Insight  CAL 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.

Welcome Message

Aileen TaylorEstablished in 1969, this year the College of Arts and Letters embarks on its 53rd year. As the new assistant dean for student affairs in CAL, I take great pride in joining our diverse community of scholars.

We have much to be proud of, including graduating more than 1,500 students on May 13  in Viejas Arena. Our students are bright, talented, and prepared to be change agents in our dynamic, complex world. This past year, we had 14 Student Research Symposium winners, a Presidential Graduate Research award winner, and six students from the college were honored as Quest for the Best awardees. Our graduate students have been engaged in high levels of innovative research and are moving into important roles in extraordinary institutions around the country. These accomplishments provide a glimpse into the positive outcomes of our student success efforts within the college.

Our world-class faculty are devoted to excellent teaching, innovative research and creative activity, and service, which together greatly impact our students’ experiences and successes. In academic year 2021-22, CAL faculty received grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities – indeed, SDSU was awarded a record five NEH awards! In addition to these awards, our faculty continuously find ways to make the student experience more meaningful and engaging by developing new programs and curriculum. For example, we welcomed our new Center for Comics Studies and are making plans for a Human Rights and Border Studies minor.

Staff members across the college have supported our students and faculty in numerous ways this past year, even while they also struggled through the continuing pandemic. It is only with their dedicated support that our college can maintain the highest quality of education and research.

The College of Arts and Letters has accomplished so much in the midst of the many challenges that surround us. Thank you to our community and supporters for your many efforts and contributions. Thank you for helping to make our college a passionate, vibrant, exciting, and a meaningful place to be.

Aileen Taylor-Grant
Assistant Dean, Student Affairs


CAL Overall Outstanding Graduating Senior Ready to be Future Leader

Leslie Zubieta has a remarkable story that demonstrates her courage, persistence, and interest in helping the most disadvantaged groups in society.



Taryn Duffy Wins Presidential Graduate Research Fellowship Award  — Not Once, But Twice

Her research takes a look at how the royal family brand was developed during the reign of Britain’s Queen Victoria — and how that legacy lives on today.



Student Research Symposium (SRS) Winners

CAL students among 77 winners during the spring event that showcased research, scholarship, and creative activities.


Five Economics Students Forge New Pathways to Catapult Their Careers 

Econ students: Braaksma, Fone, Kumpas, Leonard, Margolit

Graduate student achievements include pre-doc post-doc, and faculty positions at important institutions.

A group of graduate economics students associated with SDSU’s Center for Health Economics and Policy Studies (CHEPS) are forging new paths. CHEPS student affiliates are M.A. and doctoral students who have been funded on external research grants provided by the center to conduct applied microeconomics and policy research with faculty. Some of the students are co-leaders who do extraordinary work in peer-to-peer mentoring.



LGBTQ+ Student Internships Lead to Employment

LGBTQ+ studies students Ryan Ednacot and Dianna Ratsamy both found permanent positions after their internship experience. 



Student Perspective: My story

When I turned fourteen my parents decided that my brother and I needed to come to San Diego for our education.



Wheel of Fortune Winner

SDSU student Ashtyn Mueller solved a bonus round puzzle to add a car to cash and travel prizes. Ashtyn Mueller spent three excruciating weeks keeping the news of a life-changing accomplishment to herself: her impressive win on TV’s “Wheel of Fortune.”



CAL Excellence Awards 

Faculty Excellence AwardThe College of Arts and Letters is pleased to announce its annual awards for Excellence in Service; Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity; and, Teaching in the humanities and the social sciences. Recipients receive $1,500 in support of their professional activities. 

Please join Dean Monica J. Casper in congratulating the 2021-2022 College of Arts and Letters award recipients: 

Excellence in Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity (Tenured)
Erika Robb Larkins, Department of Anthropology / Behner Stiefel Center for Brazilian Studies and Matt Lauer, Department of Anthropology (co-recipients)

Excellence in Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity (Tenure-track)
Aaron Dinkin, Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages

Excellence in Service 
Audrey Beck, Department of Sociology,  Isaac Ullah, Department of Anthropology, Michael Domínguez, Department of Chicana-Chicano Studies

Excellence in Teaching  (Tenured)
Michael Domínguez, Department of Chicana-Chicano Studies

Excellence in Teaching  (Lecturer)
Kristal Bivona, Behner Stiefel Center for Brazilian Studies


Whitaker Receives PRRI Public Fellowship

Roy Whitaker, explores pressing issues of religion and democracy.

There has been an increase in the number of Black Americans who identify themselves as unaffiliated with a religion, a trend that fascinates transdisciplinary researcher Roy Whitaker as part of his work in a fellowship he was awarded late last year.



Professor of History Receives Fulbright Distinguished Scholar Award

Gregory A. Daddis will teach, lecture and conduct research at Pembroke College, Oxford

Gregory A. Daddis, history professor, director of the Center for War and Society, and USS Midway Chair in Modern U.S. Military History, understands America’s relationship to war. He served more than 25 years in the U.S. Army before entering academia. 


SEED Grant Funding Brings Students and Faculty Together for Important Research Projects 

SEED grant faculty: Bordelon, Frieburg, Murdock, Penrose, Shahri, Thomases, WuFormerly known as the University Grants Program, the SDSU Seed Grant Program provides funding for Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities (RSCA) projects.

Similar to the UGP, this program provides important funding for new RSCA projects and areas of inquiry, allows faculty to bring ongoing projects to completion.

Seven faculty from the College of Arts and Letters were awarded 2022 SDSU Seed Grant funding for spring 2022.


researchers in Indonesia

Anthropologist Erin Riley Awarded NSF Grant to Study Human-Primate Coexistence and Ecosystem Health in Indonesia

The National Science Foundation International Research Experiences for Students grant for nearly $300K will support the study of people, primates, and tropical forests.

Erin Riley, professor of anthropology and primatologist is no stranger to Indonesia and the study of Sulawesi macaque behavior. 


border fence

NEH Award for Human Rights and Interdisciplinary Border Studies Minor

The National Endowment for the Humanities announced $33.17 million in grants for 245 humanities projects across the country.

San Diego State University won a nearly $35,000 grant for the “Human Rights and Border Studies Interdisciplinary Minor.”


NEH grants: Pollard, Carr Salas, Kazemi

NEH Grants for Teaching and Writing Innovations  

Three scholars at San Diego State University’s College of Arts and Letters received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities for projects that touch on Iraq, the teaching of writing, and comics studies.


aerial view of Alaska

Geographer Receives NASA and USDA Grants  

With three new extramural grants, Dan Sousa, assistant professor of geography is working to make an impact through research projects that help find solutions to environmental issues plaguing the country.


Bond event posterNew Discourse & Dialogue Annual Lecture Series 

The inaugural event featured classics alum Trevor James Bond ‘(88), Ph.D. who presented an illustrated lecture titled “Restoring Nez Perce Material Culture: A Consideration of Collecting and Communities” at the SDSU library in mid-April. 


Stiefel and Behner

Philanthropists Keith Behner and Cathy Stiefel Fund Brazil Sustainability Initiative

The gift supports critical collaborations in scholarship along with student research opportunities.

J. Keith Behner (‘71) and Cathy Stiefel (‘92), who established the Behner Stiefel Center for Brazilian Studies at San Diego State University in 2014, have made a new gift to the center to support the study of climate change and sustainability in the largest country in South America.



SDSU Emeritus Professor Richard Wright: When Donor Walls Converge

A renewed inspiration for giving to the College of Arts and Letters began purely by accident in 2018. It happened when Richard Wright entered the sixth floor College of Arts and Letters dean’s office lobby to say hello to an old friend who had worked in the Department of Geography, where Wright spent his nearly 40-year career.


In Memoriam Scholarships

A number of scholarships are available to Study of Religion students.

  • Professor Khaleel Mohammed Scholarship for the Study of Religion
  • Ashley E. Phillips Scholarship Fund for Reproductive Health in the Department of Women’s Studies

Learn more about these opportunities that pay it forward. >>

Wayne and Onobrakpeya

In Celebration of Africana Studies 50th Anniversary, Major Artists Visit SDSU 

An art exhibition of internationally-known African artist Bruce Onobrakpeya and readings with Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka were result of efforts by faculty members and students.


faculty and alumni at celebration

Linguistics 50th Anniversary Event/Lecture

On April 29, the Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages celebrated with a lecture and presentations by past faculty, students, and alumni.


faculty at celebration

Faculty Celebrate 25 Years

CAL faculty were recognized for their commitment to the College of Arts and Letters during a morning reception on the Arts and Letters 6th-floor patio on May 2.  

Dean Casper shared her gratitude and appreciation for the faculty members who have served the college.


