The College of Social Sciences welcomes nine new faculty members, Laxmi Ramasubramanian, Melissa Beresford, Jack Caraves, Akilah R. Carter-Francique, Kristen Cole, Marie Haverfield, Metha Klock, Christine Ma-Kellams, and Alexis Pulos.
Newly appointed Professor and Urban & Regional Planning Chair
Laxmi Ramasubramanian might still be designing big expensive houses for the wealthy class in India if not for a nagging conscience. As a newly minted architect in Madras, India, in the early 1990s, Ramasubramanian went where the clients with money were and that meant creating mansions, not social change. But after a few years she began to find it distasteful. “We all have a sense of fairness and justice innate in us, I think,” Ramasubramanian says. “I wanted to do something more aligned with my personal values and ethics.” So she looked for a new career where she could do some social good and found a master’s program in city planning at MIT. From there she earned a Ph.D. in architecture and planning from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and became immersed in the use of geospatial sciences to create better communities and spur social change. Ramasubramanian has taught at Hunter College, CUNY, since 2006 and comes to San José State as a full professor to chair the Department of Urban & Regional Planning. Her approach to planning uses geospatial planning from the community level, a value she learned as a mentor in an after-school program at a middle school in Roxbury, Mass., while she was at MIT. When the kids weren’t connecting with Ramasubramanian’s spiel about urban design concepts, she had an idea. “Why don’t you just draw me a map of your neighborhood?” she asked. That opened a flood of conversation about what was available in their neighborhood and where the needs were. It’s where she learned the value of asking people directly about their experiences and taking advantage of hyper-local information when using geographic information system (GIS) to address planning issues. “If you teach a community how to collect and map information,” Ramasubramanian says, “they are much more likely to use the technology and you get much better information. We want our citizens to be engaged with decision-making, and involving people in communities helps push out a lot of information that we might not otherwise have collected and helps toward the goal of actual social change.” A case in point came from her early Roxbury work. When the mapping showed an overgrown vacant lot and one of the students mentioned that her kid sister needed a safe place to play outside, mapping and human need collided. Ramasubramanian helped the community present a plan to the city, got the lot cleaned up, and neighborhood kids had a new place to play. As department chair, Ramasubramanian will be overseeing the integration of the geography program with Urban & Regional Planning, which she says will add a layer of strength to the department and mesh well. Geography and planning share disciplinary and professional interests, and GIS is integral to both fields. She will also continue to encourage women to enter GIS and assume leadership positions. “GIS historically was seen as a technical field and was somewhat of a male bastion,” Ramasubramanian says. “Many women are now using and teaching GIS and there a lot of women in GIS in academia, but not in leadership positions.” She is part of a multi-university team funded by the National Science Foundation to advance the professional development of women in the geospatial sciences. And she will work to continue to build the department’s reputation as a leader in teaching and preparing practitioners with technical skills, as well as values of community engagement. “We want to make our department and this university a center for GIS research and advocacy,” Ramasubramanian says. “And we’re well-placed to do that.”
Newly Appointed Assistant Professor in Anthropology
“I’ve had a bit of a winding story,” Melissa Beresford says by way of explaining the 14-year gap between receiving her B.A. in urban studies and planning from UC San Diego and starting her first faculty position in the Department of Anthropology as an assistant professor. Her first stop was as an academic advisor at UC Berkeley, where a professor listened to her talk about her interest in pursuing a graduate degree in history and corrected her: “You’re not a historian,” she said. “You’re an anthropologist.” “I had never taken an anthropology class, but I was really interested in understanding how people’s cultures and values shape their ideas about the world,” Beresford says. “And I realized I could talk to living people instead of sitting in an archive reading documents left by dead people.” That led to a master’s in social science from the University of Chicago and another detour. Unsure whether she wanted to pursue a doctorate and life “in the ivory tower” or engage in a career with more societal impact, she began work in journalism. However, upon moving to Arizona in order for her husband to pursue his doctorate in history at Arizona State University, she was impressed with the engaged and impactful anthropological research being conducted at ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and in 2012 she began her Ph.D. in anthropology there. As an economic anthropologist, Beresford investigates how people respond to economic and resource insecurity, focusing largely on water insecurity. “The questions I ask are about how people acquire the things they need to survive outside of traditional market exchange,” Beresford says. Her research has taken her to Cape Town, South Africa, where she looked at how entrepreneurs adapt to scarcity. She is currently working with an international team of scholars to investigate how people in Puerto Rico got water in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Newly Appointed Assistant Professor in Sociology and Interdisciplinary Sciences
Jack Caraves, a new assistant professor in the Women, Gender,
and Sexuality Studies Program in the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, feels at home at San José State. The child of parents who migrated from Mexico, Caraves
was among the first in the family to graduate from high school and attend college, earning a bachelor’s degree in Latin American & Latino Studies from UC Santa Cruz and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in Chicana and Chicano Studies from UCLA. “I can relate to many of the students in terms of being low-income,
first generation,” Caraves says. “They’re the types of students that I want to engage with and empower and learn with every day.” Caraves’ research has focused on the way social expectations of gender marginalize and threaten Latinx transgender people, contributing to harassment, violence and discrimination in employment, housing and health care, and how Trans Latinxs find strength and resilience in community, spirituality and activism. Caraves spent several years studying the Los Angeles Trans Latinx community, surveying 130 people and doing in-depth personal interviews. Another aspect of Caraves’ research looks at how gender policing—the way family and institutions communicate and enforce binary gender roles. Caraves, who identifies as trans and nonbinary, hopes to add an understanding of the unique experiences of marginalized minorities to the transgender studies discipline “When we think about queer studies or we think about gender studies, often racialized minoritized communities are nonexistent in the literature,” Caraves says. “So while there’s a growth in Trans Studies, there’s not a discussion of what it means to be a Trans Latino or a migrant. My work becomes really important because it’s shedding light on this community that very much exists and is highly vulnerable to abuses and is often dehumanized in egregious ways.”
