Spartan Recreation and Aquatic Center Achieves LEED Gold Certification

Night shot of the SRAC pool and exterior building.

Spartan Recreation and Aquatic Center Photo: Kevin Korczyk

For its energy efficiency and green building sustainability achievements, the Student Union at SJSU Spartan Recreation and Aquatic Center (SRAC) received confirmation of its LEED Gold Certification on October 8.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)—the world standard for green buildings—is a certified rating system offered through the US Green Building Council. SRAC’s LEED Gold certification marks its superior achievement of numerous sustainable and environmental stewardship measures. For example, SRAC met USGBC’s world-class standards for energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, and indoor environmental quality.

Traci Ferdolage, senior associate vice president for Facilities Development and Operations (FD&O), said “SRAC is a beautiful building and an amazing asset for the campus and the community. But it’s always extra special when we can attain a level of sustainability that contributes over time to our goals around having a lighter footprint. Achieving a LEED Gold certification certainly is something we can point to that aligns with campus and CSU goals around achieving carbon neutrality, as we move forward in the future.”

Tamsen Burke, executive director of the Student Union, Inc. at SJSU who oversees SRAC, Provident Credit Union Event Center, and the Campion Diaz Student Union, said, “Leading the industry in sustainability practices, building construction and design allows us to minimize our carbon footprint by reducing energy, lower operating costs, and creating a healthy environment for the recruitment and retention of employees and prospective students to SJSU.

Ashraf Fouad, FD&O senior director of planning, design and construction, said the long process of achieving the distinction was much more complex than is commonly understood. “LEED Gold certification is not as simple as people might think,” Fouad said. His team examined everything from choosing flooring materials that don’t release volatile organic chemicals to planning an efficient HVAC system for cooling large spaces. “I want to highlight that it’s not easy to do,” he emphasized. “Every decision affects the target.”

LEED certification requires not just green design, but meticulous attention at each stage of construction, Fouad said. Even the handling of the building’s waste construction materials—leftover bits of two-by-four or sheet metal, for example—must be precisely accounted for. Details like vehicle miles driven while disposing of construction waste are counted. The LEED certification process tracked sustainability practices from design through construction, Fouad said. “You have to maintain it throughout, with checkpoints every single step of the way.” Fouad credited “the willingness of our design and construction partners” for their persistence during the process. To win LEED Gold, he said, exhaustive documentation of each sustainability measure is essential, “because maybe you’re doing it—but if you’re not documenting it, it’s not counted.”

The interior of the SRAC with curving blue, grey and gold ceiling with workout equipment on the floor.

Spartan Recreation and Aquatic Center interior Photo: Kevin Korczyk

Numerous credits toward the Gold certification were awarded in the indoor environmental quality category for SRAC features such as outdoor air delivery monitoring, air circulation, and minimizing dust. Fouad said large gymnasium spaces were challenging because “people generate a lot of heat, playing basketball and so on. We did computer modeling of where that heat is, where you can push and extract air.” Ventilation systems were sited based on the model. Ferdolage said SRAC’s ventilation design efficiently moved warm air away, taking advantage of natural heat flows. Exterior wall vents draw in outside air, and destratification ceiling fans help keep temperature consistent. “It takes a lot of creativity,” she said.

The project received points for its half-mile proximity to public transportation and its accommodations for bicycle parking and storage. Lights activated by motion sensors reduce wasted electricity. Showers and bathroom facilities were designed for water efficiency. To top it off, SRAC’s special roof has a high solar reflectance index—reflecting more than 75 percent of sunshine that hits it—keeping it cooler on the inside. Moreover, Ferdolage said, its roof is an example of how SRAC planners thought carefully about ongoing life cycle costs, with an eye to future savings.

“When they constructed the building, they made it solar ready,” Ferdolage said.  “We just now learned of our LEED certification, but through a separate project we’re already starting to install PV panels. The campus didn’t just think about LEED rating points; we plumbed it for future solar, which also demonstrates our commitment to sustainability overall. It’s a wonderful use of that flat roof to further decrease our carbon footprint.” Ferdolage said she was pleased to pass by recently and see workers “on the roof tugging some panels around.” Sustainability improvements are ongoing.

Fouad said, “Our campus user group, stakeholders from the Student Union and others, were very supportive of making the goal a reality.”

Ferdolage said any new CSU building must now achieve LEED Silver equivalency status—but the SRAC planners aspired for more. By achieving Gold, the team far exceeded the CSU minimum. “It demonstrates a commitment by the campus to ensure that it’s taking steps to achieve our carbon neutrality goals,” Ferdolage said. “Not every project in the CSU ends up LEED Gold. It takes a client and a campus valuing the goal. It took leadership and desire. It’s not easy to achieve these levels of certification while also managing a project that meets the budget. It’s something we’re quite proud of.”

“It’s a healthy building,” Fouad said. “You will be healthier inside that building, using it or breathing the air inside. That’s very important, because you will feel it.”

“As operators and managers of SRAC, one of our main responsibilities once you receive the LEED Gold standard is to continue to maintain the life of the building to that standard,” Burke said. “Moreover, strategically, it is how we complement the overall CSU and university sustainability plan which provides a healthier space for students and for the environment.”

LEED-certified buildings not only save resources, they save money and offer the university many economic benefits. From 2015–2018, LEED-certified buildings worldwide saved an estimated $1.2 billion in energy savings, $149.5 million in water savings, $715.3 million in maintenance savings, and $54.2 million in waste savings. Reduced energy use means green buildings also reduce carbon emissions, to help protect the climate. A USGBC scorecard details each LEED points-winning category the SRAC was awarded.

“My hat’s off to the entire SJSU team that worked on this important project,” Ferdolage said, “and for delivering a facility that not only exceeds the CSU goals but also is sustainable into the future with regard to its operation and maintenance lifecycle.”

Fouad added, “As an educational institution, we’re proud that we’re actually practicing what we’re teaching. We teach students how to do better, more thoughtful engineering—of buildings or roads or what have you. So we’re actually practicing that as well.”