Center for Comics Studies // Supported by major grants, the new unit will unite educators and librarians across the world. SDSU NewsCenter

Center for Latin American Studies and Anthropology // Ramona Pérez was one of ten distinguished SDSU alumni who were honored April 23 during the 46th SDSU Alumni Awards of Distinction event, attended by more than 250 guests at the Omni La Costa in Carlsbad. Watch the video highlight

Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters // Five to be awarded honorary degrees at SDSU commencement. SDSU NewsCenter

Jewish Studies // Visiting artist (2019 and 2021) Ronit Weiss-Berkowitz, SDSU, co-wrote the No. 4 most-watched new series on Netflix. She was featured in an article that highlighted how her time in San Diego and at SDSU inspired her. The San Diego Union-Tribune

Weber Honors College Research Fellows // Ramona Pérez, Center for Latin American Studies, Roy Whitaker, Department for the Study of Religion, and Sureshi Jayawardene, Africana Studies expand impactful research and mentor students during the spring 2022 semester. SDSU CAL Faculty

War in Ukraine: Perspectives from Faculty and Students // CAL faculty respond rapidly, broadly, and with compassion to help students contextualize and understand the current global crisis. SDSU CAL Faculty

Reader Survey

Please take a moment to let us know your thoughts about this digital magazine. 

Dean's Message

Monica CasperGreetings of the season!

What a curious fall semester this has been – we’re mostly back on campus, and it’s thrilling to see our students and colleagues connecting and collaborating with each other. Yet, we’re not quite done with the pandemic, which makes for some interesting moments as we navigate scheduling, events, and meetings in a rapidly shifting environment.

The happiest part of being “back” – especially for me, as I served my first year as Dean of CAL entirely virtually – is meeting people in person for the first time. We are still masked in most indoor spaces, and so figuring out who’s who behind colorful masks has become a kind of parlor game. Looking into each other’s eyes has rarely felt so important!

Despite some challenges, we have persevered on all fronts and hope is in the air. 

Our students are winning awards and earning scholarships – thanks to your generosity! Our faculty have received grants from the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and other major funders. CAL leads three of the six Big Ideas selected by President de la Torre. Our alumni continue to make us proud with their endeavors. And we’re planning in-person and hybrid events for spring semester, including our inaugural Dean’s Lecture on March 3, 2022, featuring Harvard historian Annette Gordon-Reed.

With winter break nearly upon us, with its promise of joy and family and hot cocoa – or, perhaps, a solitary walk on the beach or in the woods – I want to leave you with a heartfelt wish. May your days be merry and bright, may you find comfort in the company of others, and may the New Year bring you peace and prosperity. We are so grateful for you, and the many ways you contribute to the College of Arts and Letters.

Monica J. Casper,
Dean, College of Arts and Letters

2021-22 CSU Sally Casanova Scholars Selected 

The CSU California Pre-Doctoral Fellowship Program, designed to increase diversity within university faculty, supports the doctoral aspirations of CSU students by awarding scholarships each year. Student, Nancy Bahena from the College of Arts and Letters were among seven designated Sally Casanova Scholars from SDSU. Anthropology master’s student Jamie Bastide received an honorable mention.



Fawaz Qashat

New Student Club Creates Community Through Comics

Biology student Fawaz Qashat found comfort in comics when he moved to the U.S. from Iraq in 2009. He immersed himself in Marvel’s X-Men, Fantastic Four, and later the Scarlet Witch to better understand the world around him.

“I was an immigrant and it was tough to fit in and learn the language,” Qashat said.

The connection and community he yearned for appeared in a general education course he chose on a whim. In the Comics and History (HIST-157) class taught by Elizabeth Pollard, history professor and co-founder of [email protected], he felt a certain kinship with Pollard and the other students.



Kayla, Nancy, Jamie

Philosophy Student Wins Award for Research Paper

Dylan Corliss, fourth-year philosophy student, wrote a paper titled, "Robots in Eldercare: Capabilities to Curb Dystopia" and won a Disability Ethics Affinity Group student paper award from the American Society of Bioethics + Humanities.

Corliss wrote the research paper during Professor Joseph Stramondo’s upper division Neuroethics course. He is currently working part-time for a policy advocacy firm based in the UK, and applying to several Ph.D. programs in political science (with a focus on international relations).




Old Town San Diego State Historic Park

SDSU Student Researchers Update Historical Narratives for California State Parks’ Project

David Cline, history professor and director of SDSU’s Center for Public and Oral History, secured $263,750 in funding for an interagency partnership for graduate training, internships, research, and collaborative work with Old Town San Diego State Historic Park as part of the California State Parks' Relevancy & History Project.


Big Ideas

Three Faculty Teams Selected to Move Forward in SDSU's Big Ideas Initiative

San Diego State University’s Big Ideas initiative is designed to inspire transformative and transdisciplinary solutions to society’s greatest challenges. 

The College of Arts and Letters is delighted to announce that three of its faculty-driven projects were selected to receive funding and technical support from the SDSU President’s Office: Comics and Social Justice (led by Elizabeth Pollard, professor of history), the Community Climate Action Network (led by Douglas Stow, professor of geography), and Reimagining Transboundary Water (led by Trent Biggs, professor of geography).

The Big Ideas initiative seeks to advance research and scholarship, expand service to our regional communities and also exemplify SDSU’s five-year strategic plan.


EJ Sobo and Communivax

National COVID-19 Coalition Leads Effort to Increase Vaccination Uptake in Underserved Communities

In South San Diego County areas, COVID-19 vaccination rates rose above national averages, thanks to the heroic efforts of many, including a team of anthropologists and public health experts at San Diego State University. 



street mural in Brazil

NEH Grant for "The Making of Modern Brazil: Marginal Spaces, Race, and Urban Life"

Erika Robb Larkins, professor of anthropology and director of the Behner Stiefel Center for Brazilian Studies, was awarded one of 12 NEH Institute for Higher Education grants that support intensive one- to four-week projects in which college and university faculty members, working with scholarly experts, engage in the study of significant texts and topics in the humanities.



Erika Rob-Larkins

NSF-Funded Study on High Heat and Social Inequality

Robb Larkins was also awarded a $200,000, three-year National Science Foundation grant for “Heat and Inequality,” a comparative case study that will explore how heat is connected to social inequality in two diverse areas — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the Imperial Valley, California.



Matto Grasso movie poster

NEH Grant for Book That Explores Little-known Brazilian Expedition 

David Cline, history professor and director of the Center for Public and Oral History, was awarded one of 25 NEH Public Scholar grants that support popular nonfiction books in the humanities to enable publication and support for well-researched books in the humanities aimed at a broad public audience.



CA Woman of the Black Panthers

Grant Adds New Voices to the California State Archives Oral History Project 

Professor and director of the Center for Public and Oral History, David Cline received a three-year, $150,000 grant from the California State Archives, within Secretary of State Shirley Weber’s office, for oral history interviews that capture personal insights and perspectives of state government officials.

The new project is a collaboration between SDSU’s Center for Public and Oral History and the California State Archives Oral History Project.



Erin Shives

Sustainability Alum Works for NASA DEVELOP

At the start of my senior year at SDSU in 2020, I had the opportunity to work with Professor Biggs, Department of Geography, and peers on a project measuring the impact of restoration on Mast Park in Santee, California. For a clearer understanding of future work entailing GIS, statistical programming, and hydrology, I enrolled in Professor Biggs graduate level course, Advanced Watershed Analysis.



Aaron Young and Arion Mayes

The Burning of Black Wall Street: 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

100th Anniversary Research Gives Voice to the Dead; Anthropology Professor and Master’s Alum Worked at Site 

Aaron Young, anthropology master's alumnus ('19) and bioarchaeologist had an opportunity to assist in efforts in Oklahoma this summer. Read the Q&A to learn more about the project in which he was joined by his graduate advisor and mentor Arion Mayes, professor of anthropology.


$10.3M Total Raised College of Arts and Letters $901, 649 Total awarded in scholarships, 374 scholarships awarded

Read the 2020/21 CAL IMPACT REPORT.


SDSU Alumni Create Endowed Chair for Urban Studies

High school sweethearts Daryl Skorepa ('71) and his wife Andrea Skorepa ('71) dedicated their professional careers to growing and connecting healthy communities. The Skorepas believe in the power of higher education, and recently established a Chair in Urban Studies within the College of Arts and Letters through a planned gift. They know future generations will be able to thrive via the design of more sustainable, diverse and inclusive cities.

Aileen Taylor

CAL Welcomes New Assistant Dean, Student Affairs

Dr. Aileen Taylor brings a wealth of experience and skills to SDSU. She holds a master’s in sports administration from Georgia State University and a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Georgia, an M.A. in education from Mercer University, and a B.S. in sport science from Ohio University.


