January 2018 Newsletter: Student Researchers Honored at Biomedical Conference

Undergraduate students Mulatwa Haile, left, and Nebat Ali, received awards for their research presentations at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in November. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By Melissa Anderson

Mulatwa Haile and Nebat Ali have several years of research experience between them—and recently received an award for presentations of their work at a national conference—though they are both still in their junior year as undergraduates at San Jose State University.

The students applied to be part of programs on campus that aim to give research opportunities to undergraduate, underrepresented, students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Haile, a biological sciences student with a concentration in systems physiology who is minoring in chemistry and also hopes to complete an African American Studies minor, applied for the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program. Ali, a biological sciences student with a concentration in microbiology, started out with the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and worked wi Dr. Miri VanHoven.

“I got accepted to (Dr.) Katherine Wilkinson’s lab in the biological sciences department,” Haile said. “Ever since then I have developed my love of science and research.”

She noted that as an undergraduate it is challenging to balance working in a lab where she can learn techniques and make connections that will benefit her in the future while also finding the time to study. One of the most valuable lessons she learned is time management and trouble shooting. The students are now involved in Maximizing Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Training in Academic Research (MARC U-STAR) program.

“Both the programs have made the gap between me and my ambition smaller, whether that be financially by offering support or by providing an oasis of information,” Haile said, humbly adding, “I am extremely grateful for the diversity programs. They have given the not-so-extraordinary-me an opportunity to do extraordinary things.”

Ali agreed that the research experience has helped her in many aspects of her educational career, including applying concepts from class to the experiments with which she is involved.

“These programs really helped guide me and provide a network of students and professors to connect with,” she said. “These programs provide an amazing support system for us minority students that bridges the gap between undergraduate and graduate school.”

Last fall, they traveled to the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Phoenix, Arizona, where they connected with more than 2,000 like-minded students to present research findings. The SJSU cohort included 25 students who presented 16 posters and conducted two talks, with the support of faculty members Dr. Karen Singmaster, Dr. Alberto Rascon, Dr. Cleber Ouverney and Wilkinson.

Haile presented her research on the effects of obesity on spinal cord excitability and Ali presented work on how nematodes evolved to avoid Streptomyces bacteria. The two were among the select students from across the nation to receive awards for their presentations.

“I have attended regional professional conferences, but not one that was so large,” Ali said. “ABRCMS was my first national conference. It was an incredible learning experience and everything from the speakers to the exhibitors weregreat.”

Ali noted that historically white males have dominated the field of science.
“Going to ABRCMS and seeing the diversity and all the minorities represented there made me think of all the potential that lies within those that are underrepresented in the fields of STEM,” she said. “Having these programs for underrepresented students is one crucial step in breaking the barriers that restrict us from attaining our full potential.”

In addition to RISE, LSAMP and MARC, the university has other programs that support research opportunities for undergraduate students who are underrepresented in STEM fields. These include the McNair Scholars Program, Research by Undergraduates Using Molecular Biology Applications (RUMBA) and S-STEM. The programs are funded through a variety of federal grants and many students who have participated have gone on to complete doctoral programs.

“The two awards confirm that the research taking place on our campus is meaningful and that our students are as competitive as those at top research institutions in the nation,” Ouverney said.

January 2018 Newsletter: Media Takes Notice of SJSU at SV Auto Show

While automotive engineers and designers wowed audiences with the “future of drive,” San Jose State University engineering students impressed visitors with their own innovative built-from-scratch vehicle designs at the SV Auto Show Jan. 4-7. The students displayed Formula One cars, a quadricycle, a golf cart run on solar power and an electric race car. The San Jose Mercury News highlighted the student cars in an article.

