New Faculty Research Passions

We are thrilled to welcome two new faculty to our department this year. Drs. Valerie Carr and Susan Snycerski are profiled in this fall’s College newsletter, Together. Follow the link to learn about all of our College’s new faculty, as well as our new Dean, Dr. Walt Jacobs.


Dr. Valerie Carr 

Carr, who earned her Ph.D. at UCLA before spending seven years as a post-doctoral fellow and research associate at Stanford University before coming to San José State, has found that two sub-structures of the hippocampus deep within the brain play a role in determining how vivid a memory is.“When you study memory, you realize how imperfect and fallible it is,” says Carr, newly hired as an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. She brings an interest in the use of neuroimaging methods like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to get a better understanding of the brain structures involved in episodic memory—our recall of autobiographical events and emotions.

In more recent research she has found that age-related changes in these areas – the dentate gyrus and Region CA 3—may account for the difficulties older people have in accessing these episodic memories.

Now, Carr is exploring whether exercise-based interventions might help people at risk for mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease by spurring the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus. “What does that exercise regimen need to be?” Carr asks. “That’s my main interest.”

It can be challenging to work with older adults who have mild cognitive impairment, she says. “It’s very likely they’re going to develop Alzheimer’s disease. It can be depressing. A lot of my sense of self-worth comes from thinking that I’m fighting for those people. That gives me a sense of satisfaction in my job.”

380_susan snycersky_2


Dr. Susan Snycerski

She asks students to anonymously self-report their drug use while also testing for signs of neurocognitive impairment. Based on the small sample she has collected thus far, most San José State students don’t abuse hard drugs, but a fair number combine caffeine, tobacco, alcohol and marijuana in various ways., Snycerski says.These days, she’s looking at simultaneous poly-drug use, where someone takes two mind-altering substances at once. “There isn’t a lot of research in that area,” says Snycerski, who recently joined the Department of Psychology as tenure-track assistant professor after 10 years as a lecturer.

The Warren, Mich., native earned her master’s and Ph.D. from Western Michigan University, where she studied the effects of drugs in animal models. Later, she did a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute on Drug Abuse researching gamma-hydroxybuterate—better known as the date rape drug GBH.

Snycerski and her husband, Sean Laraway (an associate professor in the department), moved to San José in 2004 without having jobs. He started teaching at San José State that year as a lecturer and joined the tenure track in 2008. Snycerski began teaching classes as a lecturer in 2005 and she has also served as a major advisor since 2008. “I really enjoy it,” she says. “It’s a great way to communicate with the students outside the classroom.”

Snycerski says she’s excited about having more time and resources for research. “It’s a nice change,” she says. “I’m looking forward to my new role.”

Reprinted from Together, the College of Social Sciences newsletter, Fall 2015.

Awarding Winning Presentations


Congratulations to Psychology majors Jessica Ballin and Rebecca Sandoval on their award winning presentations at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), in Seattle, WA this November 11-14.

ABRCMS is one of the largest, professional conferences for underrepresented minority students, military veterans, and persons with disabilities to pursue advanced training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). ABRCMS attracts approximately 3,600 individuals, including 1,900 undergraduate and postbaccalaureate students, 400 graduate students and postdoctoral scientists and 1,300 faculty, program directors and administrators. Students come from over 350 U.S. colleges and universities.

A group of SJSU students and faculty attended this year’s conference to present the research they’ve been conducting here at SJSU.  The students are participants in the MARC, RISE, LSAMP and CoSRaTS programs housed in the College of Science.  Five students received an award for their presentations:  Jessica Ballin (Psychology, MARC), Rebecca Sandoval (Psychology, MARC), Fauna Yarza (Biological Sciences, RISE), Elivia Silva (Biological Sciences, RISE) and Adrian Riives (Chemistry, RISE).

Congratulations to all of our remarkable young researchers!

Essay Contest Winner Announced

2015 D’Arpino Essay Contest

Dr. Glenn Callaghan has won the 2015 D’Arpino Essay Contest. The contest asked participants, in one page or less, to answer the questions, “WHO and WHAT am I?”. Students and faculty in the Department of Psychology were eligible to submit essays and eight brave souls rose to the challenge. The anonymous essays were judged by Emilio “Chick” D’Arpino himself and, while all of the entries were excellent, Dr. Callaghan’s was judged best. Read the winning essay below.

