Blog Content

Our Remarkable MARC, LSAMP, and RISE students

December 23rd, 2013 by Michael Parrish

One of the greatest opportunities open to students in the College of Science is the chance to become involved in research at the undergraduate level. Many students who choose to work in the labs of one of the college’s world-class professors end up as authors on papers published in top peer reviewed journals, and many give presentations at local, national, and international meetings. Today I will highlight just a few recent accomplishments of our research students.

Each year, a group of students from SJSU attend the International meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). At this year’s meeting, held in San Antonio this fall, Biology student Jodie Wu won an outstanding poster award, and  recent physics graduate Patricio Piedra received an outstanding oral presentation award.

At the fall ABRACAMS Meeting (Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students), 27 SJSU students presented, and six of them were selected by judges for awards.  They are Beatriz Camacho (Chemistry), David Carrillo (Biological Sciences), Marc Gancayco (Chemistry), Vanessa Jimenez (Biological Sciences), Cindy Martinez (Psychology) and Jacob Schekman (Chemistry).  All of these students are participants in one of the college’s three programs aimed at supporting students from underserved backgrounds – MARC (Minority Access to Research Careers), RISE (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement), and LSAMP (Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation). Another MARC student, Diana Romero, working in the lab of SJSU microbiologist Cleber Ouverney, received a prestigious undergraduate capstone award from the American Society of Microbiologists. For the last three years, SJSU has led the CSU system in the number of awardees (6-7 each year) of NSF predoctoral fellowships, which fully support a student’s graduate studies at the research university of their choice.

This proud record of student success would not have been possible without the herculean efforts of a dedicated core of faculty, including Karen Singmaster (Director of SJSU’s RISE and LSAMP programs and Herb Silber (former MARC director) from Chemistry and Leslee Parr (current MARC Director) from Biology have built these programs over the years, and have, along with other faculty who mentor MARC and RISE research students, have created a supportive environment for students from underserved backgrounds interested in pursuing biomedical research as undergraduates leading into postgraduate study.

The MARC program was recently renewed for another two years, but with a 54% cut in funding relative to the previous cycle. The announcement of these cuts last summer spurred our faculty and students to civic action. A letter-writing campaign to our representatives got the attention of Congressman Mike Honda, a long-time supporter of STEM education. Honda arranged to visit with our MARC students and faculty in September, and a scheduled 30 minute visit stretched to two hours as students and faculty involved in the program shared their successes and aspirations for research careers with the congressman. SJSU has shown that investment in these programs results in dramatic successes in moving students from underserved backgrounds into success as undergraduate researchers, as research students in top graduate programs, and onwards towards careers as STEM leaders of tomorrow. If government funding for these programs continues to decrease, we will need to increasingly look towards corporate and community partners to continue our efforts to help our bright, talented students to reach their full potential.



MOOC Mania

March 26th, 2013 by Michael Parrish

The newest pervasive buzz acronym in Academic is MOOC, or Massive Online Open Courseware. Under the strong direction of President Mo Qayoumi, Provost Ellen Junn, and AVP for Academic Technology Catheryn Cheal, San Jose State has become an early adopter, or explorer, of the MOOC universe. The first foray into this arena involved a partnership between the College of Engineering and ED-X, the Massachusetts startup that has developed online courses with faculty at MIT, Harvard, and UC Berkeley. The SJSU Department of Electrical Engineering Course EE 98, Introduction to Circuit Analysis, was developed as a flipped course where students watched the MIT Edx online lectures for course content, and spent their class periods working together with faculty and other students on group problem solving. This approach showed dramatic improvements in student performance, with the pass rate increasing from 60% for the conventional lecture class to 81% for the flipped class, along with a 10% improvement in class test score averages.

This semester, SJSU is partnering with another MOOC Startup, Mountain View’s Udacity, to teach three classes, two from our Department of Mathematics in remedial math and introductory algebra, respectively, and a third course on introductory statistics offered through the Department of Psychology. These courses are available for both SJSU students and the general public at a reduced price for college credit, and can also be viewed for free by those who do not want to take the courses for credit.

One question that has come up often with these online classes is how this different delivery mode effects student learning. In conjunction with  the Udacity courses, we have received funding from the National Science Foundation and the Gates Foundation to assess student learning and faculty effort in this delivery mode. These studies, which will be conducted by external contractor the RP Group, will form an important part of scholarship on this emerging mode of course delivery. We are moving ahead with preparing a number of other online courses with both EdX and Udacity, with new offerings to be rolled out as soon as fall of 2013.


