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Alum designs FDA-authorized app to treat fibromyalgia symptoms

Nelson Mitchell developed his design mind as a graduate student at SF State 

Learning to design furniture at San Francisco State University can lead to more careers than one may expect. For Nelson Mitchell, his master’s degree was the pathway to creating an innovative mobile app to treat fibromyalgia. 

Mitchell, a user-experience designer, is head of design and co-founder of Swing Therapeutics. Earlier this year the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) authorized its app, Stanza, to be marketed to treat symptoms of fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition that affects 10 million Americans. It is the first fibromyalgia digital therapeutic approved by the FDA. Available only by prescription, Stanza employs a form of cognitive behavioral therapy called acceptance and commitment therapy. It has proven effective in extensive randomized controlled trials and real-world studies, with 73% of patients demonstrating improvement in symptoms. 

Stanza provides patients with a customized schedule of treatment, incorporating practices such as mindfulness and self-reflection throughout their daily routine. “It’s the therapist in your pocket,” Mitchell said.  

Nelson Mitchell smiles while standing in front of a brick wall on a foggy day

Mitchell (M.A., ’10) entered San Francisco State as smartphones started to become a near necessity for daily life. Faculty and students already knew that enduring product design concepts would be key to success in the mobile software space. 

“I was designing chairs and lamps and stuff like that, but SF State’s program was really great at teaching me the design process and how to think like a designer — how to come up with a hypothesis, test, iterate and refine the idea,” Mitchell said. “I took that and applied it to software and interface design.” 

School of Design faculty such as Ricardo Gomes, Shirl Buss, Hsiao-Yun Chu and Nancy Noble gave Mitchell the tools and the freedom to explore his interests in depth. 

“I felt like I had a new kernel, a new framework,” he said. “SF State gave me the chance to build it — and really build it in a way that I understood it. It’s like the difference between owning a bike and having someone else fix it versus being able to take it apart and put it back together.” 

At his company, Mitchell is spreading the word about the Gator work ethic: “Nobody is going to work as hard for you as graduates from SF State,” he told his team. “These are people that we need to create opportunities for.” 

One of Swing Therapeutics’ first in-house software engineers, Mantasha Khan, joined the company after completing her Computer Science degree from SF State. Khan (B.S., ’21) has a passion for creating technology solutions for health. She notes that Lecturer Jose Ortiz-Costa’s “Introduction to Database Systems” course provided her with an invaluable foundation of skills. 

“I’ve been meaning to reach out to [Ortiz-Costa], just throw it out there, [to say that] you have helped me so much,’” said Khan, who attended SF State as an international student from India. “Everything you have taught has been helping me every single day in my work, so I’m very grateful.”  

Learn more about the SF State School of Design and Computer Science Department

‘Finding Filipino’: Renowned comics artist discovered herself attending SF State

Rina Ayuyang’s new graphic novel and comic posters explore Filipino American culture and history — including on campus 

One evening in the 1990s, Rina Ayuyang was passing through the Creative Arts building at San Francisco State University. In a small recital hall, she discovered a Filipino ensemble performing a ballad, “Dahil Sayo (Because of You).” She recognized the song because her parents would dance to it in the living room of her childhood home. 

“I lived near campus and would walk down the halls a lot, and I’d just stumble upon things that were happening,” Ayayung recalled. “It was a very film-noir scene actually, this woman singing this Filipino romantic ballad that I just came and found myself in. And it was a very magical experience.”  

It was one of the many life-changing experiences for Ayuyang at San Francisco State to influence her as a comics artist and shape her as a human being. 

New graphic novel 

“The Man in the McIntosh Suit” (Drawn and Quarterly, 2023) is Ayuyang’s new graphic novel, presenting a Filipino American take on the Great Depression. Mistaken identities, speakeasies and lost love intersect from strawberry farms on the Central Coast to Manilatown in San Francisco. 

Kirkus Reviews writes: “Ayuyang spins a captivating tale that is both an homage to starry-eyed Hollywood movies of the period and a corrective that highlights the anti-Asian racism faced by immigrants as well as the thriving communities they formed.” 

Throughout her work, Ayuyang (B.A., ’98) aims not only to increase representation of Filipino Americans in the arts, but awareness of their key roles in U.S. history. 

“We always feel like we’ve come a long way, but there are still things that need to be addressed. We like to bury things in our history that aren’t as pretty,” Ayuyang said. “I feel like as an artist, we need to continue to use our platform to share ideas, motivate and inspire.” 

‘Finding Filipino’ and the ‘CIA’ 

Ayuyang was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and chose to attend SF State because she had deep family roots in the Bay Area. She majored in Art with an emphasis in Conceptual and Information Arts, an experimental program where she says everybody made their own rules and embraced a do-it-yourself ethos that prepared her well for a career in comic arts. 

