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 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.

SJSU Astronomer Adds To Understanding of Star Formation and Black Holes

San Jose State University’s Aaron Romanowsky, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, revealed new research findings in a Jan. 1 article published in Nature. Romanowsky and his coworkers discovered that while bright new stars are formed at a rapid rate in new galaxies how quickly that rate slows is determined by the mass of the black hole at the center of the galaxy.

The idea that the mass of black holes affects the rate at which stars are formed throughout the lifespan of a galaxy has been around for decades, but the team with which Romanowsky worked discovered the first observational evidence that this is the case. The precise nature of the feedback from the black hole that quenches star formation remains uncertain, according to coauthor Romanowsky, who is also an astronomer at UC Observatories.

“There are different ways a black hole can put energy out into the galaxy, and theorists have all kinds of ideas about how quenching happens, but there’s more work to be done to fit these new observations into the models,” Romanowsky said.

Read more about the findings.

November Newsletter 2017: Provost Update – Countless Reasons to be Thankful

As we return from Thanksgiving break – refreshed and ready for the final weeks of the fall term – I want to take a moment to express gratitude for our students, staff, faculty and alumni. One of my favorite duties as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs is working with inspirational colleagues who are dedicated, hardworking and generous.

Provost Andy Feinstein and the Academic Affairs Leadership team host an appreciation breakfast to say thanks to the 500+ staff members who support faculty and students in the division. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Provost Andy Feinstein and the Academic Affairs Leadership team host an appreciation breakfast to say thanks to the 500+ staff members who support faculty and students in the division. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

Earlier this month, I hosted the Academic Affairs Staff Appreciation Breakfast with the division’s leadership team – a great opportunity to see our staff members come together and to hear from their supervisors about the great work they do each day. This year, we invited peers to share positive stories about their colleagues. The shout-outs, as we called them, highlighted the many great things I see in our hardworking staff – greeting students with grace and enthusiasm; going the extra mile; acting with patience and good humor; seeking ways to help colleagues.

I also had the honor of recognizing some of our longest-serving employees at the 50th Spartan Service Celebration, where 116 Spartan staff members were recognized for service milestones. I was moved by videos during which honorees shared personal memories.

An especially poignant story was Jack Harding’s. Jack began working as a lab technician 35 years ago in the aeronautics department (now Aviation and Technology) and since has moved on to become a telecommunications network analyst in IT.

Jack’s two sons grew up on our campus, regularly attending football games and campus events. Both eventually enrolled here as college students. His oldest son, Jack Jr., joined the Marines after graduation, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. He was welcomed back to the campus in 2011 when Jack Sr. and his wife were invited to present his lieutenant stripes in a stirring ceremony.

All of our staff – whether they have served SJSU for months, or decades – deserve our support. That includes professional development opportunities; I am pleased that we have the resources this year to again offer the Staff Professional Development Grant Program. These stipends allow staff members to develop skills that can enhance their capacity to serve our students. We have approved 229 proposals to date, and hope to issue another call for applications in early spring.

Many members of our campus community “pay it forward” by helping those following in their path. This includes our Emeritus and Retired Faculty Association (ERFA), which created a research, scholarship and creative activities (RSCA) grant program to help current faculty members advance their professional growth. Last year’s recipients included Anthropology Department Assistant Professor AJ Faas and School of Social Work Assistant Professor Nicole Dubus.

Another reason for gratitude is the many alumni whose financial support helps current and future students achieve their goals. A generous gift from Marion Cilker, ’39, established a scholarship for students interested in infusing arts into education and funded an annual conference. While Ms. Cilker passed away in 2012, her generosity lives on, supporting current and aspiring teachers seeking ways to incorporate art into diverse curricula for K-12 students.

Students also are benefiting from strategic collaborations. A partnership with nonprofit Braven Bay Area fueled a program for first-generation, underrepresented minority students that connects them with community mentors at high-tech companies and nonprofits and develops personal skills for future career searches.

These are just some of the people, programs and connections that are empowering us to power student success. In this season of gratitude, I’m especially mindful of your remarkable contributions. Thank you!

November 2017 Newsletter: ERFA Grants Support Current SJSU Researchers

Photo: James Tensuan Anthropology Assistant Professor AJ Faas and Social Work Assistant Professor Nicole Dubus received the 2016-17 Emeritus and Retired Faculty Association Faculty Research and Creative Activity Awards. Applications for 2017-18 are due Dec. 6.

