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.
By Barry Zepel
The San Jose State University community has a long tradition of helping during times of crisis. That was the case on Feb. 21 after the recent record rainfall led to Anderson Dam spilling over its banks in Morgan Hill and into the Coyote Creek, which then overflowed onto various streets and neighborhoods in San Jose, causing flood damage and displacing residents.
While university administrators offered support to students, staff and faculty in the affected neighborhoods, CommUniverCity Director Dayana Salazar coordinated with The Health Trust to start a fundraiser to support local residents. As of the end of March, the groups had raised $9,430.
In addition to financial support, Spartan volunteers also helped with cleanup work near the creek and around the city. Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful (KCCB), the South Bay Clean Creeks Coalition and the city of San Jose initiated clean-up work starting on Feb. 24, with follow-up efforts into March. Alumnus Ralph Murrieta Jr. and students Shannen Osborne and Maribel Muratalla were among a contingent of volunteers ready to help on March 11. Murrieta and Muratalla have been KCCB team leaders for two years.
On an early Saturday morning, volunteers, including Murrieta, found mud, downed fences, Ethernet cables and copper wires, as well as fallen debris from trees that had been drenched by the rains and accompanying high-velocity winds of the previous days. Murrieta, ’11 MPA, is no rookie when it comes to community service and volunteerism.
“I’ve been volunteering with Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, (a community group) dedicated to restoring the local watershed, for roughly a year-and-a-half,” he explained.
Murrieta said he first became involved in community volunteering in 2015 through SJSU’s CommUniverCity program. CommUniverCity is a unique partnership between the university and the city of San Jose that engages SJSU students and faculty members with residents and city staff members for learning projects that accomplish neighborhood-defined goals. The program creates and supports 50 community action projects annually in a multitude of disciplines. They range from after-school tutoring and nutrition education to adult financial literacy classes.
With cleanup being a vital community need in March, Murrieta served as team leader for a group of 15 to 20 other volunteers along the banks of the creek.
“Among the things we found (and picked up) were traces of homeless encampments, including clothing, bedding, various metal and wood debris items, and food wrappers,” he said. “While our operation wrapped up after a few hours – around 11 a.m. – I know that some of the volunteers went on to assist other clean-up operations that were taking place in the city.”
Deb Kramer, program manager for KCCB, said their efforts were scheduled for two hours on March 11, but many volunteers stayed longer to help clean up the Olinder play area, including removing tan bark and sand, and cleaning play structures and picnic benches that had been contaminated by the flood.
Osborne, a senior majoring in communications, has been involved with KCCB since taking a couple of environmental courses at the university. She is currently serving as an intern with the community agency. The university’s partnership with KCCB is coordinated through the Center for Community Learning and Leadership, a program that supports service-learning opportunities for students.
“I was helping check in other volunteers at the beginning, so initially I saw many eager people who wanted to help,” she said. “This was not something that residents of San Jose or other surrounding cities ever would have expected to happen, especially since we were just in a drought for so long.”
Among the items she and other volunteers picked up were old tires, shopping carts, old clothing and blankets, and a quarter ton of trash.
“For me, this hits very close to home since I live right along the creek,” Osborne said. “Luckily, I was not harmed by the flooding, but it was definitely too close for comfort and opened my eyes that my family and I could have been evacuated. I definitely wanted to do all that I could to make sure the areas that were affected had some help.”
Likewise, Murrieta’s home was spared any personal loss, but he witnessed firsthand the destructive forces of the recent flooding in the city.
“I did see some of the flooded streets near my (place of) work,” he said.
Both Osborne and Murrieta encouraged others to get involved as community volunteers.
“I cannot stress enough how important it is to give back to your community,” Osborne said. “And you get to meet great people who are excited to be involved in something that helps the local environment. Each (volunteer) helps make such a significant difference.”
Murrieta noted what can be learned from the experience.
“History is happening every day, and you can’t shape it and society by reading a book. You have to get involved,” he said. “It can add to what you are learning in the classroom by providing depth to the issue.”
In February, after a season of heavy rainfall, Coyote Creek overflowed. The resulting flooding displaced nearby residents. As a campus, we quickly offered support to SJSU students, faculty and staff affected by the disaster. Spartans also volunteered to help community members in need, through a fundraiser launched by CommUniverCity that has raised $9,400 to date and by helping with neighborhood clean-up efforts in the weeks following the flood.
As a metropolitan university, we are strengthened by the connections we foster with our community, including the city of San Jose, neighboring residents and the greater Silicon Valley region. SJSU intersects with the city in many visible ways – from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, which serves as a gateway between downtown and our campus, to the Hammer Theatre along the Paseo de San Antonio, where SJSU operates what has become a prestigious arts and entertainment venue. The theater has also become a place for civic engagement and we hosted the launch of our Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change there.
