Faculty Matter Tip #26: Helping students to make – and act on – plans for next semester

Yes, the fall semester is still in full swing, but it is also “registration season” for Spring. Many students have a clear idea of the classes they need or want to take, but others could benefit from some guidance.

In some aspects, registering for classes for upcoming semesters is a fairly technical matter: Students need to know what they must take to continue making progress toward their degree, and they must follow the university’s registration processes.  In other aspects, registering for classes presents a wonderful opportunity for students to reflect upon what they are learning and what they want to know more about as they prepare for life “after SJSU.”

The purpose of this Tip is to help you identify a few very easy and quick ways you might help in this process, as part of your regular classroom interactions with students.

Read Faculty Matter Tip #26.

Spartans Host Safe and Green Halloween Festival Oct. 20

San Jose State University’s CommUniverCity and the city of San Jose partnered to host the 10th Annual Safe and Green Halloween Fiesta at McKinley Elementary School Oct. 20. Students and faculty from many departments, including Health Science, Environmental Studies and the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business worked together to host an afternoon of fun for neighborhood children and their families. SJSU students planned fun activities to teach kids about sustainability and health.

Students Form Connections to Professors and Curriculum in Humanities Honors

By Melissa Anderson

Professor James Lindahl, philosophy and humanities, lectures on Greek philosophers to a class of Humanities Honors program students. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Professor James Lindahl, philosophy and humanities, lectures on Greek philosophers to a class of Humanities Honors program students. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

Alisala Nunes, a first-year student, initially wanted to attend a liberal arts school. But when she discovered she could pursue a degree in civil engineering at San Jose State University’s top-ranked Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering and apply for the Humanities Honors program, it seemed like a win-win.

“It was a nice surprise that SJSU had a program like this,” she said.

The Humanities Honors program was founded in 1954 by four professors who combined history, literature, arts and philosophy education into a four-semester program that fulfills many GE requirements while also providing a learning community for students. The students stay together as a cohort for four semesters.

“I’ve made a few friends in my seminar,” Nunes said. “Most friends are from my living situation or major, so it’s nice to have a switch to talk to people who are interested in other things.”

For Nunes, she said the Humanities Honors Program has already begun to teach her the analytic and communication skills she will need for engineering, where she sees the ability to work as team member to be essential.

“I leave every lecture with new ideas and see the interconnectivity of disciplines,” she said. “I see how art, religion, law and culture tie together.”

Professor Cynthia Rostankowski, the coordinator of the program, said the majority of students who enter the program are from non-Humanities majors, such as business, psychology, economics, computer science and others. She noted that the qualifications for the program are within reach of many students, with a requirement that they have a 3.0 unweighted GPA and 550 on the SAT reading/writing section (students can also qualify with select other entrance exams or a 3+ on an AP English exam.)

“A lot of people think it is just for high-achieving students,” Rostankowski said. “But it’s really to help students learn how to learn.”

Through the program, students attend a lecture class that is team taught by four professors and then break out into smaller groups for seminar sessions.
Carmel Weiler, a graduate student in philosophy and Rostankowski’s teaching assistant, said she joined the program as an undergraduate. Even though she had to stop out for personal reasons, she said being part of the program helped her resolve to return to her education years later. During her time away from her studies, she kept all her books; they benefited her as she tutored neighborhood kids.

“The program stressed how to write well, and that will help me in the research phase,” she said, as she continues to work on her master’s and plans to pursue a doctorate.

In 2014, the department began offering an Advanced Honors Program that works on the same principles, completing SJSU Studies areas R, S and V. It is a two-semester program that is team-taught and provides a cohort for upper division students who have successfully completed the WST, including incoming transfer students.

Isaiah McNair-Wilson, a transfer student who will be graduating in 2017, said he joined the Advanced Honors Program as he thought it would be “fun to take eclectic classes.”

As a business major with an emphasis in marketing, he said he made many friends in Advanced Honors and has learned a lot about writing. The skills have already helped him as he pens cover letters for his job search.

“The classes teach critical thinking,” he said. “You need humanities courses no matter what field you are in so you understand the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of what you do.”