Senior Utilities and Sustainability Analyst Debbie Andres said, “the great thing about LEED certification for any of our buildings is that it allows a broad campus coalition to be involved with implementing sustainability at the facility level. Not only is the building an amazing achievement on its own, but we ensured that the building functions as an integral part of the sustainability mission of the whole campus. For example, shower facilities and bike storage are available to our students, faculty and staff to complement biking to campus efforts. Recycled water usage was expanded to use for irrigation and will be used in toilets. Educational materials and signage will be available for students to learn about environmentally friendly buildings. And construction waste was virtually all diverted, contributing to our zero waste efforts. We even show that green cleaning procedures that are in place for the campus are in place for the SRAC.”

A 128,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility for reaching and maintaining fitness goals, SRAC has three full-court gyms for basketball, volleyball, badminton and more, four fitness studios, an indoor track, a climbing wall and bouldering area, and a 50-meter lap pool. SRAC’s Gold certification recognized not only its electricity savings, water savings and maintenance savings—but also the design innovations that amplify the sensory human experience of using the space.

Research Shows Lockdowns Did Not Decrease Park Visits

A single white crane stands in the middle of a brownish grassy field with a lake path curving behind.

Photo: Robert Bain / San José State University.

Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning Ahoura Zandiatashbar scoured publicly available data and found that although we have limited our visits to stores, Americans are still visiting parks and beaches at near pre-pandemic rates.

In the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, Zandiatashbar—a newly hired faculty member in SJSU’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning in the College of Social Sciences—published a study he co-authored with Shima Hamidi, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Using publicly available data, Zandiatashbar and Hamidi looked at millions of trips in 771 counties. Their model studied the period when the COVID-19 pandemic reduced daily visits to grocery stores, pharmacies and transit stations. They found that people visited “essential” destinations such as grocery stores 13 percent less frequently, yet they did not shy away from visiting parks and beaches.

“It gives us a clue that parks are quite important, because people are not reducing their visits,” Zandiatashbar said. “Staying at home increases anxiety. To reduce it, people are relying more and more on park facilities.”

People in more densely populated areas significantly reduced their trips to stores, but not to outdoor spaces—“possibly due to the smaller homes, lack of private yards and the higher level of anxiety amid the pandemic,” the study found. Residents who lived near restaurants may also have more affordable ways to order home delivery online. Reduced in-person shopping leaves time for more frequent park visits, Zandiatashbar said.

Zandiatashbar and Hamidi examined areas based on “compactness”—a measure of four factors: population density, land use, activity centering (how spread out activities are) and walkability. Over the years, compact, dense walkable residential development has been demonstrated to have multiple health benefits. However, the COVID-19 pandemic had some people questioning whether high population densities would be associated with increased viral transmission. “From day one of COVID-19,” Zandiatashbar said, “there was a perception that urban density spreads the virus, but multiple research studies show that urban density was not positively associated with spread of virus, which was interesting.” Residents of less dense areas may consolidate trips, making rarer visits to a single big-box store for grocery, pharmacy and other purchases—but they may also take fewer precautions.

Zandiatashbar and Hamidi surmise why people in denser areas might not necessarily be spreading the virus more widely. “Residents of dense areas have a greater exposure to first-hand information about the susceptibility to the virus,” the study reads. “Knowing people who are being infected is a more powerful force in following social distancing advisories than just hearing about the disease from the media outlets.”

“This finding shows the need for a closer attention to parks,” Zandiatashbar said. During stay-at-home orders, policy should support public use of parks and beaches, while maintaining precautions to prevent them from becoming spreader places, he said. “Local authorities need to be aware that people are going to visit parks more often. Therefore, they have to increase the infrastructure in the parks to make sure that social distancing is being maintained,” Zandiatashbar said.

COVID-19 notwithstanding, he said, “Public parks are a public health resource and great assets in the community. During shelter in place, we saw that park visits are more important than ever and necessary for mental health.”

NPR’s Marketplace reported that steady, intensive public visits to parks now add costs to the strained budgets of the local governments tasked with the additional expense of sanitizing and cleaning them.

“Our policy suggestion includes public education on how to use parks during lockdown or shelter in place. When we saw the results we were happy that people are trying to get some relief from stress. There’s a need for more public education and public information on how to use parks during this time.”

Zandiatashbar is an expert in mining geospatial data, locating patterns such as those found here. The publicly available Google data was based on anonymized mobility information from millions of Android, iPhone and Google Maps users.

Frequently partnering with local communities, Zandiatashbar has published widely on the impact of urban development on the knowledge economy. His research aims to provide data analysis that assists communities with better decision making.
 

SJSU Recognized as Adobe Creative Campus

A female and make student smile while admiring graphic design posters lined up on the wall.

Students look at graphic design posters on the wall prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Jim Gensheimer / San José State University.

San José State University has been named an Adobe Creative Campus for its commitment to using technology to provide students with a transformative path to success.

SJSU is among a select group of colleges and universities Adobe identified as higher education innovators actively advancing digital literacy skills across the curriculum. By making Adobe Creative Cloud available to its students, SJSU provides creative and persuasive digital communication tools that will give them an edge in the competitive modern workplace.

“San José State is honored to be recognized by Adobe as a Creative Campus,” said Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, Vincent J. Del Casino Jr. “There is nothing more important in today’s world than creative and digital literacy. By providing our students with access to these creative software tools, we can enable them to do wonderful things in the digital world, but also to gain expertise at productive collaboration. Being named an Adobe Creative Campus is one of the many puzzle pieces we are putting in place to ensure that SJSU students can take advantage of as many opportunities as possible.”

SJSU students have access to all the Adobe Creative Cloud apps and services at no additional cost. Universal access to these industry leading communication tools is part of SJSU’s endeavor to prioritize equity and inclusion, leveling the playing field in the classroom. By becoming proficient in the software used every day by so many employers, SJSU students can gain valuable experience and soft skills to better demonstrate their digital literacy capabilities when entering the job market.

There are more than 20 Adobe Creative Cloud applications that students can practice with every day, including InDesign, Photoshop, Premiere Rush and Illustrator—leading industry standard applications across the curriculum used by many employers where SJSU students will be working.

