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Spark Seminars - Exploring Justice, Together

Spark Seminars

Spark Seminars are a unique opportunity for SCU undergraduate students to engage with interested peers around challenging questions, learn with faculty they may not otherwise meet, and get to know a University leader outside of their formal role on campus. 

How can students participate?

Spark Seminars are open to all undergraduate students at SCU. We hope the wide range of disciplines and topics offered will provide opportunities for students to explore social justice topics that capture their imagination.

Spark Seminars are listed in CourseAvail under UGST 100.
Seminars will meet once each week during weeks 2, 3, 4, and 5 of spring quarter 2023.
Courses are 1 unit and graded P/NP.

Enrollment will be kept small, so register before these fill up! 

Takeshi Moro (Art & Art History) with David DeCosse (Markkula Center for Applied Ethics)

In this seminar, we will explore how the Japanese-American community has lived through the legacies of historical injustices and discrimination. We will hear the stories of tragedies, perseverance, and triumph — not necessarily in that order. Through discussions and reflections, we explore how this history relates to us in Santa Clara and beyond. We will consider cultural influences such as food and art in the SF Bay Area.

Wednesdays, 3:30 PM to 5:15 PM in Dowd 314
April 12, April 19, April 26, May 3

Takeshi Moro

Professor, Art and Art History

Takeshi Moro was born in Japan, raised in the U.K. and currently works in the San Francisco Bay Area. Moro studied photography at Rhode Island School of Design and holds a B.A. in Visual Arts from Brown University. He completed his M.F.A. graduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Moro’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally including solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and Serlachius Museot, Finland. His work resides in the permanent collection at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, as well as in various private collections. Moro was named a Faculty Fellow in the SCU Center for Arts and Humanities in 2017.


David DeCosse

Director, Religious and Catholic Ethics and Campus Ethics Programs, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

David DeCosse is the Director of Religious and Catholic Ethics and Director of Campus Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at SCU. He is also Adjunct Associate Professor Religious Studies, where he has recently taught classes on the ethics of war and peace and on conscience and politics. In the fall of 2016, DeCosse taught for a semester at Sophia University, the Jesuit university in Tokyo. While in Japan, he also wrote a series of articles for National Catholic Reporter in the United States on such topics as Shusaku Endo's Silence and recovery efforts in Fukushima Prefecture in the aftermath of the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami. He has familial connections to Japan and loves traveling there.


Professor Patti Simone (Psychology) with Hon. Risë Jones Pichon (SCU Board of Regents)

2021 marked the 50th anniversary of America’s “war on drugs”, and the impact this policy has had particularly on the incarceration of black and brown Americans is substantial. This seminar focuses on the impact of drugs of abuse and policies related to these drugs on individuals, groups and society.

Mondays, 5:30 PM to 7:10 PM in Charney 339
April 10, April 17, April 24, May 1

Patti Simone

Professor, Psychology

Patti Simone received her Ph.D. from University of California, San Diego and has been a member of the Psychology Department at Santa Clara for more than 25 years. Some of her earlier research examined the effects of various drugs on behavior including the effect of scopolamine, an anticholinergic and psychedelic, on memory and attention. In addition to teaching several classes in psychology, she also has taught courses in Public Health and  Neuroscience at SCU. By far her favorite class to teach is psychopharmacology, where she gets to engage in conversations with students about the effects of drugs on the brain, behavior, and society.

Hon. Risë Jones Pichon
BS ‘73, JD ‘76

Chair, SCU Board of Regents

Judge Pichon is Chair of the Santa Clara University Board of Regents. She is also a member of the Law School Advisory Board and the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics Advisory Board. Judge Pichon was a superior court judge for the County of Santa Clara from 1998 until her retirement in 2019. She was elected to serve as presiding judge of the Santa Clara County Superior Court in 2015 and 2016, and she is the first minority judge to serve in this position. Judge Pichon earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and her Juris Doctor degree from Santa Clara University. She received an honorary doctorate from SCU in 2020.

Professor Melissa Donegan (English) with Becca Nelson (Forge Garden)

In this seminar, we will explore the benefits of gardening, including growing delicious vegetables, fostering community, and boosting wellbeing. Access to fresh food is a matter of public health and social justice, so we will discuss ways to support sustainability and empower people to grow greener. Let's meet at The Forge Garden, get our hands in the soil, tell stories, and share what we harvest.