In addition to the skills and knowledge students gain in the classroom, Rostankowski said the programs also provide mentoring and advising for students.

“At orientation, I ask students if they have heard of the sport of curling,” she said, describing how players move a stone across a sheet of ice. “There is one position called a sweeper who skates backward to clear a path so the stone can slide smoothly to where it is intended to go. I see my work as doing that for students.  We need to do what we can to assist students to find their path and thrive.”

2017-18 Humanities Honors Instructors:
Tova Cooper, Humanities
James Lindahl, Philosophy & Humanities
David Mesher, English & Humanities
Johanna Movassat, Art History & Humanities
Kenneth Peter, Political Science & Humanities
Cynthia Rostankowski, Humanities
Jennifer Rycenga, Humanities
Gregory Smay, Humanities
Andrew Wood, Communication Studies & Humanities

2017-18 Advanced Honors Instructors:
James Lindahl
Cynthia Rostankowski

Paseo Prototype Challenge Teams Solve Civic Issues

By Barry Zepel

Last year, 16 teams of creative and imaginative students showcased their technological solutions for many of their city’s most pressing issues – including downtown safety, traffic congestion, homelessness, and support of local small business entrepreneurs – at the Paseo Public Prototyping Festival in downtown San Jose in April. In preparation for the festival, students majoring in art, design, engineering, business and the sciences spent months in collaboration with fellow team members to develop and refine their proposed solutions for improving quality of life in San Jose.

In September 2016, SJSU in collaboration with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the City of San José, Intel, Microsoft and Autodesk – launched the Paseo Public Prototyping Challenge and Festival. The Challenge and Festival will be held every two years, pending funding.

“San José State University students are making a difference through their creative and technical talents,” said Gary Craig Hobbs, faculty director of the Paseo Prototyping Challenge and Festival. “The festival is the culmination of a year-long civic innovation challenge designed to incubate solutions to pressing social and environmental problems in San Jose.”

The 2016-17 student teams were selected by a competitive review process headed by university faculty members, as well as industry professionals, shared prototypes that included:

  • A skateboard modified to generate electricity that can be used to charge a cell phone or power a headlight for the board to be safer at night;
  • An app to better control city traffic and enhance access to public transportation;
  • Devices to collect solar energy during the day in order to light up pedestrian walkways at night;
  • A social app enabling residents to follow the actions of their local government, while communicating with it to access services and report problems;
  • An inventory-tracking module to help local food entrepreneurs provide fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods to city residents;
  • An app to help drivers more efficiently locate available parking spaces near their downtown destinations, while eliminating excess traffic jams;
  • A collaborative educational game that encourages learning and offersfirst-hand experience, while keeping students continuously engaged; and
  • An app that helps individuals with niche interests and hobbies find other like-minded persons as well as events and organizations related to those pursuits.

Teaching and Learning Span Disciplines

Gordon Douglas, a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning applies his knowledge of communications and sociology to his interdisciplinary research on unauthorized do-it-yourself urban planning. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Gordon Douglas, a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning applies his knowledge of communications and sociology to his interdisciplinary research on unauthorized do-it-yourself urban planning. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By David Goll

As with many institutions of higher education, students at San Jose State University are exposed to a variety of subjects through their lower division GE courses. But many professors are also taking interdisciplinary approaches within courses, providing students with a deeper understanding of how knowledge and skills can span across majors.

Costanza Rampini, Tasha Reddy and Bettina Brockmann are taking a multi-pronged approach to tackle the myriad of issues involved with climate change in a course they are teaching this year. The trio of instructors is examining the issue through the academic lenses of science, economic and social impacts, and communications, among others.

For today’s college students, climate change is not some distant, theoretical menace years away that is unlikely to affect their lives. Many want to learn as much about the issue as possible to confront what they consider a real threat to their futures.

They view this cross-disciplinary approach as the ideal way to educate the upcoming generation of citizens and leaders on this vast subject.

The twice-weekly, two-semester course — Global Climate Change — earns six units this fall and three next spring for its 90 enrolled students (though the class capacity is 120.) It is comprised of mostly juniors and seniors majoring in communications, environmental studies or a multitude of other majors such as physics, theatre arts, economics and public relations, among others.

