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. 

San Jose State Commencement Celebrates 10,000 Graduates

San Jose State University concluded the year with its largest graduating class ever and a speaker who encouraged the Class of 2017 to “stand up for truth and reason” in a fast-paced and changing world.

Nearly 10,000 students received degrees this year. Among all those diplomas were 3,000 master’s degrees and 27 doctoral degrees, including the first graduating class of a new doctoral program in educational leadership.

“Your lives will change in ways that you can’t yet imagine,” said President Mary A. Papazian. “Your San Jose State degree, and the critical thinking skills you’ve gained from a caring, devoted faculty, will help you navigate that 24/7, ever-changing, unimaginably fast-moving world.”

Family members and guests arrived as early as 7:30 a.m. May 27 to find optimal seats to see graduates on the floor of CEFCU Stadium, Home of the Spartans. The morning fog burned off just in time for President Papazian to address the graduates on the football field.

Doctoral degrees

A ceremony highlight: the hooding of eight new doctors of education focusing specifically on educational leadership, earned while many of the new Ph.D.s worked full time.

Their goal? To grow in their careers while serving their communities as leaders of primary and secondary schools, as well as colleges and universities.

The graduates pursued dissertations on such varied topics as project-based learning and closing the achievement gap, harkening back to the university’s roots as a teacher’s college, founded in San Francisco shortly after the Gold Rush.

Inspiring speech

Award-winning television journalist and CEO of Latinas Contra Cancer Ysabel Duron, ’70 Journalism, delivered the Commencement address, appealing to the graduates to recognize that their degrees empower them to use their voices and contribute to society.

She brought a clock and a typewriter with her to the podium, pointing out that despite changes in technology, the values of a university endure.

“An educated, diverse society is needed to address the problems of our times,” Duron said. “And even more so, it takes a well-informed society to see the issues ahead and begin to address them in a humane way.”

A pioneering Latina broadcast journalist, Duron covered regional, national and international events for 43 years, culminating in two decades as a Bay Area reporter and anchor before launching an encore career as founder of Latinas Contra Cancer.

Giving back

During the ceremony, Phil Boyce, ’66 Business Administration, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters. Boyce has dedicated his career as a banker, businessman and philanthropist to cultivating healthy communities.

As chairman of the board of the Valley Foundation, Boyce helped establish a simulation nursing lab and create an endowment to support what is now known as the Valley Foundation School of Nursing.

“I’d like to congratulate our graduates. You have the tools to move forward,” Boyce said. “May I suggest one thing? I’d like to see you all give back to our community and this university. We need your help, we need your knowledge.”

Proudest moment

Following the speeches, the dean for each of San Jose State’s colleges took to the podium to confer master’s and bachelor’s degrees upon the graduates. As the ceremony finished, SJSU’s newest alumni joined in singing the alma mater while guests cheered.

Perhaps the proudest moment for the thousands of graduates in attendance came at the end, as they gathered with family and friends on the field for hugs, tears and, of course, photos.

Congratulations, Class of 2017!

See and share photos and messages from commencement with #SJSU17 on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

Business Leader and Philanthropist Phillip R. Boyce to Receive Honorary Degree

Phil Boyce

Phillip R. Boyce (Photo: David Schmitz)

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

SAN JOSE, CA – San Jose State University announced today that business leader and philanthropist Phillip R. Boyce, ’66 Business Administration, will receive an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters at Commencement. The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. May 27 at CEFCU Stadium, Home of the Spartans. The event will be streamed live on the university’s website.

“Through a decades-long commitment to giving back, alumnus Phillip R. Boyce epitomizes Spartan pride. In recognition of his outstanding accomplishments and dedication, the California State University Board of Trustees and San Jose State University are proud to confer upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters,” President Mary A. Papazian said.

This academic year, an estimated 10,000 San Jose State students will earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

Phillip R. Boyce

Boyce founded Pacific Valley Bank, serving Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, in 1975. Under his leadership as chairman and CEO, the bank grew to $1.4 billion in assets. He served as chairman and CEO of Pacific Western Bancshares, the bank’s holding company, as it evolved into Western Capital Management and eventually merged with Comerica. He has served as president of Boyce Associates since his retirement in 1994.

A 1997 recipient of San Jose State’s Tower Award and distinguished alumnus from SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, Boyce has devoted his career to investing in and cultivating healthy communities. As chairman of the board of the Valley Foundation, he helped establish a simulation nursing lab at SJSU’s School of Nursing and created an endowment to support the school, now known as the Valley Foundation School of Nursing.

Boyce has served in leadership capacities for dozens of Silicon Valley causes, including the Montalvo Center for the Arts, the Technology Center of Silicon Valley, the Community Foundation of Santa Clara County, the Hakone Foundation, the Silicon Valley Children’s Fund, and the Heritage Bank, among others. He currently serves as director of Goodwill Industries International, Inc.


About San José State University

The founding campus of the 23-campus California State University system, San José 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 José 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.