Academic Spotlight November 2018: Provost Update – A Moment of Thanks in a Busy Year

As the season changes, some significant changes here at SJSU have begun to take effect as well, although they will always be mixed with the important traditions that honor our past. Most notably, this month we will be reviewing a record number of applications for the Staff Professional Development Grant; we will be announcing the first ever selected faculty for our new Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities Reassigned Time program; AND we will find time to celebrate a holiday or two.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I especially want to share with all of you my gratitude for the support I have received in these few months that I have served as Interim Provost and Senior VP. Thank you first and foremost to the team in the Office of the Provost, who make every day joyful; thank you to the President and her Cabinet; the AALT Leadership Team and a very heartfelt thank you to so many of the faculty and staff with whom I have had the pleasure to interact and to work beside. Taken together, this is a wonderful community that takes its humanity and its work seriously, with kindness and tact.

A few important informational items, starting with our Graduation Initiative 2025 goals. Our four-year graduation rates hit 19 percent this year, up 10 percentage points in the past five years. We continue to make substantial gains on six-year graduation rates, transfer student graduation rates and we are two percentage points away from eliminating our Pell-eligible equity gap. We also continue to move forward with eliminating the underrepresented minority equity gap, which dropped to 10.5 percent this year.

Speaking of graduation, we will be celebrating our fall graduates in just a few weeks with two days of commencement ceremonies on December 19 and 20. These ceremonies allow us to recognize the achievements of our fall graduates with the same fanfare as those who graduate in the spring ceremonies. Students LOVE to see their faculty, introduce them to friends and family, and just basically celebrate with their faculty and staff. I do hope you can be available for these occasions. As a reminder, faculty who would like to rent regalia for the ceremonies can do so for free through the Spartan Bookstore website; the deadline to rent regalia is Nov. 21.

Last month, I had the opportunity to say a special thank you to the hardworking staff members in the Academic Affairs Division at our annual Staff Appreciation Breakfast. It was heartwarming to hear each dean and AVP give thanks to the employees in their college or unit, but especially to see some of the notes of appreciation from colleague to colleague. As our breakfast was held on Halloween, I was very impressed with everyone’s ingenuity and costume design!

On the evening of Nov. 2, I had the chance to interact with honored faculty and staff at the Annual Author and Artist Awards. The dozens of pieces completed this year by SJSU authors and artists have a significant impact on the world: this work adds to knowledge in your disciplines; spurs conversations about societally important topics such as politics, technology and diversity; and provides engaging curricular opportunities for students. As we focus this year on creating more balance for our faculty members to be teacher-scholars, it is especially imperative that we also take the time to celebrate accomplishments like these at events like these.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving break and I look forward to our continuing work together.

Sincerely,

Joan C. Ficke
Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Academic Spotlight November 2018: Emeritus and Retired Faculty Support Scholarly Work

By David Goll

For the fifth consecutive fall semester, San Jose State University’s faculty will have the opportunity to apply for an internal grant from the Emeritus and Retired Faculty Association (ERFA). Applications for the 2018-19 research grants awarded by ERFA are due Dec. 5. The application and more information are available online. The organization—comprised of former SJSU faculty members, some of whom are still teaching on a part-time basis—provides grants of $2,500 to selected faculty members to further their research, scholarship and creative activities agenda.

Last year’s recipients say ERFA’s Faculty Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity Awards have been a boon to their research. Though the program has typically made two such grants annually, a larger budget last year allowed for three awards. They were given to Ruma Chopra, professor of History; Ningkun Wang, assistant professor of Chemistry; and Alan Soldofsky, professor of English and Comparative Literature and director of Creative Writing.

Chopra used her award to travel to various libraries across the United Kingdom to conduct research on how climate-based migrations shaped empires — in this case, the eighteenth-century British Empire’s expansion into the Americas, West Africa, South Asia and the South Pacific.

“I researched how the environment, topography, and proximity to water shaped decision-making at local and imperial levels,” she said, citing their powerful influence in the 1700s, before the conveniences of electricity changed our sense of being surrounded by nature. The research is helping fuel her plans to write a book on the subject, for which she is already writing a proposal. She conducted her research last winter at The National Archives and The British Library, among other institutions.

“The work most historians do involves many trips to archives,” Chopra said. “Getting small pots of money to continue that work is vital. I was so grateful this money came my way during a key time in the development of this book project.”

Chopra said she found members of the ERFA committee that reviews grant applications to be knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

“It’s wonderful how supportive ERFA is when it comes to encouraging research,” she said. “We are incredibly fortunate.”

Wang was in her first semester as an SJSU faculty member a year ago when she learned of the ERFA grant program through the university’s Office of Research.

“Thought I would give it a try,” she said. “I’d never heard of a program where retired faculty did something like this. It’s very encouraging for new faculty when people who have been there before understand the value of supporting research.”

Her project is potentially groundbreaking for the healthcare industry. She’s studying how specific enzymes and proteins affect aging and diseases associated with that process, including diabetes and Alzheimer’s. She is working with seven undergraduates and three graduate students on her work.

“We want to contribute to our collective academic knowledge on this subject, not make the next miracle drug,” she said, noting that some pharmaceutical companies are working on creating new drugs to treat ailments of aging.

Using the ERFA grant as seed money, Professor Wang is now applying for additional grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. The ERFA grant also paved the way for three of her student researchers to present results of their work at the annual conference of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology next year in Orlando, Fla.

Soldofsky used his grant to conduct interviews with American poets who were either born outside the United States, or are the children or grandchildren of immigrant families who retained their indigenous language and/or culture.