STEAM – Forging links between Science and the Arts

January 12th, 2013 by Michael Parrish

The acronym STEM has entered common usage for the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Recently, a variation on this theme has emerged, most commonly in K-12 education,  as STEAM, which puts the Arts into STEM. Our technology-rich world today means that those seeking success in virtually any discipline need to have some competency in STEM, and the points of conjunction between the arts and STEM are rich and plentiful. As examples. music and the visual arts are heavily grounded in mathematical and physical principles, and areas such as film, radio, television, and computer gaming are only possible through implementation of engineering principles and technology. In this post, I would like to highlight a few areas where COS faculty are forging new territory along the boundary between the arts and the sciences.

Eugene Cordero in the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science is somewhat of a poster child for interdisciplinary inquiry. In 2008, Cordero and chef Laura Stec co-authored a book entitled Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite out of Global Warming that focuses on the environmental and dietary values of dining on locally sourced foods, particularly fruits and vegetables. He was one of the driving forces behind the development of the cross-college GE course in Global Climate Change. More recently, he has initiated a program engaging students in film, art, engineering and science featuring a sustainability superhero called the Green Ninja ( The Ninja saves citizens from energy and environmental emergencies that impart sustainability lessons in the process. So far, the Ninja has appeared through computer animation, conventional animation, and live action. One of the Ninja animated films, Footprint Renovation, won a People’s Choice award at the Green Fix Flicks film festival that came with a cash award that went back into the Ninja project. Cordero also appeared on an hour long segment (with Al Gore and Virgin Air’s Richard Branson) on last November’s Online symposium: 24 Hours of Reality: The Dirty Weather Report ( This project is expanding this year to a weekly youtube television show, for which a Kickstarter Campaign is now underway:

Over in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Professor Alejandro Garcia is crossing borders through his collaborations with the SJSU animation/illustration program focusing on the Physics of Animation ( and, more recently, the optics of animation. Through these programs, Garcia has tutored animation and physics students in topics such as how far the Hulk could realistically be expected to jump within the constraints of the laws of physics and how to accurately model such as blowing hair and fire. Garcia’s work on these subjects has been supported by two National Science Foundation grants, and he spent a sabbatical last year working as physicist-in-residence for Dreamworks, earning a screen credit for the box office smash Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted for his efforts. Another physics professor, Brian Holmes, is an internationally recognized composer, as well as a performer on French horn with the Peninsula Symphony, where he is co-principal horn, as well as a member of the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra and the Menlo Brass Quartet. Holmes also teaches an extremely popular course on the Physics of Music.

Mae Jemison, who was the first African American woman astronaut in space, is also an MD and dancer. Speaking at TED 2002, She said the following: “The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin… or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they are manifestations of the same thing. The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity.” (1). I could’t agree more.




Remembering Sally Veregge

October 3rd, 2012 by Michael Parrish


Few faculty members have had as broad and deep an impact on our institution as Dr. Sally Veregge, Professor of Biological Sciences, who passed away on September 22 after a long and valiant struggle with cancer.  Sally’s commitment to the university was expressed in many facets.  She served as the chair of the Academic Senate from 2005-2006, and as Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences from 1999 to 2006. Sally believed passionately in the SJSU Mission of preparing students for exciting roles in the 21st century workforce, and was a strong guiding force behind the development of the Master’s program in Biotechnology (for which she served as program director or co-Director from 2006-2012), the Clinical Lab Sciences Program, and the Department of Biological Sciences’ Stem Cell training initiatives. All of these programs provided their graduates with rich training and valuable work experience that greatly increased their chances of finding employment on the cutting edge of their disciplines.

Sally recognized that many emerging areas in the sciences occur at the boundary between disciplines and that employers in industry value employees who have scientific expertise, the ability to work in teams, and business skills such as project management and the ability to develop compelling business plans. To that end, she was instrumental in establishing collaborations between the colleges of Science and Business for the Master’s in Biotechnology and in encouraging students from that program and elsewhere in the college to successfully compete in events such as the annual Neat Ideas Fair (now renamed the Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge).

Her own career and educational path modeled this breadth of interests. Earning a bachelor’s in Biology from UC Davis, Master’s degrees in Nursing and Biology from CSU Fresno, and a doctorate in Neuroscience from Baylor University’s College of Medicine.

Dr. Veregge also was instrumental in inspiring young women in our region to pursue education towards STEM careers, principally through her involvement in Expanding Your Horizons, an annual program that brought around 800 middle school women to campus each year to learn from campus mentors who successfully pursued careers in Science and Engineering.

Sally had many friends across campus and throughout the community. She was as active in her church and in her community as she was at SJSU. A celebration of Sally Veregge’s life will be held on October 19 from 330-530 PM in Washington Square 109.

