Insight 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.


Spring 2024

man in front of bookcaseThis has been an extraordinary year for the College of Arts and Letters. The steadfast commitment of our faculty and staff to educational excellence, high research activity, and student success helped CAL achieve several significant milestones, many of which are recounted in this issue of Insight magazine. 

The number of students graduating this year from CAL soared to nearly 1,600, including over 300 graduate students and seven newly-minted Ph.D.s. Additionally, SDSU had the pleasure of conferring an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters on CSU trustee Adam Day, who graduated from SDSU with a B.A. in political science in 1991. Day’s father, Thomas B. Day, served as SDSU’s president from 1978 to 1996. 

Several CAL faculty members received national recognition of their path-breaking research. Zamira Abman, assistant professor of history and comparative and international studies, was awarded an American Council of Learned Society (ACLS) Fellowship for her research on the effects of Soviet delimitation. Walter Penrose, Jr., associate professor of history, and Amira Jarmakani, professor of women’s studies, each received research awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Erika Robb Larkins, professor of anthropology, and Kristal Bivona, assistant professor of classics and humanities, also received NEH awards for their work as director and co-director, respectively, of the Behner Stiefel Center for Brazilian Studies. 

CAL’s efforts to support and enhance student career readiness also expanded significantly this academic year, with the adoption of two new courses designed specifically to equip CAL students with the essential skills and knowledge for fulfilling careers. In addition, the Undergraduate Research Office of the College of Arts and Letters (UROC) developed the CAL Mentoring for Undergraduate Student Excellence (MUSE) Program, which offered opportunities for undergraduate students to work on projects ranging from the automated detection of archaeological sites using satellite imagery to Black Muslims and racial capitalism. 

Finally, the College of Arts and Letters welcomes a new dean, effective July 1, when Todd Butler joins SDSU from Washington State University.  We thank Interim Dean Ronnee Schreiber for her dynamic leadership of CAL this past year, as well as all who help make the college such a powerful center for teaching, research, and community engagement. 

Michael Borgstrom 
Interim Associate Dean 

two women smile in front of colorful background

Grayce Honsa selected CAL Overall Outstanding Graduating Senior

A double major in political science and women’s studies, Honsa is an activist and community builder at the top of her class. 

Grayce Honsa is a first-generation student who began their academic journey in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic during a time of widespread social and political division. Honsa’s passion was piqued as a result, and they worked diligently in pursuit of social justice and community building during their years at San Diego State University.

woman in front of the CA capital building

Maxine Amaru ‘blazes trails’ on her inspirational journey to graduation

She’s a mom, grandmother, first-generation non-traditional transfer student, and an award-winning senior. If that doesn’t keep her busy enough, she is involved in a wide array of student, community, and volunteer organizations.

And, she somehow fits in fun activities by regularly participating in the 40+ Double Dutch Club. — a community group that empowers women through social activities.

woman giving hang loose sign and man in wheel chair

Graduating senior is change agent for disability advocacy and education

Sustainability major Richard German is a leader in helping improve environmental impacts and community inclusivity for sports venues.

He wakes up at 5 a.m. to make it to campus by 8. Many times he puts in 15-hour days that include using public transit to get to campus, attending classes, and working on internship projects. 

Richard German cares deeply about the environment and chose sustainability as a major partly due to an interest in reducing the widespread litter he encountered on his trek between campus and home. At one point, he had to remove the tires of his wheelchair to extract all the trash that had accumulated.

smiling wiman sits outsideSDSU International student secures coveted spot in Stanford’s Art History doctoral program

Kehinde 'Kennii' Ekundayo faced tumultuous path to fund her education, but her resiliency paid off 

Kehinde “Kennii” Ekundayo laughs with ease these days, a levity that belies having to work multiple jobs, sell her blood to pay for college in her native Nigeria, or sometimes not be able to afford groceries during her graduate studies at San Diego State University.

woman smiling

Graduate student in history, Kayla Daniels joins Capital Fellows 

Fulbright Scholar, CSU Casanova Scholar and now Capital Fellow, Daniels continues on an award-winning trajectory

Kayla Daniels, graduate student in history, has been selected for the 2024-25 Jesse M. Unruh Assembly Fellowship.

