Starting Their Next Chapter
By Tiffany Harbrecht
San José State University’s College of Professional and Global Education (CPGE) is providing a pathway for students to reinvent themselves and their careers in ways they never imagined.
Among all 23 California State Universities, CPGE offers one of the most diverse collections of industry-aligned graduate and undergraduate degree programs and certificates, which is helping San José State redefine the student experience.
The college proudly cultivates an inclusive and global community, in part, through its innovative course modalities. With online, hybrid and accessible off-site locations, as well as on campus programs — working professionals and full-time SJSU students have even more opportunities to achieve their educational, professional and personal goals.
CPGE is also home to SJSU’s first fully online master’s programs, including public health, library and information science and more. CPGE’s School of Information (iSchool) and Applied Data Science Department are focused on preparing professionals to address the world’s increasing challenges around data — from analytics, security, organization, preservation and management — as well as information, records, and archives through technology and user-focused practices.
These options demonstrate how accommodating the flexibility needed by today’s busy students to pursue education at their own pace ultimately allows them to thrive. Accordingly, CPGE has provided the groundwork for the university’s new initiative SJSU Online, which launched this August.
The following profiles are a snapshot of CPGE’s diverse online graduate student community. Each is adapted straight from the stories shared with us: testimonials of their resilience, upward mobility and transformation in conjunction with their education from SJSU.
Reimagining her career in comedy to outreach librarianship
Karen Quest, ’22 MLIS (Master of Library and Information Science), has always blazed her own trail, mostly in her one-woman, Vaudeville-style, original comedy Western act, "Cowgirl Tricks." After traveling around the world performing in a variety of circus acts, she found the Performers Showcase hosted by the Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California in 2011.
Since then, she’s performed her comedy act at more than 100 children’s libraries and was surprised by the positive and welcoming experiences she had at each venue.
“I was inspired by the people who hired me for their libraries,” recalls Quest. “I began asking questions about their journeys to librarianship, and they all were open, warm, encouraging and enthusiastic.”
As it were, San José State is the alma mater of most of the children's and youth services librarians with whom she spoke. For Quest, SJSU looked like the best choice for several reasons, primarily the 100% online curriculum and the MLIS program's renowned reputation.
The path to pursuing her master’s degree, however, was not easy. Quest graduated from California State University Northridge (CSUN) in 1985 following what she calls a “13-year undergrad plan.” She ultimately decided to take the plunge and request her college transcripts from San Diego State University, where she spent the first years of her college career, and CSUN, but delayed applying to SJSU until six years later.
“After being out of school for over 35 years, I applied to SJSU and was accepted, much to my surprise!” she shares. “I started grad school and Medicare in the same month. As a professional comedian, I really love it when something is funny because it's true.”
Getting back into the swing of school was not easy. Quest had never used a database, was unfamiliar with peer-reviewed articles, and her last written assignment was long before computers were commonplace. Nevertheless, she persisted — and through a pandemic, which hit shortly after she commenced her studies.
How’s her program going so far?
“I'm eternally grateful to my professors, instructors and some key people who have helped me through the sticky parts,” says Quest. “Because I had no prior library experience other than being a patron and performer, I was astounded to learn how many different kinds of librarianship there are.”
An assignment in her first semester turned her on to the idea of becoming an outreach librarian: a professional who “provides equitable delivery of library services to all people” such as traditionally underserved and underrepresented communities, according to the American Library Association. In the future, she hopes to find a job in a semi-rural area, working with all ages of people on mobile services like bookmobiles.
According to iSchool Instructor Vicki Steiner, one of Quest’s teachers at SJSU, “[Quest’s] experiences as a performer make her a natural for her chosen career in librarianship focusing on outreach programs for communities.
“KQ* finds unique ways to blend her past and present loves in her work at iSchool, such as the meet-up session for new students she created as a peer mentor entitled: ‘Juggling School, Work, and Life? Reduce Stress and Grow Your Brain with A Real Juggling Lesson!’”
Since starting her graduate program, Quest has become an influencer in her social circles, prompting one friend in her mid-50s to start a graduate program to become a chaplain and another about her age to embark on a doctorate in artificial intelligence and music.
