SJSU Center for Community Learning and Leadership Launches Civic Action Fellowship

A young girl with long brown hair hovers over her desk as she works on an electric device.

Photo: David Schmitz / San José State University.

San José, Calif.— San José State University’s Center for Community Learning and Leadership (CCLL) is pleased to announce the launch of the Civic Action Fellowship—a partnership between the California Volunteers within the Office of the Governor, AmeriCorps and a coalition of public and private universities—designed to help students pay for college while addressing regional challenges.

This unique collaboration between federal and state funds will allow 44 San José State undergraduate and graduate students from diverse disciplines to become AmeriCorps Civic Action Fellows and engage in virtual service during a time of great crisis triggered by the COVID-19 global pandemic. CCLL received $75,000 for planning and $480,868 ($136,106, federal funds and $344,762, state funds) for implementation as part of the grants.

The goal of the fellowship is to ensure a new cohort of California citizens committed to addressing local and state challenges, public concerns and a life of public engagement. The students who dedicate time to public service will receive financial support to obtain a college degree designed to position them for success in career and life.

“San José State students will meet some of the highest needs in our country during this time, first, by providing STEM education to underserved youths in surrounding neighborhoods. And second, by contributing to health promotion around COVID-19 through high-impact social media campaigns,” said CCLL Director and SJSU Professor of Psychology Elena Klaw.

The Civic Action Fellows will primarily work with local after-school programs to provide computer programming enrichment for underserved third- and sixth-grade youths. In addition, Civic Action Fellows will participate in the city of San José and Santa Clara County initiatives. For their efforts, the fellows will receive a monthly living allowance and an education award upon completion of the program.

“The Civic Action Fellowship enabled our center to expand upon our Cyber Spartans program. We now have the capacity to increase our partnerships, reach more youths and expand the content the youths are taught from only cybersecurity to civic engagement and health promotion,” said CCLL Assistant Director Andrea Tully.

Since the once completely in-person program is now entirely virtual, Tully said, “Our fellows are learning how to teach computer programming in unplugged ways through interactive kits that have puzzles and other games. They’re learning how to provide social-emotional support virtually to youths who struggled with online learning when the stay at home orders were first issued in spring.”

Joshua Lawson, ’23 Computer Science, who worked earlier on the Cyber Spartans Program said the Civic Action Fellowship program offered him the opportunity to design a lot of the curriculum being used. “I was actually in charge of a lot of the design of the curriculum and had written a lot of programs and units of work that were designed to be either in person or in small groups with mentors,” said Lawson.

Due to COVID-19, the team had to dramatically change the curriculum over the last couple of months to adapt to the online environment. Lawson enjoyed the transition process as it allowed him to build a critically thought out creative project. Now, the virtual program model includes time to interact virtually with San José State fellows, as well as kits that students can work on at home.

Mercedes Mansfield, ’22 MS Occupational Therapy, who is working with the CCLL for the first time, said, “the program is important, as it will help me gain experience in hands-on work with members in underserved communities, as well as help me develop leadership skills.” Mansfield and Lawson both agree that the CCLL weekly seminars have helped to broaden their knowledge on societal issues and what they can do to create a larger change in the communities they serve.

“Our model at the Center for Community Learning and Leadership has always been innovative in that although there are many organizations on campus that provide service, our emphasis is long-standing mutually beneficial relationships that address ongoing community needs,” said Klaw.

CCLL works closely with Campbell Unified School District’s Expanded Learning Program, as well as its long-standing partner, Third Street Community Center, located very close to the SJSU campus.

“The pandemic caused unprecedented challenges to our program launch, as it has for our community partners and for the families of the youths our fellows serve. They are learning patience and resilience that I know will serve them well in their future careers,” Tully added.

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.”

Jobelle Abellera Named 2020-2021 CSU Trustee Scholar

Jobelle Abellera, ’21 Computer Science

Photo courtesy of Jobelle Abellera, ’21 Computer Science

The California State University has selected Jobelle Abellera, ’21 Computer Science, for the CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement for the 2020-2021 academic year.

