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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

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. 

‘The Last of Us’ for amphibians: University researchers trace emergence of fungus threatening African amphibians

SF State professor, students describe how a deadly fungus began spreading among amphibians in Africa over the last 165 years

For the past few years, how a virus triggered a global pandemic has dominated conversations. Now, thanks to the TV show “The Last of Us” (about an apocalypse triggered by brain-eating ’shrooms), fungi have infected popular culture. The focus has been on pathogens that cause human disease, but what about those affecting nonhuman species? San Francisco State University scientists are among the many concerned about a fungus that has been detrimental for amphibians worldwide and is contributing to a loss of biodiversity.

In a new Frontiers in Conservation Science paper, San Francisco State researchers detail the relatively recent emergence and spread of a deadly fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or Bd) among amphibians in Africa. Eight of the co-authors are former SF State students who were in a seminar class led by senior investigator Vance Vredenburg, a University Biology professor.

“When [amphibian] skin starts to change thickness, it basically creates a condition where they can’t maintain their internal processes and they die,” said co-author Eliseo Parra (B.S., ’14; M.S., ’17) about how the fungus attacks. “If infecting a mammal, it might affect your fingernails or something you wouldn’t even notice, but amphibians (frogs, salamanders) use their skin to breathe. It’s a very critical part of their body.”

The fungus is lethal for many amphibian populations but not others, Vredenburg says. His lab wanted to understand where the fungus is, how it got there and why it’s deadly for some amphibians, particularly in Africa where it has been under-studied.

In 2016, Vredenburg’s class, eager to get involved in conservation research, read papers about Bd and evaluated previously published data. In parallel, Vredenburg’s lab, in collaboration with the California Academy of Sciences, assessed the infection status of amphibian specimens from Africa. These two approaches gave the project nearly 17,000 records for analysis and a 165-year view of how this fungus interacts with amphibians across the continent.

The team reports low Bd prevalence and limited spread of the disease in Africa until 2000, when the prevalence increased from 3.2% to 18.7% and Bd became more widespread geographically. Vredenburg notes that not only is the fungus infecting amphibians but it is causing negative (often deadly) consequences versus being dormant.

The researchers also found two lineages of the fungus in Africa. One was a global lineage — considered the most dangerous version of the fungus — while the second was previously believed to be more benign, though the SF State team found evidence that it may also be destructive. Using their data, the team created a model that predicts that eastern, central and western Africa are the most vulnerable to Bd.

“We’re trying to extend our findings and make predictions about what could happen in the future. It’s the best way to make our study worth the work,” Vredenburg said.  “There are nearly 1,200 amphibian species in Africa. We wanted to say where are the riskiest places for outbreaks. Those will probably be the places where you have the most hosts in one place.”

“It’s very important to note that Bd didn’t spread worldwide without humans helping in one way or another,” added co-author Hasan Sulaeman (B.S., ’16; M.S., ’19). “It’s not the first pathogen that affects hundreds of species worldwide and it’s not going to be the last.”

The team points out that this project does not fit the traditional molds for science research papers or literature reviews. The fact that a scientific paper resulted from research done in a class is rare too, Vredenburg explains, attributing the feat to students’ talent and motivation.

Both Parra and Sulaeman participated in the project as students in the seminar class and as researchers in Vredenburg’s lab. They are among the students who continued to be involved for some part of the five years after the initial semester-long project. Through this experience, they gained valuable insight into the scientific publication process — something that is not trivial or quick — early in their careers.

Sulaeman is currently working on CDC-funded national SARS-CoV-2 studies, while Parra studies animal behavior in rainforests as a Ph.D. student at UCLA. Both alums recall the research environment that Vredenburg fostered that brought together undergraduate and graduate students with a variety of cultural and scientific backgrounds and levels of expertise. They both note the power in diversity and how it improves science.

“When you have a lot of really smart people in a room sitting at a table regularly, it is possible to do a lot. Maybe we didn’t understand that at the time or maybe this was a big lesson for us [students],” Parra said. “But Vance definitely knew that you could actually walk away from a class with an important piece of published research.”

Visit the Biology Department’s website to learn more about classes, research and more.

Rising star: University researcher achieves firsts in sea star research

With faculty support, a student expands class project into a graduate research project

It’s not often that one gets to throw starfish a birthday party. Some species — like the six-rayed sea star Leptasterias — are notoriously difficult to keep alive in the lab, making even first birthdays a rarity. So when San Francisco State University researcher Berenice Baca achieved the seemingly impossible feat of raising Leptasterias specimens for an entire year, her lab made sure to celebrate.

Baca is among the first in her field to successfully rear Leptasterias embryos to reach the one-year milestone in the lab. And to think, this project started in an undergraduate class with San Francisco State Biology Professor Sarah Cohen.

“Because of that study I started as an undergrad, I was able to grow [Leptasterias] up to a year, which is really exciting,” said Baca, who joined Cohen’s lab as an undergraduate researcher and is now an SF State master’s student. She’s been with this project for less than two years but she’s already shared her work at national and international conferences, won research awards, attended research workshops and worked with KQED to highlight these sea stars.

Baca’s work could help Leptasterias and other species feeling the impact of grave challenges. Sea stars face the constant threats of climate change and sea star wasting disease, a mysterious condition wiping out entire species. “We tend to notice or shift our attention towards certain species when it’s endangered or almost gone,” Baca explained. “We should try to address [these issues] now rather than wait until the species is almost completely gone.”