S3 SDSU student Symposium - students on stage

2024 SDSU Student Symposium (S3) was largest yet

More than 650 students shared their scholarly projects with larger San Diego community

Eleven CAL students received awards at the March symposium and two were invited to attend the 38th Annual California State University Student Research Competition in April.

CAL Excellence Awards

CAL Excellence Awards

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

Please join Interim Dean Ronnee Schreiber in congratulating the 2023-2024 College of Arts and Letters award recipients:

CAL Excellence in Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity, Tenured Faculty 

  • Erin Riley, Anthropology
  • Naseh Nasrollahi Shahri, Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages
  • Jess Whatcott, Women’s Studies

CAL Excellence in Service 

  • Olivia Chilcote, American Indian Studies
  • Latha Varadarajan, Political Science

CAL Excellence in Teaching, Lecturer

  • Charlene E. Holkenbrink-Monk, Sociology
  • James Murren, Political Science

smiling man outside

Alvin Henry and Byron Purse selected for new prestigious faculty innovation fellowships at national nonprofit

The Business-Higher Education Forum (BHEF), based in Washington, D.C., selected two from SDSU to join the first cohort of 19 fellows from across the country.

Alvin Henry, associate professor and director of Asian American Studies and Byron Purse, professor, chemistry and biochemistry will join the inaugural cohort of the Business-Higher Education Forum (BHEF) Faculty Innovation Fellows. These fellows represent 13 institutions across 10 states and come from a diverse array of disciplines including business and hospitality, nursing, and social sciences.

two woman outside

Newly-minted Fulbright Scholars pack their bags

Brazil and Spain are destinations for SDSU alumni faculty members seeking to further their research.

One is off to Brazil, the other Spain. One is an experienced global traveler, the other is fulfilling a wanderlust long deferred.

But San Diego State University faculty members and alumni Kristal Bivona (’07, English) and Charlene Holkenbrink-Monk (’23, Joint Ph.D. in Education) share an important thing in common: Both are among a select group of U.S. academics who will pursue their research and scholarly passions as Fulbright Scholars.

woman smiling, woman sitting outside near water

Zamira Abman receives ACLS Fellowship for research on effects of Soviet delimitation

The $60K award from the American Council of Learned Societies will allow Abman to complete important research in Northern Tajikistan.

To understand the present is to understand the past of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan.

There is little research that comes from that part of the world due to limited access to the region. “In fact, if you're not a local, it is challenging to research that area because oftentimes three to four languages are spoken: Tajik, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Russian,” Zamira Abman, assistant professor of history and comparative and international studies said.

man sits outside building

Geographer elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Sergio Rey is recognized for work as a leading pioneer of the Python Spatial Analysis Library (PySAL), downloaded two million times.

Sergio Rey, a San Diego State University geography professor whose innovative geospatial data science software has garnered more than two million downloads worldwide, has been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Launch your caerrer with two career readiness courses

Career Readiness Courses Debut in Fall

Two new courses help CAL students get ready to launch careers

We’ve created two new courses designed specifically for CAL students to equip them with the essential skills and knowledge to translate unique strengths into fulfilling careers.

CAL 100
For students who want to explore career options via a CAL major. This one-unit course is geared toward lower-division students.

CAL 400
For fourth-year students rapidly approaching the full-time job market. Included in this three-unit course students will earn training in a Coursera Professional Certificate program in a high demand career field.

student presents poster session to woman

New CAL Mentoring for Undergraduate Student Excellence (MUSE) program takes flight

First cohort of CAL student research assistants begin work in spring 2024.

