first time she approached the Hammer Theatre Center in person to buzz inside and rehearse, Roman filmed her entrance on her cell phone—it was that surreal, she recalled.

“All of our creativity is heightened because we are trying to recreate how we perform theater,” said Roman, who plays lead characters in two of the short plays. 

“It was wonderful to see how the sets were built, how our director Oluchi has directed our movements. It almost feels like we’re not doing it all on purpose to keep each other safe. After a year of not being able to perform in person, it reminded me of how much I love theater—the lighting, the excitement, the collaboration. It’s almost indescribable.”

The monologues and vignettes tackle the plight of essential workers, the anxiety and angst of living through a pandemic and even the humor of the unexpected. For example, in “Neither Here Nor There,” Roman plays Katie, an undergraduate in Florida who tries to catch up with her college roommate over Zoom and discovers just how different their lives are. 

The magic of “Alone Together,” Roman said, is the opportunity to inhabit characters who are living through many of the same experiences that she has as a college freshman making the most of school during a global pandemic. 

“‘Alone Together’ not only expresses how the pandemic has become a setback to society but how it is opening new doors to the future,” said Roman. 

“It is teaching us important lessons—reminding us not to take things for granted. This is the beginning of our new normal.”

“Alone Together” is being livestreamed from the Hammer at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 24. 

Tickets are free for students and $10 for general admission. 

To learn more, visit hammertheatre.com/events-list.

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.

 

Elaine Roche Wins Family of the Year Award at the 2021 Parent and Family Weekend

When Elaine Roche tuned in to watch the closing ceremony of the San José State’s 2021 Parent and Family Weekend, she did so at the invitation of her friend Whitney Albright, ’21 Communication Studies. Little did Roche know, she was about to win the Family of the Year Award during the live virtual event, held March 7 in front of 60 other Spartan families. 

Elaine Roche.

Elaine Roche is the 2021 recipient of the Family of the Year Award. Photo courtesy of Whitney Albright.

“I’m overwhelmed and humbled that Whitney nominated our family for this award,” said Roche. “When I think about what she has been able to accomplish with her pure heart and determination, I am truly amazed. The road to success is often littered with obstacles; yet while many others would have given up and turned around, Whitney persevered and managed to turn her dreams into a reality.” 

The two women met through Roche’s son Kevin, who worked with Albright for the San José Giants before Albright moved to southern California. Roche describes Albright as positive, enthusiastic, hardworking and dedicated—a kindred spirit. 

Albright had struggled to support herself, and occasionally her mother, as a student at CSU Fullerton. Her living conditions worsened when the pandemic started in spring 2020—she often had to camp out at Starbucks to access online classes. 

Roche offered her the use of her late mother’s house rent-free, making it possible for Albright to transfer to San José State to safely complete her degree.

It is incredibly humbling to recognize family members like Elaine because they do not expect recognition for the support and love they give,” said Rigoberto Flores, ’14 BA, ’17 MA, Communication Studies, program director of SJSU’s New Student and Family Programs office. 

The Parent or Family of the Year Award was established in 2019 to offer a platform for students to recognize their family or community members who help them achieve their educational goals. 

“People like Elaine receive this recognition by seeing their student succeed and one day walking the stage on graduation day,” said Flores. “We feel incredibly fortunate to be in a position where we can let our Spartan families know that we see them and truly appreciate them for all that they do.” 

Whitney Albright

Whitney Albright, ’21 Communication Studies, nominated Elaine Roche for the Family of the Year Award. Photo courtesy of Whitney Albright.

“I knew that I could never give back what she’s given to me, so this award was a very special way to show her my appreciation for all that she’s done,” said Albright. “They started to read what I had written about her, and she just looked at me and started to cry.”

“Elaine was kind enough to take me in and provide me with everything I needed to be successful in school,” Albright wrote in her nomination, which she submitted to the Office of New Student and Family Programs in early March. 