Ranin Kazemi

Ranin Kazemi Selected New Director of the International Business Program

Ranin Kazemi, associate professor of history, will be the new director of the International Business program, effective January 1, 2022.

SDSU’s IB program is ranked No. 2 in the nation among minority-serving institutions, No. 4 among public universities, and No. 8 overall among undergraduate programs by U.S. News & World Report. The program integrates coursework in business administration, foreign languages, and regional/cultural studies. 


CAL in the News

Anthropology // Todd Braje led a Channel Islands expedition for the author of an article titled “The Search for America’s Atlantis: Did people first come to this continent by land or by sea?” — part of a new series in The Atlantic called Who Owns America’s Wilderness? 
The Atlantic

CHEPS // Joseph Sabia
coauthored a study about vaccination results tied to lottery announcements. An article appeared in JAMA Health Forum and was subsequently picked up by numerous media outlets. 
Bloomberg / Forbes/ Washington Post / CNBC / Business Science Insider / NBC Bay Area Money Report / NBC San Diego / CNN 

Center for Latin American Studies // Ramona Pérez,
was interviewed about the history of 16 de septiembre and its meaning to Mexican Americans. 

Chicana and Chicano Studies // Michael Domínguez spoke to Midday Edition as part of a special program surrounding the critical race theory debate.  
KPBS Midday Edition

English and Comparative Literature // Assistant Professor Lashon Daley created a new web series titled “Critical Conversations in Children's Literature” that brings together authors and scholars to discuss critical topics brewing within the field. 

The first episode features a conversation between Daley and Tae Keller, the 2021 Newbery Award winner, discussing the representations of girlhood presented in her novel, “When You Trap A Tiger.”

The second episode, features Charlene Tung sharing her insights on the historical and theoretical context of the book.

Geography // Pascale Joassart-Marcelli, director of the Food Studies program wrote an article titled How food became the perfect beachhead for gentrification.”
The Conversation

History // Professor Beth Pollard and English // Professor William Nericcio appeared on a panel at Comic-Con Special Edition in San Diego and were mentioned in an article highlighting the president of the new Comics Studies Club for students.
SDSU NewsCenter

International Business // CAL's International Business Program @ SDSU (offered jointly with SDSU Fowler College of Business) maintains a top-10 ranking in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, 2022. The IB Program is ranked No. 8 overall, No. 4 in the nation among public universities, and No. 2 among Minority-Serving Institutions.
SDSU NewsCenter

Political Science // Stephen Goggin discussed the recall election, the background, results, and implications.
10News / Fox5 / Fox5 / ABC / Fox5

Political Science // Professor Ahmet Kuru's
article "How the world’s biggest Islamic organization drives religious reform in Indonesia" was published by The Conversation, republished in Yahoo News, and translated into Spanish.
The Conversation/ Yahoo/ Pressenza

Political Science // Alum Tamara Voskanian
was featured in an article titled “A Year After Unleashing War Crimes Against Indigenous Armenians, Azerbaijan’s Threats And Violations Continue” and was a speaker on a panel at Columbia.
ForbesColumbia Zoom Panel (23:59)

Sociology // Graduate student Daisy Gomez-Fuentes was featured in an article titled “Latina first-generation college students draw on lessons, mentor others”
NBC News

Sustainability Program // The Princeton Review’s recognition in its 2022 “Guide to Green Colleges”  names SDSU as one of the nation’s most environmentally responsible campuses.
SDSU NewsCenter

Women’s Studies // Irene Lara was interviewed for two articles about Yolanda Lopez's art exhibit at San Diego's Museum of Contemporary Art (her essay "Fleshing the Spirit and Spiriting the Flesh with Yolanda López and Tonantzin-Guadalupe" appears in the exhibit catalogue).
The San Diego Union-TribuneSan Diego Magazine

Save the Date

Inaugural Dean’s Lecture Series with Annette Gordon-Reed

Join Us for This Important Event

Save the Date: Thursday, March 3, 2022

Dean Monica J. Casper is immensely pleased to announce that the Inaugural CAL Dean’s Lecture will be given by Professor Annette Gordon-Reed, an acclaimed Pulitzer-winning historian and legal scholar. She will speak on the topic “Exploring our Past and Looking to the Future: Understanding America’s Legacy of Inequality.”



Dean's Message


An enthusiastic gardener, I like to photograph my plants both inside and outside the house. To me, plants represent growth and life, but also sometimes loss and failure. Growth can only happen under the right conditions, with sufficient water, sunlight, nourishment, and safety from predation.

I’m especially fond of photographing what I call “the unfurling,” the graceful, slow, hopeful opening-out of a leaf bud. Sometimes, this process can take days, and it brings me great pleasure to witness the meditative unfurling of a leaf. While the world bustles and zooms, with dogs and kids and meals and projects and tasks, the leaf reaches peacefully for the light, unbothered.

As we begin planning for an in-person return to campus this fall, I am thinking often of growth, light, and unfurling – but also of loss and darkness. The past year has been challenging on so many levels, and trauma lingers. The loss of loved ones, livelihoods, habits, hopes, stability, cherished dreams, and more – these traumas will live in us for a long time to come.

As we look to the fall and unfurl our bodies from desk chairs and kitchen stools and makeshift desks and patios, and we return to embodied presence alongside one another, let us keep central the notion that in order to thrive, we all need the right conditions. Water, sunlight, nourishment, and safety from predation, whether we are plants or humans or nonhuman kin.

I, for one, am so excited to meet my colleagues in person I can hardly sit still! I also want to ensure we foster the right conditions that will help us all thrive, in and out of the classroom, on and off campus. One thing I know for sure is that nobody survives or thrives alone – we need the collective, now more than ever.

In this edition of CAL Insight, you’ll see an unfurling. Despite the precarity of the pandemic, here you will read about a thriving group of students, faculty, alumni, and donors. 

Happy spring!

— Dean Monica J. Casper

Mundt Peace Fellowship Scholars 

Mundt Peace Fellowship ScholarsNine SDSU students accepted international service-learning internships this year 

From Jordan to India to Vietnam and beyond, students at SDSU worked with an international cadre of NGOs and humanitarian organizations this year, albeit from their own homes. These virtual internships provided the Mundt Peace Scholarship winners a rich service-learning experience with organizations they are passionate about.  

The internships, supported 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.


SDSU Student Research Symposium Winners

SRS Winners: Janoe and Kayla

13 CAL students win awards; two invited to represent SDSU at the CSU systemwide competition.

Among the 50 SDSU students winning awards at the Student Research Symposium competition in March, 13 undergraduate and graduate students hailed from CAL. Research on a variety of subjects was presented in categories such as diversity, inclusion, and social justice, undergraduate research excellence, and the arts. Ten presidential award winners were selected to represent SDSU at the systemwide 35th Annual California State University Student Research Competition.



Zee Harrison’s Thirst for Knowledge

Africana Studies course helped propel this student to an education that encompasses the world.

Zelia Harrison finds the interconnection between CAL courses in Africana studies, anthropology, and Latin American studies.



International Business Senior Honored By National Organization

An international business student at San Diego State University, Katrina Celine Hizon, has been named the 2021 Pacific Coast Regional Collegian of the Year by national business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi


Meet CAL Outstanding Graduating Seniors

Outstanding Graduating Seniors

Students were selected for their extraordinary achievements from departments across CAL. Twenty-nine seniors were honored and each named their most influential faculty member.

This year the overall CAL outstanding graduating senior was English major Jose Miguel Alvarado. He named Lecturer Edith Frampton as his most influential faculty member.


Human Rights Certificate Students

Interdisciplinary Human Rights Certificate Program Inspires Forward Thinking Students

Four students share their insights about the program 


Language Study Unlocks Door to Future Career 

CAL Students: Sam and Zak

The Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) is a language learning program funded by the U.S. government to expand the number of Americans studying languages critical to U.S. national security and foreign policy. It is a competitive study abroad program, with only 10% of applicants ultimately admitted.

Though the pandemic has made this a remote program for the time being, without sacrificing any of the intensity and rigor of coursework, this summer 2021 I have the privilege of participating in the CLS Arabic program, through the Arab American Language Institute in Morocco (AALIM).


“Please wait for the host to start the meeting”

It’s week twelve, or thirteen. Frankly, I’m not really sure anymore.

COVID time makes the weeks bleed into one another and I often feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day waking up to relive the  same day over and over. I think I speak for everyone when I say these last two COVID semesters in particular were equalizing. We all struggled to navigate Zoom, spending countless  hours in our less-than-comfy chairs, dressed halfway up from the waist with our trash, water bottles, and other knick-knacks hidden tastefully out of view on our desks.


A Big Change for Religious Studies

old book open on table

The department has changed its name to better reflect its expansive academic scope and mission.

