December 17, 2018

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Thousands of Volkswagen and Audi cars sitting idle in the Mojave Desert

Professor wins prestigious photography award

It’s the click heard round the world: A picture snapped by School of Music Professor Jassen Todorov while piloting a plane over the Mojave Desert has won the 2018 National Geographic Photo Contest, leading to coverage in The Atlantic, GQ, Newsweek, Bild and elsewhere. The striking photo (above left) shows thousands of recalled cars lined up in the desert. It beat out 10,000 other entries to win top honors in the contest.

Todorov’s no stranger to international acclaim. A renowned violinist, he travels the world performing in concert, often flying himself to new venues (and capturing other award-winning photos along the way).

“It has been a very surreal experience ever since I received the notification. In fact, I had to read it a few times to make sure I was reading it correctly,” Todorov said. “To me, National Geographic has always been a very influential organization. I have always admired the mission, high professionalism and dedication of all people working there. I often doubt my own work, so having this type of recognition from National Geographic is not only very inspiring but also really meaningful.” 

People doing a cheers around a dinner table decorated with winter holiday colors.

Four tips for happier holidays

The holidays are here again, so it’s time for festive family reunions, colorful decorations and jolly songs … as well as preparing huge meals, searching in vain for the perfect presents and ignoring Uncle George when he talks politics. How can you amp up the good cheer while avoiding the bad vibes? Four faculty members have advice.

Tip #1: Don’t overdo it in the oven
Few things are more gratifying than sitting down for a big feast with the family — and few things are more stressful if you’re the one doing all the holiday cooking. But Timothy Shaw, chef instructor at the Vista Room, says keeping your cool in the kitchen is easy if you don’t overstuff your oven.

“The main tip is to try to mix up the cooking methods of the food you are serving — one of the biggest stressors and limitations is oven space — so not everything needs to be roasted or heated up in the oven,” said Shaw. “Things like mashed potatoes or steamed green beans are good alternatives to something like potatoes au gratin or green bean casserole.”

Tip #2: Give the gift of time together
Another holiday hurdle is deciding how to buy the best gifts. SF State Professor of Psychology Ryan Howell, an expert on the link between happiness and how we spend our money, says people often give gifts that are a reflection of themselves rather than the recipient. When it comes to gift-giving, “we have this natural inclination to focus a little bit too much on ourselves,” Howell said. “Keep the receiver in mind.”

Howell also says that research shows that spending money to free up your own time — like outsourcing chores — usually makes people happier than buying material items. So rather than stressing about cooking the perfect Christmas dinner (even with Chef Shaw’s tips in mind), it might be better to spend a little extra on pre-made food and focus that time and energy on friends and family instead.

Tip #3: Take a break from the family reunion to see Mother Nature
One of the simplest, least expensive ways to beat holiday stress is to enjoy nature, even if all you do is take a walk and look at some trees.

“Get outside,” says Assistant Professor of Recreation, Parks & Tourism Aiko Yoshino. “Visit a local park or national park. Gaze at beautiful scenery in a quiet place, or touch and smell a leaf in your yard. It will bring you joy.”

Tip #4: Remember how much we have in common … even with people who annoy us
According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, a majority of Americans find it stressful to talk to people with opposing political views. So imagine the stress when folks on the opposite ends of the aisle also end up sitting across from one another at the dining room table. SF State Associate Professor of Political Science Francis Neely says that practicing tolerance and staying away from touchy subjects is key if you want to break bread without busting chops (or having yours busted).

“Clearly, we have differences, but we always have,” Neely said. “The stories about how much we have in common don’t get absorbed as much. So when I go to my relative who I disagree with politically, I try to remember that we’re all trying to do our best, we’re all trying to survive and do well. A lot of that comes from the same place.”

Mother cuddling with newborn baby.

Study: Paid leave boosts breastfeeding … for some

A new study suggests that mothers in states with paid family leave laws breastfeed their newborns at higher rates. But there’s a catch: That increase applies mostly to mothers who have the luxury to take the time off. Even with paid family leave in place, low-income moms stop breastfeeding sooner.

