Student Spotlight

Theatre Arts Students Build Community Through 'Water by the Spoonful'

Producing a play for live Zoom performance is undoubtedly unconventional. When students, faculty and staff from The School of Theatre and Dance came together for a main-stage production of Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “Water by the Spoonful,” they had to overcome technical difficulties before even getting to rehearsal. In the end, they have persevered despite dated computers, inconsistent Wi-Fi connections and unfamiliar software.

The show, about an Iraq War veteran and former addict struggling to reconnect with his mother, debuted November 5 and continues through November 14.

Stage manager Jasmine Murray, running the show from Georgia, said getting through obstacles has been one of her favorite parts about working on “Water by the Spoonful,” as well as learning live-production software such as NDI Tools. “I’m excited to add all of those skills to my resume!” she said.

Professor Rhonnie Washington, the play’s director, said producing a play online has a distinct advantage: unlimited rehearsal space. “All you have to do is create another virtual room and put actors in it,” he said. “I found that it was particularly useful sometimes, and it would be a lot more difficult to do that in the Creative Arts Building, where you have a limited amount of space.”

Actors have had to adapt to working solely online. Grace Romeu, who plays Yazmin Ortiz, says she’s had to “learn how to stay in place.”

“You’re confined to a little square, and you can’t do anything too crazy because then what if the audience doesn’t catch it? It’s harder to create the environment.”

Washington adds that the virtual format has helped build a sense of community among all involved.

“We’re all trying to learn how to do this virtual thing none of us know how to do,” he said. “I think that was something that caused us to bond — the fact that we’re all trying to figure it out and no one really knew concretely how it was supposed to work, so that was one of the things that really drew us together.”

Students Successful in Online Speech, Debate Event

SF State’s Speech and Debate Team was successful in its season-opening tournament, Lewis and Clark College’s Steve Hunt Classic. It was held October 9 – 11 in an online format.

Notable results for SF State:

  • Zachary Waters: second place, open dramatic interpretation
  • Karina Crist and Dani Desales: second place, novice parliamentary debate
  • Maryam Issa: top speaker, novice parliamentary debate
  • JP Escarcega: third place and sixth speaker, junior varsity Lincoln-Douglas debate

About 70 colleges and universities nationwide competed in the tournament. Forensics Director Teddy Albiniak says he is proud of the students’ efforts, talents and resiliency.

“Like so many of our experiences over the past months, learning how to navigate the ins-and-outs of new technology platforms and experimenting with a change in format is, in my opinion, a courageous feat,” he said.

The team’s coaches are Lecturers Orion Steele and Pablo Ramirez and graduate students Oliver Tripp, Victoria Meuter-Montijo, Brianna Morales, Olivea Flickinger-Renzi and Katelyn Gonzalves.

Grad Student Who Triumphed Over Trauma Named CSU Trustee Scholar

Yuri Madenokoji came to San Francisco State University intent on moving forward with her life. For her, that meant confronting trauma. Madenokoji immersed herself in English literature and Women and Gender Studies to heal from sexual violence she had experienced. (She prefers to keep the details private.) Now, as a student in San Francisco State’s Graduate College of Education, she hopes to use what she learned to empower the next generation of scholars.

The California State University (CSU) recently recognized Madenokoji for rising above her traumatic experiences while achieving academic excellence and staying focused on social justice. She’s one of 23 CSU students to receive the CSU Trustee Award for Outstanding Achievement, the highest academic honor given annually by the CSU to students from each campus.

As a future educator, she wants to help young people unlearn oppressive thinking and behaviors. “After taking Women and Gender Studies courses, I began to understand the systemic nature of violence,” said Madenokoji. “Being an educator, I want to help students gain that analytical lens to navigate this complex world.”

San Francisco State Associate Professor of English Summer Star, a former professor of Madenokoji’s, says there couldn’t be a more deserving candidate for the award. Because of the flexibility it offers students, the CSU attracts people at different junctures in their lives and careers. “It’s a place for people who are self-starters and self-motivators,” she said. “Yuri is the poster child of self-motivation. The challenges she’s faced make her achievements and her tenacity all the more exceptional.”