“Digital literacy and fluency are quickly becoming core competencies for employment opportunities on an international scale,” said Sebastian Distefano, director, education strategic development. “One of the most effective ways academic institutions can ensure their students become digitally literate and fluent before they enter the competitive workforce is through early and frequent exposure to creative tools. We are delighted that San José State University has embraced Adobe Creative Cloud, as students will now have the tools they need to seamlessly unlock their creativity and share their stories in more visually compelling ways. As a result, students of all majors can nurture the fundamental soft skills that will be critical to success in their future careers.”

As an Adobe Creative Campus, San Jose State University will also have access to peer-to-peer collaboration with other Adobe Creative Campus institutions, support for driving student adoption in the classroom, and thought leadership opportunities within the global higher education community.

John Delacruz Named as a 2020 Adobe Master Teacher

Professor John Delacruz gestures with his hands while teaching his class.

John Delacruz teaches a course prior to COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Jim Gensheimer / San José State University

Associate Professor John Delacruz was included as one of Adobe’s inaugural Master Teachers, one of 35 educators in K-12 and higher education selected from across the globe. The program recognizes pedagogical expertise, educational innovation, and a commitment by “master teachers” to share their best practices, insights, and curricular materials with educators across the globe. The summer program included a professional learning community within the cohort, training on instructional design and professional curriculum writing, and a badge to share on professional profiles.

An experienced educator in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Delacruz is responsible for the Creative Track of San José State’s advertising program. The fellowship recognizes his expertise in using Adobe Creative Cloud in his teaching, his ongoing development of industry and education partnerships, and his success guiding student collaborative projects nationally and internationally.

Delacruz said, “The collaboration tools, Adobe Creative Cloud, that I’m using in the classroom now are the collaboration tools that they’re going to be using when they get out into the working world.”

Last spring, in Delacruz’s senior capstone course in design for advertising, students created awareness campaigns for a local business or local nonprofit organization. Using the Adobe Creative Cloud, students make real-world advertising creative projects and pitch them to real clients. Delacruz said the projects his seniors did in class matched how they will work once they start their jobs.

“For a lot of my students, this is such a big taste of the real world,” Delacruz said. “They’re learning a bunch of digital tools they’re going to have to use to move forward. They get to present orally, they ideate and collaborate in teams, and they work through a problem using critical thinking and understanding user groups and people.

“Adobe Creative Cloud is what industries are built on,” he said. “Even in this online moment, our students are learning skills that are really going to help them in the workplace.”

Delacruz has been a campus and statewide leader in using Adobe communication tools to augment his teaching. Last year, SJSU hosted a unique virtual Adobe Creative Jam with participants from seven other California State Universities.

All of these partnering initiatives are part of the connection that becoming an Adobe Creative Campus brings with it. SJSU collaboration with other Adobe Creative Campus institutions is designed to foster the sharing of ideas and innovations that expand digital literacy on the path to student success.

SJSU Clinical Lab Scientist Training Program Expands in a Crisis

A professor in a lab coat watches her student conduct research in a lab.

Photo: Robert Bain / San José State University.

Waiting on medical test results can be unpleasant, and the expansion of San José State’s Clinical Laboratory Scientist Training program could reduce those painful wait times. By building new hospital partnerships, the program serves as a crucial component in California’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

From Bakersfield to Chico, from Oroville to Newport Beach—across the state, 38 hospitals,  laboratories and medical centers are now state-approved SJSU affiliates, partnering with the university to train clinical laboratory scientists and get them to work where they are desperately needed.

“California has a shortage of clinical laboratory scientists,” said Michael Bowling, director of the Clinical Laboratory Scientist (CLS) and Clinical Genetic Molecular Biology Scientist (CGMBS) Training programs. “People are coming to us.”

SJSU is the largest training program in California in number of hospital affiliates, many of which serve rural populations. At those affiliates, the CLS trainees take SJSU coursework remotely and train in laboratories throughout the state. Within one year, they can earn a state CLS license and get to work, easing the laboratory staffing crisis.

A student in a lab coat and goggles dispenses liquid into a test tube.

Photo: Robert Bain / San José State University.

CLSs examine the sample taken at your medical facility after you have blood drawn, for example. “They’re the ones running the tests. They are licensed by the State of California to perform the highest complexity testing,” said Bowling. That might mean differentiating types of cancer cells or identifying COVID-19.

Together, Bowling and longtime program coordinator Sharlene Washington run the program. “We send 50 licensed CLSs into the workforce every year,” Bowling said, “which is especially important when qualified hospital professionals are needed more than ever.” Since Bowling began as program director in 2018, the program has added five new affiliates—which means arranging contracts, insurance, state approval and many other complex, time-intensive challenges. “We’re really proud of that,” he said.

Students who are accepted to the program do their SJSU coursework remotely on Mondays, then train the rest of the week on site at their local affiliate laboratory or medical center. Such locations include Adventist Health Bakersfield, Natividad Medical Center in Salinas, El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San José. Bowling said the course instructors are also practicing clinical laboratory scientists from all over the Bay Area, experts in the latest techniques and methods.

Each six-month cycle the SJSU program receives about 140 applications. A cohort of about 25 accepted students will then study and train for 52 consecutive weeks to meet State of California requirements. Students who complete the graduate level program may then obtain national certification from the American Society for Clinical Pathology and a California Clinical Laboratory Scientist license.

“It’s quite rigorous,” Bowling said. To become licensed, CLS trainees must master every laboratory in the hospital—microbiology, hematology, chemistry, immunology. “They’ll have a basic competency to perform any of the tests a doctor may order,” he said.

At orientation, Bowling tells new CLS trainees, “If you love working in a laboratory, if you love science—that’s enough, as it is. But it’s such a bonus that we get to help people too. And with starting salaries of $50 an hour, CLS is a good career choice.”

“What’s unique about our program is that we have a lot of remote affiliates,” Bowling said. “Hospitals all over the state have staffing shortages, so it is appealing to both urban and rural hospitals that students can take classes online while training anywhere in the state. Hospital administrators are reaching out to us to train more students right now during this crisis.” The result? More opportunities for students, more university revenue, and training more clinical laboratory scientists for the workforce.

