March 2018 Newsletter: McNair Scholars Look Toward Graduate School

Students involved in the McNair Scholars Program complete a project or research that prepares them to pursue graduate study after completing a degree at SJSU. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Students involved in the McNair Scholars Program complete a project or research that prepares them to pursue graduate study after completing a degree at SJSU. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By David Goll

Puneet Sanghera is the daughter of immigrants from India, a first-generation American college student and she is on the verge of earning a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology.

“I grew up in a conservative family,” she said. “Because my parents didn’t attend college in this country, they didn’t know all of the opportunities available to me when I was in high school.”

The San Jose native entered SJSU as a pre-nursing major, but she discovered nursing “wasn’t the right fit for [her].” After taking a semester off to help her grandmother recover from surgery, she returned to school. She switched majors, became a McNair Scholar and found a mentor in Dr. Katherine Wilkinson, an assistant professor of Biological Sciences.

“I really want to learn more about my field, so decided to pursue graduate studies,” she said.

On March 11, Sanghera reached her goal. She got word she was accepted at her first-choice school, San Francisco State University.

Sanghera credits hard work and her involvement with SJSU’s Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program for helping her gain admission to a graduate program. The McNair Scholars program is named for the second African-American to fly in space who overcame long odds to earn a PhD in physics and become an astronaut. After he died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion, Congress created the program in his honor to increase the number of underrepresented students pursuing doctoral degrees.

Dr. Maria Elena Cruz, director of the SJSU McNair chapter, said the university’s two-year program started more than two decades ago. It is funded entirely by federal dollars. Students typically get involved during their sophomore or junior years.

“Through the work we do with students in the program we can see if they’re a good fit for graduate education,” she said.

Most are, Dr. Cruz said. The group is comprised of at least 28 students who start the program in January. They hail from a variety of SJSU majors. During the first spring semester, students meet weekly to learn about research methods, weigh research subjects and prepare for GRE (Graduate Record Examination) tests. Fifteen of the students receive a stipend of $2,800 during the summer to work on research projects. A summer “boot camp” open to McNair scholars and all students from SJSU, and other universities gives instruction on how to choose a graduate school, how to write a great personal statement, and how to write to some of their dream schools and professors.

During the fall, McNair scholars do research analysis and begin the writing process, so that they can publish in our yearly McNair Scholars Journal. Dr. Cruz said she supports them by enlisting writing specialists, such as Taylor Dawn Francis, who is working on a master’s in English. At SJSU Students have up to 10 years to complete work on master’s and doctoral degrees from the time they graduate with their bachelor’s degree.

“Some students end up just pursuing a master’s degree, though they may eventually pursue a PhD,” Cruz said. “We’ve had students attend Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Stanford, Maryland, the University of Chicago and UC-Berkeley. On average we have two people who have earned their PhD every year. Compared to the national average of 3.3% according to the National Science Foundation, the McNair Scholars Program at SJSU has earned an 11.11% for 2016-2017.”

Dr. Cruz states that “participation in doctoral education by underrepresented minority groups such as African Americans and Chicanx/Latinx groups who are first-generation and are awarded a PhD is lower than 2 percent of the national average (NSF 2017). Thus, the McNair Scholars Program is pivotal for the future of our communities.”

Sanghera’s classmate, Daniel Kelley, also graduates in May. Though interested in attending graduate school, Kelley said he knew little about it until a friend introduced him to McNair.

“I want to stand out and be more competitive,” said the psychology major from southern California’s Lancaster. He hopes to attend either SJSU or UC Berkeley for grad school. “McNair has prepared me.”

Kelley already works with his mentor, Dr. David Schuster, an assistant professor of Psychology, in conducting research into cyber-security issues in private companies.

Isaac Gendler, a junior mechanical engineering major from Los Angeles, also had an early jump on research, studying automatic transit system guide ways. His report is in the process of being published. He said McNair has provided valuable information about graduate school applications and securing research funding. It even helped him attend a recent Chicago conference on heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems. The greatest value to McNair, he said, is its diverse, multi-disciplinary approach.

“It gave me the opportunity to talk with people from different backgrounds and perspectives,” Gendler said. “When you have homogeneous groups of people talking to each other, nothing new results. McNair brings together people from all over, offering fresh viewpoints. This is how you innovate and disrupt the status quo.”

March 2018 Newsletter: Provost Update – Diversity Drives Creativity and Innovation

I hope everyone is finding some time during spring break to reenergize before we head into the final months of the semester. March was especially busy, and I was fortunate enough to be involved in events that highlight the diversity of our university as well as our work to create a more inclusive campus and community.

