A Remarkable Achievement: SJSU Celebrates the Graduating Class of 2021

Celebrating our 2021 Graduates with portraits of grads in the background.

We’re thrilled to congratulate our graduating class of 2021, who have shown incredible resilience, determination and grit during the COVID-19 pandemic, which spanned more than a year of their college experience.

Here are some of our extraordinary soon-to-be graduates, as shared by SJSU faculty from across disciplines, in alphabetical order: Robby Abarca, ’21 Communicative Disorders and Sciences; Diego Almaraz, ‘21 Industrial Design; Joshua Bevis, ‘21 Mechanical Engineering; Aliza Bolliger, ’21 Public Relations; Briena Brown, ’21 Sociology; Marc Aaron Casupanan, ’21 Graphic Design; Sabrina Cervantes, ’21 Justice Studies; Anie de la Rosa Clark, ’21 Master of Business Administration; Nicole Coates, ’21 MS Interdisciplinary Studies; Rachel Crawford, ’21 MFA Creative Writing; Briettny Curtner, ’21 MA Education, Counseling and Student Personnel; Zobeida Delgadillo, ‘21 Political Science; Zoe Dolak, ’21 Public Relations; Adam Elwailly, ’21 Electrical Engineering; Mateo Garcia De la Quintana, ’21 Advertising; Lydon George, Master in Urban Planning; Olivia Gerber, ’21 Political Science and Journalism; Anna Harvey, ’21 MS Transportation Management; Fatima Hassan, ‘21 Psychology; Bianca Hernandez, ’21 MA Sociology; Shruthi Kamath, ’21 Psychology; Jacob Lapinsky, ’21 History and Social Sciences; Vanndy Loth-Kumar, ’21 Doctor of Nursing Practice; Ben Newsome, ’21 MA History; Sabina Patel, ’21 Psychology; Steven Peck, ’21 Political Science; Andrea Perez, ‘21 Advertising; Abril Perez-Gonzaga, ‘21 Anthropology; Naromy Ramirez, ’21 MA Education, Special Education; Nick Randle, ’21 Graphic Design; Jasmine Marie Reyes, ’21 Music, Performance; Ralph Robinson, ’21 Master in Urban Planning; Leilani Saelaw, ’21 Kinesiology; Marc Adrian Narvadez Santos, ’21 English; Sabrina Shell, ‘21 Industrial Design; Kristina Smith, ’21 Child and Adolescent Development and Psychology; Juan Carlos Soliz, ’21 Behavioral Science; Ty Supreme, ’21 Microbiology; Amber Renee Sylva, ’21 MA English; Alice Tsvinev, ’21 Psychology; Narayani Tyagi, ’21 MS Physics; Brianna Misaki Williams, ’21 Philosophy; Neng Xiong, ’21 MA Education, Curriculum and Instruction; and William Yi, ’21 Public Relations.

In their words, they describe the important milestones reached and lessons learned while at San José State, the key takeaways gained from attending college during a pandemic, their next steps — and the transformative impact SJSU had on their lives.

Many of them are on a path to become future leaders and educators, law enforcement and urban planners, clinicians in healthcare and practitioners of art and research. Some are the first in their families to attend college, others are parents setting an example for their children to follow — all of them are shining examples of what it means to be a Spartan.

“Throughout my career, this has always been the most important and revered time on the academic calendar,” said President Mary A. Papazian. “It is the moment that officially affirms the completion of a milestone that forever will impact our students’ lives, and the lives of future generations. All of us at San José State share in the joy and excitement felt by our spring graduates, and I am delighted to welcome them into the Spartan alumni family.”

Graduates will be celebrated at the end of the semester with a custom recognition website, one for each college, and also have the opportunity to be individually recognized at a socially distant, in-person walkthrough photo experience on campus May 26-28. All of this will begin with a livestreamed virtual kick-off event hosted by the president and provost on Wednesday, May 26.


Bobby Abarca.

Robby Abarca (he/him/his), ’21 Communicative Disorders and Sciences

Milestones at SJSU:
One of my major accomplishments at SJSU was being accepted into the undergraduate speech clinic within the Communicative Disorders and Sciences department. This experience solidified my decision to become a speech-language pathologist.

I got to work alongside great student clinicians and under a supervisor that provided us with many opportunities to grow. I learned so much about producing sessions that obtained goals in an ethical manner. I believe that it prepared me for my future in graduate school.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I am actually capable of online learning! I was extremely scared of the transition to online classes, but it ended up being better than I had expected. Our professors and other faculty members were constantly providing us with encouragement and were overall understanding of the new transition.

The biggest takeaway is that it prepared me for the totally unexpected. COVID-19 had such a huge impact on all of us, but we continued to persevere.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
By far, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned at SJSU is that it is really true when people say, “When one door closes, another opens.” I am the type of person who had their entire life planned out since the sixth grade, but everything changed when I stepped foot at SJSU.

It is fine if anyone is feeling lost or confused about what to do next; just know that your journey is not over! SJSU has bountiful resources and experiences that are capable of changing your entire life!

Career goals/next steps:
I am on to my next journey of furthering my education at graduate school! The end goal is to become a speech-language pathologist providing services to those who are in need. I hope to someday return as a professor, so I am able to provide future generations with the same knowledge and resources that were once given to me as a student.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
SJSU has transformed my life for the better. I am leaving with so many memories, friends and influential advice from my professors that have made me into the person I am today.

I honestly do not know what I would be doing if I did not attend this university. SJSU has prepared me to become a better clinician, researcher and partner to others. College definitely goes by very fast, but the memories I have will last a lifetime!


Diego Almaraz.

Diego Almaraz (he/him/his), ’21 Industrial Design

Milestones at SJSU:
After being in Industrial Design for a few years, I thought it would be beneficial for us students to have exposure and networking opportunities within the Bay Area design community. I became the president of the major, and I was able to achieve these goals by having several trips to firms, guest speakers, local design events, and appearing in a design magazine.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Out of the several things learned during virtual classes, the biggest takeaway is learning how to effectively work in a remote team. Being able to figure out how to keep all our information universally accessible between us over a cloud was key to our success. This will make that transition easier into remote working and will open more doors in the future to allow for working with different people all over the world.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
The most valuable lesson that I have learned over my time at SJSU is how to work together in a culturally diverse team. Design being a universal language, it helped to create clear communication between our culturally diverse team, which made it a lot easier for us to work in unison without leaving anyone out.

Career goals/next steps:
My ultimate career goal is to open a design firm later down the line. Being able to work in a wide range of different industries — such as footwear, electronics, services and charity — and making a meaningful impact sounds like something I would enjoy doing every day. When working in so many different fields, you are constantly learning new things every day which is my favorite aspect of working in design.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
Out of the many ways that SJSU has transformed me, the most notable is how it got me to break out of my shell. Going into the design, a very social major, had a large role in that transformation because we are always together on campus working hard and building each other up. Ultimately, they made me feel comfortable to be myself, speak my mind and take initiative.


Joshua Bevis.

Joshua Bevis (he/him/his), ’21 Mechanical Engineering

Milestones at SJSU:
I received the 2021 Scott T. Axline Memorial Student Award for Excellence in Service, was hired as an instructional student assistant for the Mechanical Engineering department in 2019, was a Dean’s List Scholar in 2018, and received the Silicon Valley Engineering Scholarship in 2016.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
My experience with COVID-19 was different than most students at SJSU, as I proctored a lab during the heat of the pandemic. For me, the most important takeaway from this experience was the importance of flexibility and adaptability. Shifting curriculums, lab designs and classroom protocols to fit the requirements of the pandemic was as much of a learning opportunity as a challenge — an opportunity to test my abilities to adapt to changing requirements and uncertainty.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
My experience at SJSU was one of constant learning and growth. I went from academic probation to a Dean’s List student within a year’s time, and through that process, I learned perseverance and determination in a trial-by-fire situation. I discovered the personal discipline and life habits required to not only succeed but also excel in my passions and efforts. I also gained a wealth of experience in my engineering courses and labs which have opened the door to my career and future.

Career goals/next steps:
I will be starting at Keysight Technologies as a manufacturing process engineer in June, furthering my interest and passion for mechatronics and metrology.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
SJSU has given me the tools, knowledge and experiences to excel in the industry and among my peers and build a better life for myself and my loved ones. The lessons learned and experiences gained here have helped shape the person I am and the impact I will have on my community. SJSU was ranked #1 Most Transformative University in the nation for a reason, and I have truly experienced and benefited from that as I transition into the next season of life.


Aliza Bolliger.

Aliza Bolliger (she/her/hers), ’21 Public Relations

Milestones at SJSU:
I succeeded at challenging myself to get almost all A’s while at SJSU (only one B), which allowed me to receive Dean’s Scholar and President’s Scholar recognitions. I am also headed in the direction of summa cum laude, though I will be ecstatic just to receive my degree.

Aside from the grades, I found a major and direction I want to take for a career, which was a choice that took a lot of years to make. I also got to experience my major in a real way through my internship, and I successfully led two accounts.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
One takeaway from attending college during the pandemic is the incredible importance of being a community and keeping each other safe. We have had to become (and successfully did so in most ways) adaptable in order to protect our communities during this unprecedented time. But it also has shown me how important personal connections are to me, especially after they’re gone or different from what they were before.

Another takeaway, which I noticed both in myself and in those around me, is how resilient we are even when things are tough. Dealing with a pandemic, college, work and life in general is a tall order, and we are still working through it, but together.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
I learned through my SJSU experiences that I am stronger than I thought, and I can survive even the hardest of tasks, assignments and moments. There have been periods of time pre-COVID and during that have certainly tested a growing, young adult and budding professional, all while tackling anxiety, but I got through — and I exceeded expectations. I have gained such valuable skills, wisdom and education in my courses, but I was also given the truth of my personal determination.

Career goals/next steps:
I want to hold an internship after graduating, specifically a Disney Professional Internship. My dream is to be a Disney PR professional, but I would be excited to join another company where I could show my passion and support while flexing the skills I’ve gained at San José State University.

I ultimately look forward to opportunities to continue learning on my own and growing both personally and professionally — and maybe land that dream job one day.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
Aside from the obvious of being the place where I earned my degree, SJSU has been a unique and enriching experience both on and off campus. I wasn’t sure what State would be like after being a long-term community college student, but it transformed me more into the person who I want to be and allowed me to take the next giant steps in my life.


Briena Brown.

Briena Brown (she/her/hers), ’21 Sociology

Milestones at SJSU:
I had the honor of representing the Student Homeless Alliance (SHA) at a united press conference with SJSU’s administration to announce the implementation of SHA’s solutions to provide more resources for homeless students on campus (emergency beds, grants, SJSUCares on-campus location, etc.).

Besides being a community organizer and artistic activist, I also supported the SJSU Human Rights Institute through my involvement in the Silicon Valley Pain Index.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I have learned what I’m actually capable of during this pandemic. Being a college student during a pandemic can be difficult, but I have taught myself that I can do hard things, and I am so much stronger than I ever thought I was.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
SJSU has taught me that if the thought of doing something excites and scares you, it probably means that you should do it! When I reflect on my college experience, I only remember the opportunities/moments that I originally was so hesitant about before doing it.

Career goals/next steps:
I want to end up in a profession that helps those around me. I hope to break glass ceilings with my presence and provide support to those who need it, whether that’s on a national or local level.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
SJSU has taught me to be brave and to stand up for what I believe in. I have learned to accept myself for who I am and to work hard in absolutely everything that I do.


Marc Casupanan.

Marc Aaron Casupanan (he/him/his), ’21 Graphic Design

Milestones at SJSU:
A major accomplishment for me at SJSU was getting into the BFA Graphic Design program. To be able to do something I love, such as design, in an environment that pushes me to do my best — it has been a great opportunity and is an accomplishment for me personally.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I think the key takeaways from the online learning environment during the pandemic is the importance of connections and keeping in touch with others. An aspect that I didn’t realize I’d miss was interacting with classmates and peers. Peers kept me motivated while we were taking classes in-person, so to adjust to remote learning, reaching out to others and maintaining friendships become important. I find that having these relationships help motivate me to continue working towards better results.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
The most valuable lesson I learned at SJSU is that while self motivation is a great quality when it comes to accomplishing a task, being surrounded by a great group of people who push you, as well, is even better.

Career goals/next steps:
My next step is to pursue my passion in design, ideally working on a small team at first to get some experience working closely with others. I think for me, personally, I’d benefit within small groups because the communication aspect of the team is similar to what I’m used to from school experience.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State has definitely given me numerous opportunities with the BFA Graphic Design program, being the NEO Design Club president, and working as a student assistant for the King Library. I’ve opened up a lot, and I value the chances and memories that have come from my time here at SJSU.


Sabrina Cervantes.

Sabrina Cervantes (she/her/hers), ’21 Justice Studies

Milestones at SJSU:
Academically, my proudest accomplishments are being named a Dean’s Scholar my first semester at SJSU, and being named a President’s Scholar the following two semesters. Also, during my internship with SJSU’s Record Clearance Project (RCP), I was offered a position as a staff assistant. Nothing is more rewarding than the work I get to do with this program.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The key takeaways I learned while attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic are to be disciplined and stay positive. While 2020 was a difficult year for everyone, some more than others, we students had to stay focused, disciplined and get used to the new normal, which was online learning.

Rather than dwell on what I was missing, I focused on the positives. The connections I have made with faculty, staff, students and RCP clients through a computer screen has been the greatest blessing in the most challenging year.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
The most valuable lesson I learned at SJSU is that I am capable of more than I think. I have met so many amazing people, peers and faculty, who have accomplished so much despite where they come from. It is easy to say, “I’m not qualified,” or “I’m not good enough,” and not even try. However, it takes courage to put yourself out there and accomplish something great.

Career goals/next steps:
My next steps would be to begin a career as a probation officer. I would like to go back to school after a few years to either get my master’s and become an educator or go to law school. I would like to get some experience in different fields and see what I’m most passionate about.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
SJSU has transformed my life by showing me that there are so many options out there. The Record Clearance Project has given me the opportunity to meet people from diverse backgrounds and learn many different skills that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

There is no doubt that my experience at SJSU has transformed me as a person and given me a very unique set of skills and experiences that will help me throughout my career.


Anie Clark.

Anie de la Rosa Clark (she/her/hers), ’21 Master of Business Administration

Milestones at SJSU:
A major milestone for me was to discover my competitive skills and take advantage of all opportunities the MBA offered. I participated in the Heritage Bank Certificate Analyst and took first place along with three talented undergraduate business students.

I became the first-ever MBA Hispanic Advisor with Centro Community Partners Advanced Entrepreneurs Program, setting course for future MBAs to get involved too. I managed to participate in an unpaid part-time internship at a robotics startup, and in our marketing class simulation project, my team set a new record in the simulation program for highest score since the simulation was introduced.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I could not think of a better way to spend my evenings and weekends than to spend them in MBA studies and assignments during the COVID-19 pandemic. This shifted my focus away from the pandemic, as I was so busy with readings, classes and projects.

I also appreciated interacting with classmates in similar circumstances and exchanging ideas about the unusual events that forced us to think differently. We cheered on each other. We connected with each other. We learned new ways of learning together, and we found new ways of planning, envisioning and executing ideas and strategies.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
Everyone in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business is genuinely invested in making every student’s career successful. Full disclosure, part of my interest in pursuing an MBA at SJSU is that I am a full-time SJSU employee; I wanted to know the SJSU product.