Photo: Dr. Glenn Callaghan receiving award

Who and What Am I?

Essay Contest Response

Glenn Callaghan

I will offer a brief response and then elaborations to the two thought provoking questions.

Who am I? I am me.

What am I? A social being seeking to connect and find meaning.

Here are the elaborated answers.

Who am I?

I am me.  I am the sum of an ontogenic history, a sense of self that has evolved over time and place to become the context of my own experience of thought and feeling, a self that both responds to, and narrates, my existence. I am both unique at the idiographic level of existence and also part of a collective whole at the larger epistemic level of evolution. The “me” that exists is ephemeral; it is a sense that accidently (or by design) accompanies a body made to survive and to adapt.

What am I?

I am a social being seeking to connect and find meaning. I am if nothing else a social primate, raised to interact and connect with others. That is part of my evolution at a genetic level. While some of us seek more contact, and others less, we are all social animals. Connection can be understood as a deeper form of contact, one that sustains an existence beyond survival. Finding meaning is what makes us truly human. I seek meaning and understanding – I seek answers to questions and reasons for why we do what we do.

Who am I? I am me, this me. What am I? One who seeks connection and meaning.

Kevin Jordan: 2015 President’s Scholar

Washington Square: Feb 2015

by Allison Arbuthnot Sanders, staff writer

The President’s Scholar Award recognizes a faculty member who has achieved widespread recognition based on the quality of scholarship, performance or creative activities. This year’s winner comes from the College of Social Sciences. He will be honored at the 16th Annual Faculty Service Recognition and Awards Luncheon on March 11, 2015. Tickets are available for purchase.

Photo: Thomas Sanders, ’14 MFA Photography

To examine Kevin Jordan, professor of psychology and this year’s President’s Scholar, by the numbers is impressive. In 30 years of service to the university, Jordan has supervised 80 master’s theses, secured nearly $200 million in research funding, and authored or co-authored (often with students) some 80 academic papers and presentations. This marks the seventh professional award he’s received from SJSU, NASA and the Western Psychological Association. He’s also a veteran surfer who has been braving waves for 50 years.

“I don’t fit the traditional mold of a scholar, but it’s wonderful to train scientists and get them in the right place to do great science.”As project director of numerous cooperative agreements between San Jose State and the Human Systems Integration Division at the NASA Ames Research Center, Jordan’s current human factors research supports the Congress-mandated Next Generation Air Transportation System project, which aims to improve safety and efficiency of air travel while minimizing environmental impact by 2025. It’s a tall order that Jordan and his team are tackling though research on the visual perception and ergonomic issues of air traffic control operations.

“Our team is making great inroads with the Next Gen Air Transportation System project,” says Jordan, citing outcomes like new virtual vision technology that allows planes to move through fog and software solutions for safely sequencing planes arriving on runways. Says nominator Sheila Bienenfeld, former dean of the College of Social Sciences: “Professor Jordan’s research has an impact on the lives and safety of all air travelers, as well as anyone involved with aviation.”

Not bad for a researcher self-taught in human factors. “The SJSU job description I applied to in 1984 said ‘human factors or visual perception,’ which was my specialty,” says Jordan with a laugh. “When I arrived, the dean kept introducing me as his new human factors person. I would correct him: ‘No, I’m your new perception person!’ Eventually they said it enough that I believed them. Necessity is a great teacher.”

Jordan says the hallmark of his career has been his work with graduate students as research assistants. “It’s the most gratifying thing in the world to know that I’ve contributed to the next generation of scientists who will contribute to the next generation of breakthroughs.” Though he spent over two decades on campus, Jordan hasn’t been in the classroom for five years. “I loved teaching,” he says. “I miss it immensely. But you come to a point in your career where you have to ask yourself: How can I best serve the university? And I do that through research at NASA Ames.”

Kevin Jordan Receives the Wang Family Excellence Award

Image: Wang Family Excellence Award 2015

JordanDr. Kevin Jordan has been awarded the Wang Family Excellence Award in the Social and Behavioral Sciences and Public Service.  The award acknowledges Kevin’s unique and distinguished contributions as a CSU faculty member over his remarkable career.