While many undergraduates get their start in research, scholarship, and creative activities (RSCA) by volunteering, not every student has this option. In spring 2024, the Undergraduate Research Office of the College of Arts and Letters (UROC) developed an innovative student assistantship plan to expand meaningful opportunities for CAL undergraduate students.

Artist’s drawing of a Syncerus antiquus skull.

Looking to the past to prevent future extinction

San Diego State University anthropologists created a computational model to predict the likelihood of animal extinctions based on the complex interaction of hunting and environmental change.

During the Late Pleistocene, California — at least at its lower elevations — was teeming with vegetation. While much of North America was covered in Ice Age glaciers, here, mastodons lumbered across verdant meadows, stopping to feed on brush, warily eyeing the forest’s edge for saber-tooth cats on the prowl for their calves. 

group of people in the library

Preserving and Revealing Tijuana’s Past Thanks to an NEH Grant

The faculty and staff of Tijuana’s Instituto Municipal de Arte y Cultura (IMAC} and SDSU celebrate their collaboration San Diego State University has been awarded a Humanities Collections and References Resources Grant for $336,762 by the National Endowment for the Humanities for its project, “Preserving and Revealing Tijuana’s Past.” Continuing their collaboration with the City of Tijuana’s Instituto Municipal de Arte y Cultura (IMAC), a team of experts from the SDSU Library, led by Head of Digital Collections Lisa Lamont, and the SDSU Center for Regional Sustainability will organize, digitize, and make accessible more than 50,000 photographs, slides, maps, and related materials currently held in the Archivo Histórico de Tijuana.

free diver

SDSU anthropologists in Tahiti monitor effects of temporary fishery closures

The community of Parpara on the south coast of Tahiti opened their marine reserve, which they call rāhui, for the first time in four years and SDSU researchers were there to study the process. 

Throughout French Polynesia communities are reinstituting a form of traditional resource management. Prior to European colonization Polynesians closed sections of their reefs for several years and then opened them to harvest fish for important events like feasts or the marriage of important leaders. Instead of permanent marine closures, rāhui closures are opened to allow fishers to harvest fish and monitor the state of the marine ecosystem.

man working in compost heap

SDSU alumnus transforms passion for sustainability into purposeful career

Nick Vallejo (‘22), a recycling specialist with the City of San Diego, thrives on educating the public about climate action solutions.

Nick Vallejo found his calling when he switched his major from communications to sustainability upon transferring to San Diego State University. Vallejo registered for two courses in geography that changed his career focus.

man in suit outside captital

From SDSU to the White House: Raul Leon's inspiring internship in D.C. leads to job offer back home

A chance to meet the President of the United States was a dream come true for Raul Leon, a 2023 geography graduate.

Not many recent San Diego State University alumni have walked the halls of the White House, let alone met the President of the United States. For Raul Leon, a geography alumnus, this became a reality as part of the internship program of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

woman, man acceoting award

SDSU Alumni Awards of Distinction

Alumni Award of Distinction
Sarah B. Marsh-Rebelo

Poet Sarah B. Marsh-Rebelo (‘12, English and comparative literature) is a long-time supporter of the regional art community, served as board chair for the San Diego Museum of Art, and has been Honorary Life Director of the San Diego Opera for more than 30 years. As a passionate supporter of the College of Arts and Letters, she hosts an annual Rebelo Scholar Tea to celebrate scholarship recipients in SDSU’s MFA in Creative Writing Poetry program. 

Distinguished University Service Award
Seth W. Mallios

Seth Mallios is a professor of anthropology, director of SDSU's South Coastal Information Center and the University history curator. Since 2012, he has published multiple books highlighting the history of San Diego State University and recently served as co-chair of the campus 125th anniversary celebrations. A distinguished archaeologist and anthropologist, he has collected over $1.5 million in grants and has won numerous Society for History Archaeology Advisory Council awards.

man with beard

Jon Davidi sponsors inaugural Mock Trial Advocate of the Year Award

Political science alumnus makes a meaningful impact through his career and pays it forward to SDSU Mock Trial Team students. 