I uncovered the gem we refer to as the best public university in Silicon Valley. As I continue my work with SJSU donors, I feel reassured to share my story, knowing that everyone at SJSU is invested in educating the leaders of tomorrow and developing better citizens, thoughtful colleagues and stronger communities.

Career goals/next steps:
I launched my consulting firm and have been in a soft launch since 2019 refining my idea and putting in place my business plan. For now, I plan to continue working on it part time and continue my focus helping entrepreneurs launch their business.

My goal is to help entrepreneurs take action on their plans and launch, iterate and continue. I call this “actionate their planning” because a plan will not prove whether it works or not until action starts. And I plan to continue my career in philanthropy as it directly relates to my main three motivators: help others, support education and do what makes us happy.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
As a results-oriented person, I transformed my approach to face situations and address challenges by building more awareness of my people-oriented skills.


Nicole Coates.

Nicole Coates (she/her/hers), ’21 MS Interdisciplinary Studies

Milestones at SJSU:
I received the CSU Sally Casanova Scholar award, which helped me in applying to PhD programs this past year. I was able to apply to 15 programs, and I have been admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue my PhD in brain and cognitive sciences this fall!

I also was able to maintain a high GPA at SJSU, which was another goal of mine, in order to demonstrate to PhD programs I have what it takes to pursue graduate-level work.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
This past year has taught me to be patient in a time when everything seems uncertain, and to be understanding during a time when everyone is going through hardship. While socializing was nonexistent (in-person anyway), I was reminded of the importance and need for humans to be the social animals we are and reminded of how much I cherish my family, friends and colleagues.

Most valuable lesson I learned from SJSU:
First, office hours are necessary for not only retaining information learned in a class but also making long-lasting connections that will be helpful and wonderful to have as you advance in your career.

Second, the ability to collaborate is critical, as you can learn so much from your colleagues as well as produce work that is incredibly interesting and multifaceted.

Third, don’t be afraid to express interest in someone’s work! Chances are not only are they happy you are interested, but they will also offer ways in which you can collaborate with them.

Career goals/next steps:
I will be pursuing my PhD at MIT this fall in order to study developmental psychology and cognitive science. Aside from research, I will mentor undergraduates and be involved in diversity and inclusivity efforts in higher education.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State allowed me to pursue my interests that didn’t fit into one master’s program. Because of that, I have been able to collaborate with faculty from many departments as well as become a more creative and critical thinker.

Although the Interdisciplinary Studies program can be rather lonely (there’s no cohort or department that you belong to), faculty and students welcomed me with open arms. SJSU made me feel like I belonged, both as a student and as a young woman of color entering the world of academia.


Rachel A. Crawford.

Rachel Crawford (she/her/hers), ’21 MFA Creative Writing

Milestones at SJSU:
While at SJSU, I won the Dorrit A. Sibley Writing Scholarship Award for excellence in poetry in 2019 and 2020. I also won the Academy of American Poets Virginia de Araujo Prize, which led to the publishing of my poem “Visiting Side B” on the Academy’s website. I won the James Phelan Award for metrical verse in 2020, and my poem “Pleasants Valley Road, Cantelow Road, September 2020” was chosen as an award winner for SJSU’s Pandemic Pandemonium event.

My first major publication occurred during the spring of 2020 in New South Journal, and I have a poem, “The Snow Cone,” forthcoming in Reed Magazine’s first ever chapbook. I also worked with a group of Teaching Associates and Dr. Ryan Skinnell on writing a chapter that will be published in Threshold Conscripts: Rhetoric and Composition TAships.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
All people have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic in their own ways, and the things I learned the most are to have compassion for others and their circumstances and to show grace as much as possible.

I also learned how important it is to have patience for others, especially students who have family and work responsibilities outside of taking classes. While it was important for me to learn my own coursework and to teach writing skills to my students, it was also really important for me to pass on the value of having resilience and perseverance during difficult times.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
SJSU has so much to offer students in terms of resources and campus events, but it is up to each individual student how much to participate. When I attended SJSU as an undergrad, I did not participate much. In fact, I am embarrassed by the kind of student I was. However, attending SJSU as a graduate student 12 years later, I wanted my experience to be different.

I remember hearing a speech on the welcoming day for graduate students, and the speaker said to take advantage of everything in the program — read everything, attend every class, go to events and engage deeply in learning. I was inspired, and I did my best to live up to that advice.

Because of that, I graduate from the MFA program with a greater depth of knowledge and appreciation for everything I learned and everyone I encountered along my journey.

Career goals/next steps:
Next year, I will work at SJSU as a first-year writing instructor and as a supervisor for English phase II and III student teachers in the single-subject credential program. I will also continue to refine my poetry manuscript to send out for publication.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
I came to SJSU and found a community of writers and thinkers who welcomed and encouraged me. Many of the professors on campus have been my greatest mentors and supporters, and they showed me how to push the boundaries of my writing and my teaching.

Although I have always valued my family, going through this program taught me how much I truly depend on them, and for all of their help and encouragement, I am forever grateful. I feel so incredibly blessed to have attended the MFA program at SJSU, and I look forward to continuing my work there as a supervisor and first-year writing instructor.


Briettny Curtner.

Briettny Curtner (she/her/hers),’18 Psychology, ’21 MA Education, Counseling and Student Personnel

Milestones at SJSU:

  • Being a part of Faces of Learning, an arts-based research initiative hosted by Lurie College
  • Serving as an intern within the Residential Life Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage as part of the Association of College and University Housing Officers – International Housing Internship Program
  • Funding my thesis, “Misogynoir: Undergraduate Experiences by Black Women,” with the Graduate Equity Fellowship
  • Creating and facilitating 12 workshops focused on academic success, well-being and career planning workshops as a graduate assistant for Lurie College Success Center
  • Fostering awareness and coordinating initiatives relating to the Garret Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant as community mental health coordinator role with Counseling and Psychological Services at SJSU

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I learned the value of being proactive. I do not believe I would have moved to another state during this pandemic to begin my career before completing my master’s degree if I was not proactive.

Additionally, I was starting to review position descriptions that were interesting as well as intimidating while my imposter syndrome kicked in. However, by preparing for all that I could control, I learned how to prevent COVID-19 from becoming a hindrance as my career began.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
I have been with SJSU since 2014 as an undergraduate student, student employee, full-time employee and now a graduate student months away from commencement. I have learned many lessons during the seven years that I have spent with SJSU. The most impactful is the value of authenticity.

My educational background is within psychology and educational counseling, which I have used to support college students, and the rapport that can be built is priceless when it is genuine and authentic. I believe that representation is powerful, and my presence within Student Affairs, I hope, shows to others that pursuing this field is possible — regardless of a pandemic.

Authenticity in all that you do will go a long way.

Career goals/next steps:
I am four months into my new role with Utah Valley University, and my goals are to create a path towards success for students that is realistic and feasible for them. I aim to continue to learn more about the student population I now serve, adventure every weekend to somewhere new, and enjoy cuisines from places I have never heard of until moving to Lehi, Utah!

Simply put, my next steps are to be present in my new role because it is exactly the type of work I went to school for. Now, I can thrive in my new environment rather than work to survive as I did during my collegiate experiences.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
I first started with SJSU at 17 years old and am now graduating for the second time at 24 years old. San José State has provided opportunities for me to grow personally and professionally.
From within the residence halls to inside a classroom, I sought out leadership experiences that challenged me and contributed to a resume that has served me well.

Additionally, through my master’s program, I was able to facilitate research. After two years, my thesis is complete, and it would not have happened without the support of my committee chair Dr. Jason Laker and committee members Drs. Angela Birts and Lorri Capizzi.

All in all, during my time with SJSU, I learned what I enjoyed in life, what careers were of interest, and what I will continue to aspire to accomplish.


Zobeida Delgadillo.

Zobeida Delgadillo (she/her/hers), ‘21 Political Science

Milestones at SJSU:
It has been both an honor and a privilege to have served as Associated Students president and chief executive officer as well as Associated Students director of legislative affairs. Additionally, as a governing member of the California State Student Association, I’ve advocated for obtaining more state funding for the CSU system, supporting basic needs initiatives, providing funding to resources and departments and promoting student participation in the governance of the CSU system.

Other roles that have allowed me to continue my pursuit of life-long learning, personal growth and inclusion: a senator on the Academic Senate, a board member on the Student Union, a member of the Athletics Board, an orientation leader for New Student and Family Programs, and a member of Alpha Omicron Pi.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I’ve learned that learning is a two-way street. Despite being in a virtual setting, I’ve continued to allow myself to share my personal experiences and learn from others, which has given me new perspectives and enriched my college experience.

I’ve also learned ways to be more adaptable and flexible, both in academic productivity and my personal development. I would advise students to not feel constrained by the lack of in-person engagement in a virtual setting. In a campus filled with cultural diversity, your individuality is extremely respected and valued, so no matter your interests, chances are there’s a place for you.

As Spartans, you are in the place where Olympic winners, entrepreneurs and trailblazers in society once stood. Challenge yourself. Absorb everything. And above all, enjoy and trust the process!

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
My experience as SJSU and various leadership roles have taught me the importance of intersectionality, equity and transparency. Initiative and innovation are key to my principles, as my time at SJSU taught me to capitalize on my strengths and find my voice.

My authenticity has taught me to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, which means having the courage to drive innovation, engagement and advocacy. This form of confidence has further contributed to my resilience and commitment to the communities I belong to.

Career goals/next steps:
I will be attending graduate school immediately after undergrad. I’m still undecided of where I’ll attend, but I recently received admission and a scholarship to the University of San Francisco for a MA in sports management.

I hope to pursue a career in the sports industry and one day become an executive in Major League Baseball. Regardless, I will continue to be a life-long advocate for access and equality for women not only in athletics but in all sectors of society.

How has SJSU transformed your life?:
As a first-generation student and a San José native, I’ve been transformed by SJSU in ways I never imagined. I keep close to me this quote by James Baldwin: “The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.” It reminds me to always have vision, dedication and strategy everywhere I go, even if it means occupying spaces that traditionally have not been meant for me.

My community at SJSU has given me utmost guidance, clarity and an outstanding support system, to which I credit my success in and outside the classroom. As I move forward, I believe that my personal and professional experiences at SJSU have laid the foundation for me to continue creating transformative change in my career and community.



Zoe Dolak (she/her/hers), ’21 Public Relations

Milestones at SJSU:
My time at San José State has been filled with so many unique experiences and opportunities.
One of my biggest accomplishments at San José State was working alongside the Journalism and Mass Communications [school] and the Dwight Bentel Hall agency team to virtually honor Dr. Anthony Fauci with the William Randolph Hearst Award for excellence in mass communications. We were able to bring one of 2020’s biggest figures onto campus and bring recognition to the school and everything that Dr. Anthony Fauci has done.

I’m also proud to have led a month-long campaign and case study about civil discourse in America for the Public Relations Student Society of America

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Attending college during the pandemic was difficult, but I learned that I’m capable of taking on challenges and creating change no matter the circumstance. In every situation, there’s always still opportunity.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
I’ve learned a lot of lessons at San José State, and I think one of the biggest ones was learning how to follow my heart. Everyone always says that there’s something you “need” to be doing or a point you “should” be at in life. But I found that listening to myself and following my own path has taught me the most.

Career goals/next steps:
Once I graduate from San José State, I plan to further the message of sustainability and climate equity in California and the United States by doing communications work with the company CALSTART. Helping to uplift other voices and empower future generations is always going to be my number one goal.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State has transformed my professional life, but it also has transformed my cultural and societal views. Going to this school took me from being a young high-schooler who didn’t really know what she wanted to do in life to being a leader, a thinker and someone who has three times the amount of confidence in themselves. I am forever grateful for the opportunities the school has given me to learn how to grow and thrive every single day. Spartan up!


Adam Elwailly.

Adam Elwailly (he/him/his), ’21 Electrical Engineering

Milestones at SJSU:
One of my research papers was accepted to a peer-reviewed academic journal in the field of semiconductor electronics. I’m very pleased with this accomplishment, as the months of hard work that preceded submitting the manuscript led me to discover a passion for research, which informed my decision to pursue a PhD after graduation from San José State.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Attending classes during the COVID-19 pandemic taught me a great deal about focus. When classes moved online, I learned rather quickly that it is all too easy to become distracted and disengaged without clear structure and a few self-imposed rules to keep me focused. I hope to carry this self-discipline forward throughout the rest of my time as a student and into my career.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
My experience at San José State taught me that opportunities are rarely unavailable. One of the keys to success is learning to recognize where opportunities exist, even where they may be hidden, and being willing to take them, even when they may be difficult. The pursuit of opportunity is always worth it.

Career goals/next steps:
This fall, I will be attending the electrical engineering PhD program at Stanford University, where I will pursue research in nanoelectronics or power semiconductor devices. It is my hope that this path leads me to a rich career in electronics research.

I may ultimately pursue a university professorship, as academia lies squarely within this framework for my future endeavors.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State provided me with more opportunities than I could ever have taken. In addition to laying a foundation for a career in electronics research, being a student at San José State taught me valuable fundamental skills that will be useful in any of my future pursuits.
As I graduate, my most significant takeaway about San José State is that, through their interactions with their instructors and with each other, students here can find support for any interest or career path.


Mateo Garcia De la Quintana.

Mateo Garcia De la Quintana (he/him/his), ’21 Advertising

Milestones at SJSU:
My sophomore year, I started in my first graphic design position for CommUniverCity under John Delacruz. As a junior, I served as the creative director of the Spartan Ad Club, an advertising/marketing assistant for the Spartan Recreation and Aquatic Center (a role I continued as a senior), a student art director at DBH Communications Agency on campus, and an Adobe Ambassador, which I also held my senior year.

Both my sophomore and junior years, I interned for SJSU Up&Up Festivals. My senior year, I was co-president of the Spartan Ad Club, the social media director for Something Nice Company, and a freelance product photographer.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Opportunities are everywhere — especially online now! It was an amazing opportunity to understand myself away from campus while still at school.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
The most valuable lesson I learned is that you will receive just as much as you put in. Life is not always in the classroom — there is so much more to discover and learn from clubs, people and professors that you can’t always find in the classroom. Do not be afraid to take that extra step to improve yourself.

Career goals/next steps:
I just want my next step to be something I am passionate about and want to do — something that makes me say, “Yes; I am excited to do this.” I would love to continue working in social media and product photography. I am glad I will have an amazing background from SJSU to help me move forward in my career. SJSU has been recognized by so many companies, and they know the students that come out of here are going to be great.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State has transformed my life drastically. I learned a lot that will transform me into the person I want to be, and I owe it to my professors and peers that shaped me.

But most importantly, I lost a lot, whether it was through assignments, jobs, relationships or a competition. That is something I value, because it made me learn things about myself, and it made me want to do better. I am always a better version of myself than I was yesterday.


Lydon George.

Lydon George (he/him/his), ‘21 Master in Urban Planning

Milestones at SJSU:
Through leadership roles with our two urban planning student organizations (TRANSITion and Urban Planning Coalition), I have been able to help coordinate numerous events and initiatives to engage students and the community with issues in planning.

