STEM Faculty Members Receive $1.69M NSF Grant Award

SJSU community members participating in STEM education program.

Photo: David Schmitz

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has recently awarded a $1.69 million grant to San José State’s faculty members for a research proposal titled “Transforming Undergraduate Teaching and Learning Through Culturally Sustaining, Active and Asset-Based Approaches to Introductory Science Courses” that aims to increase diversity, inclusion and retention in STEM.

Over the course of the next five years, the STEM research team led by Cassandra Paul, associate professor of physics and astronomy, and science education, will be employing innovative instructional approaches to reduce attrition rates in introductory STEM courses.

“The goal of this grant is to increase student success and graduation rates for undergraduate students and, more specifically, for Latinx and other students belonging to regional, racial and ethnic minority groups,” said Paul, principal investigator of the project.

Historically, the attrition rates in STEM courses are highest during the first two years of college, especially among Latinx and underrepresented minority students. “We want to make sure that we’re listening to what the students are bringing with them to SJSU, and engaging with them more actively,” said Paul.

According to Pamela Stacks, associate vice president of research, the beauty of the kind of research that Paul and her team are doing is that it not only tells us about Latinx students but provides insights into all students.

“Getting this grant opportunity means that STEM faculty members can now be more collaborative and informed about connections between different STEM disciplines, and also they’ll be able to identify issues students are struggling with,” said Stacks. Stacks added, “eventually when the research gets published, it will impact a much bigger audience and, in the process, elevate our whole institution.”

Co-PIs Tammie Visintainer, assistant professor of teacher education and science education, and Marcos Pizzaro, associate dean of the Lurie College of Education, have lent their expertise in educational equity to the project. Their research and service work informs the culturally sustaining and asset-based approach of this work.

“This grant is truly unique because it explores introductory science instruction as something that needs to be more inclusive and leverage the diverse resources that Latinx and other students of color bring with them—which has consistently been ignored and/or not celebrated in institutions of higher education,” said Visintainer, who played a significant role in writing the grant.

Part of the impetus for the grant, according to Paul, came about during informal meetings with STEM faculty members Resa Kelly, professor of chemistry and science education, and Katherine Wilkinson, associate professor of biological sciences, who are also co-PIs for the project. The idea to better align and link content across different courses like biology, chemistry and physics motivated the team to create a cohesive experience for students entering STEM majors.

The novel part, said Visintainer, “is how faculty “see” students of color and how this shapes their instruction.”

“The innovative approach of this grant is that we are specifically seeking to identify the cultural wealth, assets, and strengths that uniquely position Latinx students to thrive and succeed in STEM disciplines – and tapping into those,” said Visintainer.

The entire first year of the five-year grant will be spent on collecting data, talking to students and interviewing them, and also learning more about their experiences.

“The first year is really about getting a better understanding of what the students’ STEM experience is at SJSU in order to be better informed for the next stages of the grant,” Paul said. Subsequently, the team has plans to develop new faculty learning communities that will engage with the data, identify different aspects of the curriculum, and then adapt and align content to ensure a coherent experience for the students.

Since it’s a grant with a particular focus on Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI), Tammie Visintainer said, “we are going to focus on that population while also transforming science and undergraduate education for everybody.”

Stacks agrees that gender, race and ethnicity elements are crucial in STEM, she thinks that diversity of thought is what the community should strive for. “What’s more powerful as we become more inclusive is that we expand the intellectual elements, and then we make possible solutions to how we approach things,” said Stacks.

Stacks said that Paul has implemented a radical reform process in her physics classes since joining SJSU in 2012. Besides improvising on teaching style and technique, Paul is also experimenting with grade scales that are different from the traditional percent scale for assessing students. “We saw our fail rates go way down. And so our students are much more successful in the course,” said Paul. “We’ve also started group quizzes and group portions of the finals. So every aspect of the class has a community element to it,” she added.

“In this moment in history, the most exciting part of this grant is that it creates space for a true reimagining of undergraduate STEM education,” said Visintainer.

The other important aspect of the grant is that the research faculty members were supported for preliminary research by CSU STEM-NET (a system-wide research affinity group) that promotes research, community building and innovative educational ideas across the CSU university system.

2020 Graduates Reflect on their Time at SJSU

As the unique and challenging spring 2020 semester comes to a close, some of the resilient members of SJSU’s graduating class reflect on their time at SJSU, achievements and plans for the future.

Tram Phan, ’20 Chemical Engineering

Tram PhanTram Phan’s family in Vietnam was about to fly to a different city to get visas sponsored when they learned the SJSU spring commencement ceremony is postponed for the graduating class of 2020. The news broke their hearts, as well as Phan’s.

“I know a lot of people get a degree in the U.S., but for international students, it’s a big event, much bigger,” Phan said.

During four years away from home, Phan has grown out of her shyness. She credits the San Jose State’s diverse community for helping her open up to the unknown. Today, she has more friends than she could imagine, but regrets not being able to share the culminating moments of the journey together in person.

“They are all nerdy and funny, and I like that about them. I feel like I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to my friends; I didn’t realize I’d miss them that much,” Phan said, her eyes gleaming through the computer screen.

But Phan has been quick to measure the positive side of the picture. She appreciates the university offering graduates a choice to be a part of a future live commencement ceremony. The COVID-19-dominated spring semester has been an eye opener for her in terms of adapting to new skills and challenging environments. The transition from in-person classes to online instruction proved to be a harmonious experience for her.

“The online settings encouraged people to talk more freely in class. Even folks who were inherently shy shed their inhibitions and became more approachable,” Phan said.

The resilience Phan demonstrated during the global pandemic paid off for her. She received an unexpected job offer that has made her optimistic about the future.