Tuesdays, 10:20 AM to 12:00 PM in The Forge Garden
April 11, April 18, April 25, May 2

Melissa Donegan

Senior Lecturer, English

Melissa Donegan earned a degree in English from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, and received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Nineteenth-Century British Women’s Literature from the University of Iowa. She has been teaching at Santa Clara since 2010. Her Critical Thinking and Writing classes investigate themes of home, stuff, and sustainability with an emphasis on epistolary texts. She also teaches “Writing Well(ness): Narratives of Illness, Loss, and Recovery,” an Advanced Writing course. She completed a year-long course in Effective Teaching Practices with ACUE in 2018-19. She enjoys hiking in the foothills of South San Jose, where she relishes seeing bobcats, coyotes, quails, Cooper’s hawks, and rattlesnakes, who remind her to slow down and pay attention

Becca Nelson

Sustainable Food Systems Program Manger, Forge Garden

For the last 6 years Becca worked around the South Bay in sustainable agriculture and education. She's passionate about the connection between the land, sustainability, and community. Becca has worked as a garden teacher, an animal care manager, a farmhand, a forest school teacher, and a volunteer coordinator. She started at Santa Clara in March 2022 and is thrilled to be managing the Forge Garden, educating about sustainable food production, and working with students. As a kid she frequently came to the SCU campus for different events and is happy she found her way back to the Santa Clara campus as the Sustainable Food Systems Program Manager.


Professor Paul Schutz (Religious Studies) with Valerie Sarma (Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education)

The Jesuit tradition has a powerful history of advocating for justice, flourishing, and transformative social change. From the radical peacebuilding efforts of Dan Berrigan, SJ, to the Martyrs of El Salvador, who were murdered for lifting up the poor, the Ignatian tradition has much to say in a world marred by oppression and socio-ecological degradation. This Spark Seminar will discuss this history and consider what the Jesuit tradition has to say about specific social justice issues today, including economic justice, gender and racial justice, and environmental justice, as well as how the Ignatian vision of justice and flourishing bears on life at SCU today.

Thursdays, 2:00 PM to 3:40 PM in Graham 163
April 13, April 20, April 27, May 4

Paul Schutz

Associate Professor, Religious Studies

A native of Evansville, IN, Paul Schutz received his B.A. in English, Music, and Film Studies from Boston College and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Fordham University in the Bronx, NY. His research focuses on the relationship between religion and ecology, with an emphasis on how contemporary scientific knowledge grounds and informs humanity's relationship with the natural world and other-than-human creatures. A longtime liturgist and musician, his work also addresses the potential of Christian worship and biblical accounts of creation, life, and love for cultivating a robust praxis of ecological and social justice.

Valerie Sarma

Sr. Program Director, Student Engagement and Special Projects, Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education

Valerie directs the Jean Donovan and Ignatian Fellowships, which provide funding and support for students to work with community-based organizations locally and abroad. Valerie brings a passion for helping students explore their own spirituality, and realize their vocation, through immersive experiences. Valerie joined the Santa Clara community in 2001 and has served as a Resident Director and as Associate Director for Immersions in the Ignatian Center. Valerie earned her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Loyola University Chicago, and her Master’s degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Indiana University.

Professor Naomi Andrews (History) with Kate Morris (Office of the Provost)

This Spark Seminar will explore the ways that public art has helped to shape collective notions of identity at several key moments in history. Looking at case studies ranging from the Statue of Liberty, to the monuments of the Haitian Revolution, to Santa Clara University’s own historical markers, we will consider how communities have grappled with and commemorated their own pasts.  We will consider how contested histories are worked out in the public sphere through such monuments, and how they contribute to the construction of racialized and gendered  identities. As a class we will think about how individuals and communities find themselves represented – or left out of – these official narratives and how that impacts their own sense of identity and belonging. 