January 2018 Newsletter: Students Prompt Discussions on Housing Crisis

Laura Cayabyag, '17 Sociology, right, served as president of student organization COOP SJSU and poses for a photo with the group's faculty advisor Michael Fallon.(Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Laura Cayabyab, ’17 Sociology, right, served as president of student organization COOP SJSU and poses for a photo with the group’s faculty advisor Michael Fallon.(Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By David Goll

Like many students graduating in the Bay Area, housing concerns have often been on the mind of Laura Cayabyab, ’17 Sociology. While she said her parents have a home in Silicon Valley in which she is welcome, her greatest academic and personal passion has been to find solutions for the growing dilemma of homelessness in one of the nation’s most expensive housing market.

A December graduate, Cayabyab turned her concerns into action, serving as president of COOP SJSU for the past year. The student organization addresses pressing social issues on campus and the greater San Jose community. She and fellow COOP officials, including Ryan Eckford, have spearheaded drives on campus to collect clothing and hygiene items to distribute to the homeless.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people, many fellow students, about their housing situation,”Cayabyab said. “For those who don’t have parents who live around here, I would say nine out of 10 have told me they will be looking for work outside the Bay Area. Even for people with technical degrees, they often can only get contract work with high-tech Silicon Valley companies.”

Cayabyab said a 2016 study revealed about 300 of SJSU’s 33,000 students are homeless—the definition includes students who live in cars, on the streets or who “couch surf”. The number of homeless people in San Jose on any given night is estimated at 5,000. The Bay Area’s largest city has among the highest rents in the nation—according to website Rent Jungle, the average monthly cost for a one-bedroom apartment in San Jose in November was $2,430.

As one of her last official acts as president of the student organization, Cayabyab and Eckford helped organize and lead a discussion on the region’s housing crisis last month at an On The Table event, sponsored by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF). The nonprofit organization is the world’s largest philanthropic community foundation, with $8 billion in assets under management. Two dozen students, staff, faculty and lecturers attended, along with representatives of the City of San Jose and Santa Clara County.

Cayabyab and Eckford also received assistance in organizing the event from Carol Stephenson of People Acting in Community Together (PACT), a multi-faith, multi-ethnic grassroots social justice organization.

“We asked people who attended to think about housing instability in the Bay Area,” the recent graduate said. “How it affects them and others in their lives, what are the good things about housing in the Bay Area, but also how we can make it much better.”

About a week later, the COOP students attended another On The Table event at the foundation’s Mountain View headquarters. Leaders of community organizations from throughout the Bay Area attended.

“It was really interesting to see people from throughout the region talk about the programs they’ve had to improve housing instability for years,” Cayabyab said. “It’s interesting to hear what keeps them going.”

Michael Fallon, who retired as adjunct professor of sociology at SJSU in June, has been involved in the COOP organization at the faculty level in recent years. He said the group was founded to address pressing social issues in Silicon Valley, primarily focused on housing the homeless.

Fallon also served as Director of the Center for Community Learning and Leadership at SJSU, which has focused its efforts on cleaning up the pollution of Coyote Creek as a result of the former homeless encampment of several hundred people that was closed down three years ago. Known as the Jungle, the infamous camp became a symbol of the haves and have-nots in Silicon Valley.

Fallon said he has been happy to be a catalyst himself in sparking social awareness and the ability to devise practical solutions to seemingly intractable societal ills.

“I am an educator, first and foremost,” he said. “I educate students in how to address critical social issues and hope my students will engage with the community and participate in the solutions.”

January 2018 Newsletter: Innovators Take Top Award at SVIC Finals for Nonprofit Idea

Photo: Ronald Dinoso Raghav Gupta, left, a computer science student, poses for a photo with his teammates at the Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge poster judging. His team included Bala Nyan Kyaw, software engineering, Ian Lam, business administration with a concentration in MIS, Ijaaz Omer, computer engineering and Nhat Trinh, general engineering.

Photo: Ronald Dinoso
Raghav Gupta, left, a computer science student, poses for a photo with his teammates at the Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge poster judging. His team included Bala Nyan Kyaw, software engineering, Ian Lam, business administration with a concentration in MIS, Ijaaz Omer, computer engineering and Nhat Trinh, general engineering.

