‘Disability at Work’ Panel Teaches Students to Expand Their Horizons

Attendee Rosse Strda poses for a photo with panelists Joseph Fox, Karo Caran and Vincent Tsaran at the "Disablilty At Work" Panel hosted by Communications Studies students.

Attendee Rosse Strda poses for a photo with panelists Joseph Fox, Karo Caran and Vincent Tsaran at the “Disablilty At Work” Panel hosted by Communications Studies students.

By Riley Wilcox and America Yamaguchi, Communication Studies students

On May 5, San Jose State University students hosted a panel on “Disability at Work. Students enrolled in Communication Studies 132F Dis/Ability Communications with Professor Bettina Brockmann coordinated the three-person panel event that was open to the public in the Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. Library. The event was widely publicized, with invitations going out to the entire Communication Studies department as well as all Accessible Education Center (AEC) registered students, and a Facebook event post that made it clear the event was open to the public. The panel’s purpose was to inform the audience about employment and accessibility difficulties for people with disabilities.

The speakers included Vincent Tsaran, technical program manager at Google, Karo Caran, who also works in accessibility at Google and is an  accomplished author, and Joseph Fox, senior vice president at SAP Ariba.

Tsaran and Caran presented together, speaking on their experiences growing up as vision-impaired children in Ukraine and Poland respectively, and the differences in their experiences in mainstream and specialized education programs. Tsaran and Caran both work with Google to increase the accessibility of the user interfaces for Google and Google Play. They concentrated on perspectives in ableism for people with disabilities, and the similarities between ableism and other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism and homophobia.

Dreams became a theme that emerged throughout the event. Caran pursued a dream of studying Chinese that early instructors had hesitated about due to her vision impairment.

“I work in the business of dreams,” Tsaran said. “I had a few dreams—I wanted to teach history at my school of the blind. But [when I came to the United States], my dreams expanded as my horizons were expanded.”

He noted that his university’s dedication to accessibility created a capacity for dreams he had not had before. Working in the tech industry, the pair also spoke on how computers are “great enablers,” that allow people to speak, get their point across and have a sense of self. Caran explained that because times are changing, and so much of the world is now accessed through an electronic platform, society must more than ever make sure that computer technology is accessible for everyone.

Joseph Fox, who also works in the tech industry, is the parent of four children, three of whom are on the Autism spectrum. Fox spoke on always having a “parent view” before having a “business view.” He said he has found as a father, as an employer and as a student, there were many challenges for people with disabilities. Fox presents frequently on the benefits of hiring a neurodiverse workforce, informs parents of resources for their children, informs young adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder on toolsets and programs to aide them, and highlights for employers the best ways to incorporate accessibility into the workforce. Some of his key advice includes self advocacy and the benefits of finding peers and mentors who can help young adults to obtain the accommodations they need. He also recommends employers to develop hiring processes that do not involve interviews because people who are capable of the job may not always be impressive during interviews. Under Fox’s leadership, SAP Ariba announced in May 2013 a goal of having one percent of its global workforce represented by those on the Autism Spectrum.

After Fox’s presentation, the floor was opened to audience questions. Some of the key messages were that accessibility development requires trial and error, and that the best way to reduce ableism is to maximize exposure by reading and meeting more people with disabilities.

April 2017 Newsletter: SJSU Professor Yambrach Develops Water Vest for Developing Countries

Fritz Yambrach, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging help to develop a way to package water to transport to disaster areas or areas where water is not readily available. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Fritz Yambrach, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging help to develop a way to package water to transport to disaster areas or areas where water is not readily available. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By David Goll

In parts of the world where potable water is difficult to reach and even harder to transport, a San Jose State University professor has devised an invention that could dramatically improve the quality of daily life.

Fritz Yambrach, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging, has developed the Fritz Water Vest, a 10-liter, double-pouch “vest” made of sturdy, multi-layer plastic material that can serve as an alternative to transporting water in heavy buckets, vases or other containers. Such tasks in developing countries are typically handled by women and children. The work can result in injuries to those transporting water-filled containers, which carry up to five gallons, atop their heads.

The vest-like water carrier that can be worn over the head — with the pouches suspended over the chest and back — could also find application in more affluent nations like the United States during emergency situations resulting from floods, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and other disasters that interrupt the supply and availability of clean water.

Yambrach, who arrived at San Jose State in 2007, is a veteran of the packaging industry, starting his career 40 years ago at the Chrysler automobile company in Michigan. He went on to work in the pharmaceutical and medical device sectors before moving into academia, including at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

Yambrach said he first became aware of the phenomenon of people in impoverished nations having to walk long distances on a daily basis to fetch clean water for drinking and cooking purposes during his childhood. He attended a Catholic elementary school and heard church missionaries talk of seeing women and girls hauling water long distances on their heads.

According to the United Nations, women and girls in sub-Saharan African nations spend 40 billion hours annually collecting water — equivalent to a year’s worth of labor by the entire workforce of France, which numbers about 30 million. Water for the Ages, a blog written by water activist Abigail Brown, estimates the average distance traveled daily by those fetching water in Africa and Asia is 3.7 miles. Brown said water carriers can suffer severe neck and spine damage from toting heavy, inflexible water containers.

Yambrach said he has tried to take everything into account in designing his life-saving vest.

A prototype of the water vest. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

A prototype of the water vest. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

“The construction of the vest makes it very robust,” Yambrach said, noting the edges of the vest are heat-sealed to make it leakproof. “We have even included an additive in the material to inhibit microbial growth,” he said.

