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Our Mission

CommUniverCity is a unique partnership between San José State University, the City of San José, and underserved communities in Central San José.

CommUniverCity’s model originated with an idea that bringing the collective resources of major institutions together to bear on local, community development issues, the potential for sustainable, meaningful change would be great. Since our early years, we have sought to establish a solid foundation of trust between partners, a relationship that was built from the ground up, with every project developed by community residents, faculty, students and City staff working side by side. Based on existing community-identified needs, our projects are categorized in three core pillars: Engage, Learn, and Build.

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Our Model

Engage – Community Health

Engage projects seek to transform Central San José communities by expanding understanding of individual capacity and capability, a necessary effort to improve community health. In these programs, residents of all ages engage in mentorships with our SJSU service-learning students to build knowledge for the individual self and the individual’s role in connection to their larger community. These projects include skill building in areas like leadership, civic engagement, food security, entrepreneurship, financial literacy and legal consultation for expungement law.

Learn -Education

Learn projects support a fluid exchange of ideas, knowledge and resources between our SJSU service-learning students and the neighboring residents. Faculty and campus leaders recognize the power of high impact pedagogies such as service-learning to instill in students an ethic of civic engagement in a democratic society. Downtown residents, who are traditionally underserved, take part in these programs that serve to increase literacy skills and instill a “college-going” culture. These projects include college campus touring, reading and writing skill learning, sustainability practices and STEM concepts.

Build – Neighborhood Revitalization

Build projects funnel city resources to address the priorities of long neglected neighborhoods. These programs create a space for community participation and engage residents in the decision-making processes that direct public investment. Build projects seek to revitalize, physically and conceptually, downtown neighborhoods using efficient and sustainable practices. These projects include community planning assessments, neighborhood reactivation and community fairs aimed at building public knowledge of resources and placemaking efforts.

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Meet our staff.

In the leadership team: Michael Oye (executive director) , Pamela Wells (director), Imelda Rodriguez (community director), Elizabeth Figueroa, (project coordinator), and Matthew Snyder (administrative analyst)
As consultants: Katherine Cushing and Francisco de la Calle
In the student staff: Hassina Adel, Joseph Alameda, Mary Kay Jimenez-Floyd, Cristine Nguyen, Ngan Nguyen, Raji Rajesh, and Jessica Raygada

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Leadership Team

  • Michael Oye, Director
    Mike Oye is the Executive Director for CommUniverCity and a resident of San Jose, living near SJSU’s South Campus. He’s been teaching Engineering courses at SJSU since 2009, and has been incorporating CommUniverCity projects in his classes each semester since 2012. Mike believes that CommUniverCity projects not only benefit the local community, but also SJSU faculty and students as well, because they can get involved with real-world projects that have farther reaching impacts than just what happens in the classroom.
  • Pamela Wells, Director
    Pamela Wells received her M.S. from San José State in 2005. She is a Managing Partner of Critical Moments Safety Training, LLC, and serves as a mediator for the Santa Clara County Office of Human Relations and consultant for the Destiny Re-Entry Program. Her activities on campus include Faculty Advisor for the Latino Business Student Association and Passport Program Coordinator for the Global Leadership Advancement Center. She is a recipient of San Jose State University’s Master Teacher Award.
  • Imelda Rodriguez, Community Director
    Imelda is a resident of Olinder Park, a neighborhood in central San José, located within the boundaries of CommUniverCity. She oversees projects and programs to deepen resident engagement, and plays a key role in connecting San José State University faculty and students to the larger downtown San José community. She works on establishing strong working relations with key community-based organizations, schools, and resident leaders. Imelda utilizes her cultural and professional background to work with residents in the implementation of neighborhood programs dealing with education, health, neighborhood environment, safety, and access to food.
    Email: Imelda@cucsj.org     Phone: (408) 297-3301
  • Elizabeth Figueroa, Project Coordinator
    Elizabeth is a transplant from Fresno, California. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree from San José State University’s Recreation Program. Her first project with CommUniverCity was Community Outreach for the 2010 Census. Since then, she has led projects in all categories and is now the longest standing project coordinator. Elizabeth coordinates Accelerating 3rd Grade Literacy, Reading Mentors, and Writing Partners.
    Email:   Elizabeth@cucsj.org     Phone: (408) 297-3301
  • Matthew Snyder, Administrative Analyst
    Matt Snyder is CommUniverCity’s Administrative Analyst and joined the Team in Fall 2020. Matt is a native of San José and an alum of San José State University. He holds a B.A. in Sociology with a concentration in Social Interaction. Matt participated in CommUniverCity’s Northside Neighborhood canvassing during his undergrad, which sparked his interest in community work. He is now working in his career path for education and community work. You can find Matt at CommUniverCity’s office at San José State, Clark Hall 105.
    Email:   Matthew.Snyder@sjsu.edu  Phone: (408) 924-3560
  • Senior Advisors

