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)


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.

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 2016 Newsletter: Provost Update: A Culture of Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity

As Provost, I am always excited to learn about the amazing research, scholarship and creative activity (RSCA) our students and faculty accomplish. I also understand the dedication that is required to balance teaching, service and RSCA. From my own experience in conducting and publishing research, I know both faculty and students benefit from a campus culture that supports such endeavors.

I am committed to creating an environment that fosters this important aspect of higher education. In the last two years, we have invested $2.2 million to support university-wide workshops and college-specific programs to assist faculty in starting or continuing their RSCA agendas. Annual funding for RSCA has been built into our budget and we are finalizing a plan to ensure it remains a key priority.

My hope is that our current planning efforts will foster more stellar research like that of two faculty members honored at the Celebration of Research this month with Early Career Investigator Awards. Aaron Romanowsky, from the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Science, and Virginia San Fratello, from the Department of Design in the College of Humanities and the Arts, both exemplify the Spartan spirit of innovation. Romanowsky and his students are discovering new galaxies while San Fratello is using 3-D printing to create sustainable building materials. Both have been recognized by colleagues in their disciplines and have been successful in securing funding to further their research.

At the Celebration of Research, I was also pleased to highlight our Undergraduate Research Pairs program and see the wide range of projects students are pursuing with faculty mentors, some of which we highlight in this month’s newsletter. High-impact practices, including undergraduate research, improve student learning and support student retention, but faculty also benefit from students as research assistants. I applaud our faculty for their commitment to engaging students in their research along with attracting public and private funding to support regional, national and global collaborations.

The SJSU Research Foundation plays an essential role in sustaining our efforts. In 2014-15, the Research Foundation oversaw more than $63 million in revenues that included resources from grants and contracts with government agencies, corporations and private foundations to support more than 150 RSCA projects. See the full list of contracts and awards along with stories of faculty and student work in the San Jose State University Research Foundation 2014-15 Annual Report published this month. I am dedicated to the continued growth of the SJSU research enterprise and the role of the SJSU Research Foundation in supporting our campus.