“They called it the ‘CIA’,” Ayuyang said. “It was a little fun rag-tag artist operation going on. It had this grassroots feeling that felt very San Francisco, bohemian-like. It was very much my jam.” 

The courses that Ayuyang took in the College of Ethnic Studies from professors such as Dan Begonia taught her about the hidden histories of Filipino farmworkers and activists in California. She met lifelong friends in the Asian American Studies Department and participated in the Pilipino American Collegiate Endeavor, a student organization.  

SF State has had such an impact on Ayuyang that she dedicated a comic to the University in her new poster series, “Finding Filipino.” Presented by the San Francisco Arts Commission for the Art on Market Street Poster Series, the nine posters are on display at 30 bus shelters in downtown San Francisco through June.  

On the “Finding Filipino at SF State” poster, she shares her Gator story: “Here, I learned that I was more than a ‘model minority,’ that I could be an artist, a writer, an athlete — anything I wanted to be.” 

Learn more about the SF State School of Art and College of Ethnic Studies

Speakers share stories of personal transformation at Commencement

SF State ‘can be your rock,’ said Jayshree Ullal, president and CEO of cloud networking company Arista Networks, at the May 26 event

San Francisco State University celebrated the Class of 2023 at its annual Commencement ceremony Friday, May 26, at Oracle Park. More than 4,000 graduates and more than 31,000 people attended the event, which featured technology business leader Jayshree Ullal as keynote speaker. Ullal talked about the challenges she faced coming to the U.S. from her native India to attend San Francisco State in 1977. 

“While I was pursuing electrical engineering, I was only one or two of 100 female students in a class of 100,” said Ullal (B.S., ’81), who studied electrical engineering at SF State and went on to become president and CEO of cloud networking company Arista Networks. “This made cutting class difficult, as we were conspicuous by our absence!” 

Despite being a trailblazer in a then mostly male field — and a “very shy, quiet introvert” to boot — Ullal said her Engineering professors and fellow students were supportive.   

“This great San Francisco State institution shaped me and guided my future,” she said. “And it can be your rock just like it’s my foundational rock.” 

Two honorary California State University degrees were also conferred at Commencement: legendary Rolling Stone writer and editor, author, DJ and TV host Ben Fong-Torres (B.A., ’66) was honored with a Doctor of Fine Arts, while activist, filmmaker, author and psychotherapist Satsuki Ina received a Doctor of Humane Letters.  

“Actually I didn’t attend my Commencement. Hey, it was the Sixties. We forgot, man,” Fong-Torres joked to the crowd. “But I have never forgotten this university’s impact on me. … I got that [Rolling Stone] gig, I think, because of the freedom that we had to experiment with journalism here at SF State, and the lessons learned from that freedom.” 

During Ina’s speech, she encouraged the Class of 2023 to make the world a better place through empathy and action. 

“I urge you to bring with you something that has always been inside of you, even before college, and that is your compassion,” she said. “We need all that you bring, and more than ever in this world of conflict, violence, injustice and suffering, we need your compassion. We need you to care and love family and friends, of course, but also the stranger, the other, the foreigner. Reach out beyond your comfort zone, welcome the outsider. It is compassion that can mend the fractures, heal the wounds and bring us together.” 

Other speakers included SF State President Lynn Mahoney, Associated Students President Karina Zamora and Associated Students Chief of Staff Iese Esera. Two student hood recipients, among 12 graduates honored for their academic and personal achievements, also shared their stories. 

“I began my journey in higher education as a homeless first-generation college student with a baby on my hip and another in my belly. I did not have support, money, guidance or a place to call my own. But what I did have was a dream,” said undergraduate speaker Nicole Bañuelos. “I had a dream that I would earn my degree in Biology and go on to study medicine and save human lives. This dream carried me through my most trying times. I learned how to study through morning sickness and nausea, how to hold a textbook in one hand and a baby in another, how to hold my head up high when I felt like the world was looking down on me. But most of all I learned how to never give up in the face of adversity and that after every dark night there is a brighter day.” 

Graduate student speaker Hasti Jafari, who was born in Iran, reflected on the Iranian women’s movement and the important lessons the Class of 2023 can learn from the brave activists there. 

“As someone honored to have called both countries home, I encourage you to see their fight as your fight, as the basic rights of women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ and disabled communities are under threat in this country as well,” Jafari said. “And in this deeply interconnected world, none of us are free until all of us are free.” 

Learn more information about SF State’s 2023 Commencement. 