San José State student Abellera earned the prestigious Trustee William Hauck and Padget Kaiser Scholar award as a result of her superior academic performance, exemplary community service and personal accomplishments. A portrait of fortitude, Abellera earned this award overcoming considerable physical and financial adversities.

Growing up in the Bay Area in a low-income household, Abellera didn’t have access to the “cool things that everyone had.” However, during elementary school, she found something that excites her even today: her parents’ old computer. Toying with the computer and playing video games soon became a source of inspiration. Abellera came to appreciate the stories, characters, music, coded graphics, and all the defining elements of these games. “I like playing online games. I used to have a PlayStation during my elementary school years. I used to play on that until my dad gave it away,” she said.

Her parents instilled in her the value of education early on. She quotes her father: “Go to college, get a degree and you will have a career and you will have a good life.” Abellera took the advice by heart and always made an effort to stay on course.

When Abellera was in middle school she was diagnosed with scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine, that left her in acute pain. “I wore a back brace during the first two years of my middle school, and did therapeutic back exercises to correct my spine,” she said. It was during this time that her self-esteem dipped  and she became reclusive. Abellera felt she didn’t “fit in” with the braces sticking out her clothes. The efforts yielded insufficient results as the curvature worsened, and she was forced to undergo back surgery. “I have a metal rod on my back, and most people don’t know that about me,” she said.

“I was out of school for two months after surgery. I was just getting homeschooled and was trying to keep up even though I was sitting at home in bed with a sore back,” she said. With support from friends and family, Abellera came out of the most difficult phase of her life.

The summer after she graduated high school brought in new challenges. Abellera got evicted from a Sunnyvale mobile home community after the landlord decided to sell off the land. She now lives in a suburban town an hour away from San José State.

Her work ethic has always served her well. “I’ve never turned in an assignment late,” she said. Abellera has been an honor student throughout her life. At San José State, she received the Dean’s Scholar and President’s Scholar awards for maintaining a high GPA. Abellera has been saving up all the scholarship money that she has been awarded throughout her life, not just for her education but also for her two younger siblings to use for school.

At the core of her life-long struggle lies a desire to help the underprivileged. Abellera wants to inspire children to be more tech-savvy. In the past, she has taught kids how to code and volunteered at local high schools to raise awareness around tech. “I want to introduce the benefits of technology to people in more rural areas such as where I live now,” she said. “So everyone can work more efficiently and see how technology can build jobs and futures for people.”

Abellera sees education beyond tests and grades. She encourages people to apply skills they have learned to make a difference. Abellera’s dream is to create her own video game someday. “The underlying factor in why I ended up taking computer science was my love for video games and the way they are created,” she said. “I hope to create an artistically original message that’ll inspire future generations to try to get out there and create their own things as well.”

$3M Grant from the Koret Foundation Benefits Students

The Koret Foundation’s focus on higher education aligns with the goals of SJSU’s Transformation 2030 strategic plan, enabling the university to invest in ways to optimize student success. Photo: David Schmitz / San José State University

San José, Calif. — San José State University is pleased to announce that it has received a $3 million grant from the Koret Foundation. The grant aims to directly benefit students by providing scholarships, career preparation resources, and other services.

“It is only through generous, sustained investments from organizations such as the Koret Foundation that we can engage and educate more students and meet our Transformation 2030 strategic plan goals,” said SJSU President Mary A. Papazian. “The foundation’s priorities in higher education align perfectly with our own, making them an ideal partner. I cannot thank them enough.”

The grant comes at a critical time, as higher education institutions grapple with funding and organizational challenges due to the global COVID-19 health pandemic. In addition to SJSU, 11 other Bay Area colleges and universities have received funding totaling $50 million.

The five-year grant aims to directly benefit students by providing scholarships, career preparation resources, and other services. Photo: Robert Bain / San José State University

“Investing in the next generation of talent, innovation and leadership is critical in order to ensure that all students, including the disadvantaged, have the opportunity to lead productive and successful lives,” said Michael J. Boskin, president of the Koret Foundation.

