CSU Faculty and Staff Honored for Dedication to Student Success

The California State University (CSU) will honor four faculty and one staff member with the esteemed Wang Family Excellence Award ​for their unwavering commitment to student achievement and advancing the CSU mission through excellence in teaching, scholarship and service. As part of their recognition, each honoree will receive a $20,000 award that is provided through a gift from CSU Trustee Emeritus Stanley T. Wang and administered through the CSU Foundation.

Honorees will be recognized publicly Tuesday, January 24, during the CSU Board of Trustees meeting in Long Beach, California.

​“As we emerge from the pandemic, it is my great honor to confer the 2023 Wang Family Excellence Award to five extraordinary individuals who are connecting students with transformational opportunities to grow, contribute and lead in our communities,” said CSU Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester. “We extend our enduring appreciation to Trustee Emeritus Stanley Wang and his family for their unparalleled generosity and for continuing to nurture a world of connection.”

Introduced in 1998, the Wang Family Excellence Awards recognize CSU faculty members who have distinguished themselves through high-quality teaching and excellence in their area of expertise. The awards also acknowledge a staff member whose contributions go above and beyond expectations.

The five honorees are:

Steve Alas, Ph.D., Cal Poly Pomona (Professor of Biology, Director of SEES), Outstanding Faculty Service

A tumor immunologist with expertise in genetics and DNA repair and a former research fellow at City of Hope National Medical Center, Dr. Steve Alas’ impact on human lives extends far beyond his research lab. The veteran biologist has provided extraordinary service and opportunities to thousands of students at his alma mater, Cal Poly Pomona, while diversifying the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and connecting California’s industries with invaluable untapped talent.

Dr. Alas first joined the university as an assistant professor in 2005. Today, as director of CPP’s Science Educational Enhancement Services (SEES), he works tirelessly to eliminate barriers for underrepresented and first-generation students in the fields of science and engineering, serving more than 700 students each year. While establishing a community of peers, SEES provides students with professional development, peer mentoring, academic support, referrals to fellowships and scholarships and summer orientation for incoming freshmen, among many other services. His efforts have helped narrow the graduation gap for participating underrepresented students from 17.6 percent to 3.9 percent.

Described by CPP President Soraya Coley as “the epitome of a teacher-scholar-mentor-leader,” Dr. Alas has received the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Service, as well as the CSU Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award (FILA). He holds a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from CPP and a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from the University of California, Los Angeles.

 

David Blekhman, Ph.D., Cal State LA (Professor of Technology, Technical Director of Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility), Outstanding Faculty Scholarship

Tapped by Cal State LA to expand its green portfolio by developing the largest hydrogen and fuel-cell research facility at any academic campus in the United States, Dr. David Blekhman jumped at the opportunity. When the Cal State LA Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility opened in 2014, the engineering technology professor was named its technical director. The station was the first in the world to be certified to sell hydrogen by the kilogram directly to drivers, and it has hosted more than 10,000 students and industry professionals.

Beyond his vision for clear skies and a green and healthy planet, the alternative energy expert is intent on creating a world where his diverse and talented students are prized as highly skilled practitioners, with a direct hand in advancing sustainable policies and technical solutions for California’s top research firms, businesses and government agencies. To achieve this goal, Dr. Blekhman actively develops cutting-edge courses in electric and hybrid vehicles, fuel cell applications, photovoltaics, advanced engine design and other in-demand fields, leading students to explore real-world problems and their solutions through hands-on projects, guest presentations, industry tours and attendance at local conferences. Instrumental in introducing electric vehicle charging infrastructure and solar energy projects to Cal State LA, he now employs the campus as a “living laboratory” to enhance students’ learning and professional development.

An internationally renowned author and presenter, Dr. Blekhman holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in thermal physics and engineering from St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University in Russia, as well as a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Buffalo in New York.

 

William (Bill) J. Hoese, Ph.D., Cal State Fullerton (Professor of Biological Sciences), Outstanding Faculty Innovator for Student Success

“I allow students the freedom to learn, permission to fail, space to strive, opportunities to take risks and support to succeed. I use field experiences to take students out of their comfort zones, build community and encourage curiosity about the world around us.”

Revered at Cal State Fullerton as “a creative, effective and rigorous classroom instructor who is universally loved, praised and admired,” Dr. William (Bill) Hoese has distinguished himself as an exceptional educator with a gift for inspiring students to delve into life science.