Bowling said the CLS program was scaling up while other programs, hindered by the pandemic and campus closures, had suspended training. “We are still trucking along and actually expanding during the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “Our students are working with our hospital affiliates’ doctors and other laboratory professionals to get patients diagnosed and treated, and it is very rewarding to be part of this great work.”

Urban and Regional Planning Department Chair to Lead a National Professional Organization

Laxmi Ramasubramanian in a black blazer and white top smiling.

Photo: Robert Bain / San José State University.

Professor Laxmi Ramasubramanian, chair of the SJSU Department of Urban and Regional Planning, was elected vice president and president-elect of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP).

ACSP, a consortium of more than 100 university departments and programs offering planning degrees, is a scholarly association dedicated “to promoting the field of planning as a diverse global community that works collectively toward healthy, equitable and sustainable neighborhoods, cities and regions,” according to its website.

Ramasubramanian described taking an ACSP leadership position as a “personal calling.” She said she felt now was a good time to help shape how planning professionals do their work because the current era demanded more active promotion of the values she teaches her students to keep forefront.

“My area of research is participatory planning,” Ramasubramanian explained. “I use every opportunity, whether in service, teaching or research, to think about process issues. Planning is about thinking about the future. To me, the governing board of the planning association should reflect the ethos of the field: Our processes should be transparent, accountable, participatory, engaged—all the things we want our public planners to do.”

Ramasubramanian said once the thought of contributing to her profession’s national leadership entered her head, she could not dismiss it. “I’ve been thinking this summer about the national mood,” she said, “which has refocused our attention to inequality in city after city, community after community. So I was struggling with this as an individual. And often I find that I need to be with other people to make change.”

Ramasubramanian said important structural changes could rarely be made by individuals alone, but only in concert with others. “We can’t do what we need to do by ourselves, and we shouldn’t try to do it by ourselves. How can we work in partnership with groups of people to create the kind of transformation they’re aspiring for?” Mulling that over led her to seek her new leadership position.

Ramasubramanian will serve as vice president through 2021, after which she advances automatically to president for the term 2021-2023.

“My goal is to spend this year really listening to the interest groups that are part of our association and who share the same anxieties and fears and mood that is going on around the country,” she said.

A professional organization undergoes the same struggles happening outside it, she said. Ramasubramanian said her role would be to actively support planning faculty and students who are Black, indigenous or people of color through both policy and action. “We’re a good organization,” she said. “We’ve always said the words. An academic organization with our heart in the right place. But that’s not enough right now. That’s what the world is telling us: It’s not enough.”

As a public university, SJSU is accountable to a wide range of people. “At public universities we have a teaching mission,” she said. “We are preparing planning professionals who go out in the world and solve the difficult problems of climate change and environmental degradation, build resilient and inclusive communities, fix our transportation problems. So I’m really proud of the work that universities like ours do.” Ramasubramanian said she hoped to represent the voices of public universities in the ACSP governing board. You have to have diverse points of view in the room to change the conversation.”

SJSU offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in geography and an accredited master’s of urban planning degree—the only programs of their kind in Silicon Valley. The department’s diverse student population includes working students who prefer to attend the program on a part-time basis—a rare opportunity, given that few fully accredited master’s in urban planning programs offer graduate students an entirely part-time option. Emphasizing experiential learning and career preparation, the department’s faculty members teach about architecture, communication, economics, history, public policy, and sociology. Through public service projects, students assist local communities in addressing topical planning issues. SJSU has excelled in the field of urban planning since 1970.

College of Social Sciences Dean Walter Jacobs said, “Laxmi was outstanding in her first year as the chair of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, so I was not surprised to learn that she was selected as vice president of a national organization. I have absolutely no doubts about her ability to thrive as the vice president and then president of ACSP while she continues to excel as a department chair.”

Ramasubramanian said she saw this step as part and parcel of the university’s larger mission. “I’ve chosen a narrow pathway to have an impact—trying to serve my peers in the academy, a membership organization of university people—but the work that we do, the professors, is hugely important because we impact young people,” she said. “One reason I’m at San José State is that here we can see so clearly how education is the pathway to transformation. The education you receive at SJSU prepares you to move in your career, your life, to move your family and your community to the next aspirational goals you set for yourself, whatever they may be.”

Patricia Backer Receives 2020 CSU Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award

Professor of Technology Patricia Backer.

2020 CSU Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award recipient: Professor of Technology Patricia Backer. Photo: Robert C. Bain

In her 30 years in the technology field, Professor of Technology Patricia Backer has been leading and innovating by enabling San José State to do difficult things in a smarter way.

For her achievements, the California State University Chancellor’s Office awarded Backer the 2020 Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award.

The gist of her first innovation: Studies show freshmen tend to stick around for sophomore year when they make friends in their classes as first-year students. Backer led the building of a straightforward—but complex to implement—solution to make that happen.

The Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award “acknowledges faculty members who have demonstrated leadership to improve student success and outcomes in courses with traditionally low success rates or persistent equity gaps.”

Project Succeed: A Novel Path to Improving Retention

The award recognizes Backer’s most recent work on a campus-wide initiative called Project Succeed, funded by a five-year, multimillion-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Backer’s innovative vision—and her talent for interdisciplinary cross-campus teamwork—has improved SJSU’s five-year graduation and retention rates and closed the achievement gap for underrepresented students across all majors.

Director of Student Success Services Cynthia Kato wrote in her nomination letter that Backer’s work led to a “dramatic increase in student success at San José State. Her creativity, dedication, support and guidance in this endeavor exemplify the principles of the Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award.”

The core tool Backer championed was block scheduling of freshmen. Starting in fall 2015, every freshman engineer and business major had extended chances to meet people in classes they shared, such as COMM 20. A peer mentor program, living learning communities, a First Year Experience and other mechanisms further supported freshmen. The scheme soon spread to computer science, biology and other departments. For many students—especially first-generation college students or those typically underrepresented in universities—connecting with peers became a support system that allowed more of them to make it to graduation.

Kato wrote that, “Each year students who were part of the block scheduling group showed higher retention rates.” Students admitted to the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering in fall 2014 had a four-year graduation rate of 11 percent, while the four-year graduation rate for those admitted in fall 2015 was 18 percent. The Lucas College and Graduate School of Business saw four-year graduation rates for those cohorts leap from 29 percent to 40 percent. A dramatic improvement, thanks to a subtle but effective innovation.