Student script wins national award from Broadcast Education Association

Jae Hamilton wrote raucous speculative episode of U.K. teen sitcom ‘Derry Girls’ 

What started as a class assignment has turned into a national award for a San Francisco State University student who has since graduated. Jae Hamilton is a first-place winner in the Broadcast Education Association (BEA) Festival of Media Arts. Her speculative script for an episode of the U.K. teen sitcom “Derry Girls” brings a raucous yet thoughtful twist to a Catholic girls school in Northern Ireland in the 1990s. 

Hamilton (B.A./B.S., ’22) is among 300 student winners, representing 82 colleges and universities nationwide. They were honored at an awards ceremony at the festival on April 17 in Las Vegas. BEA is a leading international academic media organization that drives insights, excellence in media production and career advancement for educators, students and professionals. 

Hamilton wrote the script last fall as an assignment in Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts (BECA) 470: “Dramatic Writing for Television and Electronic Media.” The plot takes the “Derry Girls” protagonists to a shop in town where one of the characters gets in a dispute with the owner for overcharging for candy. In the episode’s secondary plotline, Hamilton takes the Derry girls as far from their comfort zone as she thought possible: to a museum exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe photographs, showcasing his trademark provocative images of nude men. 

“It’s hijinks, but the basis is taking care of your own and standing up for what you feel is injustice,” Hamilton said. “I wrote it because it’s funny, but it’s also about self-acceptance. Even though they are very simple characters, they deal with lots of different emotions and themes.” 

A double major in Visual Communication Design and Creative Writing, Hamilton entered San Francisco State as a transfer student after a career as a theatre props technician in Atlanta. She is pursuing a career in video game design, and her passion is writing plays.  

“Writing is my happy place. It always has been,” Hamilton said.  

Hamilton is not the only member of the SF State community to be honored at the BEA festival. Her BECA 470 instructor from last fall, Associate Professor Marie Drennan, garnered Best of Competition in the Mini-Episodic/Webisode category of the faculty scriptwriting competition. 

Learn more about the SF State Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts and Creative Writing departments and the SF State School of Design


Jae Hamilton selfie while seated in front of a kitchen sink and window

SF State alum, author Ernest J. Gaines honored with USA stamp

Gaines (B.A., ’57) is most known for his novels ‘The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman’ and ‘A Lesson Before Dying’

A San Francisco State University alumnus is the latest American to be honored with a first-class stamp from the U.S. Postal Service. The late novelist Ernest J. Gaines is the face of the 46th stamp in the Black Heritage Series

Gaines (B.A., ’57) is known for writing about the people in small-town Louisiana where he was raised, often exploring enslaved people, their descendants and their enslavers. He rose to fame in 1971 with “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” a historical novel chronicling the recollections of its 110-year-old Black protagonist, whose life spans from slavery to the civil rights era. After garnering a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize, it was adapted into an Emmy Award-winning television movie starring Cicely Tyson. His novel “A Lesson Before Dying,” about a Black man on death row for a murder he did not commit, not only won the 1993 National Books Critics Circle Award, but was also an Oprah’s Book Club selection. President Barack Obama awarded Gaines the National Medal of the Arts in 2013. Gaines died in 2019 at age 86. 

“Ernest J. Gaines remains an important role model for Creative Writing students at San Francisco State,” said May-lee Chai, associate professor and acting chair of the Creative Writing Department. “We remind our students that his first short story was published in our undergraduate journal, Transfer Magazine, which he later said led to multiple opportunities for him as a writer. His legacy as a literary giant and advocate for social justice is deeply inspiring.” 

Gaines was born in 1933 on a plantation in Oscar, Louisiana. He lived in the same former slave quarters where his family had been residing for five generations. At age 15, he moved to the Bay Area — the Navy town of Vallejo — due to a lack of educational opportunities in the South. His region of rural Louisiana lacked both a high school and a library where Black people were welcome. After Vallejo Junior College and the Army, Gaines enrolled at SF State. 

“It was there that I really got seriously into the writing,” Gaines said in a 2016 interview with the Academy of Achievement of his time at SF State. “I had some wonderful teachers on the campus at that time who were writers as well. And they encouraged me to write.” 

Learn more about the SF State Creative Writing Department. 


Five SF State authors to read during National Hispanic Heritage Month

Authors Julián Delgado Lopera, Assistant Professor Leticia Hernández-Linares, Norman Velaya, Professor Carolina (Caro) De Robertis and Joseph Cassara.

Graduates, faculty of SF State’s Creative Writing program share powerful stories and poetry that reflect the diversity of the Latinx experience

If you’re looking for a book to read during National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 ­­– Oct. 15) that will transport you to different worlds within the Latinx community, then look no further than San Francisco State University’s faculty and alumni. The University’s Department of Creative Writing is home to award-winning professors and graduates who have written acclaimed works of prose and poetry.

