Faculty Notes: Supporting Teachers of Color


Photo courtesy of the Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice Facebook page.

The fifth annual Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice, co-directed by Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership Rebeca Burciaga and Mexican American Studies Chair Marcos Pizarro, will be held in June in Los Angeles. The three-day conference is a professional development opportunity for elementary, middle and high school teachers, founded by former Assistant Professor of Elementary Education Rita Kohli to support the growth, success and retention of teachers of color.

The work of Professor of Physics and Astronomy Alejandro Garcia was cited in an article posted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s News Center, featuring researchers at “the forefront of a neglected corner of the scientific world, building mathematical models for fluids at the mesoscale.” According to the report, “fluctuating hydrodynamics could have enormous impacts in applications ranging from batteries to drug delivery to microfluidic devices.”

Inside Higher Education interviewed Department of English and Comparative Literature Lecturer Leah Griesmann, the originator of National Adjunct Walkout Day. On February 25, adjunct teachers in colleges across the United States and beyond joined the protest to bring attention to the plight of college adjuncts whose job security and paychecks are minimal. “I can tell you on behalf of adjuncts everywhere that the system is broken, and you might believe me. But there’s no denying something’s going on when thousands and thousands of adjuncts and allies say the same thing,” Greismann said. She first suggested the idea of a walkout on social media in the fall of 2014. Greismann recently received an Elizabeth George Foundation grant in fiction and a MacDowell Colony artist fellowship.

Department of Aviation and Technology Lecturer Dianne Hall was profiled in Bermuda’s The Royal Gazette about her work as an engineer and firefighter and her recent trip to Pakistan in connection with SJSU’s partnership with Allama Iqbal Open University. “San Jose State is helping AIOU enhance its computer science degree,” she told the newspaper. “The intent is to train students in remote areas, where literacy is quite low, to do software engineering.” Hall visited Pakistan to train faculty to teach online and to speak about being female in male-dominated professions, encouraging by example women to study computer science or pursue “whatever they wanted to do,” Hall said.

Professor of Chemical Engineering Claire Komives and her team of researchers have developed a new opossum-based antidote to counteract poisonous snakebites that also might prove effective in counteracting scorpion, plant and bacterial toxins. Komives presented her research findings at a March meeting of the American Chemical Society. Because the anti-venom is inexpensive, Komives is optimistic that it will be distributed to underserved areas across the globe, including India, Southeast Asia and Africa, where thousands of people each year are bitten by poisonous snakes.

Publications forthcoming for Professor of Counselor Education Jason Laker include Supporting and Enhancing Learning on Campus: Effective Pedagogy In and Outside the Classroom (Routledge, 2016) and a chapter in Handbook of Student Affairs Administration (Jossey-Bass, 2015), “Unfinished Business, Dirty Laundry, and Hope for Multicultural Campus Communities.” Prior to joining the Lurie College of Education faculty, Laker served as SJSU’s vice president for student affairs.

Assistant Professor of Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging Kasuen Mauldin received an Outstanding Dietetics Educator Award in recognition of her teaching, mentoring and leadership in the field from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest organization of food and nutrition professionals in the country. Mauldin joined SJSU’s faculty in 2011. “Effective educators are organized and prepared, professional and fair, resourceful and well connected, and believe there is always room for improvement,” she said.

March 2015 marks the two-year anniversary of a $2 increase in San José’s minimum wage. To mark the occasion, Professor of Sociology Scott Myers-Lipton, who co-founded San Jose’s minimum wage campaign, contributed an article to the San Jose Mercury News, addressing lessons learned from the successful initiative as well as what remains to be done to “undo the extreme inequality caused by the political and economic changes of the past 35 years.”

Professor of Accounting and Finance Annette Nellen was appointed to the California State Board of Equalization Executive Director’s Advisory Council for a two-year term. She will serve from 2015 to 2017. The BOE, a public agency charged with tax administration and fee collection, also acts as the appellate body for business, franchise and personal tax appeals.

The Salud Familiar program, co-founded by Professor of Health Science Kathleen Roe, received a Program Excellence Award from the Society for Public Health Education. A partnership between SJSU and McKinley Elementary School, the Salud Familiar program teaches McKinley students about healthy lifestyles and promotes academic success.