“If doing what I am being called to do next in my life inspires someone to follow their dream, so be it! All I know is if I can do it, anyone can.”
*KQ is Quest’s preferred name for her instructors and her friends.
(Left) Karen Quest demonstrates fire eating. Photo credit: Claudia Kunin. (Right) As one of her "Over The Top Stilt Characters” Lucky Starr, Quest gives a real high five to a young fairgoer at the Big Fresno Fair. Photo: Courtesy of Karen Quest.
Answering a call to positively impact public health
Sophina McDaniel, '16 Health Science, ’23 MPH (Master of Public Health), was working as a health and wellness coordinator in Saratoga, California, when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted. She quickly pivoted her clinic’s community and corporate wellness program to online virtual events to support social distancing measures, but the writing was on the wall. McDaniel knew that the reality of public health was rapidly changing, and she felt “called” to help.
“I left the job that I adored to support Santa Clara County (SCC) with its COVID-19 efforts,” McDaniel recalls. “For one year, I worked as a case investigation program lead supporting and training a team of state and county employees.”
McDaniel was asked to lead the county’s digital outreach program for COVID-19 prevention. Her desire to know more about program management led her to apply for the MPH program at San José State. “I wanted to learn more skills in order to contribute at a greater capacity to the community,” she says.
While previously pursuing her bachelor’s degree at SJSU, McDaniel found the instructors supportive and made incredible friendships with peers, which ultimately encouraged her to return for her graduate degree.
“I chose SJSU for my MPH because my undergrad experience was memorable, and it prepared me to support the community,” she shares. “Furthermore, the online sessions allow me to attend grad school full time, while working and caring for my two daughters.”
McDaniel sees the faculty at SJSU as both encouraging and considerate. “They care about each students’ success and supporting the community. They inspire me to be a better version of myself, especially when course material becomes challenging,” she adds.
“I have known and worked alongside Sophina in both undergraduate and graduate classes (as well as in community-based work) and have found her to be an amazing, supportive and incredible colleague to her peers, the community and SJSU faculty/staff,” says MPH Fieldwork Coordinator and Adjunct Professor Robert Rinck.
When she’s not focused on coursework, McDaniel works as a program manager at Stanford Health Care in the Patient Experience Department and spearheads Girlz on Fire, a Bay-Area-based program for young women ages 12 to 17.
The organization offers knowledge-based and team-building activities designed to foster healthy boundaries, self-care, resilience, physical activity and positive body image.
“The skills and knowledge I gain by obtaining my MPH will be used to support further development of our [Girlz on Fire] program,” she says. “Also, I want to continue researching the social determinants of health and other methods to improve health outcomes. Overall, I want to be able to contribute more to the field of public health and help others as much as I am able.”
McDaniel enjoys painting abstract art as a way of self-care and has won a handful art contests. Art is also a part of the Girlz on Fire program she leads, as well as the Arts in Wellness program she manages at Stanford Health Care. Photo: Courtesy of Sophina McDaniel.
Transforming her passion into a profession
Jolani Rhodenizer, ’23 MLIS, has a storied career defined by diverse experiences. Originally from Canada, she has been around the world studying, teaching and working with a wide array of people and cultures.
After college, she taught English internationally as an Additional Language (EAL) across Asia and countries in the Arabian Gulf — more commonly known as the Persian Gulf. She went back to Canada to complete her master’s degree but ultimately returned to the Gulf to chase a personal goal in Abu Dhabi: competitive fighting.
By day, she worked at the Abu Dhabi Grammar School as a school librarian; by night, she trained in combat sports and military defense. Rhodenizer did not stop there; she describes leveraging the connections she forged along the way to establish Combat Evolved, a tactical training company that provides personal defense readiness primarily in the MENA region (countries located in the Middle East and North Africa).
Achieving success as a woman in the world of combat professions, especially in a culture outside of one’s own, she says, has taken a commitment to learning and developing deep and diverse cultural competence. Taking the next step to combine her dual interests led her to CPGE’s iSchool and the online MLIS program.
“My life spans a lot of time zones, so the asynchronous program was a perfect fit for me,” says Rhodenizer. The MLIS program supports information professionals in ways that allow them to succeed in a variety of information environments, which has allowed her the ability to craft a program for her unique needs.