“I seriously would not have been able to be as successful, or honestly be able to attend school, if it wasn’t for the kindness and generosity of Elaine Roche.” 

Roche’s kindness reinforced Albright’s motivation to study hard, complete her degree and pursue her aspirations to work in entertainment, either as a performer or as a communications professional for a streaming services company.

“Elaine has given me so much, and all that she asks in return is that I enjoy my college experience and earn my degree,” wrote Albright. 

“Elaine’s mother, Mary Lee, is an SJSU alumna, and I am currently living in her house. I want to make Mary Lee and Elaine proud. The least I can do for her is get the best grades I possibly can, take advantage of opportunities that come with attending San José State University, and graduate.”

Alumna Olive Burata Coauthors Scientific Article on Multidrug-Resistance Transporters

Olive Burata.

Olive Burata.

On November 27, Nature Communications published a scientific article coauthored by Olive Burata, ’14 BS, ’18 MS, Biochemistry. The article, entitled “The structural basis of promiscuity in small multidrug resistance transporters,” studies the small drug resistance (SMR) family, which contain protein drug exporters that help bacteria become resistant to toxic chemicals. Burata, a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan, said the publication demonstrates how scientists can unlock how SMR proteins work to help bacteria survive in the presence of antibiotics, antiseptics or disinfectant. The study provided the first high-resolution image of one of the protein members of this family that will allow scientists to study the protein in very close detail.

High-resolution structure of Gdx-Clo, a protein member of the small multidrug resistance family that has given bacteria resistance against antibiotics, antiseptics, and disinfectants. Image courtesy of Olive Burata.

“This publication really brought together all the multidisciplinary scientific training I have obtained from my two mentors: Dr. Alberto Rascón from SJSU and Dr. Randy Stockbridge from the University of Michigan,” said Burata. “Both skills and techniques that I have learned from each of their labs have significantly contributed to my rapid understanding of this work. Although early in my career, this work alone has already encompassed skills I have learned as a biochemist, biophysicist, structural biologist, microbiologist and organic chemist.”

Burata said the multidrug-resistance bacteria research could have a big impact on one of the biggest side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic—that is, the increasing amounts of resistance bacteria being produced. As people increasingly rely on disinfectants and antiseptic products like hand sanitizers, 70 percent alcohol and Lysol and bleach products, they are not only killing any COVID-19 viral particles but also exposing the bacteria to the products, “giving them ample opportunities to become resistant to them—a double-edged sword.” As a member of Rascón’s lab at San José State, she studied enzymes called proteases that are similar to the ones associated with causing viral pneumonia as a result of COVID-19 infection.

“There are a lot of labs right now trying to find ways to make these enzymes force the virus to be less deadly,” she said, adding that her experience in Rascón’s lab introduced her to enzymology and ignited a passion for learning. “Six years ago, Dr. Rascón first introduced his research work on mosquito protease enzymology during the first day of class in my last semester of undergrad. I fell in love with how amazing enzymology was and its simple application in helping human lives. I had no research experience, my grades were mediocre, nor did I have any plans after graduating, but I immediately reached out to Dr. Rascón on that same day to ask if I could join his lab. I became a different person that day with a strong sense of determination. My pre-undergrad self would have never imagined coming this far (2,000 miles from California) in pursuing my passion and having constant support from my mentors, family and friends.”

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.”

 

SJSU Alumnus and Artist Titus Kaphar’s Work Featured on Time Magazine Cover

A Black mother with her eyes closed and eyebrows furrowed, holds a white cut out of her baby. Her hand below the baby is blue.

Cover of June 15, 2020, issue of Time, featuring Analogous Colors (2020) by Titus Kaphar. Artwork © Titus Kaphar.

For its June 15, 2020, cover on the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd, Time turned to Titus Kaphar, ’01 BFA Art/Pictorial Arts. The cover features Analogous Colors (2020).

To accompany the cover, Kaphar wrote “I Cannot Sell You This Painting,” which also appeared in Time.

