Navigating Culture Shock

Ph.D. students at Stanford learn about faculty life at San Jose State U., a campus quite unlike their own

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Ramin Rahimian for The Chronicle

Carolyn MacDonald, a Ph.D. candidate in classics at Stanford, talks with students in a performance-studies class at San Jose State taught by her mentor, Matthew Spangler (right). "After the first class, I remember thinking, 'Wow, that's a pretty noisy classroom,'" she says. "But they're engaged, they're actively discussing poetry."

San Jose State University’s densely built urban campus is the kind of regional public university that educates millions of Americans.

Its enrollment of 31,000 includes many first-generation students, parents, transfer students, and those who juggle coursework with jobs. There is a gritty feel to some parts of the campus’s 19 square blocks, especially in  places with aging buildings and outdated classrooms. Recent budget cuts have taken a