Immigrant Heritage Month: Serena Alexander

During Immigrant Heritage Month, San Jose State University will be telling stories of our students, faculty, staff and alumni who have unique and inspiring immigrant narratives to share. In addition, we will be highlighting our research, scholarship and creative activities that enhance our understanding of immigration and the contributions of immigrant populations to the fabric of SJSU’s campus community and society at large.

Serena Alexander, assistant professor of Urban and Regional Planning, is of Armenian descent and grew up in Iran.

Serena Alexander, assistant professor of Urban and Regional Planning, is of Armenian descent and grew up in Iran.

Serena Alexander is an assistant professor with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. She is of Armenian descent, but was born and raised in Iran.

“I immigrated to the U.S. in January 2009 with my family and resided in Los Angeles. I later moved to Ohio so that I could complete my doctoral studies,” she said. “I became a U.S. citizen in 2014. Coming back to California and starting an academic position was a dream come true. Aside from the fabulous weather, California’s diversity was a major draw for me.”

Alexander joined SJSU in August 2016 and her research focuses on strategies that communities can employ to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to adverse impacts of climate change. She is working with 23 cities in California to examine ways to reduce transportation emissions and build more resilient communities. She is also involved in analyzing the potential impacts of autonomous vehicles and shared mobility on transportation emissions, among other projects.

She said her immigration experience taught her she is stronger than she thought she was, especially when pushing herself outside her comfort zones; it taught her patience in pursuing goals; and to keep trying to achieve her dreams even when facing obstacles.

“I refuse to accept that my goals might be virtually impossible to reach, I convince myself that I have to work harder or be more creative,” she said.

Her heritage allows her to understand the importance of openness to racial, cultural and value diversity, and the role that building strong and connected communities can play in creating an inclusive environment. She ensures her classroom is an inclusive environment and her students are trained to lead strong and diverse communities effectively.

“Most immigrants want to fully integrate into their new society as quickly as possible, but they may not realize that their unique experiences can help them better solve the problems their families or communities encounter in the new context,” she said. “Maybe we can all encourage them to see a greater value in cultural differences and unique experiences.”

And, of course, she also has her favorite Armenian and Persian foods.

“I will never get tired of sweet but not overwhelming Armenian traditional pastries such as gata,” she said. “Persian food is particularly creative and very balanced but takes a long time to prepare. My favorite is fesenjan, a chicken stew with walnut and pomegranate sauce served over basmati rice.”

Spartans, reach out to us at communications@sjsu.edu if you would like to share your immigrant heritage stories.

Armenian Delegation Visits with SJSU and Tech Leaders

Mary Papazian, San JoseŽ State University President, greets Hakob Arshakyan, Armenia minister of high-technological industries, as she meets with local and Armenian tech leaders on campus May 29, 2019. (Photo: Jim Gensheimer)

Mary Papazian, San Jose State University President, greets Hakob Arshakyan, Armenia minister of high-technological industries, as she meets with local and Armenian tech leaders on campus May 29, 2019. (Photo: Jim Gensheimer)

San Jose State University leaders hosted officials from Armenia May 29 in efforts to further explore potential opportunities for partnerships in a place that was named by The Economist in December 2018 as its “country of the year.” The designation celebrates the country that has made the most progress in the past 12 months, and this year Armenia was recognized falling a peaceful revolution last spring that led to new leadership that is committed to “democracy and renewal.”

“It was great hosting a delegation from Armenia today,” said President Mary Papazian, who is herself the daughter of Armenian immigrants. “Their keen interest in entrepreneurship and industry intersects with SJSU’s strengths so we are actively seeking joint opportunities.”

College of Professional and Global Education Ruth Huard said the delegation comprised university educators, members of the Armenian ministry and leaders from private companies in high tech.

“At our university, we realize that in order to develop and grow—if SJSU wants to have a significant footprint in innovation and technology, we need all those three distinct groups to work together,” she said. “Armenia is poised and in an advantageous position where those three sectors – government, educational institutions, and private companies – are aligning.”

SJSU administrators and Silicon Valley technology leaders met with a delegation from Armenia that included government and university officials, and Armenian tech leaders on campus May 29, 2019. (Photo: Jim Gensheimer)

SJSU administrators and Silicon Valley technology leaders met with a delegation from Armenia that included government and university officials, and Armenian tech leaders on campus May 29, 2019. (Photo: Jim Gensheimer)

Following a revolution last year that ousted a long-time president from power, the new leadership in Armenia is looking for ways to move the economy forward, to develop their talent and allow the country to flourish. The visit on May 29 brought members of the new government including Hakob Arshakyan, minister of high-technological industries; Armen Baibourtian, consul general of Armenia in Los Angeles; Artur Grigoryan, assistant to the minister; Varazdat Pahlavuni, counselor for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who all expressed support for working with SJSU and Silicon Valley entities.

SJSU officials visited Armenia in spring 2018 for initial talks about potential partnership opportunities and Huard said some progress has already been made. Since then, university leaders from Armenia have visited SJSU to learn more about the STEM curriculum offered to students here.

“We had a cohort from one of their data sciences graduate programs visit our program and attend a couple classes,” Huard said. “They realized that we have relationships with industry partners who come and engage with our students and pose real-word problems to them. They are working on revising their curriculum to match ours.”

While Armenian universities have a strong background in teaching STEM fields and an intellectual capacity, they are hoping to learn from SJSU and Silicon Valley how to teach innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Our applied and experiential learning approach is what makes us the workforce engine for Silicon Valley,” Huard said. “These partnerships are mutually beneficial.”

SJSU administrators met with a delegation from Armenia that included government and university officials, and Armenian tech leaders on campus May 29, 2019. (Photo: Jim Gensheimer)

SJSU administrators met with a delegation from Armenia that included government and university officials, and Armenian tech leaders on campus May 29, 2019. (Photo: Jim Gensheimer)

During a working lunch, the government officials and CEOs from Armenia met with local technology leaders, SJSU deans, SJSU’s Vice President for Information Technology/Chief Information Officer Bob Lim and incoming Vice President for Research and Innovation Mohamed Abousalem.

“Having lunch with Minister Arshakyan was an incredible opportunity,” Lim said. “Technology industry executives from IBM, Logitech, and Plug and Play and more came to campus to meet with Armenia’s dignitaries and CEOs to build international connections. These kinds of partnerships create a new ecosystem for SJSU, investors, and technology industries in support of our students.”