Berenice by the water studying sea stars

Happy birthday, dear Leptasterias…

Baca studies the developmental patterns of two species of Leptasterias sea stars (Leptasterias pusilla and Leptasterias aequalis). These species reproduce via brood-fostering, which is akin to a hen sitting on her eggs. While somewhat common among other animals, it’s a rare approach among marine species. In the wild, maternal sea stars protect 50 – 1,500 embryos on their underside until their young stars are ready to be independent. Baca successfully raised these embryos to a juvenile stage in the lab without maternal care (i.e., without brooding). As part of this project, she developed protocols for this process and gleaned unique insight about Leptasterias development.

“As I was starting this project, I realized there’s no information on this, which drove me a little crazy,” Baca said, noting that the knowledge gap fueled her curiosity and determination.

Her first step was to give the sea stars a laboratory home as cold as their native habitat. Baca first raised the stars at 9 to 10 degrees Celsius in a classroom cold room before moving them to a dedicated deli fridge set at 12 to 13 degrees Celsius. Next, she needed to ensure that the stars didn’t starve. This was quite the saga, Baca explains, because the stars kept losing interest in readily available fish food. It turned out Baca’s microscopic juvenile starfish — approximately 0.2 cm in size — required live sea snails, copepods and barnacles they could hunt.

“I ended up getting these microscopic snails that required really fine tweezers to get them out of barnacles. I was doing this at 5 in the morning or very late at night because I have to correlate [my work] with the tides,” she explained.

Zoomed up picture of juvenile sea star

Juvenile Leptasterias less than 2 cm in size. 

Small sea star next to a finger for scale

Sea star next to a finger for scale.

Sea star hunting a snail

Sea star hunting a sea snail.

Comparable studies on Leptasterias failed to grow the early juveniles in the lab and only one known study was able to hatch these stars. Extending Leptasterias’ lifespan in the lab gave Baca the opportunity to document their development as early as eight hours to 31 days, allowing her to capture beautiful images of fertilized eggs and snapshots of intermediate stages. By day 44, her juvenile stars began taking on a familiar six-armed star shape, and by 10 months the stars were 1.3 cm or bigger and started exhibiting hallmark coloration and patterns. Sharing her work at conferences, she was heartened to hear other scientists share excitement for her work and give her words of encouragement.

Baca and the Cohen lab even worked with KQED to feature Leptasterias in a new episode of its science video series “Deep Look.” Scroll to end of story to see the video. 

Growing up alongside her stars

Coming to SF State, Baca knew she wanted to do research, but she’s still a bit awestruck by how her research experience has evolved. When she enrolled in Cohen’s “BIOL 586GW: Marine Ecology Laboratory — GWAR,” Baca wanted research experience, but she didn’t anticipate it would lead her to pursue a master’s degree.

“It’s really nice that Sarah [Cohen] is really good at figuring out your interest and connecting you with the right people,” Baca said, explaining that Cohen encouraged her to apply for grants and scholarships, participate in conferences and attend science workshops. “That really helps. Sometimes you feel lost and having that [support] really helps in initiating your own project or research. It actually makes you feel like a scientist.”

With daily lab work, field research and conferences, being a scientist has become a big part of her life. Baca, a first-generation student, previously maintained multiple jobs and worked full-time in the fields picking blueberries and grapes to support her University education. Growing up in a small town that lacked proper science education, she had an unsatisfied desire to learn more. It’s that natural and unwavering curiosity that’s driven her throughout her research, especially when it gets hard.

Berenice Baca clapping at a birthday cake

“I’m really thankful for the entire Cohen lab,” Baca said, adding that Cohen’s and her lab mates’ support and encouragement have been instrumental. “I believe without them I wouldn’t have anything.”

Learn more about SF State’s Biology Department.

SF State receives $14M from the Genentech Foundation to support underrepresented students in STEM

New funding will support students like Sergio Gonzalez Jr. (above) via financial support, mentorship and career prep so they can enter the workforce.

Over five years, the funds will support hundreds of STEM students through scholarships, research opportunities and career prep

SAN FRANCISCO – May 15, 2024 – San Francisco State University announced today that it received $14 million from the Genentech Foundation to support two University programs that are training the next generation of life sciences leaders. The new five-year grant is the latest in the Genentech Foundation’s transformational support for University programs, which has totaled more than $33 million during their long-lasting partnership. This partnership has impacted more than 700 students since 2008, and an additional 350 students are projected to be supported by the new funding.

The new funds will continue sponsoring San Francisco State’s Genentech Foundation Scholars and PINC (Promoting Inclusivity in Computing) programs. In 2008, an earlier iteration of the program that would become the Genentech Foundation Scholars program began at SF State to support graduate-level students with tuition and scholarships, mentorship, career preparation and research experience. In 2019, the Genentech Foundation awarded the University a historic $10.5 million grant to continue this program and expand support to undergraduate students, followed soon after by additional funding for the PINC program from the Genentech Foundation and Genentech Inc.

This latest $14 million grant will extend tuition support to freshmen and sophomores to cover full tuition for all undergraduate students in the Genentech Foundation Scholars Program for the first time. It will also increase support and research opportunities for students in the PINC programs.

Since the Genentech Foundation-SF State partnership began, the Genentech Foundation Scholars program has had a tangible impact on diversifying the STEM Ph.D. pipeline and increasing the number of underrepresented students in Ph.D. programs. One hundred and six students — 22 undergraduate and 84 master’s students — have enrolled in Ph.D. programs. Thirty-eight students have completed their Ph.D. program, with students from the 2019 grant cohorts still working on their Ph.D. degrees.  Additionally, due to the support provided to remove barriers that typically prevent underrepresented students from completing their degrees in four years, the on-time graduation rate for undergraduate scholars in the program is three times higher than that of SF State students from similar backgrounds who are not in the program.