Photo: James Tensuan
Anthropology Assistant Professor AJ Faas and Social Work Assistant Professor Nicole Dubus received the 2016-17 Emeritus and Retired Faculty Association Faculty Research and Creative Activity Awards. Applications for 2017-18 are due Dec. 6.

By David Goll

Research by San Jose State University professors into how societies and nations respond to and cope with manmade and environmental disasters – and what happens to individuals when they flee due to war, political instability or climate change – received support from the Emeritus and Retired Faculty Association (ERFA) in 2016-17.

The association of former professors is now welcoming applications for the SJSU ERFA Faculty Research and Creative Activity Award, due December 6. The two grants of up to $2,500 per person are awarded to tenured faculty, tenure-track faculty or lecturers with more than six years of continuous service to San Jose State.

“Four years ago, we had some additional money,” said Joan Merdinger, member of ERFA, which includes more than 300 former SJSU faculty members. “In the past, we made donations to the library, to faculty, to the deans to use in a discretionary fashion. We wanted to do something ongoing, to honor the mission of service to the university.”

Merdinger, who retired from SJSU after a 26-year career as a professor in the School of Social Work and a stint as Associate Vice President for Faculty Affairs, said the modest grants can help faculty members attend important conferences, or help secure the assistance of graduate students in conducting research.

The resulting awards program has benefitted six current faculty members to date, including the most recent recipients: Dr. Nicole Dubus, assistant professor in the School of Social Work, in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts; and Dr. AJ Faas, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, in the College of Social Science.

Dubus conducts research into a compelling global issue: how public agencies can cope with the worldwide epidemic of forcibly displaced people, who number 65.6 million, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Examining how other countries, primarily in Europe, are dealing with waves of humans fleeing war, repression and political upheaval in Africa, the Middle East and other regions, Dubus said she hopes to bring some of the strategies being employed overseas to local communities and possibly incorporate them into the curriculum at SJSU.

In July, Dubus traveled to Malta, a tiny island nation in the Mediterranean Sea with 383,000 residents situated between North Africa and Italy. It has received thousands of forced migrants and asylum seekers in the past 15 years. While there, she studied the various stages of processing and assimilation of migrants and refugees from African and Middle Eastern countries who land in this first foothold of Europe, including how they gain access to healthcare and other public services.

Dubus met with Carmel Cefai, associate professor in the University of Malta’s Department of Psychology, director of the Centre for Resilience and Socio-Economic Health and a leading advocate for the concept of social and emotional resiliency among children, teenagers and young adults – including migrants trying to make successful transitions to a new society.

She would like to see that resiliency concept adopted locally as San Jose and other Bay Area cities struggle to assimilate adults and children fleeing dire social, political and economic circumstances. Dubus said she has also conducted research into how migrants and refugees are treated in Iceland, Germany and Sweden, having received grants from the National Science Foundation.

“I was able to spend two weeks in Malta and had a fantastic experience. I would not have been able to make the trip had it not been for the (ERFA) grant,” she said.

The $2,500 grant also proved instrumental for Faas to visit Bogota, Colombia this past June. Faas has been a member of the San Jose State faculty since 2014. He was invited to attend a meeting of 14 anthropologists, mostly from Latin America, by Virginia Garcia-Acosta, a prominent Mexican historian and social anthropologist. The group is collaborating on a book detailing the anthropological history of disasters throughout Latin America, including such watershed events as the 1985 Mexico City earthquake that killed 10,000 people, injured 30,000 and left thousands more homeless.

Faas’s academic research specialty is focused a bit further south in Ecuador, a nation of 12.5 million located along the west coast of South America. It provides no shortage of research opportunities for Faas, who began visiting the country regularly in 2009. His research includes an ongoing study of recovery and resettlement of Ecuadorean highlands residents as a result of volcanic activity.

“This is a country with 30 (mainland) volcanoes and close proximity to El Nino,” he said, referring to the meteorological phenomenon known officially as the El Nino Southern Oscillation that periodically develops in the Pacific Ocean and can lead to tremendous volumes of rain falling in some parts of the Americas.

He said that along with the disasters, Ecuadoreans have also had to cope with tremendous social and political upheaval, including adapting to 10 different presidents during a 14-year stretch between 1991 and 2005.

During his South American visit this past summer, Faas, also a member of the worldwide Culture and Disasters Action Network, said he was able to interview a number of Andean scholars for his research.

ERFA’s Merdinger said, as in past years, applications from the next group of grant proposals will be reviewed by members of the organization’s board of directors. For more information about the grant program, see application online.

