CAL Insight A digital news magazine

CAL Insight News Magazine

Get a new perspective on the College of Arts & Letters at SDSU. Discover news about CAL students, faculty, donors, and alumni. This new magazine highlights the stories of the people within our academic community. It gives you insight into the breadth of activities and achievements that have impact locally, nationally, and internationally.

Dean’s Welcome

Greetings Friend,

Glen McClishWe hope you and your families are keeping safe during these extraordinary times, made forever memorable by a pandemic that has shaken the world and disrupted the normal ways of doing business in colleges and universities everywhere. In the College of Arts and Letters at San Diego State University, we have transitioned to a virtual learning environment that puts students’ needs at the forefront. Our dedicated, resourceful faculty strive to ensure that learning remains at the highest standard, while being empathetic to stressed students now sheltering at home, some in other states, time zones, and countries. 

Despite the uncertainty of the times, we have news to celebrate, including the appointment of our new dean, Monica J. Casper, who will take over deanship duties on August 3. For the last five years, Monica has served as Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Inclusion in the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

“SDSU is a phenomenal place: an HSI at the border with R1 aspirations, strong leadership, an exciting and doable strategic plan, and dedicated alumni who have remained in the region." Casper said. "This makes for an ideal context for a new dean to come in and build on what’s already in place, while collaborating on new ideas and ventures and enrolling new stakeholders.” You can learn more about Monica in the Q&A below.

As I close my tenure as the interim dean and welcome Monica, I wish to share my heartfelt appreciation for your support. I’m confident that the college will be in capable hands.

Glen McClish signature
Glen McClish,
Interim Dean, College of Arts and Letters

Monica CasperWhat makes you uniquely suited for this role?

I bring an unusual career trajectory and skill set to this position. I left academia several years ago and ran a nonprofit, then came back into academia. I understand and have worked across different sectors. And I’ve continued my engagements in the nonprofit sector for decades, as a member of boards, a consultant, and a financial supporter.

I’m also as passionate about students and their success as I am about faculty, including professional development and striking a work-life balance. I also believe I’m approachable; sometimes, senior academic leaders can be intimidating to students, family members, community members, and others, especially in our status-oriented culture.

My leadership ethos is service, and to me, that means being approachable and available for everyone, from first-year students to first-gen parents, from donors to janitors, and from colleagues to councilmembers.


Splice coverNew Look for Splice, CAL’s Undergraduate Research Journal 

The recently released undergraduate research journal of the College of Arts & Letters, "Splice," showcases the research of seven CAL undergrad students.

In her editor's note, Jana Jarvis said, " [It] captures the vibrant spirit of next-generation, emerging scholars. 'Splice' recognizes the vast areas of research the College of Arts and Letters oversees and fosters and unifies these fields into a singular and cohesive journal situated in and between the humanities and social sciences."

Take a look!


CAL Students Shine at Student Research Symposium

SRS students

Rebeca Navarrete remembers the day she wanted to be a part of San Diego State University’s Student Research Symposium.

“It had been a dream of mine to take part in this opportunity since I was a sophomore at SDSU,” Navarrete said. “I vividly remember picking up a wrinkled flyer from the ground during the beginning of my sophomore year at State and telling myself I wanted to be a part of this.”

She got her chance this year and made the most of it, becoming one of 11 students from the College of Arts and Letters to receive awards.

She received one of two SRS College of Arts and Letters Dean’s Awards.

The symposium, held Feb. 28-29 is a public forum where San Diego State University students present their research, scholarship, and creative activities. It is a two-day event, occurring each spring semester, that recognizes the outstanding scholarly accomplishments of SDSU students. It is a great way to learn about the wonderful projects that SDSU students, both graduate and undergraduate, are engaged in.


A Helping Hand for a Vulnerable Population

students loading groceries into car

A student-led volunteer group, led by political science student Milano Sliwa, assists non-English speaking seniors in San Diego overcome by the unexpected new challenges of grocery shopping.