Professor of Screen Writing Scott Sublett reports that SJSU’s RTVF students have achieved national recognition for screenwriting excellence, receiving four awards from Broadcast Education Association, whose Festival of Media Arts ranks as the nation’s most important film competition for RTVF programs. Lauren Serpa took second place in the feature-length screenplay category; Risha Rose received an honorable mention in the same category; and Rachel Compton and Kevin Briot both received honorable mention citations in the short screenplay category. “Once again, SJSU has the most honorees in the nation, reinforcing our dominance in the category and recognizing our department’s emphasis and excellence in screenwriting,” said David Kahn, chair of the Department of Television, Radio, Film and Theatre.

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Miri VanHoven received a highly competitive National Institute of Health RO-1 grant for her research project “The Effect of Normal and Prolonged Sensory Activity on Neural Circuits.” VanHoven and team will conduct both molecular and physiological studies of the molecular mechanisms that govern how sensory activities affect connectivity between nerve cells. The molecular work will be performed at SJSU’s VanHoven lab, providing students the opportunity to participate in the research process.


The Honorable Sonia Sotomayor on Law and Hope

“You have to have some idealism to go into lawyering. You have to want to help people,” said Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the crowd gathered in the Student Union Ballroom. During the October 20 event, Sotomayor discussed how her memoir, “My Beloved World,” has given her a platform to talk about her passion—the law—and to share the stories of her life in order to help others, particularly young people. View the video.

In conversation with UC Berkeley Professor of Law Melissa Murray, who teaches constitutional law and clerked for Sotomayor on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, Sotomayor candidly recounted stories of adversity that spurred her on instead of knocking her down. She also admitted that there are “a lot of emotions that come along with being a Supreme Court justice,” and that she often has to pinch herself to make sure it’s all real.

While she now walks the corridors of the White House (and occasionally spends time at the homes of celebrities like Jennifer Lopez), she said that staying connected to her family and bringing them along with her on her professional journey keeps her grounded. Everyone needs help sometimes, Sotomayor explained.

Throughout the event, Sotomayor spoke directly to the students seated in the first several rows in front of her. When asked about balancing family needs with pursuing an education, she explained to one student, who she welcomed on stage to take a photo with her, that getting an education is the best way to support your family in the long term, no matter the immediate needs. Most of you are here [at San Jose State], despite the economy, because you have hope, she said.

“There isn’t a student in this room who should ever give up, “ said Sotomayor. “You got into college. You’re here! If you can defy all odds to get in, you’ve got what it takes to make it.”

Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini to Receive Steinbeck Award

Hosseini poster

Khaled Hosseini will speak at SJSU Sept. 10.

Media Contact: Pat Lopes Harris, 408-924-1748

SAN JOSE, CA – Best-selling Afghan-American novelist Khaled Hosseini is the next recipient of the John Steinbeck Award: In the Souls of the People.

Join the The Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies for a special evening with the author at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 10 in the SJSU Student Union. Hosseini will sit down for an on-stage conversation with KGO Radio Host Pat Thurston. Tickets are on sale now at Eventbrite and the SJSU Event Center Box Office.

“I am greatly honored to be given an award named after John Steinbeck, not only an icon of American literature but an unrelenting advocate for social justice who so richly gave voice to the poor and disenfranchised,” Hosseini said. “Both as a person and a writer, I count myself among the millions on whose social consciousness Steinbeck has made such an indelible impact.”

The Steinbeck Award

Authorized by the Steinbeck estate, the Steinbeck Award is presented to artists and activists whose works exemplify the spirit of Steinbeck’s social engagement.

Kite Runner cover

“The Kite Runner” has spawned a movie, play and graphic novel.

Previous recipients include Joan Baez, Ken Burns, Dolores Huerta, Garrison Keillor, Rachel Maddow, John Mellencamp, Arthur Miller, Michael Moore, Sean Penn, Bruce Springsteen and Studs Terkel.

“Like John Steinbeck, Hosseini has created powerful portrayals of those who are disconnected and dispossessed. Amir and Hassan, Mariam and Laila, Abdullah and Pari–those characters are well drawn and deeply felt,” said Ted Cady, Steinbeck Center board member.

