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: Campus Reading Program Inspires Book Drive

Inspired by the Campus Reading Program selection "Hot Dogs and Hamburgers" by Rob Shindler, students in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education started a book drive to donate to literacy programs in the Bay Area. SJSU student Charlene Abi poses with Janene Perez at the Reading Partners headquarters in Milpitas where donated books were delivered.

Inspired by the Campus Reading Program selection “Hot Dogs and Hamburgers” by Rob Shindler, students in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education started a book drive to donate to literacy programs in the Bay Area. SJSU student Charlene Abi poses with Janene Perez at the Reading Partners headquarters in Milpitas where donated books were delivered.
(Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By David Goll

The 2017-18 Campus Reading Program selection ignited a spark in some readers to take immediate action after they read Rob Shindler’s “Hot Dogs and Hamburgers.” The book by first-time author and Chicago attorney Shindler tells the story of how he helped his young son overcome a learning disability and got involved in supporting adult literacy. Shindler, who visited the campus in October as part of the activities around the book, was impressed with SJSU’s particular approach to the reading program.

Incoming freshmen, faculty, staff and some other campus community members received copies of the book and were invited to read it in preparation of participating in a roster of fall activities such as book discussions as well as a visit from the author.

“There is a strong community service element to the program, and it allows authors like me a chance to get the word out about our cause,” Shindler said.

Scot Guenter, a professor of American Studies at SJSU, oversees the university’s reading program, which has a history of selecting books that tackle important social issues. Inspired by Shindler’s story and the campus activities held in the fall, students, staff and faculty in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education started a book drive with a local nonprofit that supports literacy for elementary school students. The team collected 874 books for Reading Partners, a nonprofit that provides one-on-one tutoring to students in kindergarten through fourth grade in three local counties.

Dr. Robin Love, interim associate dean of the College of Education, helped coordinate the book drive along with Janene Perez, lecturer and director of the College of Education’s Student Success Center. Love and Perez were so encouraged by the outcome that the college has plans for a second book drive during this semester, with a goal of collecting 1,000 books.

“I think it’s a realistic goal,” said Love, adding that Shindler’s book was an excellent selection, especially for students of education. “It’s so well-suited to our students and our college, which has a strong emphasis on helping special needs students and promoting social justice.”

The fall activities also included a panel discussion with recent graduates. Erin Enguero, ’16 Kinesiology, and Gerardo Garay, ’17 Kinesiology, both overcame disabilities to complete successful academic careers at the university. Dr. Karin Jeffery, a professor in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts’ Department of Kinesiology, facilitated the panel.

“Erin won many academic awards here,” Jeffery said, including an Outstanding Graduating Senior Award in 2016. “Gerardo is an amazing example of a student who defied expectations and came back from great adversity.”

Enguero, whose genetic bilateral hearing loss was diagnosed at the age of five, received her first hearing aid at age 10. Though she faced her share of challenges both at home and school, the SJSU graduate said she was lucky.

“I was fortunate to be surrounded by family, teachers, mentors and friends who believed in my ability to succeed,” she said.

Both Enguero and Garay described many of their challenges while at SJSU during the panel. For Enguero, being able to fully hear professors or lecturers, pick up on comments being made by classmates and friends, or handling the audio confusion of being in busy, loud environments such as the Student Union presented daily difficulties. For Garay, who suffered traumatic brain injury from an accident a decade ago, some of the daily difficulties included negotiating public transportation to get to and from work and school, navigating around a sprawling campus and entering buildings.

“I was 21 when I got in an accident, which caused my brain injury, which resulted in a coma,” Garay told the audience at the panel. “I was in a coma for about three months. All my motor skills went bye bye…It was hard for me to go back to school, maintain my degree and graduate in May.”

Enguero said despite periodic difficulties, she felt supported by the university.

“I feel very fortunate that I spent my undergrad years as a member of the SJSU community,” she said. “The key areas I spent most of my time was within the Kinesiology department, Humanities Honors program and the Salzburg Scholars program. Like many of their counterparts, they facilitated inclusive environments among our diverse student population. Even when I ventured beyond my usual circles to volunteer or work for the Student Health Center, the SJSU Giving Fund or Peer Connections, I was always encouraged to share my story and seek out the accommodations I needed to create my best possible work.”