  • Katherine Cushing
  • Francisco de la Calle
  • Student Staff

  • Hassina Adel
  • Joseph Alameda
  • Mary Kay Jimenez-Floyd
  • Cristine Nguyen
  • Ngan Nguyen
  • Raji Rajesh
  • Jessica Raygada
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Steering Committee

CommUniverCity SJSU is governed by a Steering Committee with representatives of the University, the City, the community and our community partners, including local school districts.
The governing board of the Tower Foundation, our fiscal agent, is composed of prominent community leaders and SJSU alumni.

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Alongside them were staff and leadership from eight City of San Jose Departments, two regional government agencies, and over a dozen k-12 school and after school partners. Major contributors and collaborators also included longtime corporate sponsors, community-based organizations, and resident associations. We joyously celebrated our 15th year of bringing positive social change at our November Quinceañera with 220 past, present, and future “CommUniverCitans” and commendations from city, state, and national elected officials. Four months later, San Jose State, Santa Clara County, and much of the nation shut down as schools and businesses went remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of our projects that centered around in-person engagement had to be cancelled. Other projects moved online. Student staff moved back home. The cornerstone of CommUniverCity activity–being out in the community–wasn’t feasible in its traditional form.

So, we pivoted. Thanks to the hard work and open-mindedness of sponsors, project partners, faculty and students, and CommUniverCity staff we developed alternative ways of reaching out, teaching our emerging Spanish-speaking resident leaders how to use Zoom and hosting how-to workshops on using social media platforms to local businesses. SJSU students switched up their plans from leading face-to-face workshops this spring to making engaging do-it-yourself videos on engineering and entrepreneurship. We put together family-based garden kits and distributed them to local families. Somehow, we made things work.

Despite this year’s upheaval, we find much to be thankful for. In April the respected Bay Area urban policy think tank, SPUR, honored CommUniverCity with its 2020 Impact Award for Community Advocacy. We are also happy to be one of the three founding institutions leading the Northern California Environmental Justice Network, together with colleagues at Santa Clara and Stanford Universities. And by grassroots request, CommUniverCity’s geography expanded to include projects in South Santa Clara County and the Alum Rock corridor of east San Jose.

The road ahead still holds many unknowns. However, one thing we know for sure is that CommUniverCity will continue its holistic approach to making great neighborhoods for everyone through university learning projects that strengthen community health, increase educational achievement, and improve neighborhood infrastructure.

In community,

Katherine Kao Cushing, Ph.D.

Executive Director

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Annual Reports

Due to the COVID19 pandemic, the publication of full annual reports was interrupted. The following report correspond to the latest issue (2019-2020) when we celebrated out 15th Anniversary. 

Annual Report-2019-2020 |  Annual Report-2018-2019  |  Annual Report-2017-2018  |  Annual Report-2016-2017  |  Annual Report-2014-2015

Letter from Katherine K. Cushing:

Dear friends, partners, and supporters of CommUniverCity,
This past year brought new high points and challenges for our work in the underserved neighborhoods of Central San Jose. Our efforts brought together faculty and students in over two dozen different academic departments ranging from psychology to geology and over a dozen institutions of higher education in Northern California.

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CommUniverCity’s Steering Committee members serve three key roles:

  1. Ambassadors/Champions in the wider community, sharing CommUniverCity’s work through their own networks while also helping identify resources and establish strategic connections.
  2. Advisors, providing strategic direction for the organization as a whole, and feedback on specific initiatives.
  3. Partners in community projects.

