Professor Connects Science and Philosophy in Research

Dr. Janet Stemwedel will present at the University Scholars Series on April 20. Here, she is shown during a discussion at a Science Online conference.

Dr. Janet Stemwedel will present at the University Scholars Series on April 20. Here, she is shown during a discussion at a Science Online conference.

Dr. Janet Stemwedel received a PhD in chemistry before she realized her true interest was in philosophy.

“A long time ago, when I was 21, I was sure I was going to be a chemist when I grew,” she said. “Then, because I realized that the questions that kept me up at night – like about how humans, with our limited sensory apparatus and our comfortable biases, can manage to build reasonably accurate knowledge about our world – were really philosophical questions, I went back to school to get a PhD in philosophy so I could focus on the philosophy of science.”

Stemwedel, the chair of the Philosophy Department in the College of Humanities and the Arts and the director of the SJSU Center for Ethics, will be presenting the final University Scholars Series lecture of the spring semester on Wednesday, April 20, from noon to 1 p.m., in MLK 255/257. She will be talking about recent research that explores the ethical dimensions of being a good scientist that extend beyond avoiding or responding to scientific misconduct.

While philosophy of science research has been traditionally focused on what scientists do to build reliable knowledge, Stemwedel has been interested in science as a human activity.

“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 maintains a blog on ethics, and has contributed to Forbes.com, most recently on the topic of sexual harassment in the scientific community. Through the blogs, she is able to engage with an audience of working scientists and students from different disciplines and countries who are at various states 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 to 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.

Read more about the University Scholars Series online.

 

March Newsletter: Provost Update – Technology and Teaching Intersect

At San Jose State, in the heart of Silicon Valley, we are turning to technology to support student success in many ways. New technology has evolved and expanded the way we teach classes. It is allowing us to use data and predictive analytics to make informed decisions about what resources are needed to improve graduation and retention rates. It is opening up new opportunities for students and faculty to engage together in research.

As Provost, I am encouraged by our staff and faculty who have been early adopters of new technologies and serve as examples for the campus. They have found innovative ways to use the assets we have available to take students beyond the boundaries of the traditional classroom. We have faculty members who are redesigning their courses to use new applications that increase student engagement and real-time assessment. Others use telepresence and WebEx to connect with long-distance research partners or bring guest lecturers into their classrooms remotely. Still others are incorporating new software tools into their curriculum to ensure students have the skills they need to land internships in their fields.

Academic Technology, IT Services, and the Center for Faculty Development have been integral in supporting students, staff and faculty as we adopt new technologies. They coordinate group workshop and training activities such as the recent Adobe Day, where 50 staff and faculty members learned how to use new software programs at the company’s downtown office. IT Services also hosts IT Open Forums several times a year, where all students, staff and faculty are invited to learn about the ways in which technology and higher education intersect.Dates of upcoming forums are available online.

Academic Technology and ITS staff are collaborating more closely since ITS joined the Academic Affairs Division in the fall. I am enthusiastic that their joint efforts will greatly benefit us all, especially as student success continues to be a top priority on campus.

I encourage those of you who are interested in learning more about the existing technology resources we have on campus to connect with Academic Technology, IT Services and the Center for Faculty Development, or to consult with them when you discover new resources that could benefit the greater campus community. I look forward to seeing the innovative ways we can collaborate to improve student success, support RSCA and educate the future workforce of Silicon Valley.

From Tuscan Mountains to Moss Landing Marine Lab

Dr. Ivano Aiello’s interest in marine sedimentology started for him not on the shores of his native Italy, but in the mountains and hills of Tuscany. As an undergraduate student at the University of Florence, he learned that the soil in the mountains and hills was once part of the ocean floor.

Aiello, a professor of geological oceanography with the College of Science Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, will share his research on microfossil-rich marine sediments and the information it provides about past climate conditions as part of the Spring 2016 University Scholars Series on March 23, from noon to 1 p.m., in MLK 225/229.

“I want to share that same fascination I had and still have about the fact that many of the mountain chains that surround us are ancient, uplifted seafloors often made up of tiny fossils of critters, mainly marine plankton, that existed in now extinct oceans,” he said, noting that the occurrence of plankton can help in understanding past and future climate.

Aiello completed a master’s in geology, then enrolled in a doctorate program at the University of Bologna, when the opportunity arose for him to travel to California to work with a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Aiello decided to stay in California to complete his doctorate at UCSC and to conduct post doctorate research. He was invited to serve as a shipboard marine sedimentologist with an expedition of the International Ocean Discovery Program in 2011.

