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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your career goals and next steps after graduation?

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

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

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

 

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

Jobelle Abellera Named 2020-2021 CSU Trustee Scholar

Jobelle Abellera, ’21 Computer Science

Photo courtesy of Jobelle Abellera, ’21 Computer Science

The California State University has selected Jobelle Abellera, ’21 Computer Science, for the CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement for the 2020-2021 academic year.

San José State student Abellera earned the prestigious Trustee William Hauck and Padget Kaiser Scholar award as a result of her superior academic performance, exemplary community service and personal accomplishments. A portrait of fortitude, Abellera earned this award overcoming considerable physical and financial adversities.

Growing up in the Bay Area in a low-income household, Abellera didn’t have access to the “cool things that everyone had.” However, during elementary school, she found something that excites her even today: her parents’ old computer. Toying with the computer and playing video games soon became a source of inspiration. Abellera came to appreciate the stories, characters, music, coded graphics, and all the defining elements of these games. “I like playing online games. I used to have a PlayStation during my elementary school years. I used to play on that until my dad gave it away,” she said.

Her parents instilled in her the value of education early on. She quotes her father: “Go to college, get a degree and you will have a career and you will have a good life.” Abellera took the advice by heart and always made an effort to stay on course.

When Abellera was in middle school she was diagnosed with scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine, that left her in acute pain. “I wore a back brace during the first two years of my middle school, and did therapeutic back exercises to correct my spine,” she said. It was during this time that her self-esteem dipped  and she became reclusive. Abellera felt she didn’t “fit in” with the braces sticking out her clothes. The efforts yielded insufficient results as the curvature worsened, and she was forced to undergo back surgery. “I have a metal rod on my back, and most people don’t know that about me,” she said.

“I was out of school for two months after surgery. I was just getting homeschooled and was trying to keep up even though I was sitting at home in bed with a sore back,” she said. With support from friends and family, Abellera came out of the most difficult phase of her life.

The summer after she graduated high school brought in new challenges. Abellera got evicted from a Sunnyvale mobile home community after the landlord decided to sell off the land. She now lives in a suburban town an hour away from San José State.

Her work ethic has always served her well. “I’ve never turned in an assignment late,” she said. Abellera has been an honor student throughout her life. At San José State, she received the Dean’s Scholar and President’s Scholar awards for maintaining a high GPA. Abellera has been saving up all the scholarship money that she has been awarded throughout her life, not just for her education but also for her two younger siblings to use for school.

At the core of her life-long struggle lies a desire to help the underprivileged. Abellera wants to inspire children to be more tech-savvy. In the past, she has taught kids how to code and volunteered at local high schools to raise awareness around tech. “I want to introduce the benefits of technology to people in more rural areas such as where I live now,” she said. “So everyone can work more efficiently and see how technology can build jobs and futures for people.”

Abellera sees education beyond tests and grades. She encourages people to apply skills they have learned to make a difference. Abellera’s dream is to create her own video game someday. “The underlying factor in why I ended up taking computer science was my love for video games and the way they are created,” she said. “I hope to create an artistically original message that’ll inspire future generations to try to get out there and create their own things as well.”

SJSU’s Simran Bhalla Receives Two CSU Trustees’ Awards

Simran Bhalla is the recipient of two 2019 CSU Trustees' Awards.

Simran Bhalla is the recipient of two 2019 CSU Trustees’ Awards.

Growing up in India, Simran Bhalla dreamed of one day working for NASA and venturing into outer space. She moved to California only three years ago to begin her higher education journey.

“America has given me a lot of opportunities to challenge myself, learn and grow,” she said. “However, I faced a lot of difficulties due to the high living expenses.”

As a student at De Anza College, she relied on a community kitchen for meals. She transferred to San Jose State University last year to pursue a degree in business administration with a concentration in management information systems. This summer she received some news that would help alleviate some of her financial concerns. Bhalla was selected to receive a California State University Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement. She received both the Trustee Emerita Claudia H. Hampton Scholar Award and the Trustee Emeritus William Hauck and Padget Kaiser Scholar Award.

Since starting her studies at SJSU, Bhalla began volunteering at Third Street Community Center. The non-profit organization provides educational programs for youth in San Jose. She is also an active member of the Management Information Systems Association on campus and is working alongside her professor to design products to assist students in their career goals.

This year, she is developing applications to improve the health and well-being of those impacted by natural disasters. She herself has a heart condition called mitral valve prolapse that sometimes causes a rapid heartbeat and chest pain.

“All my professors have been very supportive and understanding so that has helped me to manage my studies well,” she said.

Simran plans to earn a PhD and eventually work as a data scientist at NASA to aid and promote scientific research. But she also has other reasons for keeping focused on the future.

Simran Bhalla relaxes outside of the classroom at SJSU.

Simran Bhalla relaxes outside of the classroom at SJSU.

“There are a lot of young children who are not able to fulfill their dreams due to a lack of resources and opportunities,” she said. “I want to help them, which is only possible if I become financially independent.”

She imagines traveling and volunteering some day in different countries around the world, and perhaps returning to India to help an animal shelter where she volunteered in the past.

“The shelter treats sick and injured homeless animals, but it is currently facing financial problems,” she said. “I want to complete my degree and get a good job so that I can also help the animal shelter.”