Hosseini is the author of three novels: “The Kite Runner” (2003), “A Thousand Splendid Suns” (2007) and “And the Mountains Echoed” (2013). Inspired by Steinbeck, Hosseini creates characters tested by political and economic turmoil of historic proportions. In Hosseini’s case, it’s the wars that have ravaged his native Afghanistan for far too long.

Ties to San Jose State

Hosseini’s ties to San Jose State run deep. He was introduced to “The Grapes of Wrath” as an Independence High School student. His teacher, Janet Sanchez, ’73 English, will be in attendance when he accepts the Steinbeck Award. She mentored student teachers at SJSU for many years.

Hosseini went on to attend Santa Clara University and the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, but SJSU’s role in providing opportunity to many first-generation college students stuck with him. The main character in “The Kite Runner” attends SJSU.

Professor of Communication Studies Matthew Spangler’s adaption of the novel for the stage won five San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards in 2009. The play is on tour in the United Kingdom. The novel was the fall 2006 selection for the SJSU Reading Program.

“This tremendously powerful book raises questions about the capacity of human beings to destroy and redeem lives, and the actions that lead to both,” Professor Elba Maldonado-Colon said.

A Line of Teachers

At a private reception before the Steinbeck Award event, President Mohammad Qayoumi’s wife, Najia Karim, will present Hosseini with her poem, “The Wrath of Grapes.” Hosseini’s mother was one of Karim’s teachers when she was growing up in Afghanistan.

President Mohammad Qayoumi will formally introduce Hosseini to the audience. Both men have been active in efforts to aid their homeland. The Khaled Hosseini Foundation provides humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan by working with the United Nations Refugee Agency to build shelters for families.

“I’ve tried through the foundation to reach those people I’ve been writing about,” Hosseini said in a video on the foundation’s website. “I’ve chronicled their sufferings and their misfortunes…Those are real people and I’ve benefited from their stories so I have found it just and fitting that I should do something for them as well.”

San Jose State — Silicon Valley’s largest institution of higher learning with 30,000 students and 3,740 employees — is part of the California State University system. SJSU’s 154-acre downtown campus anchors the nation’s 10th largest city.

Distinguished Service Award: Julia Curry Rodriguez

Photo: Thomas Sanders, '15 MFA Photography

Photo: Thomas Sanders, ’15 MFA Photography

The Distinguished Service Award recognizes a faculty member for exemplary service in a leadership capacity to the university and/or community or profession that brings credit to San Jose State University. This year’s winner comes from the College of Social Sciences.

She will be honored at the 15th Annual Faculty Service Recognition and Awards Luncheon on March 11, 2014. Tickets are available for purchase. 

“I don’t want to just tell my students that I believe in them,” says Julia Curry Rodriguez, assistant professor of Mexican-American Studies and recipient of this year’s Distinguished Service Award.  “I want to show them that I do. You have to give them hope.”

For the undocumented, minority, at-risk and first-generation students Curry works with as an educator and activist, hope can make all the difference. “There are so many students who come here with a background like mine—students who are economically disadvantaged or are of color who go to college and feel like imposters,” says Curry. “They should never feel like that.”

Curry is a dedicated advocate of undocumented students at San Jose State and across California. She serves as advisor of Student Advocates for Higher Education (SAHE), the student support group for undocumented immigrants. She also works with AB 540 students and their families to address their unique challenges, assisting them with admissions and personally helping them bridge language and cultural barriers.

“My greatest rewards as an educator are working with students and the community, and speaking with others about the rights of undocumented students,” says Curry. “It is my responsibility to fill my students with the knowledge that they can do anything that they want. Everything these students hear in the media about people like them is that they don’t know how to succeed, and I totally disagree with that. I hold up a mirror and say, ‘Look at yourself and be proud.’”

“Through her work as an activist and educator, Curry has been able to help create a climate of respect, tolerance, and an appreciation for diversity not only at SJSU, but in our community,” writes one of her nominators. “She has brought attention to some of the most difficult issues facing our world today. She is a true advocate and leader in the fight for equality and social justice.”

“Having the opportunity to work at a campus that is filled with dedicated students who aspire to greatness is so extremely fulfilling,” says Curry, who continues to mentor her students in their careers even after they graduate, writing more than 100 letters of recommendation each year.