Developed in 2007, Global Climate Change is in its 10th year and has served nearly 1,000 students, according to Anne Marie Todd, a professor of Communications. Integrating climate science with policymaking, public communication strategies and principles of climate justice, students complete the course as climate experts. It’s the only course of its kind at SJSU and in the CSU and has twice been recognized by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) for educational excellence.

“Students love community engagement projects that promote climate change awareness in schools, neighborhoods and businesses,” Todd said. “For example, students create educational materials integrating climate science with practical knowledge in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. Students have founded nonprofit groups and developed programs that support ongoing community educational initiatives.”

Recent surveys and focus group interviews of course alumni show that students feel a lasting personal connection to climate change and a strong sense of personal obligation and perceived individual agency to address climate change in their personal and professional lives.

“I think ours is a unique approach,” said Rampini, who earned a Ph.D. in environmental studies, focusing on climate change adaptations in India, from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2016. She is in her second year as an SJSU lecturer.

Jamie Pilar, a senior majoring in communications studies, said she was not a climate change skeptic, but also not a passionate advocate in favor of taking action on the issue when she enrolled in the class this fall. But her class experience has changed her outlook, and she has found a cause worth studying and promoting.

“I’m a communications student, and I’ve never particularly liked science,” Pilar, who transferred to SJSU from Ohlone College, said during a break in the class held in Washington Square Hall. “This class has challenged me to view the issue of climate change from many different perspectives. I’ve started talking about this with my friends and family. They’re surprised I’ve developed such a strong interest and point of view on this subject.”

Pilar has learned to appreciate the natural science instruction of Reddy, the newest member of the teaching team who started at SJSU in August after completing post-doctoral work on climate change in the Arctic Ocean region using supercomputers. She discusses the Earth’s climate systems and how humans have an impact on climate through their activities. Rampini enlightens students on how humans are in turn affected by climate change.

Another student Akash Patel recently interact with former Vice President Al Gore during a livestream Q&A about An Inconvenient Sequel. Patel asked what students can do to influence a tax on carbon system. View a video of the encounter online.

Brockmann, who came to the United States from Germany 19 years ago and has been teaching this class since 2012, highlights how climate scientists and climate change advocates can effectively communicate their message to the public.

“The multi-disciplinary approach helps students make connections,” Rampini said.

That multi-faceted teaching style informs not only the classroom presentations of Gordon Douglas assistant professor of SJSU’s Urban and Regional Planning department but also guides him in conducting his academic research.

That includes the extensive, wide-ranging research he compiled for his book about unauthorized do-it-yourself urban planning done by residents of large cities in North America and Europe, titled “The Help Yourself City.” Described as a multi-disciplinary urbanist, Douglas is a newcomer to SJSU, having joined the Department of Urban and Regional Planning this fall. He earned his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Chicago, a master’s degree in Global Communication from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California, among other academic achievements. He completed his post-doctoral work at New York University’s Institute for Public Knowledge.

Douglas conducted more than 100 interviews for his forthcoming book, spending many weeks doing research in such cities as Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto, New York and London. Delving into his interest in culture and gentrification, he studied how residents of these cities created their own pocket parks, median-strip gardens, pedestrian seating, unofficial bike lanes and even their own system of directional signs along streets in an ultra-conservative Jewish enclave in the New York City borough of Brooklyn — independent of city planners.

Compiling both quantitative and qualitative data and statistics, Douglas also returned to his hometown, Davis, to study how Minneapolis-based Target Corp. managed to build the first big-box retail outlet in the famously slow-growth university town of 65,000 west of Sacramento. A development particularly surprising after city’s voters rejected a proposal for a second Village Homes project to create another green, sustainable residential community.

“An interesting study into how large companies can get what they want, even in unexpected places,” Douglas said.

He now teaches Social Issues in Planning and a course in Urban Design at SJSU. Douglas also serves as director of the university’s Institute for Metropolitan Studies and will be working with his students to create a documentary film series.