For SJSU, the five-year grant is significant. The Koret Foundation’s focus on higher education aligns with the goals of SJSU’s Transformation 2030 strategic plan, enabling the university to invest in ways to optimize student success.

“Koret’s Higher Education Initiative seeks to support key academic institutions in the Bay Area and fund programs that can spark new thinking, facilitate partnerships, and contribute to student success.” Boskin said.

Five Grant Elements

During a meeting with Boskin in late 2019, Papazian proposed key student needs, which have translated into the grant’s five elements.

The Koret Scholars Program will allow SJSU to continue awarding scholarships to eligible full-time undergraduate students served by SJSU’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) or the Military and Veteran Student Services Office.

The Veterans’ Services Expansion funding will be used to support the design and implementation of expanded programming for SJSU veterans in specific focus areas: career readiness, healthy living, women veterans support, and building community.

The Navigating College-to-Career Success funding will be used to integrate proven education-to-career tools and to engage experts to integrate these resources into existing campus services.

The Diversifying STEM Pipeline Project funding will be used to build upon proven and existing service delivery methods to pilot activities focused on diversifying the STEM pipeline through two avenues: training of teachers who support high school students and offering exceptional hands-on STEM learning experiences.

The Capital Resources for 21st-Century Learning funding will be used to purchase specific items for use by SJSU students with the goal of helping to optimize student success, improve completion rates, and bolster career advancement opportunities.


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.

About the Koret Foundation

The Koret Foundation is committed to strengthening the Bay Area and supporting the Jewish community in the U.S. and Israel through strategic grantmaking to outstanding organizations. Grounded in historical Jewish principles and traditions, and dedicated to humanitarian values, the foundation is committed to innovation, testing new ideas, and serving as a catalyst by bringing people and organizations together to help solve societal and systemic problems of common concern. Learn more about the Koret Foundation and its grantees at koret.org.

SJSU Establishes the Nation’s Largest Academic Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center

Largest Cluster Hire of Wildfire Scientists at a University

Photo: Robert Bain/San José State University

San José State University has established the largest academic Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center (WIRC) in the United States with five new tenure-track faculty members and millions of dollars in new technology. The purpose of the new center is to serve as the leading institution in California, providing modern, state-of-knowledge on wildfire science and management.

“In just the past few years, wildfires have scorched California’s landscape, burning millions of acres, injuring and killing hundreds of people and causing billions of dollars in damages. Dealing with this challenge requires interdisciplinary solutions,” said College of Science Dean Michael Kaufman. “The advanced wildfire research enabled by this new center is needed now more than ever before.”

WIRC is housed in the College of Science and will work through an interdisciplinary model with the College of Social Sciences and the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering. WIRC’s new integrated and interdisciplinary academic team specialize in the following areas:

  • Fire Ecology (Biology)
  • Fire and Fluid Dynamics (Mechanical Engineering)
  • Wildfire Behavior Modeling and Wildfire Meteorology (Meteorology)
  • Wildfire Remote Sensing (Meteorology)
  • Wildfire Management and Policy (Environmental Studies)

Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science and Director of the Fire Weather Research Lab Craig Clements will serve as director of the new Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center. Four newly hired tenure-track faculty members join him in wildfire science and management:

Adam Kochanski

Assistant Professor of Wildfire Meteorology

His research interests include fire-atmosphere interactions, including air quality impacts of wildland fires. He is an international leader in wildfire modeling with extensive experience in running numerical simulations of fire, smoke and regional climate on high-performance computing platforms.

Amanda M. Stasiewicz

Assistant Professor of Wildfire Management in the Department of Environmental Studies

Her research focuses on the human dimensions of wildfire, community adaptation to wildfire risk in the wildland-urban interface, and citizen-agency conflict and cooperation during wildfire preparation, prevention and wildfire response (e.g., suppression, evacuation).

