San Jose State University celebrated the 56th Annual Honors Convocation April 20, with a record number of students earning the distinction of Dean’s Scholars and President’s Scholars. This year, 4,105 Dean’s Scholars maintained a GPA of 3.65 or higher in two contiguous semesters of the last three while 505 President’s Scholars maintained a 4.0 during the same period. Read personal stories of some of the 2018 scholars online.
By Lesley Seacrist
Did you get a chance to enjoy one of the “Moveable Coffee Breaks” during this year’s Spartans Supporting Spartans campaign?
The popular pop-up coffee stops — offering free drinks, food and giveaways —are a signature part of the annual eight-week campaign, which rallies San Jose State University faculty and staff to donate to campus programs.
The last coffee break of 2018 was April 12 in the student union but faculty and staff still have time to donate or become involved, according to co-chairs of the Spartan Supporting Spartans campaign Lisa Francesca, a communications specialist with the College of Engineering, and Amy D’Anna, a marketing coordinator for the College of International and Extended Studies.
During last year’s campaign, the committee helped to raise $87,000 through one-time gifts and payroll deductions to help with a variety of campus initiatives, including scholarships for students. In addition to the donations to the annual campaign, committee members sold raffle tickets for $1 each or six for $5 with a grand prize of a dedicated campus parking spot. The team raised $2,000 for the SJSU Student Hunger Fund. The raffle this year will benefit the SJSU Student Crisis Fund, which helps students who are faced with challenges from unexpected circumstances such as flooding, fire or other emergencies.
In past years, one of the groups that had the highest participation rate was Facilities Development and Operations custodial staff.
“We had a 5 a.m. coffee break to celebrate their generosity,” D’Anna said. “Examples like this put things into perspective.”
Francesca initially was inspired to help the SJSU Student Hunger Fund. She soon discovered Spartans from across campus coming together to make a difference.
“Our very name says a huge amount about coming together to help the students regardless of position or title,” Francesca said.
D’Anna also noticed an increased camaraderie between coworkers during the campaign.
“It’s not just a place where you work, but a community of people that will help you along your journey,” D’Anna said.
This is D’Anna’s third year participating on the committee and first year as co-chair. After seeing the generosity of staff and faculty, she’s been inspired to also become a contributor, even as a full-time student herself in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, where she is set to graduate this semester.
Both Francesca and D’Anna are passionate about connecting and communicating donor stories, and both were surprised to learn that creating a campus of caring has an impact on outside donations, too.
“Outside donors look at gifts and pledges made by faculty and staff,” Francesca said. “It’s not only about helping our students and creating a bond within the community, but positioning ourselves in the donor community.”
Donations for the 2018 Spartan supporting Spartans Campaign can be made via the campaign website.
By Melissa Anderson
When Natalie Fakhreddine took an urban and regional planning course last semester, she did not know it would lead her to Chicago this spring. The master’s student researched gentrification and the displacement of people of color in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood for her final paper in the Social Issues in Planning class taught by Assistant Professor Gordon Douglas.
“The class and research I conducted throughout the semester was very insightful,” she said, noting that Douglas encouraged her to submit her paper for the Chicago Ethnography Conference.
Fakhreddine said she first became interested in studying the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood after seeing an uptick in development in the area. Through her research, she said she “was astounded to learn of BVHP’s history, and the consequences the community is facing as a result of widespread gentrification.” She discovered that while the neighborhood had seen an economic boost in recent years, long-time residents had not benefited from the new influx of luxury developments.
“When I found out my paper was accepted for the conference, the entire department was incredibly excited for me and helped me get prepared,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to meet passionate and bright students from across the country who are studying a variety of disciplines.”
As a shy person who doesn’t like public speaking, she said presenting at the conference took her out of her comfort zone.
“This experience was a great networking opportunity that allowed me to gain insight into the world of academia,” she said. “I was able to get a lot of really constructive feedback on my research through professors and students from a wide variety of disciplines. I left Chicago inspired and excited to continue pursuing my research in new ways I wasn’t aware of before.”
