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SF State program prepares participants to view AI through an ethical lens

The Ethical AI certificate provides a foundation in the computer science, philosophy and business of ethical AI

U.S. President Joe Biden recently issued an executive order on managing the risks of artificial intelligence (AI), and the European Union is discussing AI laws abroad. While the news has been flooded with stories of self-driving cars, Chat GPT and how AI will affect jobs, a group of San Francisco State University faculty has been concerned by the ethical implications of AI for years.

That’s why they developed San Francisco State’s Graduate Certificate in Ethical Artificial Intelligence in 2019. The program was created by Computer Science Professor Dragutin Petkovic, Lam Family College of Business Professor Denise Kleinrichert, and Philosophy Professor Carlos Montemayor. They’ve seen the impact of this program on students and think this type of education is as important as ever. Any SF State graduate student and anyone with a bachelor’s degree (non-matriculated post-baccalaureates) can apply for the program.

“People don’t understand the issues of AI and its impact to society. It can create problems because now it’s everywhere,” Petkovic explained, noting that the potential problems are not just limited to a single industry. “In my opinion, [ethical AI education is the] most consequential project I’ve been working on by far.”

AI technologies continue to grow and impact everything from health care, defense, media, education and more. Despite advances, AI systems can still produce errors, demonstrate biases and lack transparency in decision making. The faculty knew that everyone — AI users, educators, politicians, lawyers, auditors and others — would need access to ethical AI education to make informed decisions.

“The professors are not talking to you as though you’re already an expert in the subdomains,” said Rafael Ayala (M.A., ’22), who works at the software corporation Autodesk in third-party risk management. “They are making sure we have access to broad scopes of knowledge and bringing people together.”

Ayala came to SF State with a background in philosophy and education. As a first-generation student and the first in his family to go to college, it wasn’t easy for him to tell his family he was leaving his paid job to pursue a master’s degree in Philosophy. Though he partly chose SF State because of the Ethical AI program — he could see its growing prominence in everyday life — he had no aspirations for a career in tech.

“The program did a great job of helping me build up that technical prowess and having the vocabulary I needed,” he explained, crediting the certificate for building his confidence to work at Autodesk. “I am working in tech, and … artificial intelligence is huge and we need to constantly evaluate [it].”

As part of Adobe’s legal team, attorney Ted McCullough became more interested in AI two years ago. He enrolled in the certificate program because he wanted to know about the ethical dimensions of the technology, but also had technical computer science questions. He was recently promoted to a director role on the legal team at Adobe, in part due to the AI expertise he gained from the certificate program.

“[SF State’s program] seemed like a really good fit because it had everything that I was looking for in terms of a computer science curriculum, a philosophy curriculum and a business curriculum all with a practical bent,” he said.

Coming in with an academic background in computer science and philosophy, McCullough feels there’s often a curriculum gap between the math and science of AI and the policy issues, but that this certificate helps begin filling that gap.

The certificate was designed to be accessible for any non-expert, Petkovic said. He hopes more students, working professionals, and employers take advantage of the University program. Though the certificate requires a bachelor’s degree for enrollment, he encourages undergraduates and anyone else interested to reach out to the him and his faculty colleagues about possible options.

“We need to educate people, but then there has to be some level of regulation … ,” Petkovic said, emphasizing why everyone from computer scientists to government officials should receive a holistic education on AI. “We are one part of the puzzle.”

Learn more about the Graduate Certificate in Ethical Artificial Intelligence.

Alumnus named first Black man to chair the world’s largest association representing the accounting profession

Okorie L. Ramsey now serves as chair of both the American Institute of Certified Accountants and the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

In its 136-year history, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has had 110 chairs. Until this spring, only one of them had been Black, and none had been a Black male.

Now that’s changed thanks to San Francisco State University alumnus Okorie L. Ramsey (B.S., ’92): Ramsey has been named AICPA chair as well as the chair of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (the Association). The organizations he now chairs represent nearly 700,000 members in 196 countries and territories.