Ali Tohidi

Assistant Professor of Fire and Fluid Dynamics in the Department of Mechanical Engineering

His research interests are at the nexus of experimental, data-driven and mathematical modeling of nonlinear spatiotemporal processes across different scales. His current research focus is understanding wildfire spread mechanisms, including firebrand (ember) generation, transport and spot fire ignition, as well as applications of data-driven methods in physics-based models.

Kate Wilkin

Assistant Professor of Fire Ecology in the Department of Biological Sciences

She has nearly 20 years of experience in natural resource management, outreach and research. Her research focuses on living sustainability in fire-prone ecosystems: wildfire recovery of communities and natural lands, prescribed fire on private lands and wildfire mitigation, including fire-resistant homes, defensible space and fuel treatments.

A fifth tenure-track faculty member in wildfire remote sensing with expertise in monitoring wildfire behavior and developing novel airborne remote sensing technologies will join the team in January 2021.

These new faculty members will join three other faculty members at SJSU:

Craig Clements

Director of the WIRC and Fire Weather Research Laboratory and Professor of Meteorology

He has more than 20 years of experience designing meteorological and wildfire field experiments. His research aims to better understand the complexities of fire weather in mountain areas, including extreme fire behavior in canyons and wildfire plume dynamics. His work has pioneered the deployment of novel observation systems to wildfire incidents to study fire weather phenomena.

Patrick Brown

Assistant Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science

He is a climate scientist who conducts research on weather and climate and how they interact with society. He currently conducts research on the relationship between climate and wildfire risk.

Mike Voss

Staff Meteorologist and Technician; Lecturer in the Meteorology and Climate Science Department

He has more than 25 years of experience forecasting California weather, focusing on fire weather and extreme weather events.

“San José State is bringing together some of the top academic experts in the world who have extensive experience in wildfire science, management, climate and meteorological research,” said Clements. “This is truly a world-class group that is passionate about advancing wildfire science.”

The WIRC will employ an advanced, next-generation, wildfire-atmosphere forecasting system and a suite of mobile assets to conduct research in the field. These assets include two customized trucks equipped with Doppler radar and one truck equipped with Doppler LiDAR. These are the only mobile fire weather units in the United States. They are also the only fire weather research units in the nation qualified to go behind fire lines.

“These new technologies will strengthen the prediction, monitoring and management of wildfire throughout California,” said Clements.

“San José State University’s initial investment in the Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center demonstrates our commitment to advancing wildfire research and to the state of California as it faces one of the most pressing problems the 21st century,” said Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Vincent J. Del Casino Jr. “I am confident there is more to come.”

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.”

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.

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.

NSF Awards $1.5M to Fund STEM Curricula for Students with Visual Impairments

A student with visual impairment touches a 3D model.

A student explores a 3D printed tactile model of the constellation Orion. The spherical stars have diameters that represent their true relative brightnesses and are attached to posts whose lengths indicate the stars’ true relative distances from the Earth. Photo: Professor Thomas Madura/San José State University.

Multiple 3D printers assembled by students with visual impairment.

3D printers assembled by students with VI at the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons in Kalamazoo, MI. Photo: Professor Thomas Madura/San José State University.

Researchers from San José State University, The Ohio State University and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) located at John Hopkins University have been awarded a $1.5 million dollar Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curricula for students with blindness and visual impairments (VI).

The funding will be used to research and develop STEM Career Exploration Labs (CELs) where students with VI can learn about STEM, career opportunities in STEM and develop STEM skills.

“Students will participate in hands-on activities such as assembling and using desktop 3D printers and using 3D printed models and sound to learn astronomical topics, such as celestial motion and lunar phases,” said Principal Investigator and San José State University Assistant Professor Thomas Madura. “Spatial thinking is particularly important for students with VI, who touch their surroundings and gather information via sound to form mental images and make sense of the world.”

The STEM Career Exploration Labs will also include interactions with STEM professionals with VI and field trips to local businesses that offer insights into STEM careers. The CELs will serve high school students from ages 14 to 20 with VI, their sighted peers, STEM high school teachers and teachers of the visually impaired.  The Council of Schools for the Blind will help recruit students and teachers for the program.