I have contributed to published public transportation research through the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) and worked as an intern for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority . Lastly, I am on my way to having earned a master’s degree in urban planning; I think that is pretty noteworthy in itself.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The pandemic has very clearly highlighted the importance of community, relationships and in-person interactions to one’s success not only as a student but also as a healthy, happy person.

We have been hardwired to move about, place ourselves in different settings to do different things, and to interact with different people, not fully appreciating how much is communicated or experienced in the process. It took a collective, proactive approach to build up and maintain my SJSU community and ensure that we were able to support each other through this rigorous academic program, and in life in general.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
I learned that true progress in academic thought and real-world problem solving is born from the collective mind. Often in the “real” world, we do not have the opportunity to spend time with people who are very different from us and are unable to truly understand the value of their different perspectives.

The Master in Urban Planning (MUP) program at SJSU is a microcosm of the beautiful diversity we see across the Bay Area, connecting students from all types of ethnic, social and academic backgrounds. Each of these people brings unique experiences, insights and knowledge to our field that are crucial for addressing issues of urban planning. As we move onto professional endeavors, it is important to remember the value in actively breaking down social and racial barriers to promote diverse voices.

Career goals/next steps:
Oh, you mean I can’t just be in classes forever? OK, in that case, I will actively seek employment in the public sector to further community/cultural enrichment and racial/social equity within systemic planning processes.

I will continue to conduct academic research with my research team at MTI and pursue other opportunities to become more involved with community-based planning initiatives. I might even read a book for fun.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
Immediately, my connection to SJSU and the MUP program gave me the institutional support to connect with various, planning-related professionals in a credible, real way. SJSU has provided the education, academic/professional opportunities and personal connections to facilitate my professional aspirations.

As well, my experience at SJSU has enabled me to academically frame and address critical issues we face on a day-to-day basis, such as access to housing and jobs, racism and environmental preservation, and it has empowered me to push for progress on a systemic level.


Olivia Gerber.

Olivia Gerber (she/her/hers), ’21 Political Science and Journalism

Milestones at SJSU:
I have had the pleasure of holding a variety of leadership positions at SJSU, including serving as a resident advisor, the Panhellenic Council president, and managing editor of the Spartan Daily. I also had the opportunity to complete the Advanced Humanities Honors program and work as a student intern for Students for Quality Education with the California Faculty Association.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Attending college during the pandemic has taught me that adaptability and a strong support system can go a long way and that it’s OK to struggle and lean on those around you.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
The most valuable lessons I have learned at SJSU are the only way to know is to try — quite literally get involved in everything and anything that interests you. It’s OK to feel nervous, but don’t take yourself out of the game before it’s even started.

Career goals/next steps:
Much like my time at SJSU, my next steps are wherever the wind takes me. My goals range from investigative reporting for a news publication to traveling the world as a diplomat and everything in between.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State has transformed me into a curious and confident person. I am so grateful for the diverse experiences and vibrant instructors I have had at SJSU, and I feel so ready to take on the world.


Anna Harvey.

Anna Harvey (she/her/hers), ’21 MS Transportation Management

Milestones at SJSU:
Switched jobs and semi-successfully parented my 4-year-old daughter — both with lots of love, help and advice from family, friends and mentors!

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ask for and admit to needing help; your support network is waiting to step in, but they can’t read your mind.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
Every class and every classmate is an opportunity to learn something new.

Career goals/next steps:
I’d like to continue working towards leadership roles in transportation organizations.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
I honestly never anticipated returning to school after earning my undergraduate degree. SJSU’s Minetta Transportation Institute and the MS in Transportation Management program allowed me to do so as the full-time working mom of a toddler.

I really applied myself to show my daughter what can be accomplished in even the busiest seasons of life. This experience has strengthened my conviction in my goals and given me the opportunity to meet many other awesome people who are all engaged in addressing similar professional and societal challenges.


Fatima Hassan.

Fatima Hassan (she/her/hers), ‘21 Psychology

Milestones at SJSU:
I have always been a mental health advocate, and I was delighted to continue doing this even as a student, thanks to the Mental Health Ambassadors program at SJSU. As a Mental Health Ambassador (MHA), all the outreach work I and the other MHAs have been doing has helped many SJSU students access and learn about the mental health services available at SJSU.

I’m also on my way to finish my degree in three years, and I was able to do this while maintaining my GPA (and sanity) and the transition to online classes due to the pandemic.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Adaptability is the key to achieving anything during unprecedented times. Not everything in life is going to work out the way you intended, especially when it comes to college. The key is to learn to adapt to unexpected situations, being resourceful and using the lessons you learn along the way for personal growth.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
I have attended a lot of online events at SJSU and met some amazing people that I have learned a lot from. This taught me the importance of networking and connecting with others. Doing this has not only put me out of my comfort zone, but it has also helped me get exposed to diverse perspectives on life and meet some amazing individuals from various backgrounds.

Career goals/next steps:
The goal is to enroll in a master’s program and become a mental health counselor who serves underrepresented communities, especially immigrants/refugees. Eventually, I would like to get my doctorate and start my research as well as teaching career.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State has offered me so many opportunities to learn and grow in ways I never imagined. My experiences at SJSU have pushed me to do better and achieve more than I thought I was capable of. I have met the most amazing professors who have helped me with my career goals and aspirations. I will miss the Spartan community, and I will cherish connections I have made here forever.


Bianca Hernandez.

Bianca Hernandez (she/her/ella/hers), ’21 MA Sociology

Milestones at SJSU:
A major accomplishment I had at SJSU is being the first in my family to attend and graduate from a higher education institution, and now in a few weeks, I will do it again with my master’s degree from SJSU, as well.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
No matter what is going on, I can do it. Maybe it won’t look or feel the same (Zoom meetings, no in- person meeting, social distancing), but I can still get it done.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
There will always be people around me, whether they’re teachers, advisors, co-workers or new friends, supporting and cheering me on in my educational goals.

Career goals/next steps:?
One of my ultimate career goals is to work in the community college system. It is where I learned about sociology, and I ultimately want to help other students like me navigating the higher education system.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State has transformed my life by giving me so many new opportunities that will help me in my future career, and even in my last semester here, it keeps on opening new doors for me.


Shruthi Kamath.

Shruthi Kamath (she/her/hers), ’21 Psychology

Milestones at SJSU:
I am humbled to share that I will be graduating cum laude from San José State University with honors in psychology. To recognize my academic and leadership achievements, I have been awarded the President’s Scholar Award, Dean’s Scholar Award and the A.S. 55 Award.

In addition, during my freshman and sophomore years at SJSU, I was a part of the Humanities Undergraduate Honors program. Furthermore, in fall 2020, I was recognized with my team as a finalist for the Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge for our innovation of SPAR — a safety companion app exclusive to San José State University.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic has better prepared me for known and unknown circumstances. Along with my peers, I have learned to rise above and recognize my resiliency. I will be sure to embrace the future and take nothing and no one for granted.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from my experiences at SJSU is that
when networking and creating the brand you want to portray, it is most important to be
genuine and authentic in order to make a lasting impression.

Also, being proactive, asking for help, and getting involved in student organizations has encouraged me to see that the world is at your doorstep, and stepping out of your comfort zone is the perfect way to explore those new areas and expand your perspective. Essentially, being open to taking risks is key, so you honor your desires and are willing to put yourself out there.

Career goals/next steps:
Following my graduation at SJSU, I look forward to starting my career in program
management within the tech industry. After a few years of work experience, I hope to
further my studies by pursuing a master’s in business analytics.

My interests lie at the intersection of business, technology and innovation, with a strong passion for women’s empowerment, entrepreneurship and professional development. My ultimate goal is to use my skills and knowledge while working with others to make a meaningful impact in the community around me.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State University has transformed my life through the plethora of exceptional
opportunities that have opened doors for me. Throughout the past four years, I have been
able to foster my professional interests and pursue my creative passions through my
involvement in SJSU Women in Business and Carr Lab Investigating Memory
and the Brain (CLIMB).

I have had the ability to thrive as a professional while being surrounded
by a values-driven community filled with creative, dynamic and resilient leaders.


Jacob Lapinsky.

Jacob Lapinsky (he/him/his), ’21 History and Social Science

Milestones at SJSU:
As a first-generation, low-income college student from a single mother household, I️ am the first person in my family to receive a college degree — in four years, on my own. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work for San José State’s Educational Opportunity Program, as the EOP Workshop Coordinator and an I Can I Will Mentor, while attending school full-time. I️ will be graduating with a 3.7 cumulative GPA as a double major.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I learned that things change, and those who actively work to adapt to the circumstances will succeed. Moving to remote learning left significant time for introspective thinking and to explore what I ️value — my place in the world.

From a historical perspective, we have seen pandemics similar or worse to the likes of what we are experiencing today. With books like The Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe and The Plague by Albert Camus that I have read in SJSU history courses, it is clear that this is a feature of the human experience, so this has been a historic time to attend college.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
The most valuable lesson I️ have learned from my time at SJSU has come from my Sociology of Education Professor, Dr. Yolanda Wiggins. She opened her class with a quote by Toni Morrison:

“I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.’’

I️ hope to carry that spirit to enable my future students with the tools they need to free themselves.

Career goals/next steps:
I️ plan to attend the teacher education program at SJSU and achieve an MA in teaching with a teaching credential in social sciences or ethnic studies. I️ hope to teach history, social sciences or ethnic studies at a high school in the Bay Area. I️ am committed to helping to serve historically underserved and disadvantaged communities in the fight against the opportunity gap plaguing education today.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
SJSU has transformed my life by giving me the opportunity to pursue a career that I️ am truly passionate about. My life has truly been transformed with the instruction and knowledge accrued over these four years and have made me into a person capable of thinking deeply and critically — and teaching others passionately — as well as being a proper historian.

SJSU has given me the opportunity to live a life that is not full of struggle and strife, and the tools that I️ needed to “free myself,” as Toni Morrison says. I️ owe so much to the EOP program at SJSU, and I️ am eternally grateful for my time spent working for/being a member of the program.


Vanndy Loth.

Vanndy Loth-Kumar (she/her/hers), ’12 Nursing, ’15 Master of Public Health, ’21 Doctor of Nursing Practice

Milestones at SJSU:
I was privileged to complete my Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN), a Master of Public Health (MPH), and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) through SJSU. I am appreciative of my internship experiences on projects related to promoting intimate-partner violence awareness as well as evaluating program outcomes in mental health.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I have two main takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first is that learning and personal growth can still occur during a pandemic. The second is that faculty and peers are vital in making any academic experience meaningful.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
I was able to participate in memorable internships and clinical experiences through SJSU. I was able to learn the value in the voices of the people within the community. This allowed me to gain the skills I needed for patient advocacy.

Career goals/next steps:
After graduation, my next steps include taking on a lead position with a nonprofit organization to support the integration between mental health and primary care services. My goal is to be able to provide timely access for patients who may benefit from quality mental health services.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
As a first-generation college student of Cambodian refugees, I did not intend to pursue graduate studies. SJSU changed my life by exposing me to the possibilities available with higher learning. SJSU also helped set me along a path towards supporting my community.


Ben Newsome.

Ben Newsome (he/him/his), ’21 MA History

Milestones at SJSU:
There were a couple of major accomplishments I achieved during my time at SJSU. The first was passing the cumulative exam for my program. The exam was rather stressful considering that it covered U.S. history from 1865 to the present and was timed. It was a relief to finish it and pass it on my first attempt. The second milestone that was particularly important to me was maintaining a 4.0 GPA for the entire time I was in the History graduate program.

There were several times when I worried that I would come up short, but thanks to my fellow classmates and the help I received from our wonderful history professors here at SJSU, I was able to reach my goal.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Attending college during the pandemic was tough. I learned that it takes even more personal responsibility to stay on top of assignments and your classes. I think it is important to practice self care and find ways to give yourself a break, especially when you are spending all day on Zoom.

I also felt that it was important to stay in touch with my classmates and co-workers at Peer Connections in order to maintain a sense of community. Having that connection to the school community really helped me get through the difficult days during the pandemic.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
I have learned that sometimes the hardest thing about accomplishing your goals is staying determined and positive no matter what obstacles you face. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and reach out to friends and classmates that are there with you. They are often the most valuable asset you have.

Overall, I learned that if you show up, do the work and aren’t afraid to take chances, you can get through just about anything.

Career goals/next steps:
My career goal is to get a job teaching at a community college. My next step is to look for adjunct work as a history instructor or possibly a teaching job at the high school level. I think it is important to stay open and embrace whatever opportunities come my way.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State has reminded me of what I am capable of and has opened the door to numerous opportunities for me to not only grow my career but also grow as a person.

The experience has given me a new perspective on what continuing your education can do for you at any age. I know now that no matter what happens in my life, no one can take away my experiences and what I have accomplished during my time at SJSU.


Sabina Patel.

Sabina Patel (she/her/hers), ’21 Psychology

Milestones at SJSU:
My major milestones have been presenting research at conferences such as Western Psychological Association, Human Factors and Ergonomics Society and the Spartan Psychological Association Research Conference, as well as repeatedly performing at a high level academically.

I developed my interpersonal skills through my experience as vice president of Psi Chi, the international honor society in psychology, and president of Order of Omega, a Greek honor society.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The pandemic taught me the value of creating a good relationship with my professors early in the semester. Having that foundation along with strong organizational skills, allowed me to feel confident in my ability to manage school through these trying times.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
My experience at SJSU taught me the importance of saying yes and no to opportunities that arise. I learned when to set limits for myself while developing my skill sets. Having a strong support system helped me through challenges that I faced both academically and personally.

Career goals/next steps:
I will be pursuing a PhD in human factors and behavioral neurobiology with a primary focus of technology within the health-care field.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State has taught me to be confident in my skill sets academically and professionally. I learned that self care should be used as something that supports your growth and should not be used as just a reward for hard work.


Steven Peck.

Steven Peck (he/him/his), ’21 Political Science

Milestones at SJSU:
Academically, I have had the honor of being a President’s and Dean’s Scholar during my time at SJSU. I also take pride in the various research projects I have taken on in my political science courses.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Being adaptive is probably the biggest takeaway I have from this online learning experience.
There is so much uncertainty in life — taking obstacles in stride and working to overcome them
is essential.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
Making connections is key. I have been able to learn and gain so much from the relationships that I have built at SJSU. Without them, I’m not certain where I would be right now.

Career goals/next steps?
After I graduate, I intend to continue my efforts in preserving and sharing the history of Silicon
Valley’s LGBTQ community. In terms of my career, it is my goal that my work is centered around bettering our communities.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
Through my experiences at SJSU, I have been transformed into a driven and dedicated
individual. It is hard to imagine where I would be without all the people and opportunities SJSU
has provided me. I am forever grateful.


Andrea Perez.

Andrea Perez (she/her/hers), ‘21 Advertising

Milestones at SJSU:
I never imagined how much I would accomplish in four years. I completed the Humanities Honors program and was treasurer and co-president of the Spartan Advertising Club. I served as an Adobe Ambassador and participated in the National Student Advertising Competition by the American Advertising Federation — winning an ADDY.

My senior year, I was a board member of the Inaugural Student Advisory Committee for the American Advertising Federation. I have received scholarships from the Journalism and Mass Communications department, and I have been on the Dean’s Scholar list five times.

