May 2017 Newsletter: High Achievers Recognized at 2017 Honors Convocation

Photo: James Tensuan Kinalani Hoe poses with her certificate at the 2017 Honors Convocation, where more than 4,300 students were recognized for achieving GPAs of 3.65 or higher.

Photo: James Tensuan
Kinalani Hoe poses with her certificate at the 2017 Honors Convocation, where more than 4,300 students were recognized for achieving GPAs of 3.65 or higher.

By Barry Zepel

San Jose State University recognized the outstanding academic achievements of 4,338 students, a record number, at its 55th Annual Honors Convocation on April 28.  A capacity crowd – including family, friends, faculty and staff members – filled the Events Center, to hear words of encouragement and inspiration.

Some of those words came from Persis Karim, honored as the university’s2017 Outstanding Professor and keynote speaker for the evening.

“Please don’t underestimate the power you have to affect this world and to affect and change the lives of other people,” said Karim, professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature in the College of Humanities and the Arts.

Karim, also the founding director of Persian Studies, directed her comments to the 430 President’s Scholars and 3,908 Dean’s Scholars from all colleges on campus. President’s Scholars are undergraduate students who have earned a 4.0 grade point average in at least two contiguous semesters of the three prior to the honors convocation. Dean’s Scholars are undergrads earning at least a 3.65 GPA in at least two contiguous semesters of the past three.

Among the honored students were 62 Spartan student-athletes, also a record total, with six earning President’s Scholar recognition. It was the third year in a row that a record number of students involved in Intercollegiate Athletics achieved the rank of Dean’s or President’s Scholars.

“Teaching is a two-way street,” Karim said. “Your journey here shapes and influences us, your professors. I pride myself on being a teacher who seeks to make an engaging and meaningful classroom experience where I set a high premium on students’ free expression and their ability to discover and articulate their voices.”

Many of the 2016-2017 scholars were proud to share how San Jose State affected their lives and to name educators who especially helped them on their successful paths.

Anna Adaska, President’s Scholar and dance major from the College of Humanities and the Arts, said “an experience that shaped who I am today would be my first performance with SJSU’s contemporary performing company, University Dance Theater. Our director, Raphael Boumalia, changed the way I viewed performing permanently… After speaking with Professor Boumalia, I viewed performing as an experience that is shared by the audience and performer, in which the performer’s only obligation is to share their art honestly.”

Eulises Valdovinos, President’s Scholar and industrial & systems engineering major from the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering, said being recognized by SJSU “is not only a huge honor, it is also a constant reminder that my family members’ sacrifices as well as the struggles of previous generations who fought for my education have not been in vain. Blanca Sanchez-Cruz (assistant director for student support programs for the SJSU Engineering Student Success Center) contributed so much to my success as a student, and even as I entered the professional world.”

Sanchez-Cruz hired Valdovinos as a peer advisor for the Mesa Engineering Program (MEP), a program that aims to support educationally disadvantaged and first-generation students in attaining four-year degrees in engineering.

“I learned how hard she works to make sure there are opportunities available for our students,” he said.

Wendy Adhearn, Dean’s Scholar and kinesiology major from the College of Applied Sciences and Arts, noted that she has learned a lot from all her professors.

“But in my second semester at SJSU, Dr. Bethany Shifflett gave me an opportunity to really challenge myself and to interact with other kinesiology students and professionals at the Western Society for Kinesiology and Wellness Conference in Reno, Nevada,” she said. “There I was able to present a critique of research that interested me and I received invaluable feedback and encouragement.”

Greg Lucio, Dean’s Scholar and a child and adolescent development major from the Connie L. Lurie College of Education, appreciates that he “has been fortunate to be enrolled in two classes with Professor John Jabagchourin.”

Lucio noted that his professor’s passion for teaching makes learning fun and easy.

“He makes lessons relatable to his students and has inspired me to use the theories and research that we discuss in an international way when working with children,” Lucio said. “It has given me a great understanding of how to work more efficiently with children.”