A 2018 MacArthur Fellow, Kaphar says art can be used to shift perspectives and sees painting as a language that offers diverse perspectives on history, justice and change.

Read a Spring/Summer 2019 Washington Square alumni profile on Kaphar.

 

2020 Graduates Reflect on their Time at SJSU

As the unique and challenging spring 2020 semester comes to a close, some of the resilient members of SJSU’s graduating class reflect on their time at SJSU, achievements and plans for the future.

Tram Phan, ’20 Chemical Engineering

Tram PhanTram Phan’s family in Vietnam was about to fly to a different city to get visas sponsored when they learned the SJSU spring commencement ceremony is postponed for the graduating class of 2020. The news broke their hearts, as well as Phan’s.

“I know a lot of people get a degree in the U.S., but for international students, it’s a big event, much bigger,” Phan said.

During four years away from home, Phan has grown out of her shyness. She credits the San Jose State’s diverse community for helping her open up to the unknown. Today, she has more friends than she could imagine, but regrets not being able to share the culminating moments of the journey together in person.

“They are all nerdy and funny, and I like that about them. I feel like I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to my friends; I didn’t realize I’d miss them that much,” Phan said, her eyes gleaming through the computer screen.

But Phan has been quick to measure the positive side of the picture. She appreciates the university offering graduates a choice to be a part of a future live commencement ceremony. The COVID-19-dominated spring semester has been an eye opener for her in terms of adapting to new skills and challenging environments. The transition from in-person classes to online instruction proved to be a harmonious experience for her.

“The online settings encouraged people to talk more freely in class. Even folks who were inherently shy shed their inhibitions and became more approachable,” Phan said.

The resilience Phan demonstrated during the global pandemic paid off for her. She received an unexpected job offer that has made her optimistic about the future.

“I wouldn’t have gotten to this point unless I believed in myself,” she said. “SJSU made me believe everything is possible.”

Eric Ortiz, ’20 MA History

Eric OrtizEric Ortiz went to school sporadically following his 1985 high school graduation. Three decades later, the war veteran has earned a master’s degree.

“In the military, if you quit, you die,” said Ortiz. “Even though it’s been difficult for me to go back to school at my age, I never gave up.”

Since Ortiz found it difficult to relate to students half his age, he viewed school as a place to attain a goal. But the department professors, he said, made his journey worthwhile. “I learned so much from all of them. I had the opportunity to study subjects like the French revolution, ancient Greek society in depth,” said Ortiz. “Professors Pickering, Roth and Hilde, and others brought them to life.”

Ortiz served the nation on three battlefields, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. While he’s reticent about broadcasting his Army experiences, Ortiz attributes his ability to cope with the ongoing stress of the global health pandemic to his military background.

“I found it easier to deal with the isolation surrounding COVID-19 than many of my fellow Spartans,” he said. The school’s move to online teaching didn’t bother Ortiz either. “It’s nothing new to me, having to do everything from a distance,” he said. “It didn’t bother me one bit.”

Channeling the Army principle of “hurry up and wait,” Ortiz focused his energy on research, developing arguments and preparing papers as the final semester drew to a close. Passionate about learning, Ortiz hopes his degree will open opportunities to teach history someday. His resilience shines through: “Yesterday is gone. We should work toward the future.”

Rachel Lee, ’20 BFA Graphic Design

Rachel LeeRachel Lee doesn’t dwell on the strangeness of her final SJSU semester. As online classes began to set in, seeing everyone on the screen became a routine she looked forward to. Looking back at her time at SJSU, Lee said there are two high points: a summer 2019 trip to Europe and her first design job.

During a three-week trip with her graphic design class, Lee traveled to eight countries including the UK, France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands. “We explored many cultures, visited art museums and historic landmarks, and we participated in workshops where we exhibited our work in Katowice and Warsaw, Poland,” said Lee.

The first design job in the College of Humanities and the Arts also remains her most cherished memory from her four years at SJSU. Lee’s work was featured in The Metro, on SJSU’s North Garage, and distributed across San Jose.

