December 2015 Newsletter: SJSU Helps ‘Restore Coyote Creek’

When Sarat Lue, an electrical engineering student, arrived at SJSU he said he wanted a way to connect with his new community.

“(Michael Fallon) told me about the Coyote Creek project and I thought it would be a good opportunity to make an impact in my new community,” Lue said. “I feel a sense of belonging to this community because I am making a positive impact and driving this community forward.”

Michael Fallon is the director of the SJSU Center for Community Learning & Leadership (CCLL). He facilitates partnerships between the university and organizations that help students engage in the community while developing leadership skills. In the latest National Survey of Student Engagement, SJSU students reported a higher participation in service learning, compared to their peers in California and the nation.

Lue was one of several group leaders who guided 222 volunteers on a massive cleanup of the South Bay watershed on Oct. 17. Since August 2014, volunteers have removed 62 tons of trash from the creek.

The SJSU Restore Coyote Creek project is one part of the South Bay Creeks Collaborative, which includes SJSU faculty, staff and students; community organizations; the City of San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley Water District. The group received the Outstanding Environmental Project of the Year Award at the San Francisco Estuary Conference in August for its work.

Deb Kramer has been the program manager for Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful since May, when she was hired through a joint grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the City of San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

Kramer said SJSU has helped the grant go even further through volunteer efforts, “in so many ways.”

“From more hands on the creek to more awareness to student activities to student projects,” she said, the university has provided key resources.

In addition to physical cleanups, students and faculty have also raised awareness about the watershed. Students and faculty were instrumental in hosting the Coyote Creek Howl conference last spring, a one-day summit that focused on the ecology and human issues related to the watershed.

Social Work students have been involved in looking at the homeless population around the creek. CCLL and the Social Work Graduate Student Association hosted a premiere of a documentary, “Exodus from the Jungle,” at SJSU in October with homeless advocacy groups. The documentary looks at several homeless residents who sought new shelter after being removed from an area along Coyote Creek known as “The Jungle” which closed in 2014.

“We are facing obstacles such as homeless people living along the creek,” Lue said. “Unfortunately for them, there is no permanent solution to house them which forces them to rely on quiet spots along the creek to rest their heads.”