That’s according to research conducted by SF State Health Equity Institute Assistant Professor of Economics Sepideh Modrek. Modrek found that exclusive breastfeeding of newborns increased in states that implement paid family leave policies. Those increases, though, were not seen as much for working-class mothers. 

“We found a 1.3 percent increase in exclusive breastfeeding at six months,” said Modrek, who has taught economics at SF State since 2016. “But higher income, married, white, older moms benefitted the most in terms of breastfeeding activities.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that newborns be breastfed exclusively until 6 months, followed by supplementary breastfeeding, as a complement to other food, until 12 months. To determine whether paid family leave might affect this practice, Modrek and researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, made use of data from the National Immunizations Survey, which included answers to questions about breastfeeding practices.

Since the United States does not have a federal paid family leave policy, Modrek focused on the only two states that had implemented such a policy within the survey’s timeframe: California and New Jersey. The study generally found higher rates of breastfeeding in those states compared to the rest of the country. Exclusive breastfeeding at 3 months increased for mothers with middle-to-high income status, along with a lengthened duration of breast-feeding. However, no increase in breastfeeding rates was seen for mothers who made less than $25,000 a year.

“For less affluent mothers the paid leave might not be enough income to keep them from going back to work,” said Modrek.

CampusMemo hiatus

This is the last issue of CampusMemo for 2018. The newsletter will be on hiatus during the winter break and will resume weekly publication on Tuesday, Jan. 22. 

Holiday informal time off 

SF State received notice, consistent with the governor’s policy, that CSU employees will receive a half day of informal time off with pay on Dec. 24. In addition, President Wong has decided to close the SF State campus and to provide University employees with an additional half day of informal time off with pay on Dec. 24. Accordingly, SF State employees (exempt and non-exempt) will receive their regular pay for that day and do not need to use any accrued leave. Part-time employees will be provided with paid informal time off, pro-rated according to their time base. 

Essential personnel who are required to work on Dec. 24 or those employees who are on approved vacation or accrued comp time (CTO) time that day may take their informal paid time off at a later date to be arranged with their appropriate administrator but no later than June 30, 2019. Informal time will not be charged against an employee’s leave accruals. 

Holiday Schedule Reminder 2018 

SF State will be closed from Dec. 24 until Jan. 2. All days except Monday, Dec. 31, are covered by observed holidays or informal paid time off. Employees may choose to use the following options for accounting for the Dec. 31 closure:

  • Accrued vacation time
  • Accrued comp time (CTO)
  • 2018 personal holiday
  • A dock in pay

Employees who have not used their personal holiday for calendar year 2018 should use that option during the December 2018 pay period (no later than Dec. 31) since the personal holiday cannot be carried over to the next calendar year. The personal holiday must be used in whole-day increments and equal a maximum of eight hours. A new personal holiday is credited to employees each year on Jan. 1 for use during that calendar year.

In accordance with collective bargaining agreements and CSU practice, vacation accumulation in excess of the maximum hours allowed will be forfeited as of Jan. 1, 2019. Employees can view their leave balances via the Employee Self-Service function through the SF State Gateway/MySFSU Once signed in to Self Service, click under My Benefits, then under the Leave Balance link.

Additional details are on the HR web page under 2018 Holiday Informal Time Off — Detailed information. For questions and clarification, please contact Agnes Cheng, assistant director, payroll ( or ext. 5-4359) or Henry McCoy, executive director, HR ( or ext. 8-1506). 

Reifschneider lands CURE grant

Assistant Professor of Anthropology Meredith Reifschneider has been awarded a College Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) grant for spring 2019. CURE’s mission is to support and promote undergraduate research in all disciplines across the College of Liberal & Creative Arts. Reifschneider's proposal was selected by the CURE Steering Committee to receive a $3,000 CURE Undergraduate Research Assistantship Grant for spring 2019. She will be presenting the archaeological work that she and her students will be doing at the Presidio on medical practices between 1890 and 1950 at CURE’s Undergraduate Research Showcase in May.