“Now almost all freshmen at SJSU are block scheduled and take classes with students from their own major,” Backer said. “That’s been our biggest success, and it started with this project.”

Department of Aviation and Technology Chair Fred Barez praised Backer’s contributions. “Through her effort, we blocked freshmen in dormitories and tried to group them so they would be taking the same calculus class, for example. She’s been receiving excellent recommendations for what she has been doing for the college, improving the retention rate and graduation rate. Our engineering students may be in different disciplines within engineering, but they can make friends and they can actually work together.”

College of Social Sciences Dean Walt Jacobs, one of Backer’s nominators, wrote: “One aspect of Project Succeed that doesn’t get a lot of attention but is quite the accomplishment is Pat’s ability to convince stakeholders from units across the university to come to the table to collaboratively design and implement best practices for student success. There were both technical and philosophical hurdles to the implementation of block scheduling for incoming freshmen, but Pat patiently worked with volunteers to implement it. She has done a great job of showing faculty and staff why blocked scheduling is beneficial for our students.”

“I was so touched by what Walt Jacobs wrote [in his nomination letter],” Backer said. “My job on these projects is to get them done, get them working. Anytime I have a project, I just try to do my best.”

Integrating Equity and Social Good into Engineering

Another innovation Backer helped implement involved a complex restructuring of engineering graduation requirements—with the goal of helping engineers recognize the cultural ripples that fan out from the solutions and products they will design and build.

When the CSU adjusted graduation requirements in 2013, Backer and her colleagues  came up with a solution that met the new standard and simultaneously elevated social awareness to the forefront of engineering education at SJSU.

“We decided to integrate our senior project classes with our advanced general education coursework,” Backer said. Engineers look at design through a lens of social and equity issues, first in the U.S. and then globally. Their senior engineering projects  directly address social needs they identified after learning about such issues. Projects have included a smart bicycle trailer, a portable UV tracker to fight skin cancer, and an electronic cane to help the visually impaired navigate. Today, in most of the engineering disciplines at SJSU, future engineers are looking not only at the how, but the why.

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), the national accreditor of collegiate engineering programs, “really loved this,” Backer said. “They want engineers to think about their projects as situated in social issues and people issues.”

Davidson College of Engineering Dean Sheryl Ehrman said, “SJSU students are well known and sought after for their effective transition to the workforce and to grad school. Employers and Ph.D.-granting programs, as well as our own students, greatly benefit from Pat’s efforts to place engineering in a societal context.”

Recognition for Innovation and Leadership

CSU Chancellor Timothy White announced the award on August 24. The faculty-led selection committee reviewed more than 120 nominations before choosing Backer. Only one faculty member from each CSU campus may be selected each year. Backer will receive a $5,000 cash award and $10,000 allocated to her academic department.

During her 30 years at SJSU, Backer has served in faculty governance, enriched student success and, in 2011, won the SJSU Distinguished Service Award. Still instructing undergrads, Backer teaches a class each year. This fall, it’s TECH 198: Technology and Civilization, which she conducts remotely. Her involvement in teaching about the internet—going back to the early 1990s and Apple’s Hypercard—precedes the World Wide Web. Technology offers lessons Backer wants today’s SJSU engineering students to understand.

“No one sits down and invents things for no reason,” Backer said. “There’s something motivating them to make that invention.”

Learn Anywhere Website Launched to Aid Student Success

student working remotely on his laptop.

Student working remotely.

On August 6, San José State University launched Learn Anywhere—a website to help students better adapt to the hybrid teaching and learning model for the upcoming fall 2020 semester that consists of mostly online learning.

The Learn Anywhere site—the third in a trio of help and instruction websites—joins Work Anywhere and Teach Anywhere, which were created last spring to assist staff and faculty members transitioning to sheltering in place.

Learn Anywhere offers students a readiness questionnaire, basic tips to get started, guides to Zoom mastery, help navigating Canvas—and even what to do if students don’t have reliable Wi-Fi access at home, or need a loaner laptop. The Learn Anywhere site also has many easy-to-find tips on how to access other SJSU resources available to students, including:

  • Academic support, like the Writing Center, Accessible Education Center and Career Center
  • Advising Hub
  • Campus Life’s rich range of virtual opportunities to join in and connect
  • Financial Aid and SJSU Cares
  • How to use the library remotely

Learn Anywhere provides a “one-stop shop” where students can find information about technology needs, using online tools and campus resources like student centers, activities and events.

Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Vincent J. Del Casino, Jr., said the Learn Anywhere website “helps students tap in and figure things out: How do I connect to tutoring? How do I connect to other success programs?”

Melinda Jackson, associate dean for undergraduate education, said, “We are excited to roll out Learn Anywhere for our students. Online learning is a new experience for many, and we want to make sure that students know about all of the resources the university is offering this fall.

“We recognize that online learning brings new challenges,” Jackson said. “Our faculty and staff members have been working hard all summer to reimagine and revamp what we do to offer an excellent educational experience for all.”

Last spring—when sheltering in place threw everything into a whirl—eCampus launched Teach Anywhere, a rich resource to help faculty members find what they needed. “It was a whole campus team effort getting that up,” said Jennifer Redd, director of eCampus. “This was truly a cross-campus collaborative effort to design and develop,” Redd said. Together, Learn Anywhere and Teach Anywhere curate resources, provide tips and offer guidance for teaching and learning online.

In addition to pointing students toward upcoming workshops, the Learn Anywhere site also displays numerous helpful recorded tutorials, such as tips on how to go beyond Zoom basics. A simple video tutorial explains how to share videos within Canvas. Another reminds students that, with access to the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of tools, they’re able to practice making polished, professional-quality presentations.

The homepage also features personal tips offered by undergraduate and graduate students on strategies they use to succeed in learning remotely.