In addition to Karim, three other San Jose State faculty members were recognized at the Honors Convocation:  Brian Belet, professor of music and an accomplished composer, as 2017 President’s Scholar; Chris Cox, lecturer in sociology and interdisciplinary social sciences, as 2017 Outstanding Lecturer; and Lui Lam, physics professor, as 2017 Distinguished Service Award winner.

Learn more about more of this year’s San Jose State scholars, as well as recent history about Honors Convocation, online.

May 2017 Newsletter: ITS Creates Altamont Center to Engage Student Interns

15SJSU students intern with the campus’ Information Technology Services team to support student success.By Barry Zepel

Classroom-based learning provides the foundation for earning a degree; learning in a hands-on, real-life setting sharpens skills to prepare a student for a career.

That is just one part of the strategy behind the creation of the Altamont Center in Information Technology Services (ITS) at San Jose State University, where 16 students majoring in a variety of disciplines are completing internships that help them develop the marketable skills desired by corporations and other organizations in Silicon Valley. Interns work on projects involving data science, business intelligence, technical writing, software testing, software development and project management. Of the students, seven are undergraduates and nine are completing graduate degrees.

The students – who are in disciplines ranging from management information systems (MIS) to computer science to engineering to statistics – work closely with ITS staff on projects that move forward the goals of the department. The strategy is in line with SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success plan, with initiatives that support student engagement as a key pillar. Dana Nehoran, who serves as both a faculty member in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business and a staff member in ITS, proposed the idea a year ago as a way to engage students through internships.

“The center employs students who are able to work on technical tasks related to their areas of study, while they also help achieve important goals and make a lasting impact on the campus community,” Nehoran explained. “Our student interns take part in essential projects that help SJSU provide more effective services for the entire student body.”

The students are mentored and supervised by full-time ITS staff members. The team Nehoran moves SJSU’s Four Pillars plan forward by identifying obstacles to student success, such as financial hardships, advising processes or inability to register for needed classes. The university can then focus resources on the areas that will have the most impact on improving graduation and retention rates. The interns are compiling and analyzing data, and ITS will distribute reports to help campus administrators make decisions about student success initiatives.

Together, the Altamont interns are providing San Jose State with predictive analytics. Nehoran describes it as “a discipline that attempts to make useful predictions about the future based on statistical analysis of historical data.”

“From the ITS point of view, we have this wealth of knowledge and capacity in these students,” said Bob Wrenn, SJSU’s interim chief information officer who oversees the department. “We have a lot of work to do here and we have a finite amount of resources to get it done. I can get students here who are highly trained and highly available; they’re on site and help complete the work we need done.”

The interns play an important role in the department, according to Wrenn.

“They are delivering real-life value working side-by-side with my permanent, full-time staff, who serve as their mentors and supervisors,” he noted.

Nehoran said the interns’ use of predictive analytics could have a positive impact for thousands of their fellow SJSU students, of whom 14 percent graduate in four years with the university focused on increasing that to 35 percent by 2025. The interns are analyzing historical information to find patterns that help identify students at risk of not completing a degree in a timely manner with the objective of enabling the appropriate campus services to provide proactive intervention.

While the interns realize that the “real-life experience” they’re getting will help them when seeking their first jobs after graduation, that isn’t all that is inspiring and exciting them.

“What we do here is going to add value to the campus community,” said Ryan Quigley, a second-year graduate student majoring in statistics. “We’re working under the umbrella of predictive analytics, which is using the data that the university has, to make predictions that are going to be beneficial to students’ lives.”

“Our main goal as Altamont Center interns is to make sure that the university’s resources are allocated efficiently. We don’t want (administrators) opening up class sections that are going to be empty, and we don’t want them closing sections that are going to be in high demand,” noted Quigley, who has already been offered a full-time position with a San Francisco-based financial institution as a result of his Altamont Center experience.