Newly Appointed Associate Professor in African American Studies
Akilah R. Carter-Francique has taught at the college level for a dozen years, ever since she earned her Ph.D. in sports studies from the University of Georgia-Athens in 2008. She was an assistant professor of Sport Management at Texas A&M University, and most recently an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Kinesiology at Prairie View A&M University. Her appointment as associate professor in the Department of African American Studies at San José State is the first time she has taught in a department outside of sports and exercise, but not the first time she has shared her work in the interdisciplinary field — and she thinks it is a perfect fit. “I say I do ‘me-search,’ Carter-Francique says. “My doctoral degree is in Sports Studies, but I also had a strong emphasis of African American studies, desiring to understand myself within the African American diaspora experience.” As a kid with asthma growing up in Topeka, Kan., she was encouraged to run in order to learn how to control her breathing. Her older brother was a member of a traveling track club and it didn’t take long for her parents to think of a way to keep younger sister occupied at meets. “They said, ‘We may as well put her in something,’” Carter-Francique says. She started running competitively at age 5. Her efforts eventually allowed her to attend the University of Houston, where she earned undergraduate degrees in kinesiology-exercise science and psychology, and competed on the track and field team, specializing in the 100-meter hurdles and the long jump. Carter-Francique is also serving as the executive director of SJSU’s Institute for the Study of Sport, Society, and Social Change (see cover story). She will teach her first course in the spring semester — “The Triumph & Tragedy of Black Athletes in U.S. History.”
Newly Appointed Assistant Professor in Communication Studies
Kristen Cole, who was raised in Tehachapi, Calif., had no plans
when she graduated from high school. Her father told her she
could start college or start paying rent and she chose the first option, allowing her dad to sign her up at Bakersfield Community College and even pick her classes for her. It was an introduction to political science class that sparked Cole’s interest and soon she was in love with education. She spent three years at Bakersfield and then transferred to San Diego State to major in Communication Studies with the intent of teaching public speaking. “My dream was always to come back and teach in the Cal State system,” Cole says. With an M.A. from Colorado State University and a Ph.D. from The University of New Mexico, Cole is a new assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies. Cole comes to San José State after three years on the faculty at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus in Indiana and three years at Denison University in Ohio. The move to SJSU allows her to specialize in the emerging subfield of critical health communication. “I’m specifically interested in the ways marginalized communities communicate identity and negotiate agency,” Cole says. That has meant a broad range of research topics. Her doctoral study was on objectùm sexuality –people who form loving and sexual ties to objects — and how the Internet has allowed them to form a community and frame their experience and communicate about their desires without being stigmatized. Her research has also looked at reframing and understanding communication to be inclusive of neurodiversity, such as autism, rather than framing it as a communication deficit. And she is studying how friends and family members frame stigmatized death due to drug overdose and suicide in obituaries and how they use the platform to advocate and create networks.
Newly Appointed Assistant Professor in Communication Studies
It’s an all-too-common experience in the clinic or doctor’s office: The provider seems
rushed and spends much of the brief visit
typing notes into a computer. Marie Haverfield, a new assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies who
examines communication patterns in high-risk settings, has focused recently on how health care providers can be more present during patient interactions. “My work often has this
intersection between interpersonal communication and health
communication – looking at health communication and relationships,” she says. For her postdoc at Stanford University, Haverfield examined communication between health care providers, patients and their families, and with a team of researchers developed five strategies clinicians can practice to be more present. They range from gathering themselves before entering the exam room so they’re fresh and focused to looking up from that computer screen and making eye contact. And it’s not just about good feelings. “For a patient, understanding the information they’re receiving and coping with that information, that’s going to have implications on how well that patient manages their own health and how proactive they are in taking care of themselves and adhering to what their provider’s asking them to do,” Haverfield says. Haverfield received an undergraduate degree from CSU Long Beach, and a master’s from CSU Los Angeles. She did her Ph.D. at Rutgers University. Much of her graduate work involved communication among families of parents with an alcohol use disorder, especially the role communication played in resilience among their children. After a brief detour to Capitol Records, where she did brand marketing for stars like Katy Perry, Haverfield became what is known as a “freeway flyer,” an adjunct who teaches at community colleges and CSUs around Southern California. “It was a lot of juggling and definitely a great experience,” Haverfield says. “But I am so excited to have an office.”