Enguero said the Campus Reading Program selection prompted her to return to campus to share her own personal story, noting that she primarily felt supported at the university.

“Hot Dogs and Hamburgers accurately portrayed an aspect of living with a disability that resonated with me so strongly that I just had to come back to campus and help promote it,” she said.

Khatami and Schuster to Receive Early Career Investigator Award

Left to right, Ian Cooke, Dr. Dave Schuster and Soham Shah pose for a photograph at San Jose State University, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Dr. Schuster has received a grant for cybersecurity research. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Left to right, Ian Cooke, Dr. Dave Schuster and Soham Shah pose for a photograph at San Jose State University, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Dr. Schuster has received a grant for cybersecurity research. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

Assistant Professor Ehsan Khatami, from the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Science, and Assistant Professor David Schuster, from the Department of Psychology in College of Social Sciences, have been chosen to receive the Early Career Investigator Award for 2017. Their selection was recommended by the Early Career Investigator Award Subcommittee, consisting of SJSU Research Foundation Board members and SJSU faculty. They will be honored at the annual SJSU Celebration of Research on April 4, 2018, from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. in the Diaz Compean Student Union ballroom. The event is open to the SJSU campus community.

The SJSU Research Foundation Early Career Investigator Awards recognize tenure-track SJSU faculty who have excelled in areas of research, scholarship or creative activity (RSCA) as evidenced by their success in securing funds for RSCA, publishing in peer-reviewed journals, and carrying out other important scholarly and creative activities at an early or beginning point in their careers at SJSU. One award goes to a faculty member in the College of Science or the College of Engineering, and another is made to a faculty member from the other colleges combined. Each winner receives a cash award of $1,000 to be used at their discretion.

In the three years since he joined the Physics & Astronomy faculty, Ehsan Khatami has made remarkable contributions to the computational infrastructure and capabilities in the department and college; published extensively in the highest-ranked science journals, including one paper in Nature and two in Science, with co-authors from institutions like MIT, Harvard, and Princeton; and served as research mentor for seven undergraduate and six graduate students.

Dr. Khatami was hired to help expand the department’s offerings in computational physics throughout the curriculum. The first project he undertook was to build the department’s first modern high-performance computational cluster, which is used extensively by students enrolled in big-data courses and undertaking computational research. Because of his computational expertise, Dr. Khatami joined Dr. Sen Chiao as Co-PI on the successful NSF Major Research Instrumentation proposal that funded the $900K supercomputer now installed at the Research Foundation. He also was awarded a three-year NSF Research at Undergraduate Institutions grant for his project on “Disorder in Strongly Correlated Systems.”

College of Science Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Ehsan Khatami had research published in September 2016.

College of Science Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Ehsan Khatami had research published in September 2016.

Dr. Khatami and his students have expanded their research focus to apply machine learning techniques to the solution of complex quantum problems, and one of his graduate students has been the lead author on two papers, one already published and highlighted in Physical Review X. This paper is just one of the 12 published and two submitted papers that Dr. Khatami and his collaborators have produced since he arrived at SJSU.

In addition, Dr. Khatami has been recognized by others outside the institution. In 2016, he was named one of only seven Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP) Scholars. This three-year visiting position is awarded to faculty at teaching-intensive institutions who engage in ongoing research activity, and provides support for six weeks of travel to the KITP program at UC Santa Barbara. He has given several invited talks and has participated in national and international conferences, all of which spread the word about the outstanding research being done at San José State University.

David Schuster joined SJSU’s faculty in August 2013 and established himself early on as a highly productive grant writer and scholar.  His research is designed to increase understanding of individual and shared cognition in complex environments and is applicable to areas such as the cognitive aspects of cybersecurity, and perceptual training for real-world pattern recognition in such domains as aviation, transportation security training, and military human-robot interaction.

Dr. Schuster’s grant activity and success have been remarkable. He was granted the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for early career faculty, the CAREER Award, in 2016. Additionally, he serves as Co-PI with an SJSU colleague on a collaborative research NSF grant. He was also awarded a supplemental grant by NSF in support of undergraduate research training at SJSU. Dr. Schuster has been successful in his pursuit of internal grant funding as well, earning a number of awards in support of his research and the research of SJSU students.