Frank, Nungaray named to Development positions

Tina Frank has been named interim associate vice president for University Development. Frank currently serves as the University’s senior development advisor. Before joining SF State, she served as chief operating officer and vice president of grant operations for the Koret Foundation. Frank has a long career as a community leader and has served on the boards of the San Francisco Hospital Foundation and the Women’s Foundation.

Manny Nungaray has been named executive director, development and campaign operations. Nungaray has 18 years’ experience in development and has held positions in all aspects of the field, including annual giving, donor relations, prospect research, advancement services and campaign operations. He has also held leadership positions at Notre Dame de Namur, including executive director of development and executive director of major and planned gifts. A member of the Association of Fundraising Professional and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), Nungaray has received the CASE silver and gold awards for fundraising publications and targeted campaigns.

New infographic spotlights fall 2018 student body

As part of its ongoing effort to disseminate data across campus, the Office of Institutional Research has created a new infographic that provides a graphical representation of the fall 2018 student population. Specific measures include: enrollment, demographics and student success indicators. The infographic is available online at

The Office of Institutional Research welcomes feedback and suggestions as part of its efforts to disseminate data across campus. Visit the IR website for contact information or to view additional data.

SF BUILD Winter Writing Retreat, Jan. 23

Faculty and staff members are invited to attend SF BUILD’s 2nd annual Winter Faculty Writing Retreat Wednesday. The retreat will be held Jan. 23 at the Mercy Center (2300 Adeline Drive in Burlingame) from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Lunch will be provided.

The retreat will provide attendees with a dedicated quiet space to work on writing projects. Everyone will also have the opportunity for a one-on-one consultation on grant proposals or manuscripts with a faculty expert in writing and grants.

Interested? Fill out a brief online survey by Friday, Dec. 21. Those RSVPing and attending this event will get on the priority list for SF BUILD’s popular two-day Summer Writing Retreat in June, which will include organic meals and overnight lodging (space limited for 30 attendees) at the Westerbeke Ranch in Sonoma. 

Rabelo talks minority employees

A widely reprinted article about the double duty asked of minority employees — who are frequently expected to address cultural sensitivity issues or recruit diverse job candidates — features quotes from Assistant Professor of Management Veronica Rabelo. “Especially if you're a woman of color or visibly queer, you will be burdened or assigned or expected to take on that diversity work,” Rabelo said in the article, which appeared on, and elsewhere.

Englander recalls Briggs battle

A Bay Area Reporter article about the 1978 defeat of the Briggs initiative, which would have barred gay and lesbian teachers from working in public schools, features quotes from Lecturer of History Sue Englander. Englander was one of the LGBT activists who helped stop the initiative. “We were a new generation of how to conduct politics,” said Englander. “What we brought to the campaign should really be a template for future struggles. Proposition 8 in 2008, in which Californians voted to say that marriage was only between a man and a woman, did not have that kind of a campaign and it was voted in, so lesson learned. We wanted to promote the kind of grassroots, vital campaign that involves people and gets them invested in a political idea and a political community.” You can read the article in its entirety here.

Movie with McBride scores best-of-year slots

“The Other Side of the Wind,” the recently completed Orson Welles film in which Professor of Cinema Joseph McBride appears as an actor, has won several end-of-the-year honors. It was named the 14th best film of the year in the annual Sight & Sound international poll of critics, programmers and academics. Toronto’s Globe and Mail placed the film on its top 10 list for the year. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (which McBride helped found in 1975) awarded the movie a special citation. And the film also won the National Review Board’s William K. Everson Film History Award in tandem with a documentary about its making, “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead,” in which McBride also appears.

Lee presents paper in Germany

Associate Professor of Asian American Studies Jonathan Lee presented a paper at the University of Leipzig in Germany last week. Lee was invited to present “A Tale of Three Temples, Three Cities, and Three Goddesses? Historicity and Sacred Space in the Cult of Tianhou/Mazu at Meizhou, Beigang, and San Francisco” at the conference Transnational Religious Spaces: Religious Organizations and Their Interaction in Africa, East Asia and Beyond held Dec. 13-15.