Newly Appointed Assistant Professor in Environmental Studies
Before she became an ecological researcher, Metha Klock spent time on two environmental restoration projects in the Bay Area. In her first, she worked in a native plant nursery at the Marin Headlands in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, coaxing native grasses and shrubs to maturity in an effort to restore the rugged coastline to its natural habitat. In the second, she spent her days removing invasive plants like poison hemlock and yellow starthistle from the Pearson– Arastradero Preserve in the city of Palo Alto. Klock, a new assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies, grew up in Fairfax in Marin County and was attracted to an academic career that would feed her love of hiking and the outdoors and help her understand the mechanisms that allow invasive plants to thrive. “That’s the big million-dollar question,” Klock says, “and it’s not answered yet.” But she is working on it. After earning a liberal arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College, she got her M.S. in forestry and Ph.D. in biological sciences from Louisiana State University and did her postdoctoral work in sustainable agriculture at Cornell University. Much of Klock’s scholarship has been associated with the Acacia, a genus of plants native to Australia of which certain species have become invasive in California. Acacias are in the legume family and Klock has grown thousands of the trees in an effort to understand their symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria called rhizobia. Her conclusion? “They’re what we call more promiscuous,” Klock says. “They can associate with more strains of this bacteria, and that gives them a ready source of fertilizer — and that contributes to them being more successful.” Knowing that, Klock says, the best mechanism to keep nonnative plants from becoming invasive may seem simple but is ultimately complex: “It’s not to introduce them,” she says.
Newly Appointed Assistant Professor in Psychology
Christine Ma-Kellams was in middle school, the dutiful daughter of Asian parents studying hard and already thinking about the SAT test, when her father gave her a copy of Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” The book posits that the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions and understand their effect on others is more important to success than intellectual ability. The book prompted her to begin to understand the role culture plays in how people think, feel and behave. “I loved the book,” Ma-Kellams says. “It transformed my life.” Understanding emotional intelligence didn’t cause Ma-Kellams to lighten up on her SAT prep, but it helped put her on the path toward a career spent examining the role social psychology plays in all aspects of life and society. A new assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, Ma-Kellams has a stable of published research papers on topics as diverse as whether science majors tend to be more liberal than those in the humanities or whether attractive men and women are less committed to marriage. Those relatable topics have also attracted media interest. The VICE headline on her attractiveness study was “Hot People Suck at Long Term Relationships,” and Ma-Kellams has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe. Born in China, Ma-Kellams moved around university towns in the U.S. as her father, a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry, found teaching positions. She settled in California and studied psychology and Spanish literature at UC Berkeley, then received her Ph.D. in social psychology from UC Santa Barbara and did a postdoc at Harvard until 2014. She most recently taught at University of La Verne in southern California. Settled now in the Bay Area with her family, Ma-Kellams is excited to teach at a school she calls “the most diverse campus I’ve ever been part of.”
Newly Appointed Visiting Associate Professor in Communication Studies
It won’t insult Alexis Pulos, a visiting associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies for the 2019-2020 academic year if you accuse him of playing games. Pulos plays all sorts of games — video games, board games, card games. When he moved to the Bay Area from his home in Cincinnati, he had to pack up his collection of 200 board games. Pulos has been playing games since he was a child and studying them as a media text — just as others study film or literature or other cultural artifacts — since he was in grad school at Colorado State University. Whether it was playing board and card games while camping with his family or wearing out the new Nintendo or PlayStation with his brother, “For me,” Pulos says, “games were the focus of quality time with people.” At CSU he got some pushback from a professor about whether games were important enough to warrant a field of study. Nevertheless, he did his thesis on video games. “I really tried to explore the ways that games are just like any other cultural artifact, and they have deep, rich cultural meaning built into them,” Pulos says. At The University of New Mexico, where he got his Ph.D. in 2013, Pulos wrote his dissertation on two very different games, FarmVille 2 and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim—one concerned with farming and one concerned with fighting. Pulos looks at dominant trends in game design and analyzes them as frameworks for understanding a player’s self and the world. Gaming is one of the largest entertainment industries in the world and part of the lives of billions of people. And, Pulos says, “Games historically have been a significant resource to understand the world around us. They’re as significant as any other cultural artifact that society produces.”