SJSU Names 2012 Outstanding Graduating Seniors and Outstanding Thesis Award Recipient

Killol Acharya working with a fellow student on an engineering project.

Killol Acharya's love for robots inspired him to create the Robotics Club, and to serve as president of Project Enable, an organization that designs and modifies devices for the disabled (image provided by Achary).

By Amanda Holst, Public Affairs Assistant

President Mo Qayoumi will recognize three top graduates at Commencement, which begins at 9:30 a.m. May 26 in Spartan Stadium. Approximately 8,000 candidates who completed their studies in August 2011, December 2011 and May 2012 will be eligible to participate. Around 25,000 graduates, family and friends are expected to attend the ceremony.

Killol Acharya and Phillip Calabretta have been named SJSU’s 2012 Outstanding Graduating Seniors in recognition of their scholarship and contributions to the community, and John Tilney has received the 2012 Outstanding Thesis Award in recognition of the exceptional quality of his research.

Killol Acharya will graduate with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. This Robert and Ellen Baron Student Leadership Award recipient says that his professors have been the key to his success at San José State. He is graduating with a 3.87 GPA and has demonstrated contributions on and off campus. On campus, Acharya has served as peer advisor in the Engineering Student Success Center and has been a leader in the Engineering Ambassador outreach program. His love for robots inspired him to create the Robotics Club, and to serve as president of Project Enable, an organization that designs and modifies devices for the disabled. Acharya balanced academics with community service by serving as volunteer for the city of San José and Veggielution, a sustainable food farm. Continuing his experience at San José State, Acharya plans to pursue a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.

Phillip Calabretta will graduate with a bachelor’s in chemistry. He says that he was not the strongest student in high school, but he feels that he has turned things around at San José State. A Howard Hughes Medical Institute SCRIBE student fellow, Calabretta is graduating with a 3.88 GPA. With his eye on a teaching career, Calabretta got plenty of practice while at SJSU. He taught general chemistry labs, facilitated workshops for the Louis-Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, and trained students in RISE, a program that provides research opportunities for underrepresented biomedical students. Calabretta also participated in the student chemistry club and mentored young students as a camp counselor at Exploring New Horizons Outdoor School. Calabretta is currently enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

John Tilney will graduate with a master’s in library and information science. He didn’t realize how challenging writing a thesis could be, but his diligence to “dig deeper” has paid off. For his thesis, “Containing Obscenity: The Gathings Committee, Moral Crusades, and Paperback Books,” Tilney studied the attempt to censor paperback books in the mid-20th century. Tilney’s work is the first book-length research project to examine the actions of the “Gathings Committee,” appointed to investigate the threat of obscene literature at a national level. By researching archives at Arkansas State University and New York University, Tilney was able to explore the history of censorship in U.S. publishing, uncover firsthand popular response to paperback books, and expose the social challenges around a cultural medium. Tilney says his work has assisted with his academic discipline and his commitment to completing large-scale projects.

Professor Creates Engaging Online Learning Environment

Dr. Michael Stephens at his desk, with three monitors behind him.

Dr. Michael Stephens (SLIS image)

By Dr. Michael Stephens, Assistant Professor, School of Library and Information Science

(Editor’s note: The sage on the stage in giant lecture halls is giving way to a collaborative, hyperconnected world. SJSU’s School of Library and Information Science is at the forefront of online learning. We asked an instructor to share his experiences. You can also read more from a student’s perspective.)

I’ve been teaching online and hybrid courses for a few years, but joining SJSU’s School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) last summer led to full time, fully online teaching. Some dismiss online classes as ineffective, text-based “correspondence” style endeavors. I believe it all depends on the caliber of the online experience. Are the classes just ported over from face-to-face syllabi and entirely text-based? Or do they transform learning and inspire students?

I was drawn to online instruction because of the potential for using interactive technologies and social tools to extend my “classroom” beyond four walls and immerse my students in the environments they’ll encounter in future jobs.  I teach courses that explore new service models in libraries, as well as transformative learning, where I encourage my students to design instructional programs using emerging technologies.

Over the past few years, I’ve worked on creating a learning environment that fosters rich interaction between students and me, and gets students interacting with each other. I prefer not to keep our work and interactions inside the “walled garden” of a closed learning management system (LMS), but out on the open Web. Our students will surely be called upon to communicate online to some degree with the people they serve. Having an understanding of interaction outside the safe confines of an LMS is important.

Utilizing the open source content management system WordPress and a suite of plug ins called Buddypress, I create a “social network” for learning that features blogs for all students, a course activity feed, forums, work groups, and integration of other social tools. My class size is usually 25 or so students. Each student gets an account and blog within the site and can customize their environment with widgets, themes and add ons. Small images represent each student – some use a photo, others choose to use avatars.

Stephens Panopto screen

Panopto combines slides, text and video into a rich, media-based Web experience (SLIS image).