“The Genentech Foundation Scholars program isn’t just launching more students into Ph.D.s in science and medicine — it’s challenging the status quo perception of which institutions can produce top Ph.D. talent and which students are capable of leading tomorrow’s innovation,” said Kristin Campbell Reed, executive director of the Genentech Foundation. “SF State truly meets students where they are and believes in their boundless potential. We are proud to be doubling down on our investment and invite others to join us in what we believe is a scalable model for change.”

Genentech Foundation Scholars Program

$11.7 million of the grant will go to SF State’s Genentech Foundation Scholars Program. Each year, approximately 120 students participate in the year-long program. In addition to tuition, students receive a stipend and participate in research activities with the support of peer and faculty mentorship. The program offers summer research opportunities, preparatory calculus and chemistry courses for pre-freshmen participants, weekly career-preparation seminars and graduate school application prep.

PINC (Promoting Inclusivity in Computing) Program

The remaining $2.3 million of the grant will support SF State’s Gen-PINC Scholarship and PINC Summer Program, programs that empower students to develop computational skills applicable to real-world research and provide opportunities to work with researchers from industry and other academic institutions. For the Gen-PINC program, the grant renewal will increase the amount of scholarship funding each scholar receives, provide partial tuition for undergraduate scholarship recipients for the first time and expand the budget for student-mentor support. The new grant will also provide students in the eight-week PINC Summer Program more opportunities to explore their interests and develop skills critical for their future careers.

“Our partnership with the Genentech Foundation has accelerated the expansion of successful training programs preparing our diverse students for exciting graduate programs across the country,” said College of Science & Engineering Dean Carmen Domingo. “Working with Genentech scientists, our faculty are creating innovative curricula that apply machine learning approaches to solve real-world biotech problems. These experiences are making our students uniquely prepared for the biotech workforce needs of the future.”

Student impact

SF State undergraduate Sergio Gonzalez Jr. plans to become a professor at a research institute and a biotech leader in regenerative medicine. He’s also quick to emphasize that he wants to be an impactful mentor like the ones he has had at SF State and start programs like the ones he has benefited from. He was supported by both the Genentech Foundation Scholars Program and the Gen-PINC scholarship and has participated in other PINC programs. He originally transferred to SF State in 2013 but left in 2016 for personal reasons. During his academic hiatus, he began working as a medical assistant during the COVID-19 pandemic and realized his desire to help his community through research. He returned to SF State in 2022 to complete his education. Now, he’s making major strides toward his career goals by starting Vanderbilt University’s Interdisciplinary Graduate Ph.D. program in the fall to pursue biomedical research. He’s been awarded the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research fellowship (NSF GRFP).

“I was able to tap into my inner confidence that everyone else saw in me, but I wasn’t really tapping into because of my situation,” he said of the impact of these programs. Gonzalez, like many students, was supporting himself. The financial support and mentorship from these Genentech Foundation-funded programs gave him the time and space to focus on research and achieve a 4.0 GPA.

“Learning that you don’t have to be this picture-perfect person to obtain these fellowships was crucial for me to pursuing them further because I left school,” Gonzalez explained. “When I came back, I remembered these programs and I told myself that in order for me to succeed, I need to be fully funded. These programs will help me get there.”

For more information about these programs, email Professor Emeritus of Biology Frank Bayliss at fbayl@sfsu.edu for Genentech Foundation Scholars and Program Manager Michael Savvides at pincsfsu@sfsu.edu for PINC.

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About San Francisco State University

San Francisco State University is a public university serving students from the San Francisco Bay Area, across California and around the world, with nationally acclaimed programs that span a broad range of disciplines. More than 23,000 students enroll at the University each year, and its nearly 294,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond. Through them — and more than 1,800 world-class faculty members — SF State proudly embraces its legacy of academic excellence, community engagement and commitment to social justice. For more information, visit sfsu.edu.

About the Genentech Foundation

Since 2002, the Genentech Foundation has worked to unlock access to educational and career pathways in the life sciences and medicine. The U.S.-based, private charitable foundation was established by Genentech, a leading biotechnology company that discovers, develops, manufactures and commercializes medicines to treat people with serious or life-threatening medical conditions. Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, has headquarters in South San Francisco, California. For further information, visit www.gene.com/good/giving.

A dozen outstanding graduates to be honored at 2024 Commencement

The student hood recipients will represent their academic colleges at the University’s 123rd graduation ceremony May 24

A dozen outstanding graduates will be honored during San Francisco State University’s 123rd Commencement ceremony, to be held at Oracle Park Friday, May 24. They will represent their more than 7,300 graduating peers in the Class of 2024.

As part of a longstanding tradition, each of the University’s six academic colleges selects an undergraduate and a graduate student to represent their classmates and wear their college’s academic hood during the ceremony. Additionally, two of the hood recipients, one undergraduate and one graduate student, will each deliver a Commencement address.

More details about the ceremony are available on the Commencement website

Graduate Speaker

Genesis Sorrick

Genesis Sorrick

M.A., Philosophy
College of Liberal & Creative Arts

In September 2020, amidst the chaos of COVID-19, the eerie orange sky from raging wildfires and the protests against police brutality, Genesis Sorrick gave birth to her first child. Bringing a human into the world during this time was incredibly daunting. Sorrick responded with her characteristic strength, integrity and clear-sighted optimism. Inspired to understand the world better and envision a brighter future for her daughter, she decided to return to college and complete her B.A. in Philosophy at SF State.

Later, during Sorrick’s first semester as a Philosophy grad student at SF State, she began to experience excruciating pain and debilitating neurological symptoms. Nevertheless, she refused to let desperation consume her. She channeled her energy into understanding her experience and found solace in her academic studies.