After five decades, San Diego State University’s Department of Religious Studies is going by a new name, adopted earlier this year to better represent the global scope and academic purpose of the discipline.

It is now named the Department for the Study of Religion, a change that conveys the importance of understanding “how a variety of different religions function in today’s world,” chair Risa Levitt said.


$1.5 Million NSF Grant to Research Cause of Classic Period Socio-political Collapse in Western Mesoamerica 

Mayes and students

Transdisciplinary team of scientists to study contrasting ecological subsystems in Oaxaca, Mexico and whether environmental change contributed to the demise. 

Why did the Classic-period Mesoamerican civilizations decline after 950 CE? What is the role of environmental change, its impact, and the human socio-environmental relationship? These are questions that hang heavy in the minds of a team of international scientists who wish to unearth the answers.

The period of dramatic social change involving the collapse of rulers and ruling institutions in addition to the depopulation of cities and entire regions took place between 700 and 1000CE.


Documentary Podcast Walks in Afghanistan Veterans’ Boots

SDSU Center for War and Society, est. 2020

An NEH grant supports the project at the Center for War and Society and focuses on members of the Marines’ “Third Squad.”

Gregory A. Daddis, professor of history and director of San Diego State University's Center for War and Society, and journalist and former combat engineer Elliott Woods received a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Chairman's Grant for a documentary podcast on U.S. Marines in the Afghanistan War.

“Third Squad” explores the wartime and homecoming experiences of a group of Marines who served during the 2009-11 troop surge, the most violent phase of the war, and the strategic decision leading up to it. It is being produced in collaboration with the center by Woods and Airloom Media.


Other Research Grants 

Anthropology // Seth Mallios // 2019-2020 South Coastal Information Center Historic Resources (SCIC) // California Office of Historic Preservation // $1,000

Anthropology // Erin Riley // “Whose woods are these?: Human-wildlife conflict and biodiversity conservation in Sulawesi, Indonesia.” // ASIANetwork Freeman Student-Faculty Fellows (SFF) // $23,000

Economics // Ron Shadbegian // California Department of Public Health // The Economic Burden of Tobacco Product // $90,347

Geography and Office of the Dean // Thomas Herman and Atsushi Nara // Encoding Geography - Scaling up an RPP to Achieve Inclusive Geocomputational Education // NSF Directorate for Engineering // $400,000

Geography // Thomas Herman // California Hub for Environmental Literacy and Action // Ten Strands // $14,977

Geography // Thomas Herman // Support for Distance Learning Lesson Development // San Diego County Office of Education // $3,000

Geography // Thomas Herman // South Bay Community Services // Evaluation of First 5 Targeted Home Visiting Program for South Bay Community Services //  $9,000

Geography // Thomas Herman // South Bay Community Services // Evaluation of School-Age Prevention and Early Intervention Program in South Region of San Diego County //  $50,000

Geography // Arielle Levine // Enhancing Adaptive Capacity Assessment in Fisheries Decision Making: Identifying Barriers and Ways to Overcome Them // University of Washington //  $16,422

Geography // Hilary McMillan // Hydrologic Model Evaluation in FIRO 2 // University of California at San Diego // $66,417

Geography // Andre Skupin // Stroke after Aspiration Thrombectomy: Using Machine Learning to Find Clinically Relevant Patterns in the MHIF STEMI Registry //  Scripps Clinic Medical Group // $15,000

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

Office of the Dean // Mathias Schulze // California Subject Matter Project - CSMP // University of California Office of the President // $17,000  

Office of the Dean // Mathias Schulze and Christopher Brown // SDSU STARTALK Teacher Training Program // DOD National Security Agency // $57,801

Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literatures // Ricardo Vasconcelos // Support for SDSU Portuguese Program — Teaching and Research // Camões Institute // $29,417 

First of its Kind in San Diego —
New Food Studies Minor Debuts in Fall 

Oaxaca food market

Students helped spur the idea for a minor — they wanted to learn more about how food is interconnected with sociopolitical, health, economic, and environmental issues.

Students are passionate about food.

It all started 10 years ago when geography Professor Pascale Joassart-Marcelli, now the director of the food studies minor program, created a new GE course called Geography of Food. “Everybody was a little bit surprised by the course; they weren't quite sure what topics we would cover and whether there would be enough material for a whole semester.” 

In the first year 11 students enrolled; the following year it was 25; by the next year more than 100. And, the interest kept growing.


New Certificate Programs

collage of faces
American Indian Studies, Africana Studies, Chicana and Chicano Studies, Women's Studies

Ethnic and Gender Studies in the Workplace Certificate
An interdisciplinary program integrating coursework from multiple CAL departments to prepare pre-professional students as leaders in issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and oppression/discrimination — topics of pressing and urgent interest across professional fields.

arabic architecture
Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages

Arabic Language Certificate|An opportunity to understand the region’s language and cultural complexities

Interdisciplinary Study of Bilingualism Basic Certificate
Grounded in a linguistic perspective of bilingualism. 

Transcultural Communication Basic Certificate
Prepares students for success in workplaces where multiple cultural systems intersect. 

outside of US archives building
Center for Public & Oral History

Graduate Certificate in Public History
This certificate is designed to offer a deep examination of public history methods, theory, and practice, while preparing students who are interested in the public history jobs sector.

professot teaching a class
Chicana and Chicano Studies

K-12 Ethnic Studies Teaching Certificate
An interdisciplinary program integrating coursework from across campus to prepare educators who aspire to teach Ethnic Studies at the K-12 level.

Street art
Debut of Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) Course 

Kristal Bivona, assistant director and lecturer in the Behner Stiefel Center for Brazilian Studies, brings people together with her energy and creativity. During the past year, at the College of Arts and Letters, she has supported faculty with ideas for innovative pedagogy, developed an art space for the center’s Digital Brazil Project, and implemented new ideas for online learning. In fall she plans to take her academic creativity to the next level with a new COIL course.


Five CAL Faculty-led Teams Present Big Ideas

Big Ideas seeks to combine, leverage and promote San Diego State University’s distinctive strengths for the betterment of the world.

Faculty-led research teams across SDSU were asked to develop proposals aligning with SDSU’s strategic plan in 2020. The four thematic areas are: health and well-being, climate change, social justice, and transborder scholarship.

SDSU President Adela de la Torre, said, “The proposals embody our distinct strengths and also represent our five-year strategic plan. Within these proposals, you will find projects specifically designed to provide important and needed progress toward resolving ongoing disparities perpetuated by racial and economic inequities.”

Click on the links to learn more and watch the video presentations of each group.

logos from Big Ideas groups

Chicana and Chicano Studies / Michael Domínguez
SDSU Center for K-12 Ethnic Studies

Geography / Gabriela Fernandez
Metabolism of Cities Living Lab

Geography / Trent Biggs
Reimagining Transboundary Water

Geography / Doug Stow
Community Climate Action Network (CCAN)

History / Beth Pollard
Comics and Social Justice

More About Big Ideas


Professor of Chinese Receives Fulbright Scholarship for Research and Teaching

Fulfilling a 30-year dream for Zheng-sheng Zhang, professor in the Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages, this fall the Fulbright takes him to the International University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan where he will research the language of the Dungan Muslims who left China 150 years ago to settle in Central Asia. 


CAL Faculty Awards

Faculty recognized for excellence in service, teaching, and research

CAL honors lecturers, tenure-track faculty, and tenured faculty through the Faculty Excellence Awards, and CAL grants these awards in three areas: teaching, service, and research. These award-winners are receiving recognition for their exceptional contributions to CAL, to the university, to students, and to research and scholarship.

CAL Excellence in Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity Award

Research is a key part of an academic institution, and CAL’s Excellence in Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity Award recognizes those faculty members who, at the beginning of their career, demonstrate exceptional promise for significant achievement, as well as those tenured faculty members who have continually published in quality venues, creating national and international impact and change.

David Cline | History

David Cline’s research areas in history involve the intersection of oral history, public history, U.S. social movements, and the digital humanities.


Rebecca C. Bartel | Study of Religion & Center for Latin American Studies 

Rebecca Bartel consistently produces high-quality research. In June 2021, her single-author book, Card Carrying Christians, will be published by the University of California press.


CAL Excellence in Service Award

This award recognizes the contributions of faculty members who go above-and-beyond for their department, the college, the university, and the community. These extraordinary faculty members often take on thankless tasks for the benefit of others, and this award recognizes how their altruistic approach is key to the success of CAL, its faculty, and its students. 

Eve Kornfeld | History 

Eve Kornfeld’s tireless devotion and dedication to her students can be seen in the wide range of activities in which she participates. She advises students and reads numerous high-ranking theses each year.


Esther Rothblum | Women's Studies

Esther Rothblum helped to make SDSU one of the top LGBTQ+-friendly campuses, and SDSU recently ranked No. 1 in California and No. 8 in the U.S. by Campus Pride and BestColleges.