“I wouldn’t have gotten to this point unless I believed in myself,” she said. “SJSU made me believe everything is possible.”

Eric Ortiz, ’20 MA History

Eric OrtizEric Ortiz went to school sporadically following his 1985 high school graduation. Three decades later, the war veteran has earned a master’s degree.

“In the military, if you quit, you die,” said Ortiz. “Even though it’s been difficult for me to go back to school at my age, I never gave up.”

Since Ortiz found it difficult to relate to students half his age, he viewed school as a place to attain a goal. But the department professors, he said, made his journey worthwhile. “I learned so much from all of them. I had the opportunity to study subjects like the French revolution, ancient Greek society in depth,” said Ortiz. “Professors Pickering, Roth and Hilde, and others brought them to life.”

Ortiz served the nation on three battlefields, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. While he’s reticent about broadcasting his Army experiences, Ortiz attributes his ability to cope with the ongoing stress of the global health pandemic to his military background.

“I found it easier to deal with the isolation surrounding COVID-19 than many of my fellow Spartans,” he said. The school’s move to online teaching didn’t bother Ortiz either. “It’s nothing new to me, having to do everything from a distance,” he said. “It didn’t bother me one bit.”

Channeling the Army principle of “hurry up and wait,” Ortiz focused his energy on research, developing arguments and preparing papers as the final semester drew to a close. Passionate about learning, Ortiz hopes his degree will open opportunities to teach history someday. His resilience shines through: “Yesterday is gone. We should work toward the future.”

Rachel Lee, ’20 BFA Graphic Design

Rachel LeeRachel Lee doesn’t dwell on the strangeness of her final SJSU semester. As online classes began to set in, seeing everyone on the screen became a routine she looked forward to. Looking back at her time at SJSU, Lee said there are two high points: a summer 2019 trip to Europe and her first design job.

During a three-week trip with her graphic design class, Lee traveled to eight countries including the UK, France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands. “We explored many cultures, visited art museums and historic landmarks, and we participated in workshops where we exhibited our work in Katowice and Warsaw, Poland,” said Lee.

The first design job in the College of Humanities and the Arts also remains her most cherished memory from her four years at SJSU. Lee’s work was featured in The Metro, on SJSU’s North Garage, and distributed across San Jose.

“I had the pleasure of working for H&A Marketing as a graphic designer,” said Lee. “It was a great experience working with other students, faculty and staff at Hammer Theatre.”

Originally from Vancouver, Washington, Lee was glad to hear the news about SJSU’s graduate recognition websites. She was also excited about her virtual, live senior exhibition show. Along with her friends, her family virtually took part in the celebrations.

Lee wants to touch people’s lives through her design. “I’ll try to incorporate social messaging into the work I do.” Spreading positivity, helping people, volunteering for a cause is what keeps this Spartan powered up.

Ezequiel Ramirez, ’20 Justice Studies

Ezequiel RamirezHaving lived his entire life in San Jose, Ezequiel Ramirez thought he knew all about his city until he joined San Jose State. The cultural perspectives of the people he met and interacted with at school were an awakening experience for him.

“I enjoyed meeting and interacting with people from different nationalities and also people who came from different walks of life,” said Ramirez. “The school brought in everything for me. Vocabulary, education, people, habits. I love it. I love the experience right now.”

Having worked in a nonprofit as part of an internship program helping at-risk youths, Ramirez now wants to continue working with community-based organizations and to use his degree for social change.

“I’m a first-generation graduate student, and I understand the struggle of people starting from the bottom and reaching to the top,” he said. “I worked countless hours without sleep on a lot of occasions, slept in my car from long days of work and school, also was homeless at a time, but made it, and I’m still making it. I’m about to graduate.”

Not only is Ramirez the first in his family to graduate from college, he’s also the first in his family to graduate from high school on time. Having lost his father at age 11, Ramirez’s determination and strength came from watching his mother raise three kids, his fraternal twin brother and an older sister.

“My mom has always put her ambitions on the back burner while putting us first,” he said. “With me graduating college this week, I want her to know all of her sacrifices and hard work have not been in vain.”

Ramirez had dreams of decorating his graduation cap as an honor to his mom, grandmother and the rest of his family—the Ramirez, Rodriguez and Garcia households. He calms himself with his take on the COVID-19 situation: “From pressure, diamonds are made.”

Saadatou Ahmad, ’20 Accounting and Information Systems

Saadatou AhmadIn Saadatou Ahmad’s home country of Cameroon, West Africa, education is a luxury. When she came to the United States with her husband 12 years ago, she set out to chart a new course.

“Back home education is not for the poor, but here it is so encouraging,” said Ahmad. “Here, I have the support system to be a first-generation student. ”

After a stint at a beauty school and working in a salon for four years, Ahmad transferred from a community college to San Jose State as she dreamed about the future for herself and her family. Wanting to set an example for her three children–between the ages five and ten–Ahmad brought her kids to school so often “they are now used to the school environment.”

Even when she was pregnant with her third child, Ahmad continued to make it to all classes, she said, because “I always feel if I miss a lecture, I will fall behind.”

The online spring semester at SJSU was troubling for Ahmad, who loves in-person classes. While she missed seeing and talking to her classmates and professors in person, Ahmad is not someone who gives up easily. She channeled all of her time and effort to carve out a better life for her family. She recently received a full-time job offer, but she also wants to pursue more education, possibly an MBA. Right now, Ahmad is overjoyed. Her bachelor’s degree has been a long time coming. And, she said, her daughter wants to go to San Jose State when she grows up.

Faculty Research: Sexual Harassment on Public Transit

Students waiting to take the VTA in downtown San Jose.

Students waiting to take the VTA in downtown San Jose.