Sumeet Suhas Deshpande, a current student who helped the eCampus staff design and produce Learn Anywhere, said in an email that he hoped the site would make for “a smooth and efficient online learning experience in the semesters to come. Learn Anywhere is primarily built to cater to the needs of students who are not so well-versed with technology and software applications and are new to online learning.” Deshpande said he intended to use the very site he helped create to better manage his own time and studies, learn how other students were coping and succeeding, and connect with peers. As a student himself, Deshpande said he and the team had put a great deal of thought into “building the website with the end user’s perspective, as that is what matters the most.”

“We hope that students will bookmark the Learn Anywhere site and visit it often throughout the semester,” Jackson said. “We are all on this online journey together and want this site to help students connect to the Spartan community and find the support they need.”

Diversity in STEM Master’s Degrees Recognized

Professor sits with science students in lab.

Photo courtesy of Miri VanHoven.

The July 23 issue of Diverse Issues in Higher Education highlighted a list of institutions that best produce minority post-baccalaureate graduates in STEM fields. San José State took multiple honors.

In addition to its regular annual top 100 rankings, Diverse published an expanded list highlighting master’s degrees in the STEM fields of engineering, math and statistics, and physical science. SJSU was included on all three lists.

In granting a master’s in engineering, SJSU ranked #5 in diversity among all institutions, any size, public or private. Rounding out the top five were Georgia Tech, UC Berkeley, USC, and Stanford. Minorities also earned SJSU master’s degrees at high rates in:

  • Mathematics and statistics: #13
  • Physical sciences: #52

This analysis was based on master’s degrees conferred in the 2017-2018 academic year.

Marc d’Alarcao, dean of the College of Graduate Studies, said, “One of our priorities in the College of Graduate Studies (CGS) is to assure that the grad student population reflects the diversity of the community. Although we still have more work to do, we’re delighted to be recognized in this way.”

In March, the CGS hired Dr. Amy Leisenring as associate dean of inclusive student success. Her work, d’Alarcao said, would “continue to deepen an examination of our practices in the College of Graduate Studies, focusing on making them inclusive and equitable.”

“San Jose State University is proud of its role in serving all students seeking graduate degrees in STEM fields,” President Mary A. Papazian said. “SJSU has a legacy of a commitment to inclusion, and sending our diverse group of talented STEM graduates into the Silicon Valley workforce and beyond, and on to advanced degrees, is just one way we demonstrate that commitment.”

In 2019, SJSU ranked #1 for total minorities receiving master’s degrees in Diverse’s library science category, and #1 for Asian Americans, Hispanics, and African Americans.

Bachelor’s Degree Diversity across All Fields

San José State University has also previously topped the magazine’s charts for diversity in bachelor’s degrees awarded.

San José State was the #1 school in the country in Diverse‘s rankings for producing Asian American bachelor’s degree graduates in visual and performing arts, and in business administration, management and operations. For both those undergraduate majors, the school ranked #3 nationwide in total minorities (including Hispanic, African American, Native American, and graduates who list multiple ethnicities).

For all disciplines combined, SJSU ranked #5 in the 2019 data for Asian American bachelor’s degrees, split evenly between men (1285) and women (1262).

Those same rankings show SJSU placing tenth in all minorities completing a bachelor’s in the two fields of communication/journalism/related degrees and natural resources and conservation. Nationally, SJSU ranked #6 in engineering bachelor’s degrees for all minorities.

“The diversity of the undergraduate program reflects the larger community,” d’Alarcao said, “and we hope undergraduate students stay on for graduate school, further increasing our diversity there.”

These recognitions come on the heels of recent rankings demonstrating SJSU’s excellence at facilitating social mobility. Last year, U.S. News and World Report added a ranking for social mobility that compares how well universities and colleges do in graduating Pell grant-eligible students. SJSU ranked #3 among public universities in the West, and #5 overall for the region.

SJSU Launches Human Rights Institute

HRI director W. Armaline with his students that make up the HRI team.

Director William Armaline (far right) with the HRI team.

Formally launched in October 2019, San José State’s Human Rights Institute (HRI) has already been making an impact—and now is poised to do even more.

Years in the making, the HRI recently launched its website offering a world-class policy and research institute’s research, education and praxis, the intersection of policy with action.

Director William Armaline credited numerous faculty and staff members who collaborated to bring the San José State’s Human Rights Institute come to life. “So many people have been critical in building this entire project,” he said.

Armaline said creating the HRI “has really has been sort of my grind and mission since I’ve been at at San José State: Trying to build this—both the minor program, which launched in 2012 out of justice studies—and also a research and policy institute that would go beyond pedagogy and education to actually giving a public university very real roles in the communities we serve.” Armaline said the HRI brings research and frameworks from international human rights and international standards to bear on “social problems that confront the communities that we literally are chartered to serve as a university.”

College of Social Sciences Dean Walt Jacobs said that creating a formal institute had meant navigating a long approval process to win official status. Within the CSU system, research centers tend to spotlight research, which the approval process is designed to prioritize.

“But the HRI is unique,” Jacobs said. “It also has that component of praxis. Which is about teaching action, putting research into action. We had to go through a lot of hoops to get the HRI approved. But we did. And it fits really nicely into the legacy of social justice work that San José State has done throughout its history. It’s a good fit.”

Armaline described his view of how an institute in a public university ought to serve community needs: “We want to answer legitimate questions from the community: ‘If I don’t have kids going to your university or even beyond that, why should we really support it? Why do we need to have it here? Why is it a critical member of our community institutionally?’ And we want to be an answer to that question. We want to be able to say, ‘Because centers of learning are critical for communities to be able to understand the world around them and develop solutions for the problems that they face.’ And also to answer the questions they find interesting and relevant. I think people rightly want direct and pragmatic kinds of answers to those kinds of questions.”

Jacobs said that when Armaline was hired in 2007, his purpose was to build something like the University of Connecticut Human Rights Institute, where Armaline previously worked. Preeminent nationally, even internationally, “they had a very robust program there,” Jacobs said. “Bill was hired in part to establish an institute here on the West Coast that would be very similar to the very successful one on the East Coast.”

A sociologist by profession, Armaline moved to the sociology department from the justice studies department, where he was hired in 2007. Doing the work, demonstrating results and setting up the structure of the HRI have consumed almost a decade of his life—along with the many other projects and initiatives he’s engaged in (not to mention teaching).

