Roy Okuda: 2018 Distinguished Service

By Pat Harris

“I’ve worked for three of the best people in the world and I feel like they gave a lot to me so this is my chance to give back to the students.”

Photo: David Schmitz

Have you attended Student Research Day? Students and tri-folds fill the Duncan Hall breezeway. Professor of Chemistry Roy Okuda came up the idea while walking the corridors of Duncan, where similar tri-folds line the walls.

“We had students who were presenting these posters at scientific events elsewhere, but we weren’t hearing about what they were doing here,” says Okuda. “One of the goals is to allow these students to present their research to the home team.”

Okuda earned the 2018 Distinguished Service award securing such opportunities for students. He works with the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and the Synopsys Silicon Valley Science and Technology Outreach Foundation. In addition, he is on numerous department and university committees and the SJSU Research Foundation board.

Okuda never saw science as a solitary endeavor. Growing up in Hawaii, he loved watching marine explorer Jacques Cousteau and his crew. For college, he set his sights on the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

When Okuda arrived, he learned Scripps was for graduate students. Undeterred, he asked for a job and was soon working for Professor William Fenical, now a leading figure in the field of natural products (and a 1965 SJSU graduate).

In Fenical’s lab, Okuda learned the tools and techniques that would form the basis of his own career. He was also taught about the chemistry involved. Soon, he was left on his own to put theory and practice together. Two grad school mentors took the same approach.

“When it came time to the actual execution, they would let me figure it out on my own,” Okuda says. “In my field, I am the luckiest person because I’ve worked for three of the best people in the world and I feel like they gave a lot to me so this is my chance to give back to the students.”


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. This year’s winner comes from the College of Science. He will be honored at the 19th Annual Faculty Service Recognition and Awards Luncheon on April 5, 2018. Tickets are available for purchase.

 

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