The internship program has had a profound impact on Nazia Khan, who like Quigley is a second-year master’s student and statistics major.

“I am totally a different person since I started (at the Altamont Center),” said Khan, who spent two years as a teacher in her native India after completing her undergraduate studies there. “I have more experience and confidence that I can survive in industry because of Dana Nehoran and the Altamont Center. I’m working on something that I am passionate and excited about because I am helping students to acquire their degrees and complete their education while helping to prevent them from dropping out because of emotional or financial reasons. We are able to help them by providing data to the professionals on campus responsible for directly helping those students.”

Additional information about the Altamont Center internships in the ITS Department is available by contacting Nehoran at dana.nehoran@sjsu.edu.

May 2017 Newsletter: Provost Update – Four Pillars Success is Measured through Student Stories

As we end another academic year, I am pleased to share the progress we have made on one of our top priorities – student success. This spring, Vice President for Student Affairs Reggie Blaylock and I updated SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success: College Readiness, Advising, Student Engagement and Clearing Bottlenecks, a plan informed by many campus stakeholders who helped us to identify initiatives that will move us toward improving graduation rates, retention, student experience, and preparing our graduates to pursue advanced degrees or to thrive in their careers.

Our 2016 graduation rates, reported in the fall, show that we are steadily moving toward our 2025 graduation goals. We improved our first-time freshmen graduation rate from 10 percent to 14 percent; our six-year graduation rates improved from 57 percent to 62 percent; and we decreased the achievement gap between our underrepresented minority students and their peers from 17 percent to 11 percent.

Other indicators show that we continue to make progress in shortening the time to degree for students. For spring 2017, 36 percent of our undergraduate students enrolled in 15 units or more, up from 25 percent in fall 2015. We have offered additional courses to clear bottlenecks and hired more advisors while increasing awareness that students need to complete 15 units each semester to stay on track to graduate on time. The Office of Student and Faculty Success launched their #FinishinFour and #TakeTwo campaigns during orientation sessions last summer and worked hard to inform students that to graduate in four years for first-time freshmen or two years for transfer students, they need to take 15 units a semester. These communication efforts doubled the number of first-time students taking 15 units. Our efforts are showing returns and undergraduate average unit load is already trending upward.

We still have much work ahead to meet the ambitious goals of eliminating our achievement gap entirely and graduating 35 percent of our first-time freshmen in four years by 2025. I have confidence that as we continue many of the initiatives launched this year, we will meet these goals (see monthly updates online).

In addition to supporting students once they enroll, we are also looking at ways to partner with K-12 and community colleges to prepare students for university coursework. Reggie and I co-hosted two student success summits with Assemblymembers Evan Low and Ash Kalra that brought together partners from community colleges, K-12 and nonprofits to discuss the ways we can work together to ensure students are prepared for college-level math and English when they arrive at CSU campuses. We have created working groups around three key areas in which SJSU faculty, staff and administrators will partner with local high schools: summer initiatives for high school students; teacher professional development; and college readiness presentations for school boards. I look forward to reporting more in the fall after we launch pilot programs in each area.

While we are measuring much of our progress in numbers, students’ personal stories are also marks of our success. I am pleased to share with you some of the ways our Four Pillars plan is supporting students – from ITS’s internship for students who are using predictive analytics to improve advising processes to the African-American Student Success Task Force’s alternative spring break and Chicanx/Latinx posole study breaks to the record number of students who were recognized for high achievement at this year’s Honors Convocation on April 28 – these student experiences are the reasons we remain dedicated to our plan.

Faculty Notes for April 2017: Publications, Quotes and More

On April 13, Assistant Professor Margareta Ackerman, Department of Computer Science, lectured at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics on her algorithmic songwriting systems, a way for musicians to utilize artificial intelligence systems to aid creativity. Ackerman’s ALYSIA (Automated LYrical SongwrIting Application) generates and suggests melodies based on human-provided lyrics. A second system, MABLE, will develop lyrics in collaboration with humans.