Poet Leticia Hernández-Linares (MFA, ’20) is both: A graduate of San Francisco State’s MFA program in Creative Writing, she’s now an assistant professor of Latina/Latino Studies at the University. Coming to SF State was a homecoming of sorts, she says, because of the University’s legacy of social justice activism and its talented community of artists. “I’m excited to be a part of a long list of incredible writers in the Bay Area, poet laureates and other writers who have also gone through the program here,” she said.

Hernández-Linares celebrates her Latinx identity daily through her teaching, writing and through San Francisco’s Mission District neighborhood where she lives. National Hispanic Heritage Month just means her schedule gets a bit busier. “It’s kind of like I’m going to the party all year and then everybody else joins me for the month,” she added.

To learn more about her poetry and four other books by faculty or alumni, check out the list below:

Book cover for the princess and the frog

“The President and the Frog” (Knopf, 2021) by Creative Writing Professor Caro De Robertis

Uruguayan American author De Robertis has written several award-winning novels, and their latest was a 2022 PEN/Faulkner Award and PEN/Jean Stein Book Award finalist. “The President and the Frog” explores themes of justice and endurance in a story about a jailed former president of a Latin American country who incited a revolution and finds companionship with a frog.

De Robertis was chosen as the 2022 John Dos Passos Prize for Literature. Dos Passos Prize committee chair Brandon Haffner said, “De Robertis makes audible the beating hearts of people navigating a terrifying world. … But De Robertis’ stories aren’t so much interested in exploiting that terror for narrative suspense as they are in interrogating what compassion and resilience look like in the face of confounding policies and state violence.”

The House of Impossible Beauties book cover

“The House of Impossible Beauties” (Ecco/Harper Collins, 2018) by Joseph Cassara, assistant professor and George and Judy Marcus Endowed Chair for Creative Writing

Cassara’s debut novel fictionalizes New York City’s drag ball scene of the 1980s through members of the House of Xtravaganza. The novel is an exploration of family and queer Latinx men at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Cassara’s book was a finalist for a LAMBDA Literary Award in Gay Fiction. It received the Publishing Triangle’s Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, two International Latino Book Awards and the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for Best Fiction Book.

Book cover for Fiebre Tropical

“Fiebre Tropical” (Feminist Press, 2020) by Julián Delgado Lopera (MFA, ’15)

“Fiebre Tropical” is a coming-of-age tale narrated by Francisca, a Colombian teen who moves into an ant-infested townhouse in Miami. As her family learns to find their way in America, Francisca struggles to understand herself — and embrace her gayness. This is the Colombian writer’s debut novel. Their book received a LAMBDA Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction.

Mucha Muchacha

“Mucha Muchacha, Too Much Girl: Poems” (Northwestern University Press, 2015) by assistant professor of Latina/Latino Studies Leticia Hernández-Linares (MFA, ’20)

A spoken word and performance artist, Hernández-Linares first created “Mucha Muchacha, Too Much Girl: Poems” as a spoken-word CD. Over time it became a book. Her poems are about different chapters of her life and her community, influenced by her positionality “as the first-generation daughter of Salvadorian immigrants, as a longtime Mission resident, as a feminist fighting against the hetero-patriarchy and then finally as a rookie mom,” she said. It’s also about gentrification and police brutality, she adds.

Book cover for gente folks

“Gente, Folks” (Black Freighter Press, 2022) by Norman Antonio Zelaya (MFA, ’01)

Zelaya, a Nicaraguan American who grew up in San Francisco, writes stories set in San Francisco's Mission District about Latinx characters, many living in the margins. His stories wrestle with themes of gentrification, erasure and community. “Gente, Folks” short-story collection is his second book.

Gator Juan Gonzales reflects on 50+ years of Mission community newspaper

Juan Gonzales was honored at El Tecolote’s Golden Legacy Gala on Aug. 26 in San Francisco, which celebrated five decades of bilingual journalism in service of the Bay Area’s Latinx community.

Founder of state’s longest-running bilingual newspaper launched paper at SF State

From an early age, Juan Gonzales was always starting small businesses in and around his Stockton neighborhood. First, there were the Kool-Aid stands, then he picked fruit from his neighbors’ trees and sold them up and down his street. In middle school, he developed a passion for writing and later journalism. As a young adult, he combined entrepreneurship and journalism into one dream: starting a newspaper. But it was a goal he didn’t think he’d achieve until he reached his 40s.