I also worked with Academic Technology as a media production student assistant and recently became the social media manager for the Center for Faculty Development.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
One of the most important lessons I learned while transitioning to an online college experience was to take advantage of every opportunity I was offered. Even if it seems like there isn’t enough time to get everything done, or it’s an opportunity that might be out of your comfort zone, you aren’t alone — others are feeling that way too. You will end up getting so much more out of college than just going to class and taking notes.

That being said, there are times when we have to recognize there’s too much on our plate. Sometimes it’s difficult to decide to turn something down, but being clear about your intentions will bring new opportunities later on.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
It’s important to not compare your college experience with others. I spent too much time worrying I was behind or not doing enough. Now, at the end of my college experience, I am finally processing all I have done and am proud of myself for it.

Career goals/next steps:
As a management track advertising student who has worked primarily with creative track students, I’ve noticed there’s a sense of separation and lack of communication between the two areas. I want to serve as a bridge, particularly on the production side in development.

Some of the best advice I received during an agency tour was that management has to think like a creative and vice versa for a campaign to be successful. The two areas should work together and work to everyone’s strengths. I aim to begin in a creative operations position at an agency and go from there.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
The most transformative aspect of my time at SJSU was building strong relationships with the faculty and staff. If it weren’t for their recommendations, I wouldn’t hold a position on a national board or have earned a job closely related to the field I would like to enter after graduation.

Their trust and belief in me has enabled me to do more than I could have imagined.


Abril Perez-Gonzaga.

Abril Perez-Gonzaga (she/her/hers), ‘21 Anthropology

Milestones at SJSU:
A major milestone for me was getting into the McNair Scholars Program and having the opportunity to publish an article. I have also been recognized for my extensive volunteer work with the César E. Chávez Community Action Center.

My favorite accomplishment so far has been working with my professors to help contribute to research in anthropology.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The pandemic during my college experience was particularly hard, but I learned that pivoting was crucial. I had to be resourceful and make the most out of my situation while balancing online classes.

I learned that fear was not an option, so I used my discomfort as motivation to adapt.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
I have learned to question and criticize everything. Diversity and listening to perspectives that are different from mine have also enriched my experience.

Career goals/next steps:
My next steps are to take a gap year to gain experience in the field of anthropology or archaeology and then apply to PhD programs. I hope to attend Columbia University and become a professor.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State has transformed my life through interactions with my professors. The enthusiasm in lectures and the devotion to students are what stood out to me. I left class every day thinking I knew it all only to have my mind blown again the next day. I am now able to think without constraint or limits and look forward to sharing my innovations with others.



Naromy Ramirez (she/her/hers), ’21 MA Education, Special Education

My name is Naromy Ramirez. My pronouns are she/her/hers. My major here at San José State is special education.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
One of the key takeaways that I’ve learned from attending college during this COVID-19 pandemic was just my ability of being able to be flexible in the locations where I study. I normally would go to the library, where I need some peace and quiet.

I knew that during this pandemic it was going to be difficult for me, given that there’s toddlers and infants at my house and with all that crying, it was going to make it impossible for me to study inside my home. So I was flexible enough to wake up earlier, six in the morning, and make a table for me outside in my yard. Six in the morning, put on some layers and get to work, do my assignments, study for my exams.

So that is one of the key takeaways that I’ve learned, is just being able, having to be flexible in order to complete my master’s program. I’m getting my master’s in special education and as a teacher I’ve learned that I need to be flexible, so this COVID pandemic actually really helped me learn that lesson that I needed to.

Career goals/next steps:
My career goals, my next steps is finding a job in teaching, and currently I’m applying to a couple different jobs. I am thinking of taking a job in a therapeutic setting STC classroom.

San José State has transformed my life.


Nick Randle.

Nick Randle (he/him/his), ’21 Graphic Design

Milestones at SJSU:
One major milestone I had at SJSU was being accepted into the BFA graphic design program. Since I transferred to SJSU from a junior college, I wanted to further my design education in the BFA. In the program, you learn how to have fun even in the most stressful of times.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I learned the importance of community. The BFA is a tight-knit group and during in-person class, we would often work together in our classroom and motivate one another. However, since the pandemic started, everyone is alone at home. I find it critical to keep in close contact with my classmates and chat over Zoom or voice-call to keep the camaraderie going.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
While at SJSU I learned two valuable lessons. The first is to accept that every project you do will not be perfect and that making mistakes is actually beneficial to learning. Second, do not feel like you have to know everything. Stay curious and always be receptive to new information and viewpoints.

Career goals/next steps:
After I graduate, I hope to pursue a career in graphic design either at a branding agency or tech company.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
At San José State, I really grew as a person and opened myself up to new people and experiences. I have also made deep friendships that I hope to continue after graduation.


Jasmine Reyes.

Jasmine Marie Reyes (she/her/hers), ’21 Music, Performance

Milestones at SJSU:
In the spring 2019 semester, I was in the SJSU School of Music and Dance department-wide production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass.” It was so different from other performances I’ve done — very artistic. I was also able to put on a successful junior recital last July during the pandemic!

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
If I really want to do something, I can’t rely on people to tell me to do it. I found myself very dependent on my professors and instructors for motivation (mostly for performance deadlines). Because I didn’t have frequent communication with them when we shut down, I really had to push myself to get work done. The discipline I grew helped me put on my junior recital after being unmotivated to practice my music for months!

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
There are so many narratives going on around me, and most of them only show one perspective of a story. I learned to do more research on my own, which consisted of looking at sources that hold various viewpoints/biases. This helped me learn things and make decisions about the world for myself, not just from social media and the news around me.

Career goals/next steps:
I will continue to train in musical theater and opera performance with private instructors and through various programs. I hope more countries become open to American travelers so I can do young artist programs in countries like Italy, Austria and France! I will also continue to teach my private voice students and build my studio.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State has helped me see the world from a different view. Because the student body is so diverse, it’s full of people with various backgrounds and stories. (I was raised in an affluent neighborhood in the suburbs, which can be a social bubble.)

Music has the tendency to reflect the times (politics, issues, the world in general), and I have the privilege to reflect these stories through songs I perform and write myself. I’m grateful to my professors and instructors for helping me find my voice.


Ralph Robinson.

Ralph Robinson (he/him/his), ’21 Master in Urban Planning

Milestones at SJSU:
Preparing a robust community assessment of Eastside San José neighborhoods was the highlight of my time in the Master of Urban Planning program. I got to work directly with some tremendous residents and staff from local organizations, who taught me so much about the incredible history and culture of their community. The entire experience gave me a deeper appreciation for both the neighborhoods I worked in and the city of San José in general.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The lesson of this past year, and any challenging times I’ve encountered, is to just keep going. You have to do the best you can with what’s in front of you and find a way to get something out of every day. Stick to that and in time you’ll find yourself in a lot better spot than you were before.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
I was so fortunate to learn from the wealth of personal and professional experiences my professors and classmates brought to the program. It was such an asset to be surrounded by people who well represented the diverse perspectives and backgrounds I will encounter throughout my career in planning.

Career goals/next steps:
I have long sought to work for the public good and to help create communities that are sustainable, equitable and, ultimately, better for people. My passion for place-making and effecting positive change in human environments is what inspired me to pursue a degree in urban planning. My ultimate goal is to play a role in creating places that best provide the mental, physical and social benefits that people and communities need.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State gave me the chance to pursue an opportunity I long wanted, but which I didn’t even think was still available to me. It opened back up a door that I worried had already closed. I will always be immensely grateful for everything SJSU has done for me.



Leilani Saelaw (she/her/hers), ’21 Kinesiology

Milestones at SJSU:
During my time here at San José State University, I was able to be featured in two Spartan Daily articles and two conferences where I was able to share my research and interests on adapted sports for athletes with disabilities. Through my research, I was able to win two awards: third place for best overall video and first place for most views and likes on Youtube.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Attending college through the COVID-19 pandemic taught me not to take education for granted. I also learned that I still had a voice — even though it was through a screen.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
Some of the most valuable lessons I learned here at San José State were not to be afraid to ask for help and to make an effort to stay connected with your community. That could mean colleagues, peers, clubs — any of them, because they definitely will have an impact on your future.

Career goals/next steps:
My next steps after graduation is to get my master’s in occupational therapy and to continue my advocacy and research for adapted sports.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State University transformed my life. Here, I was introduced to many teachers, colleagues and peers that helped me get one step closer to my ultimate goal of becoming an occupational therapist. Also San José State University gave me a lot of opportunities to succeed and build a professional profile for myself.


Marc Santos.

Marc Adrian Narvadez Santos (he/him/his), ’21 English

Milestones at SJSU:
A major milestone during my collegiate academic career was participating in the Humanities Honors Program, in which an excellent team of professors instructed me and my cohort to connect, articulate and apply ancient, pivotal texts to the present day. I devoted three years to that program, and I cherish each lecture for making me into a more cosmopolitan scholar.

I want to recognize, celebrate and appreciate one of my favorite professors, Dr. Nancy Stork, who challenged yet improved my skills as a scholarly writer. She mentored and guided me in an independent study of advanced grammar in which I produced a 25-page research paper on verbs.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A key takeaway from that experience is learning how to control the space around me. Because all events — school, work and social relationships — were compounded into a single household and single computer screen, I needed to set boundaries for self-care and fending against digital fatigue. I had become desensitized to time and a monotonous, daily routine, which caused the days to blend in together.

Setting calendars and daily reminders helped ground me in finding critical moments to reorient myself, hydrate and breathe.

Career goals/next steps:
My next steps post-graduation are applying for graduate school to pursue my master’s degree in English education and my doctorate in English literary theory. My career goal is to become a professor — one who inspires undergraduate students to love literature from Shakespearean plays to texts from Romanticism.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
Before arriving at San José State, I was afraid and doubtful since I am first in my family to attend a university in the United States. But the San José State community welcomed me and assuaged my anxieties.

San José State transformed my life by being the first step in my pathway to becoming a professor. The Humanities and English faculty are amazing to learn from, and they helped me discover my passion for scholarly research.

By being part of the SJSU community, I cultivated long-lasting connections and friendships with fellow scholars.


Sabrina Shell.

Sabrina Shell (she/her/hers), ‘21 Industrial Design

Milestones at SJSU:
One of my memorable accomplishments is passing my first-year portfolio review for the Industrial Design program. It was a challenging and demanding year, but I was so proud that I could continue growing and learning in the program.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Stay on top of things and accomplish my assignments; write down my schedule or a list of things I would like to achieve every day. Being able to cross items off my daily list helped me stay on top of my work.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
Hard work always pays off. If your skills are lacking in something, keep working at it and give it everything. You will show others and yourself how much you have improved.

Career goals/next steps:
My career goal is to find a design company that designs products that have meaning and improve people’s lives. I would love to be in an environment where I can grow and always continue to learn as a designer.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State has positively transformed my life. I am thankful for the knowledge and skills I gained in the last four years. I am most grateful for all the memories I have made and the friendships; I know I will never forget my experience at San José State.


Kristina Smith.

Kristina Smith (she/her/hers), ’21 Child and Adolescent Development and Psychology

Milestones at SJSU:
An accomplishment I had at SJSU would be graduating in four years as a double major. Another accomplishment would be getting a job working with juvenile delinquents and youths who struggle with mental illnesses.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The pandemic has given me the opportunity of connecting and networking. As soon as everything transitioned to Zoom, I found myself talking to my advisors and professors more than I did when we were in person. This helped me gain stronger relationships with my professors and mentors. Through reaching out, I was given an opportunity to be a research assistant and have been given great career advice.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
The most valuable lessons I have learned from my experience at SJSU is to network and ask questions.

Career goals/next steps:
My career goal is to become a clinical psychologist. I am wanting to work with children and adolescents who have experienced trauma. Within this, I am also planning to conduct research. My next steps consist of me gaining more research experience then applying to a doctoral program.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State has transformed my life by giving me the opportunity to find myself as an adult and figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life.


Juan Carlos Soliz.

Juan Carlos Soliz (he/him/his), ’21 Behavioral Science

Milestones at SJSU:
It is a great honor to graduate from SJSU with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science. I’m the first one (of 12 siblings) in my family to graduate after taking a break due to medical reasons. It was also an honor to go back to college around the same time my daughter started attending SJSU, as I want to be a role model for her.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Regardless of the critical circumstances we all are in, education was my number one priority, and this time there is nothing that will stop me from accomplishing my goal. I have plans to become a social worker and provide my community with any vital information they might need.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
I have learned that no matter the setbacks, either at a professional or personal level, getting a higher education is something that will provide me with the essential tools to work with my community, who is part of my family. As such, it is my responsibility to provide an exceptional type of work.

Career goals/next steps:
My career goals are to work in the Department of Social Services as a social worker for the California In-Home Supportive Services program. I also will continue to volunteer for Sacred Heart Community Center as our community needs to receive proper information and services.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
Attending SJSU has provided me with the knowledge and guidance to expand my willingness to help the Hispanic/Latino community. Obtaining a degree in behavioral science will expand my opportunities within the Social Services department. I will be able to assist the most vulnerable people in the county.


Ty Supreme.

Ty Supreme (she/her/hers), ’21 Microbiology

Milestones at SJSU:
I think one of my biggest milestones at San José State has been the realization that my passion lies in the sciences. I came to San Jose Staté as a justice studies major, and I was able to utilize many of the opportunities the school had to offer in order to change my major to something I am truly passionate about.

Throughout my time at SJSU, I’ve been a President’s Scholar (2017-2018) and a Dean’s Scholar (2018-current). I’ve been able to maintain a GPA above 3.85 my whole academic career while playing Division 1 sports and will most likely graduate summa cum laude.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I think the biggest takeaway I’ve learned from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic is how resilient we college students really are. Many students throughout this pandemic have had to adapt like no one ever has before. Learning completely online was a change for everyone, teachers included, and everyone really tried their best to make the transition as easy as they could.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
I think my time at SJSU as a Division 1 athlete and a STEM major has really taught me that anything is possible if you really commit to it. There will be so many times where you don’t want to stay up late studying or don’t want to go to practice, but all of those little sacrifices are investments into your future.

Lastly, just make the most of every opportunity you’re given because you don’t want to leave college wishing you did things differently.

Career goals/next steps:
I am fortunate enough to have been accepted into the graduate program at the University of Toronto (the top university in Canada) for molecular genetics, where I intend to pursue my master’s then PhD.

My ultimate career goal is to make meaningful contributions in the fields of microbiology and immunology with a focus in the study, defense and treatment of infectious human diseases. I hope to secure a challenging position in a reputable organization or continue fundamental research by becoming a professor and mentoring young scientists.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
I think SJSU has helped me grow into the person that I am today. Looking back at freshman year, I would have never imagined that I would be graduating from a STEM program with plans to do a PhD degree.

There have been highs and there have been lows during my past four years here, but I would have never learned some of the lessons I needed to be taught if I had not decided to attend San José State, and for that I am truly grateful.


Amber Sylva.

Amber Renee Sylva (she/her/hers),’18 English, ’21 MA English

Milestones at SJSU:
During my time in the graduate program, through a competitive hiring process, I received a graduate assistant position as well as a teaching associate faculty position. I was also hired as a lead TA for all disciplines and a reader for the college’s accreditation process through critical thinking assessments.