The photograph showed an all too common image of our times, an older man standing in a grocery store aisle with nothing on the shelves.

“I got emotional and wanted to make a change immediately,” said Milano Sliwa, who was born in Iraq and is a political science major in San Diego State University’s College of Arts and Letters. The result was a volunteer group that shops for and delivers groceries and essentials to those in need amid the COVID-19 pandemic — especially seniors who speak languages other than English.

Sliwa developed the grassroots volunteer effort with her sister, Monica Sliwa, an SDSU alumna and second-year student at the University of California, San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and one of Monica’s classmates, Afrooz Sabouri.

Only a few days after sharing their mission via social media, they found a corps of committed volunteers. Less than a week into the project, Sliwa said, “We are lucky to have 40 volunteers from different areas of San Diego who speak various languages such as Farsi, Spanish, French, and even Japanese. We have delivered goods to over 50 seniors, and counting.”


Students Actively Engage in University Sustainability Initiatives

sustainability students

Green approaches to waste management, energy and transportation are becoming an integral part of SDSU's identity.

San Diego State University students are actively engaged in internships and student organizations that bring environmentally sustainable solutions to the forefront, in the areas of zero-waste, energy, water, green buildings, social responsibility, food, housing, and transportation.

The extraordinary work of three passionate CAL students is highlighted here. Each student focuses on a different initiative, yet all seek the end goal of solving global challenges and making an impact through activism.


Three SDSU Researchers Provide Data and Important Studies to Assist the Public in Navigating COVID-1


CICS Co-Director Presents Knowledge Map of Coronavirus Research

SDSU researcher André Skupin has compiled a data assembly involving 15,500 papers about the coronavirus disease with a goal of shared understanding.

André Skupin, geography professor and co-director of CICS, has spent the last few weeks amassing and analyzing data for a public resource on the coronavirus disease.

Before the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic resulted in a shut down of much of the country, Skupin began sifting through thousands of documents related to coronavirus, using data from SDSU Library’s Web of Science database, analyzing it by focusing on bibliometric content from author-chosen keywords, and compiling it to swiftly develop a website that the public can now access.


1,500 COVID-19 Deaths Avoided in First Month of California’s Order

A study involving two SDSU researchers reveals a positive health impact of California’s stay-at-home order in response to COVID-19 crisis.

California Governor Gavin Newsom implemented the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The order, still underway, requires citizens remain at home for all activities other than those deemed “essential,” such as purchasing food or medicine, caring for others, exercise, or traveling for employment. 

The order, much like similar stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders implemented in other states and also counties across the United States, was designed to reduce COVID-19 cases and mortality.

“The coronavirus outbreak is one of the most serious threats to public health and economic security in our nation's history,” said Joseph Sabia, director of SDSU’s Center for Health Economics and Policy Studies (CHEPS). “Our team of scholars at CHEPS feels an obligation to produce and disseminate the best scientific evidence we can to help California policymakers mitigate the tremendous costs — in illnesses, deaths, and economic insecurity — this crisis has wrought.”   


Tracking COVID-19 with Big Data, GIS, and Social Media

A new hub of research information to assist in monitoring and visualizing outbreak patterns of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in San Diego County is now housed in one location: the  Research HUB for COVID-19.
Ming-Hsiang Tsou, director of  The Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age (HDMA) at San Diego State University, and his team developed the hub to serve as a single source of information given the large amount of COVID-19-related data available. 
“As a cartographer and a data scientist, I want to emphasize that data visualization is a very powerful tool to help us make timely decisions,” Tsou said. “These web apps can help San Diegans get a clear picture about the challenges and problems we are facing now in our local communities. It will also reduce the spread of incorrect information in San Diego regions.” 
The Research HUB offers six areas of collected data, including vulnerability maps and San Diego ZIP code maps. It also includes timelines about major policies and events for 16 major cities. Webinars, videos and slides which utilize national research data along with SMART dashboards that use social media and keywords to monitor real-time information are included in the Research HUB.