“I had the pleasure of working for H&A Marketing as a graphic designer,” said Lee. “It was a great experience working with other students, faculty and staff at Hammer Theatre.”

Originally from Vancouver, Washington, Lee was glad to hear the news about SJSU’s graduate recognition websites. She was also excited about her virtual, live senior exhibition show. Along with her friends, her family virtually took part in the celebrations.

Lee wants to touch people’s lives through her design. “I’ll try to incorporate social messaging into the work I do.” Spreading positivity, helping people, volunteering for a cause is what keeps this Spartan powered up.

Ezequiel Ramirez, ’20 Justice Studies

Ezequiel RamirezHaving lived his entire life in San Jose, Ezequiel Ramirez thought he knew all about his city until he joined San Jose State. The cultural perspectives of the people he met and interacted with at school were an awakening experience for him.

“I enjoyed meeting and interacting with people from different nationalities and also people who came from different walks of life,” said Ramirez. “The school brought in everything for me. Vocabulary, education, people, habits. I love it. I love the experience right now.”

Having worked in a nonprofit as part of an internship program helping at-risk youths, Ramirez now wants to continue working with community-based organizations and to use his degree for social change.

“I’m a first-generation graduate student, and I understand the struggle of people starting from the bottom and reaching to the top,” he said. “I worked countless hours without sleep on a lot of occasions, slept in my car from long days of work and school, also was homeless at a time, but made it, and I’m still making it. I’m about to graduate.”

Not only is Ramirez the first in his family to graduate from college, he’s also the first in his family to graduate from high school on time. Having lost his father at age 11, Ramirez’s determination and strength came from watching his mother raise three kids, his fraternal twin brother and an older sister.

“My mom has always put her ambitions on the back burner while putting us first,” he said. “With me graduating college this week, I want her to know all of her sacrifices and hard work have not been in vain.”

Ramirez had dreams of decorating his graduation cap as an honor to his mom, grandmother and the rest of his family—the Ramirez, Rodriguez and Garcia households. He calms himself with his take on the COVID-19 situation: “From pressure, diamonds are made.”

Saadatou Ahmad, ’20 Accounting and Information Systems

Saadatou AhmadIn Saadatou Ahmad’s home country of Cameroon, West Africa, education is a luxury. When she came to the United States with her husband 12 years ago, she set out to chart a new course.

“Back home education is not for the poor, but here it is so encouraging,” said Ahmad. “Here, I have the support system to be a first-generation student. ”

After a stint at a beauty school and working in a salon for four years, Ahmad transferred from a community college to San Jose State as she dreamed about the future for herself and her family. Wanting to set an example for her three children–between the ages five and ten–Ahmad brought her kids to school so often “they are now used to the school environment.”

Even when she was pregnant with her third child, Ahmad continued to make it to all classes, she said, because “I always feel if I miss a lecture, I will fall behind.”

The online spring semester at SJSU was troubling for Ahmad, who loves in-person classes. While she missed seeing and talking to her classmates and professors in person, Ahmad is not someone who gives up easily. She channeled all of her time and effort to carve out a better life for her family. She recently received a full-time job offer, but she also wants to pursue more education, possibly an MBA. Right now, Ahmad is overjoyed. Her bachelor’s degree has been a long time coming. And, she said, her daughter wants to go to San Jose State when she grows up.

SJSU Appoints Vice President for University Advancement and CEO of the Tower Foundation

New Vice President of University Advancement, Theresa Davis.

New Vice President for University Advancement and CEO of the Tower Foundation, Theresa Davis.

Theresa Davis has been appointed vice president for University Advancement and CEO of the Tower Foundation. She will join the San Jose State campus community on July 1, 2020.

“Theresa joins us at a pivotal moment in SJSU history, and we are delighted to have her on board,” said President Mary A. Papazian.

Davis brings an abundance of relevant experience to the position, including more than 25 years of management and fundraising work. Her background is broad and diverse, with campaign management, major gifts, corporate and foundation relations and annual giving among her areas of expertise.