She excelled in her courses, writing brilliant research papers, contributing insightfully to discussions and the life of the department, working conscientiously as a teaching assistant and maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average (GPA). Living with chronic pain led Sorrick to her M.A. thesis: a remarkably original, meticulously researched and highly persuasive account of medical gaslighting.

“Philosophy allowed me to ground myself in something other than my pain and focus on envisioning a better world for my daughters,” she said.

Sorrick’s journey has been shaped by additional obstacles. She is a Mexican-born woman and the first in her family to complete a college degree. Also, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she came out to friends and family in high school in a primarily right-wing, conservative town. Rather than dissuade her from pursuing her dreams, these experiences helped Sorrick develop the strength and tenacity she has needed to thrive at SF State, raise her children and live with chronic pain. She is a remarkable person, with a strong commitment to enacting positive change, both as a philosopher and a mother.
 

Undergraduate Speaker

Eddison Jintalan Contreras

Eddison Jintalan Contreras

B.A., Social Work
College of Health & Social Sciences

Eddison Jintalan Contreras’ social work journey was shaped by his own personal experiences of adversities and witnessing systemic inequities in different systems that he worked in. He is an Air Force veteran from a Filipino immigrant household and a member of the LGBTQ+ community. As a young airman, he worked under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He felt the tension between embracing his true self and serving the country. While working at a large health care provider, Contreras saw all forms of oppression embedded within the health care system. All these fueled Contreras’ passion for social justice and inspired his educational goals.

During his tenure at SF State, Contreras contributed to both the campus and broader community. He assumed leadership roles within Social Work Advocates for Visions of Empowerment (SWAVE), was the SF State representative to the 23Strong Council — comprising 23 accredited social work programs across California — and was a founding member of the University chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success. Notably engaged in policy advocacy, Contreras led legislative teams during the annual National Association of Social Workers’ legislative lobby days in Sacramento. He also supported policy initiatives addressing police brutality in the Antioch community.

He is doing a capstone project exploring the correlation between recidivism rates and the mental health diversion program at the Contra Costa Public Defender’s Office, where he serves as an intern.

Contreras is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work magna cum laude. After graduation, Contreras aspires to pursue a Master of Social Work. His goal is to become a licensed social worker specializing in holistic methodologies for mental health care within marginalized communities. Additionally, he’ll continue engaging in macro-level and political social work initiatives contributing to systemic change and advocacy.
 

Undergraduate Hood Recipients

Headshot of Jazz Hudson

Jazz Monique Hudson

B.A., Africana Studies
College of Ethnic Studies

Jazz Monique Hudson, an Oakland native with over 15 years of expertise in youth development, educational arts, social justice and organizational change, epitomizes resilience and commitment to societal transformation. Despite the challenges she faced early in her life as a former foster youth and teenage mother, Hudson has overcome them and is now dedicating her life to being an advocate, artist and educator.

For example, Hudson was involved with organizations like the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, Black Youth Project 100 (where she was a founding member) and the Guardian Scholars Program. She was also a program director and founding member of the EMERGE Reentry Program, which focuses on supporting young women of color reintegrating into society after incarceration and academic pushout. Additionally, Hudson was a victim advocate for the San Francisco District Attorney and has had residencies, workshops and performances at universities like UC Berkeley and Princeton.

Serendipitously, her son’s 17th birthday coincides with the SF State 2024 Commencement, which Hudson says is a reminder of the strength and resilience found in the journey of motherhood. After graduation, she plans to pursue SF State’s Pre-Health Professions Post-Baccalaureate Certificate program, which will help her take the next step toward pursuing a career in health care as an osteopathic doctor specializing in allergy and immunology.
 

Devora Jimenez Domingo

Devora Jimenez Domingo

B.S., Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences
Graduate College of Education

Devora Jimenez Domingo, originally from Guatemala, moved to the United States at a young age. Witnessing her Latinx community’s struggles due to language barriers, Jimenez Domingo has dedicated her work to assisting those with limited English proficiency, especially after recognizing the privilege she had being trilingual in English, Spanish and Mayan.

To support her community, Jimenez Domingo enrolled at SF State to pursue a degree in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences with minors in Education and Special Education. During her time at SF State, she has actively contributed to the Gray Matter Lab, facilitating language therapy for Spanish speakers and promoting inclusivity in educational settings.

Jimenez Domingo also held leadership roles in various student clubs, advocating for cultural and linguistic diversity within the field of speech pathology.

Now preparing for graduate school to become a licensed speech pathologist, she aims to serve marginalized communities, particularly Black, Indigenous and People of Color, by ensuring their identities and linguistic backgrounds are acknowledged and respected in standardized testing and therapeutic practices.
 

Zen Lewis

Zen Lewis

B.A., International Relations/Political Science
College of Liberal & Creative Arts

In 2019, Zen Lewis’ journey to SF State began with her emigration from Serbia with the vision of achieving the American dream. As an 18-year-old in a new country with no financial support, she faced daunting challenges with housing and food insecurity, while attempting to find full-time employment with limited English fluency and work experience.

Today, Lewis is graduating with a double major in International Relations and Political Science with the highest honors, accompanied by Sigma Iota Rho and Pi Sigma Alpha societal honors. She represents the will and determination of young immigrant women who hail from war-torn nations to forge a new path, both for themselves and their home countries, so that those wars never occur again.

Lewis is a force of nature who speaks three languages, works full time in the wedding industry and serves as managing editor of the International Relations Journal. While earning the Migration and Refugee Studies certificate, she has demonstrated an exemplary work ethic, enthusiasm for global politics and resilience in the face of obstacles.

As president of the International Relations Student Association, Lewis has been a driving force, encouraging her fellow students and others in her community to get involved in domestic and international politics. She has represented SF State at Model United Nations and Model European Union conferences, where she received the Outstanding Head of Government Award. 