I presented my research at two conferences, co-authored “Teaching Teaching as a Process: San Jose State University’s TA Program and the Development of Pedagogical Thinking” for Threshold Conscripts: Rhetoric and Composition TAships, and contributed work to “An Annotated Bibliography of Global and Non-Western: Sources for Comparative Rhetorical Studies” for Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society.

In addition, I am the president of Graduate Resources and Academic Development for English Studies (GRADES) as well as co-VP of The Young Rhetoricians’ Conference.

Although my aforementioned accomplishments are worth noting, my biggest achievement is successfully completing graduate school while raising my family and illustrating grit and perseverance to my three daughters: Bailey (15), Aubrey (11) and Chloey (10).

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
One of the key takeaways that I have learned while attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic is to press in when it seems unbearable. Also, to grant me, my children and my students grace; for illustrating empathy, kindness and compassion to ourselves and others is where learning starts.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
Three of the most valuable lessons that I have learned from my experience at SJSU are to: build strong relationships with the professors because they are great mentors; graduate school and life is better with a cohort; lastly, believe in yourself.

Career goals/next steps:
I am applying to local community colleges for fall 2021 teaching positions. I plan on continuing my research in pedagogical methods, rhetoric and composition, and American literature. In the future, I will be applying to doctoral programs.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State University has transformed my life in copious ways from academic to personal, but the most notable reflect in my ways of being more empathic, compassionate and encouraging toward others.


Alice Tsvinev.

Alice Tsvinev (she/her/hers), ’21 Psychology

Milestones at SJSU:
Engaging with and hearing experiences of older peers in a research lab, successfully maintaining GPA while working two jobs, finding the career right path with resources from SJSU.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Appreciating the moments we often take for granted because, as we’ve seen, events like this can impact our social life as well as academics. Another takeaway I’ve learned is to use every opportunity given to me, and I’ve done that during the COVID college shift by really focusing on schoolwork and my personal and intellectual growth.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
To always seek guidance and a mentor: It’s always best to learn from the mistakes and benefits from someone else’s journey to see how they may impact your future decisions.

Career goals/next steps:
I hope to attend graduate school to obtain a PhD in psychology and work towards becoming a professor while conducting my own research in behavioral and cognitive psychology.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
SJSU has given me the opportunity to stay close to friends and family while still experiencing a new and diverse academic and social environment. I met many wonderful peers and mentors that have encouraged me to continue pursuing my passions.


Narayani Tyagi.

Narayani Tyagi (she/her/hers), ’21 MS Physics

Milestones at SJSU:
I’d consider my major milestone to be my research projects. Another milestone I’m proud of is the Outstanding Graduate TA award that I received for spring 2020, which was one of the most grueling semesters for all of us.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
My key takeaways were health first (mental and physical, and yes, they both need equal care), patience (it can take you a long way) and using the resources that are available to you! There are so many resources that can help us a lot, but most of us might not be aware of them.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
SJSU taught me the difference between a leader and a boss. Even in a classroom setting, having a caring and approachable mentor/professor can work wonders that a strict disciplinarian could never imagine. This applies to all facets of life, and I’m glad to have had this experience.

Career goals/next steps:
The most natural career goal for me is to stay within academia and collaborate with the most brilliant minds around the world; therefore, my next step toward this goal is to start on my PhD in the fall of 2021.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
SJSU gave me more than knowledge. I found beautiful friendships here, which I know I will cherish throughout my life. I felt heard and seen by my mentors, which boosted my confidence and helped me realize the value of teacher-student interactions. In turn, it helped me set a similar example as a lab instructor for my students. I shall forever be grateful for SJSU for helping me see myself more clearly than I ever had before.


Brianna Williams.

Brianna Misaki Williams (she/her/hers), ’21 Philosophy

Milestones at SJSU:
My accomplishments are due in no small part to my involvement with Women in Business at SJSU, a pre-professional organization. The workshops and speaking engagements prepared me to enter the legal workfield at 19. I worked in business litigation and immigration for two years, and now I am a legal intern at the invaluable Record Clearance Project law clinic here at SJSU.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic was trying for many students. While I sympathize for those who have been impacted negatively, there were many new opportunities that arose as a direct result from sheltering-in-place: Commuter students were afforded more time to invest in other endeavors, the classroom become more accessible, and the forced integration of technology into almost all other aspects of our lives can be convenient even after we finish sheltering.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
The structure of learning at SJSU makes degree acquisition possible while working part-time, or even full-time hours. I, like many others, had to work during undergrad in order to support myself.

During this time, I was also committed to my role as president of the Women in Business [student organization] and still managed to enjoy and complete the coursework and be named a President’s Scholar. Your time is what you make of it.

Career goals/next steps:
I will be applying to law school in the fall of 2021. My work at the Record Clearance Project has instilled in me a desire to elevate marginalized communities. A career in law practice will be fulfilling and meaningful.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
My undergraduate experience at SJSU has allowed me to discover what it is that I enjoy and what it is that I am skilled at. I will forever be grateful for the professors who have been flexible and patient with me.

I will cherish and maintain the friendships I’ve formed along the way. I will be sure to give back to the SJSU community when the opportunity arises.


Neng Xiong.

Neng Xiong (she/her/hers), ’20 Child and Adolescent Development, ’21 MA Education, Curriculum and Instruction

Milestones at SJSU:
Since I did both my undergraduate and graduate degree at SJSU, and I had amazing opportunities to study abroad in South Korea, host one of the first Hmong cultural showcases with the Hmong Student Association, and learn from Dr. Kim Tsai as a student research assistant.

Currently, I am a resident teacher with the SEAL/OGSD/SJSU teacher residency program. I love teaching my students every day and growing as a teacher through the program!

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I’ve learned about the importance of a good support system from friends, family, colleagues and faculty. As attending college during a pandemic can feel emotionally and academically defeating and isolating, having people you can turn to for support during these difficult times can make the experience easier.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
As the saying goes, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” There were so many personal, academic and professional development opportunities presented to me while at San José State, such as becoming a Global Leader, that I learned to take advantage of as many of them as I could.

The other most important thing I have learned is that my voice matters. The power lies in the stories we hold, and I am happy I am able to share my story as a first-generation, Hmong womxn graduate student.

Career goals/next steps:
My next step is to teach in underserved elementary schools and use culturally sustaining pedagogy across all classrooms!

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State has transformed my life because I think more critically about the world I live in now. I have also challenged myself to go beyond my boundaries and become more involved in my communities.



William Yi (he/him/his), ’21 Public Relations

Milestones at SJSU:
My writing greatly improved because I was refined and tested by my major professors. It may not be perfect or the best, but I’m glad they were harsh because I needed to hear the truth and improve from there.

I saw this achievement as a major milestone for my career! I don’t have a lot of professional experience so I didn’t know how to gauge if my school work or understanding of PR was good. I was proud to be nominated by my professors because this gave me reassurance that I am on the right track.

Key takeaways from attending college during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The smallest things matter; pay attention to the details because it all adds up to be important in the long run. People appreciate the little things and will remember you for going the extra mile. Don’t cut corners!

Communities and mental breaks are important to have. Having a community around you will support and encourage you to be your best self! Also, take a break from everything and just HAVE FUN! You need to relax and destress — otherwise, you’re just going to dread the next day.

Most valuable lessons I learned from SJSU:
Go out on a limb — meaning, be more vulnerable! We’re young adults and have our whole lives ahead of us, so why should you stay in a bubble? See new places, try new things and make new friends. You might regret it later on in life, so take this chance now because you might lose it!

Lastly, it’s OK to make mistakes and it’s OK to mess up! I was always putting myself down for my past and current mistakes, but these mistakes helped me to grow and transformed me to embrace my shortcomings, and it’s better to mess up now than later!

Career goals/next steps:
My next step is to find a job! I want to gain the necessary skills needed to be a public relations professional. I want to have a career that helps many lives through storytelling. I don’t know which industry I want to go into but overall, “I want to understand every aspect with research, timeliness, empathy and honesty. I hope to know and share your story.” This is on my LinkedIn, and essentially this is how I want to tackle every challenge that comes my way.

How has SJSU transformed your life?
San José State has transformed my whole direction in life. I came to SJSU for accounting but I’m going to leave with a major in public relations. This was only possible because I went to SJSU and found a community here that encouraged me to find a different major that fit my personality.

SJSU was the best decision because I found my community, major, and passion. As a high-schooler, I didn’t see the need to go to college, but after coming to SJSU, I hope everyone attends this school. Go Spartans!

SJSU Honors Fall 2020 Graduates

Photo credit: David Schmitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Celebrates Spring 2020 Graduates

SJSU graduates smile while taking a selfie.

Photo: David Schmitz.

San Jose State University is honoring and celebrating the spring class of 2020 in a new way. On May 22, San Jose State will launch the Spring Class of 2020 graduate recognition websites—one site for eight of the colleges. Now, no matter where they are, grads can share their pride and excitement about earning their degree from SJSU with friends, family and loved ones anywhere in the world.

The traditional in-person commencement ceremony was made impossible this year due to the mandatory shelter-in-place order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“No matter the circumstances, this truly is a time of celebration, a time of pride and a time of joy,” said SJSU President Mary A. Papazian. “All of the Spartans who are a part of this resilient and historic graduating class are now part of San Jose State’s celebrated legacy. They will never be forgotten, and we are so proud of what they have achieved.”

The Spring Class of 2020 graduate recognition websites are not a virtual commencement ceremony or replacement for a live commencement ceremony. Instead, each college website will showcase the accomplishments of SJSU’s more than 7,000 spring 2020 graduates. Each college site will have searchable, shareable content, including personalized graduate slides that include their names, degrees, and applicable latin honors for all Spartans completing undergraduate and graduate degrees and those earning certificates from the Connie L. Lurie College of Education. Graduates will be able to share their personalized slides with family, friends and fellow students. They will also see congratulatory messages from President Papazian, Provost Vincent J. Del Casino Jr. and the deans of eight colleges.

Spring 2020 graduates will receive their diplomas, diploma covers and commencement books in the mail and are invited to return to campus to walk across the stage in-person at a future commencement ceremony: fall 2020 is scheduled for the week of December 14, 2020, or spring 2021, scheduled for the week of May 24, 2021.

“The beginning of 2020 will be a year to remember for many reasons, but I will remember it as the time we overcame adversity,” said Associated Students President Branden Parent. “I have seen students support others, triumph over obstacles and finish their last semester strong. I am glad to be graduating with such a resilient and diverse group of students who can face any odds. I look forward to seeing fellow grads on the new graduate recognition websites.”

The Spring Class of 2020 graduate recognition websites will remain on the SJSU homepage and commencement website throughout the summer.

SJSU Fall Graduates to be Honored and Celebrated Dec. 18-19

SJSU Fall 2018 Commencement
Photo: Best Grad Photos/San Jose State University

SAN JOSE, CA – More than 2,200 fall graduates of San Jose State University are expected to be in attendance at five separate fall commencement ceremonies, with more than 4,300 total graduates from summer and fall semesters being celebrated and honored.

The events take place Dec. 18 and 19 on the SJSU campus at the Provident Credit Union Event Center:

Wednesday, December 18

Thursday, December 19

A live stream of each of the five ceremonies will be provided.

SJSU’s Class of Fall 2019

There will be 2,226 graduates in attendance at the two days of fall commencement ceremonies. Additional highlights:

  • Of the 1,261 master’s degrees expected to be conferred for summer and fall of this year, 339 will participate in fall commencement ceremonies this week.
  • The university will graduate 513 new business professionals, 130 future educators, 519 new engineers, 276 health and human sciences future professionals, 206 humanities and arts graduates, 168 new scientists and 414 new social scientists.
  • The Lucas College and Graduate School of Business ceremony will feature remarks by alumna Sara Macdonald,’04 Accounting, currently a partner in the San Jose office of Ernst and Young and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.
  • The speaker at the Connie L. Lurie College of Education ceremony will be Megan Nebesnick, ’17 Liberal Studies, a master’s student graduating this fall from the Lurie College.
  • At the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering ceremony, Michael Grace will be the featured speaker. Grace, ’12 Mechanical Engineering, is currently a research and development mechanical systems engineer at Applied Materials and worked previously at Lockheed Martin Space Systems as a control system hardware engineer.
  • The College of Health and Human Sciences featured speaker will be student Markis Derr, graduating this year in public health.

San Jose State has a total of 4,377 graduates in the class of 2019’s summer and fall semesters.

Commencement 2019 Highlights

Media contact: Robin McElhatton, 408-924-1749, robin.mcelhatton@sjsu.edu

SAN JOSE, CA – San Jose State University honored more than 6,800 graduates during spring 2019 commencement with seven ceremonies held on May 22-24. All ceremonies were streamed live on the SJSU website.

Spartan Superheroes

Graduating Spartan superheroes celebrate the power of an education.


Among the class of 2019 were outstanding students Hyung Ik “David” Han, ’19 Psychology, and Qurat Syeda, ’19 Accounting, and former firefighter and SJSU’s Fire Weather Research Lab graduate Carrie Bowers, ‘18 MS Meteorology and Climate Science, who received the 2018 Outstanding Thesis Award. Graduating students such as Devdutt Srivastava, ’19 MA Education, Teaching Credential, overcame significant obstacles while pursuing their education. Marie Bello, ’19 Chemistry, arrived at SJSU’s Event Center with her extended family in tow. Bello will be attending the University of the Pacific Stockton to pursue a Doctor of Pharmacy. The act of accepting a college diploma was very important to Alice Perez, ’76 Graphic Design, who flew from Glendale to San Jose on May 22 to recognize her degree 43 years after completing her education.

The SJSU Experience

San Jose State graduates describe their Spartan experience.

SJSU Graduates Will Change the World

Spartan graduates share how they plan to apply newfound skills to change the world.

Melissa Anderson contributed reporting to this story.

Graphic Designer Crosses Stage, Honors Family 43 Years After Graduating

Alice Perez, ’76 Graphic Design, walks across the stage 43 years after completing her degree. Photo by Josie Lepe.

In the quiet moments before the SJSU College of the Humanities and the Arts commencement ceremony began, Alice Perez waited patiently in graduation cap and gown for her onstage moment. Perez, ’76 Graphic Design, could not participate in her own commencement ceremony 43 years ago due to illness, and for years regretted not being able to attend. Earlier this spring, she reached out to the College of Humanities and the Arts, who collaborated with SJSU’s Special Events team to include her in the 2019 ceremony. Her mother Jennie, sister Trish McRae and best friend Diana Gomez approached her with leis, all four of them smiling and giddy as they anticipated her crossing the stage.

“This is a dream come true,” Perez said as she watched the deans approach the podium. “I am forever indebted to the San Jose State University Special Events folks and the dean for helping me. I am turning 66 next week, and this is proof that anything is possible.”

Perez bedazzled her grad cap with an image of her father Rudy wearing one of his famous garlic hats that he made for the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Originally from Gilroy, Perez sought out San Jose State’s graphic design program as an undergraduate. For years, she said she worked for a print design shop before transitioning to work in design and IT for the county of San Francisco. She moved to Glendale following her retirement, but said she still volunteers her expertise as a graphic designer for organizations such as the Kiwanis La Cañada, the Chamber of Commerce of La Cañada and the Community Scholarship Foundation of La Cañada Flintridge.