Recent Grants 


Trent Biggs & Fernando De Sales / CNH-L: The Sociohydrological System of a Tropical Forest Frontier: Land-Climate-Water Feedbacks and Farmer Adaptation / University of Montana / $4,515

Christopher Brown & Mathias Schulze / Farsi Language Immersion / U.S. Department of Defense / $40,600

Christopher Brown & Mathias Schulze / Levantine Language Immersion / U.S. Department of Defense / $37,291

Clarissa Clo / Online Elementary Italian II course / Institute of Italian Culture / $3,329

Thomas Herman / Contributions to SDCOE History-Social Science Conference 2020 / San Diego County Office of Education / $3,000

Erika Robb Larkins / Traditions of the Northeast of Brazil / Consulate General of Brazil in Los Angeles / $2,000

Atsushi Nara & Tianying Wu / Integrating Novel GIS and GPS Data to Assess the Impact of Built Environments on Changes in BMI, Physical Activity and Cancer-related Biomarkers in Two Successful Weight Loss Interventions in Women at Risk for Breast Cancer / University of California, San Diego / $4,000

Ramona Pérez / SDSU/Tinker Foundation Field Research Grants for Latin America / Tinker Foundation Inc. / $20,000 

Mathias Schulze / Every Student Succeeds Act - ESSA / University of California Office of the President  / $35,000

André Skupin / Stroke after Aspiration Thrombectomy: Using Machine Learning to Find Clinically Relevant Patterns in the MHIF STEMI Registry / Scripps Clinic Medical Group / 

Ming-Hsiang Tsou / GIS and Data Visualization Enhancement with the Data Mart Infrastructure in the California Teachers Study (CTS )/ University of California at San Diego / $49,442

Sheldon Zhang / San Diego Trafficking Prevention Collective / The City University of New York-John Jay College  / $46,638

Shah Family Gifts Bolster the Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies

Shah Family with faculty

The year was 1960. Salim Shah arrived in the U.S. from Mumbai, India, as a student in search of a graduate degree program. He found one at Marquette University where he earned a degree in radio and TV broadcasting. His goal was to assist his mother and stepfather with their movie studio business (his mother was a movie star in India from 1936-1943).


John Fiske and Wife Courtney Donate to Community Causes

Fiske family

John Fiske, attorney at Baron & Budd, (who recently received the California Lawyer Attorney of the Year Award for Environmental Law), and College of Arts & Letters political science alumnus, established the Fiske Family Foundation to support programs that promote public education and recreation for all.

“Public education and recreation provide the best opportunities for children of all backgrounds, economic situations, and abilities. Public education is often unfairly maligned, but I know of no greater single source of human success stories,” John Fiske said

When it comes to the San Diego community, Fiske finds gratification when he engages in activities that “advocate for structures that benefit as many people in the best ways possible.”

Recently the Fiske Family Foundation found a way to benefit students in the Poway Unified School District with a $50,000 donation to support the district’s immediate nutrition and distance learning needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fiske attended schools and grew up in the district.


Ron Salisbury Named First City of San Diego Poet Laureate

Ron Salisbury

The day he learned he was chosen as the city’s first poet laureate, Ron Salisbury (M.F.A. in creative writing alumnus) reached out to his salon — a group of his closest confidantes — an inner circle of supporters who helped him achieve the honored title.

He was surprised by the great burst of attention he received after the announcement about his new role in early February. He was interviewed by KPBS, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and numerous media outlets all within the first week. “It’s a tremendous honor and privilege. The city has adopted me and I feel very welcome here — the writing community is so vibrant,” Salisbury said.

“All my life I’ve been chasing poetry,” Salisbury said. “When I moved back to San Diego in 2008, I had more time to give to the writing process. Besides, what else did I have to do?”

He was accepted to Antioch College and CSU Long Beach, before he chose SDSU’s M.F.A. in Creative Writing. He found the writing style and cost fit his interest.