HRI faculty members include award-winning authors, educators and journalists who partner with SJSU’s extremely diverse student body—as well as organizations across the region—to inform policy and practice according to international human rights law, standards and scholarship. For example, since 2012 the HRI has offered an undergraduate minor to students who want to add training in international human rights law or human rights reporting/journalism and advocacy to their field of study.

After receiving official approval as a research center in October, the HRI has been preparing for the public launch of its website amid the months of the 2020 COVID-19 restrictions.

“One of the requirements is that the center or institute has to have a plan for self-sufficiency within two years,” Jacobs said. “As a college, we’ve been supporting them as they’ve been in the planning process. But a big part of their efforts will be to raise funds to keep going. I’ll also be helping too, as we go out and talk to donors about places we can help support them.”

Armaline highlighted the importance of connecting international human rights research with the lived experience of Californians right here in SJSU’s neighborhood. For him, tying scholarship to immediate, real-world problems is at the core of the mission: “We dedicate ourselves as a research and policy institute to study and understand the problems that confront us—the local community but also the national and global community. And then really work with those communities and other stakeholders and decision makers to develop the best possible solutions.”

Support the Human Rights Institute

Beyond supporting human rights education and research, contributors can support the HRI’s new Human Rights News Network, which includes human rights reporting classes where students will develop original news content, report on the HRI’s research and action, and learn to use human rights laws, conventions, monitoring mechanisms and data in news stories. The HRI has already received gifts that will support student scholarships, and seeks additional support to further the institution’s path to self-sufficiency as an institute advancing research and action on human rights. Learn more about the Human Rights Institute and how you can support its work.

$1.2M Gift Commitment from Michael C. and Kathryn M. Grischy to Provide Future Support for Students Studying Abroad

Michael C. and Kathryn M. Grischy.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. and Kathryn M. Grischy.

San José, Calif. — San José State University is pleased to announce that it has received a $1.2 million gift commitment from Michael C. and Kathryn (Katy) M. Grischy. The gift will support students who study abroad for a semester.

“This generous gift commitment will help us share the life-changing opportunity of a globally facing educational experience that exposes SJSU students to a deeply immersive cross cultural experience to help them reach their academic, personal and professional goals,” said Study Abroad and Away Director Susie Morris. “We’re grateful for how these resources will support our mission to provide accessible global experiences for all SJSU students, providing the support they need to incorporate a global experience into their university education but who might not have the resources to experience study abroad otherwise.”

The Michael C. and Kathryn M. Grischy Study Abroad Fund in the College of Professional and Global Education will establish an endowed fund for scholarships that cover tuition and fees for one semester of study abroad.

A consulting software/firmware engineer, Michael is the retired co-founder and president of Octave Software Group, a technology service consulting firm in San José, California. Michael graduated summa cum laude with a degree in electrical engineering in 1985. Katy Grischy studied English at SJSU from spring 1967 to spring 1968, completed her bachelor’s in English at Cal State Long Beach, and attained her master’s in counseling psychology at Loyola Marymount University Los Angeles. She retired from her 30-year San José private practice in psychotherapy in 2016.

The Grischys both expressed a deep commitment to the value of a broad-based education that is more than just the sum total of classroom experience.

“Michael and I want more students to have the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective, to augment their academic experiences and have the privilege of learning through travel,” Katy said.

“A study abroad experience can change a student’s worldview, a student’s life,” said Michael. “Our idea is to enable more SJSU students to be able to have those experiences.”

“Internationalizing San José State cultivates an environment of diversity and inclusion,” said Ruth Huard, dean of the College of Professional and Global Education. “The Grischys’ generous donation will directly support students and the wider campus community as we continue to prepare to live and lead in a globalized world.”

Their gift commitment was established via the Grischys’ living trust.

To learn how you can make a gift to SJSU from your estate, please contact Randy Balogh, director of planned giving, at 408-924-1123, randy.balogh@sjsu.edu.


About San José State University

The founding campus of the 23-campus California State University system, San José State provides a comprehensive university education, granting bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in 250 areas of study—offered through its nine colleges. With more than 35,000 students and nearly 4,370 employees, San José State continues to be an essential partner in the economic, cultural and social development of Silicon Valley and the state, annually contributing 10,000 graduates to the workforce. The university is immensely proud of the accomplishments of its more than 280,000 alumni, 60 percent of whom live and work in the Bay Area.

A Gold Star for Sustainability, and a How-to Series for Viewers at Home

Water fountain with a recycled water sign next to it.

Water fountain on El Paseo De César E. Chávez. Photo: David Schmitz.

Improving sustainability demands more than a string of individual actions. It requires partnerships.

That’s why the SJSU Office of Sustainability is working with a long list of campus partners to continue making the campus cleaner and greener.

Its achievements were rewarded last March when SJSU received a Gold rating from STARS, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System. STARS is a “transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance,” awarded San José State its level Gold ranking this spring, with a score of 71.91.

The Gold ranking is not merely a measure of good recycling or energy-efficient buildings but evaluates numerous efforts: academics, campus and public engagement, facilities, transportation, waste management, and energy and greenhouse gas emissions. The Gold ranking recognizes not only the buildings, but what’s happening inside and outside them–the web of partnerships geared toward improving sustainability on campus.

Senior Utilities and Sustainability Analyst Debbie Andres said that the challenge of a three-year campus-wide audit was important in helping to infuse sustainability practices throughout campus. “In 2016, we were the first CSU to get the Gold ranking,” she said. “That was really exciting.”

This summer, together with a list of partners, the Office of Sustainability is hosting a Summer Workshop Series, short videos offering tips on using public transportation, reducing food waste–even “conscious closet cleaning.”

The first offering in the video series, in partnership with the Women’s Wellness Center, was Conscious Closet Cleaning Part 1. Soozy Zerbe, zero waste student intern at the Office of Sustainability, explained much more than shared ideas about how to reduce unwanted clothing. Zerbe said the global fashion industry has a higher carbon impact than airlines or shipping. Student president and co-founder of the Women and Wellness Club Guadalupe Moreno said in the video that in addition to reducing waste, “cleaning out your closet is great for your well-being and a method of self-care.” The video contains a tidy closetful of highly informed data about how much clothing we unthinkingly send to the landfill. “Cluttering takes up space, and decluttering can make you feel calm and relaxed,” Moreno said.