Jon Davidi (‘15), had plans to become a doctor – like his father. At San Diego State University, he pursued a major in political science and took science courses to prepare for a pre-med degree. He hoped this academic path would help him become a well-rounded medical school candidate who understood politics and the world. 

“But it was Organic Chemistry in my junior year that did me over,” Davidi said. “That was it. That was the tipping point.” 

Spring Events collage


Center for Comics Studies | Public lecture with Chag Lowry

Fred J. Hansen Peace Chair | Public lectures with Alex de Waal and Romain Wacziarg

ISCOR | Public lecture with Stephen Kinzer

Sociology/Library/Surf Collab | Surf Photography Panel Event

Sustainability | SDSU Sustainability Summit

Behner Stiefel Center for Brazilian Studies | BRASA Conference hosted at SDSU

MALAS /PSFA | Chicano Art Panel — facilitated by William Nericcio — featured brothers Einar and Jamex De La Torre

Africana Studies | Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration

Library and Center for Comics Studies/Library | Grand Opening for “Rising Up: Depictions of Social Protest in Comics” Exhibit

group of 5 staffStaff Milestones

  • Elaine Rother 45 | Dean’s Office
  • Gregory Martin 40 | IT
  • Adriana Putko 30 | History
  • Marisela LaPlante 15 | International Business
  • Cassandra Neel 10 | Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages
  • Heather Saunders-Harbaugh 10 | Student Success Center

Faculty 25-year Milestones

  • Margaret Field | American Indian Studies
  • Joseph Smith | Classics and Humanities
  • Ruey-Jiuan Regina Wu | Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages
  • Kristen Hill Maher | Political Science
  • Linn Bekins | Rhetoric and Writing Studies
  • Glen McClish | Rhetoric and Writing Studies
  • Norma Ojeda | Sociology
  • Juan Godoy | Spanish and Portuguese
  • Jose Mario Martin-Flores | Spanish and Portuguese
  • Laurie Champion | English and Comparative Literature


Anthropology // Professor Seth Mallios reported for “Ken Kramer’s About San Diego: Rosie the Riveter, Flying Car, SDSU Freedom Tree.” [His story appears at 13:00 ] Fifty years ago, San Diego State honored alumnus Lt. Col. Charles Scharf (’54, political science) and all MIAs and POWs with a plaque and a tree, a sycamore known as “The Freedom Tree.”

Behner Stiefel Center for Brazilian Studies //DirectorErika Robb Larkins was elected president of the Brazilian Studies Association.
CAL News

Africana Studies // Chair Adisa Alkebulan, Assistant Professor Anthony Merritt, alumna Shellie Stamps, and student Alisha Alexander provided insight in: “45th Annual Black Baccalaureate Graduation Ceremony takes place May 9.”
SDSU NewsCenter

Center for Health Economics and Policy Studies // Director Joseph Sabia’s NBER study was cited in an op-ed: “California’s Crazy ‘Fast Food’ Minimum Wage Takes Effect.” 
Wall Street Journal

Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages // Zheng-sheng Zhang, professor of Chinese, provided translation assistance to producers of a 60 Minutes news segment: "Chinese migrants are the fastest growing group crossing into U.S. from Mexico."
60 Minutes

Zhang also wrote an op-ed in the UT
The San Diego Union-Tribune

Political Science //ProfessorMikhail Alexseev wrote an op-ed article showing that bolstering our border security will make it harder for Putin to defeat Ukraine, while helping Ukraine to defeat Putin will bolster our border security.
The San Diego Union-Tribune

Sociology // Assistant Professor Neftalie Williams was featured in an NBC broadcast, “Meet the professor who is using a skateboard to unite the world.”
NBC7 California Live