By David Goll
In a career already full of awards, honors and many accomplishments, Cathleen Miller, associate professor of English at San Jose State University, has received a prestigious Fulbright award and will conduct research into the phenomenon of women’s migration throughout the world.
As part of her honor from the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, Miller will serve as the first Distinguished Chair of the Humanities at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom from September 2018 through March 2019. The university is the largest in the U.K., with 40,000 students.
“Just getting the award is an honor, but to be the first person to hold this position is an amazing feeling,” Miller said, of being selected for the award that has a lengthy application process. “I’m still totally shocked.”
Along with her research, Miller will participate in another first for the university: teaching its inaugural class in creative nonfiction writing. It is her specialty at SJSU, where she teaches in the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program.
Miller has taught at SJSU since 2004, after teaching stints at the University of San Francisco and Moraga’s Saint Mary’s College of California. She also serves as editor-in-chief of the 151-year-old Reed Magazine, the oldest literary journal in the western United States. Since 2015, she has directed SJSU’s Center for Literary Arts, a program founded in 1986 that has brought five Nobel Prize winners, 16 winners of the National Book Award and 34 recipients of the Pulitzer Prize to campus.
Dr. Noelle Brada-Williams, chair of SJSU’s Department of English and Comparative Literature, was not surprised Miller won this award.
“I am so proud of Professor Miller becoming the first Distinguished Chair of the Humanities at the University of Manchester,” she said. “I think her Fulbright is very well-deserved. She has made a name for herself writing about the rights of women …”
“Miller’s research on migration couldn’t be more topical and timely,” Brada-Williams said, given the huge numbers of refugees generated by the Syrian civil war and exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, among other conflicts. According to the United Nations, 255 million people migrate worldwide annually.
“I hope her work will help her readers understand the refugee experience and gain insight into what our collective responsibility is in responding to our shared humanitarian crisis,” Brada-Williams said.
Miller’s distinguished academic career might have come as a surprise to her grandfather, who was less than supportive when she declared during her rural Missouri childhood she wanted to attend college. Her grandparents ran a small post office and her father worked at the McDonnell Douglas aerospace manufacturing plant in St. Louis.
She did enter college, becoming an art major at Southeast Missouri State University. In mid-career, she earned a Master’s of Fine Arts degree from Pennsylvania State University.
In the tradition of Southern writers, Miller, who considers herself a daughter of the South, is a successful author whose work has been translated into 55 languages. Among her books is Champion of Choice, the 2013 biography of Dr. Nafis Sadik of Pakistan, former executive director of the U.N. Population Fund and special advisor to the United Nations secretary general who went on to be a special advisor to the UN secretary general and a special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia. Twenty years ago, Miller published Desert Flower, the story of Somali nomad Waris Dirie, who became a model, then an activist who shared her experience with female genital mutilation. It was later adapted as a feature film shown in 34 countries.
Miller is also a passionate travel writer whose work has taken her to more than 30 countries. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune and Washington Post.
She’s most passionate about the welfare of women, especially those forced to leave their homes by war, political and economic strife. Miller said she looks forward to gaining a new perspective on the issue during her fellowship in England.
“I think the whole topic of migration in general is important to understand because it stems from widespread political and economic unrest, and is creating challenges in the nations on the receiving end as to how to accommodate and assimilate these populations arriving on their shores,” she said. “Women are much more vulnerable in this process — to exploitation, violence, sexual assault and trafficking, and we need to understand why they have risked so much to immigrate.”
In addition to her research, Miller remains a dedicated teacher. She wants her students to become marketable upon earning their degrees. She instructs them on how to compose book proposals for publishers, create business cards and have “author” pages on Facebook.
“We work on creating their identity as a writer,” she said.
She has a devoted following of current and former students.