Lewis won the David Jenkins Scholarship for Political Activism for her impactful advocacy of student rights in a political uprising. She used her senior thesis to expand the discussion and analysis of new regime changes, using Serbia as a case study. Off campus, she has organized pop-up events for local artists and fundraisers for nonprofits.

After graduation, Lewis plans to seek a full-time position in San Francisco municipal government and pursue a law degree.
 

Meliza Matute

Meliza Matute

B.S., Business Administration (Decision Sciences/Finance)
Lam Family College of Business

Meliza Matute is a first-generation Salvadoran American student. Her parents came to the U.S. with very little money but impressed on her the importance of hard work and education. Those would be the keys to a successful life, they told her. Growing up in East Palo Alto, she became acutely aware of the differences in the level of safety, quality of education and scarcity of resources between her town and its affluent neighbors Menlo Park and Palo Alto. Thanks to a school transfer program, Matute experienced firsthand just how stark the differences were, filling her with a desire for a more equitable world.

Later, Matute moved to Tracy and was committed to attending SF State despite the distance. She traveled six hours a day on public transportation to complete her degree. She started out as a Finance major to increase her financial literacy. By her second year, she decided to also major in Decision Sciences. She graduates with a 3.94 GPA.

Outside of the SF State classroom, Matute spent her time educating young people about decision sciences. She volunteered with incoming high school freshmen, showing them the real-world application of math in business and how companies use math to make business decisions. She also worked as a student instructor/facilitator for the “Operations Management Supplemental Instruction” course, to deepen student understanding of difficult concepts.

Matute’s education and experience at SF State inspired her to choose a career that will benefit the common good. Knowing that one’s strength reflects that of their community, she aspires to use her financial and data analysis skills to better her community.
 

Loan My Tran

Loan My Tran

B.A., Mathematics (Mathematics for Teaching)
College of Science & Engineering

Childhood experiences with mathematics, particularly those with her grandfather, made a lasting impact on Loan Tran. Her family emigrated from Vietnam. Growing up, she’d stay with her grandparents while her parents worked. Her grandfather taught her math and made worksheets for her. She’d happily memorize multiplication tables and enjoyed playing strategy games like Connect Four. Surrounded by so much math, she naturally gravitated towards STEM and Mathematics at SF State. In addition to majoring in Mathematics, she completed a minor in Computer Science. She is the first in her family to graduate from college.

Tran conducted original research as an undergraduate even though she initially didn’t know anything about math research. In 2022, she participated in the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute Undergraduate Program. She set out to answer neuroscience-motivated math questions related to discrete math, geometry and computational algebra. For her academic achievements, Tran won the C.Y. Chow Memorial Scholarship, the Pamela Fong Scholarship in Mathematics, the David Meredith and Friends Scholarship and the Halmos Scholarship.

Interested in education, Tran volunteered as a tutor at Mastery Learning Hour and helped students with elementary school to high school-level math. She was also proudly a student assistant in the Department of Mathematics office. In her first “real” job, she enjoyed building relationships with professors and using her problem-solving skills in a new setting. Working there for two years, she even wrote the operations guide for other student assistants.

Next, Tran will pursue a Ph.D. in Mathematics to further explore her field and conduct more research. However, she still has an interest in a possible career as a high school math teacher.
 

Graduate Hood Recipients

Sabreen Imtair

Sabreen Imtair

M.A., Ethnic Studies
College of Ethnic Studies

Sabreen Imtair is a seasoned organizer and a prominent figure in the activist community. Throughout her time at SF State, she has also demonstrated being a dedicated scholar in the College of Ethnic Studies.

For example, Imtair serves as a youth organizer with the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, actively participating in movements such as the K – 12 ethnic studies campaign. Over the past six months, she has also played a pivotal role in organizing, mobilizing and fostering community engagement in support of ceasefire in Palestine.

Hailing from a Palestinian family with Bay Area roots, Imtair is a proud product of the region’s public school system and holds the distinction of being the first in her family to attain a college degree.

Her graduate thesis delves into the intricacies of community mobilization and organization within the Arab and Muslim communities in the Bay Area.
 

Joanna Liyi Huang

Joanna (Liyi) Huang

M.A., Education (Secondary Education)
Graduate College of Education

Joanna Huang has had a full circle moment: She’s now teaching at the same school district she graduated from.

At age 13, Huang moved from China to San Francisco, graduating from Francisco Middle School and Washington High School, part of the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). That’s where she participated in English Learner programs, finding solidarity and community among immigrants from around the world.

After earning a degree in Managerial Economics with a minor in Education from UC Davis, Huang received her single-subject credential in Math from SF State in 2022.

Huang is now back at SFUSD for a different reason: She’s in her second year of teaching seventh grade at James Denman Middle School. This school has served as the site for her field research study, which looked at math participation among seventh graders. The study was partly inspired by her experience getting her credential at SF State, which allowed her to see that students who do not yet feel confident in mathematics can experience greater engagement, confidence, fun and learning through groupwork.
 

Son Hai Nguyen

Son Hai Nguyen

MBA
Lam Family College of Business

Son Hai Nguyen earned an undergraduate degree in Economics from the National Economic University in Vietnam and gained extensive experience working in the banking industry as a financial analyst and corporate credit manager. In 2017, she relocated to the Bay Area from Vietnam with her spouse and their two young children. Wanting to continue her education, she enrolled in City College of San Francisco (CCSF) and completed an associate’s degree in Finance while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. She served as a member of CCSF’s Associated Students. Later, she decided to pursue an MBA at SF State.