Jamie Madden | Rhetoric and Writing Studies

Jamie Madden’s service involves making the RWS class schedule work; utilizing her experience to help instructors with challenging situations; interacting with students skillfully and with compassion.


CAL Excellence in Teaching Award

These faculty demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to student success by engaging and motivating diverse student populations. These faculty members frequently update their curricula and create entirely new courses. Their courses both reflect contemporary society and make use of current approaches to teaching by using novel teaching tools, strategies, and technologies. And students greatly appreciate the efforts of these award-winners — each of these winners has a record of garnering excellent student evaluations.

Kim Twist | Political Science

Kim Twist works to make inclusiveness a part of all of her classes. Her sensitivity toward students of diverse backgrounds and cultures leads her efforts to discover and use teaching strategies that have the potential to improve all student learning outcomes.


Carl Fielden | Rhetoric and Writing Studies 

Carl Fielden has been a part of SDSU for over three decades. Fielden’s extraordinary investment in his students’ successes helps his students to see their futures in new ways.



Alumni Perspective: Study of History Prepared Alum for a Successful Career in the Affordable Housing Sector

I graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in history from SDSU in 2005. As an undergraduate, I was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Alpha Theta, and Golden Key Honor Societies and won the Richard T. Ruetten Memorial Scholarship. 



Study of History Opened the World for Alumna

Guided by steadfast determination, Rosalie Schwartz found her place as an academic.

A thirst for knowledge and a dose of determination drove Rosalie Schwartz to earn a history degree — and a place in society — at the age of 30. The mother and wife balanced her family life while pursuing her interests and overcoming myriad challenges of the time.



Q&A with Graduate Student and CHEPS Research Associate

Samuel Safford has worked as a research assistant with the Center for Health Economics and Policy Studies (CHEPS) since 2019 and earned a master’s degree in economics in May 2020. This year, they were accepted into the Ph.D. program in sociology at Michigan State University.



Sustainability Alumna Advances Purpose-Driven Startup Success

McKenna Avery (‘20) V.P. and chief sustainability officer of Hempress Hygienics talks about her path and plan for the future. 

When Avery McKenna was a high school student all she could think about was sustainability. She was part of the Redlands High School ASB and created all the waste management plans for events. She even restructured sourcing guidelines for campus purchases and developed refillable water bottle stations. 

She asked her best friend for advice on what to study in college — biology, environmental science, or sustainability? Her friend answered, “Are you kidding me? All you care about is sustainability.”


Fu and foundation logo

Sandra Wawrytko and the Charles Wei-Hsun Fu Foundation Making a Difference for Ethnic Studies

During the summer of 2020, professor of philosophy Sandra Wawrytko determined it was time to, as the Chinese saying goes, “Forge ahead and do what is right.” 

She made the decision to reach out to fellow board members of the Charles Wei-Hsun Fu Foundation (named after her late husband) to recommend a donation to the Department of Africana Studies within SDSU’s College of Arts and Letters.



CAL in the NewsA sampling of news stories highlighting the College of Arts and Letters.

Africana Studies // Adisa A. Alkebulan wrote an opinion piece titled “Reparations are needed for Black Americans and California is leading the way. Here’s how.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune 

Africana Studies // Shirley Weber, emerita professor, confirmed as the next Secretary of State by the California State Senate.

Africana Studies // Alumnus Trimaine Davis was one of three honorary captains recognized during the Super Bowl LV game for their contributions to their respective communities.
SDSU NewsCenter

American Indian Studies // Olivia Chilcote was interviewed about her research associated with tribal communities. Note: the Union-Tribune article was written by SDSU (and AMIND) alum Lauren Mapp.
SDSU NewsCenter
The San Diego Union-Tribune

Anthropology // EJ Sobo was part of central working group for CommuniVax: Engaging San Diego’s Latinx Community in Equitable COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout
SDSU NewsCenter

ISCOR // Student Nelya Schasfoort was featured in an article highlighting her experiences in the adapted sports program at SDSU. She was also interviewed about her Paralympics goals.
SDSU NewsCenter
Spectrum News

Political Science // Stephen Goggin discussed Biden’s first 100 days in office.

Rhetoric and Writing Studies // Paul Minifee wrote a book review titled “Archaeologist digs up double life of local legend Nathan Harrison” about Seth Mallios’ book Born a Slave, Died a Pioneer: Nathan Harrison and the Historical Archeology of Legend.
The San Diego Union-Tribune

Sociology // Alumnus Lamont Jackson became interim San Diego Unified School District superintendent, as a result of current superintendent Cindy Marten’s choice as U.S. deputy secretary of education.

Women’s Studies // Alumna Sue Gonda and Economics alumna Olivia Puentes-Reynolds were featured in an article highlighting women’s history month.
SDSU NewsCenter

Dean's Holiday MessageMonica Casper

I am so very proud.

Since joining the SDSU family as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters in August, I have had the rewarding opportunity to meet (virtually) our absolutely terrific staff, faculty members, students, and friends. I have learned about the excellent, innovative teaching that happens in CAL, even during a pandemic. I have developed a deep appreciation for the diverse range of humanities and social science research in which our faculty engage, from cultural analysis to geospatial mapping to archaeology and beyond. I have met people from all across CAL – and SDSU more broadly – who are working tirelessly to maintain our university’s excellence and connectedness during these challenging times. 

Although relocating to San Diego during a pandemic has been, shall we say, an interesting experience, I could not be prouder nor more humbled to be leading this exceptional college. Dare I say I’m even having fun? Because I am. Please don’t get me wrong: I work all the time. My body is in the permanent shape of a Z, reflecting how much time I’m sitting in front of Zoom. But stepping into this role has been, in so many ways, a dream – the chance to work with smart people doing exciting things with a shared aspiration to, quite literally, change the world.

In CAL, our tools are many and varied: we love books, archives, and comics as much as we love microscopes, maps, and isotopes. As humanists and social scientists in a variety of disciplines – including STEM fields – we seek to understand the world around us in order to live in it ethically and sustainably. We want to leave this (scholarly) life better than we found it. CAL faculty, staff, and students care deeply about social justice, marginalized peoples, the fate of the planet and all its inhabitants, our own futurity, and the stories and practices that can help us to answer Tolstoy’s (paraphrased) question, How shall we live?

Currently, the living is all too precarious for so many. People are dying daily from COVID. Climate change poses an existential threat to humans and nonhumans alike, as evidenced in California’s recent wildfires. Closer to home, our students are struggling with unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety. Staff and faculty are endeavoring to balance their professional lives with fierce commitments to their students, colleagues, and their own research and writing. And yet, we continue on, as humans do. We teach and we write and we answer emails and we Zoom, because we care about this enterprise called higher education and our specific constellation within it, the College of Arts and Letters.

I know that you care about it, too. For your ongoing support and encouragement, I am profoundly grateful. I’ll be honest: carrying on during a pandemic is stressful, and we need you now more than ever. Yet, in this issue of Insight, you will see just how much we are doing to carry on, in spite of it all. We teach, we learn, we share, we hope. Indeed, there is no alternative but to carry on. To do otherwise would be an abdication of our responsibility as a liberal arts college, and as humanists and educators and shapers of new visions and new worlds.

Thank you, for all that you do for us.


Real-time COVID-19 Research Offers “Fuller, More Immersive Student Experience”

Jessica Embury

Senior geography major Jessica Embury developed dynamic maps of coronavirus cases and resources that informed critical research and outreach efforts.

When San Diego State University geography major Jessica Embury joined the research team at the Center for Human Dynamics in a Mobile Age (HDMA), she had no idea that in a few months she would be helping researchers respond to the biggest pandemic in a century. 

“It's really exciting to work on a project that matters, that’s not something I expected to do as an undergraduate,” the senior said. “I’ve just really loved it. I love the interaction. I love collaborating with different people.”

Embury works as a student cartographer with HMDA’s Research Hub, a rich collection of data and visualizations that examine COVID-19 cases and resources in San Diego. She has developed dynamic maps that show COVID-19 weekly testing sites, hospitalizations, ICU stays, and death cases in the county.


Three Graduate Students from CAL Awarded Sally Casanova Scholarships

Sophia, Lorise, Elybeth

Latin American studies students Elybeth Alcantar and Sophia Rodriguez and rhetoric and writing studies student Lorise Diamond are 2020 recipients 

The CSU California Pre-Doctoral Fellowship Program, designed to increase diversity within university faculty, supports the doctoral aspirations of CSU students by awarding scholarships each year. Three students, Lorise Diamond, Elybeth Alcantar and Sophia Rodriguez, from the College of Arts and Letters were among eight designated Sally Casanova Scholars from SDSU (a total of 77 scholarships were awarded throughout the CSU system).