The vest is being beta tested in the African nations of Ethiopia and Burundi, as well as Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean region.

Manufacturing of the vest is being overseen by Heritage Packaging of Victor, N.Y. News of Yambrach’s invention has attracted the attention of former colleagues and students. One of those is Eric Steigelman, a student in Yambrach’s packaging science class at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2006. Now a San Diego-based entrepreneur, Steigelman is handling marketing of the vest and the beta-testing projects.

“I am helping the organization find strategic partnerships,” Steigelman said, adding that he hopes to partner with larger companies to “leverage their strengths in funding and distribution. The beauty of this solution is that it is so intuitive. It doesn’t require a lot of instruction or direction. It can help millions of people who struggle every day with water issues, or temporarily because of an emergency.”

Steigelman said one such situation here in the U.S. that has occurred to him as an opportunity for the water vest is the contaminated water crisis in Flint, Mich., where cost-cutting measures by state officials led to the city’s water supply becoming polluted with lead and other toxins.

“The worldwide problem is so big and broad, you need a simple, inexpensive solution to have any chance of success,” he said. “Whether it is a daily need or an emergency, the water vest is a really effective solution.”

Science Students Share Research on May 5

Student Research Day Flier

Student Research Day Flier

Undergraduate and graduate students from the College of Science will present findings from research they have conducted with faculty members as part of Student Research Day on May 5, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., on the Ground Level of Duncan Hall. Students from all disciplines in the college will display posters about their research and will be available to discuss their work with visitors.

The event is one of several planned as part of a week-long Inauguration Celebration for San Jose State University’s 30th President, Mary A. Papazian, who will be inaugurated on May 4, at 9:30 a.m. on Tower Lawn. The week’s activities also include two film screenings that relate to our president’s strong cultural heritage but also tie into San Jose State University’s legacy of social justice in times of turmoil. “They Shall Not Perish: The Story of Near East Relief” will be shown on April 30, at 3 p.m., in the Diaz-Compean Student Union Theater. “The Promise,” starring Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale, will be shown on May 2, at 7:30 p.m., at Century Oakridge 20, in San Jose.

In addition to the screenings, activities will include a guest lecture, musical concerts, poetry readings and the Innovation to Inspiration Gala. Visit the Inauguration website to see the full list of activities and events planned from April 21 through May 5.

 

Final University Scholars Series Lecture Features Rachael French April 26

Early Career Investigator Award Winners Rachael French, left, and Miranda Worthen pose for a photograph at San Jose State University on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Early Career Investigator Award Winner Rachael French, left, will present her work at the final University Scholars Series of the semester on April 26. Also pictured is Miranda Worthen, who was also honored with the ECIA in February. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

Associate Professor Rachael French, recipient of a 2017 Early Career Investigator Award, will present the final lecture in the University Scholars Series on Wednesday, April 26, from noon to 1 p.m., in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, Room 225/229. Dr. French, who has brought in more than $1.2 million in external funding to support her research, will discuss the work she is conducting in her Drosophila Genetics lab. She and her student researchers are studying the impact of fruit fly development when eggs are laid in an alcohol-rich environment. Her goal is that her research may someday help in treatment of fetal alcohol syndrome in humans. Financial backing for her studies, which started during her post-doctoral days at UC-San Francisco, comes from the National Institutes for Health and the National Science Foundation. Her research is aided by three graduate students and six undergraduate SJSU students.

The University Scholars Series is supported by the University Library, the Spartan Bookstore, Faculty Affairs, the Office of Research and the Office of the Provost.

Engineering Professor Co-Authors Article in ‘Biophysical Journal’

Dr. Amit Saha

Dr. Amit Saha

Dr. Amit Saha, a lecturer and research scientist in the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering, has co-authored an article that has been published in the Biophysical Journal, which is a leading topical journal in the field of biomechanics and biophysics. Entitled, “Cholesterol Regulates Monocyte Rolling through CD44 Distribution,” the interdisciplinary publication includes contributions from other researchers, namely Dr. Pawel Osmulski, Dr. Shatha F. Dallow, Dr. Maria Gaczynska, Dr. Tim H. Huang and Dr. Anand K. Ramasubramanian. The researchers undertook this study as part of a National Institutes of Health grant focused on discovering the contributions of bacterial infections to heart disease.

According to Saha, atherosclerosis, which may lead to heart attack and stroke, is the thickening of blood vessel walls due to the accumulation of ‘fatty’ cells or foam cells. The foam cells are formed when a certain type of white blood cells called monocytes enter the blood vessel wall, get stuck, and take up a lot of cholesterol. As it can be imagined, the first step of this process, namely the ’touch down’ of monocytes from flowing blood to vessel wall, is extremely crucial. The efficient capture of fast moving monocytes is brought about by interactions between proteins on the surface of the monocytes and on the surface of endothelial cells on blood vessel wall.

“In this research, we have shown that cholesterol levels on monocytes can redistribute the proteins mediating the interaction, thus providing efficient brakes,” he said.

The study shows that cholesterol, a well-known cause of atherosclerosis (a thickening of blood vessels walls due to the accumulation of ‘fatty cells’ that may lead to heart attack or stroke), can significantly influence the disease initiation and progression by a mechanism that was not focused on previously. The results demonstrate that chemicals can change the course of biological phenomena by altering the underlying physics.

Read the article online.