But in 1970, six months after graduating from San Francisco State University’s Journalism program, 23-year-old Gonzales achieved his dream early — he launched El Tecolote, a bilingual newspaper serving San Francisco’s Mission District residents. How that paper came to be had a lot to do with what happened to Gonzales as an undergraduate student at San Francisco State. The paper, now in its 53rd year, is still going strong and is the state’s longest-running bilingual newspaper — a legacy that was recently celebrated at a special fundraising gala where Gonzales was also recognized.

Black and white photo of Juan Gonzales when he was younger

Juan Gonzales in the early days of El Tecolote. (Acción Latina/El Tecolote Archive)

When Gonzales transferred to SF State in the late 1960s, he was confronted with a world vastly different from the conservative farming town where he grew up. SF State was ground zero for nearly every social movement of the 1960s. There were civil rights activists, students tuning in, turning on and dropping out, anti-war protests and ethnic identity demonstrations. It was fertile ground for a journalism student.

“This was all a part of the SF State experience,” Gonzales said. “A lot of the things discussed on campus, the forums, were relatively new to me. Going to State was a wake-up call for me to think more seriously about what I wanted to do in light of things that were being said.”

In 1968, the SF State student strike erupted on campus, with students of color demanding an education that reflected their lived experience and histories. Gonzales was on the front lines, not with a picket sign but with a pen. He wrote about the strike for SF State’s student newspaper, The Phoenix. “We really matured as journalists, and it provided a solid foundation in terms of doing work under extreme pressure, covering a major story,” he said. He was supportive of the strike and even published an editorial stating as much, but he remained objective in his reporting.

While covering the strike, a student demonstrator asked if he’d ever consider writing about his own community. “[The striker told me] ‘You know who could use your skills? Your community. There’s a community in the Mission District and it’s highly populated by Latinos and they could use your storytelling and use your skills to write about their culture, give them a voice,’” Gonzales recalled. This question stayed with him throughout college.

After graduation, a professor asked him to teach a journalism class in SF State’s newly formed College of Ethnic Studies in the La Raza Studies Department. His class was called “La Raza Journalism,” and he taught students to write journalistically. Right away he realized there was a problem: There was no place to publish his students’ work. That’s when the idea came to launch a bilingual community newspaper in the Mission District.

With the help of SF State students and Mission residents, he launched El Tecolote in August of 1970. Gonzales promised he’d commit to the paper for at least five years. “Publishing one edition is easy, but consistency is key,” he said. “If you want to establish the paper as part of the neighborhood, people want to be able to see it every two weeks.”

The first five years of El Tecolote came and went. Gonzales stayed on, splitting his time between the paper and SF State. (He later left SF State to join the faculty at City College of San Francisco where he currently teaches and has served as department chair of Journalism since 1985.)

One of the early student writers for El Tecolote was Edgar Sanchez (B.A., ’74). He was a student in Gonzales’ La Raza Studies course and credited El Tecolote for launching his journalism career, which has since spanned five decades, taking him to Palm Beach, Florida (Palm Beach Post), and later to Sacramento (The Sacramento Bee).

But when he started writing for El Tecolote he was pretty green. An immigrant from El Salvador, Sanchez he said he struggled with writing in English. “I didn’t have the command of the language. My writing was horrible,” he said. “But I continued to write and along the weeks became better.”

Gonzales was a solid role model, Sanchez added, in part because he wrote for the major wire services — United Press International and the Associated Press. As an editor he was hands off, Sanchez said. “He gave us the freedom to pursue stories we wanted to do,” he said.

Some of the stories the paper produced had a real impact on the community: Two of Gonzales’ early investigative series resulted in real change. While in graduate school at Stanford University for journalism in the early 1970s, Gonzales and fellow student Mario Evangelista launched an investigation into the lack of Spanish-speaking emergency operators at Pacific Telephone and Telegraph. They found the Spanish-speaking community was not receiving quality service, often having calls disconnected and waiting more than four minutes for assistance. The story caught the attention of state regulators, and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) held statewide hearings about the issue.

“The end result was [the CPUC] forced the utility to provide reports in terms of their implementation of full bilingual services,” Gonzales said.

A few years later, a pregnant Spanish-speaking woman sought treatment for bleeding at San Francisco General Hospital. The hospital attendant couldn’t understand what she was saying and sent her home. The woman lost her baby. El Tecolote launched an investigation into the bilingual services offered by the hospital. Their reporting revealed that few hospital workers were bilingual and hospital signage, prescription information and other printed materials were inadequate for non-English speakers. That story was the catalyst for the hospital to hire interpreters and more bilingual staff.

