‘Disability at Work’ Panel Teaches Students to Expand Their Horizons

Attendee Rosse Strda poses for a photo with panelists Joseph Fox, Karo Caran and Vincent Tsaran at the "Disablilty At Work" Panel hosted by Communications Studies students.

Attendee Rosse Strda poses for a photo with panelists Joseph Fox, Karo Caran and Vincent Tsaran at the “Disablilty At Work” Panel hosted by Communications Studies students.

By Riley Wilcox and America Yamaguchi, Communication Studies students

On May 5, San Jose State University students hosted a panel on “Disability at Work. Students enrolled in Communication Studies 132F Dis/Ability Communications with Professor Bettina Brockmann coordinated the three-person panel event that was open to the public in the Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. Library. The event was widely publicized, with invitations going out to the entire Communication Studies department as well as all Accessible Education Center (AEC) registered students, and a Facebook event post that made it clear the event was open to the public. The panel’s purpose was to inform the audience about employment and accessibility difficulties for people with disabilities.

The speakers included Vincent Tsaran, technical program manager at Google, Karo Caran, who also works in accessibility at Google and is an  accomplished author, and Joseph Fox, senior vice president at SAP Ariba.

Tsaran and Caran presented together, speaking on their experiences growing up as vision-impaired children in Ukraine and Poland respectively, and the differences in their experiences in mainstream and specialized education programs. Tsaran and Caran both work with Google to increase the accessibility of the user interfaces for Google and Google Play. They concentrated on perspectives in ableism for people with disabilities, and the similarities between ableism and other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism and homophobia.

Dreams became a theme that emerged throughout the event. Caran pursued a dream of studying Chinese that early instructors had hesitated about due to her vision impairment.

“I work in the business of dreams,” Tsaran said. “I had a few dreams—I wanted to teach history at my school of the blind. But [when I came to the United States], my dreams expanded as my horizons were expanded.”

He noted that his university’s dedication to accessibility created a capacity for dreams he had not had before. Working in the tech industry, the pair also spoke on how computers are “great enablers,” that allow people to speak, get their point across and have a sense of self. Caran explained that because times are changing, and so much of the world is now accessed through an electronic platform, society must more than ever make sure that computer technology is accessible for everyone.

Joseph Fox, who also works in the tech industry, is the parent of four children, three of whom are on the Autism spectrum. Fox spoke on always having a “parent view” before having a “business view.” He said he has found as a father, as an employer and as a student, there were many challenges for people with disabilities. Fox presents frequently on the benefits of hiring a neurodiverse workforce, informs parents of resources for their children, informs young adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder on toolsets and programs to aide them, and highlights for employers the best ways to incorporate accessibility into the workforce. Some of his key advice includes self advocacy and the benefits of finding peers and mentors who can help young adults to obtain the accommodations they need. He also recommends employers to develop hiring processes that do not involve interviews because people who are capable of the job may not always be impressive during interviews. Under Fox’s leadership, SAP Ariba announced in May 2013 a goal of having one percent of its global workforce represented by those on the Autism Spectrum.

After Fox’s presentation, the floor was opened to audience questions. Some of the key messages were that accessibility development requires trial and error, and that the best way to reduce ableism is to maximize exposure by reading and meeting more people with disabilities.

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.

 

April 2017 Newsletter: SJSU Professor Yambrach Develops Water Vest for Developing Countries

Fritz Yambrach, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging help to develop a way to package water to transport to disaster areas or areas where water is not readily available. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Fritz Yambrach, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging help to develop a way to package water to transport to disaster areas or areas where water is not readily available. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By David Goll

In parts of the world where potable water is difficult to reach and even harder to transport, a San Jose State University professor has devised an invention that could dramatically improve the quality of daily life.

Fritz Yambrach, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging, has developed the Fritz Water Vest, a 10-liter, double-pouch “vest” made of sturdy, multi-layer plastic material that can serve as an alternative to transporting water in heavy buckets, vases or other containers. Such tasks in developing countries are typically handled by women and children. The work can result in injuries to those transporting water-filled containers, which carry up to five gallons, atop their heads.

The vest-like water carrier that can be worn over the head — with the pouches suspended over the chest and back — could also find application in more affluent nations like the United States during emergency situations resulting from floods, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and other disasters that interrupt the supply and availability of clean water.

Yambrach, who arrived at San Jose State in 2007, is a veteran of the packaging industry, starting his career 40 years ago at the Chrysler automobile company in Michigan. He went on to work in the pharmaceutical and medical device sectors before moving into academia, including at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

Yambrach said he first became aware of the phenomenon of people in impoverished nations having to walk long distances on a daily basis to fetch clean water for drinking and cooking purposes during his childhood. He attended a Catholic elementary school and heard church missionaries talk of seeing women and girls hauling water long distances on their heads.