“One of my students who is now in graduate school at Texas A&M told me, ‘I want to be like you. I want to teach what you teach,’” says Curry with a smile. “And I said, ‘Go get a Ph.D. Then come back and take my job.’”

Master’s Candidates Mentor Undergrads

Graduate Guides

“Before the program was in place, there would be a number of students who would just fall off the radar,” Assistant Professor Magdalena Barrera said. “Those numbers have been reduced, and even in those cases where students face extraordinary difficulty, we at least know what is happening with them.” (Robert Bain photo)

For years, the Mexican American Studies department had been bedeviled with high failure rates among students of color who were taking its signature yearlong introductory historical survey course.

“We would lose 15 percent with Ds and Fs,” recalls department chair Marcos Pizarro. It was apparent that the students, many of whom were the first in their families to attend a four-year college, simple weren’t prepared for the rigors of post-secondary education.

In the fall of 2008, Pizarro decided to try something new. “I thought, ‘We could have master’s students serve as mentors to the undergraduates.'” The graduate students could serve as role models while imparting fundamental academic skills.

To find out what happened next, check out the College of Social Sciences newsletter (page 5).

Mentor Felipe Ponce, background, hosts a study session with Mexican-American Studies students outside of Yoshihiro Uchida Hall. Courtesy photo.

Mexican American Studies Mentors Guide Undergraduate Students

By Sarah Kyo, Public Affairs Assistant

Mexican-American Studies students gather around mentor Felipe Ponce, foreground, at a study session outside of Yoshihiro Uchida Hall. Courtesy photo.<br>

Mexican-American Studies students gather around mentor Felipe Ponce, foreground, at a midterm study session outside of Uchida Hall (Courtesy Photo).

When he was an undergraduate, Felipe Ponce faced difficulties in school. Now as a graduate student, he uses his personal experiences to help others.

“I try to use my struggle for my reason for being here,” he said.

Here at SJSU, Ponce provides students with something he didn’t have when he was earning his bachelor’s degree: a mentor.

Ponce is one of five Mexican American Studies graduate mentors who work with 330 students at this diverse campus.

SJSU ranked in the top 50 U.S. colleges and universities in 2010 for awarding undergraduate business, education, engineering, and social sciences degrees to Hispanic students , according to the Sept. 15 issue of “Diverse: Issues In Higher Education” magazine.

The university still has room for improvement in increasing retention rates among students of color, and the graduate mentor program tries to address this issue by reaching out to students and creating a support system.

“The typical model of student assistants is to help the professor,” said Marcos Pizarro, chair of the Mexican American Studies department. “We want to make them assistants to students, not assistants to professors.”

Relationships of Trust

The mentors each attend a specific section of Mexican Americans and the Development of U.S. History and Government, a two-part course that fulfills multiple lower-division general education requirements. Many of the students in these Mexican American Studies classes are freshmen, and some are first-generation college students.

“The program provided me with a mentor who was welcoming and didn’t mind taking time out of his busy schedule to help me,” said Carmelita Ramirez, a junior sociology major and Mexican American Studies minor.

During her sophomore year, Ramirez brought in her written assignments for her mentor Ponce to look over and provide feedback.

Mentors work with students in a variety of ways, including guest lecturing in class and organizing workshops. They also provide their own office hours in Uchida Hall, where students can have a place to study and look for one-on-one support, whether it is for this or other classes.

“What I try to reiterate to students is we’re here not just to help you guys pass this one class,” Ponce said.  “We try a holistic approach. If you have a question, ask me.”

Jennie Luna, a Mexican American Studies lecturer, said the graduate mentors teach the undergraduate students survival skills for the rest of their college life.

“They have established wonderful relationships with students,” Luna said of the mentors. “They establish relationships of trust.”

A Growing Program

Since 2009, the graduate mentor program has evolved with support from the College of Social Sciences.

“We’re constantly fine-tuning and seeing what we can do better,” Pizarro said.

The department has reached out to the Educational Opportunity Program about supporting some Mexican American Studies students. The Asian American Studies program, which has a similar two-part general education course, has expressed interest in replicating the mentor program.

Pizarro said the graduate mentor program provides “a great contribution to the university’s mission of fully engaging all of its students.”