Steering Committee Members


  • Vice-Chair: Joan Rivas-Cosby, Chair, FWBT Neighborhood Action Council
  • Vice-chair: Deanna Fassett, SJSU Director, Center for Faculty Development
  • Vice-chair: Angel Rios, Jr., Deputy City Manager, City of San José


  • José Posadas, President, Luna Park Business District
  • Terry Ramos, Spartan Keyes Neighborhood Action Council
  • Davide Vieira, Little Portugal Neighborhood resident

San José State University

  • Peggy Cabrera, Librarian, Martin Luther King, Jr. Library
  • Buford Furman, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering
  • Elena Klaw, Faculty Director, Center for Community Learning and Leadership, Graduate and Undergraduate Programs
  • Andrea Tully, Center for Community Learning and Leadership, Graduate and Undergraduate Programs
  • Terry Christensen, Emeritus Professor, Department of Political Science, SJSU
  • Kathrine Richardson, Associate Professor, Department of Urban and Regional Planning
  • Jason DeHaan, Lecturer, Department of of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences
  • Edwin Tan, Government Relations, Director of Advocacy and Community Relations

Local Government

  • Nicolle Burnham, Deputy Director, Capital Programs, Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, City of San Jose
  • Mera Burton, Program Manager, Office of Civic Engagement, Valley Water
  • Patricia Ceja, Community Relations Coordinator, Office of Councilmember Raul Peralez, City of San José, Council District 3
  • Karolina Gorgolewski, Librarian, Joyce Ellington Library, City of San Jose
  • Shikha Gupta, Environmental Services Department, City of San Jose (alternate Michael Gonzalez)
  • Jessica Zenk, Community Services Supervisor, Transportation Department, City of San José
  • Jo Zientek, Consumer and Environmental Protection Environmental Services, Santa Clara County


  • Wen Chang, Vice President & Branch Manager, Cathay Bank

Community-based Organizations

  • Helen Kung, Pastor, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church 
  • America G. Gomez, CORAL Managing Director, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara Program

*Non-voting members/liaisons

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Awards and Commendations

Learn about the awards and commendations that CommUniverCity has accrued in its short history. The most recent ones have been the City of San José District 3 GALPU Outstanding Neighborhood Award, presenting a Commendation to Friends of Five Wounds Trail for advocating and preserving the historic Five Wounds trail and providing the most volunteers for the Great American Litter Pick Up. The previous one was the “Outstanding Experiential Education Program” that recognizes an outstanding K-12 or higher education institution that has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to experiential education in their classrooms or on their campuses, given by The National Society for Experiential Education (NSEE). 

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2016-2017 Awards & Commendations

  • City of San Jose District 3 2019 GALPU Outstanding Neighborhood Award, Presentation of a Commendation to Friends of Five Wounds Trail for advocating and preserving the historic Five Wounds trail and providing the most volunteers for the Great American Litter Pick Up, June 2019
  • “Outstanding Experiential Education Program” that recognizes an outstanding K-12 or higher education institution that has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to experiential education in their classrooms or on their campuses, given by The National Society for Experiential Education (NSEE), May 2019
  • Commendation to CommUniverCity from U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren for our longstanding support of community action and for our impact in “increasing the vibrancy and health of our communities”, presented at Celebrating Partnerships in April 2018.

2016-2017 Awards & Commendations

  • “Healthy Worksite Award” given by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, March 2017
  • “American Society of Business and Behavioral Sciences Award for Best Paper in a Track”
  • “Academic Project Award” given by the Northern California section of the American Planning Association, June 2017

2015-2016 Awards & Commendations

  • “C. Peter Magrath Engagement Scholarship Award” given by the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), November 2015
  • “Award of Excellence” in the category of Academic Award by 2016 APA California Northern Section Awards Program, May 2016

2013 Awards & Commendations

  • “Bold Steps for Children” Award presented by Santa Clara Kids in Common , February 2013
  • Recognized as a “Civic Gift” to San José by the San José Mercury News, December 2013
  • Environmental Organization of the Year by Santa Clara League of Conservation Voters, October 2013
  • Commendation from City of San José Mayor and Council to CommUniverCity’s Garden to Table program, presented at the State of the City Address, February 2013.

2006-2012 Awards & Commendations

  • Commendation to CommUniverCity from Mayor Reed, Councilmember Sam Liccardo and the San José City Council for having served the Five Wounds/Brookwood Terrace community for six years, and completed more than 100,000 of community development work, valued at over $2 million, December 13, 2011.
  • MetLife Foundation and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). National Community-Police Partnership Award, November 4, 2011.
  • CommUniverCity was selected from a pool of more than 700 applicants for one of 10 MetLife Foundation honors, which recognize creative efforts to integrate policing with economic development.
  • Project Cornerstone. Asset Champions Award in the Community Values Youth category, March 19, 2009.
  • California Chapter of the American Planning Association, Meritorious Award for Outstanding Neighborhood Planning, June 2008.
  • NeighborhoodsUSA Award: First Place for Social Revitalization, nationally recognizing the partnership between the City of San José, SJSU and the Five Wounds/Brookwood Terrace community, May 2008.
  • Northern Section, California Chapter of the American Planning Association, Outstanding Planning Award for Neighborhood Planning, April 2008.
  • Excellence in Neighborhood Leadership Award, City of San José and Neighborhood Housing Services Silicon Valley, 2007.
  • Commendation from Vice Mayor Chavez, Mayor Gonzales and the San José City Council for work done at the April 22, 2006 Day of Service, June 27, 2006.

