Four Graduating Students Culminate their iSchool Experience with Awards for Excellence


The San José State University School of Information has recognized four graduating students for their exceptional work. Congratulations Karen Bliss, Victor Betts, Caryn Neiswender, and Jennifer Castle!

Director’s Award for Excellence in Intellectual Inquiry

Karen Bliss received the Director’s Award for Excellence in Intellectual Inquiry for demonstrating intellectual curiosity above and beyond their required coursework, a passion for learning, and continued learning.

“I am very grateful to be the recipient of the Intellectual Inquiry Award. I am always looking for new ideas to expand my perspective.

“Our profession has so many parts and is always changing so it is paramount for us especially to be lifelong learners. Combining new field experiences with knowledge I have gained in my classes allows me to better serve my community and satisfies my curiosity for learning,” Bliss said.

Going through the Master of Library and Information Science program “opened so many doors” for unique learning opportunities, she noted. Through the Special Library Association Student Chapter, Bliss visited the San Diego Safari Park Special Library where she spoke with librarians who house unique pieces of local history and saw artifacts like a 1930s snake grinder used to feed elephants. She also participated in the University of California, San Diego “Shadow a Librarian” Day.

“I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with librarians from multiple divisions within the university. I know that there is always more to learn, so I am constantly seeking new opportunities,” she said.

Bliss credits the iSchool program for instructing her about cataloging, collection development, programming, genealogy, and grant writing.

“But it has also taught me about the value libraries hold within a community. I enjoyed the flexibility of the program and being able to choose courses that best fit my interests.

“The program taught me that in libraries it is important to be a pioneer and try new things while at the same time listening to those around me for input and support,” she said.

Bliss is working as the library media technician for an elementary school where she’s putting her library skills to good use while instructing and inspiring students. Having autonomy over a library on a small scale is providing her “invaluable experience” that will be beneficial throughout her career. Her academic focus was children’s librarianship in a public library setting.

Director’s Award for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion

As someone who works on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues daily, Victor Betts was selected as the recipient of the Director’s Award for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion. He has more than 12 years of work experience in the academic and student affairs field at various public research universities where he’s worked directly with student populations from historically underrepresented and underserved communities. Most recently, he’s worked as a library specialist at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which serves the historic black neighborhoods in Broward County.

“Receiving this award as a graduating student is a great way to wrap up my culminating experience with the program as I reflect on my personal and professional growth. It is important that my work efforts on equity, diversity, and inclusion are informed through a social justice framework that acknowledges the histories and experiences of marginalized communities in relation to its surrounding communities,” he said.

Some of the work Betts has accomplished in the past has included yield and retention programs for incoming students from underrepresented communities, a publication article on the process of community building at universities, and facilitating workshops on the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of oppression as it relates to student development and support.

His experience working on electronic data interchange issues in higher education has provided him with the knowledge, training, and skills to utilize critical pedagogy as an effective approach to working with students from diverse backgrounds and life experiences.

“Utilizing a social justice framework pushes me to critically think about what ‘diversity,’ ‘equity,’ and ‘inclusion’ truly means in relation to the institution that evokes them as a value or includes them as part of an organizational objective.

“There is much needed awareness and meaningful discourse that needs to happen in this profession around systemic and cultural attitudes and understanding around diversity and inclusion. I see my role as an information professional to support critical understanding and to challenge those in positions of power or authority to lean outside of their comforts of how they perceive the world functions or ought to function,” he said.

Betts’ career goals are to work in academic libraries — more specifically working with archives and special collections with an interest in African American/Black diaspora histories, East Asian, and Asian American histories.

Director’s Award for Excellence in Innovation

Caryn Neiswender credits the iSchool’s courses for providing her opportunities to “think outside the box” and collaborate with others on interesting projects that help develop a mindset of origination and data-based information, which made her the best candidate for the Director’s Award for Excellence in Innovation.

“It is likely no surprise to your readers, but I think libraries have a reputation for being the quiet places where books collect dust. Often, this means libraries are thought of as institutions of the past. That could not be further from the truth – librarians frequently innovate and develop creative solutions to longstanding challenges.

“I think innovation is really a habit of questioning the status quo. Often, this leads to a deeper understanding of the ‘why’ behind standard practices and facilitates new ways of thinking and working,” she said.

During her time at the iSchool, Neiswender worked on a variety of group projects. Each project provided an opportunity to re-think and share best practices. She often worked with team members using Google Drive and Google Docs. One of her favorite courses was INFO 246 Information Visualization where she was able to use Tableau data visualization software and a web-based infographic tool to develop a presentation on the Tour de France.

“I really enjoyed thinking differently about how to present data on a race that is often followed by a large crowd. Put simply, the process of developing the infographic provided me with a greater appreciation for the legacy of the event,” she said.

Neiswender believes not only did the iSchool prepare her for a career in the library field, but it equipped her to work and collaborate in a 21st century environment by learning how to study and work online.

“I acquired a passion for research and the effective presentation of findings. My long-held belief in the holistic education of students was reinforced. I find myself even more excited about the possibility of training future generations on how to craft questions, select appropriate tools, and find the answers to those inquiries,” she said.

She just recently transitioned to a senior instructional designer position at the University of California, San Diego where she’d previously interviewed a librarian for INFO 220 Maps & GIS. One of her career goals is to infuse library and information literacy instruction into each of the courses she develops.

“I think, particularly in higher education, it is assumed that students know how to find and use information. It is exciting to be able to craft tutorials and learning activities that challenge students to think, question, and research in a structured and methodological way. These are skills that extend beyond an individual library and set students up for a lifetime of intellectual pursuit,” she said.

Director’s Award for Excellence in Building Community

Jennifer Castle spent her entire college career as a distance-learning student, so finding opportunities to make connections with her classmates was personal and professional. In her first semester at the iSchool, she joined SLASC where she became the assistant blog editor and also accepted a part-time student assistant position writing news stories for the iSchool – a job she held throughout her time in graduate school.

“I was able to leverage my background in print journalism to find ways to form relationships, which I needed as a first-generation student. I’m the only person in my family to have graduated from high school, so going to college – especially online – has been, at times, very lonely,” she said.

Through the SLASC, Castle linked with Society of American Archivists Student Chapter’s executive committee members. Consequently, she became an editor, then managing editor of the chapter’s biannual publication, Archeota. Because of her contributions, she later took on the position of chair for the 2017-2018 school year.

“Thanks to the connections I made through a desire to get involved, I was able to fill leadership roles that I otherwise would’ve been too intimidated to try,” she said.

Castle also participated in an open house where she discussed her experiences to new and potential students and was a member of the 2017-2018 virtual convocation student committee.

“The opportunities the iSchool has provided me are invaluable. I work for an institution that has multiple campuses across several states, so the ability to form relationships remotely has been beneficial to the productivity of my department and the programs we serve,” she said.

Because of her efforts at the iSchool and beyond, Castle was given the Director’s Award for Excellence in Building Community.

“The increasing ubiquity of virtual communication is a major way libraries and archives can maintain their relevance in communities. Forming lasting relationships with colleagues and institutions outside of our geographical areas will help ensure the profession’s success.

“I owe a debt of gratitude to the iSchool for not only my education but the experiences that have afforded me the confidence to pursue a career as an information professional who also happens to already have an international network of associates. I couldn’t have asked for more in an MLIS program,” Castle said.

Recipients of the awards received a gift certificate and a citation. To learn more, visit the School of Information’s Awards for Excellence for Graduating Students page.