Academic Spotlight November 2018: Provost Update – A Moment of Thanks in a Busy Year

As the season changes, some significant changes here at SJSU have begun to take effect as well, although they will always be mixed with the important traditions that honor our past. Most notably, this month we will be reviewing a record number of applications for the Staff Professional Development Grant; we will be announcing the first ever selected faculty for our new Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities Reassigned Time program; AND we will find time to celebrate a holiday or two.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I especially want to share with all of you my gratitude for the support I have received in these few months that I have served as Interim Provost and Senior VP. Thank you first and foremost to the team in the Office of the Provost, who make every day joyful; thank you to the President and her Cabinet; the AALT Leadership Team and a very heartfelt thank you to so many of the faculty and staff with whom I have had the pleasure to interact and to work beside. Taken together, this is a wonderful community that takes its humanity and its work seriously, with kindness and tact.

A few important informational items, starting with our Graduation Initiative 2025 goals. Our four-year graduation rates hit 19 percent this year, up 10 percentage points in the past five years. We continue to make substantial gains on six-year graduation rates, transfer student graduation rates and we are two percentage points away from eliminating our Pell-eligible equity gap. We also continue to move forward with eliminating the underrepresented minority equity gap, which dropped to 10.5 percent this year.

Speaking of graduation, we will be celebrating our fall graduates in just a few weeks with two days of commencement ceremonies on December 19 and 20. These ceremonies allow us to recognize the achievements of our fall graduates with the same fanfare as those who graduate in the spring ceremonies. Students LOVE to see their faculty, introduce them to friends and family, and just basically celebrate with their faculty and staff. I do hope you can be available for these occasions. As a reminder, faculty who would like to rent regalia for the ceremonies can do so for free through the Spartan Bookstore website; the deadline to rent regalia is Nov. 21.

Last month, I had the opportunity to say a special thank you to the hardworking staff members in the Academic Affairs Division at our annual Staff Appreciation Breakfast. It was heartwarming to hear each dean and AVP give thanks to the employees in their college or unit, but especially to see some of the notes of appreciation from colleague to colleague. As our breakfast was held on Halloween, I was very impressed with everyone’s ingenuity and costume design!

On the evening of Nov. 2, I had the chance to interact with honored faculty and staff at the Annual Author and Artist Awards. The dozens of pieces completed this year by SJSU authors and artists have a significant impact on the world: this work adds to knowledge in your disciplines; spurs conversations about societally important topics such as politics, technology and diversity; and provides engaging curricular opportunities for students. As we focus this year on creating more balance for our faculty members to be teacher-scholars, it is especially imperative that we also take the time to celebrate accomplishments like these at events like these.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving break and I look forward to our continuing work together.

Sincerely,

Joan C. Ficke
Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Academic Spotlight November 2018: Emeritus and Retired Faculty Support Scholarly Work

By David Goll

For the fifth consecutive fall semester, San Jose State University’s faculty will have the opportunity to apply for an internal grant from the Emeritus and Retired Faculty Association (ERFA). Applications for the 2018-19 research grants awarded by ERFA are due Dec. 5. The application and more information are available online. The organization—comprised of former SJSU faculty members, some of whom are still teaching on a part-time basis—provides grants of $2,500 to selected faculty members to further their research, scholarship and creative activities agenda.

Last year’s recipients say ERFA’s Faculty Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity Awards have been a boon to their research. Though the program has typically made two such grants annually, a larger budget last year allowed for three awards. They were given to Ruma Chopra, professor of History; Ningkun Wang, assistant professor of Chemistry; and Alan Soldofsky, professor of English and Comparative Literature and director of Creative Writing.

Chopra used her award to travel to various libraries across the United Kingdom to conduct research on how climate-based migrations shaped empires — in this case, the eighteenth-century British Empire’s expansion into the Americas, West Africa, South Asia and the South Pacific.

“I researched how the environment, topography, and proximity to water shaped decision-making at local and imperial levels,” she said, citing their powerful influence in the 1700s, before the conveniences of electricity changed our sense of being surrounded by nature. The research is helping fuel her plans to write a book on the subject, for which she is already writing a proposal. She conducted her research last winter at The National Archives and The British Library, among other institutions.

“The work most historians do involves many trips to archives,” Chopra said. “Getting small pots of money to continue that work is vital. I was so grateful this money came my way during a key time in the development of this book project.”