She is “the top-performing student,” according to one of her professors at SF State. Another said she was “extremely prepared, positive and a cheerleader for her classmates.” Her classmates commented on her dedication to her studies, often studying without pause. Nguyen would often take on more than her share of responsibilities during group projects. She provided feedback to teammates to help ensure that their work was of the highest quality.

Throughout her MBA studies, Nguyen actively participated in various activities. In 2023, she joined the Lam Family College of Business Student Ambassador Program. Almost immediately she became a leader among the other ambassadors. She organized and co-hosted events specifically tailored to graduate students, creating an inclusive community with plenty of opportunities for networking.

Nguyen participated in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program at SF State, where she served as an IRS-certified volunteer tax preparer and quality reviewer, assisting individuals with low incomes on their tax returns. Additionally, she was a research/teaching assistant for Management Professor Smita Trivedi and volunteered at the college’s Women’s Emerging Leadership Forum. She has actively supported and engaged in activities of the San Francisco chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), fostering connections, collaboration and investment between Vietnamese and American businesses.
 

Su Ilayada Ozcan

Su Ilayada Ozcan

M.S., Chemistry (Biochemistry)
College of Science & Engineering

Su Ozcan wants to develop new treatments without side effects. It’s a passion that stems from her early exposure to her grandfather’s battle with cancer. As an undergraduate in Turkey, she explored innovative therapies and gained two years of professional experience working with pharmaceutical companies. With women being relegated to the background and the value placed on science decreasing in her country, Ozcan decided to leave Turkey and pursue her academic goals in the United States.

As an international student at SF State, Ozcan focused on groundbreaking research in enzymology and medicinal chemistry to develop a novel side effect-free treatment for tuberculosis. She published these discoveries in scientific journals. She demonstrated her commitment to making a positive impact beyond the lab by serving as a teaching associate for two years. Accolades for her academic performance and commitment to science include the Henry Bertin Jr. Scholarship, the Agents of Change Build Merck Scholarship, the Bill Plachy TA (teaching assistant) Award and the CSU Trustees Award.

After SF State, Ozcan’s next step is to begin a Chemistry Ph.D. program at the University of Southern California, where she’s already been offered a graduate fellowship. Looking ahead, Ozcan is excited to continue her quest to develop new therapeutics and treatment strategies that will make an impact. She is eager to translate her academic research into practical applications and hopes to eventually establish a pharmaceutical company. Beyond medicine, she aspires to continue being a teacher and create educational opportunities for underprivileged children. She also hopes to provide financial and moral support for others, especially women in science.
 

Monique Scott

Monique Scott

MPH
College of Health & Social Sciences

Monique Scott decided to pursue a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree at SF State after seeing structural and systemic health disparities affect her community. She began her career as a social worker, caregiver and care coordinator, assisting people navigating governmental and nonprofit assistance programs and managing medical conditions.

During the pandemic, she became a resource navigator and case manager for individuals exposed to COVID-19. Seeing how disparities impacted marginalized residents, she wanted to make a larger impact. She became interested in the social determinants of health and how prevention programs could more effectively help communities. 

At SF State, she explored her passion for research with the Health Equity Institute. Her assessment of participation of food establishments in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) in urban university settings significantly influenced a statewide campaign to enhance access to SNAP benefits at CSU campuses.

She also published research on navigating nutrition inequities among pregnant and postpartum mothers and children in BIPOC communities. The Oakland native’s projects also included studies on how urban agriculture can use mutual aid practices and how built environment contributes to the adverse health outcomes of environmental injustices.

While at SF State, she was a Climate Action Fellow, a Graduate Equity Fellow and a President’s Leadership Fellow. She authored, published and presented her research at multiple local and national conferences. She also participated in the University’s Earth Week 2024.

After graduation, she will continue learning and applying her skills in research, writing and coordination to address health equity in the Bay Area. She plans to continue participating in strategies for community and policy-level interventions for marginalized communities of color. She is grateful for the SF State connections that contributed to her accomplishments.
 

Leticia Márquez-Magaña named a 2023 American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow

The SF State Biology professor is being honored for bacterial research into gene expression and health equity

For San Francisco State University Professor of Biology Leticia Márquez-Magaña, it’s all about community. Her health equity research, educational efforts and prominence as a public figure in the scientific community — none of it’s about her at this stage in her career.

“It’s all about the little Leticias. They need to see what is possible in order to be what they usually don’t see,” she explained. This community mentality was instilled in her at a young age by her family and Mexican culture.

Today, Márquez-Magaña has been recognized as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the Science family of journals. She is among 502 scientists, engineers and innovators spanning 23 categories who are being honored for their scientifically and socially distinguished achievements throughout their careers.

Márquez-Magaña is the latest SF State faculty member to receive this honor and one of three California State University (CSU) system-affiliated researchers in the 2023 cohort. She joins 12 SF State faculty elected to this status since 1874. The earliest SF State honoree was recognized in 1947 (when SF State operated under the name “San Francisco State College”). The last SF State fellow before Márquez-Magaña was Professor Emerita of Biology Jan Randall in 2015. 

Márquez-Magaña says learning of the honor had her feeling “surprised, in a good way,” explaining that she’s had many career experiences that made her feel invisible. “Maybe to you, I look like a scientist, but for other people, it doesn’t align,” she said. “The other thing is that I am often dismissed because I say things that are triggering because of my self-recognized role to cause discomfort, to create change.”

AAAS honored Márquez-Magaña for her contributions to the fields of bacterial gene expression and health equity research. Though now known for her explorations of health equity issues, it took Márquez-Magaña a while to get there, largely because traditional academia tried to convince her that the “best science was not tainted by social relevance.” But she always doubted that.