Sisters Trish McRae, Alice Perez, ’76 Graphic Design, with their mother Jennie Perez. Photo by Josie Lepe.

“I am doing graphics and PR—all of the things that I learned here,” she said. “San Jose State really gave me a wonderful education. It’s exciting to be back on campus.”

Though it had been decades since she completed her degree, Perez felt it important to include her mother Jennie in her ceremony.

“Alice was the first of all the grandkids in our family to graduate from college,” said her sister McRae. “Many of us went on to graduate, but she was the leader in our family. Our parents only had an eighth-grade education, so to have our 88-year-old mother here is exciting. We’re so proud of Alice.”

During the ceremony, College of Humanities and the Arts Dean Shannon Miller included a special shout-out to Perez.

“Hers is a great story—like so many of yours—about defying expectations and becoming the first in her family to get a college degree,” said Miller. “She wanted to honor her mother and family by going through today’s ceremony. We are delighted that she is here with us today.”

 

A Proud Spartan Grad and Mentor

Marie Bello, '19 Chemistry, graduated from the College of Science May 22. Photo by David Schmitz

Marie Bello, ’19 Chemistry, graduated from the College of Science May 22.
Photo by David Schmitz

When Marie Bello, ’19 Chemistry (concentration in Biochemistry) arrived for the College of Science commencement ceremony on May 22, she had plenty of family to cheer her on, including her toddler niece who donned a pint-sized graduation cap emulating her aunt.

“I like to think I’ve been a role model since my little sister was born,” Bello said of her younger sister who is also a Spartan. “I am able to experience hardships and obstacles first, hoping to pave a much clearer path for her.”

She adds that her nephews who are in middle school and her one-year old niece are her greatest motivators.

“I love being able to experience growing up with them and I hope that someday they understand the importance and value of education through myself and others,” she said.

Bello will be attending the University of the Pacific Stockton to pursue a Doctor of Pharmacy. She credits her family for supporting her along the way as well as professors Elizabeth Migicovsky and Ningkun Wang.

“They are professors who have a real passion for sharing their knowledge and ensuring students understand the materials taught, which makes a really big impact on student work ethic,” Bello said. “As their former student, I definitely was a lot more motivated and appreciative of what I was learning.”

Her first year on campus left her feeling a little confused and unsure of what she wanted to do, but she slowly she found her bearings after the first semesters.

“As the semesters went on, slowly but surely, I was able to find study techniques that worked best for me and learned to improve my weaknesses,” she said. “Thank you, SJSU, for the wonderful four years. The friends and faculty members that I have come across will remain in a special place in my heart. I am proud and excited to be an SJSU alumna.”

SJSU Celebrates the Class of 2019 at Commencement May 22-24

College of Engineering students cheer during commencement in fall 2019. Photo courtesy of Best Grad.

College of Engineering students cheer during commencement in fall 2018. Photo courtesy of Best Grad.

Media contact: Robin McElhatton, 408-924-1749, robin.mcelhatton@sjsu.edu

SAN JOSE, CA – San Jose State University will honor more than 6,800 graduates during spring 2019 commencement with seven ceremonies to be held May 22-24.

All will be streamed live on the SJSU website, where a schedule of the ceremonies has been posted.

The Class of Spring 2019

As articulated in Transformation 2030, SJSU’s recently announced strategic plan, this is a campus of change agents and a community that thrives in the face of challenges. The graduates of the class of spring 2019 reflect these values and priorities.

  • As the university reaffirms a commitment to graduate education with the formation of a new College of Graduate Studies, this spring the university will grant 1,816 master’s degrees.
  • SJSU will grant 46 doctoral degrees, including 35 doctorates of nursing practice and 11 doctorates of educational leadership. These graduates will be future university faculty members as well as educators and clinicians.
  • The university will graduate more than 400 new education professionals, 1,400 health and human sciences professionals and 640 engineers.
  • SJSU’s commitment to providing quality research and service-learning opportunities is reflected by a number of undergraduate students who have been accepted to doctoral programs, including two students who have received prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, Andrea Coto, ’19 Civil Engineering,  and Cassandra Villicana, ’19 Biomedical Engineering.

Individual Honors

Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton, '59 Journalism, will receive an honorary degree at the College of Social Sciences Ceremony May 24.

Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton, ’59 Journalism, will receive an honorary degree at the College of Social Sciences Ceremony May 24.

  • George Skelton, ’59 Journalism, a dedicated political reporter who served as the Sacramento bureau chief and a White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, will receive an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters during the College of Social Sciences commencement ceremony, which begins at 10 a.m. May 24 at Avaya Stadium.
  • Carrie Bowers will receive the 2019 Outstanding Thesis Award at the College of Science ceremony. Bowers completed a master’s in meteorology in December 2018 and used numerical simulations to better understand the Diablo Winds of Northern California and the impact they might have on preparing for wildfires. She played an instrumental role in connecting members of SJSU’s Fire Weather Research Lab to California fire management agencies.
  • Two students will each receive the 2019 Outstanding Graduating Senior Awards for their academic achievements, leadership roles, community work and personal achievements. Hyung Ik “David” Han will be recognized at the College of Social Sciences ceremony where he will receive a bachelor’s in psychology. Qurat Syeda will be recognized at the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business ceremony, where she will receive a bachelor’s in accounting.

College speakers

SJSU alumna Huy Tran, ’87 Materials Engineering, director of Aeronautics at the NASA Ames Research Center, will deliver the commencement address at the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering, at 3:30 p.m. May 24 at Avaya Stadium. She completed both a bachelor’s and master’s in mechanical engineering and first connected with NASA as an intern in 1982. She manages a staff of 250, 300 contractors and oversees a $200 million annual budget for 10 aeronautics projects. She was the chief engineer on creating heat shields for Mars exploration. Tran has received the Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal (1998), the Exceptional Service Medal (2003) and the Outstanding Leadership Medal (2008 and 2016). She won the Government Invention of the Year Award 2007 at the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology.

Entrepreneur John Baird, a principal partner with Velocity Group, will deliver the commencement address at the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business at 10 a.m. May 23 at Avaya Stadium. Baird is a member of SJSU’s Tower Foundation Board of Directors as well as a member of the advisory board for the College of Business’ Global Leadership Advancement Center, and served as a lecturer at SJSU for 17 years. He has provided coaching for executives from Apple, Nike and Twitter as well as new venture founders such as Zesty, BloomThat and TownSquared. With Velocity, he is focused on supporting early-stage founders.


About San Jose State University

The founding campus of the 23-campus California State University system, San Jose State provides a comprehensive university education, granting bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in 250 areas of study offered through its nine colleges.

With more than 35,000 students and nearly 4,370 employees, San Jose State University continues to be an essential partner in the economic, cultural and social development of Silicon Valley and the state, annually contributing 10,000 graduates to the workforce.

The university is proud of the accomplishments of its more than 260,000 alumni, 60 percent of whom live and work in the Bay Area.

Longtime Journalist George Skelton to Receive Honorary Degree

Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton, '59 Journalism, will receive an honorary degree at the College of Social Sciences Ceremony May 24.

Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton, ’59 Journalism, will receive an honorary degree at the College of Social Sciences Ceremony May 24.

San Jose State University announced today that George Skelton, ’59 Journalism, a dedicated political reporter who served as the Sacramento bureau chief and a White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, will receive an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters during the College of Social Sciences commencement ceremony, which begins at 10 a.m. May 24 at Avaya Stadium.

Skelton has written about government and politics for more than 50 years, contributing to The Los Angeles Times since 1974. An Ojai native, he started writing for a weekly newspaper in high school, worked 30 hours a week at a newspaper while attending junior college, and transferred to San José State in 1957. Skelton wrote for The Sacramento Union while pursuing his degree and covered sports in San Francisco.

He moved to Sacramento in 1961, where he has written extensively about Capitol politics and government ever since. His twice-weekly column “Capitol Journal” has run since 1993.

In December 2011, the Sacramento Press Club honored his 50 years of California reporting with acknowledgments by former governors George Deukmejian and Gray Davis, and former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw.

SJSU Presents 2019 Outstanding Seniors and Thesis Awards

 Graduates of the class of 2018 file into Avaya Stadium for commencement. Photo by David Schmitz

Graduates of the class of 2018 walk into Avaya Stadium for commencement. Photo by David Schmitz

San Jose State University President Mary A. Papazian will recognize this year’s top graduates at commencement ceremonies held May 22-24 at the SJSU Event Center and Avaya Stadiums. Hyung Ik “David” Han and Qurat Syeda will each receive the 2019 Outstanding Graduating Senior Award for academic achievements, leadership roles, contributions to the community and personal achievements. Carrie Bowers is the recipient of the 2018 Outstanding Thesis Award in recognition of the quality of her research.

Unwavering Determination

David Han is one of two recipients of the 2019 Outstanding Senior Award and will be recognized at the College of Social Sciences commencement ceremony.

David Han is one of two recipients of the 2019 Outstanding Senior Award and will be recognized at the College of Social Sciences commencement ceremony.

Hyung Ik “David” Han, ’19 Psychology, has worked as a peer mentor at Peer Connections, a student assistant in the Center for Accessible Technology and an instructional assistant for a biopsychology course, while maintaining a 3.922 grade point average and engaging in research.

Psychology Professor Cheryl Chancellor-Freeland first met David in one of her most challenging courses, biopsychology, in which he earned a rare A+.

“He stood out among 125 classmates largely because of his superior intellect, and also because of his determination to master neuroanatomy and physiology despite his visual impairment,” she said.

Han went on to take four more courses with the professor, and due to his mastery of the course material and ability to help others learn the difficult material, she invited him to join her International Neuroeconomics Institute lab as a research assistant and to also serve as an instructional student assistant for the biopsychology course. The latter position is generally reserved for graduate-level students.

“David carved out his own niche and now serves as laboratory co-manager,” Chancellor-Freeland said.

Han has received numerous awards and scholarships including a California State University Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB) grant in 2016 to pursue his own research. A member of Psi Chi, the international honor society for psychology, where he served as campus liaison for the year of 2017-2018 school year, and the United States Association of Blind Athletes, Han received a fellowship with the public defender’s office of Santa Clara County, where he researched the stress that indigent clients, especially non-citizens, face in the courtroom.

“I have found encouragement and peace while serving my community which helped me to overcome various obstacles,” he said.

Experiencing the World

Qurat Syeda is one of two outstanding seniors in the class of 2019.

Qurat Syeda is one of two outstanding seniors in the class of 2019.

Qurat Syeda, ’19 Accounting, moved solo to the United States to study business, earning the Beta Alpha Psi Scholarship, the Gus Lease Scholarship, the Atkins Scholarship, the Financial Executives International Silicon Valley Rising Stars Scholarship and the Financial Women of San Francisco Scholarship—all in recognition of her commitment to excellence and community service.

“I have always been passionate about learning,” she said. “But I wanted to do more than just learn about the world from books. I wanted to experience it. So I made the bold decision to move out to the U.S. on my own for my undergraduate degree, the first in my family to do so.”

As an international student who achieved a stellar 4.0 grade point average, Syeda has also been dedicated to helping other students succeed.

“Qurat is not only focusing on her academics, but trying to help others as well,” said Michael Williams, an accounting lecturer. “She is competitive and wants to be the best, but not at the expense of other people.”

As a peer educator at SJSU Peer Connections and the Jack Holland Student Success Center, she has tutored and mentored more than 500 students.

“Her creativity in constantly adapting her tutoring approaches is fervent,” said Laura Roden, a lecturer in the Department of Accounting and Finance. “Always self-examining, soliciting student feedback, looking for ways to improve.”

A member of Lucas College and Graduate School of Business’ Sbona Honors program, Syeda also earned second place at the 2016 PwC Case Competition and the 2016 ISACA Research Case Competition. Syeda has accepted a position with the accounting firm PwC.

“She demonstrates remarkable interpersonal and communication skills,” said Accounting Professor Maria Bullen, noting the student’s dedication to peer education. “She is truly giving back by her considerable involvement in helping her peers.”

Examining the Small Stuff

Carrie Bowers will receive the Outstanding Thesis Award at the College of Science commencement ceremony.

Carrie Bowers will receive the Outstanding Thesis Award at the College of Science commencement ceremony.

Carrie Bowers,’18 MS Meteorology, had nine years of experience with the U.S. Forest Service, four of those on a hotshot crew in Northern California that uses hand tools and chainsaws to cut away vegetation during wildfires, before she enrolled in a master’s program at San Jose State.

“I love science and I love weather so I thought, gosh, I’ll go pursue my master’s in meteorology,” she said. “As a student studying fire, I feel like it’s a lot smaller scale. You have to study the details—the smaller things that make fires do what they do—whether it’s large-scale atmospheric patterns or even just small patterns around differences in terrain or small differences in temperature that determine where that fire is going to go.”

Her master’s thesis does just that.

Bowers conducted the first detailed climatological analysis of the Diablo winds of Northern California, the strong offshore downslope wind system thought to be responsible for some of California’s largest wildfires.

Her thesis, titled “The Diablo Winds of Northern California: Climatology and Numerical Simulations,” presents high-resolution numerical simulations of three significant Diablo wind events, examining the impact of this phenomenon to better understand and prepare for large wildfires in Northern California. She recently presented her findings to fire professionals, meteorologists and other researchers at the Fire Weather Research Workshop April 26.

Bowers helped Associate Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science Craig Clements connect SJSU’s Fire Weather Research Laboratory to Tahoe National Forest professionals for specialized training, enabling undergraduates and graduate students to collect research data at wildfire incidents.

“That really allowed us to connect with people in the fire and made sure we were talking with operations and safety people,” she said. “Everybody knew where we were and we knew what was going on. We were also able to get data from them, but also provide them data.”

“Carrie is a very dedicated student who has a great ability to eek out the details of what she is studying,”Clements said. “Carrie brought a sense of professionalism to the lab with her extensive experience as a hot-shot firefighter with the US Forest Service. Her experiences from the fire line helped motivate all the lab’s team members, not only in the classroom, but out in the field as well.”

He described Bowers as a natural leader and said he was honored she selected SJSU for her graduate studies.

“Her project on Diablo winds was a topic I was wanting to focus on for 10 years, and Carrie took that project idea and created the first quantification of these winds systems and the first numerical studies of their dynamics,” he said.

Bowers has returned to the San Diego area, where she used to live. She is now working for San Diego Gas and Electric as a fire science meteorologist.

“To have it work out the way it did is really amazing,” she said. “I always wanted to get down to San Diego because it’s where I grew up. Here I am, working a wonderful job with wonderful people. I’m using my meteorology knowledge and my fire experience and knowledge.”

Julia Halprin Jackson contributed to this report.

Cyber Spartans Encourage Next Generation of Coders

During March 2019, SJSU students mentored elementary school students while teaching them about cybersecurity as part of the Cyber Spartans program at Sherman Oaks Elementary School.

The Center for Community Learning and Leadership (CCLL) and the Jay Pison STEM Education Program partnered this spring to offer a unique afterschool program to students at Sherman Oaks Elementary School in the Campbell Union School District. Through the Cyber Spartan program SJSU students engaged as mentors and teachers to underserved youth while teaching them about cybersecurity and coding.

