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.

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.”