SJSU Recognizes Faculty, Students at Celebration of Research

Early Career Investigator Award Winners Rachael French, left, and Miranda Worthen pose for a photograph at San Jose State University on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Early Career Investigator Award Winners Rachael French, left, and Miranda Worthen pose for a photograph at San Jose State University on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

BY DAVID GOLL

Recognizing its robust research, scholarship and creative activity, San Jose State celebrated the latest recipients of the Early Career Investigator Awards.

The work of Rachael French, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, and Miranda Worthen, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences and Recreation, were featured at the annual Celebration of Research awards ceremony Feb. 16 at the Compean-Diaz Student Union Ballroom.

Opening the ceremony, President Mary Papazian offered praise for the award-winning professors, as well as the Student-Faculty Research Pairs program, as integral components in cementing San Jose State’s position “at the center of Silicon Valley.”

French has generated more than $1.2 million in external funding to support her work examining how development of the common fruit fly is affected by laying its eggs in the alcohol-rich environment of newly rotting fruit. Financial backing for her studies, which started during her post-doctoral days at UC-San Francisco, comes from the National Institutes for Health and the National Science Foundation. Her research is aided by three graduate students and six undergraduate SJSU students.

During a brief presentation at the event, she explained her research — which has revealed the development and long-term survival of the flies have been improved by providing them with a low-fat diet — bodes well for finding eventual treatments for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome among humans. There are similar traits between humans and fruit flies born in alcohol-rich environments. In both, growth can be stunted and death rates higher.

“We have been effective at reducing the incidence of (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) by telling pregnant women they should not drink,” French said. “But 50 percent of pregnancies are not planned and 50 percent of women drink. We still have 10 to 11 percent of women who drink during pregnancy.”

Providing young flies a low-fat diet has a protective effect, she said, generating normal survival and development rates.

Worthen told the audience her research into public health and social justice issues — including examining the plight of people who have suffered trauma, such as victims of gender-based violence and military war veterans — has been influenced and informed by her own background as having overcome a rare genetic disorder at birth.

More recently, she has dealt with an unusual health condition her young daughter exhibited shortly after birth.

She acknowledged the presence of her mother, Kaethe Weingarten, a retired associate clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, at the ceremony. She said her mother sparked her interest in these issues during childhood. The mother-daughter team has co-authored academic papers.

“My mother always impressed on me your own personal experience can have an important impact on your research and the questions you ask,” Worthen said.

She said she regularly impresses on her students that important issues in their lives should have an impact on their research and academic careers.

In addition to the Early Career Investigator Award winners, many of this year’s 16 student/faculty research teams were in attendance to present informational posters about their own projects.

Some of those present included Briza Diaz and Citlali Hernandez — students of AJ Fass, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology — who conducted research into the economic and social effects from the 2006 eruption of a volcano near the small village of Pusuca, Ecuador. Diaz said Fass asked the pair to translate Spanish-language transcripts of public meetings during a campaign to resettle about 200 individuals and families who lived in the devastated region.

Julia Regalado, a student, and her faculty partner, Susan L. Ross, an associate professor in the Health Science and Recreation department, shared their research findings.The pair studied the impact of seven types of stimulation — including music and forms of tactile therapy — on children in persistent/permanent vegetative states. Ross said several of the approaches yielded positive results in evoking responses from the children.

Campus Reading Program Author Stevenson to Speak at Hammer Feb. 24

Flier about Stevenson Talk

Flier about Stevenson Talk

Bryan Stevenson, the author of “Just Mercy“, the SJSU Campus Reading book selection for 2016-17, will be speaking on campus Friday, Feb. 24, at noon, at the Hammer Theatre Center, 101 Paseo de San Antonio. Find more information and get free tickets online – students, faculty and staff are invited to attend.