By Melissa Anderson

Raghav Gupta, a software engineering student set to graduate in fall 2018, was eager to sign up for the Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge (SVIC) when he learned about it from several of his professors. He and a team of classmates already had an idea they had developed as semi-finalists for the Silicon Valley Business Proposal Competition and the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, in Amsterdam.

“The problem of food insecurity and food waste is not alien to us,” Gupta said. “It is prevalent in today’s time, even amongst our leading generation, the college students.”

He and his partners thought about how to create a fast, inter-linked network between vendors who wish to give away excess food and hungry students looking for free food, which eventually became Gratis Food. As they developed their idea, they worked with professors and connected with Audrey Hague, a user experience research and industry expert. The team took first place for best overall innovation at the SVIC Final Showcase judging on November 29.

“Along the way, we have met many other mentors in the field of student success and business, from whom we have learned tips and tricks to ensure the success of Gratis,” Gupta said.

SVIC helped Gupta and his team learn how to market their product, but also how to market themselves and give a concise elevator pitch. They welcomed the feedback and input from judges at every step of the challenge, and have set milestones for Gratis’ future.

The challenge is facilitated through the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business with students from many colleges participating. In its 14th year, the SVIC program allows students and alumni to work on interdisciplinary teams to develop a creative solution to a social or community issue. Laimin Lo, a lecturer in the College of Humanities and the Arts, has been the SVIC director for three years. She coordinates the program that partners students with industry professionals as mentors and draws in entrepreneurs to serve as judges through several rounds of evaluation. Participants must make it through an online judging session, a poster board presentation and finally an elevator pitch competition in the final round.

Another unique concept included NewsBee, an application created by Matthew Quevedo, ’13 Political Science and a current graduate student in Urban and Regional Planning, and Andrew Demarest, ’15 Aerospace Engineering. Their product aims to change the way people view news by providing a localized map-based application that places news stories as pins so readers can view stories that are relevant to their neighborhood or city.

The two took third place in the category of Best Overall Innovation.

Fan Han, ’17 Computer Science, took first place in the Social Innovation category. He worked with Debra Caires who is the Computer Science coordinator and CS100W/CS200W Computer Science Director of the Internship Program for the College of Science. Their idea includes a technology called Upright Assist that helps people with mobility issues such as paraplegics, those who are wheelchair bound or the elderly to sit or stand independently.

Engineering Management graduate student Neha Maynil was inspired to create a mobile application to increase intelligence in children and won first place for best educational innovation.

“The struggle to find a truly educational mobile app for my nieces led to the development of Progress,” she said. “Every mobile app we saw was a digital version of flashcards or coloring books that lacked a basis in science.”

She noted that SVIC helped her come out of her comfort zone, network with different people and improve her concept.

“SVIC gave me the opportunity to share my ideas with people who have experience in different fields and get some valuable feedback and recommendations, which will help me for setting my future goals.”

Partners this year included San Jose Water Company, Intel, Startup Grind Powered by Google for Entrepreneurs, Tech Lab Innovation Center and The Indus Entrepreneurs.

See the winners in all categories online.

January 2018 Newsletter: Campus Reading Program Inspires Book Drive

Inspired by the Campus Reading Program selection "Hot Dogs and Hamburgers" by Rob Shindler, students in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education started a book drive to donate to literacy programs in the Bay Area. SJSU student Charlene Abi poses with Janene Perez at the Reading Partners headquarters in Milpitas where donated books were delivered.

