February 2017 Newsletter: Student-Faculty Research Pairs Share Findings

Left to right, Devin Cunningham, Dr. Aaron Romanowsky and Christopher Dixon pose for a photograph at San Jose State University, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Dr. Romanowsky is currently working with undergraduates on a research project. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Left to right, Devin Cunningham, Dr. Aaron Romanowsky and Christopher Dixon pose for a photograph at San Jose State University, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Dr. Romanowsky is currently working with undergraduates on a research project. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)13

By Barry Zepel

A college student’s ability to learn is most positively impacted when the pupil has the opportunity to work as a partner on a research project with a member of the faculty, according to findings presented at a recent American Association of Colleges and Universities conference.

SJSU’s Student-Faculty Research Pairs program provides opportunities for 33 undergraduate students to work with faculty mentors. The 33 pairs will share their work at the Celebration of Research, on Feb. 16, from 4 to 6 p.m., in the Diaz Compean Student Union Ballroom.

With the help and guidance of the Center for Faculty Development, each pair prepares a poster to describe their project and the questions they hope their research will answer. Created through the university’s unique “Explorations in Research, Scholarships and Creative Activity” program umbrella in 2012, it offers undergraduates the opportunity to enrich their student experience while attending SJSU.

“As a pair, the idea is for the student and faculty member to write their proposal together, rather than the student write it and faculty member only approve it,” said Amy Strage, assistant vice president for Faculty Development.

This year’s research areas range from astronomy to healthcare-related topics to exploration into areas of mental health to ballet.

“Compact Galaxies & Black Holes” is the topic for juniors Devin Cunningham and Chris Dixon who are working with Aaron J. Romanowsky, associate professor of physics and astronomy. One of their research questions is “What are the origins of compact stellar systems?”

“With my previous affinity for black holes and stars, I wasn’t sure what to work on with Dr. Romanowsky,” said Dixon, a physics and astronomy major. “I’ve always found astronomy and black holes very interesting. I’ve never done any research before this.”

Cunningham, whose eventual academic goal is to complete doctoral studies in theoretical physics, added: “After attending a seminar showcasing Dr. Romanowsky’s research, Chris and I sought to work (with) him.”

Junior biology student Puneet Sanghera has been working with Katie Wilkinson, an assistant professor of biological sciences on “The Effects of Lipopolysaccharide-Induced Inflammation on Spinal Cord Excitability.” Wilkinson’s lab interests have included proprioception – “the ability to sense where your body is in space,” she explained.

SJSU’s Henry Nguyen Wins Elevator Pitch Challenge at MESA Conference

SJSU students participated in the MESA Leadership Conference in October.

SJSU students participated in the MESA Leadership Conference in October.

San Jose State University students participated in the 13th Annual Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) Student Leadership Conference Oct. 14-15, in Santa Clara. The students engaged in many creative activities designed to sharpen their professional skills, including an elevator pitch challenge styled after the television show “The Voice,” a team-building Lego challenge and networking games.

Henry Nguyen, a member of SJSU’s MESA Engineering Program, won first place in the elevator pitch challenge. He competed against eight other finalists from California community colleges and universities. He received a $500 scholarship as his prize.

According to a press release from the statewide MESA office, the conference provided 1,500 professional development hours to 200 MESA students from 33 colleges and universities. The students engaged with 75 industry professionals from 28 STEM companies. PG&E sponsored SJSU attendees. Other sponsors included NASA, Tesla, AT&T and other industry partners.

During the conference, NASA Astronaut Commander Victor Glover was named the 2016 MESA Distinguished Alum. He participated in MESA when he was in middle school and as an undergraduate. He credits the program as a driving force behind his success as an engineer.

“What you’re doing is so vital, so important to California and the planet,” he said, of staying committed to STEM education.

MESA promotes STEM success for more than 25,000 educationally disadvantaged secondary, community college and four-year college students in California through project-based learning, academic counseling and exposure to STEM careers so that they can graduate from college with math-based degrees. Seventy percent of MESA high school graduates statewide went directly to college after graduation compared to 48 percent of all California graduates. Sixty percent of MESA students go on to math, science or engineering majors. Ninety-seven percent of MESA community college transfer students go to college as STEM majors.

For more information about the SLC visit http://mesa.ucop.edu/newsroom/

For more information about MESA visit http://mesa.ucop.edu/ or on Twitter @MESASTEM.

Celebrate SJSU Authors on Nov. 7

Attendees of the Annual Author Awards look at the 2015 publications.

