February 2018 Newsletter: University Scholar Series Begins February 21

Photo: James Tensuan  Philosophy Professor and Director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy Anand Vaidya will launch the Spring University Scholar Series on February 21.

Photo: James Tensuan
Philosophy Professor and Director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy Anand Vaidya will launch the Spring University Scholar Series on February 21.

By Melissa Anderson

Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy Anand Vaidya and Associate Professor of Communicative Disorders and Sciences Nidhi Mahendra have more in common than participating as speakers in this spring’s University Scholar Series. They both discovered a passion for their academic specialties as undergraduate students and remain just as enthusiastic – though much more experienced – today.

Vaidya will launch the spring 2018 University Scholar Series with a lecture entitled, “The Project of Cross-Cultural and Scientifically Informed Critical Thinking,” on Feb, 21, from noon to 1 p.m. in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library 225/229.

Vaidya first discovered philosophy as a freshman at Humboldt State University when he took classes on medieval philosophy and logic and critical thinking.

“Without hesitation, I can lay blame for my passion for philosophy on the two classes that changed me from a chemistry major to a philosophy major and rewired my whole orientation toward learning,” he said. “I have been fascinated with the nature of logic and critical reasoning ever since.”

Since then, he has engaged in thinking about the subject from the perspective of philosophy of mind, cognitive science, epistemology and comparative philosophy. His most recent interest in cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary approaches to logic and critical thinking arose when he read journalist and friend Jessica Kraft’s article in The Atlantic about hip-hop as a technique in college debate.

“The article led me to inquire into the way I teach logic and critical thinking, and whether I was unintentionally excluding some people from engaging in critical thinking simply through the method by which I was teaching them,” he said.

He began to research non-western philosophy traditions, traveling to India, New Zealand, Hawaii and Japan during a sabbatical.

“I found there were all sorts of contributions we are neglecting because of how a university structures the dissemination of knowledge to students,” he said. “We typically don’t talk to one another and share knowledge in ways that can improve learning.”

Vaidya sees San Jose State University as a place that can pioneer the development of a new critical thinking model that is informed by a cross-cultural investigation into tools from traditions as distinct as Arabic and Zen philosophy.

“We have a unique opportunity to do this because we have a diverse student population that can engage in the very construction of this new model, and because our connection with technology in Silicon Valley provides us with an opportunity to actually build tools, such as smartphone applications that can help our students learn and engage in better critical thinking,” he said.

Nidhi Mahendra, an associate professor of Communicative Disorders and Sciences in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education, will present the second University Scholars Series lecture on March 21, from noon to 1 p.m., in MLK 225/229. Her talk is entitled, “Neurological Accidents – Brain, Behavior and the Power of Rehabilitation in Alzheimer’s Disease and Stroke.”

She has been working clinically, conducting research and teaching with persons with neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and stroke for 20 years.

“I remember that right from my first year in college, I was just so excited when I started to learn about the brain and how it defines who we are,” she said. “That interest only grew over time and has not waned one bit.”

In her lecture, she will share research on the power of rehabilitation for patients with communicative disorders following a stroke or due to Alzheimer’s disease. She recalls that as an undergraduate she observed a patient who had a stroke and lost the ability to talk and walk overnight.

“I remember being so moved by the experience and thinking about how I might be able to help,” she said, noting that her interest in dementia also has a personal connection as one of her grandparents developed the disorder after suffering from mini strokes.

“We are an aging nation, part of a rapidly aging globe and have to be part of a robust movement to celebrate that and support our seniors,” she said, noting that health conditions, changes, compromises and disorders are part of the human condition. “It can happen to any of us; therefore, as communities and societies, we must affirm the place and dignity of all people and retain our positivity for what they can do if excellent care is provided, despite them having a disorder or condition.”

The final speaker of the series will be Assistant Professor Xiaojia Hou, History, College of Social Sciences, who will present “Negotiating Socialism in Rural China: Mao, Peasants and Local Cadres in Shanxi,” April 18, noon to 1 p.m., Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library 225/229

All lectures are free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided. See fliers for more details on the series.

February 2018 Newsletter: Provost Update – RSCA is Central to SJSU Mission

We are only in the second month of the spring semester, but this term has already proven to be busy! On February 9, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee provided an update on our process to date and presented draft goals that were developed from your input during the fall semester. Following our presentation, we held a campus conversation and lunch to discuss our next steps. I encourage you to view the draft goals at the Strategic Planning website. On the site, you can also provide input to the task forces that will be working to define our desired outcomes for each focus area and create strategies for accomplishing them.

Several of the goals focus on our mission of providing excellent educational and academic opportunities. We already have a thriving research, scholarship and creative activities (RSCA) enterprise. According to the most recent SJSU Research Foundation Annual Report, we received $58 million in revenues from RSCA endeavors, with an active grants portfolio of $259 million. In fact, the Chancellor’s Office recently selected SJSU and the Mineta Transportation Institute to lead a CSU research consortium focused on solving transit issues in the state.