“I was riding the metro alone on a Sunday morning, and as I turned the corner, there was a man masturbating. I was scared and ran away,” recalls Asha Weinstein Agrawal of an incident she encountered as a college student during a vacation in Paris two decades ago.

The Professor of Urban and Regional Planning and the Director of Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) National Transportation Finance Center Agrawal says although she didn’t talk about it then, there’s a need today to start conversations around sexual harassment and recognize behaviors and patterns that women who use public transit witness all over the world.

Over the last three years, almost two-thirds (63 percent) of SJSU students had experienced some form of harassment while using the bus or train, according to the recent MTI-sponsored research study titled “Crime and Harassment on Public Transportation: A Survey of SJSU Students Set in International Context.”

Agrawal’s team includes UCLA Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, one of the global project leaders who put together the original survey, Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Cristina Tortora and Yajing Hu, now a senior scientist at Abbott, who worked as a data analytics intern with the team. The SJSU survey asked essentially the same questions as the global study: “Does sexual harassment happen to you? Are you worried? Have you ever reported? Does fear of harassment change the way you use transit?”

The survey found that public transit harassment is not unique to San Jose State students. Agrawal’s team worked on data collected from a random sample of 891 SJSU students. With that many voices woven in, the SJSU narrative mirrors typical concerns that students around the world expressed when the same survey was administered in 18 cities across six continents, including San Jose, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Mexico City in North America, Bogota, Sao Paolo and Rio Claro in South America, London, Paris, Milan, Lisbon, Stockholm, and Huddinge in Europe, Tokyo, Guangzhou and Manila in Asia, Lagos in Africa and Melbourne in Australia.

Although fear of harassment binds all respondents together across demographics, Agrawal has a guess about the underlying reasons behind why SJSU students were less likely to feel “always” or “often” safe after dark on the bus or on the train, compared to students in the other cities in the global study. She points to downtown San Jose’s features after dark—mostly empty streets and transit vehicles. The responses could easily vary in European and Asian cities that have considerable activity on the streets after dark. In addition, relatively high proportions of university students don’t have the luxury of driving private cars. Compared to the population at large, students more frequently use public transit, especially in the United States.

Agrawal says abuse on public transit is not new. Having studied the transportation of 1890s America as part of her doctoral research, she saw that women feared sexual harassment on public transit then, too. “Nice women didn’t want to ride the street cars because they would get groped or harassed” was a common refrain in the articles she remembers reading during her dissertation writing days. There is new attention on the topic of sexual offense today as part of the MeToo movement, but it’s been happening all around the world ever since there was public transit, she adds.

As Agrawal argues, that train of thought is still what stops some women from using public transit. Women throughout history have found themselves at society’s margins, as have older adults, vulnerable people and those who identify as LGBTQ, whose fear of harassment has influenced their participation in broader society.

Transit trips are not limited to vehicle settings. Rather, they are multi-phased activities, including riding on vehicles, waiting at transit stops or walking/biking to and from those points. The survey looked at the transit experience in these three areas as well. “Besides asking for experiences on the bus or on the train, we also asked about while you’re waiting, either at the bus stop or the train stop, and also the access journey,” says Agrawal. These environments are not controlled by transit operators, but offer perspectives on choices a rider may make about using transit. The goal of the survey was to understand how safety concerns affect their choice of transit.

With so many students taking public transit every day, Agrawal wondered if there would be a correlation between the amount of harassment and number of complaints filed. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case,” she says. “People often think it’s so commonplace that there’s no point reporting, or that even if they do, it hardly yields results,” which in turn leads to a feeling of helplessness in victims.

Harassment is largely perceived to be a woman’s issue. Men’s experiences don’t often make it to the headlines. The SJSU survey revealed that 40 percent of men experienced sexual assault on buses or trains, expanding the conversation beyond gender identities.

Agrawal is hopeful that the results of the survey could be a starting point for transit operators to consider certain measures that can proactively address the issues. She says transit operators—and others— who’ve built apps for commuters to report graffiti and broken lights could consider adding a category of language that would make sexual harassment reporting easier, “thus making it more obvious that there is a problem.”

Earth Month 2020 Goes Online

Student on the tower lawn doing a yoga pose.

Yoga on the Tower Lawn, one of many resource fair activities for Earth Week 2019. Photo by David Schmitz.

Fifty years ago, on April 22, Gaylord Nelson created history by choosing to commemorate the legacy of the only home we know, Earth.

Affected by the devastating oil spill off the Santa Barbara coast in 1969, the former U.S. Senator and Wisconsin governor led a grassroots movement with the hope that the day would inspire people to listen to the environment and collectively share the responsibilities that humans owe to the planet.

The founder of Earth Day, Nelson, ’39 Political Science, was an SJSU alumnus. Despite COVID-19 derailing full-scale campus events and activities, San Jose State remains committed to Nelson’s story.

This year, Earth Month has moved online. A good benefit to having an online celebration such as this, is “that not many people are driving, and that’s way less air pollution already,” said Debbie Andres, ’07 Chemical Engineering, SJSU senior utilities and sustainability analyst.

This April, the SJSU Office of Sustainability is running a robust social media campaign, the Earth Day Eco Challenge, in collaboration with campus Environmental Resource Center (ERC) and Cesar Chavez Community Action Center (CCCAC). In addition, there are a host of exciting educational events and activities in the form of virtual teach-ins, reading assignments, workshops, green career panels, and discussions, all of which will offer an opportunity for students to join in the environmental conversations.

Earth Day was founded on the spirit of teach-in—an activity Nelson designed to educate people about the environment. According to Katherine Cushing, professor of environmental studies, “there are many sources out there that discuss possible linkages between large scale environmental issues, such as climate change, air pollution and the COVID-19 pandemic.” The Earth Day assignment, “COVID-19, Climate Change, and the Environment,” that Cushing built for her students will help put many different factors surrounding these issues in perspective.