“Big Data,” Cyber Security, and Serious Gaming

August 24th, 2012 by Michael Parrish

In the last quarter-century, digital technology has impacted all of our lives in innumerable ways.  In the 1980s, a cassette tape Sony Walkman was considered high tech, computers were the size of sewing machines or bigger, and phones were pretty much always stuck on walls and/or tethered to cords. Today I often carry at least three mobile digital devices with me, three of which connect to the Internet. At San Jose State, we live in (if I can be allowed an overused cliché) the epicenter of digital technology, and an important mission of the university, and particularly the College of Science, is to prepare our students to be not only versed in these digital technologies but to join the region’s workforce as participants in the innovation of new digital technologies. Those in historically non-information technology fields such as biology and geology today rely almost entirely on the use of computational power and the Internet for the generation of original scholarship.

In this new and constantly changing information terrain, higher education must constantly develop new programs to keep pace with emerging employment and research opportunities for our students. Currently the college is participating in the development of new programs in three broadly overlapping areas focused on digital technology – Cyber Security, Data Science (“Big Data”), and Gaming.

In the course of a decade, our reliance on the Internet and, increasingly, mobile devices such as smart phones has created very real threats to personal, corporate, and government data. One of the appeals of Cyber Crime and Cyber Terrorism is that it is a very low cost and relatively low-risk endeavor. Anyone with an internet-connected computer, the right malware, and the motivation has the potential to become a Cyber Criminal.  While we often think of Cyber Crime in terms of personal identity theft, the bigger risks involve penetrating corporate, government, or health care networks, which can provide access to sensitive data on a very large scale.

A particularly vulnerable area is the linked networks that feed into vital infrastructural systems. In a June, 2012 report, the Department of Homeland Security noted that the number of credible attacks on vital infrastructure networks such as water filtration, electricity, and nuclear power has increased over tenfold since 2009, with a total of 198 such attacks reported in 2011.  Corporate and Government entities can easily see this many attempts each day!

What this scary picture points out is that defending threats to data stored in networks is a vast problem that will not go away as long as we rely on linked data networks like the Internet.  What is a threat to personal, corporate, and government security does create is a tremendous workforce need for those capable of detecting, managing, and repelling cyber threats.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor estimates that growth in one field of cyber sleuths, network and computer systems administrators, will grow by nearly 100,000 jobs in the next two decades.  San Jose State has strong research and training expertise in several areas related to Cybersecurity, and we plan to augment our existing strengths with several hires throughout the university in 2013.

As computing speeds continue to increase and data storage becomes cheaper, those in almost any enterprise that uses computers are becoming awash in data. Storing, organizing and interpreting these increasingly vast streams of data presents challenges to those in fields as diverse as marketing, molecular biology, astrophysics, and the optimization of transportation and utility grids.  Google was one of the pioneers of starting to collect frequency of searches as data, and this type of data collection has become the backbone of other related online services such as Facebook and LinkedIn.  In the process, the science of filtering, categorizing, and acting on results of such data has become a key to monetizing such online services, as well as a very strategic tool for any entity with an online presence to use in determining when, where, and by whom their services are being accessed.  Dealing with large bodies of data has historically been the realm of statisticians and applied mathematicians, and the College of Science trains people at the undergraduate and graduate levels in both areas. However, the emerging field of Data Science involves training individuals to both learn and develop new tools for extracting useful information from large bodies of data and to effectively interpret and act on data extracted from such tools. This emerging field of Data Science is inherently interdisciplinary, and the emerging “Big Data” initiative at SJSU will again involve several colleges, as well as partnerships with a number of Bay Area firms.

Another emerging interdisciplinary area involving information technology is our Learning and Games Initiative, which involves participants from the colleges of Science, Humanities and Arts, Social Science, and Education. This program had its genesis in the SJSU  Game Development Club (, a student organization that brought together undergraduate and graduate students from Computer Science,  Art and Design, and other programs to design and play computer games under the direction of Art and Design faculty member James Morgan, who teaches gaming courses offered jointly by . At the same time, we entered discussions with several industry partners around the general topic of “Serious Gaming” and “Gamification” which both involve the adoption of gaming approaches and technologies to the worlds of Academia and Commerce. This led to discussions among the SJSU Deans that led to the establishment of a multi-departmental Learning and Games Initiative led by Dr. John Murray of the SRI Computer Science Laboratory, who has extensive experience in the study of learning through the use of games.

Obviously, there are broad overlaps among these three areas, in addition to the overlap between disciplines that present themselves within each field.  The initiatives in all three areas are all in their early stages of development, but each will provide new learning opportunities for our students as well as points of collaboration between regional industries, government agencies, and our students and staff.

On Friday, September 14, SJSU will be sponsoring the Edward Oates Symposium, entitled “Security in the Cyber Age.” This daylong event will feature keynote speakers Mark Weatherford (Deputy Undersecretary for Cyber Security, US Department of Homeland Security), Warren Yu (Chief Learning Officer, Naval Postgraduate School), and Leonard Napalitano (Sandia Labs). The event is free, but registration is required at