February 2018 Newsletter: Video – Engineering Dean Sheryl Ehrman’s Flu Study Gains National Coverage

Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering Dean Sheryl Ehrman’s study of how the flu virus is spread gained national media coverage in January with at least 10 news outlets reporting on the findings that the virus can be spread just by breathing. The coverage of her work included mentions in the San Jose Mercury News, the New York Timesand multiple radio and TV news outlets. In the video above, Ehrman discusses the study with ABC 7 News reporters at the height of flu season. Ehrman said the study was launched at the University of Maryland during the flu season of December 2012 through March 2013. The findings were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

February 2018 Newsletter: SJSU Professor Shares Insight on SV Culture in Documentary

Photo: James Tensuan Dr. Jan English-Lueck will be featured in a three-part documentary on Discovery's Science Channel in March as an expert on Silicon Valley culture.

Photo: James Tensuan
Dr. Jan English-Lueck will be featured in a three-part documentary on Discovery’s Science Channel in March as an expert on Silicon Valley culture.

By David Goll

A San Jose State University professor considered one of the leading experts on the unique culture of Silicon Valley will be prominently featured when the small screen takes a close look at the world’s birthplace of high tech.

Dr. Jan English-Lueck, a professor of anthropology at SJSU since 1991, is part of “Silicon Valley: The Untold Story”, a three-part documentary series premiering March 19 on Discovery’s Science Channel. Produced by Michael Schwartz for Menlo Park-based Kikim Media, the series will examine how the agricultural region once world famous for vast reaches of fruit orchards — known as the “Valley of Heart’s Delight” — became fertile territory for technological innovations and sprouted such household-name corporations as Intel, Apple, Google and Facebook.

English-Lueck is among the Valley’s Who’s Who of interviewees for the program, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, venture capitalist and entrepreneur Heidi Roizen, entrepreneur and tech executive Kim Polese, journalists John Markoff and Michael Malone, and high-tech historians Leslie Berlin of Stanford University and Margaret O’Mara of the University of Washington.

History plays a big part in the program, as the series will sift through 150 years of the region’s history.

The program’s debut comes just a few months after English-Lueck’s second edition of her famed book about the region, “Cultures@SiliconValley, was published last summer. Her 2,000 hours of research included spending a year with local families to assess the impacts of the industry and its products on local life. The book’s first edition appeared in 2002.

English-Lueck’s participation in the television project dates to 2014, when she underwent three hours of interviews at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Afterwards, she heard nothing more about the program until December, when she received an invitation to attend the series’ premiere at the museum in January.

“I sort of forgot about it,” she said with a laugh during a recent interview. “It was a surprise to get the invitation. I’m one of the talking heads.”

English-Lueck, who spent several years as associate dean of the College of Social Science before returning to teaching in 2014, was hired 27 years ago to delve into and explore Silicon Valley as a cultural phenomenon. She has become a popular interpreter of the region’s social fabric and its powerful societal impacts.

“I get calls from throughout the world, including recently from the BBC,” she said. “Silicon Valley has developed its own cultural identity over the years. It has its own way of life and exported it to the entire world.”

English-Lueck, also a fellow at the Institute of the Future, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit research organization, said Europeans especially are both fascinated and repulsed by Silicon Valley.

“They find it distasteful people here can’t compartmentalize their lives, they’re always connected to technology and every social interaction is viewed as a way to get ahead professionally and socially,” she said.

Dr. Roberto Gonzalez, chair of the Department of Anthropology said he was thrilled to hear of his colleague’s involvement in the series and “delighted, but not surprised” about her book’s second edition.

“It has become a modern classic in the field of anthropology,” he said. “Very few ethnographies have such lasting relevance or maintain such interest.”

Gonzalez said English-Lueck’s expertise is renowned.

“Jan is among a small handful of social scientists who have gained keen insights into the workings of Silicon Valley’s diverse cultures, not just the ‘tech culture’ of engineers and programmers, but the cultures of immigrants, working people and families,” he said.

He described SJSU’s relationship with Silicon Valley as “complicated.”

“On one hand, SJSU students who want to work for the industry often have great success in finding positions with companies like Google, Facebook, Adobe and the rest,” he said.

But, he said the tech industry has been justifiably criticized for its lack of diversity.

“The vast majority of top positions are filled by graduates from Ivy League schools or Stanford, not San Jose State and other public universities,” he said.

February 2018 Newsletter: SJSU and MTI Take Lead with CSU Research Consortium

Photo: James Tensuan Karen Philbrick, PhD, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute, poses for a photo in downtown San Jose. SJSU and MTI have been selected to lead a CSU research consortium focused on transit issues in the state.

Photo: James Tensuan
Karen Philbrick, PhD, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute, poses for a photo in downtown San Jose. SJSU and MTI have been selected to lead a CSU research consortium focused on transit issues in the state.16

By David Goll

San Jose State University and its Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) are preparing to play a prominent role in finding solutions to California’s seemingly intractable transportation problems.