Madenokoji wants to use education to uplift people, specifically marginalized groups. “She’s interested in teaching in a way that empowers students, no matter their background, and to instill a belief that they are a power for good. And that begins with feeling worthy,” Star added.

Growing up, Madenokoji says she didn’t know how to talk about difficult subjects like racism or sexism. She just didn’t have the language for it. But after studying feminist theory, she saw the world in a new way. She saw how marginalized people have been harmed by invisible systems, like white supremacy and sexism. It’s a revelation she’d like to share with her students.

People aren’t born racist or sexist, she says. These ideas are learned and internalized. “It’s our responsibility to undo the system of oppression. Otherwise we are complicit in it,” she said. “The first step in breaking out of the cycle of oppression is to put a name to it.”

She plans to use literature as a gateway for exploring some of these topics and for helping students understand what’s happening in the world right now, she says, whether it’s social, political or economic. “And then from there we can talk about what we can do in our own lives to work toward justice,” she said. “I want to be the kind of teacher who doesn’t just teach the current curriculum but also nurtures the heart and soul of students.”

Student Organizes Large Soap Donation for Kenyan Village amid Pandemic

San Francisco State University student Wayne Metho’s zeal for helping people crystallized while working in his native Kenya as an assistant manager in the hotel industry. So when COVID-19 started spreading around the globe, he naturally turned his attention back home, gathering donations for its citizens and working with a health care nonprofit. “People are my passion,” he said. “This is just a small way I could make a difference.”

Metho came to the U.S. in 2016 to study at Berkeley City College and transferred to San Francisco State in 2018. Even after years of living in the U.S., he maintained close contact with former colleagues in Kenya. Occasionally they would band together for philanthropic projects, like buying books for children and providing food to families in need.

Just after shelter-in-place orders went into effect in the Bay Area, the International Relations major learned about Tiba Foundation, an Oakland-based nonprofit that partners with local health care organizations in western Kenya to provide volunteers, funding and strategic guidance. Metho began volunteering for the organization, where he learned of a crucial need in the community Tiba serves: soap.

“People are my passion. ... This is just a small way I could make a difference.” — Wayne Metho

Many villagers didn’t have access to soap, a shortage that could be a matter of life and death during the COVID-19 pandemic, explains Tiba Foundation Executive Director Diane Dodge. But because of the pandemic, transporting soap from the U.S. would be too hard and securing soap at that time in Kenya was tough. That was the challenge, and Metho knew just who he could turn to: his former colleagues. Pooling their money, together they bought and delivered 750 bars of soap to about 300 families through Matibabu Hospital, Tiba’s partner organization.

Tara Neuffer, operations manager of Tiba Foundation, explained that Metho’s group represents a cornerstone of community organizing in Kenya, referred to as a chama: an informal cooperative in which members pool their savings and often make investments together. “They’re mutual-aid community fund groups where people pay monthly dues,” she said. “If you need a loan or there's a family tragedy, everyone in the group will democratically agree to lend you the money that you’ve been paying into.”

Inspired by Metho’s skills and drive, the organization offered him an internship after the project concluded. “We realized what an asset he was,” Neuffer added. “Not only is he intelligent and a great communicator, he just has that passion and will do anything it takes to complete his goals, which are always community-focused.” He’s currently helping develop videos and other visual promotional content and assisting with communications and fundraising.

Metho’s “passion for people” is an outlook that infuses most aspects of his life. When not working with Tiba, he’s a caregiver for people with disabilities in San Francisco. He takes his clients grocery shopping or to doctor’s appointments along with offering other kinds of support — work that’s essential and potentially dangerous during a pandemic. For Metho, however, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. “I just like doing nice things for people,” he said.

Students’ Donor-Funded Research Addresses Pressing Issues of the World

For her fellowship, History major Kayla Ratliff studied homosexuality in 19th-century Japan.


A new donor-funded College of Liberal & Creative Arts research program provided opportunities for 15 undergraduates this year to dig deep into the world’s most debated, pressing issues: politics, race, mental health, veterans, climate change, bullying, sexuality and more. Working closely with faculty mentors throughout the entire year, students sharpened investigative skills and creative talents and helped build understanding on a range of issues.