Congratulations to the CAL Excellence Award Winners in Research, Service, and Teaching

CAL Faculty Awards 2020

Top row: Excellence in Service — Edith Benkov, European studies; Excellence in Research (tenure-track) — Cecelia Benaglia, European studies; Excellence in Research (tenured) — Ming-Hsiang Tsou, geography; Excellence in Service — Deborah Poole, linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern languages.

Bottom row: Excellence in Teaching (tenured/tenure-track) — Paula De Vos, history; Excellence in Teaching (lecturer) — Jason Parker, rhetoric and writing studies; Excellence in Service — Roberto Hernández, Chicana/Chicano studies.


Esme Murdock Awarded Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Philosophy at Penn State

Esme Murdock

Esme Murdock, assistant professor of philosophy, has accepted a full-time position as a Mellon-funded postdoctoral scholar at Penn State University, beginning in August. “Teaching and research often pull you in different directions. With this opportunity, I’m looking forward to more dedicated research time,” Murdock said.

After receiving her Ph.D. at Michigan State University, Murdock became a visiting assistant professor at Morehouse College.


Ricardo Vasconcelos, Associate Professor of Portuguese, Awarded Fulbright

Ricardo Vasconcelos

Ricardo Vasconcelos has been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Scholars fellowship to conduct research for his next book in Portugal, during the fall semester 2020, in close collaboration with the School of Arts & Letters of the University of Porto. His book studies the cultural production (literature, film, music, and the visual arts) developed during the period of the 2011/2015 in response to the financial crisis in Southern Europe and specifically in Portugal, and considers the role of the arts in contributing to shape aspects of national identity.


New Sustainability Director Takes the Helm This Fall

Arielle Levine

Geography professor Arielle Levine’s research and teaching have focused on the issues of sustainability for the past twenty years, including her nine years at SDSU.. She brings a wealth of experience, knowledge, and research expertise to her new role as director of the sustainability program.

Levine’s current research focuses primarily on sustainability in ocean and coastal environments. She recently received an NSF grant to work on a project exploring climate impacts on key fisheries in the California current ecosystem.


Thank You College of Arts and Letters Staff For Your Many Years of Service

 CAL Staff Awards 2020

40 years | Elaine Rother | Dean’s Office

35 years | Greg Martin | IT

30 years | Bertha Hernandez | Chicana/o Studies

25 years | Adriana Putko | History

25 years | Yasmine Panahi | Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages

20 years | Glen McClish | Dean’s Office & RWS

10 years | Marisela La Plante | International Business

10 years | Karey Sabol | Dean’s Office/Student Success Center

Your Chance to Support CAL

We appreciate your support. To learn about ways you can give back and make a difference for the College of Arts & Letters, contact Keely Bamberg, Sr. Development Officer at [email protected] or (619) 594-1562.

Visit CAL Giving to learn more.

Dean’s Welcome

With pride and gratitude, I offer you this compendium of information about the College of Arts & Letters. As interim dean, I've had the pleasure of working with exceptional faculty and staff, inspirational students and alumni, and compassionate donors who have contributed to the success of the college this year.

As this news magazine reveals, students and alumni are making a significant difference locally, nationally, and internationally.  For instance, during the summer, eight students engaged in internships in Cambodia through the Mundt Peace Fellowship, and have many stories to tell about their experiences. One CAL student was invited to join the CSU Board of Trustees, utilizing her political science knowledge, while other students harnessed their entrepreneurial spirit for good deeds.

We continue to celebrate milestones within four departments: Chicana/o Studies (50th). Women's Studies (50th), International Business (30th), and the M.F.A. in Creative Writing (30th). We invite the community to participate in the many events (through 2020) highlighting these rich resources and academic legacies. We celebrate the people who had the foresight to create these incredible programs and watch as our current students gain new insights yielding career readiness in the ever-changing world.