According to the United Nations, women and girls in sub-Saharan African nations spend 40 billion hours annually collecting water — equivalent to a year’s worth of labor by the entire workforce of France, which numbers about 30 million. Water for the Ages, a blog written by water activist Abigail Brown, estimates the average distance traveled daily by those fetching water in Africa and Asia is 3.7 miles. Brown said water carriers can suffer severe neck and spine damage from toting heavy, inflexible water containers.

Yambrach said he has tried to take everything into account in designing his life-saving vest.

A prototype of the water vest. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

A prototype of the water vest. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

“The construction of the vest makes it very robust,” Yambrach said, noting the edges of the vest are heat-sealed to make it leakproof. “We have even included an additive in the material to inhibit microbial growth,” he said.

The vest is being beta tested in the African nations of Ethiopia and Burundi, as well as Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean region.

Manufacturing of the vest is being overseen by Heritage Packaging of Victor, N.Y. News of Yambrach’s invention has attracted the attention of former colleagues and students. One of those is Eric Steigelman, a student in Yambrach’s packaging science class at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2006. Now a San Diego-based entrepreneur, Steigelman is handling marketing of the vest and the beta-testing projects.

“I am helping the organization find strategic partnerships,” Steigelman said, adding that he hopes to partner with larger companies to “leverage their strengths in funding and distribution. The beauty of this solution is that it is so intuitive. It doesn’t require a lot of instruction or direction. It can help millions of people who struggle every day with water issues, or temporarily because of an emergency.”

Steigelman said one such situation here in the U.S. that has occurred to him as an opportunity for the water vest is the contaminated water crisis in Flint, Mich., where cost-cutting measures by state officials led to the city’s water supply becoming polluted with lead and other toxins.

“The worldwide problem is so big and broad, you need a simple, inexpensive solution to have any chance of success,” he said. “Whether it is a daily need or an emergency, the water vest is a really effective solution.”

April 2017 Newsletter: SJSU and Columbia Law Students Connect on Record Clearance Project

Justice Studies students partnered with Columbia Law School students during an alternative spring break in which pairs worked to help clients expunge their records for misdemeanor  and felony charges.(Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Justice Studies students partnered with Columbia Law School students during an alternative spring break in which pairs worked to help clients expunge their records for misdemeanor and felony charges.(Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By Barry Zepel

On March 13, San Jose State University undergrads met 12 law students visiting from New York’s Columbia Law School. They spent an intense week helping low-income clients with criminal records prepare to have their convictions expunged. This was the sixth year that a contingent of students from Columbia Law School spent their spring break at SJSU. Each year, the visits have been sponsored by the Chinese Law Society.

Each SJSU student partnered with a law student to work on behalf of their client.  By the end of the week, 12 clients had expungement petitions ready to be filed in court.

The week is part of SJSU’s Record Clearance Project (RCP), a program in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts Justice Studies Department. Established in January 2008, the RCP provides undergraduates with practical experience working in the justice system while helping people clear their criminal records in court.  Peggy Stevenson, RCP director, created the program nine years ago. She and the RCP staff guide students through the process in classes each semester.

“This year has been particularly exciting because we had the most law students we’ve ever had before, and thus have finished the most clients’ cases,” Stevenson said.  “The undergrads and law students work together in teams to benefit their clients and, in the process, learn from each other.”

Angelica Viscarra, a senior justice studies major from SJSU, and Lisa Xia, a second-year law student, were case partners during the week. Their client had been convicted as an accessory to a crime 14 years ago. The client was trying to get it expunged, as she is interested in employment as a caregiver.

“Her mistake was hanging out with the wrong crowd,” Viscarra said. “Her peers had been involved in the criminal activities (of fraud and identity theft). She was convicted of conspiracy because she provided them with a place to stay.”

Xia was thrilled with her week in San Jose.

“This one spoke to me when I was considering various spring break programs that Columbia had information on,” she said. “I was impressed with RCP. I didn’t have (a program like this) as an undergraduate at Georgia Tech. I can see how it has been making great impacts on people’s lives.”

Viscarra is equally enthusiastic about her time with RCP. Indeed, like many of her classmates, she has plans for a career in law.

“While the workload is very heavy, it is very rewarding,” she said.  “People come to you for help in getting their records cleared, and we are able to assist.”

Under attorney supervision, students learn to review rap sheets showing an individual’s convictions, to interview clients during drop-in advice sessions and to prepare petitions seeking expungement for the consideration of a judge.

“RCP prepares our students for many types of jobs,” said Anahi Beltran, ’16 Justice Studies, the full-time RCP project coordinator who first became involved with the program when she was a student two years ago. “We’ve had people who have taken the RCP classes and now work in law enforcement. We get a lot of interest from future probation officers.  This also is a great program for those who want to go to law school.”