Thursdays, 2:00 PM to 3:40 PM in SCDI 1301
April 13, April 20, April 27, and May 4

Naomi Andrews

Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. Professor of History

My teaching and research interests focus on French and European history in their modern global context. I am a historian of ideas, and I am particularly interested in the way human nature has been defined in modern times and how those definitions shape our understanding of sex roles, racial differences, citizenship, and social power. I currently teach courses on the history of gender, European imperialism, citizenship, and slavery. I also teach survey courses in European history and first-year seminars for the University Honors program.

Kate Morris

Acting Provost, Professor of Art History

Kate Morris serves as one of two Acting Provosts at Santa Clara,  working closely with many campus partners to support the academic mission of the University. As a Professor of Art History, Kate is passionate about contemporary art. She is especially interested in the ways that Native American artists express their relationship to land through their works, and how those representations shape our understanding of what it means to be Indigenous. Her book, Shifting Grounds: Landscape in Contemporary Native Art explores the many forms that landscape representation can take, and how these artworks are a statement of Indigenous presence.

Professor PJ Jedlovec (Mathematics and Computer Science) with Fr. Luis Calero, S.J. (Santa Clara Jesuit Community)

In his landmark 1951 doctoral dissertation, Kenneth Arrow proved that no non-trivial social welfare function can satisfy Unanimity, Non-Dictatorship, and Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives at the same time. This amounted to a mathematical proof that there is no way to combine individual preferences (about candidates, wages, etc.) into shared societal preferences without violating one of three seemingly non-controversial fairness criteria. In this seminar, we will analyze Arrow’s ground-breaking theorem (now called Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem) and discuss some of its philosophical and economic implications. In particular, we will discuss ways in which notions such as “fair prices,” “just wages,” and “the common good” break down when defined hyper-mathematically. Finally, we will brainstorm ways to expand these notions beyond a mathematical framework and avoid the paradoxes that Arrow’s Theorem leads to.

Fridays, 1:00 PM to 2:40 PM in Dowd 122
April 14, April 21, April 28, May 5

PJ Jedlovec

Lecturer, Mathematics and Computer Science Department

PJ Jedlovec earned a B.A. in Mathematics and Economics from Vanderbilt University and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Notre Dame. He then joined the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at SCU in 2018. He loves thinking about questions within math, philosophy, theology, social choice theory, decision theory, pedagogical theory, and the ethics of technology. In his teaching, he loves to talk about how the study of mathematics can make us wiser and more virtuous human beings. In his free time he loves playing guitar, doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and hiking as many California mountains as he can.

Fr. Luis Calero, S.J.

Rector of the Santa Clara Jesuit Community

A native of Colombia, South America, Fr. Calero holds a Ph.D. in Latin American Studies from UC Berkeley with a concentration in anthropology, history, and geography. He also has a Master’s in Divinity degree from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara. His areas of interest include religion and culture, indigenous societies, international migration. He has taught at SCU since 1991 as well as other Jesuit universities throughout Latin America. In 2021, he was appointed Rector of the local Jesuit Community.


Professor Robin Tremblay-McGaw (English) with Lauren Baines (de Saisset Museum)

Documenting Art’s Resistance: How Words Shape Us is a seminar focused on visual art and literary texts that use government and other official documents, as well as other textual cultural references,  to record, account for, and heal de-humanizing injustices. We’ll spend time in the de Saisset Museum, working with its exhibits and the artwork of other visual artists and writers, including Bryan Ida, Carrie Mae Weems, Edgar Heap of Birds, Shirin Neshat, Layli Long Soldier, Claudia Rankine, and Cathy Park Hong. We’ll read and look and have lively conversations together; we’ll chat with an artist and make some art of our own as we investigate how art can resist and how we can imagine a world otherwise.  

Mondays, 3:00 PM to 4:50 PM in the de Saisset Museum
April 10, April 17, April 24, and May 1

Robin Tremblay-McGaw

Senior Lecturer, English

Robin Tremblay-McGaw's (M.L.I.S., University of California Berkeley; Ph.D. University of California, Santa Cruz) is passionate about a variety of social justice issues. She teaches courses at SCU which frequently explore how rhetoric, film, art and other cultural productions are shaped by their creators, but also, in turn, impact and shape the world we live in and the possibilities we imagine for ourselves and each other. Her writing and scholarship focus on experimental literatures, poetry, feminist and queer theory, and critical race theory. One of the things she loves about teaching is how dynamic it is, how much we learn from one another. 