Sally Casanova Scholars have unique opportunities to explore and prepare to succeed in doctoral programs. Scholars receive one-on-one guidance provided by faculty members within the CSU, and the opportunity to work with faculty from doctoral-granting institutions.

“The unbelievable jubilance I felt began overflowing into tears as I read the acceptance letter out loud to my family members,” Elybeth Alcantar said, when she learned she was named a Sally Casanova Scholar.


Eleven College of Arts and Letters Students Awarded SDSU Master’s Research Scholarships

Graduate students who received MA scholarship

Graduate students from creative writing, sociology, anthropology, geography, Latin American studies, history, political science, and linguistics were selected as the first cohort of the inaugural SDSU Master’s Research Scholarship. Students are each awarded $10,000 to contribute toward continued research in their chosen field.

The program is designed to provide direct, much-needed financial support to SDSU master’s students who contribute to research, scholarship, or creative activity in their particular area of academia.

The scholarship directs institutional funding to support recruitment, retention, and timely degree completion for excellent graduate students who are engaged in scholarship advancing the university's goals for research and creative activity. Scholarships are awarded to continuing and entering master’s students through a competitive process.


Adapting and Advancing 


We have all heard it countless times by now. Whether it was in a class, a meeting, or a social “gathering” over Zoom, the phrase “This situation is not ideal, but...” always seems to come from one of the little boxes on your computer’s screen. Although this sentiment is well intended, it does not fully capture the situation in which we have found ourselves.

Of course these are unprecedented times. Yet, the thing about unprecedented times that people often forget, is that we get to set a new precedent. It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “Out of adversity, comes opportunity.”

San Diego State University, and more specifically the College of Arts and Letters (CAL), has clearly been pushed outside our comfort zone. Our whole approach to education and community was drastically changed in what felt like the blink of an eye. We were forced to adapt, but the great thing about adapting is we learn more about ourselves and what we are capable of. This forced, but possibly needed, growth can be seen all around the College of Arts and Letters.


A CAL Diversity Council Viewpoint


Advocating the interests of the student body to a group of faculty, staff, and administrators. 

By Sophia Mathews 

CAL Diversity Council Undergraduate Student Representative and CAL Student Council Representative
Senior / Political science major, history minor

I'm most looking forward to getting the action plan approved and ready to be implemented. For over a year, we've been analyzing data and taking real SDSU experiences into account in order to draft a college-wide statement on diversity and inclusion, but what matters most to me is "okay, so what are we going to do about it?" 

San Diego State University is already ranked as one of the most diverse college campuses in the United States, and on top of that, the College of Arts and Letters holds the most extensive array of both student identities and fields of study. I really believe that the process by which we had to slow down and take the reality of our college make-up and sentiment into account, at an administrative level, is crucial to actively protecting and promoting what is in the best interest to us — the student body. 


Creative Writing Students Engage in Virtual Poetry International Internships

staff on journal in a zoom meeting

Internships help students gain a competitive edge in the workforce by offering real-world skill development, professional networking, and hands-on experience that bolsters job readiness and  resumes. Not all majors require an internship, but it is strongly recommended. 

While in-person internships this year were paused, due to COVID-19, creative writing graduate and undergraduate students found virtual internship opportunities through the Department of English & Comparative Literature with the creative writing program’s literary journal Poetry International.

SDSU’s Poetry International is one of the oldest and most respected literary journals in the world dedicated to poetry from around the globe. Each edition features 300 to 800 pages of poetry. Since its first edition in 1997, the annual journal has published work by such authors as Nobel laureates Derek Walcott, Wislawa Szymborska, Jose Saramago, Gabriela Mistral, Seamus Heaney, Pablo Neruda, and numerous others.



Anthropology After Dinner

Nicole Mathwich

How one professor used store-bought rotisserie chickens to guide students through a virtual lab study of avian anatomy.

The scent of roasted chicken fills the air in many supermarkets across San Diego. Most are bound for the dinner table, however these rotisserie favorites became the plat du jour for archaeological bone analysis in a San Diego State University anthropology class.

With anthropology labs closed this fall due to COVID-19, assistant professor Nicole Mathwich had to wing it, so to speak, with a lab module on avian osteology in her zooarchaeology methods class.

For the assignment, students were given instructions to bring home a rotisserie chicken, and told how to remove as much meat as possible to clean the bones, with or without heat. “They did not have to eat the chicken (although many did). Students then had to take photos and upload a labeled slide show,” Mathwich said.


The international business program at SDSU was named top 10 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report 2021.

student writing on a smart board

This year, the program jumped from No. 11 to No. 8 among universities across the U.S., and ranked No. 4 among public universities.

“This ranking is a testament to the excellence of our program, its interdisciplinary curriculum, and the devotion of the faculty and staff,” said John Putman, director of SDSU’s international business program. “It recognizes not only the high-quality instruction, but also the semester-long study abroad and advanced language proficiency that international business students engage in. Extracurricular activities like the annual International Business Case Competition also demonstrate our continuing commitment to provide international business majors a well-rounded educational experience."


Africana Studies Department Collaborates with Criminal Justice Program to Expand Course Offerings

police at a BLM protest

Race relations courses required for criminal justice majors beginning in 2021

The role of race in American law enforcement continually presents itself. 

"The recent [8/23/20] shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha police underscores the need for significant changes in policing and criminal justice work,” said College of Arts and Letters Dean Monica J. Casper. “It is not enough to include content on race relations in policing, though that's a start. Alongside and within criminal justice classes, we must also educate students about pervasive, longstanding anti-Black ideologies and behaviors, and infuse all our curricular offerings at SDSU with anti-racist perspectives and advocacy.”

One of the new course requirements for criminal justice majors is AFRAS 380: Blacks in the U.S. Justice System, which enables students to explore the broader historical, political, and legal context of Africana people in the United States. The course examines the interpretation and application of constitutional principles and judicial decisions to political and social problems faced by African Americans.


How has COVID-19 Affected Your Daily Life?


An invitation to participate in an important survey

An interdisciplinary team of researchers at San Diego State University is collaborating with the international Crowdfight COVID-19 research group and Politecnico di Milano to collect and track information about social behaviors, travel, and the impact of public health policies during the pandemic.

“The data will create education and awareness to help contain and slow down the spread of COVID-19 by developing visualizations in an aggregated view of what people around the world do and believe.” said Gabriela Fernandez, geography adjunct faculty member, co-founder of the Metabolism of Cities, and lead principal investigator on the project. “A number of maps and statistical analyses will be developed on the government truthfulness, public reaction, and perception of government response, evasion behaviors, well-being, mobility patterns, symptoms, social media, and demographic characteristics.”

The Track IT COVID-19 Screening [email protected] is a large-scale survey seeking input from respondents from all over the world to help track the spread of the disease. Built by researchers from SDSU’s Department of Geography at the Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age (HDMA), the screening tool will provide a clearer picture of how people across the world experience the crisis caused by the coronavirus. 

By participating in this survey you can help provide information to educate public health organizations, decision-makers, and the general public to address policies on symptoms, social distancing, policy measures, regulations, and social behaviors related to COVID-19 effects. 

It takes approximately five to 10 minutes to fill out the survey, which asks questions about social behaviors, symptoms, travel, well-being, public health measures, and any contact you've had with others. 

Anonymized data will be made available for non-commercial research use. Participants must be 18 years or older to voluntarily complete the online survey. By using this screening tool, you agree to its terms and conditions (IRB Code of Federal regulations 45 CFR 46.104, Protocol Number: HS-2020-0123).

START THE SURVEY HERE: Track IT. Covid-19 Screening Tool @SDSU

Your participation is very important for the success of this study. For more information or if you would like to donate to this research please contact principal investigator, Gabriela Fernandez at [email protected].


About the Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age (HDMA)

The HDMA-COVID-19 international team of experts uses network and data science to study structure, dynamics, and resilience of real-world systems. More specifically, we devote our work to theoretical and applied research on complex systems that can be modeled by multilayer networks.

Besides San Diego and Italy, the interdisciplinary team of volunteers includes faculty, staff, students, and postdoctoral scholars from Malta, Spain, Italy, the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, and more.

Inclusive Pedagogy Awards

Four departments in CAL were awarded Inclusive Pedagogy Awards from the dean's office. "CAL is deeply committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Dean Monica J. Casper said. “These awards afforded our faculty and departments the opportunity to reflect on ways to infuse the curriculum with anti-racist and decolonial perspectives. This work is especially urgent given the state of race relations in the United States today. I'm very much looking forward to the results of these efforts."

Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies protest in the 60s

With this award, a coordinator will be appointed to facilitate the department’s ongoing Anti-racism, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group’s efforts to: 1) revise and expand the free, open-access first-year textbook, Reading, Writing, and Evaluating Argument, to include anti-racist readings and teaching materials; 2) collaborate with neighboring departments and existing community partners to advance anti-racist pedagogy; and 3) examine the experience of historically marginalized populations in RWS majors, minors, lower-, and upper-division courses for the purpose of increasing diversity among graduate students, writing fellows, writing tutors, lecturers, and tenured/tenure-track faculty.

LGBTQ+ Studies / Department of Women’s Studiessdsu students protesting

This award will be split between LGBTQ+ Studies and the Department of Women's Studies. LGBTQ+ Studies plans to conduct an assessment of the programs' required courses for areas where whiteness may be explicitly or implicitly centered, and develop recommendations for curricular shifts. At least one "skillshare" for LGBTQ+ affiliated faculty is planned in order to build the collective capacity to teach scholarship at the intersection of race and sexuality — also known as “queer of color studies” and or scholarship by “queer/trans people of color/QTPOC.” The Department of Women's Studies, plans to follow up on ideas developed through the Racial Justice Pedagogy Working Group founded in summer 2020.

Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languagesfamily of mixed race reading book to child

The Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages will develop a plan to incorporate racial justice throughout the linguistics curriculum. Building on the foundation established in classes such as Sociolinguistics and Language, Culture, and Society, linguistics syllabi will be updated to include topics and assignments raising students' awareness of African American English, both as a linguistic variety and as a site of racial oppression. Many students take linguistics classes in preparation for careers in fields in which attention to linguistic racial justice is essential for producing equitable outcomes, such as elementary and secondary education, or automated language processing; it is therefore especially necessary to provide linguistics students with the skills to recognize linguistic racism, and work to correct it when they see it.

Department of European Studies celing of a church in Russia

The award will be used to make comprehensive and meaningful change to the European studies program with important implications for the entire Department of European Studies, its other four language and culture programs in French, German, Italian, and Russian, and the campus community as a whole. The European studies program will implement an expansive and inclusive anti-racist and decolonized curriculum through significant syllabi revisions and course development, such as the creation of a new course entitled “Race and Identity in Europe.” The department will also enrich cultural offerings by more systematically addressing issues of race/racism and identity in Europe/European Studies in all department courses and in the “Imagine Europe” speaker series, with a specific focus on anti-racist practices and European Black Lives. 

Inclusive Interdisciplinary Programming

LGBTQ Research Consortium Offers Rich Path-Breaking Programming

LGBTQ Research ConsortiumThe LGBTQ Research Consortium (LGBTQ-RC) is the cornerstone of cutting-edge interdisciplinary scholarship in queer studies and sexuality studies at SDSU.

Established in fall 2013 by Edith Benkov, Ph.D., French and European Studies professor, and Michael Borgstrom, Ph.D., Department of English and Comparative Literature associate professor, the LGBTQ-RC initially aimed to highlight LGBTQ research done by faculty across campus and to bring researchers and creative practitioners to campus to share work with SDSU and the larger San Diego intellectual communities. It transformed as the years progressed.

To date, LGBTQ-RC has sponsored or co-sponsored over 40 lectures and panels and has affiliated faculty from five colleges at SDSU.


2020-21 SDSU Alumni Distinguished Faculty Award

Norma Iglesias-Prieto

Chicana/o Studies // Norma Iglesias-Prieto

Norma Iglesias-Prieto has been selected to receive the 2020-21 SDSU Alumni Distinguished Faculty Award for outstanding contributions to the university and her respective field. Iglesias-Prieto is a prolific scholar and internationally recognized leader of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. She exemplifies the commitment to excellence, inclusivity, and equity.    



CSU Outstanding Faculty Award for Innovation and Leadership

Beth Pollard

History | Elizabeth Pollard | History

Professor Elizabeth Pollard, a digital innovator and key figure in the transition of the CAL curriculum to the virtual space last spring, is among the recipients of the California State University Faculty Innovation and Leadership Awards. Pollard is recognized for her work in redesigning humanities courses using innovative digital methods to create meaningful hands-on learning opportunities.



Geography Professor Li An Receives Lifetime AAAS Distinction

Li An

Li An’s entire career has been built around exploring and understanding complex human-environmental systems, like the deforestation of the Amazon or people’s land-use decisions affecting vast ecosystems. His specific goal: to improve environmental sustainability and human wellbeing. 

Growing up in China and through his early studies, An found that such a strong emphasis on economic development without adequate attention or care placed on human-environment sustainability could result in disasters. Some of them likely permanent.  

“Our world faces many grand challenges such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and COVID-19 pandemics, which are besetting humanity at an alarmingly rapid pace from local to global scales. 



2020 SDSU Faculty Forward Awards

Marie Draz

Philosophy | Marie Draz

Professor Draz was among 13 tenure and tenure-track faculty and graduate instructors, who were especially agile and dedicated to student support in the university’s response to COVID-19.

Irene LaraWomen’s Studies | Irene Lara

Associate Professor and Undergraduate Advisor Irene Lara was among 13 recipients. The Faculty Forward Award specifically recognizes faculty who found creative and innovative solutions to address the challenges of the pandemic.


Erin Riley

Anthropology | Erin Riley

Professor and Graduate Advisor Erin Riley was among 12 recipients of the fall 2020 Faculty Forward Award. Riley was recognized for her exceptional agility and dedication in transitioning her primatology research course during the fall semester.

Kim Twist and Stephen GogginKim Twist and Stephen Goggin | Political Science

In the political science department, assistant professor Kim Twist and lecturer Stephen Goggin both teach a required statistics course. To build students' confidence in a challenging course, they introduced ungraded assessments of student learning, recorded lectures together and used synchronous class time for review sessions available to students in both sections. This exposed students to two explanations and class sessions of the concepts. Their collaboration shows the advantages of teamwork to create support systems for both faculty and students.


Research Grants

Anthropology // Arion T. Mayes / National Science Foundation's CNH2-L: The Dynamics of Socio-Environmental Systems, Urban Depopulation, and Societal Stability / National Science Foundation’s CNH2: Dynamics of Integrated Socio-Environmental Systems program / $1,543,393

Anthropology // Seth Mallios / Geographic Information System Data Maintenance Partnership Between the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians and SDSU Research Foundation / Pechanga Indian Reservation / $66,000

Behner and Stiefel Center for Brazilian Studies // Erika Robb Larkins / Traditions of Northeast Brazil / Consulate General of Brazil in Los Angeles / $2,000

Center for Latin American Studies // Ramona Pérez / Tinker Foundation Field Research Grants for Latin America / Tinker Foundation Inc. / $10,000 per year (5 years)

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

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

Geography // Trent Biggs / Sediment Mitigation at Faga'alu, American Samoa: 5-yr, Comprehensive Evaluation / National Fish and Wildlife Foundation / $83,211

Geography // Trent Biggs / Estimating the Social Benefits of Satellite Imagery used to Enforce the Brazilian Forest Code and Reduce Deforestation / Salisbury University / $6,210

Geography // Atsushi Nara and Thomas Herman / Encoding Geography - Scaling up an RPP to achieve inclusive geocomputational education / CS4All (Computer Science for All) program - NSF / $400,000 

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

Geography // Thomas Herman / Evaluation of School-Age Prevention and Early Intervention Program Central/ San Diego Unified School District / $19,500

Geography // Thomas Herman / Evaluation of School-Age Prevention and Early Intervention Program in Central Southeastern Region / San Diego Unified School District / $19,500

Political Science // Lei Guang / China Data Lab and Policy-relevant Research on China / University of California at San Diego / $106,106

Spanish & Portuguese Languages and Literatures // Ricardo Vasconcelos / Support for Language Center / Camões Institute / $2,162

Research Associated with COVID-19


An interdisciplinary team of SDSU researchers affiliated with the Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age is collaborating with an international group of collaborators led by Gabriela Fernandez to collect and track information about social behaviors, travel and public health policies during the pandemic. SDSU researchers built the “Track IT COVID-19 Screening [email protected],” a large-scale survey seeking input from respondents from all over the world to help track the spread of the disease and provide a clearer picture of how people across the world experience the pandemic. The group wants to help educate public health organizations, decision makers and the general public as these groups address policies related to symptoms, social distancing, policy measures and social behaviors related to COVID-19.