This past fall, Rhodenizer started an assistantship with iSchool Assistant Professor Anthony Bernier, investigating librarianship for social justice in African contexts. She says this project has provided an opportunity to further deepen her cultural intelligence and explore the role libraries play in mitigating the effects of gender-based violence. It’s a topic that intersects with her business venture’s focus on personal safety.
Rhodenizer has since stepped away from the grammar school library to focus on her studies and develop Combat Evolved into a successful international business.
Rhodenizer is practicing a tactical technique with a student in her personal defense readiness training at Combat Evolved (Canada). They use reality-based methodology to train anyone and everyone how to recognize when they are in danger and how to handle those situations using their natural responses and built-in abilities. Photo: Courtesy of Jolani Rhodenizer.
Lifting up Latinx and Spanish-speaking communities
Ana Arevalo, ’22 MLIS, sees the power libraries have for shifting negative perceptions people make about others and their cultures, and how librarianship is rooted in values of access, diversity, public good, service and sustainability. These are all reasons why she is on a path to becoming a children’s librarian — and a change agent for patrons who are vulnerable and underrepresented.
Her first step toward becoming a librarian was to obtain her master’s in library and information science. “The MLIS degree will open the doors to a career I never knew existed, and I will be able to advocate for marginalized and underserved communities,” she says.
Through a combination of coursework and an internship, Arevalo learned the importance of being culturally proficient to address cultural disparities she may likely face as a future children's librarian. Her Cultural Competence for Information Professionals class focused especially on how personal, institutional and structural biases affect underserved and marginalized communities.
“As a previously undocumented person, I often felt ashamed of my culture and language because it was not reflected in mainstream society,” she shares. “Through the MLIS program, I have become aware of the importance of providing books and services that reflect multicultural communities' differences — in language, traditions, resources and cultural practices.”
“I want to advocate and challenge mainstream publishers by requesting books written and illustrated by individuals that reflect the community,” she adds.
When deciding where she would pursue her master’s degree, Arevalo knew she had to have the flexibility to work concurrently while taking classes in order to cover both living expenses and tuition.
“After researching and looking at different options, I chose to apply to SJSU because it was affordable and [the MLIS] courses were fully online,” she recalls. “It allows me to work and continue my education.”
Arevalo’s husband, who also takes courses at SJSU, encouraged her to apply and join the SJSU REFORMA — an iSchool student and alumni group for those interested in working with and advancing library services for Spanish-speaking and Latinx communities, which aligned with her goals.
Michele A. L. Villagran, iSchool assistant professor and one of Arevalo’s instructors, agrees. “I see Ana growing further in her career to support Latinx- and Spanish-speaking communities through her desire to be a children's librarian. Her support of and desire to advocate for these communities strongly ties with her own identity and pursuits of promoting equity,” says Villagran.
In the future, Arevalo sees herself working in public libraries, providing equitable services and resources to all. “Library books and services have the power to disrupt cultural deficit views and honor marginalized and underserved library patrons' voices and life experiences,” she says.
Ana chose to read the book “Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México” to introduce children to Mexican traditions/ culture. Its Mexican American author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh weaves narratives in his books to help bridge the cultural divide experienced by Latinx peoples in Latin America, the U.S. and all areas in between. Photo: Courtesy of Ana Arevalo.
The College of Professional and Global Education provides a wide range of valuable services for the Spartan community. Video: Courtesy of CPGE.
More About the College of Professional and Global Education
CPGE provides access to high-value education, including bachelor’s and master’s degrees, certificates, corporate training, continuing education and professional development opportunities in partnership with six of San José State’s academic colleges.
Courses are taught by the brightest minds and industry experts in Silicon Valley, who are focused on providing the framework, tools, experiences and strategies that develop collaborative, conscientious, creative and insightful leaders. Students gain practical skills through experiential learning that are attractive across industries.
CPGE works jointly with its program partners to actively engage with business leaders and companies, creating networking opportunities for internships and career growth. The overall impact is to provide Silicon Valley companies and institutions with dynamic, highly qualified workers from the community and the world by developing enterprising students from all sectors including technology, business, science, health and the arts.