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.

“Big Data,” Cyber Security, and Serious Gaming

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


Congratulations to our COS Faculty!

Welcome to the inaugural post in the College of Science Blog. I plan to use this as a vehicle to comment regularly on news within our college and how it is impacting Silicon Valley, the state, and the world. We will be continuing the Scientist Newsletter (with a new issue hopefully coming out early this summer), but I saw value in having a mechanism to report news on a more regular and timely basis as well.

In this time of budgetary uncertainty in the CSU, the faculty in the College of Science continue to excel. I wanted to take the opportunity in my initial post on this new COS blog to share some remarkable accomplishments from our faculty in the last few months. Bear in mind that this list of accomplishments is not comprehensive, and most of our faculty publish and seek (and receive) extramural funding on a regular basis.

Craig Clements in the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science was recognized as the outstanding young investigator by the San Jose State University Research Foundation in 2010-2011, and had brought in roughly $2.3 M in external funding since arriving at SJSU in 2007. Craig recently received the highly prestigious CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, which recognizes early career investigators who the agency feels have the potential to make significant contributions in their fields. The Award will provide Clements an additional $800K in research funding spread over five years to pursue his work involving the study of how fires affect weather patterns. Only 8 SJSU faculty have received NSF career awards, with the other two recipients from the College of Science being Eugene Cordero, also from the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, and Ferdie Rivera from the Department of Mathematics.

Lionel Cheruzel from the Department of Chemistry was recently named one of this year’s outstanding Young Researchers by the SJSU Research Foundation. Dr. Cheruzel has brought in $480K in grants in his three years at SJSU, and runs a busy lab with nine research students (eight undergraduates and one graduate). Cheruzel’s area of study is enzyme Cytochrome P540, which has the distinctive property of being able to oxidize an unactivated carbon-hydrogen bond. Elsewhere in the Department of Chemistry, Dr. Joseph Pesek recently celebrated the publication of his 200th scholarly paper, a milestone achieved by few of his peers.

In Biological Sciences, Drs. Julio Soto, Miri van Hoven, and Rachael French recently received word that their proposal to procure a Confocal Microscope for SJSU was funded by the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrument program. Confocal microscopes allow researchers to extract digitally sliced images from intact cells and have a variety of biological, chemical, and biotechnological applications.

Dr. Jon Hendricks of the Department of Geology was also recently awarded a National Science Foundation research grant focusing on digitizing fossil organisms as a mechanism to better understand their biogrographic distributions. This is a large-scale collaborative project that also involves colleagues at the University of Kansas and Ohio University. Geology/Science Education Professor Paula Messina spent a year on a Difference in Pay leave during which she was part of the team doing the extremely important task of revising the national Science Standards for K-12 Education.

Michael Kaufman, Professor and Chair in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, was named the 2011-2012 SJSU President’s Scholar. Kaufman, who also chaired the Academic Senate from 2009-20011, has over 30 refereed publications, and his chief research focus is modeling the early evolution of stars.

The May 11 issue of Science Magazine (v. 336, pp.  664-65) highlighted the research of another outstanding COS Faculty Member, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories’ Nick Welschmeyer. For the last two years, Dr. Welschmeyer has been part of an international team that is one of several groups studying the best ways to treat ballast water expelled from oceangoing vessels. Large cargo ships rely on a significant amount of ballast water to provide weight to stabilize their hulls, but the ballast water, pumped in where the ship begins its voyage, carries with it a significant biotic load along with the water. When the ship in question is making a transoceanic voyage, the expelled water often carries with it species that are not native to the ship’s final destination.

Finally, we have concluded a successful round of recruitments within the department that will bring seven new faculty members to the College of Science this fall. In the Department of Biological Sciences, microbiologist Betsy Skrovan will be joining us from the University of Washington and neurophysiologist Katie Wilkinson will be arriving from Emory University. Skrovan received her Ph.D from UC San Diego and Wilkinson received hers from the University of Wisconsin. The Department of Mathematics is welcoming biostatistician Andrea Gottlieb, who is finishing her doctorate from UC Davis this summer. The Department of Physics and Astronomy has recruited Dr. Aaron Romanowsky, who received his doctorate from Harvard and is currently with the University of California Observatories in Santa Cruz. They also hired condensed matter physicist Dr. Ranko Heindl, who received his doctorate from the University of South Florida and is coming to us from the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Colorado. Finally, we are welcoming two faculty members to augment our expertise in STEM Education, with joint appointments in the Science Education program and COS departments. Cassandra Paul is finishing her doctorate at the University of California Davis this summer, studying modes of learning and their assessment in core physics classes.  Elly Walsh just defended her dissertation at the University of Washington, and studies climate change education. We are indeed fortunate to welcome this outstanding group of newcomers, who I fully expect to match the high standards of scholarly achievement set by our current faculty.