Cushing has been spearheading the effort to provide the faculty with resources for incorporating a sustainability component in their courses this month. Six different assignments are available that are applicable to majors from a wide range of academic disciplines, ranging from business to biology.

A plaque in front of a tree which says planted in honor of Gaylord Nelson.

Every year, students plant a tree on campus. Photo by David Schmitz.

April Events:

Menstruation, Stigma, Zero Waste Period

Tune into this pre-recorded event posted on both the Sustainability Office’s and Gender Equity Center’s YouTube channel. Get to know about the taboos, misconceptions, and sustainable methods for a greener world. This event is brought to you by the Gender Equity Center and the Office of Sustainability. All genders welcome.

April 16: Being the Change: Book discussion

Noon–1 p.m.

This one-hour discussion on climate change will run with Eugene Cordero, SJSU meteorology and climate change professor. The group will be reviewing Chapters 1-6 of Being the Change by Sara K. Ahmed. Register to attend Being the Change.

April 21 and 23: Sustainable Designs and Buildings on the SJSU Campus

April 21: 9–10: 15 a.m. and 1:30–2:45 p.m.
April 23: 9–10:15 a.m. and 1:30–2:45 p.m.

Join Art History Professor Molly Hankwitz and her students as they present a series of brief presentations on sustainable design materials and resources on the SJSU campus. Featured buildings include the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, the Student Recreation and Aquatic Center, and the Diaz Campion Student Union. Original posters designed by students will also be previewed in honor of Earth Day. Register in advance for this meeting.

April 22: The Climate Reality Project

12 p.m

The climate crisis is already affecting ecosystems and communities across the globe, but it is not too late to take action. This climate reality presentation will show you how. The presentation is non-partisan, from the perspective of science. The presentation is broken into three parts—”Must We Change,” “Can We Change” and “Will We Change.” Engage with Emeritus Professor and Director of Sbona Honors Program & Thompson Global Internship Program Bill DeVincenzi and ask any questions you may have. Register for The Climate Crisis: What you need to know.

April 29: Green Career Panel

Noon–2 p.m.

The Green Career Panel will be hosted in partnership with the Career Center, followed by networking opportunities. Learn from and engage with panelists from the California Water Efficiency Partnership, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, The City of San Jose, Rising Sun Power. Register for SJSU Green Career Panel Registration.

April 30:

Participate in the SJSU Earth Month Instagram Giveaway! Learn more at @sjsugreencampus via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

Learn more about the university’s sustainability practices by reviewing the 2017-2020 SJSU Sustainability Report.

2020 Silicon Valley Women in Engineering (WiE) Conference Will Convene Entirely Online On March 14

Graphic of 2020 Silicon Valley WiE Conference announcing a switch to a virtual conference.
The Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering has moved its annual Silicon Valley Women in Engineering (WiE) conference scheduled on March 14, 2020 entirely to an online format as a precautionary measure against COVID-19 as the virus continues to pose a risk to the well-being of the community. WiE 2020 is still happening with all the amazing programming that was promised as the Women in Engineering Conference team has succeeded in creating a virtual conference.

Live streaming of the event, which is now free and open to all, will start at 8:30 a.m. with welcome and keynote addresses that will be delivered by Kate Gordon, director and senior adviser to the California governor on climate, and Meagan Pi, vice president of Google. While Gordon will shed light on the cutting edge of sustainable Smart City innovations, Pi will share her journey from China to Silicon Valley. Isaura S. Gaeta, vice president of security research and general manager of Intel Product Assurance and Security, will deliver the lunch keynote.

Every year the event draws the best of tech industry experts, aspiring engineers and a large section of the student community from the engineering department, local community colleges and high schools. This year, the virtual conference is centered on the theme of “vision for a better future.” Engineers and scientists will gather to discuss a range of issues from the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI) to the current global health crisis to impacts of climate change.

WiE 2020 is an avenue for aspiring engineers to network with trailblazing scientists who are breaking gender stereotypes and designing creative solutions to counter the world’s pressing problems. It will also help students visualize a career arc, learn about emerging technologies as well as understand the extent of impact engineers have on shaping the world.

Registered students will receive an email by Friday, March 13 with instructions as to how to participate online for the entire conference, including keynotes, technical and professional development sessions, career panels, and even the innovation showcase. More information will soon be available on 2020.siliconvalleywie.org.

In her message to the community on the conference website, Stacy Gleixner, SJSU professor and conference chair, said that industry leaders at this year’s conference are creating a better future by designing greener construction and energy solutions, developing life-saving diagnostics and medicine, and inventing tools that promote inclusion and security while revolutionizing the way we interact and work.

Industry leaders from some of the top Silicon Valley companies such as Netflix, Facebook, Accenture, IBM, NASA, LinkedIn, Amazon Labs, Marvel Semiconductor, Shockwave Medical, Xilinx and others will be speaking throughout the day on topics that include sustainable development and construction, medicine and diagnostics, space travel, virtual reality, the future of blockchain, AI, machine learning and wearable devices.

Sheryl Ehrman, SJSU

Sheryl Ehrman, dean of SJSU’s Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering, speaking at the 2018 Women in Engineering Conference at SJSU. Photo: David Schmitz.

One of the technical tracks will focus on the ethical aspects of AI, starting with those related to models and algorithms such as bias, fairness and explainability to examine how they influence the end outcomes concerning privacy and safety. The panel will also discuss the impacts AI has on humans. For example, it will explore how automation will change the nature of some jobs, what effect it would have on democracy, human-to-human, and human-to-AI interaction, etc.