On March 1, I welcomed nearly two-dozen doctoral students from Stanford University’s Diversifying Academia, Recruiting Excellence (DARE) Doctoral Fellowship Program. The program aims to build a pipeline for faculty from underrepresented groups. For the past 10 years, fellows have visited our university to learn about SJSU’s commitment to diversifying the faculty and to hear from some of our own faculty members about their experiences. I shared with the visitors that this year, Faculty Affairs and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion implemented newdiversity training for search committees involved in faculty recruitment.

During their visit, the DARE Fellows also engaged with student researchers and scholars from our Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. The McNair students engage in undergraduate research, prepare for the GRE and learn how to choose a graduate school, among other activities that will help them on the path to a doctoral degree. The newsletter this month shares more about these programs along with other efforts to support diversity and inclusion such as our African American College Readiness Summit, the Women in Engineering Conference, and the Chicanx/Latinx and African American/Black Student Success Center internships.

As many of you know, we have one of the most diverse student populations in the nation. On March 15, we hosted the inaugural SJSU Student Success Symposium attended by more than 230 faculty, staff and students. Many of our guest speakers discussed ways to engage students from underrepresented groups, especially Dr. Sylvia Hurtado, from the University of California, Los Angeles, whose talk was entitled “Campus Climate and Institutional Change: Advancing Diversity and Institutional Practice.” Visit the Student Success Website to learn how to participate in a follow-up session after spring break to help us identify the next steps in promoting academic excellence.

While we strive to be inclusive of people from many backgrounds and experiences, it is also important for us to have a diversity of perspectives, disciplines and ideas. Our university has many interdisciplinary programs and centers, such as the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change, the Mineta Transportation Institute, the Humanities Honors Program, among others. We are also in a prime position to expand opportunities for our students to engage in multi-faceted projects that cross discipline lines.

Just this week, the Biomedical Engineering Society of San Jose State hosted its 9th Annual Bay Area Biomedical Device Conference. As part of the conference, 34 student teams presented ideas for devices to help medical professionals and patients. These teams included students from many engineering, business, health professions and other majors, working together to find a solution to a medical problem. The industry leaders who spoke at the conference reiterated how diverse perspectives affect product and process innovation.

As we head into April, we will have more opportunities celebrate our diversity and academic excellence. Some upcoming events include theCelebration of Research April 4, the Faculty Service Recognition and Awards Luncheon April 5Legacy of Poetry Day April 12, the Inclusive Innovation Summit April 13, Admitted Spartan Day April 14Honors Convocation April 20 and the Fifth Annual SJSU Cultural Showcase April 25.

I hope to see you at these and other events next month as we continue to work together to improve student success while creating an inclusive and welcoming university community.

January 2018 Newsletter: Student Researchers Honored at Biomedical Conference

Undergraduate students Mulatwa Haile, left, and Nebat Ali, received awards for their research presentations at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in November. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By Melissa Anderson

Mulatwa Haile and Nebat Ali have several years of research experience between them—and recently received an award for presentations of their work at a national conference—though they are both still in their junior year as undergraduates at San Jose State University.

The students applied to be part of programs on campus that aim to give research opportunities to undergraduate, underrepresented, students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Haile, a biological sciences student with a concentration in systems physiology who is minoring in chemistry and also hopes to complete an African American Studies minor, applied for the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program. Ali, a biological sciences student with a concentration in microbiology, started out with the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and worked wi Dr. Miri VanHoven.

“I got accepted to (Dr.) Katherine Wilkinson’s lab in the biological sciences department,” Haile said. “Ever since then I have developed my love of science and research.”

She noted that as an undergraduate it is challenging to balance working in a lab where she can learn techniques and make connections that will benefit her in the future while also finding the time to study. One of the most valuable lessons she learned is time management and trouble shooting. The students are now involved in Maximizing Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Training in Academic Research (MARC U-STAR) program.

“Both the programs have made the gap between me and my ambition smaller, whether that be financially by offering support or by providing an oasis of information,” Haile said, humbly adding, “I am extremely grateful for the diversity programs. They have given the not-so-extraordinary-me an opportunity to do extraordinary things.”

Ali agreed that the research experience has helped her in many aspects of her educational career, including applying concepts from class to the experiments with which she is involved.

“These programs really helped guide me and provide a network of students and professors to connect with,” she said. “These programs provide an amazing support system for us minority students that bridges the gap between undergraduate and graduate school.”

Last fall, they traveled to the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Phoenix, Arizona, where they connected with more than 2,000 like-minded students to present research findings. The SJSU cohort included 25 students who presented 16 posters and conducted two talks, with the support of faculty members Dr. Karen Singmaster, Dr. Alberto Rascon, Dr. Cleber Ouverney and Wilkinson.

Haile presented her research on the effects of obesity on spinal cord excitability and Ali presented work on how nematodes evolved to avoid Streptomyces bacteria. The two were among the select students from across the nation to receive awards for their presentations.