Chopra said she found members of the ERFA committee that reviews grant applications to be knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

“It’s wonderful how supportive ERFA is when it comes to encouraging research,” she said. “We are incredibly fortunate.”

Wang was in her first semester as an SJSU faculty member a year ago when she learned of the ERFA grant program through the university’s Office of Research.

“Thought I would give it a try,” she said. “I’d never heard of a program where retired faculty did something like this. It’s very encouraging for new faculty when people who have been there before understand the value of supporting research.”

Her project is potentially groundbreaking for the healthcare industry. She’s studying how specific enzymes and proteins affect aging and diseases associated with that process, including diabetes and Alzheimer’s. She is working with seven undergraduates and three graduate students on her work.

“We want to contribute to our collective academic knowledge on this subject, not make the next miracle drug,” she said, noting that some pharmaceutical companies are working on creating new drugs to treat ailments of aging.

Using the ERFA grant as seed money, Professor Wang is now applying for additional grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. The ERFA grant also paved the way for three of her student researchers to present results of their work at the annual conference of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology next year in Orlando, Fla.

Soldofsky used his grant to conduct interviews with American poets who were either born outside the United States, or are the children or grandchildren of immigrant families who retained their indigenous language and/or culture.

“As a Latina that loves and sometimes writes poems, I am looking forward to his future anthology of poems,” said Elba Maldonado-Colon, 2018-19 ERFA president and retired SJSU Professor of Education who still teaches part-time. “Of the 25 applicants, the SJSU ERFA Committee had the challenging task of selecting three faculty members for the available awards. Not easy.”

Maldonado-Colon added that in addition to tenured and tenure-track faculty lecturers with at least six years of continuous service to SJSU are also eligible for the grants.

September 2018 Newsletter: Provost Update – A New Year Full of Opportunities

Dear University Community,

Welcome back! I am pleased to be starting an exciting year with all of you at San Jose State University. We begin this new academic year with nearly 36,000 regular and special session students, a cohort of 65 tenure/tenure-track new faculty and many exciting opportunities to advance our research, scholarship and creative activities, and our student success mission.

In these early weeks, I have immersed myself in getting to know about all of you at events such as the faculty-in-residence and faculty fellows reception; a new faculty reception; and the 15th Anniversary of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, among other gatherings. I have also shared a bit about myself. As I said during a marathon of college welcomes on Aug. 20, I have 45 years of experience in higher education dating back to my time as a teaching fellow at New York University. It has been an honor to have had such a long career in the academy, with much of my time spent as a professor of Public Health and administrator at Montclair State University.

These have been rich experiences balancing teaching, research on women’s health issues and administrative work at a public university not unlike San Jose State, and it has been gratifying. When I first visited SJSU last year as a consultant for then-Provost Andy Feinstein, the exemplary record of scholarly accomplishment by faculty and students here impressed me. Early fall events on campus afforded an opportunity to more deeply understand who the faculty are at San Jose State, and,  it was invigorating to meet so many faculty and staff firsthand.

This fall continues with many more events, including the University Scholars Series that highlights the extraordinary work of our faculty, starting with Associate Professor Aaron Romanowsky from the Department of Physics and Astronomy on Sept. 26, at noon, in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, Room 225/229. See the full schedule online.

We also begin the academic year with one of our own recognized with the California State University Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award. Margaret “Peggy” Stevenson founded the Record Clearance Project, a program that provides SJSU students an opportunity to work within the justice system while providing community service. These students help those with a criminal conviction expunge their records so they can have a new lease on life. Read more online.

As I shared with faculty in a memo on Sept. 4, we are launching a new Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity (RSCA) Reassigned Time program in January. It will redefine what it looks like to be a teacher-scholar at San Jose State. This program builds on a three-year project started by former Provost Feinstein to understand and develop a means through which RSCA for faculty may be equitably and fully supported by the university, and used as a way to advance the professional work of our faculty.

We recognize three broad areas of faculty endeavor – teaching, scholarship and service – and faculty are expected to be active in each area. Scholarship is a core activity for all faculty members, and scholar/artists are critically important for student development and engagement in the wider academic community. I look forward to working with college deans to implement this new program for tenured and tenure track faculty to help them succeed with their RSCA agendas while also providing our students with conceptual skills that prepare them for careers and a future we can only begin to imagine.

Let’s have a great semester!

