‘HOW I FELL FOR MY FIELD’

As the adage goes, “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” The CSU is lucky to be replete with faculty and staff across its 23 campuses who’ve found their true calling. And for those who work with them—whether students or colleagues—that dedication to education is infectious.

Read on to hear how faculty and staff at nine CSU campuses fell head over heels for their discipline.

ALICIA KINOSHITA | Ph.D., San Diego State, Associate Professor, Water Resources Engineering

When did your love of post-fire recovery take hold? “I started working in this field as an undergraduate research assistant taking samples and measurements of water and soil. The research also took me to amazing locations such as the Sierra Nevada and Colorado. I loved being outside rather than in an office, and when I realized I could do this for a living, I was sold.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “I really loved hiking and being outside. Glimpses of wildlife still fill me with awe and remind me that sometimes systems need to be reset. I also find great satisfaction in investigating the landscape after it has been disturbed and watching the changes over time. For example, after wildfire, it is amazing to watch a charred landscape evolve, from ash to green sprouts to dense vegetation.”

BRIAN SELF | Ph.D., Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Professor, Mechanical Engineering, 2020 Wang Award Winner

When did your love of engineering take hold? “During my first year I took a survey course in biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech and really enjoyed it. As a result, I majored in a little-known department called engineering science and mechanics because it gave me the most flexibility to pursue biomedical types of courses. From there, I was able to get a job as a research engineer with the Air Force, where I investigated things like pilots pulling g’s [g-forces], ejections from aircraft and spatial disorientation.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “The human body is probably the most complex engineering system there is. As a civilian researcher, I got to use a human centrifuge to investigate human tolerances to sustained acceleration and to look at how high-altitude flight affects pilot performance. When I moved to Cal Poly, friends and I mentored senior design students as they developed devices to help people with disabilities participate in sports. I most love the amazing variety of interesting projects that I get to do, the wonderful colleagues I work with and the amazing students I get to mentor and teach.”

TED STANKOWICH | Ph.D., Cal State Long Beach, Director, The Mammal Lab

When did your love of animals take hold? “I began studying ecology and evolution early in college and then spent a summer vacation assisting with research on sharks. My junior year, I took a course in animal behavior and loved it. I then had the opportunity to work in one of the professor’s labs studying behavior in naked mole rats for my honors thesis.”

What is it about skunks? “They have this powerful noxious weapon everyone knows about, but…nobody studies their behavior. They are abundant and everyone seems to have a great skunk story to share. They are a misunderstood creature: They don’t stink themselves, aren’t aggressive, don’t ‘want’ to spray you and none of the large mammalian predators want anything to do with them!”

JOANNA PEREZ | Ph.D., CSU Dominguez Hills, Assistant Professor, Sociology

When did your love of sociology take hold? “As an undergraduate, learning about the sociological imagination—which is the connection between self and society—ignited my interest in the field. For the first time, I was able to critically analyze and contextualize my lived experiences as a first-generation student and daughter of immigrants. Today, I get to advocate for social justice through research, teaching and service.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “Sociology has allowed me to engage in efforts that alter the social conditions of marginalized communities. This includes conducting research on Latino undocumented immigrant activists, facilitating a student-centered learning environment and addressing the needs of underserved communities.”

COLIN DEWEY | Ph.D., Cal Maritime, Associate Professor, English

When did your love of English take hold? “After high school, I had no interest in higher education. Instead, I went on a road trip and visited the lighthouse at Point Arena in Northern California. The idea of becoming a lighthouse keeper led to a hitch in the U.S. Coast Guard; after my enlistment, I began sailing on commercial ships. I found an old volume of John Ruskin’s Victorian social commentary ‘Queen of the Air’ on board a freighter. In a later job, I had the opportunity to be a peer-tutor. When I went from solitary reading at sea to engaging others through tutoring, and then teaching, I recognized that sharing knowledge and helping others to reach the kinds of ‘Eureka!’ moments that I’d experienced with that Ruskin book was what I wanted to do.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “When I belatedly accepted the challenge and opportunity higher education held, I’d already spent close to 20 years working at sea. Education unlocked vast stores of knowledge unimaginable to my previous autodidact self. The recognition that I could help guide others along a path similar to the one I’d taken—regardless of their social or economic background—has become a vocation.”

BRIAN LEVIN | J.D., Cal State San Bernardino, Professor, Criminal Justice, Director, Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, ​2020 Wang Award Winner

When did your love of the study of civic cohesion and extremism take hold? “When Judge A. Leon Higginbotham taught me that a key component of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision was its partial reliance on social science data. From then on, I felt there was a place for informed research with respect to policymaking.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “When I first started in 1986, no one was collecting national data about hate crimes and there were no new anti-hate crime laws at the federal levels. Even the constitutionality of state laws was still in doubt. This created opportunities to influence public policy through participation in landmark cases, police training and legislative fact-finding. Through this, I represented civil rights groups before Congress and in various Supreme Court amici briefs. Getting involved so early gave me an up-close chance to learn from key mentors, to whom I am still indebted, while also advancing the discourse that illuminates public policy reform.”

ERIC BARTELINK | Ph.D., Chico State, Professor, Physical Anthropology​​

When did your love of anthropology take hold? “I realized this was my calling in 1995 when I was an undergraduate student in anthropology. I decided to shift my focus specifically to bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology after listening to some guest speakers.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “The idea that you can reconstruct several aspects of a person’s life from their skeleton always fascinated me, whether it was someone who died recently or hundreds or even thousands of years ago.”

LAURA LUPEI | Sonoma State, Senior Director, University Budget and Planning, 2020 Wang Award Winner

When did your love of budgeting take hold? “As soon as I started working at Somoma State 19 years ago, I knew it was a great fit. I spent every day solving problems and looking at both the details and the big picture of the university, something I hadn’t yet realized that came so naturally to me.” 

Why did you fall in love with it? “I really fell in love with budgeting when we started our strategic budgeting initiative. Budgeting is a lot more fun when an organization uses it as a tool for planning and moving forward a set of priorities rather than reacting. It has been extremely satisfying to watch our campus culture shift, and I never thought so many people would be interested in listening to my budget presentations!”

RAJEE AMARASINGHE | Ph.D., Fresno State, Professor & Chair of Mathematics, 2020 Wang Award Winner

When did your love of math take hold? “After being injured as an officer in the Sri Lankan Navy, I was forced to rethink my future. Having this time to contemplate my next move, I remembered the love I had for mathematics as a child. This realization led me to pursue graduate studies in mathematics, where I would eventually begin conducting research in mathematics education. When I realized I could transform the lives of others through mathematics, I truly began to appreciate the work I was doing as a mathematics educator.”

Why did you fall in love with it? “Oftentimes, there are students and teachers who’ve never had that opportunity to see, feel and enjoy the beauty of mathematics. It’s such a joy when someone gets that ‘A-ha’ moment where they realize mathematics is beautiful and that they had fun engaging in it. I truly fell in love with the work I am doing when I realized that I could bring this joy to people every day.”

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