The approval last year by state legislators of Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) — co-authored by state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose — designated $2 million annually for three years for CSU research and workforce development. The Chancellor’s Office held a competition to determine which campus would lead the efforts, with SJSU and MTI selected to guide the research consortium.

Karen Philbrick, PhD, executive director of MTI, founded in 1991 in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, said SB 1 authorizes funds to conduct transportation-related research by students and faculty from throughout the CSU, and $5 million annually for the University of California. The measure raises an average of $5.2 billion annually for improvements over the next decade.

During an interview in the MTI offices, a few blocks north of campus, Philbrick said she was “thrilled” her organization won out in the CSU competition and will manage collaboration on research activities system wide. The researchers will work to devise improvements for the state’s overtaxed roadway, air and rail transportation networks.

“We are honored and delighted to be selected as the lead transportation research center and to administer funds provided to the CSU by SB 1,” she said. “MTI’s focus on providing access to equitable, affordable and sustainable surface transportation through the highest-quality research aligns well with the legislation’s vision for accountability in ensuring the best possible use of these resources.”

Transit dilemmas in California, with the world’s sixth-largest economy, are daunting. Three of the top five most-congested metropolitan areas in the nation for vehicular traffic are in the Golden State: Los Angeles-Long Beach, San Francisco-Oakland, and San Jose. Meanwhile, the state’s trailblazing effort to build the first high-speed rail system in the U.S., as well as upgrade commuter rail networks in the Bay Area and Southern California have become bogged down with legal and political challenges and cost overruns.

As a result, the hamstrung movement of goods in a state whose seaports — including the nation’s busiest of Los Angeles/Long Beach, and the fifth busiest at Oakland — handle 45 percent of the nation’s continental, containerized cargo, is often a major headache for businesses.

Sen. Beall said the SJSU/MTI collaborative organization is the logical place to lead campus and CSU-developed solutions.

“I consider San Jose State’s Mineta Transportation as California’s public-sector equivalent of the research and development departments that are so common in the private sector,” he said. “MTI has a great record of transportation research. It is eminently qualified to evaluate proposed projects for their merit and innovation. The institute’s research teams have a well-earned reputation for being thorough and forward thinking.”

With California’s transportation system the “backbone” of its economy, Beall said, “MTI’s research will be applied to help create an effective infrastructure system for an ever-increasing mobile society.”

Philbrick said CSU research efforts will focus particularly on four campuses that comprise the MTI-managed California State University Transportation Consortium — SJSU, CSU Chico, Fresno State University and CSU Long Beach, all of which operate transportation-oriented academic centers. She said SB 1 calls for emphasizing research into maintenance and rehabilitation of surface roads, congestion relief, and improvements in trade corridors and pedestrian/cyclist safety.

Philbrick said requests for proposals for research projects were issued in January, with a deadline of Feb. 26. She expressed high hopes for those proposals from all CSU campuses.

“We have wonderful (transportation research) programs throughout CSU,” she said.

February 2018 Newsletter: Khatami, Schuster Receive 2017 Early Career Investigator Award

By David Goll

Ehsan Khatami and David Schuster had nearly identical reactions to winning San Jose State University’s 2017-18 Early Career Investigator Award. Both assistant professors used the words “honored” and “humbled” to describe how they felt.

The annual award recognizes SJSU academics who are still early in their careers who have completed significant research, scholarship or creative activities (RSCA) in their chosen fields of research. A subcommittee that includes SJSU Research Foundation board members and SJSU faculty reviews each nomination for the award. The subcommittee reviews each nominee’s success in securing funds for RSCA and in publishing in peer-reviewed journals or carrying out other important scholarly or creative activities. Each awardee receives a $1,000 cash award, to be used at their discretion.

The assistant professors will be honored during the annual Celebration of Research, April 4 in the Diaz Compean Student Union, where they will give a presentation of recent work.

Khatami, who is a professor of physics in the College of Science Department of Physics and Astronomy, said he feels the award provides him incentive to do great work. He is credited with helping build his department’s first modern high-performance computational cluster. He has also — along with some of his students and in collaboration with such top-tier research institutions as MIT, Princeton University, Rice University and the University of California, Davis — conducted research projects in his field of Computational Physics, aspects of which are also known as solid state physics or condensed matter physics.

Now in his fourth year at San Jose State, Khatami, who also worked at Georgetown University and UC, Santa Cruz, said he is impressed with the level of support he has received for his research from departmental and university officials.

“It’s very encouraging to see that I have the freedom to pursue my research, with lots of room to grow,” he said. “But I also get to teach classes. I love to teach.”

Both Khatami and Schuster have been highly successful at pursuing grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) — as well as other organizations — to fund their research projects. Khatami helped secure a $900,000 grant as a co-principal investigator and Schuster received one for $500,000 from the NSF’s Early Career Development program. Khatami also individually secured a $171,000 grant from NSF.

The NSF grant for Schuster is a five-year award to support his work on improving cybersecurity in the private sector. Schuster is in his fifth year with the College of Social Sciences Department of Psychology and involved in the second year of work on his interdisciplinary research project.