The Wang Family Excellence Award recognizes four outstanding faculty members and one outstanding staff member who, through extraordinary commitment and dedication, have distinguished themselves by exemplary contributions and achievements. Their activities advance the university’s mission, bring benefit and credit to the CSU, and enhance the CSU’s excellence in teaching, scholarship and service.

The Wang Family Excellence Award was originally established in 1998 when then-CSU Trustee Stanley Wang provided $1 million to recognize the remarkable contributions of the CSU’s faculty and administrators over a 10-year period. Trustee Emeritus Wang has generously agreed to reinstate the award with a $300,000 gift that will provide a $20,000 award to each of four faculty members and one staff member annually for three years, beginning in 2015.

Congratulations to Kevin and thank you for all you’ve done for our students, department, and university.


Dr. Jim McGaugh wins 2015 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Psychology

Photo: James McGaugh

Dr. Jim McGaugh

LOUISVILLE, Ky., Dec. 2, 2014

A brain scientist who helped explain how our emotions affect what we learn and remember has won the 2015 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Psychology.

James McGaugh, a neurobiology and behavior research professor at University of California-Irvine, received the prize for discovering that stress hormones play a key role in determining why we remember some things more vividly than others.

Hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol activate the brain’s emotional center, the amygdala, which in turn regulates other brain areas that process and consolidate memories – a sequence that explains why our emotional experiences are easier to recall, he found.

“His work has transformed the field,” said award director Woody Petry. “It has profound implications for helping us understand and treat memory disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder.”

McGaugh began studying emotion and memory in the 1960s when he found that giving animals stimulants immediately after training helped them remember their exercises. Later, he learned that naturally occurring stress hormones had a similar memory-enhancing effect.

Recently, he has studied people with highly superior autobiographical memory to see if differences in their brain structure may account for the trait.

McGaugh joined UC-Irvine in 1964. Besides founding and directing its Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, he also served as executive vice chancellor, academic affairs vice chancellor, biological sciences dean and department chair. The university named McGaugh Hall on its campus after him in 2001.

He held posts in the psychology departments at University of Oregon and San Jose State University after earning his doctorate in physiological psychology at University of California-Berkeley and his bachelor’s degree at San Jose State.

His work has been featured on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” described in dozens of textbooks and cited in more than 15,000 academic papers.

This year’s award is $100,000 each.

Photo –



Dr. Tom Tutko


Dr. Thomas Arthur Tutko

Emeritus Professor of Psychology

Sept. 8, 1931 – Nov. 6, 2014 

Thomas Arthur Tutko passed away peacefully on Thursday morning. He touched many lives through his energetic enthusiasm for life.

Tom was born in Gallitzin,PA and graduated from Gallitzin High School. He joined the Marines for a couple of years and then went to Northwestern University where he earned a doctorate in psychology.

He arrived at San Jose State University in September 1961 where he taught a variety of psychology classes. His students loved his classes and they nominated him for “The Distinquished Teaching Award.”

Tom also had an exceptional talent for public speaking, was very humorous, dynamic, and had a passion for sports. Consequently, he did speeches all over the United States and other countries as well. He wrote five books and several papers, developed a psychological test, gave several thousand speeches, taught a hundred plus classes, and counseled athletes, teams, individuals and companies. He was on popular television shows such as the Johnny Carson Show and worked with teams such as the 49er’s and the Miami Dolphins. During his 38 year career he literally touched the lives of thousands of people through his speaking and writing. He lived life fully!

Professor Lynda Heiden, whose masters thesis Tom chaired, remarked that he was one of the funnest people she’d ever met. Along with Bruce Ogilvie, Tom was pivotal in developing the field of Sports Psychology, which is highlighted in this 1974 article in People Magazine.