Previously, researchers conducted two pilot workshops including one in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs’ Bureau of Services for Blind Persons and the South Carolina Commission For the Blind in Columbia, South Carolina.

“In the workshops, the students explored current research data obtained with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope through 3D prints,” said Hubble Space Telescope Outreach Project Scientist at STScI Dr. Carol Christian. “The use of such tactile materials allows students to discover the wonder as well as some of the scientific detail of the astrophysical universe.”

A student with visual impairment holds a 3D printed model of the Eta Carinae Homunculus nebula.

A student explores a 3D printed model of the Eta Carinae Homunculus nebula created using observations obtained from the European Southern Observatory’s telescope in Chile. Photo: Professor Thomas Madura/San José State University.

According to Assistant Professor Thomas Madura, there is very little research to date on how students with VI learn science and fewer studies on the impact of technological tools designed for students with VI. Researchers will collect and provide new data by investigating:

  • The effect on students with VI’s understanding of scientific concepts
  • How students participate in the inquiry-based STEM work
  • How the project affects student attitudes towards STEM, STEM careers, and astronomy
  • Assess understanding of spatial thinking skills and astronomy concepts
  • Identify STEM high school teachers’ attitudes towards students with disabilities in STEM classes

Data results will be distributed in a variety of ways, including peer-reviewed research journals, presentations, and workshops at various STEM, astronomy, VI, education, 3D printing, persons with disabilities and related domestic and international conferences.

“We know very little about how persons with visual impairments understand abstract concepts, such as astronomy, as they are presented through 3D models,” said Project Researcher and Associate Professor at The Ohio State University Tiffany Wild. “The results of this research can impact the way we teach astronomy to students with visual impairments and ultimately increase accessibility for all those with visual impairments to the world of astronomy.”

Depending on the current COVID-19 pandemic, researchers plan to set up STEM Career Exploration Labs in public high schools, schools for the blind, and state agencies in 12 states beginning in spring 2021.

SJSU Launches SJSU Adapt Plan for Fall 2020

Note: The following message from President Mary A. Papazian was shared with the SJSU campus community on Monday, July 13, 2020.

SJSU campus community, 

I’m sure we can all agree the past few months adapting to the challenges of COVID-19 has tested us physically, emotionally, psychologically and, for some, spiritually. Although every one of us has been affected by the pandemic in their own way, as Spartans, we have shown strength in taking on whatever has come our way, while continuing to show compassion, care and a helping hand for others. 

The SJSU Adapt plan is now available after months of planning and responding to constantly evolving external guidelines. I want to thank everyone who played an integral part ensuring this plan addresses the needs of the entire campus community. I also want to thank the campus community for their patience as we developed the plan and obtained needed approvals from the California State University Chancellor’s Office.The SJSU Adapt logo, an infinity symbol with blue and gold colors The multi-phased approach of the SJSU Adapt plan purposely aligns with health orders of Santa Clara County and California Department of Public Health Departments. This plan serves as a roadmap for us to navigate the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic and adjust to the continued gradual reopening or potential future closing of Santa Clara County and the state of California.

The new website features an explanation of the four phases of the plan, FAQs, and health and safety guidelines. SJSU is currently in “Phase 2: Modified Campus” of the SJSU Adapt plan.

A depiction of the four phases of the SJSU Adapt plan, with Phase 2 of the picture being highlighted to signify that SJSU is in Phase 2.

SJSU could move backwards or forwards in phases if it is deemed necessary, due to new or revised health ordinances from local and state public health departments. 

The following information from SJSU Adapt has been posted:

The icons for information that is available in the SJSU Adapt plan.

Please note that the fall plan for Athletics is still being reviewed by the California State University Chancellor’s Office. When information has been approved to share, the site will be updated and a follow up message will alert you to the update. 