“I feel great about the progress we have made so far,” he said. “This is such a tremendous opportunity, and we have the potential to get great results.”

Schuster and his students have been working with large technology companies “to try to make a dent in the many problems involving cybersecurity today. There are no easy fixes.”

He and his students are involved in the study of human factors, an interdisciplinary science and practice focusing on everything from ergonomics and workplace safety to product design and human-computer interaction.

“It is the intersection of psychology and engineering,” Schuster said. “These companies are interested in designing approaches incorporating technology and human behavior.”

Khatami is also pleased with his research progress, including projects publicized in such prestigious publications as Nature and Science. In the latter publication last fall, theorist Khatami and a team of experimentalist collaborators from Princeton reported their observation of an exotic magnetic phase of matter with ultra-cold atoms that may explain the workings of superconductivity at high temperatures. And in the past two years, Khatami has begun using artificial intelligence, or AI, in his research.

February 2018 Newsletter: University Scholar Series Begins February 21

Photo: James Tensuan  Philosophy Professor and Director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy Anand Vaidya will launch the Spring University Scholar Series on February 21.

Photo: James Tensuan
Philosophy Professor and Director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy Anand Vaidya will launch the Spring University Scholar Series on February 21.

By Melissa Anderson

Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy Anand Vaidya and Associate Professor of Communicative Disorders and Sciences Nidhi Mahendra have more in common than participating as speakers in this spring’s University Scholar Series. They both discovered a passion for their academic specialties as undergraduate students and remain just as enthusiastic – though much more experienced – today.

Vaidya will launch the spring 2018 University Scholar Series with a lecture entitled, “The Project of Cross-Cultural and Scientifically Informed Critical Thinking,” on Feb, 21, from noon to 1 p.m. in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library 225/229.

Vaidya first discovered philosophy as a freshman at Humboldt State University when he took classes on medieval philosophy and logic and critical thinking.

“Without hesitation, I can lay blame for my passion for philosophy on the two classes that changed me from a chemistry major to a philosophy major and rewired my whole orientation toward learning,” he said. “I have been fascinated with the nature of logic and critical reasoning ever since.”

Since then, he has engaged in thinking about the subject from the perspective of philosophy of mind, cognitive science, epistemology and comparative philosophy. His most recent interest in cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary approaches to logic and critical thinking arose when he read journalist and friend Jessica Kraft’s article in The Atlantic about hip-hop as a technique in college debate.

“The article led me to inquire into the way I teach logic and critical thinking, and whether I was unintentionally excluding some people from engaging in critical thinking simply through the method by which I was teaching them,” he said.

He began to research non-western philosophy traditions, traveling to India, New Zealand, Hawaii and Japan during a sabbatical.

“I found there were all sorts of contributions we are neglecting because of how a university structures the dissemination of knowledge to students,” he said. “We typically don’t talk to one another and share knowledge in ways that can improve learning.”

Vaidya sees San Jose State University as a place that can pioneer the development of a new critical thinking model that is informed by a cross-cultural investigation into tools from traditions as distinct as Arabic and Zen philosophy.

“We have a unique opportunity to do this because we have a diverse student population that can engage in the very construction of this new model, and because our connection with technology in Silicon Valley provides us with an opportunity to actually build tools, such as smartphone applications that can help our students learn and engage in better critical thinking,” he said.

Nidhi Mahendra, an associate professor of Communicative Disorders and Sciences in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education, will present the second University Scholars Series lecture on March 21, from noon to 1 p.m., in MLK 225/229. Her talk is entitled, “Neurological Accidents – Brain, Behavior and the Power of Rehabilitation in Alzheimer’s Disease and Stroke.”

She has been working clinically, conducting research and teaching with persons with neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and stroke for 20 years.

“I remember that right from my first year in college, I was just so excited when I started to learn about the brain and how it defines who we are,” she said. “That interest only grew over time and has not waned one bit.”

In her lecture, she will share research on the power of rehabilitation for patients with communicative disorders following a stroke or due to Alzheimer’s disease. She recalls that as an undergraduate she observed a patient who had a stroke and lost the ability to talk and walk overnight.

“I remember being so moved by the experience and thinking about how I might be able to help,” she said, noting that her interest in dementia also has a personal connection as one of her grandparents developed the disorder after suffering from mini strokes.

“We are an aging nation, part of a rapidly aging globe and have to be part of a robust movement to celebrate that and support our seniors,” she said, noting that health conditions, changes, compromises and disorders are part of the human condition. “It can happen to any of us; therefore, as communities and societies, we must affirm the place and dignity of all people and retain our positivity for what they can do if excellent care is provided, despite them having a disorder or condition.”

The final speaker of the series will be Assistant Professor Xiaojia Hou, History, College of Social Sciences, who will present “Negotiating Socialism in Rural China: Mao, Peasants and Local Cadres in Shanxi,” April 18, noon to 1 p.m., Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library 225/229

All lectures are free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided. See fliers for more details on the series.