San Francisco State Professor of Accounting Theresa Hammond, an expert on diversity in the accounting field, says Ramsey will lead AICPA and its members to greater Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) within the profession.

“Despite the fact that African Americans are 13% of the population, the percentage of CPAs who are Black stubbornly persists at less than 2%,” she said. “The AICPA did not admit its first Black member until 1942, and did not take a stand against discrimination until 1969. Okorie’s leadership in the AICPA illustrates how far the AICPA has come while also identifying the opportunity and work still needed to create a more inclusive profession.”

A native of Berkeley, California, Ramsey came to SF State to study business in 1988. He graduated in 1992 with a degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting. He later returned to the University to serve as an adjunct professor for two years, teaching graduate students about leadership, ethics and management.

“My education and collegiate experience at San Francisco State was foundational and instrumental in my career,” Ramsey said. “San Francisco State provided me with a strong education and exposure to campus organizations, including the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), Accounting Students Organization (ASO) and Beta Alpha Psi (BAP), and I served as an officer in all three organizations. At San Francisco State I learned critical skills such as business writing and speech in addition to my core accounting and business courses.”

Ramsey was named AICPA chair in May, and he continues serving as vice president of Sarbanes/Oxley (SOX) (a federal financial record-keeping law) for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., and Hospitals (Kaiser Permanente). Ramsey has been with Kaiser Permanente in a variety of roles since 2009. He’s also served on the board of directors with several organizations, including the Board of Trustees for the California Society of Certified Public Accountants Education Foundation, NABA and the Accounting Career Awareness Program (ACAP).

“We met when I joined the ACAP board in 2007; he served as chair for six years,” Hammond said. “ACAP serves Bay Area high school students by providing exposure to opportunities in accounting and business fields. His commitment to improving the economic and professional futures of young people is evidenced by his consistent volunteering to work with and inspire high school students. He is always willing and eager to plan and host field trips to Kaiser for Oakland high school students or to visit Oakland schools.”

Ramsey says supporting the next generation and giving them new opportunities to succeed is one of his top goals for AICPA.

“I view this as an incredible opportunity to support the growth and advancement of the profession and continue to build trust by empowering our members and engaged professionals with the knowledge and opportunities to be leaders in broadening prosperity for a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient future,” he said.

Learn more about studying Accounting at SF State.

University celebrates student research with college-wide showcases

Students across campus have been sharing their research at various student project showcases

As the academic year comes to a close, SF State’s colleges are celebrating the scholarship, research and creative activities of the University community with multiple student project showcases. In April and early May, undergraduate and graduate students from across campus shared their work through research posters, presentations and performances. Students, staff, faculty and community members saw everything from student-built prototypes of engineering projects to the exploration of evolution through dance to presentations on the history of global fashion.

This year, the Colleges of Liberal & Creative Arts (LCA), Science & Engineering (CoSE), Ethnic Studies (CoES) and Health & Social Sciences (CHSS) all had research events. While the LCA and CoSE showcases have become annual campus traditions, CHSS’ Research & Creative Works Showcase (held at the Seven Hills Conference Center Thursday, May 4) was the college’s first. The College of Ethnic Studies Student Showcase, also on the newer side, was held Thursday, May 11, on the fifth floor of the Administration Building.

“When I found out about the CHSS Undergraduate Research & Creative Works Showcase I knew I had to participate. Research has been such a key component of my SF State experience,” said Nathan Burns, who is graduating this semester with a degree in Sociology and a minor in LGBTQ Studies. “For my senior seminar last semester I created ‘SURV(IO)LANCE,’ a textual and visual zine where I incorporated academic research and my personal experience as a queer, trans, disabled person to discuss surveillance. For the CHSS Showcase I was able to print a few copies of the zine to share with people in attendance. It was so exciting to be able to not only share my research with other campus members, but get to see just how much incredible work is being done across campus that I otherwise might not have heard about.”