Transforming learning while inspiring students

SLIS provides access to some cutting edge tools to deliver class content. I use Panopto to record lectures. Panopto combines slides, text and video into a rich, media-based Web experience. (See screenshot to see it in action.) Feedback from students has been positive. I advocate for the use of video in online teaching as a means to share beyond just text. Teaching summer sessions at my previous position, I often recorded short video “shout outs” to my class from the hiking trail or beside a lake in northern Michigan. Letting them see a bit of my world, of my experience, reinforces the connection I believe is so important to establish. Last fall, I recorded a series of lectures with my trusty Labrador Cooper sleeping nearby within the frame. Other videos I record with my iPhone or Flip for upload to YouTube. These can be easily embedded into the course site and shared.

Other tools allow us to create a sense of connection and community. This is important to me as an online educator. We utilize Blackboard Collaborate to have weekly live video conference sessions. I’ve dubbed them the Commons, a place where each participant adds value to the experience.  One week we might have an open discussion or office hours style meet up, and other sessions might include a guest speaker. Recordings of these interactions are posted to my course sites as soon as we wrap up, for those who cannot attend the live session. It’s not out of the ordinary for a student to stop into the online room just to say hello and make a quick comment.

As a companion to the online meeting space, we use Blackboard Instant Messaging (IM), an application that allows faculty, staff and students to log in and interact in similar fashion to other chat programs. While working each day, I log in and set my status to available. Students and my colleagues at SLIS can send a brief question or comment via IM and I can do the same. The application seamlessly integrates with Collaborate and allows groups to break out into rooms for further collaboration. Each semester, the application automatically populates with my class lists. For students, it’s comforting to know that a professor is just a few keyboard taps away in the online environment.

I also use the micro-blogging site Twitter for sharing with my students and promoting conversation. We utilize Twitter hashtags to associate and share our tweets, and library practitioners can share and participate as well. Students use devices other than a personal computer to interact via Twitter, and on the course site. On the go and from anywhere, my students can share or participate via their smartphone or tablet. Posting a picture, a link or just a brief thought about class content can happen anywhere.

screenshot from a course

In Transformative Learning and New Literacies, students create web-based, self-directed learning programs for library staff (SLIS image).

Interactive learning environments encourage experimentation

The world is changing faster than ever, and the skillsets needed by SJSU students in the School of Library and Information Science are rapidly evolving.  Students need to learn how to incorporate emerging technology into their future roles in libraries and information centers.  As I teach courses in the School’s fully online graduate program, I’m well aware of the need to create an engaging, interactive learning environment for my students that prepares them for tomorrow challenges.

I believe a focus on play and experimentation is needed for 21st century learning success. These newer forms of learning – play and experimentation – can prepare students for the world they will work in after they graduate, and for years to come.

I emphasize this focus on experimentation via the assignments in my online courses. In my class called The Hyperlinked Library and Emerging Technologies, students create media-based reports on recent books related to society and culture. Any media platform or 2.0 tool that can be shared across the web is fair game for play and experimenting for this assignment.

In Transformative Learning and New Literacies, my students create web-based, self-directed learning programs for library staff, replicating a similar environment to our course community. Experience with content management systems and various tools for creating online learning modules put them in the thick of what it will be like to do the same in their future work. Later, they each design an online component to their own personal learning networks and articulate the steps they took to build it, as well as what potential problems or issues it may help them solve as new information professionals.

Communication is key in online teaching

I have a plaque in my home office that quotes Michaelangelo, “I am still learning.” I keep that in mind as I reflect on my own teaching and use of technology. It’s an ongoing process to continue to improve. I learn from my students, my colleagues and from the networks I participate in online. It’s fine to say “I don’t know” about the next new thing and explore it with previous learning in mind. I want this for my students as well. Skills they develop now – exploring a new tool, creating new knowledge, making connections with others – will serve them well in their careers.

I’ve also learned not to get hung up on perfection. A mistake or two in a lecture or stumbling over words in a video does not negate the experience for students. In fact, it helps counteract the “culture of perfect” that sometimes permeates libraries and other environments. “Everything is beta” is a popular way to describe this approach.

Communication is key to successful online teaching as well. Being present on the course site and answering questions directed to me are a given, but I also work at consistent updating. If I’m traveling to speak at a library or conference, I let my students know. If I’m at a conference, I’ll share links and insights. My students have done the same, using Twitter or their class blogs to share their own opinions and takeaways from attending professional conferences. The sharing and communication can be informal, and it strengthens the feeling of community.

The best teachers understand that technology use in coursework is not just for the sake of technology but to extend and enhance the learning process. Recently, Michael Wesch from the University of Kansas responded to an article about his advocacy for participatory technologies in coursework. His eloquent statement resonates with me: “My main point is that participatory teaching methods simply will not work if they do not begin with a deep bond between teacher and student.  Importantly, this bond must be built through mutual respect, care, and an ongoing effort to know and understand one another.”