Luan Bao Dinh, ’19 MS Applied Mathematics, served as co-program manager of Cyber Spartans while taking courses and working as a graduate teaching associate in the math department. He graduates this spring, one of 1,816 students completing a master’s degree.

“Cyber Spartans is a program that uses already available kid-friendly computer languages like Scratch to teach underserved youth the cybersecurity content with integrated computer science concepts,” said Dinh, who helped to develop curriculum for the program. “My favorite part was when I had to create different modules in Scratch. I get to create these fun games while reviewing all of the computer science concepts I also need for my master thesis.”

Dinh also appreciated seeing how much the kids enjoyed the lessons.

SJSU students pose for a photo with elementary school children who participated in the month-long Cyber Spartan after school program.

SJSU students pose for a photo with elementary school children who participated in the month-long Cyber Spartan afterschool program.

Every Tuesday and Thursday in March, SJSU students met with the elementary school students from 3:30 to 5 p.m. for cybersecurity lessons and coding practice. The program initially received seed funding from Symantec, a company that produces cybersecurity products. The month-long afterschool program culminated with a visit from Cisco professionals who shared their experience working in cybersecurity as well as the importance of attending college in their success. SJSU’s Associate Professor of Psychology David Schuster, who has a National Science Foundation Career Award to study human factors in cybersecurity, moderated the panel.

“More students than ever have daily access to computers and the internet,” said Campbell Union School District Superintendent Shelly Viramontez. “Teaching them to think more about how they’re engaging with technology is a crucial life skill that our teachers reinforce daily. The SJSU Cyber Spartans partnership enhances and extends those lessons into the afterschool hours and the kids are really energized.”

Candice Lee, ’18 Psychology, was recruited to work as part of the Cyber Spartan team through Schuster’s VECTR Laboratory. In fact, she has been accepted into the master’s program for Human Factors/Ergonomics in the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering for fall 2019.

“The program was completely new to me, and I think it is incredibly meaningful and of service to our community,” Lee said. “Teaching and Exposing STEM-related fields, especially safe cybersecurity behaviors, will not only protect our future generation but perhaps spark some interest and curiosity in the future of technology.”

Lee said she especially appreciated the opportunity to see how a younger generation that has grown up with ready access to technology interacts and learns in different modes.

“They have different attention spans and different ways or modes of learning than I did when I was younger,” she said. “So adjusting the curriculum, the presentation or the pace of the educational materials was certainly an interesting challenge.”

Joanna Solis, a CSU STEM Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) who works with CCLL and the Jay Pinson Stem Education Program, helped the SJSU team develop the curriculum and served as a liaison between the SJSU mentors and elementary students.

“As the program culminated seeing everyone’s happy faces is something I will always remember,” she said. “Seeing how close youth became with their mentors and the positive friendships that were established was very rewarding to see. Teaching youth cybersecurity concepts and having them relay back the information in their own words was a very satisfying experience.”

Diverse Issues in Higher Education names SJSU a Top Producer of Asian American Graduates

 

Students don their caps and gown during fall commencement in December 2018. Photo by David Schmitz

Students don their caps and gown during fall commencement in December 2018. Photo by David Schmitz

Diverse Issues in Higher Education named SJSU a top producer of Asian American graduates in its May 2 edition.  Each year, the magazine publishes lists of the top 100 producers of associate, bachelor’s and graduate degrees. The release coincides with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and the lists are based on the number of domestic students, not including international students. The announcement comes as SJSU prepares for spring 2019 commencement May 22-24.

Diverse Issues in Higher Education named SJSU a top producer of Asian American graduates; the university ranked #1 for most business administration, management and operations graduates. Photo by David Schmitz

Diverse Issues in Higher Education named SJSU a top producer of Asian American graduates; the university ranked #1 for most business administration, management and operations graduates. Photo by David Schmitz

SJSU was listed #6 overall for the number of Asian American students completing a bachelor’s in any discipline and made the top 10 lists for 12 areas of study. SJSU ranked #1 for most business administration, management and operations graduates; #2 for education; transportation and materials moving; and visual and performing arts; and #5 for communications and journalism, and justice studies related fields; among other degree areas.

The university also fared well for the number of master’s degrees completed, ranking #8 for all disciplines combined; making the top 10 lists for seven areas of study. SJSU was listed #1 for engineering and library science; #2 for parks, recreation, leisure and fitness studies; and #3 for rehabilitation and therapeutic professions.

To compile the list, Diverse Issues in Higher Education analyzed the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistic’s Integrated Postsecondary Education data set for 2016-17. The complete lists for all races and degree type can be found online at www.diverseeducation.com/top100.

The Chinese and the Iron Road Exhibit

In commemoration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month the Africana, Asian American, Chicano and Native American (AAACNA) Studies Center is hosting a new exhibit, “The Chinese and the Iron Road.” The show opened on April 25 and runs through May 24. The traveling exhibit by the Chinese Historical Society of America celebrates and honors the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad by Chinese immigrant laborers.

Local scholar Connie Young Yu, whose maternal great-grandfather worked on the railroad, will give a presentation on the exhibit May 16, at 6 p.m., in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, Room 255.

For more on the exhibit, visit the Chinese Historical Society of America’s website.

Spring Graduate Cassandra Villicana Set for Stanford with NSF Fellowship

Cassandra Villicana, '19 Biomedical Engineering, poses for a photo at a Biomedical Engineering Society of SJSU event.

Cassandra Villicana, ’19 Biomedical Engineering, poses for a photo at a Biomedical Engineering Society of SJSU event.

By Abby McConnell, Office of Research

Cassandra Villicana, ’19 Biomedical Engineering, didn’t speak English before she enrolled in kindergarten in East San Jose, but by the time she started first grade, she was bilingual and doing math at a 4th grade level. Her parents, who emigrated from Mexico, emphasized the value of education to all of their children from a very young age. When Villicana’s brothers were in elementary school, her parents enrolled in an adult school to learn English, and when Villicana was born, they made sure their daughter had a head start when it came to numbers.

Cassandra Villicana has been involved in interdisciplinary research in a biochemistry lab at SJSU as well as other research projects.

Cassandra Villicana has been involved in interdisciplinary research in a biochemistry lab at SJSU as well as other research projects.

“Although my father did not receive any formal education and my mother only attended primary school, they knew core math concepts that they wanted me to understand. I remember sitting at the kitchen table after school and doing my times tables and learning long division with my mom, while my father took out card games and dominoes to help me understand statistics,” she said.

Villicana is one of two SJSU students who has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP). The NSF received more than 12,000 applicants in 2018 and made 2,000 offers nationwide.

The GRFP is the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, and recognizes outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees. NSF Fellows often become knowledge experts who contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering.

From Multiplication to MESA

While Villacana’s early talent for math might have been a sign of her future in STEM, she said she didn’t fall in love with science until she was a freshman at Mt. Pleasant High School in East San Jose. There, she discovered the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement Program (MESA), an organization that fosters early interest in math and science and prepares California middle and high school students to successfully pursue STEM majors in college.

Her first MESA competition introduced her to biomedical engineering and inadvertently, San Jose State. Her team was tasked with building and presenting a prosthetic arm for the National Engineering Competition, and regionals were held on SJSU’s campus. Villicana has been hooked on the possibilities of science and engineering ever since.

“It was the real world application of science and math concepts that I loved, especially the ability to translate that into an actual device that could help people. That transfer of knowledge was incredibly powerful to me,” Villicana said.

Research and Outreach

Cassandra Villicana presented her research at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students.

Cassandra Villicana presented her research at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students.

Helping others and transferring knowledge The values of transferring knowledge and helping people speak to the core of who Villicana is, both personally and academically. Through MESA in high school, she mentored younger students in STEM activities, and once at SJSU, through the college-level MESA Engineering Program (MEP) she continued that work. In her undergraduate career she has supported educational outreach to local schools, coordinated corporate sponsors for the Science Extravaganza and judged the MESA Engineering Design Competition. She also managed to earn the title of “Youngest Hired Chemistry Workshop Instructor” by running a support class for fellow undergraduates to help them pass one of the most failed courses on campus.

“As an engineering student, while service and outreach may be on your to-do list, it takes effort and focus to find the time to give back,” said Blanca Sanchez-Cruz, assistant director of Student Support Programs in the College of Engineering. “As Cassandra has moved forward academically and professionally, her priorities have remained linked to the local community. While she has always possessed a clear vision of what she wants to achieve, her priority is building bridges to student whose backgrounds are similar to her own, so they can see a path to college and careers in STEM.”

Villicana has been involved in a range of research activities, from collaborating on a real-time heart rate monitor prototype at Chung Yuan Christian University in Taiwan through the Global Technology Institute Program at SJSU to laser development at Boston Scientific Corporation, researching ways of destroying kidney stones and prostate scar tissue without invasive surgery. For the past two years, she has conducted research in Dr. Laura Miller Conrad’s biochemistry lab, working to reverse the effectiveness of antibiotic-resistant pathogens from the inside-out, by blocking the pathways that make them immune to some of the world’s most commonly used antibiotics.

Taking the Next Step

This research was at the core of Villicana’s proposal for the NSF fellowship, and she also incorporated her interest in microfluidic device design.

After gaining admission to twelve graduate programs, Villicana decided to take her NSF support with her to Stanford in the fall. Choosing Stanford had much to do with the sense of community she experienced during her campus visit, which felt very similar to the one she was a part of at SJSU. She acknowledges it will be challenging to leave behind supportive professors and advisors, including Dr. Karen Singmaster, Susan Arias, MESA Program Director at SJSU, Miller-Conrad and Sanchez-Cruz, not to mention peers and friends from programs like the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE), Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and MEP.

“At least at Stanford, I won’t be far,” Villicana said. “For me, it’s a huge bonus that I can stay local. I love the idea of being able to come back to SJSU and support the organizations that helped me, while using my experiences to show underrepresented students what is possible.” 

Science Students Make a MARC

Graduating MARC students (l-r): Nebat Ali, ’19 Microbiology, Mulatwa Haile, ’19 Biological Sciences, Brianna Urbina, ’19 Biological Sciences, and Natanya Villegas, ’19 Microbiology. Photo: Roman Goshev.

Graduating MARC students (l-r): Nebat Ali, ’19 Microbiology, Mulatwa Haile, ’19 Biological Sciences, Brianna Urbina, ’19 Biological Sciences, and Natanya Villegas, ’19 Microbiology. Photo: Roman Goshev.

Between maintaining a strong GPA, studying for entrance exams, developing a strong resume and paying application fees, the path to graduate school can be a steep learning curve. For 30 years, the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (U*STAR) program, sponsored by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, has provided financial support and mentorship for undergraduates who are underrepresented in the biomedical sciences to do research and prepare them for doctoral training. Directed by Microbiology Professor Cleber Ouverney, the MARC program offers two years of support in the form of educational grants, research and conference opportunities, and workshops designed to prepare students for graduate school. The MARC program works in synergy with other programs on campus such as Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (RISE), also funded by NIGMS and administered by Dr. Karen Singmaster in the Chemistry Department. For instance, a number of students may start their research experience in RISE before they move to MARC.

“The National Institute of Health is trying to diversify the scientists that are making decisions in science,” says Ouverney, a native of Brazil who pursued his graduate education in the U.S. “They are trying to fund students who are not normally seen in the sciences. About 75 to 80 percent of MARC students enter competitive PhD programs.”

One such alumnus is Alejandro Lopez, ’16 Psychology, who worked in Biological Sciences Professor Katherine Wilkinson’s lab before beginning his PhD program in neuroscience at Emory University. He says that his MARC experience prepared him well to apply for graduate school and instilled in him the desire to inspire others to study science.

“I want to make sure I stay involved in any type of program that encourages support for minority or underrepresented students like myself in the future, because I know that I was given so many opportunities being in the MARC program,” says Lopez. “I’ve always been taught to pay it forward. In 10 years I’d like to continue mentoring and teaching students and encouraging them to pursue hopefully a PhD in whatever STEM field they choose.”

Nebat Ali, ’19 Microbiology, Mulatwa Haile, ’19 Biological Sciences, Brianna Urbina, ’19 Biological Sciences, and Natanya Villegas, ’19 Microbiology participated in the MARC program. Ali worked in Biological Sciences Professor Miri VanHoven’s genetics lab before getting accepted into UCSF’s PhD in biomedical sciences program. Haile worked in Biological Sciences Professor Katherine Wilkinson’s neurophysiology lab and will be starting a PhD in neurophysiology at UC Irvine. Urbina worked in Biological Sciences Assistant Professor Rachael French’s genetics lab and will be pursuing a PhD in biochemistry, molecular, cellular and developmental biology at UC Davis. Villegas will be starting a PhD in molecular biology at the University of Oregon after completing her work in Biological Sciences Associate Professor Katherine Wilkinson’s neurophysiology lab.

The Future of Science

This week San Jose State University will celebrate the historic groundbreaking for its new Interdisciplinary Science Building on Thursday, April 25, at 10 a.m. on the university’s campus in front of Duncan Hall.

Following the ceremonial groundbreaking and program, attendees can see the future of SJSU science firsthand at the College of Science 15th Annual College of Science Student Research Day, located nearby in the Duncan Hall breezeway. More than 100 student-faculty teams will present original work in all science disciplines.

Complete ISB groundbreaking event information may be found at sjsu.edu/sciencepark.

Civil Engineering Student Andrea Coto Earns NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

SJSU student Andrea Coto presented work with SJSU AVP for Undergraduate Programs Thalia Anagnos at the Stanford Blume Center/SURI Affiliates/Alumni Meeting in fall 2018. Coto, '19 Civil Engineering, has received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to pursue a graduate degree at Stanford.

SJSU student Andrea Coto presented research with SJSU AVP for Undergraduate Education Thalia Anagnos at the Stanford Blume Center/SURI Affiliates/Alumni Meeting in fall 2018. Coto, ’19 Civil Engineering, has received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to pursue a graduate degree at Stanford.

By Abby McConnell, SJSU Office of Research

Despite her acceptance to graduate school at Stanford in the fall and an impressive undergraduate career, which boasts three associate degrees, internships with NASA and the Port of San Francisco, along with participation in the McNair Scholars Program, the Engineering Leadership Pathways Scholars Program (ELPS) and the Stanford Summer Undergraduate Research Programs (SURF), Andrea Coto is still a bit shocked that she was recently awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP). Securing a fellowship is intensely competitive: For the 2018 competition, NSF received over 12,000 applications and made 2,000 award offers.

Andrea Coto poses at a project at the Port of San Francisco in 2019.

Andrea Coto poses at a project at the Port of San Francisco in 2019.

The GRFP is the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, and recognizes outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees. NSF Fellows often become knowledge experts who contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering.

In the more immediate future, the fellowship will fund three years of Coto’s graduate program. While still processing the news, she is already mapping out the possibilities. Her NSF proposal and anticipated graduate research will focus on one of her passions: sustainable design and construction as it relates to extreme environments, specifically outer space.

“Space exploration is really a giant lab, right?” she said. “I want to bring that research back to earth.”

When asked how she’s achieved so much in such a short time, she shrugged and smiled. “I apply to programs I’m interested in,” she said. “I figure they have to pick someone, so why not me?’”