A real turning point came in 2005. While teaching a course about health disparities in cancer, Márquez-Magaña saw data about total cancer deaths since 1975. Shockingly, cancer death among Latinas wasn’t collected until the early 1990s when a national law passed in 1993 mandated inclusion of women and minorities in federally funded clinical studies.

“I remember thinking, ‘Gosh, they don’t even care if we’re dying.’ … I’m part of the problem, and that freaked me out,” she said.

Márquez-Magaña joined SF State in 1994 and established the Health & Equity Research (HER) lab in 2007. The lab is now co-led by SF State Assistant Professor of Biology Cathy Samayoa (B.S., ’09; M.S., ’11), who trained with Márquez-Magaña as an SF State student. Together they lead a group that combines researchers’ (usually students’) lived experiences with accessible molecular biology tools to tackle complex health problems. Research projects include, but are not limited to, identification of factors contributing to cellular aging in Black communities, biomarkers in Latinas with breast cancer, nature-based stress interventions that are culturally inclusive and anti-racist, and more. Researchers bring their insider knowledge — social, linguistic and navigational skills — for community-engaged research.

Leticia Márquez-Magaña talking to students

Márquez-Magaña working with Destinee and MC, two scholars in the first SF BUILD cohort.

“The lab’s current motto is ‘ground truthing community knowledge through science.’ What really shifted for us is that it’s not about [faculty] research questions. It’s about what the community wants to know,” she said.

The lab is a space with many tools and psychosocial support that students who are not represented in science need to realize, optimize and implement their scientific vision. Although each researcher brings their individual skills and wisdom, research is done collectively. This allows for better work across disciplines and encourages a communal approach to research that Márquez-Magaña has always implemented with colleagues.

“Others saw science as a battle: ‘We’re going to beat that research team’,” she shared of earlier experiences at research institutes. “It just never was a battle for me. I always knew that we were better working together. I think that’s because I was part of a minoritized group.”

In 2014, Márquez-Magaña helped establish the National Institutes of Health-funded SF BUILD to enhance the diversity of the biomedical research workforce. As SF BUILD’s lead principal investigator and core leader, Márquez-Magaña collaborates with faculty and staff at SF State, UC San Francisco and community organizations to transform teaching and research environments. Recently, the CSU’s STEM-NET hired Márquez-Magaña to bring more health equity research training and funding to the 23-school system.

“The CSU is where the workforce gets developed. What does the workforce do? The California workforce services the needs of Californians. We can do research that’s meaningful and impactful in our communities,” she said.

Learn more about SF State’s Department of Biology and SF BUILD.

In-person hackathon makes triumphant return to campus

SF Hacks was a nonstop weekend filled with ‘hacking,’ friendly competition, networking, karaoke and Bob Ross

What is a hackathon? The word might conjure an image of people with their heads down furiously clacking away at a computer in silence. But that is not what happened at this year’s student-run SF Hacks event — especially now that the annual hackathon is back in person.

After being virtual for the past few years, SF Hacks returned to San Francisco State University’s Annex 1 April 5 – 7 for the first time since 2019. There were more than 200 participants, with students coming from 33 different schools and six states.

During hackathons — sometimes also called codefests — participants design projects to solve various problems. The hard part: They only have 72 hours to work on the project, write the code and troubleshoot before presenting to judges. But the competition is just one part of SF Hacks.

“Most of the time you’re staying up because you have to get homework done. But this time we’re staying up [because this hackathon] is like a huge sleepover,” said SF Hacks Co-President Arianna Yuan, a Computer Science senior.

The multi-day event is really a community celebration packed with networking, games and activities like karaoke, a Bob Ross painting workshop and a K-Pop club event. Beginners are more than welcome.

“With online hackathons, there’s a lot less room for randomly meeting a teammate and going out to do painting. [You can’t] see a bug on someone’s screen and then run across the room to communicate that to someone else,” said SF Hacks Co-President Odera Nwosu, explaining the spirit that was lost on Zoom.

This year’s challenge theme was city life. Nwosu, a Computer Science sophomore, points out it’s a very San Francisco-driven theme. Projects could address transportation, food, housing and other topics affecting students. There were also several tracks like artificial intelligence and sustainability that were set by SF Hacks and various sponsors.

“Our tracks are essentially specializations that participants can choose to try to refine and push their projects,” said SF Hacks Vice President Marco Garcia, a Computer Science sophomore. While participants might get points or prizes for following the theme or tracks, it’s not essential. The organizers knew participants have a wide array of potential projects.

Some of the project submissions that caused a stir tackled city litter and emergency response. Clean ASF gamified the act of picking up litter — a task that can often feel futile in a city like San Francisco — to encourage more folks to engage. Taking a different approach, CleanMars used a 3D-printed robot that could discover, collect and classify trash. Another popular project was SOS Hub, an AI-powered emergency response platform that can analyzed user-submitted photographs of a scene to identify and recommend the appropriate first responders. Some of the winning projects — spread across different categories — are publicly shared in a Devpost gallery.

The student organizers recruited more than 30 sponsors ranging from SF State’s colleges, departments and student organizations to industry giants like OpenAI, CISCO and Kaiser Permanente. Many sponsors participated in the live event.

“Hackers will make some awesome, insightful and creative projects. It’s a great way for [students] to show off what they can do to people who might be noticing,” said SF Hacks Marketing Director Ria Thakker, Computer Science sophomore.

The event was organized by over 20 SF State students. Nwosu says they received a lot of support from alumni, emphasizing that community is at the core of SF Hacks. While some of this year’s student organizers have attended hackathons, many were new to hackathons or it was their first time with SF Hacks.