A 23-year veteran at CSUF, Dr. Hoese has been nationally recognized for his efforts to transform the way biology is taught, from a fact-driven course to one that engages students in active learning and critical thinking. As just one example, Dr. Hoese has introduced 300-plus lower-division biology students each semester to Southern California’s ecosystems with an overnight trip to the Mojave Desert where—away from city lights—many reported seeing stars for the first time. His approach led to “Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education,” a movement spearheaded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science with support from the National Science Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the National Institutes of Health and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Dr. Hoese has also designed multiple programs that increase student success beyond his classroom.

Dr. Hoese holds a bachelor’s degree in human biology from Stanford University, a master’s degree in biology from Stanford and a Ph.D. in zoology from Duke University.

 

Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall, Ph.D., CSU San Marcos (History Professor and Graduate Coordinator), Outstanding Faculty Teaching

Various pundits are credited with issuing the warning, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” CSU San Marcos history professor Dr. Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall is determined to steer her students clear of that fateful path and instead give them a full picture and visceral connections with the people, events and challenges of our past.

Dr. Sepinwall joined CSUSM in 1999 and was promoted to full professor in 2011. As a past winner of CSUSM’s President’s Award for Innovation in Teaching and the Harry E. Brakebill Outstanding Professor Award, she specializes in showing students how history connects to their own lives through compelling and hands-on projects, first-hand accounts such as diaries, whole-class and small-group discussion and diverse guest speakers. Her creative assignments, such as a cookoff exploring changes in eating habits for a women and Jewish history class, not only create community within the classroom, but they also allow students to see themselves in historical narratives. Her cutting-edge teaching is continuously informed by feedback from her students, and their questions shape her research.
With a busy schedule that includes serving on university and department committees, advising graduate theses and conducting research, she has become a sought-after expert in Haitian and French history, slavery and colonization and the history of gender, as well as visual and pop cultures. Widely quoted in national media, she is also a frequent speaker and guest lecturer at the CSU and around the world.

Dr. Sepinwall holds bachelor’s degrees in history and political science from the University of Pennsylvania, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in history from Stanford University.

 

Joy Stewart-James, Ed.D., Sacramento State (AVP, Student Health & Counseling Services), Outstanding Staff Performance

After a 20-year career working for a large hospital health care system in Austin, Texas, overseeing several clinics and departments, Dr. Joy Stewart-James made the leap to higher education in 2007, landing on her feet at Sacramento State​. Since then, the seasoned public health professional has been widely credited with keeping the Sacramento State community safe, healthy and calm, even as the campus navigated the global COVID-19 public health crisis. She has become a recognized leader not only within the CSU system, but across the state and national college health communities.
After joining Sacramento State as executive director for Student Health and Counseling Services, Dr. Stewart-James was promoted to associate vice president in 2017. In her current role, she provides strategic leadership, management, fiscal oversight and programmatic direction for a comprehensive model of health and wellness for a campus of over 30,000 students. She oversees and manages Sacramento State’s fully accredited, multidisciplinary health care services, including urgent and primary care, mental health counseling services, pharmacy, radiology, nutrition, athletic training, sports medicine, health promotion services, basic needs, case management and student peer education programs.

She has dedicated herself to improving the patient experience and helping students to become better health care consumers. With a new paperless system that allows students to access appointments, view records and message their providers via their patient portal, use of the student health center has increased dramatically.
Dr. Stewart-James holds a bachelor’s degree from Florida International University in Miami, a master’s degree from the University of Oregon, Eugene and an Ed.D. from the University of Texas at Austin.

 

Excellence in teaching and a dedication to student success from faculty and staff as demonstrated by the 2023 Wang Family Excellence awardees further supports the CSU’s Graduation Initiative 2025. This key initiative is focused on increasing graduation rates for all CSU students while eliminating equity gaps and meeting California’s workforce needs.

For more information on the awardees and their accomplishments, visit the Wang Family Excellence Award website.

 

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About the California State University

The California State University is the largest system of four-year higher education in the country, with 23 campuses, nearly 460,000 students, and 56,000 faculty and staff. Nearly 40 percent of the CSU’s undergraduate students transfer from California Community Colleges. The CSU was created in 1960 with a mission of providing high-quality, affordable education to meet the ever-changing needs of California. With its commitment to quality, opportunity and student success, the CSU is renowned for superb teaching, innovative research and for producing job-ready graduates. Each year, the CSU awards more than 132,000 degrees. One in every 20 Americans holding a college degree is a graduate of the CSU and our alumni are 4 million strong. Connect with and learn more about the CSU in the CSU NewsCenter.