Computer Engineering Professor Magdalini Eirinaki said AI users should be conscious of its implications, especially in terms of sharing their personal data. With less information, manipulation chances for targeted advertising or propaganda purposes reduce. “I’m now more mindful about doing online quizzes, for instance,” she said.

She added that deep learning has allowed many interesting applications. “AI has allowed us to visualize how we will look when we get old and add funny headpieces to our selfies, but also fight cyberbullying and diagnose cancer in the early stages,” said Eirinaki. “However, it can also discriminate against underrepresented groups, or become a tool of propaganda and warfare.”

Several of these ethical questions that go beyond the design of the underlying algorithms and technologies will feature in the discussion as AI continues to impact our everyday lives.

Interested candidates can still join the virtual conference by entering their names in a signup sheet on the main page of http://2020.siliconvalleywie.org/ Once they sign up, they will receive the instructions and the pdf schedule with log-in links in their email.

The committee has refunded all fees and setting up pick up hours/locations for the swag (bags, t-shirts) at SJSU and also sending them to all schools that pre-registered as a group.

Visit Silicon Valley Women in Engineering to participate in the 2020 conference.

Mumford and Sons Funds SJSU Service Fellowship

Photo: Joel Simon Images

San Jose State University’s Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies honored the British folk-rock band Mumford and Sons with the annual John Steinbeck Award on September 18, 2019 at a sold-out event in Stanford University’s Bing Concert Hall. Proceeds of the event funded a new Steinbeck Service Fellowship that encourages engaged collaboration between students at SJSU and Stanford.

The service program launches in the summer of 2020, and current SJSU undergraduates are eligible to apply for the fellowship until February 29, 2020.

The fellowship is funded by “Gentlemen of the Road,” the community organization the band founded in 2006, which connects with communities that share its passion for social justice and common good around the world.

Every year, San Jose State’s Center for Steinbeck Studies presents the John Steinbeck Award, celebrating writers, thinkers, artists and activists who embody Steinbeck’s commitment to social justice.

Mumford and Sons is the first musical band to receive the Steinbeck Award, and also its youngest recipients to date. The award ceremony featured a conversation with the band members, as well as an acoustic performance.

It was a fitting venue since 2019 marked the 100th anniversary of Steinbeck beginning his college studies at Stanford. The band’s pianist Ben Lovett also was an undergraduate at Stanford for a year, studying astrophysics before he left to become a musician.

In its inaugural year, the fellowship will bring together students from San Jose State and Stanford to engage in a summer of reflective writing and community service in California’s Salinas Valley, the land that birthed and shaped Steinbeck’s creative vision.

The unique and celebratory aspect of the fellowship is the intersection of English literature and community service—one that was championed by Steinbeck throughout his lifetime.

Professor of English and Director of SJSU’s Center for Steinbeck Studies Nick Taylor teamed up with his colleague Professor Gavin Jones from Stanford to design the fellowship and propose the idea to the band. The two professors decided to model the fellowship on the Cardinal Quarter at Stanford, a program of the Haas Center for Public Service that pays students a stipend so they can engage in a quarter or summer of service-learning projects in the community.

SJSU students will be able to apply though the Center for Steinbeck Studies and Stanford students will route their applications through the Haas Center.

Students who are chosen will work with their community partners at least 35 hours per week for nine consecutive weeks and receive a stipend of $5,500.

“We decided to do a pilot in summer 2020 with three students from San Jose State and three from Stanford. We are planning on assembling a cohort in February. It’s a great opportunity to bring students from SJSU and Stanford together. They are so close but don’t have much interaction,” said Taylor.

SJSU’s Center for Community Learning and Leadership (CCLL), celebrating two decades on campus, was also involved in the San Jose State iteration of the experience. CCLL supports classes that have a service-learning requirement embedded in the curriculum so students can apply what they are learning in the classroom by serving the community. Over the past 20 years, an  estimated 80,000 SJSU students have contributed more than 1,400,000 hours to the community through service-learning.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for our San Jose State students to receive funding for their service,” said Andrea Tully, CCLL assistant director. “In a recent study of SJSU service-learning alumni, we found that one of the biggest obstacles to their experience was being able to work, often full time, complete school work and serve. The stipend will likely alleviate some of the burden of needing to work and serve.”

Although the program will sync well with students studying American literature and social work, it is open to all SJSU and Stanford students across disciplines.

Professor of Psychology and CCLL Faculty Director Elena Klaw said the program also fits with SJSU’s ideals and objectives as a center. It emphasizes that academic learning and service should not be separate.

“The focus is to take Steinbeck’s scholarly work and bring it to life in real communities in which people are currently working. And there are still plenty of inequities to highlight, transform and address while engaging with Steinbeck’s fiction, both as a historical body of work but also as a literary body of work,” Klaw said.


Apply for the Fellowship

Get more information and apply for the Steinbeck/Gentlemen of the Road Service Fellowship by February 29, 2020.


Watch Mumford and Sons accept the 2019 Steinbeck Award

 

African-American Studies Department Receives Commendation for its 50th Anniversary

Members of SJSU's Department of African-American Studies pose with San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo at San Jose City Hall.

Members of SJSU’s Department of African-American Studies pose with San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo at San Jose City Hall.

The SJSU Department of African-American Studies received a commendation for its 50th anniversary from San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo at the November 19 city council meeting held in the San Jose City Hall.

Speaking at the event, council member and SJSU alumnus Raul Peralez, said how the department is serving African-American populations and the community by engaging in intellectual traditions that take into account historical, cultural, philosophical, political, social and theoretical perspectives.

The Department of African American Studies launched its first set of classes in the fall of 1969 after a long series of campus protests heralded a new beginning for the university and its relationship to ethnic studies. San Jose State was the second university in the country to offer an African American studies program.

The department has seen a substantial increase in the number of courses and faculty members since its humble beginnings, when the department offered only 17 courses with 10 faculty members.