Eduardo Hernandez, a senior Criminal Justice Studies major, also participated in the CHSS showcase. His work explores how the overlapping interests of the prison industrial complex, the U.S. military establishment and law enforcement lead to mass incarceration. He says that his project represents his solidarity with individuals who have been exploited in prisons.

“My research experience at SF State enabled my academic potential to be significantly developed by showcasing my research project for fellow peers, scholars and visitors. I am honored to have been recognized and have granted the privilege to participate in the CHHS Undergraduate Showcase with scholars at SF State. Presenting at the event, I experienced a great sense of joy and relief knowing nearly six months of research and preparation allowed me to represent SF State in its highest light possible: an incredible research facility in the SF Bay Area,” he said.

In total, hundreds of students participated in these college showcases. The College of Science & Engineering — which has been holding showcases since 1999 — had approximately 230 posters presented by more than 400 students, with more than 80 judges from academia, industry, government and other fields participating.

Two male students showing a robotic arm to a male judge

Students Ryan Scott and Fazliddin Hotamov demonstrate their gesture-controlled robot arm to a judge and alumnus Robert Gray (B.S., '98) at the CoSE showcase. Photo by Paul Asper

While the Lam College of Business doesn’t have a project showcase, its students were able to showcase research in a different way: at the college’s annual Innovative Pitch Competition in April. Students developed and pitched business projects to seasoned entrepreneurs, investors and faculty, and three teams shared $10,000 in cash prizes. Earlier this year, students from all colleges also participated in the campus-level San Francisco State University student research competition for a chance to participate in the CSU-wide student research competition.

“San Francisco State provides amazing opportunities for students and faculty to work together on research and creative projects. Participating in these collaborations — whether it is a course-based research project or an independent study builds career skills — creates community and contributes to improving life on campus, in the Bay Area and beyond.” said Biology Professor Gretchen LeBuhn, who is Chair of the University Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities Council. She is also co-director of SF State Creates, an undergraduate research office launching this fall to facilitate these types of hands-on student opportunities.

Learn more about Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities at SF State.

Digital asset pioneer and alum Chris Larsen returns to campus for student talk

The co-founder of Ripple and Prosper shared his insights on cryptocurrencies, sustainability and entrepreneurship

San Francisco State University alumnus Chris Larsen (B.S., ’84) made a special visit to campus Tuesday, Feb. 14, to take questions from Business students. Held at the University’s J. Paul Leonard Library, the talk covered such topics as cryptocurrencies, climate change, staying motivated and the importance of taking risks...and even failing.

“If you fail in America, particularly here in the Bay Area, it’s like a badge of honor. It makes you stronger for the next time. ... If you fail with honor and grace and treating people right, people remember that,” Larsen told students. “Failing with honor in the Bay Area — you’re stronger next time.”

More than 60 Finance seniors from San Francisco State’s Lam Family College of Business attended the event.

“Chris Larsen, as an SF State alumni, a successful executive and an angel investor focusing on sustainability and cryptocurrency, was able to share with students firsthand his outlook for the crypto ecosystem, his perspectives on sustainability issues, his entrepreneurial spirit and his advice for a successful career path — all of which are hard to get elsewhere,” said Assistant Professor of Finance Xue Snow Han, who helped organize the visit.

When asked for his advice on launching a new business venture, Larsen told students the first thing to look for is an opportunity to make a difference.

“When you start a business, look for a problem that you can solve,” Larsen said. “The basic idea of any business is product, market, fit, right? If you’re not solving a problem, then what’s the point? And that might sound obvious, but as you guys probably have seen, there are so many technology companies that come up with a shiny new thing. They don’t really know what they’re solving. And lots of bad things happen from that.”

