April 2017 Newsletter: Spartans Support Neighboring Community During Flood

Alumnus Ralph Murrieta Jr, '11 MPA, right, and other Spartans volunteered to help with cleanup efforts following flooding along the Coyote Creek and in San Jose neighborhoods on March 11. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Alumnus Ralph Murrieta Jr, ’11 MPA, right, and other Spartans volunteered to help with cleanup efforts following flooding along the Coyote Creek and in San Jose neighborhoods on March 11. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By Barry Zepel

The San Jose State University community has a long tradition of helping during times of crisis. That was the case on Feb. 21 after the recent record rainfall led to Anderson Dam spilling over its banks in Morgan Hill and into the Coyote Creek, which then overflowed onto various streets and neighborhoods in San Jose, causing flood damage and displacing residents.

While university administrators offered support to students, staff and faculty in the affected neighborhoods, CommUniverCity Director Dayana Salazar coordinated with The Health Trust to start a fundraiser to support local residents. As of the end of March, the groups had raised $9,430.

In addition to financial support, Spartan volunteers also helped with cleanup work near the creek and around the city. Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful (KCCB), the South Bay Clean Creeks Coalition and the city of San Jose initiated clean-up work starting on Feb. 24, with follow-up efforts into March. Alumnus Ralph Murrieta Jr. and students Shannen Osborne and Maribel Muratalla were among a contingent of volunteers ready to help on March 11. Murrieta and Muratalla have been KCCB team leaders for two years.

On an early Saturday morning, volunteers, including Murrieta, found mud, downed fences, Ethernet cables and copper wires, as well as fallen debris from trees that had been drenched by the rains and accompanying high-velocity winds of the previous days. Murrieta, ’11 MPA, is no rookie when it comes to community service and volunteerism.

“I’ve been volunteering with Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, (a community group) dedicated to restoring the local watershed, for roughly a year-and-a-half,” he explained.

Murrieta said he first became involved in community volunteering in 2015 through SJSU’s CommUniverCity program. CommUniverCity is a unique partnership between the university and the city of San Jose that engages SJSU students and faculty members with residents and city staff members for learning projects that accomplish neighborhood-defined goals. The program creates and supports 50 community action projects annually in a multitude of disciplines. They range from after-school tutoring and nutrition education to adult financial literacy classes.

With cleanup being a vital community need in March, Murrieta served as team leader for a group of 15 to 20 other volunteers along the banks of the creek.

“Among the things we found (and picked up) were traces of homeless encampments, including clothing, bedding, various metal and wood debris items, and food wrappers,” he said. “While our operation wrapped up after a few hours – around 11 a.m. – I know that some of the volunteers went on to assist other clean-up operations that were taking place in the city.”

Deb Kramer, program manager for KCCB, said their efforts were scheduled for two hours on March 11, but many volunteers stayed longer to help clean up the Olinder play area, including removing tan bark and sand, and cleaning play structures and picnic benches that had been contaminated by the flood.

SJSU student and alumni volunteers participated in clean ups along the Coyote Creek, near William Street Park and the Selma Olinder Play Area, east of campus.

SJSU student and alumni volunteers participated in cleanups along the Coyote Creek, near William Street Park and the Selma Olinder Play Area, east of campus.

Osborne, a senior majoring in communications, has been involved with KCCB since taking a couple of environmental courses at the university. She is currently serving as an intern with the community agency. The university’s partnership with KCCB is coordinated through the Center for Community Learning and Leadership, a program that supports service-learning opportunities for students.

“I was helping check in other volunteers at the beginning, so initially I saw many eager people who wanted to help,” she said. “This was not something that residents of San Jose or other surrounding cities ever would have expected to happen, especially since we were just in a drought for so long.”

Among the items she and other volunteers picked up were old tires, shopping carts, old clothing and blankets, and a quarter ton of trash.

“For me, this hits very close to home since I live right along the creek,” Osborne said. “Luckily, I was not harmed by the flooding, but it was definitely too close for comfort and opened my eyes that my family and I could have been evacuated. I definitely wanted to do all that I could to make sure the areas that were affected had some help.”

Likewise, Murrieta’s home was spared any personal loss, but he witnessed firsthand the destructive forces of the recent flooding in the city.

“I did see some of the flooded streets near my (place of) work,” he said.
Both Osborne and Murrieta encouraged others to get involved as community volunteers.

“I cannot stress enough how important it is to give back to your community,” Osborne said. “And you get to meet great people who are excited to be involved in something that helps the local environment. Each (volunteer) helps make such a significant difference.”

Murrieta noted what can be learned from the experience.

“History is happening every day, and you can’t shape it and society by reading a book. You have to get involved,” he said. “It can add to what you are learning in the classroom by providing depth to the issue.”