San José State University Recognition

  • San José State University Distinguished Service Award for Dayana Salazar, Executive Director, April 2012.
  • San José State University Provost’s Award for Excellence in Service Learning: Collaborative Project: Family Fall Health Night, HS200, May 2008.
  • San José State University Provost’s Award for Excellence in Service Learning: Collaborative Project, Youth Planning Workshop, URBP201/203, May 2008.
  • San José State University Provost’s Award for Excellence in Service Learning: Special Recognition. CUC VISTA Leif Christiansen, May 2007.
  • San José State University Provost’s Award for Excellence in Service Learning: Collaborative Project. Olinder Elementary School Education Project, May 2007.
  • San José State University Provost’s Award for Excellence in Service Learning: Collaborative Project. CommUniverCity San José, May 4, 2006.
  • San José State University Provost’s Award for Excellence in Service Learning: Student Class, SJSU URBP 201-203, May 4, 2006.
  • San José State University Provost’s Award for Excellence in Service Learning: Student Team on CommUniverCity’s Community Mapping Project, May 4, 2006.

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CommUniverCity in the Academia

CommUniverCity’s work has been the subject of numerous scholarly articles. Below are some examples of the fascinating work that explores our unique partnership model.  The most recent titles include “A Course-Embedded Community-Engaged Learning Initiative in Finance,” by Bobbi Makani and Xiaoyan Xu; and “Understanding Business Concepts Through Application: The Pedagogy of Community-Engaged Learning” Bobbi Makani and Mahesh Rajan.

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  • Continuity and Change in Community‐Based Leadership in Downtown San José, California: Thematic Analysis Addendum to the Study Fundings Report to CommUniverCity
    by San José State University Anthropology Professor A.J. Faas, and Applied Anthropology Graduate students, Chelsea Halliwell, Ailea Merriam‐Pigg, Jamieson Mockel, Stephanie Monterrosa, and Deirdre Patterson (2016)
  • Expungement: A Gateway to Work
    by Peggy S. Stevenson (2015)

  • CommUniverCity: Building Community in the Silicon Valley

    by Dayana Salazar and Melinda Jackson (2014)

  • Service Learning in a Multi-disciplinary Renewable Energy Engineering Course
    By Stacy Gleixner, Patricia Ryaby Backer and Elena Klaw (2011)
  • CommUniverCity San Jose: Building a Partnership for Service Learning
    by Terry Christensen and Melinda Jackson (2009)
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    CommUniverCity in the News
    We are also very proud of the communication that we, all the CommUniverCitans, keep with the community and the attention that the community pay to us in the media.
    Don’t miss the opportunity to sign up for suscription in our newsletter The CommUniverCitans!

    Many of our projects have been featured in the press. Follow our stories below to catch up on project highlights in the media.

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  • “The CommUniverCitan: A Step Into Summer with Farewells”
    June 9th, 2021
    Our Steering Committee Meeting on June 4 was the final meeting of this semester. We wrapped up the semester by saying farewells to some of the graduating student staff. Ernest Alnas, a Community Engagement Associate for Rocketship schools, highlighted their activities in dealing with COVID-19 restrictions this year. The Impact Spotlight featured CommUniverCity Club, presented by Elizabeth Figueroa, a virtual adaption of Engineering in Action, Young Entrepreneurs Academy, and Garden Education over the course of one week.

  • “The CommUniverCitan: Wrapping Up a Semester of Community Dedication”
    May 12th, 2021
    We welcome two new steering committee members! Aleisha Wright and Alan Guig. The Impact Spotlight featured John De La Cruz who leads the Advertising Campaigns project, which offers SJSU students the opportunity to advise and propose creative solutions to local businesses’ communication problems.