By December 1973, the number of courses spiked to 35 with 1,500 students enrolled.

In February 2002, the department implemented a new program called “San Jose State University’s Model for Black Studies.” SJSU was the first of five universities in the nation to adopt such a program.

More recently, in August 2019, the department launched a new minor in black women’s studies at the urging of students who wanted to know more about the contributions of black women in American society and various fields.

Half-a-century later, the department continues to be a place rooted in intellectual endeavors, one that dives into knowledge and experiences in the African diaspora. In October, the department celebrated its 50th anniversary under the theme “The Significance of African American Studies at SJSU.” The event brought together students, faculty and alumni from the community.

Tyler Gordon poses with Steven Millner after gifting him his live painting.

Tyler Gordon poses with Steven Millner after gifting him his live painting.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez, State Senator Jim Beall, Assemblyman Ash Kalra were among a number of public officials that attended the event and awarded commendation to the department. The department also chose the occasion to celebrate Steven Millner, ’70 Sociology, for his 40 years of relentless academic service and vast contributions to the community. Millner is the department’s longest-serving faculty member who now serves as professor emeritus at SJSU.

Millner was a sociology student and also part of the SJSU protest movement that brought African American Studies to the university.

“I was humbled to receive a tribute on the occasion of the department’s 50th anniversary, and I was especially glad to be the subject of young Mister Tyler Gordon’s creativity. In a wonderful manner, his youthful energy and attention to accurate detail capture what the department has tried to stand for over the years,” said Millner.

12-year-old Tyler Gordon came under the spotlight when he made a live painting of Millner and presented it to him at the end of the event.

At the celebrations, several alumni with deep ties to the SJSU community spoke about the significance of African-American studies as well as how Steven Millner changed their lives.

Assistant Professor Wendy Thompson Taiwo talked about the history of African-American studies and that it’s important to remember and include the history of black struggle in California. While faculty members talked about the history, purpose and goals of the department, students presented original works, such as poems.

2019 William Randolph Hearst Foundation Award

Photo: Robert Bain

SJSU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications faculty presented the distinguished 2019 William Randolph Hearst Foundation Award for Outstanding Professional Service to journalists Alexander Shebanow and Dan Rather on Thursday, November 14, 2019 in Yoshihiro Uchida Hall.

Professors Bob Rucker, a former CNN news correspondent and Hearst Award coordinator, and Dona Nichols, a veteran television news producer and assignment editor for NBC Bay Area, presented the award to the duo amidst a campus community and Bay Area media leaders.

This was the first time the School of Journalism and Mass Communications decided to honor journalists from across generations. The two honorees represent the bridging of several generations of journalistic instincts and critical thinking to produce a necessary and powerful public service in mass communications.

The 88-year-old Emmy Award-winning journalist Dan Rather first entered the national scene with his live, on‐site coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas in November 1963. He went on to make extraordinary strides in the field of journalism.

More recently, Rather heads News and Guts, a company he founded that specializes in high‐quality nonfiction content across a range of traditional and digital distribution channels.

Shebanow, a 29-year-old award-winning filmmaker, who has been working on his directorial debut documentary feature for six years, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He attended Foothill Community College before finishing his studies at the University of Southern California.

Shebanow teamed up with investigative journalist Dan Rather for his expansive documentary exposé Fail State, which targets “predatory for‐profit colleges and worsening inequality in American higher education.” Rather served as its executive producer.

“News is something that the public needs to know that somebody, particularly some powerful person or force, doesn’t want the public to know. That is why I find this film and work not only so important, but so timely,” said Rather.

The film narrates the stories of low-income and minority students who talk about the emotional and financial stress they endured for failing to see through the scam recruiting trap and eventually enrolling in sham institutions. Shebanow skillfully chronicles the decades of policy decisions in Washington, D.C., to create a powerful political story filled with outrage toward stymied government reforms and inaction.

“We are so honored and humbled by this immense recognition and want to deeply thank the journalism school faculty at San Jose State for this award. As investigative journalists, we hope that our work can inspire other journalists to take on powerful forces and uncover the stories that need to be exposed,” said Shebanow.

Besides successful screening at several educational institutions, this hard-hitting exposé also premiered to packed houses at film festivals nationwide, garnering major press attention, awards and critical acclaim. Leading media outlets like The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal, among others, ran rave reviews and the film has since debuted to 30 million subscribers on STARZ cable and satellite TV network.

In 2019, Alexander Shebanow became a policy fellow and resident filmmaker at the National Student Legal Defense Network (Student Defense), where he investigates for‐profit college issues with a focus on amplifying student voices and strengthening student protections.

Student Affairs Faculty Fellows Support the Diverse Spartan Community

Faculty Fellow Julia Curry Rodríguez, associate professor of Mexican American Studies, speaking with a student at the Chicanx/Latinx Spring Welcome. Photo by David Schmitz.

A partnership between SJSU Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, San Jose State University’s Student Affairs Faculty Fellows program is designed to support students’ academic success and connections with faculty members outside of the classroom. Faculty members are embedded as fellows across the university’s student success centers during the academic year.

“This is the fourth year of the program. Faculty fellows work eight hours a week in the centers or on programs supporting students. The projects help them connect, mentor and support students from varied disciplines and cultural backgrounds,” said Sonja Daniels, associate vice president for campus life.

The goal of the program is to create an inclusive community through shared experiences. The program works toward meeting well-defined learning outcomes by organizing events that foster skills such as critical thinking, effective communication and leadership, while also addressing issues of diversity, social justice and healthy living.

Professor and Chair of Chicano and Chicana Studies Magdalena Barrera is one of the faculty members working with the Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Center. A lot of the programming in the center is based on existing research on the strengths and challenges of historically underserved students.