“Professor Miller is present for her students,” said Sharon Simonson, a veteran journalist who served as managing editor of Reed Magazine. “She demands accountability, but she’s also nurturing. I think she has tremendous aspirations for SJSU’s MFA writers, which are expressed in her aspirations for the MFA program, Reed Magazine and the Center for Literary Arts.”
By David Goll
Two years ago, few Americans had heard of “digital polarization” — including today’s “digital native” college students. But the topic has become so important, it’ll be the subject of new curriculum and research at 11 campuses nationwide next fall, including San Jose State University.
The schools are participating in “Digital Polarization: Promoting Online Civic Literacy,” a project from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. SJSU is the only California university in the group that includes Washington State University, Vancouver; Metropolitan State University in Denver; Texas A&M University, Central Texas; Indiana University, Kokomo; the University of North Carolina, Charlotte; and The City University of New York, among other schools.
According to the AASCU, the “DigiPo” initiative is an effort to supply college students with the skills to “combat digital polarization and fake news.” The issue grew out of the contentious, controversial 2016 presidential election and is tailor-made for political science students, according to Dr. Melinda Jackson, co-chair of the SJSU Digital Polarization Initiative Committee and chair of the Department of Political Science. It also touches on other areas of study, such as health and science.
“Fake news is certainly in the news,” Jackson said. “There has always been propaganda. What’s different today is the speed and reach of information because of the internet and social media. The internet has created a certain amount of democratization of information, but there’s also a downside. We’re all more likely to find information credible if we agree with it. It’s good for all of us to become critical consumers of information.”
As a political “psychologist,” Jackson said she teaches her students how emotions can affect voting behavior.
The SJSU committee also includes faculty and staff from the library and housing departments. The group is exploring how to incorporate instructional materials into curriculum, create outreach efforts and convene discussion groups on campus, including in university residence halls. Other committee members are Tom Moriarty, English professor and director of the Writing Across the Curriculum program; Kathleen McConnell, associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies; and Darrien Rice, assistant director for Academic Initiatives.
Jackson is seeking additional SJSU faculty members interested in incorporating web literacy instruction into their classes beginning in fall 2018.
Ann Agee, senior assistant librarian and online learning librarian at the university’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library is co-chair of the SJSU initiative committee along with Jackson. Agee said her involvement with the subject dates to January 2017. When working with the Department of English and Comparative Literature, she learned of a Stanford History Education Group study in which a majority of high school and college students in that project were unable to discern between credible information and misinformation. They even had trouble distinguishing between advertisements and news articles.
“They did not do well,” Agee said. “When you consider the effect of fake news, it can destroy trust. Civilization is based on trust. At some point, we have to trust individuals and institutions. Looking at the 2016 election, Russian bots attacked the foundations of democratic institutions. And when people share fake news on social media, they destroy their own credibility online.”
Agee said instruction this fall should include how students can learn to evaluate information and avoid sketchy information sources, how to employ critical thinking techniques and how to “intervene” by exposing faulty information online. Jackson said committee members are now brainstorming curriculum content and how best to roll it out. Program data will be collected and analyzed at the end of the semester.
Helping students become discerning consumers of online information has become a high priority in the library world, Agee said. At the biennial meeting of the California Academic & Research Libraries Association in April, Agee presented on the subject — one of five sessions on fake news.
Mike Caulfield, director of Blended and Networked Learning at the Vancouver, Wash., campus of Washington State University, is leading the nationwide digital polarization initiative and has developed curriculum that will be piloted this fall. SJSU’s team will evaluate the lessons and build upon it.
“What we’ve found is giving students a few simple techniques to verify and investigate the information that comes to them in their daily feeds can make a massive difference,” he said in an AASCU press release. “The trick is giving students the right skills — skills for 2018, not 1998.”
Jackson said it’s crucial to do so.
“No question students today are not as knowledgeable about credible sources of journalism and information,” she said. “Most students get their information online, and frequently from social media, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Informational literacy is a huge issue in the 21st century.”