Researchers from SDSU’s Youth Environment Society and Space (YESS) program created a clickable resource map for children and families living in La Mesa and Spring Valley. The map enables a spatial search for resources such as emergency childcare, shelters and food banks; as well as more mundane but important resources such as public transit, parks and schools. Geography professor Stuart Aitken and graduate students Jasmine Arpagian, Michelle Dubreuil and Empress Holiday developed the resource based on UNICEF’s emergency response strategies under the Child Friendly City initiative. (Map)

Sociology professor Joseph Gibbons, public health researcher Eyal Oren and SUNY Albany professor Tse-Chuan Yang are investigating how factors like race and social capital correlate with social distancing. They are using data collected from Google Maps to determine how visits to work, stores and recreational sites have changed since the start of the pandemic. The research team uses a spatial analytical method called Geographically Weighted Regression to see how social capital — the sum benefit of social connections — and racial and ethnic composition vary across locations, and how that affects social distancing across the country. 

So far researchers have found the benefits of social capital are highly stratified: in some cases it is related to more distancing while in others it is related to less distancing.  In short, some communities are more unified in resisting COVID-19 than others.

Gibbons is also looking at how race and ethnicity correlates with the enforcement of COVID-19 precautions by police in New York City. Gibbons, Yang and public affairs professor Josh Channin analyzed non-emergency 311 police service calls to determine where enforcement is more likely to take place and the outcome of the calls. Researchers found that there are more likely to be social distancing violations in areas with higher shares of white residents, but Black and Hispanic areas are more likely to have 311 calls that result in arrests.

In a recent study, economist Shoshana Grossbard found U.S. states and European countries where the pandemic started later have experienced fewer deaths from the virus than other countries. They also show that in part this advantage of starting late may relate to learning from the success of various social distancing measures, including lockdowns and school closures. Advantages may also originate from medical advances in the treatment of COVID-19 since the virus first spread. The study, "Later onset, fewer deaths from COVID," published in the medical journal Pathogens and Global Health and was co-authored by University of Turin researcher Ainoa Aparicio Fenoll.

Political science professor Cheryl O'Brien co-authored a paper in the journal ‘Politics & Gender,’ arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic exposes a multidimensional continuum of violence that comprises authoritarian, exclusionary practices, and hierarchical relations that undermine democracy and the everyday security of nondominant groups.

Economist Joseph Sabia co-authored a study that explored the impact of President Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign kickoff rally on physical distancing and COVID-19 related outcomes. Researchers used anonymized smartphone data to track likely rally goers to their home counties, and did not detect spikes in COVID-19 cases in areas that drew larger numbers of rally attendees.

CAL ISCOR Alum Connects with Students

Julie Selesnick

Julie Selesnick, part of the recent DACA litigation team, offers inspiration to Pre-Law Society students

The Pre-Law Society invited international security and conflict resolution (ISCOR) alumna Julie Selesnick, Of Counsel at Cohen Milstein in Washington, D.C., to speak at a recent virtual meeting. It was the first time she had met with a group of SDSU students since her days as an undergrad transfer student in the 90s. After earning her ISCOR B.A., cum laude in 1998 at SDSU, she attended George Washington University Law School to earn her J.D.

Selesnick has spent time in boutique insurance firms, large defense firms, and even branched out on her own for a period of time as an entrepreneur. Her goal has always been to do work that helps people.

The highlight of her career was representing (with other law firms) the DACA recipients and other interested parties by obtaining rescission of the Department of Homeland Security’s Memorandum purporting to end the DACA program this past summer – the decision was upheld before the Supreme Court in a June decision this year.



English alum Jennifer Smart describes path to publishing her debut novel

Jennifer Smart and book cover for She Named Me Wolf

After a 20-year career in management, Smart is now a full-time author 

Jennifer Polselli Smart found her true passion while studying at SDSU. She enrolled in a few English courses as a first-year student and discovered a love of books and a passion for writing. Originally planning to major in marine biology, she changed her major — and her career trajectory. Smart graduated with a degree in English literature, and the rest is history.

For the past five years, Smart (pen name Tenkara Smart), has focused solely on writing. Her dream of being a published author came alive this summer with the release of her first YA novel, She Named Me Wolf, part of a book series titled The Many Lives of Wolf. In it, Smart pulls on her belief that we are all spiritual beings living a physical experience, learning all we can to reach new levels of awareness.

After graduating from SDSU and spending 20+ years in San Diego, Smart moved to Qatar before moving to Melbourne, Australia with her husband. 



Kristen Monteverde Leads Geography 584 Students in Partnership with Local Government

Kristen Monteverde

SDSU Geography lecturer and College of Arts and Letters aluma Kristen Monteverde along with her students are doing rewarding and important work.

Geography and environmental engineering students and faculty are teaming up to map San Diego County sites that may be contaminated for possible testing and remediation as part of San Diego State University’s Sage Project.

Now in its eighth year, The Sage Project puts students and faculty in a partnership with local government to address community needs, focused on sustainability.


John Fiske, Political Science (‘04) Alumnus, Supports CAL with Generous Gift

Fiske family

New Fiske Pre-Law Lecture Series Debuts in Spring 2022

John Fiske, attorney at Baron & Budd, has pledged through his Fiske Family Foundation, a $50,000 donation to support the annual Department of Political Science Pre-Law Lecture Series. The series will be re-named the Fiske Pre-Law Lecture Series. The gift will fund one new lecture each year, which will be packaged with the "Applying to Law School Panel" and an annual lecture organized by the Pre-Law Advisory Committee to highlight careers in law. 

We caught up with John to hear more about his time at SDSU and his plans for the series.


A sampling of news stories highlighting the College of Arts and Letters

CAL in the NewsClassics and Humanities // Assistant Professor April Anson wrote a short essay on the politics of COVID-19 rhetoric: “No One is a Virus: On American Ecofascism.”
Environmental History Now

MALAS// Alumna Leticia Gomez Franco was named new executive director of the Balboa Art Conservation Center.
BACC | Times of San Diego

Political Science // Professor Ahmet T. Kuru was interviewed in an article titled “Islam perfectly compatible with development: San Diego State University professor.”
Tehran Times

Political Science // Lecturer Stephen Goggin participated in a discussion on what a divided government during Biden’s presidency might mean.

Political Science // Associate Professor Benjamin Gonzalez O'Brien was invited to KPBS during election night news coverage.

Social Sciences // Alumna Courtney Clements was featured in a story about her organization She’s Empowered Sports.

Presidential Staff Excellence Awards

The Presidential Staff Excellence Awards annually recognize the outstanding contributions and efforts made by San Diego State University staff in support of the university, fellow employees and the community.

IB staff holding awards

SDSU Presidential Staff Excellence Awards | TEAM EFFORT

International Business team: Maribel Franco, study abroad advisor, Marisela LaPlante, internship/career advisor, David To, academic advisor, and Jessica Lopez, administrative coordinator.

"From my first day as director of this program, I have been deeply impressed by passion, professionalism, and care this team has demonstrated for the students and the quality of the program," said John Putman, international business director. "It has been refreshing to see how they work together to help students whether new first-year students or graduating seniors. Moreover, they never flinch or resist any new projects or duties."


Cathy Cirina-Chiu

SDSU Presidential Staff Excellence Awards | INNOVATION

Social Science Research Lab // Cathy Cirina-Chiu, director 

Cathy has been an integral part of CAL for over 25 years and continues to push the Social Science Research Lab forward. Her ability to innovate has transformed the SSRL from a telephone interviewing facility (which she doubled in size during her tenure) to an organization that offers complete program evaluation services. She has done work for both on- and off-campus clients, state and local governments, educational institutions, and nonprofit entities. 



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

 CAL Staff Awards Fall 2020

25 years | Ginger Shoulders | Dean’s Office

20 years | Jeff Hornbuckle | IT

15 years | Joann Davison | Economics

15 years | Kim Kennelly | Philosophy

15 years | Alan Tan | IT

15 years | Brenda Wills | Dean’s Office

10 years | Kim Troung-Nguyen | IT

Dean’s Salon Series

College of Arts and Letters Dean's Salon SeriesDean Casper created the Dean’s Salon Series — a signature series of virtual events to showcase important College of Arts and Letters initiatives and activities. It allows invitees the opportunity to engage (virtually for now) in small gatherings with faculty, fellow champions of the college, invited guests, and the dean.

The October event highlighted Jessica Pressman who directs SDSU’s Digital Humanities Initiative, and is an associate professor of English and comparative literature. She addressed themes from her new book, Bookishness, which brings together media studies, book history, and literary criticism to explain how books still give meaning to our lives in a digital age.

The November event featured Nicole Mathwich, assistant professor of anthropology and an archaeologist who specializes in examining colonial-era livestock teeth and bones to explore how ranching affected Indigenous peoples of the Southwest. She discussed how the past informs our understanding of the present and future, and also provided a show-and-tell with archaeological objects from the lab.

The final event on Dec. 11 featured faculty speaker Benjamin Gonzalez O’Brien, associate professor of political science, whose main area of research is racial and ethnic politics, with a focus on U.S. immigration policy. He was a frequent guest in local media during the election season, and provided insights into the historic 2020 election outcomes.

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