Lauren Baines

Interim Director, de Saisset Museum

As Interim Director of the de Saisset Museum, Baines is responsible for the overall administration of the museum. She joined the de Saisset Museum in 2016 as Assistant Director, responsible for developing the museum's exhibitions and planning related interpretation, integrated education opportunities, and public programs. Baines holds a M.F.A. from Mills College in Choreography/Dance and B.A. and B.S. degrees in Art History, Theatre Arts (Dance Emphasis), and Psychology from Santa Clara University.

Professor Margaret M. Russell (Law) with Alison Benders (Mission and Ministry)

The phrase "the beloved community" was popularized by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a way of capturing a vision of a world without racism, violence, poverty, hunger and hate. To realize this goal, King said, we must realize that we are all tied together in an invisible "garment of destiny."

We invite you to join us in exploring the many changes and awakenings that must occur to have a nation (and world) truly committed to racial justice, truth and reconciliation. What societal, institutional, interpersonal, and inner transformation must occur? Professor Russell and Dr. Benders will draw upon their own backgrounds and work in constitutional law, civil rights, activism, and theology to engage in dialogue with each of you and with each other in this reflection-based and discussion-based seminar. Topics include mass incarceration, residential and school segregation, state violence, faith, theology, spaces of worship, and restorative justice.

Wednesdays, 2:15 PM to 3:55 PM in the Campus Ministry Conference Room
April 12, April 19, April 26, and May 3

Margaret Russell

Associate Professor of Law

Professor Russell has been a member of the Santa Clara University School of Law faculty since 1990; she is affiliated with the University’s Center for Social Justice & Public Service, the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, and the Center for Multicultural Learning. She has been honored for her contributions to student life at Santa Clara by the Asian Pacific Law Students Association and the Black Law Students Association. Russell is a graduate of Princeton University and Stanford Law School. She is a co­founder of two nonprofits, the East Palo Alto Community Law Project and the Equal Justice Society.

Alison Benders

Vice President for Mission and Ministry

Alison Benders serves as the Vice President of Mission and Ministry and Executive Director of the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education. She is charged with developing and executing a strategic vision for activating the Jesuit, Catholic Tradition and the broader mission of Santa Clara University to the campus community and beyond. Benders holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale University, a J.D. from the University of Virginia, a licentiate of sacred theology from JST, and a Ph.D. in theology from Boston College. Her research interests include race as a social justice issue, moral transformation, and the contributions of Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan. Higher education administration is Dr. Benders' second career, following a decade of work as an antitrust litigator in Philadelphia.

Professor Katie Heintz (Communication) with Nicole Branch (University Library)

Could you tell that ChatGPT wrote the title of this course? Modern technology has transformed how information is created, shared, and understood. This has provided unprecedented access and voice for many, but also opportunities for manipulation and abuse. In this seminar we will explore the concepts of misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda in the modern digital age. Topics will include the origins and evolution of information manipulation; its impact on personal wellbeing, society, and politics; and ways to critically evaluate and detect it. Students will find current examples of misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda, and develop skills for evaluating information and making informed decisions in a rapidly changing information landscape. 

Thursdays, 2:00 PM to 3:40 PM in the Library & Learning Commons- LC 203
April 13, April 20, April 27, and May 4

Katie Heintz

Senior Lecturer, Communication

Katharine E. Heintz is a media analyst, researcher, and educator specializing in the impact of electronic media on children and families. Her work has been featured in over a hundred newspapers nationwide, including the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune as well as national magazines such as Parents Magazine, Parenting, and TV Guide. In addition, she has presented evidence before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the California Family Impact Seminar and the White House Conference on Teens.  She currently serves as Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies.

Nicole Branch

Dean, University Library

Nicole Branch received her Master’s in Library and Information Science at San Jose State University and a BA in Anthropology with a minor in African American Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  Prior to her current role, Nicole held various leadership positions in the SCU Library and served as Librarian for Research & Digitization at Holy Names University in Oakland, California. Nicole’s decade-long experience working in non-profit organizations advancing educational justice in public schools and districts informs her approach to librarianship, leadership, and scholarship. Nicole’s current research focuses on the intersections of critical theory, research methodologies, and information literacy, with an emphasis on diverse college student populations.