SJSU Alumna Premieres Feature Film at Cinequest on March 3

As in previous years, students and faculty from San Jose State University will be well represented at the 2017 Cinequest Film and VR Festival staged at various venues throughout San Jose and Redwood City starting this week.

A 2008 alumna of the TRFT program, Los Altos resident Saila Kariat, will be represented at Cinequest with her dramatic, one-hour, 38-minute film titled “The Valley” that she wrote, directed and co-produced. The movie will premiere at 7 p.m. March 5 at the California Theatre, 345 S. First St., San Jose. The feature-length film centers on an Indian-American entrepreneur who has an existential crisis following the suicide of his young-adult daughter.

Kariat — who grew up in India, Canada and the United States — said the film project took three years to complete. Professor Scott Sublett, chair of the SJSU’s TRFT department, said Kariat studied film and screenwriting and distinguished herself in student screenwriting competitions before becoming the department’s Valedictorian.

Kariat partially self-funded the production, which cost $500,000, but also attracted several investors. It had a cast of 30 and crew of 35. She said its international cast includes actors from Pakistan, Alyy Khan; India, Suchitra Pillai; and American Jake T. Austin.

For those who miss the premier, “The Valley” will also be shown on March 6, at 4:15 p.m.; March 9, at 9:15 p.m., and March 11, at 4:15 p.m., at the Cinemark Century 20 theater complex in Redwood City.

“Disaffected Youth,” billed as a “punk rock coming-of-age” film directed by Patrick Mattes and co-written and produced by Jacob Ohlhausen, is a short film produced by Spartan Film Studios.

Patrick Mattes, left, and Jacob Ohlhausen pose for a photograph at their home in Milpitas, Calif. on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2016. The two have a short film, produced by Spartan Studio Films, playing at Cinequest this year called “Disaffected Youth”.(Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

Patrick Mattes, left, and Jacob Ohlhausen pose for a photograph at their home in Milpitas, Calif. on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2016. The two have a short film, produced by Spartan Studio Films, playing at Cinequest this year called “Disaffected Youth”.(Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

“I’m very excited,” said Mattes, a December graduate of the university’s Television, Radio, Film and Theatre (TRFT) department, about his film’s inclusion at Cinequest. “We’re both excited. I texted Jake the moment I heard.”

It will be shown as part of the College Shorts program on March 7, at 8:45 p.m.; March 10, at 7:15 p.m.; and March 11, at 12:45 p.m. at the Cinemark Century 20 theater complex, 825 Middlefield Road, Redwood City.

Also selected for Cinequest was “swiPed”, a four-minute, 38-second animated film both humorous and poignant about the detrimental impacts of smartphones on society. It’s the creation of David Chai, associate professor of Design and Animation/Illustration in the Department of Design, whose tagline for the film is: “Texters texting, tweeters tweeting, likers liking, posters posting, Googlers Googling, Amazonians Amazoning, webheads surfing, snappers chatting, pinnters pinning, tubers tubing, tenders tindering, Netflixers chilling — are we binging too much? More connected than ever, but more distant by the day. Is humanity being swiped away?”

Chai was a Silicon Valley smartphone holdout until recently.

“I had a flip phone until last year,” he said. “I don’t want to be emailing when I can be out enjoying life. People have become so disconnected from one another through technology. Even when you are with them, you’re often not.”

Chai’s film debuts on March 3, at 9:30 p.m. It will subsequently be screened March 5, at 1:05 p.m.; March 7, at 4:30 p.m.; and March 11, at 6:45 p.m. All presentations will be at the Cinemark Century 20 in Redwood City.

 

The annual festival, which has grown dramatically in size and prestige in recent years, provides matchless industry exposure for SJSU film students.

“We want our students to have a professional experience and Cinequest provides a great opportunity for them,” said Barnaby Dallas, coordinator of production for Film and Theatre, and the director of Film Production for Spartan Film Studios, which produced “Disaffected Youth” last summer. “Every year, the film industry comes to San Jose for 10 or 12 days.”

Tickets for events and more information about the Cinequest Film and VR Festival are available online.

Latest Edition of Washington Square Highlights Spartan Stories

Harry Edwards, '64 Sociology, '16 Honorary Doctorate, donated historical items to SJSU and was the guest speaker at the 2016 Commencement.

Harry Edwards, ’64 Sociology, ’16 Honorary Doctorate, donated historical items to SJSU and was the guest speaker at the 2016 Commencement.

The latest edition of Washington Square, SJSU’s Alumni magazine, features stories of Spartan alumni, students, staff and faculty, including a profile of 2016 Commencement Speaker Harry Edwards, ’64 Sociology, ’16 Honorary Doctorate. See photos of Spartans in action, read stories and review web extras online. Visit the Fifth Floor of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library to see an exhibit of items Edwards donated to SJSU.