Mercy’s book chronicles his years in law school and as a practicing attorney in the South when he worked to defend death row inmates. The book is marked by his personal reflections and descriptions of the people he defended. The book tackles issues of race, poverty and social justice in the United States. The event is sponsored by the Campus Reading Program, Campus Life, the Office of Diversity, the Office of the Provost, the NAACP, the Center for Literary Arts and Silicon Valley Reads

Other upcoming events related to the Campus Reading Program this spring include:

  • DEFAMATION – LIVE COURTROOM DRAMA!

Thursday, Feb. 23, at4:30 p.m.
Student Union Theatre

We are proud to be co-sponsoring this event with our friends at MOSAIC and Justice Studies.  Attend an interactive theatrical drama that explores race and class inequities and injustices in the American judicial system.  DEFAMATION will be performed at the Student Union Theater.  (Then, two days later, come hear Bryan Stevenson address these topics in person at the Hammer Theatre!)

  • A TALK with SHAKA SENGHOR, AUTHOR of “WRITING MY WRONGS”

Thursday, March 23, at 1:30 p.m.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, Room 225

In collaboration with our partner Silicon Valley Reads, we invite you to a talk by an author on a related subject-one man’s struggle while caught up in America’s mass incarceration epidemic.  Shaka Senghor, author of “Writing My Wrongs”, will appear at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library on Thursday, March 23 at 1:30 p.m. in MLK 225.

  • “A REACTION to BRYAN STEVENSON’S  JUST MERCY”

Tuesday, April 18, at 4 p.m.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library Room 225

Khalid White from the African American Studies Department will give a presentation, “A Reaction to Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.

February 2017 Newsletter: Student-Faculty Research Pairs Share Findings

Left to right, Devin Cunningham, Dr. Aaron Romanowsky and Christopher Dixon pose for a photograph at San Jose State University, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Dr. Romanowsky is currently working with undergraduates on a research project. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Left to right, Devin Cunningham, Dr. Aaron Romanowsky and Christopher Dixon pose for a photograph at San Jose State University, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Dr. Romanowsky is currently working with undergraduates on a research project. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)13

By Barry Zepel

A college student’s ability to learn is most positively impacted when the pupil has the opportunity to work as a partner on a research project with a member of the faculty, according to findings presented at a recent American Association of Colleges and Universities conference.

SJSU’s Student-Faculty Research Pairs program provides opportunities for 33 undergraduate students to work with faculty mentors. The 33 pairs will share their work at the Celebration of Research, on Feb. 16, from 4 to 6 p.m., in the Diaz Compean Student Union Ballroom.

With the help and guidance of the Center for Faculty Development, each pair prepares a poster to describe their project and the questions they hope their research will answer. Created through the university’s unique “Explorations in Research, Scholarships and Creative Activity” program umbrella in 2012, it offers undergraduates the opportunity to enrich their student experience while attending SJSU.

“As a pair, the idea is for the student and faculty member to write their proposal together, rather than the student write it and faculty member only approve it,” said Amy Strage, assistant vice president for Faculty Development.

This year’s research areas range from astronomy to healthcare-related topics to exploration into areas of mental health to ballet.

“Compact Galaxies & Black Holes” is the topic for juniors Devin Cunningham and Chris Dixon who are working with Aaron J. Romanowsky, associate professor of physics and astronomy. One of their research questions is “What are the origins of compact stellar systems?”

“With my previous affinity for black holes and stars, I wasn’t sure what to work on with Dr. Romanowsky,” said Dixon, a physics and astronomy major. “I’ve always found astronomy and black holes very interesting. I’ve never done any research before this.”

Cunningham, whose eventual academic goal is to complete doctoral studies in theoretical physics, added: “After attending a seminar showcasing Dr. Romanowsky’s research, Chris and I sought to work (with) him.”

Junior biology student Puneet Sanghera has been working with Katie Wilkinson, an assistant professor of biological sciences on “The Effects of Lipopolysaccharide-Induced Inflammation on Spinal Cord Excitability.” Wilkinson’s lab interests have included proprioception – “the ability to sense where your body is in space,” she explained.