Sincerely,

Joan C. Ficke
Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

April 2017 Newsletter: SJSU Professor Yambrach Develops Water Vest for Developing Countries

Fritz Yambrach, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging help to develop a way to package water to transport to disaster areas or areas where water is not readily available. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Fritz Yambrach, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging help to develop a way to package water to transport to disaster areas or areas where water is not readily available. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By David Goll

In parts of the world where potable water is difficult to reach and even harder to transport, a San Jose State University professor has devised an invention that could dramatically improve the quality of daily life.

Fritz Yambrach, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging, has developed the Fritz Water Vest, a 10-liter, double-pouch “vest” made of sturdy, multi-layer plastic material that can serve as an alternative to transporting water in heavy buckets, vases or other containers. Such tasks in developing countries are typically handled by women and children. The work can result in injuries to those transporting water-filled containers, which carry up to five gallons, atop their heads.

The vest-like water carrier that can be worn over the head — with the pouches suspended over the chest and back — could also find application in more affluent nations like the United States during emergency situations resulting from floods, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and other disasters that interrupt the supply and availability of clean water.

Yambrach, who arrived at San Jose State in 2007, is a veteran of the packaging industry, starting his career 40 years ago at the Chrysler automobile company in Michigan. He went on to work in the pharmaceutical and medical device sectors before moving into academia, including at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

Yambrach said he first became aware of the phenomenon of people in impoverished nations having to walk long distances on a daily basis to fetch clean water for drinking and cooking purposes during his childhood. He attended a Catholic elementary school and heard church missionaries talk of seeing women and girls hauling water long distances on their heads.

According to the United Nations, women and girls in sub-Saharan African nations spend 40 billion hours annually collecting water — equivalent to a year’s worth of labor by the entire workforce of France, which numbers about 30 million. Water for the Ages, a blog written by water activist Abigail Brown, estimates the average distance traveled daily by those fetching water in Africa and Asia is 3.7 miles. Brown said water carriers can suffer severe neck and spine damage from toting heavy, inflexible water containers.

Yambrach said he has tried to take everything into account in designing his life-saving vest.

A prototype of the water vest. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

A prototype of the water vest. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

“The construction of the vest makes it very robust,” Yambrach said, noting the edges of the vest are heat-sealed to make it leakproof. “We have even included an additive in the material to inhibit microbial growth,” he said.

The vest is being beta tested in the African nations of Ethiopia and Burundi, as well as Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean region.

Manufacturing of the vest is being overseen by Heritage Packaging of Victor, N.Y. News of Yambrach’s invention has attracted the attention of former colleagues and students. One of those is Eric Steigelman, a student in Yambrach’s packaging science class at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2006. Now a San Diego-based entrepreneur, Steigelman is handling marketing of the vest and the beta-testing projects.

“I am helping the organization find strategic partnerships,” Steigelman said, adding that he hopes to partner with larger companies to “leverage their strengths in funding and distribution. The beauty of this solution is that it is so intuitive. It doesn’t require a lot of instruction or direction. It can help millions of people who struggle every day with water issues, or temporarily because of an emergency.”

Steigelman said one such situation here in the U.S. that has occurred to him as an opportunity for the water vest is the contaminated water crisis in Flint, Mich., where cost-cutting measures by state officials led to the city’s water supply becoming polluted with lead and other toxins.

“The worldwide problem is so big and broad, you need a simple, inexpensive solution to have any chance of success,” he said. “Whether it is a daily need or an emergency, the water vest is a really effective solution.”

Celebrate SJSU Authors on Nov. 7

Attendees of the Annual Author Awards look at the 2015 publications.

Attendees of the Annual Author Awards look at the 2015 publications. Photo by Brandon Chew.

The Annual Author Awards will celebrate 27 San Jose State University faculty who have published a book or other major work in this year on Nov. 7, from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library Room 225/229.

This year’s authors have penned textbooks, directed a young adult film, recorded classical music and more. Authors who wrote scholarly books, works of fiction or non-fiction, poetry, art books, textbooks, anthologies, edited books, plays, video or music published between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2016 were invited to submit information about their publication and a brief description of their work earlier this year. (Vanity press, self-published books, unpublished manuscripts, pamphlets, brochures, custom-published course anthologies, book chapters and course packs do not qualify.)

The Annual Author Awards is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, University Library and the Spartan Bookstore. The event is free and open to the public. For more information or questions, call Library Dean Tracy Elliott at 408-808-2419or Outreach Librarian Elisabeth Thomas at 408-808-2193.