Inspired by the Campus Reading Program selection “Hot Dogs and Hamburgers” by Rob Shindler, students in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education started a book drive to donate to literacy programs in the Bay Area. SJSU student Charlene Abi poses with Janene Perez at the Reading Partners headquarters in Milpitas where donated books were delivered.
(Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

By David Goll

The 2017-18 Campus Reading Program selection ignited a spark in some readers to take immediate action after they read Rob Shindler’s “Hot Dogs and Hamburgers.” The book by first-time author and Chicago attorney Shindler tells the story of how he helped his young son overcome a learning disability and got involved in supporting adult literacy. Shindler, who visited the campus in October as part of the activities around the book, was impressed with SJSU’s particular approach to the reading program.

Incoming freshmen, faculty, staff and some other campus community members received copies of the book and were invited to read it in preparation of participating in a roster of fall activities such as book discussions as well as a visit from the author.

“There is a strong community service element to the program, and it allows authors like me a chance to get the word out about our cause,” Shindler said.

Scot Guenter, a professor of American Studies at SJSU, oversees the university’s reading program, which has a history of selecting books that tackle important social issues. Inspired by Shindler’s story and the campus activities held in the fall, students, staff and faculty in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education started a book drive with a local nonprofit that supports literacy for elementary school students. The team collected 874 books for Reading Partners, a nonprofit that provides one-on-one tutoring to students in kindergarten through fourth grade in three local counties.

Dr. Robin Love, interim associate dean of the College of Education, helped coordinate the book drive along with Janene Perez, lecturer and director of the College of Education’s Student Success Center. Love and Perez were so encouraged by the outcome that the college has plans for a second book drive during this semester, with a goal of collecting 1,000 books.

“I think it’s a realistic goal,” said Love, adding that Shindler’s book was an excellent selection, especially for students of education. “It’s so well-suited to our students and our college, which has a strong emphasis on helping special needs students and promoting social justice.”

The fall activities also included a panel discussion with recent graduates. Erin Enguero, ’16 Kinesiology, and Gerardo Garay, ’17 Kinesiology, both overcame disabilities to complete successful academic careers at the university. Dr. Karin Jeffery, a professor in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts’ Department of Kinesiology, facilitated the panel.

“Erin won many academic awards here,” Jeffery said, including an Outstanding Graduating Senior Award in 2016. “Gerardo is an amazing example of a student who defied expectations and came back from great adversity.”

Enguero, whose genetic bilateral hearing loss was diagnosed at the age of five, received her first hearing aid at age 10. Though she faced her share of challenges both at home and school, the SJSU graduate said she was lucky.

“I was fortunate to be surrounded by family, teachers, mentors and friends who believed in my ability to succeed,” she said.

Both Enguero and Garay described many of their challenges while at SJSU during the panel. For Enguero, being able to fully hear professors or lecturers, pick up on comments being made by classmates and friends, or handling the audio confusion of being in busy, loud environments such as the Student Union presented daily difficulties. For Garay, who suffered traumatic brain injury from an accident a decade ago, some of the daily difficulties included negotiating public transportation to get to and from work and school, navigating around a sprawling campus and entering buildings.

“I was 21 when I got in an accident, which caused my brain injury, which resulted in a coma,” Garay told the audience at the panel. “I was in a coma for about three months. All my motor skills went bye bye…It was hard for me to go back to school, maintain my degree and graduate in May.”

Enguero said despite periodic difficulties, she felt supported by the university.

“I feel very fortunate that I spent my undergrad years as a member of the SJSU community,” she said. “The key areas I spent most of my time was within the Kinesiology department, Humanities Honors program and the Salzburg Scholars program. Like many of their counterparts, they facilitated inclusive environments among our diverse student population. Even when I ventured beyond my usual circles to volunteer or work for the Student Health Center, the SJSU Giving Fund or Peer Connections, I was always encouraged to share my story and seek out the accommodations I needed to create my best possible work.”

Enguero said the Campus Reading Program selection prompted her to return to campus to share her own personal story, noting that she primarily felt supported at the university.

“Hot Dogs and Hamburgers accurately portrayed an aspect of living with a disability that resonated with me so strongly that I just had to come back to campus and help promote it,” she said.