    December 12, 2017
    Record Clearance Project writes about the accomplishments of in-custody students in excelling in college courses. These courses included an Introduction to Kinesiology and the Justice Studies – Record Clearance Project: Practical Legal Skills course.

    October 31, 2017
    San José State Spartan Athletics writes about the partnership between CommUniverCity, SJSU and PG&E for the November 4th Football Game.

  • Valley Politics: October 2017 Alex Shoor, Michael Tsai, Tom McEnery & Imelda RodriguezOctober 2017
    Valley Politics interviews Imelda Rodriguez, Community Director, about Safe & Green Halloween

  • SJSU students, community see Fountain Alley potential
    March 2017
    San José Downtown Association features our Co-Design workshop at Local Color with SJSU Design students.

  • GIS mapping system increases San Jose fruit trees’ yield
    July 29, 2016
    American City & County writes about how our Garden2Table initiative utilizes the support of Trimble’s mapping system to channel a surplus of fruit for people in need.

  • SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success: College Readiness, Advising, Student Engagement and Clearing Bottlenecks
    May 5, 2016
    CommUniverCity is cited (page 9) as program that helps achieve the success goals for SJSU students. We do this by providing opportunities to over 1.200 SJSU students each year to participate in community-engaged learning opportunities, a High Impact pedagogical practice that increases student retention and student success.

  • League of Women Voters
    April 10, 2016
    Ann Clarke  interviews  Dayana Salazar, Executive Director, CommUniverCity San José.

  • Tackling trash: City aims for illegal dumping before, after Super Bowl 50
    February 2, 2016
    Read about our pre and post-SuperBowl trash tackle in Mercury News.
  • an Jose, Calif., Launches Innovative Geospatial Cleanup App to Prepare for Super Bowl 50
    February 2, 2016
    See our geospatial map of cataloged trash featured in Government Technology.

  • Trimble helps clean up for Super Bowl 50
    February 5, 2016
    BizWest highlights our Illegal Dumping story online.
  • Trimble TerraFlex helps San José read y for big game bash
    February 8, 2016
    Read about our Illegal Dumping assessment plan in Directions Magazine.

  • Geospatial Technology Scores Big in Super Bowl 50 Waste Cleanup
    February 8, 2016
    Waste360 wrote about our efforts to tackle the trash before the big game

  • Super Bowl Waste Management Victory Goes to Geospatial Technology
    February 8, 2016
    Environmental Leader featured our pre-game trash assessment: Super Bowl Waste Management Victory Goes to Geospatial Technology.
  • San José Uses Geospatial Technology to Clean up Before the Big Game”
    February 5, 2016
    Earth Imaging Journal featured our illegal dumping assessments.
  • San Jose’s Garden to Table effort is bearing fruit
    August 3, 2013
    The project aims to create a local food supply in neighborhoods where hunger is prevalent and fresh foods are not. Our  Garden to Table partner was featured to discuss its origins in 2011 with our dedicated residents, community members, and student volunteers.

  • CommUniverCity Helps Downtown Thrive
    March 22, 2013
    Omar Torres in San Jose Inside writes about CommUniverCity San José’s program and how it benefits residents, SJSU students, and the City of San José.

  • SJSU Vision, October 2012, “Growing corporate connections: a gift from Covidien helps establish a children’s learning garden”.
    “Healing Five Wounds: an extraordinary town-gown partnership is turning a modest neighborhood into a model for healthy urban villages of the future”
    Washington Square Magazine.

  • CommUniverCity VISTA member and Dayana Salazar Interview
    June 23, 2006
    Lindsay Lucas, CommUniverCity VISTA member, and Dayana Salazar, SJSU professor, were interviewed about CommUniverCity on June 23, 2006 for Comcast local edition to air in July.

  • “Collaboration with SJSU builds many opportunities”
    May 2006
    The Chamber Advocate.

  • CommUniverCity VISTA member and Interview
    April 23, 2006

  • Lindsay Lucas, CommUniverCity VISTA member, was interviewed on April 23, 2006 on UPN Bay Area for her involvement in planning the April 22nd Day of Service.
    April 22, 2006
    San José Mercury News
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    Contact Us

    408.490.0708  – McKinley Field Office
    408.924.3560  – San José State University Office
    elizabeth@cucsj.org for Elizabeth Figueroa, Program Coordinator
    admin@cucsj.org for general inquiries
    comms@cucsj.org for social media inquiries
    San José State University
    Clark Hall #105
    One Washington Square
    San José, CA 95192-0268

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