February 2017 Newsletter: Researchers Target Human Factors in Cybersecurity

Left to right, Ian Cooke, Dr. Dave Schuster and Soham Shah pose for a photograph at San Jose State University, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Dr. Schuster has received a grant for cybersecurity research. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Left to right, Ian Cooke, Dr. Dave Schuster and Soham Shah pose for a photograph at San Jose State University, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. Dr. Schuster has received a grant for cybersecurity research. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By Barry Zepel

Anyone aware of last year’s reports about Russian hacking of the Democratic and Republican parties’ computer networks will be familiar with the term “cybersecurity.” As hackers attempt to invade network systems via the Internet – to either damage them or steal proprietary information – cybersecurity has become among the highest priorities for governments, corporations and many other types of organizations.

David Schuster, an SJSU faculty member since 2013, won a National Science Foundation Early Career Development Award grant of $516,000 over five years to conduct research on strengthening cybersecurity and computer network defense. The approach that Schuster and his team of SJSU students are taking in their research is very different than what most people might expect. Schuster is an assistant professor of psychology – not computer science or information technology.

“My field within psychology is called human factors psychology,” Schuster said. “Human factors psychologists study things like the design of a technological device – such as a smartphone – to determine the easiest way to make that device most intuitive for any person to operate with a minimum of frustration. Human factors psychologists study both the technology side and the human side.”

Schuster and his 14 assistants – seven graduate students and seven undergraduates – are focusing their research on the people hired to defend computer networks, not on the technology itself. Two of his graduate students are paid through research assistantships, while two undergraduates are compensated through scholarships; other students are volunteers. They all are dedicated to their research assignments in the Virtual Environments, Cognition and Training Research Laboratory managed by Schuster, located in the newly renovated Dudley Moorhead Hall.

“We aren’t studying the individual using their computer at home and wanting to remain safe on the Internet,” Schuster explained. “Rather, we want to get to know the cybersecurity professionals charged with protecting the computer network systems of organizations like corporations, governments, universities and school districts – organizations across all sectors.”

Schuster notes that no organization can protect its computer network by simply using or turning on some security software.

“There is at some level someone who is making decisions that determine the effectiveness of that organization’s line of defense against a cyber attack,” he said. “We are studying those people; learning who they are, what their role is within the organization, what decisions they make on an ongoing basis, and how those decisions impact the overall cybersecurity of their organization.”

Soham Shah, an undergraduate majoring in computer science, said he spends 10 to 12 hours per week working in Schuster’s lab. The research matches his intellectual passions.

“My interest has been to know more about cybersecurity,” Shah said. But beyond that, “I am learning how to think. Being part of the lab and doing the research is broadening my horizon and lending me a unique perspective.”

Ian Cooke, a second-year graduate student working on his master’s degree in research and experimental psychology, feels the tasks he takes on in Schuster’s lab are a perfect fit with his interests and goals.

“I live for this kind of stuff. I love research,” Cooke said. “I love working on projects that are actionable in some way (like) developing a tool to facilitate some socio-technological need to solve problems, as opposed to simply recognizing them. That’s what I am doing here.”

Schuster, as the grant’s principal investigator, gives credit to his students for “their work ethic, determination and contributions to the research.”

“We’re really one unified team at the moment, as we’re all working towards similar milestones,” Schuster explained. “I continue to be impressed by what the students are capable of, and how they rise to new challenges. With research, there’s one new unexpected challenge after another.”

Ultimately, Schuster’s goal is for their research findings to help determine ways for cyber security employees to make better decisions that more effectively protect their organizational computer networks.

Faculty Matter Tips #13-15

Welcome to Spring Semester, 2017! As Winter Break comes to a close, we assume you are busy planning your courses and getting ready to greet your students. We appreciate the positive feedback many of you provided on the “Faculty Matter” Teaching Tips series, and so we will do our best to keep them coming! Our goal is to provide proven concrete suggestions of relatively easy-to-implement activities that will help you engage your students and support their success. Feel free to adopt these as is, or to modify them to better suit your needs or context. These tips will be archived on the Provost’s Academic Spotlight blog under the category “Faculty Matter”. We invite you to use the comment tool on the blog posts to share your own suggestions and tips.