After the community has had some time to review the details of the SJSU Adapt plan, there will be an opportunity to discuss parts of the plan and answer questions in one of two virtual town halls in late July. Details will be communicated soon.

Thank you again for your flexibility and patience during these last several trying months. I look forward to the time we can all be together, once again.

Sincerely,

Mary A. Papazian

President

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.”

SJSU Faculty Prepare for Fall 2020

More than 1,000 faculty members hone their skills to improve student experience in online courses

With the California State University system recently deciding on a shift to mostly virtual classes for the fall 2020 semester, SJSU faculty members are taking part in the SJSU Teach Online Summer Certificate Program. The program is being supported by a partnership that features the SJSU Center for Faculty Development, eCampus, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), and the outside organization Online Learning Consortium (OLC).

More than 1,000 faculty members have signed up for the three-week online program, which will support them in inclusive, accessible and well-designed online and hybrid instruction for Fall courses.

“I’m excited by the response from our faculty members, who recognize the importance of this opportunity to create the best learning experiences for our students for fall 2020 and beyond,” said Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Vincent Del Casino Jr.

Screengrab of the SJSU Teach Online Summer Certificate Program

Jennifer Redd, Director of eCampus, presents during the first session of the SJSU Teach Online Summer Certificate Program on June 8, 2020.

Faculty members must complete seven modules to earn a certificate, badge and stipend. The program is led by experienced online instructors from a wide range of disciplines who will provide guidance and support. To establish a strong benchmark for everyone participating in the institute, 33 faculty members will be participating in a “train-the-trainer” workshop to serve as program mentors.

“The spring semester prompted a rapid shift in teaching and learning for students, faculty and staff alike,” said eCampus Director Jennifer Redd. “That we can invest in helping faculty members create quality teaching experiences for the fall that represent their dedication is critical to our campus’ long-term success.”

The program begins with a two-hour synchronous session, where faculty members will be introduced to hybrid options for curriculum and how to ensure equity in online teaching.

After the online session, participants will have three weeks to complete seven modules. Four modules are required to be completed by every faculty member:

  • Mastering Online Teaching Essentials,
  • Supporting Universal Design for Learning,
  • Analyzing Assessment Strategies and
  • Equity and Inclusion Frameworks in Design in Online Settings
Screenshot of a lesson from the SJSU Teach Online Summer Certificate Program

Chief Diversity Officer Kathy Wong(Lau) leads a discussion during the first session of the SJSU Teach Online Summer Certificate Program on June 8, 2020.

“I am grateful that ODEI could create a research-informed module on best practices and resources that attend to equity and inclusion in online course design, facilitation, and materials,” said Chief Diversity Officer Kathy Wong(Lau). “Working with this team of campus collaborators has been fantastic.” The additional three modules are selected from a group of optional modules on topics that include how to integrate support services for students, create robust online labs and simulations, and use Adobe’s Creative Cloud solutions in the classroom.

“Experts from across the campus have designed a program that will help any instructor strengthen their teaching, no matter how experienced they are to start,” said Center for Faculty Development Director Deanna Fassett.

Given the overwhelming interest, faculty members have been assigned to cohorts. The first cohort started June 8, with the other two sessions beginning June 29 and July 20.

Along with this program, faculty members are also pursuing opportunities through the CSU Chancellor’s Office, SJSU’s Center for Faculty Development, eCampus, and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

 

NOAA Selects Moss Landing Marine Labs For New CIMEAS Institute

A boat on the water with partial view of being underwater with seaweed.

Photo credit: Scott Gabara, ’14 MS Phycology

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has selected San José State University’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML) to be a founding member of the agency’s new Cooperative Institute for Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Systems (CIMEAS).

The CIMEAS will conduct collaborative, multidisciplinary research on climate, ocean and ecosystems. Its goal is to advance the regional, national, and global understanding of natural and human-caused impacts on our ecosystems and develop sustainable ways to strengthen our environmental and economic well-being.

“Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML) is excited to join the new CIMEAS organization because it provides extraordinary opportunities for our students and researchers to collaborate on important marine research and aquaculture issues,” said MLML Director Jim Harvey. “Our graduate students will benefit greatly by collaborating with NOAA scientists and others to investigate relevant oceanographic problems and to gain important skills as they become the leaders and researchers of the future.”

In partnership with NOAA and other agencies, CIMEAS will conduct research in four main areas focusing on the western U.S., California Current System and the Pacific and Southern oceans. The science will support:

  • ecosystem-based management of living marine resources
  • research, development, and technology innovation for global ocean observations and monitoring
  • coastal and oceanic observations, analysis, and prediction
  • weather, water, and climate research

The institute, led by UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is comprised of a consortium of graduate degree-granting institutions, including MLML, Humboldt State University, Cal State University Los Angeles, Farallon Institute, University of California Davis, University of California Los Angeles, University of California Santa Barbara, and University of California Santa Cruz.

“MLML and SJSU have an excellent reputation for research and education globally, and MLML students have moved on to different levels of research and management that serve the needs of California and the nation,” said MLML Director Jim Harvey. “There are many pressing issues associated with the oceans and coastlines, and MLML is excited to be joining an Institute that will partner with NOAA to understand and help solve these important problems.”

Editors Note:  To learn more about Moss Landing Marine Labs go to Washington Square Magazine

SJSU Appoints New Dean of College of Health and Human Sciences

Audrey Mengwasser Shillington has been appointed dean of SJSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences (CHHS), effective July 1.

Shillington joins SJSU from Colorado State University, where she has held the positions of Director of the School of Social Work, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, and Interim Associate Dean for Research in the College of Health and Human Sciences. She will be replacing Pamela Richardson, who served as interim dean of CHHS for the past year.

“Dr. Shillington brings an energy, creativity and background that will allow her to facilitate the larger strategic conversation in CHHS and on the campus in academic affairs,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Vincent Del Casino, Jr. “More importantly, Dr. Shillington has a clear commitment to the mission of the California State University system and SJSU.”

New dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences Audrey Mengwasser Shillington

Audrey Mengwasser Shillington has been appointed dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences, effective July 1.

Prior to her leadership roles at Colorado State University, Shillington was a professor at San Diego State University’s School of Social Work, where she helped create and co-led the Center for Alcohol and Drug Studies and Services. She also served as Senior Investigator at SDSU’s School of Public Health Center for Behavioral Epidemiology and Community Health. Upon arriving at Colorado State University, Shillington helped develop an interdisciplinary Cannabis Research Group.

“I am excited to join the SJSU team — my work has always been interdisciplinary and collaborative throughout my training, research and leadership — and I look forward to working with leadership, faculty, staff, students, alumni, industry, and community partners to build the College of Health and Human Sciences,” Shillington said. “In light of recent COVID-19 impacts, there has been no other time in recent history when the call and need to better understand and address health disparities has been stronger. SJSU’s CHHS is poised to be at the forefront of this important work.”

Shillington is currently a Fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare and also Fellow of the American Academy of Health Behavior — both preeminent national organizations for disciplinary researchers and practitioners.

Shillington earned her MSW and PhD in social work at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and her undergraduate degrees at Drury University in Springfield, MO. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years in Benin, West Africa, where she was involved in projects on energy conservation and food insecurity for rural communities. She was a NIH National Institute of Mental Health postdoctoral fellow for three years and received a master’s in psychiatric epidemiology from the Washington University School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry. Shillington also spent two years as a National Institute of Drug Abuse trainee for the Hispanic Drug Abuse and HIV/AIDS Research Training through the Yale University School of Medicine.

Shillington’s research has focused on the prevention and intervention of substance use behaviors among youth and young adults. She has over 70 publications and been Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator for $16 million in NIH and state grants and contracts. Her research focused on addressing disparities that exist in the nosology and measurement of mental and behavioral health. Shillington has also led work aimed at reducing problematic alcohol use and issues related to the legalization of recreational marijuana use among young adults.

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.”