Tom is survived by his loving wife, Kathy; devoted children Ann Phipps and Mark Tutko of San Jose, Jane Tutko Donovan of Danville, and Sharon Tutko of St. Louis, PA. He is survived by his grandchildren Natalie and Olivier Phipps of San Jose, Jasmine Donovan of Danville, Ari and Effie Tutko of Bellevue, WA, Sonia Tutko of San Jose, and Simon Avrushenko of St. Louis, PA and one great grandchild Ernest Dorcich of San Jose. He is survived by his step children Chad Payton of Aptos and Travis Payton of San Jose and step grandchildren Quemille Caldwell of Antioch, Skyler and Kayden Payton of San Jose and two great step grandchildren Wayne and Willow Hayes of Antioch. He is also survived by his sister Rosie Benzie of Gallitzin, PA. And last but not least, he is survived by his beloved caregiver of seven years, Jose Alvarez Zamora of Aptos. Tom’s humorous, energetic, enthusiastic spirit of joy for life will always be endearingly remembered and bring a sparkle to those of us who knew him.

Private memorial services were held.

Adapted from original obituary published in San Jose Mercury News/San Mateo County Times on Nov. 18, 2014 

Education for the Joy of It – Dr. Robert J. Pellegrini


By Dr. Robert J. Pellegrini

This book is targeted to all current or prospective high school students, college students, or anyone 

Image: Book Coverelse who aspires to strengthen the educational foundation upon which to build the rest of her/his life — with the hope that it is especially helpful to people who might otherwise become, or have already been formal educational program dropouts or lockouts. I cannot guarantee that applying what is offered here will ensure an “A” grade, or achievement of one’s life goals.  But I do guarantee that I have tried to summarize critical elements of thought, feeling, and action oriented to such objectives.

Part I of this book is all about how to work both hard and “smart” to experience the joy of academic success.  Hard work is necessary to achieve anything worthy of pride in our own creative effort.  But it’s not just how much or how hard we work at things.  It is also “how smart” we work that determines our life outcomes.  And what I mean by “working smart” is working efficiently and effectively.  The goal here is to help all students reap as much as possible from their educational investment, whatever that investment may be in terms of time, money, energy, and self-disciplined personal sacrifices.

Part II is about what it takes to achieve great success at anything in life.  The format for this second part is, essentially, a psychological profile of outstanding achievers.

From both my professional and personal experience, I’ve learned how vitally important education can be as an avenue to a pro-socially valued and personally satisfying life.  And once again in 2014, I find myself championing an approach designed to facilitate human development through educational opportunity in a program I call “Life Construction 101” — designed not just to augment efforts to help at-risk students, but to help every student enjoy academic success experiences.

Education For The Joy Of It is the “user’s manual” for that Life Construction 101 program.  Accordingly, the Appendix to this book presents a brief, structured exercise designed to provide a very preliminary template for initiating the construction or reconstruction of one’s life.

And that’s it.  A little book that I hope will be one of the biggest books its readers ever read.

About the Author

A Past-President of The Western Psychological Association (WPA), San Jose State University Professor Emeritus of Psychology Bob Pellegrini received his B.A. degree from Clark University Phi Beta Kappa and with High Honors in Psychology.  Supported by National Institute for Mental Health fellowships, he earned his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Denver, with clinical and research pre-doctoral internships at The University of Colorado School of Medicine, Children’s Asthmatic Research Institute and National Jewish Hospitals in Denver, and National Science Foundation-sponsored post-doctoral study at Stanford University.

At SJSU he taught and mentored thousands of students, many of whom in underserved minority population educational programs including a B. A. degree program he co-founded at the California Department of Corrections’ Soledad prison.  To help students maximize their learning gains per unit of time invested, he created several study guides produced by major academic publishers.  His commitment to giving SJSU students “the best introductory psychology course available anywhere at any price” has been acknowledged in teaching awards as SJSU and Western Psychological Association outstanding professor of the year, and invited contributions to prestigious educational events such as the Lewis M. Terman Master Lecture Series.

Bob’s award-winning work as a social scientist/educator has focused on illuminating and promoting actualization of human potential.  This book is the owner’s manual for his Life Construction101 project, designed to provide students, especially those most at risk for educational failure, with skills and perspectives to help them experience success in high school, college and throughout life.

At age 69 and 70, Dr. Pellegrini again qualified for the USA Bodybuilding Championships by placing 2nd and 1st, respectively, in his master’s division finals of the nationally-sanctioned 2010 San Francisco and 2011 San Jose contests.