“This experience was yet another turning point in my career that extended my research to the field of oceanography, prompted me to obtain grants and write papers that eventually allowed me to obtain a position as a faculty (member) at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories at SJSU,” he said.

Aiello received the SJSU Early Career Investigator Award in 2011 and said he has applied for external funding to purchase much of the equipment his students use in his classes. He has received grants from the National Science Foundation, the American Chemical Society, the CSU’s Council on Ocean Affairs Science and Technology, and on-campus RSCA funds.

He will be continuing his research as a shipboard sedimentologist on the Western Pacific Warm Pool International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 363 next fall on a journey that will take scientists from Singapore to Guam. He is researching the possibility of teaching some courses remotely using telepresence.

“The purpose is to reconstruct the evolution of the Western Pacific Warm Pool since the Miocene (era) and the implications for our understanding for the evolution of El Nino, terrestrial and marine climate, and monsoons in the Pacific are obvious,” he said. “The results and discoveries that will be produced by this expedition can be very important for the climate community and society.”

The University Scholars Series is co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the University Library and the Spartan Bookstore.

Read more about the University Scholars Series online.

February 2016 Newsletter: Provost Update: A Culture of Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity

As Provost, I am always excited to learn about the amazing research, scholarship and creative activity (RSCA) our students and faculty accomplish. I also understand the dedication that is required to balance teaching, service and RSCA. From my own experience in conducting and publishing research, I know both faculty and students benefit from a campus culture that supports such endeavors.

I am committed to creating an environment that fosters this important aspect of higher education. In the last two years, we have invested $2.2 million to support university-wide workshops and college-specific programs to assist faculty in starting or continuing their RSCA agendas. Annual funding for RSCA has been built into our budget and we are finalizing a plan to ensure it remains a key priority.

My hope is that our current planning efforts will foster more stellar research like that of two faculty members honored at the Celebration of Research this month with Early Career Investigator Awards. Aaron Romanowsky, from the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Science, and Virginia San Fratello, from the Department of Design in the College of Humanities and the Arts, both exemplify the Spartan spirit of innovation. Romanowsky and his students are discovering new galaxies while San Fratello is using 3-D printing to create sustainable building materials. Both have been recognized by colleagues in their disciplines and have been successful in securing funding to further their research.

At the Celebration of Research, I was also pleased to highlight our Undergraduate Research Pairs program and see the wide range of projects students are pursuing with faculty mentors, some of which we highlight in this month’s newsletter. High-impact practices, including undergraduate research, improve student learning and support student retention, but faculty also benefit from students as research assistants. I applaud our faculty for their commitment to engaging students in their research along with attracting public and private funding to support regional, national and global collaborations.

The SJSU Research Foundation plays an essential role in sustaining our efforts. In 2014-15, the Research Foundation oversaw more than $63 million in revenues that included resources from grants and contracts with government agencies, corporations and private foundations to support more than 150 RSCA projects. See the full list of contracts and awards along with stories of faculty and student work in the San Jose State University Research Foundation 2014-15 Annual Report published this month. I am dedicated to the continued growth of the SJSU research enterprise and the role of the SJSU Research Foundation in supporting our campus.

November newsletter: Academic division helps Food for Students fund

A volunteer stocks a student food shelf on campus. The Academic Affairs Division raised $7,000 for the SJSU Food for Students fund to support this and other efforts to help students with food insecurities.

A volunteer stocks a student food shelf on campus. The Academic Affairs Division raised $7,000 for the SJSU Food for Students fund to support this and other efforts to help students with food insecurities.

As part of the Academic Affairs Staff Appreciation Breakfast each year, administrators and staff compete in a donation challenge to support members of the community who face food insecurity. Provost Andy Feinstein volunteers a half-day of work with the unit that brings in the most donations. This year, members of the division raised money for the SJSU Food for Students Fund to support students in need.

Provost Feinstein announced at the October breakfast that $7,000 had been donated by staff and administrators in the division. Staff and administrators from the Connie L. Lurie College of Education gave the highest dollar amount.

Food insecurity is a real issue at San Jose State. SJSU Associated Student President LooLoo Amante shared her story this summer about struggling when she first arrived on campus.

According to Tovah Feldmanstern, who works in Counseling and Psychological Services at SJSU, one in three SJSU students say that it is often or sometimes true that they were hungry but didn’t eat because there wasn’t enough money for food and one in three SJSU students also say that it is often or sometimes true that they had to choose between food and living expenses such as rent, transportation or utilities.

Learn more about free and low-cost food sources on and off campus.