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Cal State LA honors outstanding faculty at University Convocation 2021

August 19, 2021
Ten faculty and administrators standing in front of decorative hedge that says Cal State LA, We Are LA
Photo: Seated, from left to right, faculty members John M. Kennedy, Choi Chatterjee, Krishna Foster, Simona Montanari, and Katherine Roberts. Standing, from left to right, faculty members Walter Zelman and Nikola R. Alenkin, Cal State LA President William A. Covino, Academic Senate Chair Talia Bettcher and Outstanding Professor Awards Committee Chair ChorSwang Ngin. (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State LA)

Cal State LA honors outstanding faculty at University Convocation 2021

August 19, 2021
Ten faculty and administrators standing in front of decorative hedge that says Cal State LA, We Are LA
Photo: Seated, from left to right, faculty members John M. Kennedy, Choi Chatterjee, Krishna Foster, Simona Montanari, and Katherine Roberts. Standing, from left to right, faculty members Walter Zelman and Nikola R. Alenkin, Cal State LA President William A. Covino, Academic Senate Chair Talia Bettcher and Outstanding Professor Awards Committee Chair ChorSwang Ngin. (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State LA)

Seven Cal State LA faculty members were recognized for excellence in teaching and outstanding achievements during University Convocation 2021.

Four Outstanding Professor Award recipients and an Outstanding Lecturer Award recipient were honored for significant achievements in scholarly inquiry or creativity, as well as professional activities and community service.

Two President’s Distinguished Professor Awards were presented to previous Outstanding Professor Award recipients. This award recognizes each faculty member’s superlative teaching and exceptional commitment to students, as well as their professional accomplishments and services.

During University Convocation, President William A. Covino celebrated the start of the new academic year while Professor Talia Bettcher, chair of the Academic Senate, welcomed new faculty members.

The seven award recipients were introduced by Professor ChorSwang Ngin, chair of the Outstanding Professor Awards Committee.



Choi Chatterjee is a professor of history in the College of Natural and Social Sciences, where she also serves as chair of the university’s Department of History.

Chatterjee’s research is wide-ranging, and she has published in the fields of world history, Russian-American relations and transnational history. Her published works include one monograph, two textbooks, four edited volumes of original scholarly essays and numerous peer-reviewed articles. Her most recent monograph, Russia in World History: A Transnational Approach, will be published by Bloomsbury Press in 2022.

At Cal State LA, Chatterjee has created courses in Russian history, comparative European history, Russian-American relations, globalization and food justice. She has served as a coordinator of the history department’s Teaching Preparation Program and has taught upper-division courses for the Honors College.

In 2014, Chatterjee was a recipient of Cal State LA’s Outstanding Professor Award. She serves on the Advisory Committee of the Wende Museum in Culver City and on the editorial board of the international journal Slavic Review. She was a member of the editorial board of an international research project titled Russia’s Great War and Revolution. She has also served on numerous committees for international organizations and was president of the Association for Women in Slavic Studies.

Chatterjee has co-curated several art exhibitions, including one on the centenary of the Russian Revolution, which was displayed at Cal State LA in 2017. She is a passionate advocate of everyday environmentalism and is the co-founder of the Living Backyard to Table project. In 2020, she and a team of faculty received a four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build an urban food garden at Cal State LA. The garden also serves as a site of multidisciplinary research and student engagement.

Chatterjee, who resides in the city of Altadena, received her Ph.D. in Soviet history from Indiana University Bloomington.

John M. Kennedy is a professor of music composition in the College of Arts and Letters’ Department of Music.

Kennedy’s creative activity and scholarship have an international focus and include a U.S. Fulbright Scholar Award to the University of Malta and performances of original compositions in 15 countries on four continents. His work has been recognized with annual awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers since 1991, along with commissions from soloists and ensembles worldwide. He continues to explore styles and sounds through improvisation projects on the double bass.

At Cal State LA, he has been active in cross-campus initiatives, including the Ford Foundation’s Crossing Borders project and the Smithsonian’s American Sabor exhibition. His work to enhance the music composition program has included regular collaborations with the L.A. Philharmonic and guest ensembles from the U.S. and Europe. He also developed and implemented a cross-disciplinary music minor program, Creative Studies in Music. He is a current fellow of the American Communities Program at Cal State LA.

His scholarship is focused on the convergence of musical styles in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and he is active in advocating for reform of the undergraduate music curriculum nationwide. He and his wife, guitarist Satik Andriassian, have presented joint research and performances in China, Malta, the United Kingdom and Italy. In 2013, he received Cal State LA’s Outstanding Professor Award.

A Woodland Hills resident, Kennedy attended the Berklee College of Music and Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, completing undergraduate studies in double bass. He received a fellowship in composition to attend the University of Michigan, where he completed the M.M. and A.Mus.D. While attending Michigan, he was awarded the prestigious Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York.



Krishna Foster is a professor of chemistry in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, which is part of the College of Natural and Social Sciences.

Recognized as a history maker in the fields of education and science, Foster strives to help students develop an awareness of the skills and attributes of professional scientists and assist those who are Ph.D. bound to succeed in this aspiration.

Foster is co-director of the Minority Opportunities in Research (MORE) programs and director of the National Institutes of Health-funded Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program at Cal State LA. More than 180 MORE fellows from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences have obtained their Ph.D. degrees in STEM fields in the past 20 years.