RCP Director Stevenson believes that the RCP is the only program in the country in which undergraduates can take such classes and gain experience providing legal assistance directly to clients. To date, the RCP has filed more than 1,100 petitions in court, with a success rate of 99 percent. Since it requires significant staff assistance to operate, the RCP relies on outside funding, including support from CommUniverCity, grants from Santa Clara County, the city of San Jose, private foundations such as The Health Trust and Castellano Family Foundation, and individual donors.

April 2017 Newsletter: Grant Partners SJSU and East Side Union High School District on College Readiness

Photo: Provided by Tom Reisz From left, Larry Bach (WC Overfelt); Gil Agoylo (Silver Creek); Victoriano Castillo, Jr. (Independence); Maria-Lai Tran (Independence); Tom Reisz (SJSU); and Mary Barrett-Wong (Silver Creek) discuss high school math curriculum during a workshop in Chino, Calif.

Photo: Provided by Tom Reisz
From left, Larry Bach (WC Overfelt); Gil Agoylo (Silver Creek); Victoriano Castillo, Jr. (Independence); Maria-Lai Tran (Independence); Tom Reisz (SJSU); and Mary Barrett-Wong (Silver Creek) discuss high school math curriculum during a workshop in Chino, Calif.

By David Goll

San Jose State University is seeking to increase the odds that incoming students are proficient at math before they even set foot on campus. SJSU has entered into a cooperative program with the East Side Union High School District to kick off a new math instructional curriculum known as Mathematics Reasoning with Connections (MRWC) in fall 2017 at five of the district’s campuses: Independence, Overfelt, Mt. Pleasant, Silver Creek and Santa Teresa high schools. The curriculum is designed to help students grasp the concept behind mathematical formulas as well as meet minimum standards for proficiency set by the California State University system.

SJSU is part of a consortium of several other CSU campuses, including Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State San Bernardino, along with high school districts, that has secured a state grant of nearly $1.3 million, the California Math Readiness Challenge Initiative Grant. The funding is being used to devise the new curriculum, cover operations beginning in the 2017-18 academic year and provide professional development number of math teachers districtwide, according to Tom Reisz, program coordinator for SJSU’s Early Assessment Program and Early Start Program.

Four other experimental math instruction programs — in consortiums led by Cal State Monterey Bay, Cal State Sacramento, San Diego State University and UCLA — have also received state grants of the same size, according to Reisz.

Preparing incoming students for study at the college level to increase their chances of earning a degree in four years is one of the university’s Four Pillars of Student Success Plan. Students who enter SJSU with remedial needs are less likely to graduate in four years, with only six percent of students with double remedial needs graduating in four years compared to the the overall four-year graduation rate of 14 percent for 2016. In fall 2015, 16 percent of students in Santa Clara County high schools fell short of the CSU math requirements, according to data from the California State University system. Among the freshman class admitted to SJSU in fall 2016, about 22 percent of students failed to meet the minimum math standards.

High schools students have several ways to show they are prepared for college-level math, through exemptions described online or by passing the entry-level math (ELM) exam. Those without an exemption or an acceptable score on the ELM are required to enroll in remedial math classes to prepare for general education (GE) math. CSU officials want to decrease the number of students needing those remedial courses through the Early Start Program, which seeks to improve the level of academic readiness among students entering the university with remedial requirements in math, English or both. Last summer, Reisz said 914 incoming students took remedial math classes both on campus and online.

“Students often leave high school with a better understanding of mathematical procedure than conceptual underpinnings of math topics,” Reisz said.

A math concept is defined as the “why” or the big idea of math — knowing the workings behind the answer. Math educators contend gaining knowledge of concepts reduces the need for having to memorize answers or formulas.

Reisz said instructing students in math concepts is emphasized in the Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by the California Department of Education, as they have in 41 other states nationwide. High school students who reach such advanced math disciplines as Calculus are familiar with an emphasis on learning concepts.

The new curriculum to be introduced this fall in the East Side district will emphasize this approach from Math 1 classes to Calculus, according to Lyla Hua, an instructional coach for the district. She will directly advise nine math teachers at the five participating schools in the new curriculum starting later this year, but preparation has already begun.

“The program may not begin until the fall, but we are all actively engaged in early conversations about the program,” said Hua, who attended a workshop about the California Math Readiness Challenge held in early March in the Los Angeles suburb of Chino with the teachers selected for the program.

Hua said the major benefits of the new approach to teaching math will be teachers and students using communication, collaboration, flexibility and creativity in solving problems.

“It promotes a conceptual understanding of math, not just the procedural,” she said. “Our district feels very positively about the program’s philosophy, and we are all very hopeful for its success.”