Our students, faculty, staff and alumni engage beyond the borders of our downtown campus in a variety of ways, from courses that incorporate service-learning projects to internships to research, scholarship and creative activities that enhance the quality of life in our community. We are fortunate to have CommUniverCity and the Center for Community Learning and Leadership fostering partnerships with government agencies, nonprofits and other entities. They provide opportunities for students from many disciplines to further their skills while gaining practical work experience that also prepares them to be engaged citizens when they graduate. Some of our service-learning projects include flood relief efforts, cleaning up our local watersheds and a unique program in which students assist low-income clients who want to expunge their misdemeanor criminal records.
As we focus on student success, we continue to emphasize the importance of student engagement, especially through internships and service learning. This spring, Humanities and the Arts students learned the importance of networking in their industry while interning at the Cinequest Film and VR Festival and engineering students worked in teams as part of the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) course to solve problems for nonprofit clients.
Faculty, staff and students are regularly engaged in research that aims to find practical solutions for important issues. Professor Fritz Yambrach designed a vest that will help transport water in developing countries or in times of disaster around the world, while Tom Reisz is leading work with the Eastside Union High School District on the Math Readiness Challenge Initiative Grant in efforts to improve college readiness.
These are just a few examples of the ways in which our campus is involved in the greater community, and I commend all of you who stay engaged in our surrounding neighborhoods. I am proud of all the ways Spartans are influencing our region.
The California chapter of the American Planning Association awarded San Jose State University’s CommUniverCity program an Academic Award of Excellence for the Greater Washington – Voices of the Community neighborhood planning project in July. The planning project was previously recognized with the American Planning Association’s California Northern Chapter Academic Award in June and will go on to compete on the national level.
The project was overseen by CommUniverCity with support from faculty members and instructors in the departments of Urban Planning, Anthropology and Spanish. Classes included H. Fernando Burga’s fall 2013 URBP 201, Richard M. Kos’ spring 2014 URBP 203, Chuck Darrah’s fall 2013 ANTH 149 and Damian Bacich, whose students provided the Spanish translation of the report from English.
SJSU affiliates worked closely with city officials, Santa Clara University’s Ignatian Center and neighborhood partners such as Mamas Unidas, Sacred Heart of Jesus Community Parish, Community United San Jose and Catholic Charities in reaching out to community members.
Through personal conversations with community members, the report found that residents had five priorities for their neighborhood:
Fostering healthy lifestyles
Improving walkability and pedestrian activity
Supporting information retail
Promoting affordable housing
Identifying the needs of middle school students
Dr. Stacy Gleixner has been appointed as the interim associate vice president for Student Academic Success Services, effective Feb. 8. Stacy will help to lead the ongoing conversation on student success as we finalize a university-wide plan this semester.
She has been chief of staff to the president since Aug. 2014 and will continue in that role, sharing time between the two positions. Stacy is deeply committed to supporting a smooth transition between presidents while also keeping the momentum going around campus priorities such as student success.
Stacy started as a lecturer at SJSU in the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering. She joined the faculty as an assistant professor in the Biomedical, Chemical and Materials Engineering Department in 1999, and became a full professor in 2011. She served as associate chair of the department from 2008 to 2014. During her tenure on campus, she has been committed to improving student success as well as increasing access to STEM programs for women and underrepresented minority students. Her dedication to teaching has been honored with the College of Engineering Award for Excellence in Service, in 2010, the Dean Newnan Excellence in Teaching Award for Faculty in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, in 2008, and the SJSU Teacher Scholar Award for 2007-2008.
In Engineering, she helped to establish a summer transition program and served as the director of the program, EXCEED, for three years. She also served as the director of the Microscale Process Engineering Lab from 2007-2014, during which she co-designed multiple new courses to include hands-on education. She created a service-learning program through CommUniverCity that has engaged up to 500 engineering students a semester since its inception. Stacy has served as the principal investigator on multiple research projects focused on improving student learning through the use of active and service learning methods.
Stacy has shown a strong ability to collaborate across departments, disciplines and divisions. She has a deep understanding of the university from her service on the Academic Senate Executive Committee, the University Curriculum and Research Committee and the University Instruction and Student Affairs Committee.
Stacy, who is herself a first-generation college student, holds a bachelor’s in materials science and engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and a master’s and a doctorate in materials science and engineering, from Stanford University. She has said her undergraduate experience transformed her through the opportunity she received to engage in high-impact practices with caring professors. She brings with her a strong background that will build on the strong foundation provided by Maureen Scharberg who has taken a position as the dean of Undergraduate Studies at CSU, East Bay.