Juan Ginzales and other people crowd around a table to look at a newspaper layout

Founder of El Tecolote Juan Gonzales and the El Tecolote team assemble the newspaper. (Acción Latina/El Tecolote Archive)

For more than 50 years, El Tecolote has been the paper of record for the Mission District, documenting everything from gentrification and the housing shortage to conflicts between the police and the community. It’s done this at a time when community newspapers are vanishing. Gonzales credits the paper’s longevity to his and others’ dedication and “to the army of volunteers,” he noted

“The community is relying on [the] publication, and I think if you establish yourself as really providing good information and being relevant then the readership will stay with you, and hopefully even financially support you,” he said. And it’s helped that Gonzales doesn’t compromise on quality. “We have to give our readers quality work — good writing, good photographs, good layout … They expect the best, and we should give the best.”

Check out SF State’s Journalism department and the Latina/Latino Studies program.

Leaders in finance, magazine publishing, education, music and film named 2023 Alumni Hall of Fame inductees

Four notable alumni to be honored at Nov. 3 celebration

For the past 29 years, San Francisco State University has recognized alumni for their varied contributions to their communities, whether it’s through art, medicine or technology. This year’s Alumni Hall of Fame inductees have made an indelible imprint on the Bay Area and beyond in the world of banking, education, skateboarding, art, music and film. San Francisco State President Lynn Mahoney and the University community are proud to honor the four newest inductees at a celebration and dinner Friday, Nov. 3, at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco.

“This year’s inductees represent the diversity of the University and the city of San Francisco,” said Nicole Lange, associate vice president for alumni relations and university engagement. “This year, we’ll honor the president of an Indonesian bank with a 30-plus year career in finance, a longtime educator and school administrator turned professor, the publisher of an iconic skateboarding magazine and a filmmaker and musician whose films and music carry powerful messages about labor, wealth inequality and injustice. This group of accomplished alumni embody both the spirit of SF State and the city, and I couldn’t be prouder.”

Hall of Fame Inductees

Headshot of Vincement Matthews

Vincent Matthews
B.A., ’86; M.A., ’90; Ed.D., ’10 

Dr. Vincent Matthews has been an educator for more than 30 years, eventually leading the same school district he attended from kindergarten through 12th grade. The San Francisco native was the San Francisco Unified School District superintendent from 2017 to 2022. After high school, he attended SF State, earning a bachelor of arts, a master of arts in Educational Administration and eventually a doctorate in Education. He was part of the inaugural cohort in the University’s Educational Leadership program.

Matthews began his teaching career at Washington Carver Elementary School in San Francisco and later served as an elementary school principal, a high school assistant principal and a middle school principal. He then led the San Jose Unified School District as superintendent for five and a half years, raising academic achievement, narrowing the achievement gap between Latino and white students and passing landmark agreements with the San Jose teacher’s union. He then served as a state-appointed superintendent for Oakland Unified before he was the state-appointed superintendent of the Inglewood Unified School District. 

In 2020, Matthews returned to the classroom at his alma mater SF State. He started as an adjunct faculty member in the Equity, Leadership and Instructional Technologies program and is now an assistant professor.

Headshot of Boots Riley

Boots Riley
Africana Studies, Cinema

Activist, filmmaker and musician Boots Riley studied film at SF State before rising to prominence as the front man of hip-hop groups The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club. His debut feature film “Sorry to Bother You” premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, was acquired by Annapurna Pictures and was released to resounding box office success and widespread critical acclaim.

Fervently dedicated to social change, Riley was deeply involved with the Occupy Oakland movement and was one of the leaders of the activist group the Young Comrades. His book of lyrics and anecdotes, “Tell Homeland Security-We Are The Bomb,” is out on Haymarket Press.

He is the recipient of the Independent Spirit Award for Best Feature Film and SFFILM’s Kanbar Award.

Headshot of Pramukti Surjaudaja

Pramukti Surjaudaja
B.S., ’85

Pramukti Surjaudaja has been in banking for more than 30 years. He was the CEO and president director before assuming the role as president commissioner of Bank OCBC NISP in Indonesia. His primary responsibility is serving as chair of the bank’s supervisory board. In addition, he has served as the non-executive director at OCBC BANK Singapore since 2005.
Over the past three decades, Surjaudaja has been honored with awards such as Best CEO, Most Prominent Banker and Outstanding Entrepreneur. He also serves on the boards of nonprofit and educational organizations such as The British School Jakarta, Karya Salemba Empat Foundation, Parahiyangan Catholic University, Indonesia Overseas Alumni and served on the South East Asian Nations Council of INSEAD. Surjaudaja is a member of the Business Advisory Council for the Lam Family College of Business.
After graduating from SF State in 1985, he earned his MBA from Golden Gate University. He lives with his family in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Headshot of Gwynn Vitello

Gwynned Rose Vitello
B.A., ’74

Gwynned Rose Vitello is a principal partner with High Speed Productions, the San Francisco based media company that publishes Juxtapoz Art and Culture Magazine and Thrasher, often referred to as the Bible of Skateboarding. She met her late husband Fausto Vitello (B.A., ’71) when they were both students at San Francisco State, after which, in 1981 he co-founded Thrasher Magazine, suffusing the sport with Bay Area energy and worldwide street appeal. Fausto passed away in 2006, so Gwynned stepped in to oversee the skate and art enterprises.