The student research fellowships and assistantships are made possible through the George and Judy Marcus Funds for Excellence in the Liberal Arts, established by alumni George and Judy Marcus with a $25-million donation in 2018. Marcus scholars have already been successful. The Council on Undergraduate Research’s annual Posters on the Hill conference accepted International Relations major Mikayla Cordero’s project on the rise of left-wing nationalism in Ireland. Cordero was among 60 students selected from 350 applications nationwide.

“You represent the very best of SF State,” SF State President Lynn Mahoney said at a May 26 video conference where fellows and assistants presented their work. “I was struck by both the sophisticated content of your research projects and the incredible poise you all showed in presenting your topics. Congratulations on completing these under very unusual circumstances — another reflection of your talents and determination.”

Understanding Student Veterans

Early in her research on student veterans, Marcus Undergraduate Research Fellow Janelle Scarritt discovered significant inaccuracies in sociology, psychology and anthropology publications on the topic. Interviewing student veterans at SF State enabled her to discover fresh perspectives on their capacities and challenges.

“This experience has shown me what it takes to pursue undergraduate research, and that I am capable of doing it,” Scarritt said.

Anthropology Assistant Professor Martha Lincoln was Scarritt’s faculty mentor. She compared the one-on-one mentorship with students afforded by the program to undergraduate research experiences at small liberal arts colleges.

“It’s just incredibly rewarding to see students pursue intellectual goals that have personal significance to them,” Lincoln said.

‘The Value of a Life’

For Jamila Hayes’ Marcus Undergraduate Research Fellowship, she directed “The Value of a Life,” a documentary about the divergent life paths she and her brother have taken. Hayes is thriving — she just graduated this month — but her brother has fallen victim to addiction, incarceration and mental illness. She said the film was her first opportunity to express her feelings about her brother.

“The reality of our world is that if you are Black you will be treated worse than your white counterparts,” said Hayes, a Cinema major. “If you are Black, homeless and a drug addict, you are treated even worse and with even less respect. As a society we need to work harder to stop perpetuating harmful ideologies that have such a negative impact on communities of people. I hope that my film will be a part of causing that change, and that it will allow people to start having these conversations.”

As faculty mentor, School of Cinema Director Celine Parreñas Shimizu challenged Hayes to situate the film’s approach. In preparation, Shimizu assigned readings of scholarly articles on prison systems and aesthetics. In the end, Shimizu herself gained valuable insight from Hayes.

“I learned about the powerful personal understanding Jamila’s courageous filmmaking achieves about enduring pain, trauma and abuse and the hope that comes from love, affection and intimacy,” Shimizu said.

Presidential Mathematics

Five students served as Marcus Research Assistants, helping faculty members’ scholarly pursuits. Elizabeth Wedel, with Political Science Assistant Professor Rebecca Eissler, explored how modern U.S. presidents establish agendas. Wedel, who will enter her senior year this fall, helped research and write case studies. She focused on instances of presidents coming into conflict with Congress and the Supreme Court.

“My research on presidential agenda setting relies quite heavily on quantitative, mathematical analysis, so my goal for our partnership was to identify and research some historical cases to illustrate the theoretical dynamics at play,” Eissler says. “She brought a curiosity and fresh perspective to the selection of cases for us to research, which gave the project a greater clarity and understandability.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic affected students’ ability to conduct field research this spring, they were able to complete their projects. Hayes, for example, had to abandon plans to spend one day in San Francisco filming with her brother. Instead, she interviewed him in her apartment and used footage from one of their childhood homes.

Overall, the Marcus fellowship has given Hayes advice to pass along to next year’s cohort.

“When things become chaotic and confusing, remember what the purpose of your proposal was about,” she said. “Sometimes it’s helpful to go back to the basics in order to better understand where to go next.”