Foster actively explores innovative pedagogical techniques while instructing courses in general, atmospheric and physical chemistry. She aims to develop inquisitive students with refined problem-solving skills who will become leaders in their chosen professions sensitive to the role of chemists and chemistry in the modern world. She has mentored more than 40 students in directed research experiences.

Her research interests include determining the role of polycyclic aromatic compounds on the oxidizing capacity of the lower atmosphere, identifying reduced phosphorus oxyanions in natural environments and chemical education. She has co-authored 24 publications on these topics.

An Altadena resident, Foster received a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her postdoctoral research conducted at UC Irvine and in the High Arctic resulted in two Science magazine features.

Simona Montanari is a professor of language development in the Department of Child and Family Studies, which is part of the Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services. She received her Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Southern California, where her pioneering work on early trilingual development gained international recognition.

Her research has focused on the emergence of different language components (speech sound production, vocabulary, verbal morphology, narrative skills and pragmatics) in Spanish-speaking children growing up bilingually or trilingually in the United States. Her publications include 20 journal articles, 10 book chapters and one monograph.

Montanari has co-edited the books Bilingualism Across the Lifespan: Factors Moderating Language Proficiency, published by the American Psychological Association in 2016, and Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Multilingualism: The Fundamentals, published by De Gruyter in 2019.

Montanari’s work on bilingual and multilingual development is featured in textbooks, parenting guides and blogs, and she has been a speaker at more than 50 national and international conferences in the U.S., Germany, China, Honduras, Belgium and Mexico. She has delivered presentations in her native Republic of San Marino, where she is also involved in the documentation and preservation of its endangered vernacular language.

A resident of Granada Hills, Montanari has been instrumental in the creation of the Italian/English dual language immersion program in the Glendale Unified School District and regularly provides her expertise on bilingual/dual language education for schools in different world regions.

Katherine Roberts is a professor of criminalistics and director of the graduate program in criminalistics in the School of Criminal Justice and Criminalistics, which is part of the Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services. She also serves as the executive director of the California Forensic Science Institute, overseeing the advancement of the forensic sciences through a multidisciplinary program that focuses on research development, professional training, student support and community engagement.

Roberts is currently collaborating with the Human Genomics Unit of the L.A. County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner to investigate the accuracy of phenotype/biogeographical ancestry-informative genetic markers using next-generation DNA sequencing. She collaborates with university faculty and private industry on several DNA sequencing projects related to bloodstain and fingerprint donor aging and trace evidence analysis.

Roberts teaches forensic microscopy, trace evidence analysis, applications of forensic science and research methods, and statistical analysis in forensic applications. She has mentored more than 120 student thesis research projects, published her research in prestigious peer-reviewed journals and presented at numerous state, national and international conferences.

Roberts has been the principal investigator (PI) on U.S. Department of Justice grants, including from the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). She is currently the PI for a BJA-funded grant on post-conviction testing of DNA evidence in partnership with Loyola Law School’s Loyola Project for the Innocent.

A Fontana resident, Roberts received her Ph.D. in forensic science at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York.

Walter Zelman is a professor and chair of the Department of Public Health in the Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services.

Zelman spent more than 30 years as a policy advocate in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., including two years working for universal healthcare coverage in the Clinton administration.

At Cal State LA, he was instrumental in helping to more than double the number of public health majors and instituting a new master’s degree in urban community health at the Cal State LA Downtown campus.

Zelman created and directed the California State University Health Insurance Education Project in 2013, aimed at educating CSU students about their responsibilities and rights under the Affordable Care Act. In 2016, Zelman and two students from the university’s Public Health Student Association were invited to the White House, in recognition of Cal State LA’s success in informing students about affordable health insurance.

Since 2012, Zelman has directed the annual CSU Health Policy Conference, where nearly 200 students and faculty from 16 CSU campuses have met with legislators, lobbyists, journalists, staffers and public health professionals.

Zelman established an internship program with the California Department of Public Health in Sacramento to provide CSU students an opportunity to gain hands-on work experience. He also piloted a grant-funded Careers in Health project at Cal State LA that included a career conference for more than 200 public health students from eight CSU campuses.

A Malibu resident, Zelman received his Ph.D. in American politics from UCLA. In 2019, he was presented with a CSU Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award.



Nikola R. Alenkin is an alumnus of Cal State LA, as well as a lecturer in the School of Social Work, which is a part of the Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services.

Alenkin has taught courses throughout the social work program curriculum at both the undergraduate and graduate levels for more than 20 years. His teachings have focused on homelessness, community organizing, clinical practice, field practice, military/veteran populations, genocide/trauma, self-care and policy/administration.

Alenkin has conducted research on secondary traumatic stress and coping, service utilization and social service delivery for homeless populations, veteran populations and social work practice with survivors of genocide. He has published numerous articles, with his most recent publication in the prestigious Journal of Social Work on integrating mindfulness practice within large organizations. He has also given multiple presentations at conferences both nationally and internationally to professional and student audiences.

At Cal State LA, he has served as a master’s thesis faculty member, faculty advisor for two student organizations and coordinator of a speaker series, “Community Conversations.” He has led tours of the Skid Row area in Los Angeles for his students to investigate the impacts of homelessness and possible solutions for the past 10 years. He is also co-founder and co-director of the nonprofit California Organizing and Policy Institute.

Alenkin earned his Bachelor of Social Work from Cal State LA and his Ph.D. from Loma Linda University. He resides in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles.

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