From El Salvador to the Mission District

Several years ago, Coto herself might have doubted this kind of self-assuredness. If not for a handful of key mentors, she said, she wouldn’t have made it this far.

Coto was born in the Bay Area, but much of her young life was spent in El Salvador, the native county of both her parents. After their separation and divorce, Coto’s mother was left to raise Coto and her brother on her own.

“My mom is the most resilient and resourceful person I have ever met,” Coto said. “She even learned to bake so she could sell bread to pay our bills.”

Although Coto earned a technical degree in civil engineering in El Salvador, upon graduation, there were no job opportunities. Soon afterward, relatives in San Francisco invited her to come live with them. Coincidently, she had saved just enough money for a flight to the Bay Area. She was hesitant to leave her family and her boyfriend behind, but she knew it was the only way.

Her early days here were challenging, from trying to learn conversational English to working at a Dollar Store in the Mission for $6 an hour. Things shifted when she started taking non-credit ESL classes at City College of San Francisco, and her English language skills were buoyed by her work in retail, which included selling shoes at Macy’s.

Andrea Coto, '19 Civil Engineering, participated in NASA's Community College Aerospace Scholars program while earning an associate's degree.

Andrea Coto, ’19 Civil Engineering, participated in NASA’s Community College Aerospace Scholars program while earning an associate’s degree.

She eventually matriculated at the Ocean City College campus, where she met a key mentor, Dr. Edgar Torres. After a difficult semester juggling three jobs and failing Calculus II, she told Torres she was going to drop out.

“I told him I wasn’t smart enough to be an engineer,” she said. “He told me that wasn’t the problem, and that I should take the class again with a different professor. I did, and got a B+.”

Early mentors like Torres were invaluable to Coto, and she has consistently sought out female and Hispanic engineers, graduate students and professors as role models along the way.

“I don’t believe in the ‘you can’t see, you can’t be’ philosophy, but representation is incredibly important,” Coto said.

Finding a ‘Pathway’ at SJSU

Andrea Coto joined SJSU as a transfer student. Here she poses for a photo on Admitted Spartans Day after she accepted admissions to SJSU.

Andrea Coto joined SJSU as a transfer student. Here she poses for a photo on Admitted Spartans Day after she accepted admissions to SJSU.

Once at SJSU, she worked diligently to leverage the resources available to her. She also credits professors and administrators such as Dr. Laura Sullivan Green from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, McNair Scholars Director Dr. Maria Elena Cruz, and Engineering Leadership Pathway Scholars program founder Dr. Thalia Anagnos, for guiding her and showing her what was possible.

Anagnos created the ELPS program in partnership with the NSF, and it has provided scholarships, mentoring, leadership and career development to more than 70 low-income, academically talented students at SJSU.

While they have all been exceptional, Anagnos said Coto stands out. “From her first weeks at SJSU, she sought opportunities to both better herself and give back,” she said. “Andrea is a natural leader in all areas of her life—academic, professional and personal—but she also brings a genuine optimism to her every interaction.”

Even when discussing the recent death of her father, that optimism is evident. Coto learned he had terminal cancer in the midst of applying to graduate schools and the NSF program. As she toured places like MIT and Stanford, she sent him photos and videos so that he could share in the experience. She also returned to El Salvador several times last fall to visit him.

“Being there with him before he died healed a lot of things,” she said.

Looking Toward the Future

Despite this loss, she continues to move forward. Her mother, brother and her boyfriend (who is now her husband) were able to join her in the U.S. in 2013, and she views her accomplishments as collective achievements. “All that really matters is that we are together,” she said.

As graduation nears, Coto is focused on yet another goal: outreach. She wants underrepresented students like herself to hear her story and see where they can go, and in the process, hopefully shift negative narratives around Latino immigrants.

“Storytelling is powerful. I believe it’s the way we change lives and perspectives, especially in light of the current administration,” she said. “I want to fight the misconceptions about El Salvadorians and other immigrants from my own ‘trench’ in this way, in order to increase knowledge and understanding.”

“They Migrated So I Graduated”

Photo: Josie Lepe

On December 19, hundreds of San Jose State University graduates crossed the stage at the Event Center at SJSU to accept their degrees. Among those celebrating, a young woman in her cap and gown sat, quiet and contemplative, on the cold cement. The Mercury News photographer Randy Vazquez, ’15 Journalism, tweeted a photograph of Tania Soto, ’18 Child and Adolescent Development, that included the phrase she’d written across her cap: “They Migrated So I Graduated.” The tweet quickly went viral, begging the question: Who is Tania Soto and what is the story of her cap?

Soto says that her cap is dedicated to her parents, who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to provide a better life for her and her brother. When she was in third grade, her father confided that he’d only been able to attend school through second grade—her mother through third—because he had to help support his family. Motivated by her parents’ sacrifices, Soto resolved to pursue a college degree and create the life her family envisioned for her.

“My parents had to work jobs that no person with an education would do, because it’s hard work,” she says. “They had to live with other family members, because rent was too high and the income was too low. I wanted to show my dad and mom that their sacrifices weren’t being thrown away. They were the ones who motivated me and gave me strength every time I felt like dropping out. I am where I am today thanks to them.”

“While her husband and mother were there to celebrate her achievement, Soto was heartbroken to learn that her father couldn’t get off work. She says that crossing the stage, accepting her diploma and shaking President Mary Papazian’s hand was her father’s moment as much as it was hers. Still, she savored the experience.

“I had been waiting for this moment for six years and to finally be able to walk across the stage was so surreal that I just wanted to cry and scream with happiness,” she says. “This accomplishment represents hard work. It taught me that any goal is reachable, no matter the obstacles that come to you.”

When she spotted Vazquez’s tweet, Soto was surprised and humbled by its response. Her belief in the impact of education is echoed in her work at an infant toddler center in Palo Alto. She plans to use her experience, coupled with her expertise in child development, to inspire kids to plan for college.

“I want to work with children and families in the community where I grew up,” says Soto. “Many of the families and children in my community do not have aspirations of obtaining higher education, and I want to change that. I want to make sure children learn about college and all the resources available.”

Perhaps some of Soto’s future students will one day follow in her footsteps, crossing the stage at the Event Center at SJSU, becoming Spartan graduates themselves.

More than 4,000 San Jose State University students graduated in December 2018, joining a community of 270,000 Spartan alumni.

 


 

President’s Message on Commencement Week

Dear Campus Community,

As students and faculty finish final exams in the coming days, we have a momentous week ahead of us. For more than 10,000 students, commencement will mark the fulfillment of many aspirations and dreams—for themselves and their families.

Our ceremonies are rooted in a deep academic tradition, but commencement is about more than the conferral of degrees. When we gather together—family and friends, faculty and staff, and community members—we are celebrating the transformation that these students have undergone during their time at San Jose State University.

I hope all of you will join me in acknowledging the tremendous achievement of these students who completed degrees in 2017-18 by offering well wishes as they begin a new chapter in their lives. Next year, we anticipate holding both fall and spring commencements to allow all students and families to celebrate in the moment. For more details on this year’s ceremonies, visit the commencement website.

Outstanding Graduates

This year, we will continue with our tradition of presenting the Outstanding Graduating Senior Awards and Outstanding Graduate Thesis Award during commencement, when these students will be recognized at their college’s ceremony.

The students selected to receive the Outstanding Graduating Senior Awards have shown a commitment to community service and leadership while maintaining a stellar academic record.

Sierra Peace, a College of Social Sciences psychology major, arrived at San Jose State as a 16-year-old freshman with her sights set on medical school. She juggled four jobs while volunteering with the Third Street Community Center, the Associated Students community garden and Regional Medical Center of San Jose. Her 3.97 GPA qualified her for Educational Opportunity Program Honors for four years.

In the College of Applied Sciences and Arts, Department of Health Science and Recreation’s Nardos Darkera has given back to the Spartan community while maintaining a 3.85 GPA. As a public health student, she has represented San Jose State as a United Nations Foundation Global Health Fellow, served as a peer teaching assistant, and worked as a lead peer advisor in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts Student Success Center.

I am also pleased to recognize the exemplary research of a top student this year. A graduate student in the Department of Environmental Studies in the College of Social Sciences, Emily Moffitt collected feathers from more than 160 birds at the San Jose Coyote Creek field station. She analyzed the specimens to understand where the birds spent their breeding seasons, providing important information about migrations that could prove critical for preserving habitat.

Educator, Musician Receives Honorary Doctorate

I also am looking forward to welcoming Artemio Posadas, an educator of traditional Mexican music and dance, at the College of Humanities and Arts ceremony. Posadas, our 2018 honorary doctorate of Humane Letters recipient, was a 2016 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow.

He was born in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, where he discovered son huasteco, regional music, punctuated with poetic, instrumental and dance improvisation and falsetto breaks. The NEA posted excerpts of two lively numbers. A tremendous influence for generations, Posadas has taught musicians and dancers for 40 years. Read more about his achievements online.

A New Tradition Rooted in History

Among the very first items spectators will see at each ceremony is San Jose State’s new mace, an ornamental staff or scepter borne as a symbol of authority by the individual leading the processional of students, faculty and administrators as they enter the venue and take their seats.

The tradition of the mace derives from medieval times in England, when it was held by a guard for dignitaries at ceremonial functions, and maces remain in use today by governing bodies worldwide. The carrying of the mace will add an extra air of dignity and authenticity to our commencement.

Yvonne Escalante, ’13 MFA Spatial Arts, considered elements of our own university history when she set out to design and create the new ceremonial mace. Her philosophy as a craftswoman and SJSU Art and Art History lecturer also helped to shape the meaning of this new piece of SJSU history. Read more about Escalante’s process in designing the mace on the WSQ Magazine Blog.

Gratitude

An enormous number of faculty and staff members, along with alumni and retirees, led by Commencement Committee chair Brian Bates, have been working together quite literally to re-write the script for how San Jose State honors its graduates. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who has contributed to this effort and who will continue to work on stage and behind the scenes through all seven ceremonies this week. Your willingness to move mountains for San Jose State is an attribute of this university community that I have come to appreciate deeply.

With congratulations and gratitude,

Dr. Mary A. Papazian, President

SJSU Presents 2018 Outstanding Seniors and Thesis Awards

Media contacts:
Pat Harris, SJSU Media Relations, 408-924-1748, pat.harris@sjsu.edu

SAN JOSE, CA – San Jose State University President Mary A. Papazian will recognize this year’s top graduates at commencement ceremonies to be held May 23-25 at the SJSU Event Center and Avaya Stadium. Nardos Darkera and Sierra Peace will each receive the 2018 Outstanding Graduating Senior Award for academic achievements, leadership roles, contributions to the community and personal achievements. Emily Moffitt is the recipient of the 2018 Outstanding Thesis Award in recognition of the quality of her research.

Nardos Darkera

Nardos Darkera (all photos courtesy of the students)

Nardos Darkera, ’18 Public Health, has given back to the Spartan community while maintaining a 3.85 GPA. She has represented San Jose State as a United Nations Foundation Global Health Fellow, served as a peer teaching assistant, worked as a lead peer advisor in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts Success Center, and interned with Planned Parenthood Mar Monte. Darkera is a recipient of the Louie Barozzi Scholarship for academic excellence and community service, the Dean’s International Scholarship to study abroad in Puerto Rico, and the Health Science Scholarship to attend the American Public Health Association Meeting in Atlanta. She will continue on to the University of California, San Francisco, to pursue a master’s degree in global health. Health Science Professor Kathleen Roe predicts that Darkera “will be a leader of thought, social action, professions — and maybe even politics.”

Sierra Peace

Sierra Peace

Sierra Peace, ’18 Psychology, arrived at San Jose State as a 16-year-old freshman with her sights set on medical school. A member of SJSU’s International Neuroeconomics Institute research lab since 2015, Peace has presented two posters at the Western Psychological Association Conference. She juggled four jobs while volunteering with the Third Street Community Center, the Associated Students of SJSU community garden and the Regional Medical Center of San Jose. Her 3.97 GPA qualified her for Educational Opportunity Program Honors for four years. She was also a 2016 and 2017 Dean’s Scholar, a 2017 Hoover-Langdon Scholar and a 2018 President’s Scholar. Psychology Professor Cheryl Chancellor-Freeland describes Peace as “the most exceptional student I have encountered in my 23 years of teaching.”

Emily Moffitt

Emily Moffitt

Emily Moffitt, ’17 Environmental Studies, collected feathers from 169 birds at San Jose’s Coyote Creek Field Station, and then analyzed the feathers for stable isotopes to reveal where birds spent their breeding season. Her thesis “Using Stable Isotope Analysis to Infer Breeding Latitude and Migratory Timing of Juvenile Pacific-Slope Flycatchers (Empidonax difficilis)” revealed the species’ migratory patterns, critical information for preserving habitats the birds need to survive. She partnered with the University of California, Davis, Stable Isotope Facility to develop statistical programs and used ArcGIS to portray probable breeding origins, and support her research using isotope reference and Breeding Bird Survey data.


About San Jose State University

The founding campus of the 23-campus California State University system, San Jose State provides a comprehensive university education, granting bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in 250 areas of study – offered through its eight colleges.

With more than 35,000 students and nearly 4,370 employees, San Jose State University continues to be an essential partner in the economic, cultural and social development of Silicon Valley and the state, annually contributing 10,000 graduates to the workforce.

The university is immensely proud of the accomplishments of its more than 260,000 alumni, 60 percent of whom live and work in the Bay Area. 

Influential Educator of Traditional Mexican Music and Dance Artemio Posadas to Receive Honorary Degree

Artemio Posadas (National Heritage Fellow portrait by Tom Pich)

Artemio Posadas (National Heritage Fellow portrait by Tom Pich)

Media contacts:
Pat Harris, 408-924-1748,
pat.harris@sjsu.edu

SAN JOSE, CA – San Jose State University announced today that Artemio Posadas, a celebrated educator of traditional Mexican music and dance, will receive an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters during the College of Humanities and the Arts commencement ceremony beginning at 1:30 p.m. May 24 at the Event Center at SJSU. 

Artemio Posadas

Posadas was a 2016 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow. He was born in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, where he discovered son huasteco, regional music punctuated with poetic, instrumental and dance improvisation and falsetto breaks. The NEA posted excerpts of two lively numbers.

A graduate of the Universidad de San Luis Potosí, Posadas recorded regional sones with the late Beno Liberman for the Antología del Son Mexicano. In 1974, he started giving music and dance workshops in California, where he later became an American citizen. Since 1991, he has been teaching the youth at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts in Richmond, Calif.

Posadas served as a master artist through the Alliance for California Traditional Artists, and taught at the Center for Training and Careers in San Jose and in the East Bay public school system. A tremendous influence for generations, Posadas has taught musicians and dancers for 40 years.


About San Jose State University

The founding campus of the 23-campus California State University system, San Jose State provides a comprehensive university education, granting bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in 250 areas of study – offered through its eight colleges.

With more than 35,000 students and nearly 4,370 employees, San Jose State University continues to be an essential partner in the economic, cultural and social development of Silicon Valley and the state, annually contributing 10,000 graduates to the workforce.

The university is immensely proud of the accomplishments of its more than 260,000 alumni, 60 percent of whom live and work in the Bay Area.