SJSU Business Grad Supports Accessible Software at Google

Jyotsna Kaki, '06 Management Information Systems, works as an accessibility software testing engineer at Google.

Jyotsna Kaki, ’06 Management Information Systems, works as an accessibility software testing engineer at Google.

When Jyotsna Kaki, ’06 Management Information Systems (MIS), was a student at San Jose State in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, she offered to help a classmate in need when the other student fractured a wrist and was unable to take notes. At the time, Kaki discovered the Disability Resource Center (DRC), now known as the Accessible Education Center, where staff members provided her guidance on how to best support her peer.

More than a decade later, Kaki, who became blind while she was a student at SJSU, is still helping others as a software accessibility test engineer for Google. She oversees a central accessibility team of test engineers and trains other Google employees to conduct accessibility testing. Her story was recently featured on CNN Money, with a video and article.

Kaki became blind a semester after she discovered the DRC while helping her classmate. In fall 2004, she woke one morning with blurriness in her right eye. She had been diagnosed with a benign, slow-growing brain tumor as a child. The tumor had grown into the optic nerve and she underwent surgery to regain her sight. Instead, her optic nerve was damaged during the surgery and she was left with a permanent visual impairment.

“It was unexpected,” she said. “I don’t remember much from the month after I found out.”

But her mother tells her less than 10 minutes after discovering she was blind, Kaki called her brother to ask him to help her get back on campus. Within a month, she was back at San Jose State.

When she returned to campus, she felt isolated from her peers who did not interact with her as they had before she lost her vision. Her professors tried to be accommodating, but sometimes did not know how to help her. She turned to the DRC for support. They provided training on how to use screen reading technology, helped her get accessible textbooks and she learned Braille to get through the rest of her coursework.

“Everything pretty much started there (in the DRC),” Kaki said. “Most professors were helpful, but they didn’t have the necessary information.”

Kaki completed her degree two years after she lost her vision with a 3.8 GPA, higher than her GPA before her impairment. After graduation, her brother passed her resume to a friend who worked at Google without telling her. She thought a professor might have sent her resume in, but later discovered it was her brother. When she was invited in for an interview, she did not think she would get the job. They offered her a position and she has since taken on the role of leading a team of engineers. In the last decade, she said she has seen the focus on accessibility increase at Google and she is proud to be part of the efforts.

“It’s been really great because at the end of every day, I can go to sleep satisfied that what I am doing is going to help someone,” she said. “I have been lucky to help other people get assistance and help make products successful. It’s been a great experience and I’ve learned a lot.”

 

November newsletter: Scholarship assists staff in reaching educational goals

Sami Monsur worked full time in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education while she was completing a degree in Spanish at San Jose State. She said Dean Elaine Chin offers $500 in professional development to each staff member every year.

“I was going for my bachelor’s and it really made a big difference with books,” Monsur said.

After she graduated with her degree in Spanish in 2011, she decided to donate $500 to create a scholarship for other staff members who are working toward their degree. She worked with University Advancement and Financial Aid to create the “Support Our Staff” scholarship, with the inaugural award given out in 2013.

This year, the scholarship fund received enough donations to give five $500 scholarships to San Jose State staff members who are completing a degree at SJSU.

Diana Fitts works as an assistant residential life coordinator while she is completing her master’s in occupational therapy. Fitts said she was inspired to pursue occupational therapy after spending time in El Salvador and the Philippines.

“People were in need of assistance, but they didn’t have resources,” she said. “I like figuring out what someone’s needs are and how to meet those needs.”

Fitts, who is scheduled to graduate in spring 2016, said the “Support Our Staff” scholarship allowed her to purchase books that will help her prepare for licensing exams and board certification.

Sarah Arreola, a specialist in teacher contracts and education projects in the College of Education, also received a scholarship this year. Arreola is working on a master’s in public administration.

“Getting a master’s has always been in the back of my head,” Arreola said. “I had strong family support and Sami (Monsur) encouraged me.”

Arreola, who uses the staff fee waiver program, said the scholarship has helped with books and other school supplies. She said her twin sons look up to her, and that she and her husband talk about college often with the boys.

The other 2015-16 recipients include: Amy D’Anna, a marketing coordinator in CIES who is pursuing a bachelor’s in public relations; Shawna Terry, a gift analyst in University Advancement, who is pursuing a bachelor’s in social science; and Nicole Arata, a barista with Spartan Shops, who is pursuing a bachelor’s in economics.

Learn more about the Spartans Supporting Spartans campaign.

Applications for 2016-17 will be available in early summer.