“I’ve met incredible people and I love the team,” said Yuan, one of the few long-term SF Hack organizers. She originally joined after participating in hackathons in high school. Now she’s about to graduate college and gets sentimental thinking about leaving SF Hacks. “It is kind of sad to see this little baby go, but I trust that it’s in good hands. It’s just very lovely to have an incredible team that you can work with and trust and get stuff done. It’s just a gigantic project.”

Learn more about SF Hacks and SF State’s Computer Science Department.

SF State creates new online degree completion options

It’s never been easier to complete bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration, Criminal Justice Studies and Psychology

According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the six-year graduation rate for U.S. college students is 64%. That means more than a third of students don’t finish their degrees within six years of starting college.

That’s a lot of dreams put on hold. And it’s why San Francisco State University’s College of Professional & Global Education (CPaGE) has launched three new online degree completion programs that make it easier than ever for former students to get back on the path to graduation.

Created in collaboration with San Francisco State’s Lam Family College of Business, College of Science & Engineering and College of Health & Social Sciences, the online programs — for bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration, Criminal Justice Studies and Psychology — will begin in the fall. Anyone with 60 college credits can enroll, no matter what their previous major was or what school they attended. Applications for the Business Administration and Criminal Justice Studies programs are currently being accepted, with a deadline of April 15. The Psychology program began accepting applications earlier this spring and quickly filled to capacity — an indication of the demand for online degree completion, which accommodates the busy schedules of former students looking to further their careers with the power of a bachelor’s degree.

“Research shows lifetime earnings for college degree-holders are up to 41% higher than for those with just an associate’s degree, and up to 52% higher than those with only some college credits under their belt,” said Eugene Sivadas, dean of SF State’s Lam Family College of Business, citing a study by the Center on Education and the Workforce. “So completing their degrees fully online is a fast, easy and effective way for former students to significantly boost their earning potential.”

The online courses — such as “Starting a Small Business” in the Business Administration program, “Crime, Data and Analysis” in the Criminal Justice Studies program and “Future Directions for Psychology Majors” in the Psychology program — will be taught by SF State professors. Students will have access to a CPaGE online success coach as well as advising from faculty program directors. Financial aid is also available to those who qualify.

“This is a great opportunity for anyone who had to interrupt their educational journey,” said CPaGE Dean Alex Hwu. “Thanks to the flexible online options this program makes possible, former students can continue their journey — all the way to a degree.”

Learn more about CPaGE’s online degree completion options.

SF State students share their science through art

A new EOS Center program is supporting artistic marine scientists and expanding science education opportunities

“Pictures really do paint a thousand words, regardless of the language you speak or your scientific knowledge. The pictures, [they’re] universal,” Diana Neacsu said of her scientific illustrations. A San Francisco State University graduate student researcher and artist, she was part of the inaugural 2023 cohort supported by a new scientific illustration grant of the University’s Estuary & Ocean Science (EOS) Center.

The program began due to a $10,000 grant from the Maxwell|Hanrahan Foundation specifically to support scientific artists and was recently funded for a second year. Recruiting for the 2024 spring semester cohort, the EOS Center program coordinators emphasized that the program is not restricted to a particular major or students affiliated with the EOS Center. Any student researcher in Marine and Estuarine Sciences was encouraged to apply.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer these funds as a way to support science communication skills for the University’s budding marine scientists,” said EOS Center Interim Executive Director Katharyn Boyer. “We want our graduates to not only be trained in the rigors of cutting-edge science but to have tools they can use to share how and why they do their work.”

Last year, the EOS Center offered three one-year fellowships to student researchers with a penchant for art. Inspired by student enthusiasm, the EOS Center gathered additional donated funds to support a fourth student. Faculty helped identify and nominate students working on marine or estuarine science research. Students received funding to work with their mentor to complete the project.

Neacsu, a graduate student in Physiology and Behavioral Biology, designed a colorful 24-page manual bedecked with dozens of illustrations of squid, octopuses and other creatures studied by her adviser Associate Professor Robyn Crook’s research group. Neacsu filled the manual with detailed illustrations on animal husbandry and experimental protocols with the goal of helping student researchers joining the lab. There’s a steep learning curve for students learning research, she explained.

Others in the 2023 cohort produced a variety of work. One student simplified the complex food web of longfin smelt into a graphic illustration. Another student created cartoons representing several EOS Center labs, designing icons with whales, otters, oysters and more.

“Creating visual interpretations of science can be a powerful way to reinforce concepts not just for the viewer but for the scientist-artist,” Boyer said.

Though her project was for scientists, Neacsu has plans to reach other audiences. Her goal is to freelance and use her art to educate a variety of audiences. Frustrated with the way academia and the sciences can exclude people, she sees art as an easier way to capture people’s attention.

“A lot of people are afraid of science or don’t like science or were belittled. I am totally sympathetic,” said Neacsu, explaining that academia can be quite gated. She hopes to develop her illustrations to help draw in non-expert audiences. She hopes scientific illustrations could capture the interest of grade-school children at stages when their interests veer away from science. “I think illustrations are a great way to break that barrier. Who doesn’t [prefer] a pretty picture [instead of] a block of text that’s full of jargon and heavy. It turns people off.”

For Neascu, the connection between art and science was natural. She grew up loving the “creepy crawlies” and doing art for fun. In high school, she joined an art-intensive school where she sharpened her artistic chops. But she knew she wanted to become a researcher. It’s a path that allows her to channel her creativity and get continuous inspiration.

“I get art-blocked often. Months go by where I don’t produce any art. But with academia and research, I feel like I can always keep going at it,” she explained. “As I was doing research, I realized that I could incorporate my art, improve my research and expand my communication with others by using my art as a tool.”

Students and faculty interested in the scientific illustration grant in future years can email the EOS Center.