Larsen co-founded online mortgage lender E-Loan in 1996, and later helped launch Ripple Labs and other cutting-edge technology and finance ventures. He and his wife Lyna Lam, whose two sisters and several other family members attended SF State, have been stalwart supporters of the University since 2001. In April 2019, SF State announced the donation of a historic $25 million gift from Larsen, Lam and the Rippleworks Foundation to the College of Business, establishing the Chris Larsen and Lyna Lam Funds for the College of Business. In honor of this longtime support, the California State University announced that SF State’s College of Business had been renamed the Lam Family College of Business.

Learn more about SF State’s Lam Family College of Business.

Alumna, veteran wedding planner brings equity lens to industry

Chanda Daniels (B.A., ’14) specializes in events celebrating the love of LGBTQ+ couples

No couple’s love story is the same, says alumna Chanda Daniels. And she’d know. She’s been in the wedding and event planning business for more than 25 years and founded two companies, A Monique Affair and Chanda Daniels Planning and Design. Both companies cater to diverse couples, so she’s constantly learning about the different ways people love and the different people they love. Her favorite part of her job is weaving these love stories through every detail of the wedding so that on their special day family and friends are immersed in that story.

Unfortunately, weddings aren’t all wine and roses. They can come with a lot of baggage, especially for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC couples. These couples can sometimes clash with an industry that doesn’t have a strong history of diversity and inclusion. Daniels (B.A., ’14) has made it her mission to ensure her clients’ celebrations are memorable for all the right reasons.

Just last year, one of her brides was looking at an expensive venue that didn’t have a history of hosting a lot of weddings for BIPOC couples. “They were giving this bride the hardest time. ... She called me in tears,” she said.

Fortunately, Daniels and her team stepped in and were able to diffuse the situation, and the woman’s wedding turned out beautifully.

 “That this venue had the nerve to discriminate against her or treat her in some [disrespectful] kind of way — it was so unreal,” Daniels said.

Daniels, who identifies as a Lesbian of color, specializes in planning weddings for LGBTQ+ couples, which comes with a unique set of considerations, she says. “When you go to a [wedding] creative, it feels as though you’re coming out to them again to see if they approve of you, and I didn’t want any of my couples to feel that way,” Daniels said. “That’s why I decided to be that person.”

Some of the LGBTQ+ couples she’s worked with have never kissed in front of their family, she says, so that’s often a topic they discuss. And then there are the couples whose parents don’t approve of their lifestyle.

“There have been so many times I have just cried with my clients. I get so connected to them because that’s a very personal thing that they may not have talked to anyone else about,” she said. “But here they are, on this most important day, wondering if the people who brought them into this world are going to come and celebrate them.”

As a wedding creative, Daniels has to wear many hats. Some days she’s a counselor, on others she’s a financial advisor. In many ways, she was destined for this kind of work. When she was younger her mother told her she was in control and always had a plan. “This is going to sound bad, but I was always telling people what to do,” she added.

The Oakland native started working at Andronico’s market and was promoted to a position in IT. Meanwhile, she started her event planning company A Monique Affair in 1999. She realized event planning was her passion and found a job with the East Bay Community Foundation operating its convention center. As she grew as an event planner she eventually decided to devote herself full-time to her own thriving company.

College was not on the map until she began talking to her daughter Chloe about college. “I’d say, ‘Chloe, it’s time to start thinking about college. What’s your plan?’ and she was like, ‘Well, Mom, you didn’t go to college and everything is fine with you.’” That conversation led Daniels on a search for college programs tailored to working adults.

After completing work at a community college, Daniels transferred to SF State in the Hospitality and Tourism Management program. Even though she was older than her peers and well established in her career, the program was rewarding, she says.

She continues to give back to that program by mentoring students interested in event planning. Each year she speaks to classes and on panels about her field. “Half of my employees are from that mentorship program,” she said, including two of her most long-term employees.

She’s hoping that her efforts in and out of the field help continue diversifying the industry. “Don’t be fooled by what you see in the magazines,” she said. “There are some folks out there who are doing their thing, but they may not get the recognition, and they may not have a platform, but they are out there.”