Department of TV, Radio, Film and Theatre Professor Buddy Butler received a Black Legend Award, an award that celebrates the contributions and achievements of African Americans in the Bay Area, at a red-carpet gala held at the Hammer Theatre Center. The February event also served as a fundraiser to build the San José Black History Museum, Silicon Valley. The recipient of numerous honors during his career, Butler has also been recognized with an Obie, the NAACP Trailblazer Award and the Black Theatre Networks Winona Fletcher Award for Outstanding Achievement and Excellence in Black Theatre.

Photographs of women in cocktail dresses from the 1950s, taken by Barbara Christiansen, former Department of Home Economics professor, are part of the current exhibition at History Park’s McKay Gallery titled “Fashion to Die for: A Shopper’s Dilemma.” The exhibit was designed to showcase some of the perils of fashion for both animals and humans.

High Country News profiled Department of Meteorology Associate Professor Craig Clements and Assistant Professor Neil Lareau in an extensive article on the dangers of erratic wildfires, the history of some of the worst U.S. wildfires and the new technologies that are helping fire meteorologists like Clements and Lareau better predict their behavior. Read more online.

Professor Emeritus Gary Greene, Moss Landing Marine Labs, current marine geologist at the SeaDoc Tombolo Mapping Lab on Orcas Island, was this month’s featured speaker at a lecture series hosted by Friends of Skagit Beaches. His topic, “Exploring the Salish Sea Floor,” covered the impact of tsunamis and earthquakes on marine habitats and the feeding patterns of marine birds, fish and mammals.

In March, John Lipp, former faculty member in the Continuing Education Program, assumed the post of acting director of the Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter. He also serves as executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates, an organization that advocates for abused and neglected children. Past positions include board president of the Humane Society of Silicon Valley and president/CEO of San Francisco’s Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS).

Douglas Metz, instructor in the Department of Health Science and Recreation for nine years, joined CenCal Health’s Board of Directors. He is also current deputy director of primary care/family health at the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. For 16 years, he was a practicing podiatric physician and surgeon in San José.

As part of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design lecture series at the University of Arkansas – Fayetteville, Associate Professor Virginia San Fratello, Department of Design, gave a talk titled “Data + Dust” on the development of materials for three-dimensional printing and the design and fabrication of 3D printed architecture. San Fratello is a partner at Rael San Fratello and co-founder of Emerging Objects, both firms headquartered in Oakland. In 2016, she was named Educator of the Year by the International Interior Design Association (IIDA).

Lecturer Jason Wozniak, American Studies Program, co-organized “You Are Not a Loan,” a two-day campus event to address the impact of financial debt on students’ lives and possible solutions to the problem through a series of lectures, panel discussions and workshops. “We are living in a time where it’s increasingly normal for students to take on tens of thousands of dollars in debt just to get an education. There is nothing normal or ethical about that, and yet, being an indebted student has been normalized,” Wozniak said. As part of the program, student debt experts from Stanford, Iowa State and San Diego State addressed indebtedness from the perspectives of philosophy, comparative literature, economics, art, politics and education studies.

SJSU Students Host ‘Disability at Work’ Panel

Event flier

Event flier

Students enrolled in Professor Bettina Brockmann’s Communications Studies 132F Dis/Ability Communication course are coordinating a panel on “Disability at Work,” May 4, from noon to 1:15 p.m., in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, Room 225. The event is designed to expand awareness of the largest minority group in the world and the United States – people with disabilities, according to the students. They will moderate a discussion that includes guest speakers from Google and SAP Ariba, who will share opportunities for the implementation of accessibility and inclusion strategies. The presenters will use their innovative approaches to engage the audience in exploring a new perspective of the concept of disability.

Guest speakers include Victor Tsaran, from Google, Karo Caran, from Adecco at Google, and Joseph Fox, from SAP Ariba.