“We directly help SJSU meet its goals of working on historically underrepresented students’ retention and graduation rates,” said Barrera. “Students find themselves empowered by engaging in the work at the center.”

She facilitates Centro’s Academic Resilience Series, which focuses on different aspects of student success, particularly geared toward Chicanx/Latinx students and first-generation student populations.

Along with Associate Professor and Faculty Fellow Rebeca Burciaga and CAPS counselor Celinda Miranda, Barrera co-facilitates a support group for students called CASA (Colectivo de Apoyo, Sabiduría y Acción, translated as Collective of Support, Knowledge and Action), an open forum for students to share personal challenges and also take part in structured conversations around issues they encounter daily.

Faculty fellows also engage in annual leadership retreats. Recently, Barrera was part of a team of staff and faculty members who took students to a retreat center in Santa Cruz, where students learned about being active members of the community.

“Everything we do in the center is founded on a model called community cultural wealth, where students don’t need to think of their ethnic identities as separate from their academic student identity,” said Barrera.

MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center is another vibrant space for the thriving Spartan community. This fall, the center held talks on multi-ethnic identity, including hosting events for Native American History month, a Fast Fashion Awareness art show and a variety of open mic activities. Since MOSAIC structures most of its cultural programming on ethnic events, the center is a space to support Spartan talent and local performers.

The programs offered by MOSAIC focus on social justice issues so students can learn about the rich cultural and social heritages of historically underrepresented groups, while celebrating differences.

Associate Professor of Justice Studies Edith Kinney is in her second year as a faculty fellow with MOSAIC. She feels that the center is a great space on campus for students of diverse backgrounds and interests to come together. “As a white faculty member, I think it’s really important to engage our students of color and to work actively against racism,” Kinney said.

“The faculty fellows program is a critical way to connect the expertise, scholarship and passion of the faculty with the interests and needs of our students,” added Kinney.

Student Affairs Faculty Fellows for the current academic year include:

MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center

Edith Kinney
Lance M. Fung
Jonathan Fung

Student Conduct and Ethical Development

Sarika Pruthi

Pride Center

Lark Buckingham

Gender Equity Center

Nico Peck

Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Center

Magdalena Barrera
Rebeca Burciaga

Military and Veteran Student Resource Center

Leonard Lira

UndocuSpartan Student Resource Center

Julia Curry

African-American/Black Student Success Center

Nikki Yeboah

Nobel Laureate Salutes San Jose State Alumnus Sidney Siegel

Vernon Smith speaking at the SEEL event. Photo by David Schmitz.

When San Jose State University held a grand inauguration event in October celebrating the launch of the newly renovated Spartan Experimental Economics Lab (SEEL), Vernon Smith, the 2002 Nobel Laureate in Economics, one of the key dignitaries present on the occasion, talked about a certain Sidney Siegel, who was a pioneer in the early days of experimental economic research.

A social psychologist and San Jose State alumnus, Siegel is considered to be one of the founding fathers of experimental economics. Experimental economics is a branch of economics that studies human behavior in a controlled laboratory setting or out in the field, with appropriate controls to remove effects of external influences, rather than just using mathematical models.

According to Smith, Siegel was a master experimentalist, but much more. He also used theory and statistics with great skill in the design and analysis of experiments. “Few behavioral or experimental economists realize how much of their methodological tradition came from Sid Siegel.”

Smith’s reference to Siegel is important in many ways. Siegel and San Jose State go back a long way. In 1951, the master experimentalist graduated with a bachelor’s degree in vocational arts from San Jose State College, the precursor to SJSU.

Arguably, graduating from college was a defining moment in Siegel’s educational pursuits. The degree opened the path for many opportunities, one of which led him to Stanford where he completed his doctoral studies in psychology. It was there that Smith first met him.

“During the 1961-1962 academic year, I was a visiting associate professor at Stanford. At the beginning of the autumn quarter, I had the truly significant experience of meeting Sidney Siegel and discovering that we had both been doing experimental economics,” Smith recalled. 

That moment has stayed with the 92-year-old Nobel Laureate. Little did he know then that it would be a brief association. Siegel passed away at age 45 in 1961.

In his “Tribute to Sidney Siegel (1916-1961): A founder of Experimental Economics,” Smith writes about how Siegel survived the rigors of impoverished and diabolical teenage years in the dark alleys of New York. He did not finish high school until later. His only saving grace was when he signed up for the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

Smith published his first experimental article in 1962, two years after Siegel collaborated with Lawrence Fouraker, a professor of economics and later a dean of the Harvard Business School, to publish their first bargaining experiments, which they did in the 1950s.

In Smith’s tribute to Siegel, at a panel where others were speaking in his honor, Smith said that if Siegel had lived he would not only have been a deserving Nobel Laureate, but also that the timetable for the recognition of experimental economics would have been expedited, perhaps by several years.

As experimental methods become more prominent among firms in Silicon Valley, SEEL is focused on joint academic-industry projects, as well as collaborations among departments and researchers, that would help establish SJSU’s position at the forefront of experimental work.

“The use of experiments in industry, particularly within tech companies such as Uber and Facebook, is a growing trend, and the SEEL lab provides us with the ability to not only make SJSU students familiar with the use of experimental techniques, but also to have them run their own experiments,” said Justin Rietz, assistant professor of economics. 

“Research experimentalists in SJSU’s economics department did not have a lab, and as a result, they were either traveling to UC Santa Cruz or Chapman University to partner with faculty members and students as a standard protocol, and that has meant lost opportunities for SJSU students. But all that has changed now,” said Colleen Haight, interim associate dean, undergraduate education.