Dr. Schuster has also been a productive scholar. He has one co-authored, peer-reviewed article this year, as well as one in press. He has authored four peer-reviewed articles in his short time at SJSU, as well as multiple peer-reviewed proceedings papers, two book chapters, and a number of invited research presentations.

Further, Dr. Schuster has made tremendous contributions to his students’ research productivity. He is serving, or has served, on five master’s thesis committees, chairing two, has an active research lab of undergraduate and graduate students. He also oversees the training of research assistants employed through his grants. He is highly committed to providing SJSU students with top-notch educational opportunities and research training.

Please join us in congratulating our two 2017 Early Career Investigator Award Winners.

Professor Janet Stemwedel Joins Elite Group of AAAS Fellows

Janet Stemwedel

Janet Stemwedel

Janet D. Stemwedel, a professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy in the College of Humanities and the Arts has been elected to the rank of Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She is one of 396 AAAS members across disciplines to be awarded the distinction in 2017 and was recognized in the section on History and Philosophy of Science. Each year the Council of the AAAS elects members whose “efforts on behalf of the advancement of science or its applications are scientifically or socially distinguished.”

She joins an elite group of Fellows in a tradition that dates back to 1874. Among past Fellows are Maria Mitchell, who discovered a comet that now carries her name; inventor Thomas Edison; anthropologist Margaret Mead, and biologist James Watson. Earlier this year, five AAAS Fellows were named as 2017 Nobel laureates.

Stemwedel, who holds doctorate degrees in both chemistry and philosophy, was recognized for distinguished contributions to the philosophy of science and ethics, and for exceptional efforts to promote the public understanding of science and scientists in culture.

“It’s hard to imagine engaging in the work for which I’m being honored any place else but San José State,” Stemwedel noted. “I’ve been blessed here with colleagues and an academic environment that has fully supported both my interdisciplinary work and non-traditional activities like blogging, podcasts, and tweeting that bring my scholarship out of the ‘ivory tower’ and into contact with the wider world. As a philosopher who helps the public to understand scientists and scientists to understand the public, I’m working to build a future that’s more humane for everyone. I’m delighted to share this recognition with San José State.”

She shared some of her research in a 2016 University Scholars Series lecture in which she discussed the ethical dimensions of being a good scientist that extend beyond avoiding or responding to scientific misconduct.

“Scientific knowledge is the result of particular kinds of interactions between human scientists who are also interacting with the piece of the world they’re studying,” she said. “Once you have an activity that requires humans to interact with each other, ethics has to be part of the story.”

Stemwedel contributes to Forbes.com and has maintained blogs where she is able to engage with an audience of working scientists and students from different disciplines and countries who are at various stages of their careers.

“They tell me if they think I’m missing an important feature of their scientific interactions, or if they find my ethical prescriptions implausible,” she said. “My audience also brings new questions to my attention, whether they’re from breaking news stories or from issues they’re trying to work out in their own lives as scientists.”

The ultimate goal of her research is to find ways to help scientists do their jobs better and to successfully share their findings with nonscientists.

“There are lots of ways to use philosophical tools – like logic and conceptual analysis – to develop strategies to address challenges in the real world, and lots of different challenges for which having a philosopher – or a college graduate with a philosophy degree – on your team might make a difference,” she said.

Spartan Aviation Program Ranked Fourth in the Nation

San Jose State University’s Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering Aviation Program was recently ranked first on the West Coast and fourth in the nation by the Best Colleges website. The website ranks schools based on a variety of factors such as tuition, retention rates and the median starting salary for graduates.

The site acknowledges the history of SJSU’s Department of Aviation Technology, which was founded in 1936 when math students expressed a desire to study flight. During World War II, SJSU was one of 13 U.S. schools to become part of the Civilian Pilot Training Program. The department currently offers two bachelor’s programs – in Aviation and Industrial Technology – that allow students to specialize in operations, maintenance management, aviation management or professional flight.
Department Chair Fred Barez said the ranking is due to the achievements of faculty, staff and students, noting that students regularly participate in conferences and competitions across the country.

“They are our best ambassadors to promote and spread the word about our program to gain such national attention and recognition,” Barez said. “The department financially supports such student activities and I am very pleased to see the results.”