When CAL students achieve their educational objectives through local and international study, internships, and research, we have reason to celebrate the energy and enthusiasm of supporters like you.

Read on to learn more about the people who make CAL an exceptional liberal arts college.

Glen McClish signature
Glen McClish, Interim Dean
College of Arts & Letters

Study Abroad in Seville, Spain

Blog Post by Kevin Cotant
English & comparative literature major, international studies minor

It’s been just over a month since I arrived in my newly-beloved Spain! From the earliest of my travel days leaving San Diego and flying 5,000 miles across the globe, to the unknown extent of my allusions with what this experience would bring me has definitely come around full-circle. The period of angst revolving around the uncertainty of any solo abroad experience is a usual and normal one. For me, this was soon met with a sincere feeling of comfort and ease as I’ve grown to love this beautiful city.


Mundt Peace Fellowship Recipients Share Their Insight

San Diego State University students from a variety of disciplines engaged in eight-week internships this past summer in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, through the Mundt Peace Fellowship Program.

The internships, developed by the College of Arts and Letters with a gift from the William R. Mundt Peacemakers Fund, gave SDSU students opportunities to participate in the work of non-governmental agencies (NGO), governmental aid agencies, combined public/private aid/peace efforts, humanitarian organizations and social entrepreneurships seeking to alleviate social and economic inequalities.


Linguistics Major Armando Flores

Armando Flores was 15 years old when the Make-A-Wish Foundation was set to take his younger sister, who was suffering from leukemia, to Disney World.

But when her health turned for the worst, the trip was cancelled. Flores asked himself a question: What if there was a way to bring Disney World to his sister’s hospital room?

Fifteen years have passed, and Flores, a fourth-year linguistics major, is part of a trio Aztecs - two students and one alumnus - on the verge of making it possible.

Flores, Karina Ornelas and Nicholas Ray comprise “Lift Your Eyes,” a virtual-reality company whose headset can transform any room into anything the user desires – an exotic location, a scene in their favorite movie, a fun activity – and puts the user right in the center of the action.

"We are Make A Wish but without the risk,” Flores said.


ISCOR Student Maryana Khames

International security and conflict resolution major Maryana Khames was appointed to the California State University (CSU) Board of Trustees by Gov. Gavin Newsom in August.

In her role as a student trustee, Khames will represent more than 480,000 students from all campuses within the CSU system. The appointment is for a two-year term.

A first-generation college student who immigrated from Baghdad, Iraq, Khames has served as a student assistant at the Center for Student Success in Engineering, as well as the vice chair of the Commuter Board and as a justice on the Judicial Affairs Council for Associated Students (A.S.).

In addition, Khames has served as a marketing intern at Partners in College Success and previously served as a district representative for California State Sen. Joel Anderson from 2016 to 2017.

Khames is also a member of the Weber Honors College and Rotaract.


Perseverance and Resiliency Are Keys to Homeless Student’s Creative Journey

“Being homeless was the best thing that could have happened to me,” Renée Westbrook said, “because it altered my perspective.”

Westbrook, currently an M.F.A. student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at SDSU, is a positive, cheerful, self-motivated woman. Prior to committing to a writer’s life, though, there were dark and challenging days. She lived in LA and Santa Monica for many months. During one 30-day period on the streets, she learned how to sleep on a bus.


Retiree Jim Dierker Connects With the “Spell and Magic” of Rhetoric to Energize his Chapter-two Career

At 69, Jim Dierker keeps moving. He recently returned from a trip to Tokyo, Japan to watch the Rugby World Cup. While in Japan, Dierker played an international rugby match with an elite Japanese all-star over-60s team, rode bullet trains, toured holy temples, and sipped Sapporo at the factory. His daughter invited him to Japan as a reward for three years of rigorous work toward his master of arts degree in rhetoric and writing studies (RWS).