Prior to High Speed Productions, Gwynned Vitello worked at San Francisco City Hall in the administrations of Mayors Joseph Alioto, George Moscone and Dianne Feinstein. Today she continues as an executive in what is still a family business, alongside her two adult children who both have strong connections to the University. Tony attended SF State from 2003 through 2006 as a History major and has currently taken over the reins at High Speed Productions. Sally assists at the magazines and serves on the board of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability. The family is proud that over the years, several SF State students have served as employees at High Speed Productions. 

More details about the event, including sponsorship information, this year's sponsors and how to purchase tickets are available online.

SF State alumni, faculty find camaraderie in Writers Guild of America strike

‘Better Call Saul’ executive story editor Marion Dayre is an SF State lecturer, and she brought two of her former students to the picket lines 

For many San Francisco State University graduates with Hollywood dreams, moving to Los Angeles is a move for opportunity. While the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike has brought production to a halt industrywide since May, two former San Francisco State students have placed themselves on the picket lines alongside one of their faculty mentors.  

“It’s history in the making, so why wouldn’t you want to be there and try to make a change?” said Barbara Burgues, a Venezuela native who attended SF State in 2021 and now lives in Los Angeles with goals of producing, writing and directing. 

Her former SF State classmate Armando Jimenez picketed with her. Jimenez (B.A., ’22) is an aspiring screenwriter and director who moved to Southern California in the spring. 

“It’s natural for me to join the picket line. I get to fight for my future,” he said. “Especially since I’m hoping to get a job somewhere in that field; I hope to be able to afford the roof over my head.” 

Burgues and Jimenez were invited to the picket line by Marion Dayre, a lecturer in Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts and executive story editor on the Emmy Award-winning “Better Call Saul.” (Streaming soon: She is the head writer on Marvel’s “Echo” and co-showrunner on Amazon Prime’s “Wytches.”)  

Dayre structures her “Television and Video Program Design” class to simulate the full preproduction process of developing a series for streaming. Writing is a major element, but students also learn to build a pitch and other tricks of the trade. As a rising star on the front lines, Dayre tells her students what conversations are like in the writers’ rooms and network executive suites, with self-care in mind. 

“If students are asking if they’re capable, I hope they would be able to find that assurance going through the process of the class,” Dayre said. “What I try to pass along is the importance of self-care as a writer. Knowing that we’re in a community with our anxieties, we don’t have to harbor them alone and navigate them alone. I try to come and be real.”

But then comes the question of existential doom: Is it a good time to move to Los Angeles to break into the industry? 

“It’s always risky and it’s always full of rewards. And I think now’s as good a time as any,” Dayre said. “I moved to LA during the last strike [in 2007 – 2008]. And everything worked out.” 

David Pollock marches on the picket line with a sign reading Writers Guild of America on Strike! with handwritten text I Have No Words

Alumnus David Pollock marches on the picket line. This year’s WGA strike is the fifth that he has participated in.

Shrinking seasons, shrinking compensation 

WGA members are striking to seek increases and equity in pay, improvements in work conditions and job security, measures to prevent harassment and discrimination, and the regulation of material generated with artificial intelligence. The guild is bargaining with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. 

“When I was watching television in the 1950s, there were 39 episodes a season. The same shows were on year after year, and they were all advertiser-driven,” said David Pollock (B.A., ’61), a retired Emmy Award-winning writer from classic programs such as “Frasier,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Carol Burnett Show” and “M*A*S*H*.” 

“Over the decades, incrementally, the number of episodes shrunk as the business expanded,” added Pollock, now retired but still a frequent WGA picketer. “We’re just burning up content faster and faster with shorter attention spans.” 

‘Another pause for the greater good’ 

Dayre says the camaraderie that it takes to write a quality script begins in the writers room and continues on the picket line, where she is a captain. 

“We had a slowdown during COVID, and now it comes time to take another pause for the greater good,” said Dayre, who has taught at SF State since 2021 and been a WGA member since 2014. “You’re never guaranteed the next job or the next spot, but you are guaranteed the ability to learn from brilliant writers and to help them when you can.” 