Attendees of the Annual Author Awards look at the 2015 publications. Photo by Brandon Chew.

The Annual Author Awards will celebrate 27 San Jose State University faculty who have published a book or other major work in this year on Nov. 7, from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library Room 225/229.

This year’s authors have penned textbooks, directed a young adult film, recorded classical music and more. Authors who wrote scholarly books, works of fiction or non-fiction, poetry, art books, textbooks, anthologies, edited books, plays, video or music published between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2016 were invited to submit information about their publication and a brief description of their work earlier this year. (Vanity press, self-published books, unpublished manuscripts, pamphlets, brochures, custom-published course anthologies, book chapters and course packs do not qualify.)

The Annual Author Awards is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, University Library and the Spartan Bookstore. The event is free and open to the public. For more information or questions, call Library Dean Tracy Elliott at 408-808-2419or Outreach Librarian Elisabeth Thomas at 408-808-2193.

SJSU Student Researchers Recognized by CSU

The California State University Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program Recognizing Outstanding Undergraduate Distinction (PROUD) honored two San Jose State students and two alumni in its most recent edition. The publication summarizes the work of the LSAMP program statewide to support underrepresented minorities in pursuing degrees in STEM while also acknowledging outstanding scholars at each CSU campus.

Fauna Yarza, a biological sciences student with a concentration in microbiology, received the Outstanding Academic and Research Award. She works with Professor Elizabeth Skovran as an undergraduate research assistant. She is studying a bacteria that has the potential for use in biofuels and biodegradable plastics and presented at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students last year, where she won an award. While working in the research lab, she has maintained a 3.75 GPA in her courses and plans to pursue a doctorate in microbiology.

Cynthia Ouandji, a biomedical engineering student, also received the Outstanding Academic and Research Award. She works in a microfluidics lab and is a member of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society. She has pursued multiple research projects including one that involves synthesizing a cost-effective silver-based antimicrobial compound. In 2015, Cynthia was one of ten students accepted into the Summer Program Undergraduate Research in the Life and Biomedical Sciences (SPUR LABS), conducting research in the Cardiac Computing lab.

SJSU alumnus Jose Alvarez, ’15 Biomedical Engineering, received the Outstanding Alumnus Academic and Research Award while Beatriz Camacho, ’15 Biochemistry, received the Outstanding Alumna with a Compelling Personal Story Award.

View the full CSU LSAMP Proud publication.

Rachael French and Miranda Worthen Receive Early Career Investigator Award

The San Jose State University Research Foundation has selected the recipients of the 2016 Early Career Investigator Award: Associate Professor Rachael French, from the Department of Biological Sciences, College of Science, and Assistant Professor Miranda Worthen, from the Department of Health Sciences and Recreation, College of Applied Sciences and Arts. The Early Career Investigator subcommittee, which includes Research Foundation board members and faculty, recommended their selection for this year’s honor.

French has received more than $1.2 million in external research funding, either as a principal investigator or co-principal investigator. Using the common fruit fly (Drosophila) as a research model, her lab seeks to identify the neurodevelopmental pathways that are altered by exposure to alcohol during development, and the genes underlying those pathways. Understanding these pathways may lead to future therapeutic measures to treat fetal alcohol syndrome. She mentors both undergraduate and graduate students in her lab. The students who have worked in her lab have achieved exceptional levels of success, winning awards for outstanding presentations and going on to promising academic careers of their own.

Worthen’s research examines the psychosocial experiences of vulnerable populations that have undergone high levels of trauma, with an emphasis on those who have participated in armed forces or have been impacted by exposure to war. Her publication track record is lengthy and impressive, with many of her articles published in high impact factor journals. She has been awarded external funding for her work with the Native American Health Center on suicide prevention, youth empowerment and tobacco use reduction among urban Native youth. She frequently presents at conferences throughout the United States and in Europe.

Save the Date

French and Worth will be honored at SJSU’s annual Celebration of Research, to be held on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Diaz Compean Student Union Ballroom.

The SJSU Research Foundation Early Career Investigator Awards recognizes tenure-track faculty who have excelled in areas of research, scholarship or creative activity as evidenced by their success in securing funds for research, 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. Our two recipients are examples of individuals who have achieved this level of success.

The SJSU Research Foundation established two Early Career Investigator Awards to encourage participation in research, scholarship and creative activity beyond those colleges where large numbers of faculty have traditionally participated. One award goes to a faculty member in the Colleges of Science or Engineering, and another is made to a faculty member from all other colleges. Each winner receives a cash award of $1,000 to be used at their discretion.