“As a Latina that loves and sometimes writes poems, I am looking forward to his future anthology of poems,” said Elba Maldonado-Colon, 2018-19 ERFA president and retired SJSU Professor of Education who still teaches part-time. “Of the 25 applicants, the SJSU ERFA Committee had the challenging task of selecting three faculty members for the available awards. Not easy.”

Maldonado-Colon added that in addition to tenured and tenure-track faculty lecturers with at least six years of continuous service to SJSU are also eligible for the grants.

Academic Spotlight November 2018: SJSU Celebrates 2018 Authors and Artists with Reception

Photo: Daniel Mitre, BFA and minor in Business, '19 At San Jose State University's Annual Author and Artist Awards guests peruse some of the books published by Spartan faculty members in 2018.

Photo: Daniel Mitre, BFA and minor in Business, ’19
At San Jose State University’s Annual Author and Artist Awards guests peruse some of the books published by Spartan faculty members in 2018.

By David Goll

When they are not preparing the next generation of Silicon Valley students for momentous futures, San Jose State University’s faculty are researching some of the world’s most topical issues.

The published and performed work of more than two dozen San Jose State University faculty members were celebrated during a Nov. 2 ceremony at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library. More than 100 people turned up for the event to recognize the efforts involved in editing and authoring scholarly books on topics ranging from politics to 3-D printing to cybersecurity, creating celebrated theater stage design and writing an adaptation of an internationally acclaimed play.

The seventh annual Author and Artist Awards presentation was held in the library’s spacious eighth-floor Grand Reading Room, where 29 pieces by 26 authors and artists were recognized.

“The work you do has such an impact on students,” said Joan Ficke, interim provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, during her welcome remarks. “It benefits all of us. The research is what is actually important. The students follow in your footsteps.”

Of the 26 faculty members recognized, two honorees were asked to make extended presentations of their work.

“Here we are in the spectacular Grand Reading Room, the crowning glory of our library,” said University Library Dean Tracy Elliott said. “The perfect place to honor the best of the best. (They) are the reason San Jose State is considered one of the top public universities for academic research.”

Associate Professor Virginia San Fratello, who teaches Interior Design, presented the book she co-authored entitled Printing Architecture: Innovative Recipes for 3D Printing. She noted it’s now possible to 3D print an entire structure. Taking advantage of the city of Oakland’s liberal review process for small residential units to help combat the housing crisis, San Fratello displayed such a home created by 3D-printed tiles.

She showed striking photographs of more whimsical printed objects, too, including coffee cups and coffee pots made of coffee “flour,” sugar spoons spun out of the granulated sweet stuff, and saltshakers constructed of salt.

“I approach these tasks like a chef in the kitchen,” she said.

Matthew Spangler, an associate professor of Communication Studies, also shared information about his creative work. He first read the book The Kite Runner in 2005. The 2003 novel by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini detailed the tumultuous political and social events in his native country along with the exodus of refugees from Afghanistan to Pakistan and the United States — including the Bay Area.

The book changed Spangler’s life. He wrote a stage play based on the novel, which was first presented by SJSU students in 2007.

“Thirteen years later, 44 theater groups have done 15 different productions of the play worldwide,” Spangler said, including the theater capital of London last year. Other productions have been presented in Cleveland, Calgary, Tel Aviv, Liverpool and Nottingham. “Over 400,000 people have seen those plays,” he said. “That’s way more than read my scholarly articles and books.”

College deans introduced each of the other authors and artists, sharing a few notes about their scholarly and creative endeavors. See the list of all authors and artists on the library website.

Academic Spotlight November 2018: Philosophy Professor to Present Thoughts on ‘Violence’ Versus ‘Brutality’

Professor Carlos Sánchez will present his recent research at the last University Scholars Series event of the semester on Nov. 14. Photo: David Schmitz

Professor Carlos Sánchez will present his recent research at the last University Scholars Series event of the semester on Nov. 14. Photo: David Schmitz

Carlos Alberto Sánchez, a professor of philosophy and San Jose State University alumnus, ’98 Advertising, ’00 MA Philosophy, will present a talk on his latest research at the final University Scholar Series event of the semester on Nov. 14, from noon to 1 p.m., in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, Room 225/229.

His current research focuses on the philosophy of violence, specifically the distinction between “violence” and “brutality.” His talk, “The Philosophy of Brutality: A Preface in Three Parts,” will highlight the difference between violence and brutality within the context of Mexican narco-culture, a socio-political and historico-cultural phenomenon that challenges the conception of violence, personhood and culture itself.

Sánchez is the editor of the American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Hispanic/Latino Issues in Philosophy, chair of the Inter-American Relations for the Society of the Advancement of American Philosophy and a founding member of the Society for Mexican American Philosophy.

“The reason I focus on Mexican philosophy is because it is my responsibility to make sure that philosophy belongs to everyone—that all viewpoints are counted,” Sánchez said. “Through my work, I am inserting myself into the philosophical conversation. Being recognized in this way lets me know that SJSU continues to be a place that values the humanities and, most importantly, the sort of scholarly diversity that my work represents.”

Since returning to his alma mater to teach in 2006, Sánchez has published five books, 25 articles and many conference papers. While writing his first book, The Suspension of Seriousness: On the Phenomenology of Jorge Portilla, the first authorized English translation of Portilla’s work, he visited libraries in Mexico City and presented at conferences all over North America. By translating and analyzing the work of Mexican philosophers, Sánchez is effectively democratizing access to critical thought. His prolific scholarship earned him the title of SJSU’s 2018 President’s Scholar.

“What I love most about teaching and working at SJSU is the people,” he says. “I’ve been here for almost 12 years and I’ve yet to meet someone who is not committed to the well-being of our students, our colleagues and our university.”

Julia Halprin-Jackson contributed to this story.