Professor Maryam Khanbaghi (Electrical Engineering) with Steve Eglash (SLAC, CAS Leadership Board)

Power outages are very costly. Investment in grid modernization will save the U.S. economy billions of dollars. This investment doesn’t seem to be equitably shared. Recognizing that occurrences of natural disasters have increased in the last few years, finding solutions to help reduce the impact of natural disasters on underserved communities and hence on people’s lives, the economy and reducing dependency on fossil fuels are our long term goals.  During this seminar we will learn about 1) how the power grid works and how the power is transferred to the customers (us), 2) what are the existing solutions to deliver clean energy, more specifically we will learn about microgrids and their impact on the power grid of the future. Lastly we will discuss how we can provide awareness and clean energy solutions to local underserved communities.

Mondays, 3:30 PM to 5:10 PM in Kenna 107
April 10, April 17, April 24, and May 1

Maryam Khanbaghi

Director of Power Systems and Sustainable Energy Program, Electrical Engineering Department

Maryam Khanbaghi is the director of Power Systems and Sustainable Energy Program and assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Before joining Santa Clara University, she was at Corning Inc. holding several positions in research, engineering and manufacturing. She created and led Corning’s first-ever advanced control group serving all Corning businesses with cutting-edge technology to improve quality while reducing costs. She also worked several years for Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada in Montreal and Vancouver as a research engineer where she worked on design and implementation of different estimation methods and advanced control systems.

Steve Eglash

Director of the Applied Energy Division at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Chair, College of Arts and Sciences Leadership Board

Steve Eglash is Director of the Applied Energy Division at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, where he manages research on the electric grid, batteries, water desalination, and advanced manufacturing. Steve is co-instructor of the Stanford course Value of Data and AI. He was a member of the City of Palo Alto Utilities Advisory Board for several years. Steve loves working with students at SCU, where he is frequently seen on campus in his role as Chair of the Leadership Board of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Professor Brita Bookser (Child Studies) with Michael Kaufman (School of Law)

The concept of the school-to-prison pipeline suggests a one-way path connecting America’s educational and legal systems. In this seminar, we scrutinize the pipeline concept by investigating structural factors that underscore school-based punishment and mark crucial points scholarship and activism. Understanding educational and carceral systems as complex and entangled, we (re)consider issues of educational equity, belonging, and accessibility. This seminar focuses specifically on Dr. Savannah Shange's book, Progressive Dystopia: Abolition, AntiBlackness, + Schooling in San Francisco. We will interrogate the relationship between "progressive" education and carceral control, with particular emphasis on Black, Latinx, Asian American, and Polynesian students’ experiences in schools, and discuss the importance of youth-led activism for educational justice.

Tuesdays, 8:30 AM to 10:10 AM in Charney 201
April 11, April 18, April 25, and May 2 (will meet in Charney 207 on 5/2 only)

Brita Bookser

Assistant Professor of Early Childhood/Anti-Racism, Department of Child Studies

Brita Bookser is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Child Studies with expertise in early childhood, educational (in)equity, and antiracist and liberatory pedagogies. She completed her B.S. in Psychology with a concentration in Counseling and Family Psychology at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo; M.A. in Infant Mental Health at Mills College; and Ph.D. in Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. With students, Brita co-creates a learning community where all belong, and where standpoint, personal testimony, and transdisciplinary scholarship bear shared importance. Brita’s research investigates hidden dimensions of exclusionary discipline in early childhood contexts; structural factors that explain educational exclusion; and early childhood antiracist and liberatory pedagogy and praxis frameworks.

Michael Kaufman

Dean, SCU School of Law

The dean of Santa Clara Law since July 2021, Michael J. Kaufman is a nationally renowned educator, scholar, and expert on civil procedure and education law. Kaufman joined Santa Clara Law after serving for 35 years at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Kaufman is an award-winning teacher, public servant, beloved teacher, and distinguished scholar who has published more than 30 books and numerous law review articles in three key areas: education law, equity, policy, and pedagogy; securities regulation and litigation; and civil procedure and dispute resolution. Kaufman graduated from Kenyon College and earned his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School.