University Library Hosts Diverse Exhibits For Fall Semester

Treasures from the Vault 

Sheet Music

Medieval musical notation

Writing quills, missal leaves, rabbit skin glue, agate burnisher, medieval music and notation, illuminated manuscripts—are by all means a rare glimpse of a fascinating moment in history. 

SJSU Special Collections & Archives celebrates the rich and beautiful legacy of medieval history with a new exhibit, Treasures from the Vault: Medieval Manuscripts and Beyond, that is on display on the fifth-floor exhibit gallery of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library from Aug. 15 through Dec. 9.

The exhibit showcases illuminated manuscripts and incunabula made in the late middle ages that draw from a fascinating array of subjects like medieval music, personal devotional books and religious scholarship.

Two SJSU students from the MLIS program Jacob Rabinowitz and Fiona Du Brock, came upon these illuminated manuscripts while working on a cataloging project, and decided they should be shared with others. 

“These beautiful handmade documents were sitting in the vault without having any indication that they exist,” said Rabinowitz. “I like the idea of getting them available to the public. The archives and special collections exist for people so they can use our materials for research.”

The exhibit is a unique opportunity for people to witness handwritten documents that go back hundreds of years. 

“These are the oldest materials we have in our archives,” Du Brock added. “It should be noted that all of the manuscripts on display are fragments, we don’t have any complete manuscripts.”

Both Rabinowitz and Du Brock thought a cool display of this kind would pique general interest as well as make people engage more with the archives. 

The special collection library figures prominently in the university map as it supports diverse teaching and research needs of students, faculty and the larger community. 

The Art of Remembrance

The University Library hosted an opening reception for the Art of Remembrance exhibit. Photo by Lesley Seacrist.

The University Library hosted an opening reception for the Art of Remembrance exhibit. Photo by Lesley Seacrist.

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library often displays exhibits curated from its special collections, from other departments on campus or from arts organizations that enrich the community and appeal to a diverse audience.  

This month the library is holding its 13th Annual Art of Remembrance Altar Exhibit in collaboration with the San José Multicultural Artists Guild. The exhibit features traditional and contemporary visual arts and altars by local and Bay Area artists, in the tradition of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). 

This visually vibrant Mexican tradition offers a space for the community to pause, reflect and remember the spirit of their loved ones by celebrating their legacy. Altars are elaborately decorated with flowers, photos, mementos and food for their departed loved ones.

The exhibit, which opened for the public on Oct. 10 with a reception featuring tamales, pan de muerto and hot chocolate, is curated by SJSU Librarian Kathryn Blackmer Reyes and BFA student Nanzi Muro. The reception also marked the official launch of $50k & Beyond, a campaign for the Africana, Asian American, Chicano and Native American (AAACNA) Studies Center Endowment to support the Center’s important work. The exhibit is open through Nov. 8.

Bay Area Pride

In addition, the Bay Area Pride: 50 Years of LGBTQ History, Politics, and Culture Exhibit will be on display through Dec. 20 in the Special Collections Exhibit Hall on the Fifth Floor. The exhibit includes original photos from the Ted Sahl Archives, Billy DeFrank LGBT Silicon Valley Community Center Papers and much more. A reception will be held in the Schiro Room on Oct. 17, from 4 to 6 p.m.

 

SJSU to Host Virtual Adobe Creative Jam Oct. 11-12

Donna Caldwell, a senior solutions consultant, leads the Adobe XD bootcamp for students who competed in the Adobe Creative Jam April 18, 2019. Photo by Robert C. Bain

Donna Caldwell, a senior solutions consultant, leads the Adobe XD bootcamp for students who competed in the Adobe Creative Jam April 18, 2019. Photo by Robert C. Bain

San Jose State University will host a unique virtual Adobe Creative Jam this month with participants from seven additional California State Universities. The event will kick off on Oct. 11 at 1 p.m. in Dwight Bentel Hall 117, and will end on Oct. 12. 

This two-day event builds on the success of a spring Digital Detox event in which SJSU students learned how to use Adobe XD, received portfolio and resume reviews, and created their own prototype app.

Spartans have many reasons to join the jam. John Delacruz, Associate Professor, Advertising and an Adobe Education Leader, sees this as a valuable learning opportunity for SJSU students who will eventually step into fast-paced industries. 

“The Adobe association adds value and weight to the student experience,” he said. “The digital badge they carry on their LinkedIn profiles and resumes that the company may provide them as participatory evidence is something that they don’t just get from the most progressive classroom. The value from collaborations like these give students a step up once they are looking for jobs.”

The jam is designed to be a fun event for students coming from diverse backgrounds and disciplines as they connect virtually. In true Spartan spirit, the goal is to rise above challenges, learning to work in a team, and developing creative skills and their applications in a time-sensitive environment. And the icing on the cake is that students can win cash prizes, will receive free food, and revel in the camaraderie on the team. 

How the Adobe Creative Jam will work: 

Students who sign up will be grouped into teams of three to five to work on a creative brief that’s topical and relevant. Speakers from Adobe and other design professionals will join the students via Crowdcast to share tips and advice on the field. There will also be a tutorial, a deep dive into Adobe XD—a design software required to accomplish the project.

Teams will then have two hours to brainstorm ideas, think of solutions, and come up with a prototype design, following which each team will get two to three minutes to present their ideas. 

A set of finalists from each campus will improve their ideas overnight and present them again to the judges virtually on Saturday. A fresh set of judges will select overall winners. The winning teams will receive $250 each, giveaways from Adobe along with plenty of other goodies. 

Delacruz is an advocate of engaging students in experiential learning and pedagogy, peer mentoring, and other exciting activities that happen in the creative field. He stresses that industries work on quick turnaround of projects, and students need to be aware of certain tools to get the work done effectively, and

“This is where Adobe chips in with the tools that creative industries are built on,” he said.