50th Anniversary Community Celebration Dinner and Program
SAVE THE DATE: March 21, 2020 | Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center

For more information, visit


50th Anniversary Gender and Social Justice Festival
SAVE THE DATE: Saturday, April 25, 2020 | 10 am-6 pm
Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union

For more information, visit


A celebration took place Oct. 17-19 and coincided with the annual International Business Case Competition which brought together 12 student teams from across the nation to present their solutions to a real-world business issue facing a local company. The SDSU Fowler College of Business team came in fourth place.

Learn more about the department, by visiting International Business



A yearlong celebration of elegance and moxie featured M.F.A. faculty, students, affiliates, and alumni at The Hugh C. Hyde Living Writers' Series events, supported by the Department of English and Comparative Literature and the M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program.

To learn more about the department, visit M.F.A. in Creative Writing

Hana Creger


Hana Creger is a public policy advocate who helps develop and implement local and state-level policies to address climate change, poverty, and social injustice most directly affecting economic, social, and health outcomes for low-income communities of color. An Aztec Mentor Program (AMP) participant, she is also a philanthropic supporter of the College of Arts and Letters.

Katie Howland


Katie Howland is executive director of Millie’s Bookshelf, a San Diego-based humanitarian literacy nonprofit that installs micro libraries promoting reading programs for refugee children worldwide. As leader of San Diego’s only nonprofit operating in overseas refugee settings, she works closely with the university’s International Security and Conflict Resolution department to ensure students are exposed to career options in humanitarian-related fields.

Stuart Aitken

Distinguished Professor and June Burnett Endowed Chair of Geography

Aitken was named an AAG Fellow 2020 by the American Association of Geographers. The AAG Fellows is a program, started in 2018, to recognize geographers who have made significant contributions to advancing geography. Aitken is one of 18 geographers chosen from throughout the U.S.

For details, visit

Ramona Peréz

Professor of Anthropology, Presidential Chair of Aztec Culture and Education, Director of the Center for Latin American Studies, and Chair of the Institutional Review Board

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) membership elected Pérez to serve as president-elect/vice president (2019-2021). She began her term as president-elect/vice president at AAA’s Annual Meeting in November and will assume the office of president at the 2021 Meeting.

For details, visit SDSU NewsCenter

Roberto Hernández

Associate Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies

Hernández was elected to a leadership position in the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS).

He will become chair for the 2020-21 term and serves as chair-elect for the prior year. Formed in 1972, NACCS is "part of an important step in demarcating Chicana and Chicano Studies as an independent discipline with its own schools of thought, professional associations advanced degree programs, and an international research scope," Hernåndez said.

For more information, visit NACCS

Sarah B. Marsh-Rebelo Excellence Fund

During an elegant morning tea service Oct. 30, five M.F.A. students in creative writing celebrated scholarships to assist them in their creative endeavors. Sarah B. Marsh-Rebelo, alumna and founder of the Excellence Fund for Poetry, read poetry from her book titled Over My Shoulder and listened to students read from their current works.

Victor Bianchini | Political Science Alumnus

Bianchini is a retired Superior Court judge and U.S. Magistrate judge, and is also a private mediator, arbitrator and discovery referee. He was the recipient of a Distinguished Alumni award in 2018. Most recently, he traveled to Cairo to compete with the United States World Fencing Team. He is currently ranked No. 3 in the U.S. within the Veteran +70 Saber category.

Bianchini funded a one-unit elective course in political science titled Negotiation and Mediation.


We appreciate your support. To learn about ways you can give back and make a difference for the College of Arts & Letters, contact Keely Bamberg, Sr. Development Officer at [email protected] or (619) 594-1562.

Visit CAL Giving to learn more.

Announcing the debut edition of CAL Insight — a magazine from the College of Arts & Letters
In this first issue, meet the Student Research Symposium winners from CAL; learn how CAL lecturers enhance SDSU-Georgia curriculum; read about the nine winners of the Mundt Peace Fellowship; find out what geographers are discovering in Brazil; and, read more stories about student and faculty achievements.

For more details about new programs, research, and events, please visit and our social media channels.