More information about SF State’s Hospitality and Tourism Management program is available online.

Family ties: how an SF State education changed everything for two sisters

Despite a childhood rocked by trauma, Theresa Gamboa (B.A., ’21) and her twin sister Alexandria Singh (B.A., ’22) are facing the future with optimism, determination and forgiveness

When she was 15 years old, Theresa Gamboa made a phone call that changed her life. It was a change for the better ... eventually. But it also led to consequences and chaos she had to deal with for years.

Gamboa’s call was to the police. She was reporting her father — a meth addict and gang member — for abuse.

Gamboa ended up in the foster care system. Her father ended up in prison.

It’s a story most people might be anxious to put behind them. But Gamboa — who graduated from SF State in 2021 with a degree in Business Administration — isn’t most people. She’s committed to telling her story again and again, even hiring a speech coach to help her develop it into a TEDx talk.

“I’m not going to let any of my pain go to waste,” she says. “I’m going to use my business skills and what I’ve been through to make an impact. That’s my calling now.”

That doesn’t mean telling her story is easy. Recalling the details can be difficult.

“It goes blank due to all the trauma,” she says.

But she does remember the optimism she felt walking onto the campus of San Jose City College at the age of 16. Despite the disarray of her life — bouncing from one foster home to another after turning in her father — she’d managed to graduate early from high school. She recalls thinking of education as her “golden ticket out,” and she was anxious to use it.

“There were so many issues in high school. I just wanted to be somewhere where people were there because they wanted to be, not because they were forced to with a chip on their shoulder, ready to fight,” she says. “I didn’t want any of that. I was already experiencing that at home.”

SF State and Some Pivotal Help

Unfortunately, though the desire to get an education was there, the skills weren’t. Neither was the support she needed.

“There was nothing good going for me,” she says. “I just had negative news after negative news — moving from foster home to foster home, and I couldn’t see my parents legally.”

Things turned around for Gamboa when she began getting academic and life skills support from Pivotal, a San Jose-based nonprofit that serves youth in the foster care system. Though Gamboa aged out of the system at 18, Pivotal continued to provide support — including help applying to SF State when Gamboa realized she wasn’t connecting to the nursing classes she’d been taking at San Jose City College.

“What drew me to San Francisco State was the business program,” says Gamboa, who also received scholarship support from Pivotal for her switch to SF State. “I fell in love with business. It ignited a real passion. … My motivation went from a five to a 10.”

Gamboa particularly responded to the teaching of Smita Trivedi, an associate professor in the Lam Family College of Business whose specialties include sustainable business practices and female entrepreneurs from impoverished backgrounds.

“I’m passionate about helping other people. So it’s really important to me [for business] to make a benefit to me and the person on the other side,” Gamboa says. “She showed me the importance of doing business the right way.”

After graduating, Gamboa landed a job as a marketing coordinator at Afero, a Silicon Valley tech company that develops internet connection software for clients like Home Depot. Gamboa says she loves it.

“I am pumped,” she says. “I literally couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

She shares that happy ending with others through the talks she regularly gives on behalf of Pivotal. Reliving her childhood isn’t exactly fun, but she’s determined to show other foster youth they can change their lives. She can already point to one who followed in her footsteps: her twin sister, Alexandria Singh.

Double Trouble

Singh (who got married and took her husband’s last name last year) graduated from SF State with a B.A. in Criminal Justice in December. Singh says she and her sister were inseparable as children.

“We were just double trouble. Always together,” she says.

That changed dramatically when Gamboa called the police on their father. For a time, Singh remained in their parents’ household after Gamboa was removed.

“I was stuck at the house alone with a lot of abuse and neglect,” Singh remembers. “I was like, ‘Hey! Call the cops on me! I don’t want to be here!’ So I eventually made that happen.”

Years later, Singh followed in her sister’s footsteps once again — on the path to SF State. Though Singh finished her degree from Miami, where her doctor husband began his residency last year, she and Gamboa have begun another important journey together — the one to forgiveness. Both sisters have been in contact with their parents and say they bear them no ill will.