We also have many more faculty and students working together on numerous scholarly and creative activities – just take a look at the list of recent publications from our Annual Author and Artist Awards or the list of upcoming events at the Hammer Theatre.

Our RSCA activities rival that of many nationally ranked universities. However, faculty can feel challenged when seeking a balance between their teaching load and their RSCA agendas. We are working with colleagues to develop a sustainable model that will allow us to balance teaching and RSCA pursuits. We have a consultant who has already visited and will be working with us throughout the spring. Joan Ficke, the former dean of the Graduate School at Montclair State University, will provide guidance as we develop a plan. She was instrumentally involved in transitioning her institution to providing a better alignment between RSCA, teaching and service.

Providing an atmosphere where faculty and students can readily engage in RSCA also means celebrating our achievements. I am pleased to support the University Scholar Series that offers an opportunity to learn about the unique and inspiring RSCA conducted by SJSU faculty. This month, we kick off the spring lectures on Feb. 21. Professor Anand Vaidya, director of the Humanities and the Arts Center for Comparative Philosophy, will use his talk to share recent research into Eastern philosophies and critical thinking. Learn more about the upcoming series in a story below. Join us for the lecture and lunch, from noon to 1 p.m. in MLK 225/229. For more details, visit the event page.

Later this semester on April 4, the Celebration of Research offers an opportunity to acknowledge student researchers along with our Early Career Investigator Award winners for 2017-18, Ehsan Khatami and Dave Schuster, whose accomplishments are described in a story below. As you will learn in this month’s newsletter, our RSCA endeavors are innovative and relevant. A few recent projects run the gamut from understanding Silicon Valley culture to studying how sports can lead to social change to determining just how the flu virus is spread.

I would also like to remind staff members that we are accepting applications for the second round of staff professional development grants, with proposals due March 19. The application is open to any staff members who did not receive a grant during the first round of proposals last fall. Find more details online.

Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Andy Feinstein, Athletics Director Marie Tuite,  Director of Strategy, Planning and Business Services for IT Kara Lee, President Mary Papazian and Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Sharon Willey show their Spartan spirit February 10 at a women's basketball game.

Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Andy Feinstein, Athletics Director Marie Tuite, Director of Strategy, Planning and Business Services for IT Kara Lee, President Mary Papazian and Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Sharon Willey show their Spartan spirit February 10 at a women’s basketball game.

Before we move onto this month’s stories, I want to thank everyone who attended the Third Annual Interdivisional Competition on Feb. 10. Academic Affairs had more than 270 RSVPs from faculty, staff members and their families with our section of the stands full on game day. We cheered on the Spartans Women’s Basketball team while also competing in some fun activities such as a free throw competition, a relay race and the VP tricycle race. I am especially proud that Academic Affairs brought home the trophy again!

Faculty Notes for January 2018: Publications, Quotes and more

Former SJSU President John H. Bunzel’s op-ed on U.S.-Korean political tensions, “Take first strike off table to prevent a nuclear showdown,” appeared in The Post and Courier. From 1983-1986, Bunzel served on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and in 1990 received the Hubert Humphrey Award as an outstanding public policy practitioner. “Like it or not, President Trump is the key player in keeping the Korean peninsula free of nuclear war,” Bunzel wrote. Read more online.

Assistant Professor Ben Carter, Department of Biological Science, is part of a team of botanists who have discovered plants not previously seen on California’s Channel Islands. Carter discovered an additional two dozen mosses (non-flowering plants) beyond the 10 types previously catalogued. Learn more online.

The San Francisco Chronicle interviewed Lecturer Frank Freedman, Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, in an article about tracking smoke caused by wildfires. Freedman is working with NASA to help build pollution maps with satellite data for neighborhoods. Read more online.

The San Jose Institute of Contemporary Arts (SJICA) mounted a retrospective of the work of the late Steve French, retired associate dean, College of Humanities and the Arts. “Overture: The Art of Steve French” includes paintings and assemblages from French’s early career in the 1960s until his death in 2014 and runs through February 4. Learn more online.

MovieVine interviewed Department of Film and Theatre Professor Amy Glazer about her movie Kepler’s Dream, the story of a “city girl” who spends the summer at her grandmother’s ranch in New Mexico. “At this point in my life, my love affair is with film. And more than anything else, I want a shot at the next one!” Glazer also serves as the San Francisco Playhouse’s associate artistic director. Read more online.

iSchool instructor Colleen Greene gave a presentation on “Researching African-American Family History” at CSU Fullerton’s Pollak Library in November. Greene stressed the importance of census records in genealogy research and shared her techniques for uncovering information about the Wesley Grubb family.