November 2017 Newsletter: Staff Gain Skills Through Professional Development Grant Program

Provost Andy Feinstein and the Academic Affairs Leadership team host an appreciation breakfast to say thanks to the 500+ staff members who support faculty and students in the division. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Provost Andy Feinstein and the Academic Affairs Leadership team host an appreciation breakfast to say thanks to the 500+ staff members who support faculty and students in the division. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By David Goll

Whether they traveled across the country, 60 miles up the road — or never left their desks — employees in Academic Affairs made the most of the Staff Professional Development Grant program in 2017.

During the 2016-17 academic year, Academic Affairs Division awarded more than 50 such grants to staff members, which can range up to $1,500 for an individual or $5,000 for a group proposal. Designed to promote employees’ professional development and enhance effectiveness, the grants are primarily used to participate in training programs, in-service activities and team-building exercises, or to attend conferences and staff retreats.

April Gilbert, Institutional Repository Coordinator for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library at SJSU was one of those who traveled cross country. In March, she used her $1,405 grant to attend the biennial Association of College and Research Libraries National Conference held in Baltimore.

“It was a very valuable experience,” Gilbert said. “It’s a great place to find out about best practices in the industry; how to deliver better services and create better work flows; how to help researchers produce, publish and disseminate their work; how to better communicate with your faculty.”

Gilbert said she was especially interested in speaking with librarians from other universities nationwide to get additional ideas on how to promote her library’s collections, attract more people to use them, as well as how to encourage more SJSU faculty members to utilize the material in their own classes. Gilbert said she works closely with Emily Chan, interim associate dean for Research and Scholarship at the university’s library, to accomplish those goals.

“This conference was really great,” Gilbert said. “And I wouldn’t have been able to attend without the grant. It definitely made the trip possible.”

Lin Sao’s professional growth opportunity was a bit closer to home. Sao, who works as an academic advisor for undergraduate business students at the Jack Holland Student Success Center, received about $400 through the program to attend the annual conference of Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education, a 30-year-old organization that champions the success of Asian Pacific American college and university students, staff, faculty and administrators. Sao attended the April event held in Oakland.

“This is an organization helping students of Asian and Pacific Islander descent deal with the struggles and challenges facing them in higher education,” said Sao, who previously worked as an admissions communications counselor at SJSU. “At the conference, I learned about new and interesting ways to aggregate data on the Asian Pacific Islander student population. Asians may appear to be doing well when ethnic data is not disaggregated, but that’s not necessarily true of all Asian populations. Some Asian ethnicities such as Southeast Asians struggle in a college environment.”

Dave Daley’s grant-fueled travels were a bit further away. In January, he traveled to Las Vegas to attend the annual Consumer Electronics Show to get the latest on cutting-edge technology for possible application at SJSU. The Information Technology Analyst at the SJSU library used his $1,500 grant to attend the sprawling electronics industry extravaganza — centered on the Las Vegas Convention Center — but held at venues all over the city. The library covered the gap for his $1,711 trip.

“CES is a great place to go to find out about state of the art, cutting-edge technology,” said Daley, a 14-year employee of SJSU. “IT is usually the department frequently viewed by other departments as the place to go for new ideas.”

Daley said the panel discussions at the show can be just as helpful and informative as checking out the latest products being displayed by tech companies. He was particularly intrigued by industry representatives discussing the possibilities for 5G — or fifth-generation wireless systems — that, unlike current 4G technology, promise to operate at real-time speed, no delays and be fast enough to accommodate high-resolution videos on cell phones, he said.

“There are no (5G) products yet, but it’s so important to hear about the latest technology, and see what manufacturers are working on,” Daley said. “It’s good to hear the latest straight from the horse’s mouth.”

Daley’s colleague, Klaus Trilck, didn’t have to travel anywhere to participate in the intensive, two-day online presentation known as the Educause Learning Initiative. Educause is a Colorado-based nonprofit collaboration of colleges and universities that promote advances in education through the application of innovative technology. He received $400 through the staff grant program.

“Technology changes so rapidly it’s important for me to keep abreast of it. The students certainly do,” said Trilck, an eCampus instructional designer since January who has worked at SJSU for five years. His job is to help faculty members develop creative and relevant classroom presentations. “Participating in Educause helps me keep pace with hardware and software development.”

Trilck said he found the Educause online presentation helpful and informative through its dozen or so speakers and interactive format that allowed Web participants to ask questions in real time.

“This is very effective for professional and personal development,” he said. “And it keeps me active and viable as a university employee.”