Students, Faculty Win Marcus-Funded Research Awards for 2020 – 21

Marcus Research Fellowship winners

  • “A Price on Pride: Understanding the Commoditization of the Queer Identity in San Francisco.” Student: Maximilian DeNembo (School of Design). Mentor: Hsiao-Yun Chu.
  • “Defining Rurality: An Exploration of the Rural-Urban Connection in Different Parts of the United States.” Student: Fiona DeWitt (Political Science Department). Mentor: Rebecca Eissler.
  • “Explorations of Gesticulation-Based Upper Limb Appliances.” Student: Levi Gilbert (School of Design). Mentor: Silvan Linn.
  • “Everyday HEROs: Public Health Research during COVID-19 Shelter-in-Place.” Student: Gurjot Gill (Anthropology Department). Mentor: Peter Biella.
  • “Objectivity and Epistemic Commitment: Polanyi’s Critique of Reductionism.” Student: Aydin Jang (Philosophy Department). Mentor: Arizoo Islami.
  • “Korean American Cinema (1990s – Present): Confronting History and Myths in the Diaspora.” Student: B. Kim (School of Cinema). Mentor: Scott Boswell.
  • “Attainability of Official CSU Intended Outcomes: A Student Experience-Based Study.” Student: Ysenia Martinez (School of Design). Mentor: Tara Lockhart.
  • “Decline of the Latino Media in the San Francisco Bay Area.” Student: Adriana Morga Oregel (Journalism Department). Mentor: Laura Moorhead.
  • “The Semiotics of Power: Linguistic Structures of Neoliberal Hegemony.” Student: Mikey Pagan (School of Humanities and Liberal Studies). Mentor: Teresa Pratt.

Marcus Undergraduate Research Assistantship winners

Three of the projects include two student assistantships.

  • “A New Critical Edition of ‘Romeo and Juliet’: A Digital Humanities Project.” Mentor: Kurt Daw (School of Theatre and Dance).
  • “Shakespeare’s ‘Lear;’: A VR/Live Performance Hybrid.” Mentor: Elizabeth Hunter (School of Theatre and Dance).
  • “Lexical Variation and Sociolinguistic Style in a Bay Area High School.” Mentor: Teresa Pratt (English Language and Literature Department).
  • “The Unpublished Works of Elizabeth Anscombe.” Student: Ivan Manriquez Jr. Mentor: Jeremy Reid (Philosophy Department).
  • “From the Left or the Right? Anti-Semitism in Germany Since 2002.” Mentor: Scott Siegel (International Relations Department).

Design Students’ Magazine Raises Money for Native American Coronavirus Fund, Bail Project

Saddened and frustrated by the tragedies and inequities of COVID-19, a group of Visual Communication Design students printed a magazine of their artistic responses to the federal government’s response.

Bleach, published in May before the nationwide protests against police brutality began, features contributions from 12 undergraduate and graduate students. In the foreword, Assistant Professor Ellen Christensen described the project as a vehicle for anti-racism.

“The embrace of white poison by racists and nationalists is fundamentally ironic, given the long history of racist and colonialist associations of whiteness with purity,” she wrote. “Both incomprehensibly violent, and fundamentally bizarre, this current political moment necessitates subversive tactics.”

The magazine’s first print run sold out; new copies are at the printer. It may be purchased through Bleach’s Venmo account. All proceeds go to charity. A $10 donation goes to the Partnership with Native Americans’ Coronavirus Emergency Response Fund. All donations above $10 will be given to The Bail Project.

Graduate student Mena Kamel developed the magazine in Jane Rabanal’s Design Management class after feeling frustration and discomfort when the crisis hit. As he learned of friends and family testing positive, he scrapped plans for another class project to instead self-publish something that would offer agency to him and his peers.

Citing a lack of attention being given to disproportionately high COVID-19 infection and mortality rates among Native Americans, Kamel said he believed a magazine would expand awareness of inequity issues.

“I’d already been feeling untethered during the transition to online learning and, like everyone, my world got turned upside down pretty quickly,” said Kamel, who will graduate in 2021. “I was spending all my time on theoretical solutions to this massive moment, and that felt so disconnected from what was/is happening in my personal life.”

Kamel said he is grateful for the compassion of his peers, despite the challenges of the pandemic.

“Many of my peers/contributors have lost their jobs, family members and housing, yet have stayed in school, organized with me and donated their work for this direct action,” he said.