Jimenez says picketing has been a fun way to effect change and learn about the business side of entertainment. As an extra motion of solidarity, one day he brought two cases of water for the protestors. 

“I’m not a WGA member and, fortunately, you don’t have to be a WGA member to join the picket line. Nobody minds at all,” said Jimenez, who interns in project development for Dayre. “They have such a great community of people. I don’t usually see something so tight-knit where an entire huge group of people go, ‘Oh, we’re going to go on strike. We’re all going to do this.’ Plus, spending time with someone like Marion, it gives me comfort for the future.” 

Burgues only spent one semester at SF State, but it’s changed her life. She credits the University for sparking her creativity, and Dayre is a vital inspiration. 

“She’s just so understanding of how hard it can be to get into this industry, and it’s very easy talking to her,” Burgues said. “If it weren’t for her, I don’t think I would have had the courage to tell my parents, like, ‘Hey I’m going to be a writer and leave everything behind and just be a struggling international student.’ And I do not regret it at all.” 

Learn more about the SF State Broadcast and Electronic Commuinication Arts Department. 

From ‘kicking it’ to crushing it: Alum earns Six Star Medal after running sixth world marathon

Antar Johnson earned the coveted Six Star Medal after completing Tokyo marathon

As an undergraduate, Antar Johnson (’92, B.A.) majored in Economics at San Francisco State University, but he says his unofficial major was “kicking it.” He’s always been one for a party. It’s a personality trait that’s translated well professionally into networking, which he leveraged into a successful legal career. Surprisingly, this quality also helped him make great strides in long distance running — including completing his sixth world marathon, a requirement for the Six Star Medal.

The Six Star Medal has only existed since 2016. An invention of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, a series of marathons around the globe, it honors runners who complete marathon runs in Boston, New York, Tokyo, Berlin, London and Chicago. Worldwide, there are 12,251 Six Star finishers, with 2,746 registered in the United States. More than 1,400 of those runners are men, according to the organization. Johnson believes a tiny fraction of those male runners are Black, even though the organization does not track runners’ ethnicity or race. “There’s about 35 of us, and we know because we’ve gone to all of the different races,” he said. “It’s definitely an elite type of thing.”

As a student at SF State, Johnson pledged the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, a national African American fraternity that’s still active at the University today. When he started running, he made sure to connect with fellow fraternity brothers as well as alumni from SF State and Temple University, where he went to law school. Those personal connections kept him challenged; he started comparing running distances, times and training schedules.

Antar Johnson runs in the street of the Tokyo Marathon

But his dedication to the sport didn’t happen overnight. He remembers telling friends who’d invited him on their 6 a.m. runs, “Running is for horses.” But at 47, Johnson gave it another shot at the prompting of his doctor.

Johnson is senior counsel for the Office of Lottery and Gaming in Washington, D.C., which means he works long hours sitting at a desk. After work he likes to enjoy D.C.’s nightlife, whether that’s going out to dinner or having drinks and cigars with friends and colleagues. Given his family history of cardiac issues and diabetes, his doctor told him he needed to change his sedentary lifestyle.

Johnson tried a few different fitness programs like P90X and Insanity high-intensity workouts and running in obstacle courses races. Those all seemed like a fast track to an injury, he says. He realized what he enjoyed most from those workouts was running, so he started running 5Ks. When friends encouraged him to step it up and try half marathons, he was game. Then they upped the ante again.

“‘So you’re doing all these half marathons. When are you going to do a real marathon?’” Johnson remembers his fraternity brother and mentor telling him. Johnson accepted the challenge, running his first marathon before turning 48, a personal goal. After completing two more, his running friends, who also happened to be fraternity brothers, convinced him to join their quest for the Six Star Medal. Not one to turn down a challenge, he began his journey for six as well.

Completing even one world marathon is difficult. These six races, attract runners from around the world, so the barrier for entry is high. Racers either need to qualify with their running times, fundraise or win a lottery to gain entry. Johnson opted to fundraise. On his five-year journey, which he finally completed in March after running the Tokyo marathon, he raised $24,000 for various charities, including childhood cancer.

His journey for six was longer than he planned because of COVID, but he finally completed it with a personal best running time (four hours and 49 minutes), all before another milestone: his 55th birthday.

Reflecting on his life and most recent accomplishment, he says pledging a fraternity at SF State changed his life. “I was able to network through my fraternity and meet a lot of good people who are still in my life,” he said. And it’s those friends who kept him committed to his quest. “Iron sharpens iron. We all just keep each other on these goal-oriented missions.”

To find out how you can get involved in a fraternity or sorority at SF State, visit the Student Activities & Events website.