Most recently, Davis has been serving as the assistant vice president of engagement and annual programs at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). In that role, she has had responsibility for Alumni Relations, the Caltech Associates, the Caltech Fund and Parents Program, and Campus Programs—which engages its local community in campus life.

Prior to working at Caltech, Davis was the associate vice president of college and program development at Cal State Fullerton. She had responsibility for the directors of development, who spearheaded fundraising efforts for each of the campus’s eight colleges and athletics department.

Davis previously served as the associate vice president of major and planned gifts at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), where she and her team secured financial support for medical specialties. Prior to that, she was campaign director for the California Science Center, served as senior director of development for the UCLA College, was director of development for the A. Gary Anderson Graduate School of Management at UC Riverside and held the roles of associate director of corporate relations and director of the alumni fund, both at Caltech.

Davis has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Arizona State University and a master’s in public administration from the University of Southern California.

Spartan Judo Legend Turns 100

On April 1, 1920, a pioneering judoka, coach, educator and leader was born to Japanese immigrants who worked in California’s Imperial Valley. Yoshihiro Uchida, ’47 Biological Sciences, ’04 Honorary Doctorate, started competing in the sport as a 10-year-old in Garden Grove, Calif., and years later brought judo to San Jose State as an engineering student, where he coached police students on the martial art. His education was interrupted by the U.S. Executive Order 90266, which forced thousands of Japanese Americans to live in internment and incarceration camps around the nation.

The former men’s gymnasium in the then-Spartan Complex West building was used as a registration center for Santa Clara County Japanese Americans before they were sent to internment camps during World War II. Uchida served in World War II while his family was interned in Poston and Tule Lake and returned to San Jose State in 1946 to complete his studies and resume coaching. He persuaded the Amateur Athletic Union to sanction judo in 1953, and San Jose State went on to win 51 out of 56 national championships under his leadership.

Uchida is credited with establishing a judo weight system to keep the sport safe and fair. He helped establish the Palo Alto and San Jose Buddhist Judo clubs. In 1997, the Spartan Complex West building was renamed Yoshihiro Uchida Hall in his honor and rededicated in 2014 following a renovation. A plaque was placed outside the gymnasium to denote its historic significance. In 2018, he was recognized for 70 years of service at San Jose State. Uchida has been awarded SJSU’s Tower Award and was inducted into the SJSU Legacy Hall of Fame and the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame, as well as the Order of the Sacred Treasure from the emperor of Japan.

Due in part to his advocacy, judo was introduced at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, where Uchida coached the first U.S. Olympic team. His proteges have gone on to claim world titles and Olympic medals. There have been 20 Olympians and four Olympic medals: 1984 silver medalist Bobby Berland, ’84 Marketing; 1988 silver medalist Kevin Asano, ’89 Accounting; 1988 bronze medalist Mike Swain, ’85 Marketing, and 2012 bronze medalist Marti Malloy, ’10 BS, ’15 MS, Mass Communications.

“Yosh Uchida is a legendary figure and an inspiration in so many ways,” said SJSU President Mary Papazian. “His commitment to excellence over the years is matched only by the commitment he has demonstrated to generations of students. He brought San Jose State to prominence when he brought judo to the Olympics in 1964, and he continues to this day to bring honor to our university.”

This April 1, San Jose State wishes a very happy centennial to Uchida, who is still coaching and educating into his second century. While in-person birthday festivities were originally planned in spring 2020, unfortunately they have been postponed due to COVID-19 health concerns. San Jose State encourages alumni, friends and fans of Uchida to share their favorite stories, anecdotes and memories of Uchida using the hashtag #SJSUYosh100.


 

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SJSU Alumni Develop Test for Rapid COVID-19 Results

Two San Jose State University alumni are part of the team that developed the first rapid COVID-19 test that delivers results in 45 minutes.