“When we tell people our story, people tend to hate our parents,” Singh says. “We don’t want that at all. Me and my sister, we don’t want to harvest bitterness. That’s like a stone that drags you down. We genuinely love our parents, and we forgive them.”

Professor reaches across borders to support Black accountants

When South African Accounting Ph.D. candidate Sedzani Musundwa was unable to find a dissertation supervisor, SF State Professor of Accounting Theresa Hammond stepped in

When Sedzani Musundwa’s Ph.D. was approved by the University of South Africa this fall, making her one of the few Black chartered accountants in South Africa with a Ph.D., she had a lot of people to thank. High on the list was the faculty member who supervised her dissertation … who actually wasn’t at the University of South Africa at all. Because of her dissertation’s provocative subject matter — critical accounting, which examines the way race, gender and class impact key accounting decisions — Musundwa had to look beyond her university and even beyond her nation for help. Fortunately, she eventually found a dissertation supervisor who was an expert on the topic: San Francisco State University Professor of Accounting Theresa Hammond.

“With South Africa having very few Ph.D.s, and even fewer Ph.D.s in critical accounting, I found that there were very few professors who were willing to undertake the journey with me,” said Musundwa, who teaches at the University of South Africa as senior lecturer in Accounting and former chair of the Department of Financial Accounting. “Those who expressed interest appeared to want to steer the study as close to mainstream accounting as possible and away from its main objective.”

Hammond, on the other hand, has been exploring the effect of race on accounting from her earliest days in the field.

“I interned in public accounting in the 1980s and was shocked by how homogeneous it was,” Hammond said. “So I joined the National Association of Black Accountants while I was in graduate school in order to learn more about how I could help shape a more inclusive future for the profession.”

Around the same time, Hammond began working on a dissertation exploring the experiences of underrepresented minorities in accounting. She traveled across the country to interview the few Black men and women who were then Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). That research later became the basis for her book “A White-Collar Profession: African American Certified Public Accountants Since 1921.”

Years later, Musundwa became aware of Hammond’s work while doing her own research. It didn’t occur to her that the American professor might be willing to serve as her dissertation supervisor, though. Then a stroke of good luck changed everything.

“I presented my Ph.D. proposal at a colloquium where an international moderator formed part of a panel,” Musundwa said. “That moderator turned out to be a close friend and colleague of Theresa Hammond. The main feedback she gave me: ‘Get in touch with Theresa Hammond. She is best suited for this study.’ And as they say the rest is history.”

Of course, there was a lot of hard work for Musundwa to put in before she could make that history.

“Unlike in the U.S., where getting a Ph.D. includes several research seminars to prepare students to undertake a major study on their own, in South Africa Ph.D. students are on their own from the very beginning,” Hammond said. “Fortunately, Sedzani excels at finding relevant seminars, readings and online coursework. I helped familiarize her with prior research in the field, introduced her to leading scholars in the area, encouraged her to participate in relevant conferences and helped her shape her methodology.”

Hammond also provided something else every student needs: encouragement.

“She constantly assured me that we were partners — i.e., there was no authoritative/hierarchical structure — and as such everything I brought to the table was considered,” Musundwa said.

All of this was accomplished via Zoom, with the two not meeting face to face until Musundwa traveled to the U.S. this summer. Of course, a visit with her dissertation supervisor had to be on Musundwa’s itinerary while she was stateside. Not long afterward, she got word that her dissertation had been approved. Now she is the first Black female faculty member in the University of South Africa’s College of Accounting Sciences to earn a Ph.D.

“I am hoping that the lived experiences of those that I have interviewed for my study will resonate with many young South African citizens who aspire to become [certified accountants],” Musundwa said. “My role is really to cast a light on experiences and information that is largely inaccessible in this country.”

Learn more about the Accounting Department in the Lam Family College of Business at San Francisco State.