“I have attended regional professional conferences, but not one that was so large,” Ali said. “ABRCMS was my first national conference. It was an incredible learning experience and everything from the speakers to the exhibitors weregreat.”

Ali noted that historically white males have dominated the field of science.
“Going to ABRCMS and seeing the diversity and all the minorities represented there made me think of all the potential that lies within those that are underrepresented in the fields of STEM,” she said. “Having these programs for underrepresented students is one crucial step in breaking the barriers that restrict us from attaining our full potential.”

In addition to RISE, LSAMP and MARC, the university has other programs that support research opportunities for undergraduate students who are underrepresented in STEM fields. These include the McNair Scholars Program, Research by Undergraduates Using Molecular Biology Applications (RUMBA) and S-STEM. The programs are funded through a variety of federal grants and many students who have participated have gone on to complete doctoral programs.

“The two awards confirm that the research taking place on our campus is meaningful and that our students are as competitive as those at top research institutions in the nation,” Ouverney said.

January 2018 Newsletter: Media Takes Notice of SJSU at SV Auto Show

While automotive engineers and designers wowed audiences with the “future of drive,” San Jose State University engineering students impressed visitors with their own innovative built-from-scratch vehicle designs at the SV Auto Show Jan. 4-7. The students displayed Formula One cars, a quadricycle, a golf cart run on solar power and an electric race car. The San Jose Mercury News highlighted the student cars in an article.

January 2018 Newsletter: Students Prompt Discussions on Housing Crisis

Laura Cayabyag, '17 Sociology, right, served as president of student organization COOP SJSU and poses for a photo with the group's faculty advisor Michael Fallon.(Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Laura Cayabyab, ’17 Sociology, right, served as president of student organization COOP SJSU and poses for a photo with the group’s faculty advisor Michael Fallon.(Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By David Goll

Like many students graduating in the Bay Area, housing concerns have often been on the mind of Laura Cayabyab, ’17 Sociology. While she said her parents have a home in Silicon Valley in which she is welcome, her greatest academic and personal passion has been to find solutions for the growing dilemma of homelessness in one of the nation’s most expensive housing market.

A December graduate, Cayabyab turned her concerns into action, serving as president of COOP SJSU for the past year. The student organization addresses pressing social issues on campus and the greater San Jose community. She and fellow COOP officials, including Ryan Eckford, have spearheaded drives on campus to collect clothing and hygiene items to distribute to the homeless.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people, many fellow students, about their housing situation,”Cayabyab said. “For those who don’t have parents who live around here, I would say nine out of 10 have told me they will be looking for work outside the Bay Area. Even for people with technical degrees, they often can only get contract work with high-tech Silicon Valley companies.”

Cayabyab said a 2016 study revealed about 300 of SJSU’s 33,000 students are homeless—the definition includes students who live in cars, on the streets or who “couch surf”. The number of homeless people in San Jose on any given night is estimated at 5,000. The Bay Area’s largest city has among the highest rents in the nation—according to website Rent Jungle, the average monthly cost for a one-bedroom apartment in San Jose in November was $2,430.

As one of her last official acts as president of the student organization, Cayabyab and Eckford helped organize and lead a discussion on the region’s housing crisis last month at an On The Table event, sponsored by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF). The nonprofit organization is the world’s largest philanthropic community foundation, with $8 billion in assets under management. Two dozen students, staff, faculty and lecturers attended, along with representatives of the City of San Jose and Santa Clara County.

Cayabyab and Eckford also received assistance in organizing the event from Carol Stephenson of People Acting in Community Together (PACT), a multi-faith, multi-ethnic grassroots social justice organization.

“We asked people who attended to think about housing instability in the Bay Area,” the recent graduate said. “How it affects them and others in their lives, what are the good things about housing in the Bay Area, but also how we can make it much better.”

About a week later, the COOP students attended another On The Table event at the foundation’s Mountain View headquarters. Leaders of community organizations from throughout the Bay Area attended.

“It was really interesting to see people from throughout the region talk about the programs they’ve had to improve housing instability for years,” Cayabyab said. “It’s interesting to hear what keeps them going.”

Michael Fallon, who retired as adjunct professor of sociology at SJSU in June, has been involved in the COOP organization at the faculty level in recent years. He said the group was founded to address pressing social issues in Silicon Valley, primarily focused on housing the homeless.

Fallon also served as Director of the Center for Community Learning and Leadership at SJSU, which has focused its efforts on cleaning up the pollution of Coyote Creek as a result of the former homeless encampment of several hundred people that was closed down three years ago. Known as the Jungle, the infamous camp became a symbol of the haves and have-nots in Silicon Valley.

Fallon said he has been happy to be a catalyst himself in sparking social awareness and the ability to devise practical solutions to seemingly intractable societal ills.

“I am an educator, first and foremost,” he said. “I educate students in how to address critical social issues and hope my students will engage with the community and participate in the solutions.”