David Persing

David Persing, ’79 Biochemistry, is one of two SJSU alumni working at Cepheid to develop a COVID-19 diagnostic test. Photo: David Schmitz.

Dr. David Persing,‘79, Biochemistry, and Rich Nolasco, ‘08, Mechanical Engineering, work for Sunnyvale-based Cepheid. The molecular diagnostic testing company announced on March 21 that it has received emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its SAR-CoV-2 Xpert Xpress test. It is the first rapid COVID-19 test that can be administered at point-of-contact locations, such as hospitals, emergency rooms and urgent care centers, and delivers rapid results.

Persing is the executive vice president, chief medical and technology officer for Cepheid. He explains in this video how the COVID-19 rapid test works and why it’s so important.

Persing graduated from SJSU with a degree in biochemistry and then earned an MD-PhD in genetics. He founded the Mayo Clinic’s Molecular Microbiology Laboratory. Eventually, he left academia to focus on cancer and infectious diseases in the biotech industry. In an interview with Washington Square Magazine in 2019, Persing said “It was gratifying to treat one patient at a time, but I ultimately decided I needed to amplify the impact of my research and touch the lives of many people simultaneously.”

Richard Nolasco

Richard Nolasco, ’08 Mechanical Engineering, is a member of a team at Cepheid working on a COVID-19 diagnostic test. Photo: Courtesy of Rich Nolasco.

SJSU alumnus Rich Nolasco graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and works as a failure investigation engineer at Cepheid.

“When I joined the Cepheid team in late 2015, I knew that the company and my work directly affected lives around the world in a positive way,” said Nolasco. “When I found out that Cepheid was coming up with a test to detect the virus, I knew it would make a huge and positive impact.”

Cepheid expects to begin rolling out the COVID-19 rapid test at the end of March.

For Love of a Veteran: Grad Student Erin Cerasaro Inspired by Husband’s Service

Erin Cerasaro, left, works with Professor Elena Klaw on research to support veterans on transitioning to college. She was inspired to pursue a master's by her husband, a former Marine.

Erin Cerasaro, left, works with Professor Elena Klaw on research to support veterans on transitioning to college. She was inspired to pursue a master’s by her husband, a former Marine.

Erin Cerasaro is a graduate student who is part of the Research and Experimental Psychology program in the College of Social Sciences at San Jose State University. When she first moved to the Bay Area and started thinking about completing a graduate degree, she reached out to SJSU Psychology Professor Elena Klaw to volunteer in her research lab.

“I was trying to figure out how to go back to school and I needed another letter,” she said. “I reached out to several professors and Dr. Klaw gave me the opportunity to volunteer in her lab.”

Cerasaro had initially started a graduate program years before in Southern California, but she took a leave of absence. Her husband, a veteran who served as a Marine in Afghanistan, inspired her to again pursue a graduate degree.

“He was medically separated from the Marines because of a back injury,” she said. “A chiropractor saved his life and helped him to be capable of living his life again.”

Her husband decided to pursue a Doctor of Chiropractic degree and they moved from San Diego when he enrolled in a program in Northern California.

“I watched him to go school and saw how he was thriving,” Cerasaro said. “I saw how much it meant to him to help people and it made me want to do that as well.”

The psychology program at SJSU and Klaw’s research lab offered that opportunity. Klaw is the director of the Veterans Embracing Transition (VET) Connect Program, which focuses on developing best practices for serving military veterans in their pursuit of higher education.

“I’ve learned to do qualitative research and it has been inspiring to watch her work,” Cerasaro said of Klaw. “She’s always on the go and it’s amazing to watch her teach a class, run VET Connect, run her lab, and work on Students Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. It’s helped me see where I want to be when I graduate. I want to go on to get my PhD.”

Cerasaro continues to look to her husband for motivation.

“He has had issues with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and I’ve watched him overcome so many obstacles to get where he is today, to maintain and go beyond what is normal for him,” she said, adding, “Studying for hours, exercising to maintain his back and the things he does to maintain his mental health just truly is an inspiration.”