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.

February 2017 Newsletter: Early Career Investigator Awardees Honored in February

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

Research into subjects as varied as how exposure to alcohol can affect the development of both humans and insects, as well as the impacts of trauma on vulnerable populations, will be recognized during San Jose State University’s annual Celebration of Research.

Receiving the 2017 Early Career Investigator Awards during the Feb. 16 ceremony at the Diaz Compean Student Union ballroom will be Rachael French, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, and Miranda Worthen, assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences and Recreation.

French has generated more than $1.2 million in external funding to support her work examining how the 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 began when she was doing post-doctoral work at the University of California, San Francisco, comes from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. She has three graduate students and six undergraduate students assisting her work.

“We wanted to see if we could detect the detrimental impacts alcohol could have on development of the flies,” said French, who earned a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Washington in 2003. “They can cope with exposure to higher levels of alcohol, but we wanted to see if fewer survived and if growth was slower in those that do. We found some of the impacts are similar to mammals.”

French hopes her research could lead to treatments for babies suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome. That would likely occur “way down the line,” she said.

Worthen came to San Jose State in 2012 after earning a doctoral degree in epidemiology from UC Berkeley, a MPhil in international development from Oxford University and a bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard University. She described her research as wide-ranging, focusing on social justice and public health, specializing in the areas of gender and violence. She has raised “more than $100,000” for her projects, including from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and The Thoracic Foundation.

Her interest in these issues was sparked at an early age. Her mother, Kaethe Weingarten, with whom Worthen has co-authored academic papers, is a retired associate clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.

“My mother always impressed on me that your own personal experience can have an important impact on your research and the questions you ask,” Worthen said, who has published articles about her experience with trauma.

Worthen and French were selected by members of the Early Career Investigator subcommittee, comprised of Research Foundation board members and faculty. One award goes to a College of Science or Engineering faculty member, the other to a faculty member in another college. Each winner receives a cash award of $1,000.

Health Science professor publishes pieces on trauma

Miranda Worthen

Miranda Worthen

Miranda Worthen, a professor in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts Health Science and Recreation department, has published three recent journal articles that intersect on the topic of traumatic stress.

Worthen, who has a doctorate in epidemiology, coauthored “Experiences of Parents Caring for Infants with Rare Scalp Mass as Identified through a Disease-Specific Blog” in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine in the November-December 2015 edition.

The topic of the study was personal for Worthen, whose first daughter was diagnosed with delayed subaponeurotic fluid collection as an infant, a benign condition. When she took her daughter in with a mass on her scalp, her daughter’s pediatrician called in other doctors at the clinic and they used deductive reasoning to determine the mass was not something that required treatment, Worthen said.

“They said, ‘We don’t know what it is, but we aren’t worried about it,’” she said.

She discovered her experience was unique when she found a support blog for parents of children with the condition.

“For other parents on the blog, providers were quite worried about it,” Worthen said. “Some families had Child Protective Services called because the doctor thought it might be abuse.”

In addition to causing excess worry for parents for a condition that resolves over time, some children were also exposed to diagnostic tests such as CT scans that Worthen said can increase the risk of childhood cancer.

“The reason we wrote this article was to increase provider awareness of this problem so (healthcare providers) have this diagnosis among their set of diagnoses,” she said. “They don’t need to resort to radiologic imaging tests to understand what the problem is.”

Worthen said she was inspired to share her daughter’s story because she and her mother had co-authored an article about their own medical traumas 20 years ago when Worthen was a high school student. The article discussed the impact of Weingarten’s multiple breast cancer diagnoses on her daughter as well as her daughter’s diagnosis with a rare genetic condition on her mother.

Worthen and her mother Kaethe Weingarten have co-authored a follow up article that reflects on the time period from 1997-2010. “Unreliable Bodies: A Follow-up Twenty Years Later by a Mother and Daughter about the Impact of Illness and Disability on their Lives” appeared in Family Process.

“I believe in using the scientific process to try to understand my personal experiences,” Worthen said, of the article. “This is what inspired me to write about my daughter’s experience.”

The article shares their personal recollections about their own medical issues and that of the other.

“I think she was afraid her health problems had had a much bigger negative impact on me than they did,” Worthen said.

Worthen said while she was writing the follow up article she was again experience medical trauma after the birth of her second child.

“I was writing it during a time of poor health,” she said. “It helped me maintain perspective through all of that.

These articles with personal ties relate to Worthen’s primary focus of research that involves psychosocial experiences of vulnerable populations with high levels of trauma, such as war-affected young mothers in Africa, U.S. military service members and veterans, and American Indian and Alaska Natives living in the Bay Area.

“I am probably different from a lot of faculty. I want people to know these stories about me. They are very personal, but my mother used to say the personal is professional. I feel the same way.”

Worthen’s third article, “Anger and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptom Severity in a Trauma-Exposed Military Population: Differences by Trauma Context and Gender” was published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress December 2015 edition.

“This grows out of research for my dissertation,” Worthen said, who had studied anger issues in girls in West Africa who had been child soldiers.

She said she was interested in looking at anger issues in veterans to see if there was a difference between men and women.

The researchers compared responses to trauma during deployment, such as an explosion or coming under fire, and civilian trauma such as the sudden death of a loved one or an injury. The study found that men and women responded similarly to military trauma, but that women had more anger over civilian trauma.

“Women and men have different experiences,” Worthen said. “Quantitatively we need to treat them differently so we can capture that rather than erase it like a nuisance variable. For treatment for post traumatic stress disorder and different approaches, we have to specifically target work on anger management.”