Andres said the idea for the topic originated with Moreno, who noticed how often students are posting questions and sharing information via videos on sites like Instagram. The summer video series evolved from an initiative dreamed up by students into a broader way to help the campus community think about sustainability at a time when regular modes of outreach can’t happen.

“It’s on YouTube, so people can access these videos any time. I thought there was so much information we could share out there.” Students pay attention to and learn through media like Instagram videos, Andres said—and all the more so now, when they aren’t crossing campus or dropping in the sustainability office, which they have always done frequently in the past.

The workshop series, Andres said, was formed during events earlier this summer, with the goal of offering people at home a set of “how-to” guides in an easy to watch format. “For me, and for my office, sustainability isn’t just about environmental sustainability. It’s about people. If we’re not protecting people on the planet, we’re not protecting the planet.”

More tips on keeping sustainability in mind in the home and office will appear in three more videos throughout July. Videos coming in August include gardening at home in small containers (with AS Community Garden), public transportation tips (with AS Transportation Solutions), and cooking tips when shifting to a plant-based diet, with the Spartan Veg Club. Spartan Eats partnered on a video about how to reduce food waste when on campus, and how SJSU incorporates sustainability in food options. The last video in September, made with SJSU’s Spartan Food Pantry and SJSU Cares, will discuss how to apply for Cal Fresh benefits, and how to access the Spartan Food Pantry and other basic needs resources on campus.

“It just started morphing into ‘What else would students be interested in learning about?’ It was a team effort with my students to reach out to organizations that were doing awesome things that tied in with sustainability.”

Follow @sjsugreencampus on Twitter to get the full schedule of videos and their release dates.

CSU May Require Ethnic Studies Course to Graduate

Mural of Cesar E. Chavez.

The César E. Chávez Monument: Arch of Dignity, Equality and Justice, designed by Judith F. Baca.

A bill that moved forward in the California legislature on June 18 would require all CSU students in the class of 2025 and those beyond to complete a three-unit course in ethnic studies. If signed into law, the graduation requirement would begin in fall 2021.

College of Social Sciences Dean Walt Jacobs said that SJSU’s readiness to respond to an incoming mandate along these lines stems from the years of preparation. Several steps have already been taken to strengthen ethnic studies. One is the College of Social Sciences’ Ethnic Studies Collaborative, established in 2018.

“A collaborative is a more informal way of getting people together,” Jacobs said.

Yvonne Kwan, an assistant professor of Asian American studies, who joined the program in 2017, is director of the collaborative.

“The collaborative was a way for us to bring together the various ethnic studies programs and departments that we already have,” Kwan said. Chicana and Chicano studies and African American studies are departments, whereas Asian American studies and Native American studies programs are smaller. One thing the collaborative helps do, Kwan said, is to make them more equal and balanced. “The collaborative is a way in which we can come together to have these difficult conversations.”

Kwan said that an ethnic studies graduation requirement would help students understand what is going on in our world. “It’s important to know because K-12 education tends to have a very Eurocentric basis.” She distinguished her field from the fields of history and purely studying a culture. “It’s about a critical interdisciplinary way we understand racial and ethnic relations and how it shapes power dynamics in the United States.”

New Faculty Hires and a New Minor

Another weighty step taken, Jacobs said, is new hiring in all four of these fields.

“Three new faculty members in African American studies are starting this year, including a new department chair,” Jacobs said. “We’ve also had two recent hires in Chicana and Chicano studies, and a new faculty member in sociology who also does Native American studies is coming in this year. We also have two recent hires in Asian American studies, including Yvonne Kwan, who is doing a fabulous job leading the Ethnic Studies Collaborative. She followed inaugural director Magdalena Barrera, who will soon step down as chair of Chicana and Chicano studies to become SJSU’s vice provost for faculty success.”

In the fall, SJSU will offer a minor in comparative U.S. race and ethnic relations for undergraduates who want to pursue this topic alongside another course of study.

Kwan explained that some students already enroll in ethnic studies classes to fulfill a general education requirement. Two of her Asian American studies classes, for example, are heavily populated by students not focused intensively on ethnic studies.

Concerns that adding a three-unit ethnic studies graduation requirement might slow progress to graduation were unfounded, Kwan said. “We’re often worried about how AB 1460 could delay students’ time to graduation. But if students take an ethnic studies class, it’s not going to, because many of our existing courses already fulfill several GE requirements.”

She said students complete her classes with new skills and tools for looking at history, culture, comparative thinking and especially how power structures work.

She described one student who, at the beginning of the semester, told her that ethnic studies fosters divisive thinking. “But by the end of the semester—and especially with COVID and the proliferation of anti-Asian racism,” she said, the student’s understanding and analysis changed. The student said, “Many minority communities still do not have full human rights. People fought for ethnic studies courses because ethnic minorities have been politically oppressed for a really long time, and no one wanted to talk about it.”

Kwan added that sometimes ethnic studies classes serve other purposes—like engaging students and building skills that help them in whatever other course of study they are pursuing. “The research shows that it doesn’t matter what race you are. It benefits students academically and socially,” she said. “Also for students of color in particular, ethnic studies increases retention and graduation rates.”

About AB 1460

According to the language of the bill, AB 1460, “It is the intent of the Legislature that students of the California State University acquire the knowledge and skills that will help them comprehend the diversity and social justice history of the United States and of the society in which they live to enable them to contribute to that society as responsible and constructive citizens.”

Kwan described how the bill had moved forward in 2020. “As a collaborative, we’d been having this conversation [about the issues in the bill] for a very long time. The recent reinvigoration of the Black Lives Matter movement, spurred on by continued proliferation of police brutality and the murder of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson—and the list goes on—made it ever so clear that this is what we need at this moment. Because AB 1460 passed with a great majority, 30 to 5, it’s clear that ethnic studies is important.”

Although no ethnic studies graduation requirement is in place yet, if a CSU-wide ethnic studies requirement is coming, Jacobs said, “We’re ready to go.”