You may recognize this first set from last semester, with a few tweaks.

Faculty Matter Tip #13 – Reach out to your students BEFORE the first day of class.

  • Send your students a brief email introducing yourself, conveying your enthusiasm about the course and about meeting them. You can send your message through your class roster on MySJSU or through Canvas.
  • Consider giving them a very simple assignment – a question to think about, an artifact to bring to class, something related to the course content that will “prime the pump” for whatever topic(s) you want to discuss at the first class meeting.  Remember to follow up on what you asked them to do: have them share their answers/what they brought.  If the class is large, students can share in small groups, with a few volunteers reporting out to the entire class.

Faculty Matter Tips #14 – Read through the syllabus you have prepared.

Make sure that if you were a student in your class, you could answer the following questions in the affirmative. After reading this syllabus,

  • Would you be able to put together a clear picture of what the class was about?
  • Would you have a sense of what your instructor expected you to learn?
  • Would it be clear to you what, specifically, you were going to be asked to do or produce, and when?
  • Would you be able to figure out how your grade would be determined?
  • Would you be able to figure out where you could turn if you encountered any difficulties along the way?

Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #15 – Make Good Use of the First Day of Class.

You will likely need to devote time to various administrative tasks on the first day. You may also want to dive right in and begin covering course content. But don’t miss this important opportunity to begin to create community and to engage students.

  • Greet students as they walk in.  Arrive at your classroom early, stand at the door, and welcome students as they enter.
  • Have students interview each other, in pairs or small groups of 3-4. Sample questions: Name, major, where they are from, something that would surprise you about them, something they are looking forward to this year, something they are apprehensive about.
  • Devote a few minutes to “ice-breaker” activities. While some of the students may already know several of their classmates, others may feel quite alone and intimidated as they look around and see so many people who appear to already have friends in the class. If your ice-breaker activities help uncover student experiences or expertise that are relevant to the course, all the better.
  • Create a list of class rules and expectations.  Start by listing your “must haves” – expectations about cell phones and computers in class, tardiness, civility, how you want to be addressed, how students should approach you if they have concerns, etc.. Invite students to talk in pairs or small groups, and suggest other items for the list.  You may be surprised by how many students have strong feelings about the importance of maintaining a respectful learning environment!  Devote a few minutes to a whole group conversation.  This way, if problems arise later, you can refer students to the rules everyone agreed upon.
  • Help students plan how they will study for your class. Have them examine the assignments and due-dates. Help them anticipate how much time you expect them to need to devote to the class. More on this soon…we will devote an up-coming Teaching Tip to helping students to be more intentional and self-aware about their studies.
  • Identify students’ starting points.  Have students complete a no-points quiz, where they indicate their level of familiarity with a dozen or so foundational concepts for the class (such as “I’ve never heard of it”, “It sounds familiar, but I don’t quite remember what it is”, “I sort of know”, “I know it well and could explain it to someone else”). This will allow you to get a sense of where students have a firm grasp of material and where they will need refreshers.  To get a better sense of the range of their interests, consider adding two additional questions: What is one of the most interesting things you remember from a prior course you took in your major?  What is one of the most interesting things you remember from a prior course you took outside of your major?
  • Have students fill out a personal profile.  In addition to basic information (name, preferred way to be addressed, best way to contact, major/minor), you may want to ask them about other commitments this semester (academic load, work, family responsibilities, community responsibilities, etc..), learning styles or needs, and anything else they would like to share with you, to help you help them be successful. You may want to have students email this to you, so that they can attach a photograph of themselves.
  • Share something about yourself. Convey your enthusiasm for teaching and for the subject matter.  Consider telling students a bit about your professional background. Don’t feel compelled to share details about your personal life.