College of Science Student Discoveries in the News

I am happy to report that some of the best news coming out of San Jose State this summer has involved students in the College of Science. In the Department of Physics and Astronomy, undergraduate students  Richard Vo and Michael Sandoval made headlines when it was announced that ech of them had discovered  previously unknown  ultracompact dwarf galaxies.  Both  students are doing research with Assistant Professor Aaron Romanowsky, whose research focus is computational astrophysics.   Vo, the youngest of 10 children from a South San Jose family,  was already a physics major when he took Romanowsky’s computational methods class. He was enthralled by the use of digital data to solve astronomical problems and approached Romanowsky about doing research under his guidance.  The first problem Romanowsky tasked Vo with was using computational data to locate a very dense galaxy that Romanowsky and a research team had been studying. Vo completed that task and, in the process, discovered a previously undetected ultra-compact galaxy even denser than the one his faculty mentor was working on. Last spring, Vo was able to visit the Keck Observatory in Hawaii to view his discovery directly.

Sandoval, who was taking Romanowsky’s class with Vo, was excited by his colleague’s discovery and asked if he too could enter the hunt. After going through the same steep learning curve Vo experienced mastering the computational astrophysics software, Sandoval, beyond all expectations, located another galaxy even more compact than the one Vo found. Finding such a singular astronomical object could easily be the crowning moment of an astronomer’s career. To have two undergraduate research students succeed in finding hyperdense galaxies is a testament to Romanowsky’s skills as a research mentor and to the determination and persistence of his two students. The trio are currently collaborating on a research paper to share their results with the astronomical committee. Vo started this fall as a graduate student at San Francisco State while Sandoval is currently finishing up his program here at SJSU.

Over at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, graduate student Paul Clerkin has been getting international notice for making a series of very different discoveries. Working under Dr. David Ebert at the Pacific Shark Research Center, Clerkin has done extsnsive field work in the Indian Ocean looking for previously unknown shark species.  His first season yielded eight new species, and he anticipates that at least three will come from the second voyage last summer. Clerkin, who grew up watching the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, has now emerged as a very articulate and enthusiastic shark hunter on the same channel, and he was featured earlier this month in a front page article in the San Jose Mercury News.

Both of these stories emphasize the importance of student research at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and the importance of our faculty’s roles as research mentors. Not only do their research programs inform their teaching and contribute significantly to the body of reasearh in their chosen fields,  but they also provide inspiration and opportunities for the scientists of the future we train here in the College of Science.

Our Remarkable MARC, LSAMP, and RISE students

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

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

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


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.