Yahoo News interviewed Assistant Professor Dina Izenstark, Department of Child and Adolescent Development, on her research into nature’s effect on family interactions and the benefits of sharing a “quick walk in nature” to “tune out distractions” and improve family relations. “We know that nature has a powerful effect on individuals because it helps (reduce) mental fatigue,” Izenstark said. “When family members are less mentally fatigued, they have the potential to get along better with one another.” Read more online.

Assistant Professor Raymond March, Department of Economics, recently posted an op-ed about “right to try laws” for the terminally ill at The Hill. “Right to try laws were enacted to provide hope,” March wrote. “Such legislation provides dying patients with more treatment options, albeit risky ones. Without right to try, there is no hope for these patients.” Read more online.

To celebrate Redwood City’s 150th anniversary, Redwood City Parks and Foundation will unveil Department of Art and Art History Professor Brian Taylor’s public art installation at the downtown library on February 8. Taylor also serves as executive director of the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel. Read more online.

Turkey’s Hürriyet Daily News interviewed Assistant Professor Kamran Türkoğlu, Department of Aerospace Engineering, about the driverless electric car he designed that has broken a U.S. speed record for autonomous vehicles, reaching 256 kilometers per hour. “Smarter and more ergonomic vehicles will focus on making human life easier and give back time lost in traffic,” he said. Read more online.

January 2018 Newsletter: Student Researchers Honored at Biomedical Conference

Undergraduate students Mulatwa Haile, left, and Nebat Ali, received awards for their research presentations at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in November. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By Melissa Anderson

Mulatwa Haile and Nebat Ali have several years of research experience between them—and recently received an award for presentations of their work at a national conference—though they are both still in their junior year as undergraduates at San Jose State University.

The students applied to be part of programs on campus that aim to give research opportunities to undergraduate, underrepresented, students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Haile, a biological sciences student with a concentration in systems physiology who is minoring in chemistry and also hopes to complete an African American Studies minor, applied for the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program. Ali, a biological sciences student with a concentration in microbiology, started out with the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and worked wi Dr. Miri VanHoven.

“I got accepted to (Dr.) Katherine Wilkinson’s lab in the biological sciences department,” Haile said. “Ever since then I have developed my love of science and research.”

She noted that as an undergraduate it is challenging to balance working in a lab where she can learn techniques and make connections that will benefit her in the future while also finding the time to study. One of the most valuable lessons she learned is time management and trouble shooting. The students are now involved in Maximizing Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Training in Academic Research (MARC U-STAR) program.

“Both the programs have made the gap between me and my ambition smaller, whether that be financially by offering support or by providing an oasis of information,” Haile said, humbly adding, “I am extremely grateful for the diversity programs. They have given the not-so-extraordinary-me an opportunity to do extraordinary things.”

Ali agreed that the research experience has helped her in many aspects of her educational career, including applying concepts from class to the experiments with which she is involved.

“These programs really helped guide me and provide a network of students and professors to connect with,” she said. “These programs provide an amazing support system for us minority students that bridges the gap between undergraduate and graduate school.”

Last fall, they traveled to the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Phoenix, Arizona, where they connected with more than 2,000 like-minded students to present research findings. The SJSU cohort included 25 students who presented 16 posters and conducted two talks, with the support of faculty members Dr. Karen Singmaster, Dr. Alberto Rascon, Dr. Cleber Ouverney and Wilkinson.

Haile presented her research on the effects of obesity on spinal cord excitability and Ali presented work on how nematodes evolved to avoid Streptomyces bacteria. The two were among the select students from across the nation to receive awards for their presentations.

“I have attended regional professional conferences, but not one that was so large,” Ali said. “ABRCMS was my first national conference. It was an incredible learning experience and everything from the speakers to the exhibitors weregreat.”

Ali noted that historically white males have dominated the field of science.
“Going to ABRCMS and seeing the diversity and all the minorities represented there made me think of all the potential that lies within those that are underrepresented in the fields of STEM,” she said. “Having these programs for underrepresented students is one crucial step in breaking the barriers that restrict us from attaining our full potential.”

In addition to RISE, LSAMP and MARC, the university has other programs that support research opportunities for undergraduate students who are underrepresented in STEM fields. These include the McNair Scholars Program, Research by Undergraduates Using Molecular Biology Applications (RUMBA) and S-STEM. The programs are funded through a variety of federal grants and many students who have participated have gone on to complete doctoral programs.

“The two awards confirm that the research taking place on our campus is meaningful and that our students are as competitive as those at top research institutions in the nation,” Ouverney said.

January 2018 Newsletter: Media Takes Notice of SJSU at SV Auto Show

While automotive engineers and designers wowed audiences with the “future of drive,” San Jose State University engineering students impressed visitors with their own innovative built-from-scratch vehicle designs at the SV Auto Show Jan. 4-7. The students displayed Formula One cars, a quadricycle, a golf cart run on solar power and an electric race car. The San Jose Mercury News highlighted the student cars in an article.