The sage on the stage in giant lecture halls is giving way to a collaborative, hyperconnected world of newer methods and channels of learning, but the human connection can and should remain. Bring yourself to your online teaching – share, be authentic and connect with students via the heart and the keyboard.

Nutrition Professor Nominates Winning “Maestra Positiva”

Four people with big checks from the milk board.

Steve James of the California Milk Processor Board awards ceremonial checks to Christina Rodriguez and Father Eddie Samaniego, accompanied by Associate Professor Marjorie Freedman (GOT MILK photo).

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

When the California Milk Processor Board, creator of GOT MILK? and its Spanish-language counterpart TOMA LECHE, launched a statewide contest in search of three “Maestros Positivos,” they found just who they were looking for right here in San Jose, with help from an SJSU faculty member. Associate Professor Marjorie Freedman of the Department of Nutrition, Food Science, and Packaging nominated Christina Rodriguez, who serves on a steering committee for an SJSU food justice program Freedman oversees. A registered nurse, Rodriguez provides basic health care and nutrition services through Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church’s Health & Nutrition Ministries. She hosts monthly health fairs at her church to test blood sugar and pressure, donating her time and money to purchase testing equipment. The California Milk Processor Board awarded each of three “Maestros Positivos” $5,000 ($2,500 for each winner and $2,500 for each winner’s charity of choice) for exemplifying positivity in the area of health and nutrition in their respective communities. Freedman joined Rodriguez at a celebratory event Jan. 25 at the church.

“Hemp Plastic Water Bottles” Steals the Show at Innovation Challenge

Junior JD Leadam stands to the left of his project poster board for Hemp Plastic Water Bottles presented his idea to a passerby. Poster board includes a picture of the design and an explanation of his project

Junior business major J.D. Leadam won first place in several categories at the Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge for his entry, Hemp Plastic Water Bottles (Dillon Adams photo).

By Amanda Holst, Public Affairs Assistant

Nearly 200 Spartans competed Dec. 1 in the Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge, including junior business major J.D. Leadam, who took first place in several categories, winning $2,000.

“I learned that if I truly believe in an idea, then I can sell anyone on it,” Leadam said.

Leadam won Most Innovative Idea, Best Elevator Pitch, and People’s Choice awards for his entry, “Hemp Plastic Water Bottles,” an idea that replaces single-use water bottles with biodegradable plastic water bottles made from industrial hemp.

“Regular water bottles will release toxins over time and when they are buried in our landfills, they last for all eternity,” Leadam said. “We want to replace them with bottles made out of hemp, which are 100 percent safe and biodegradable.”

Leadam plans on entering the Silicon Valley Business Plan Competition this spring, using the money that he won from the challenge to make a prototype and contact manufacturers in China.

“I am really looking to make this happen,” he said.

Teaching Innovation

Other projects included ePrepared, an online community providing counseling sources for high school and college students; Applications Complete, an innovative way to track everyday receipts; and Spherical Drive System, a new concept for a motorcycle designed to balance like a Segway.

This was the first time The Silicon Valley Center for Entrepreneurship, within the College of Business, extended its signature fall event to all majors.

Undergraduate and graduate students, as well as  alumni from all seven colleges participated. President Mohammad Qayoumi and College of Business Dean David Steele presented the winning awards.

“I think that we were successful in creating a cross-disciplinary collaboration for our first year,” SVCE Director Anuradha Basu said.

Industry Professionals

Over 25 community members helped with judging the exhibits and the elevator pitch contest. They included 11 CEOs/founders, two attorneys, two angel investors, two venture capitalists, a banker, and four managers from Cisco and Intel. Around 10 judges were SJSU alumni.

Included on the panel of judges were Arlo Inc. Co-founder Dave Hadden and Tower Foundation of SJSU Board Member Wanda Ginner, who headed her own independent CPA firm for several decades.

“I noticed that the personal appearance and presentations of the students were better than last year, and the elevator pitches were significantly better,” Ginner said. “I just had the feeling that the students were really invested.”

Hadden felt his experience was his biggest contribution.

“Without being critical, we can point out things to help students,” he said. “You could tell having a real world experience was meaningful to them.”

Wheelchair Whiz Inspires Silicon Valley Business Plan Competition Entrants

By Amanda Holst, Public Affairs Assistant

A woman sitting in the Rochair, a manual wheelchair that won the Silicon Valley Business Competition for 2010

Last year's Silicon Valley Business Plan Competition winner was RotaMobility for the RoChair, a manual wheelchair designed to keep its user healthy.

Do you have an idea for a business? SJSU entrepreneurs, innovators, job-seekers and business- savvy students will see if they have what it takes to turn their business plans into reality at this year’s Silicon Valley Business Plan Competition, culminating May 26.

The annual competition, now in its ninth year, aims to promote innovation at SJSU, reward student participation in new venture creation, and boost appreciation of SJSU’s contribution to entrepreneurship in the Silicon Valley, according to Anu Basu, director of the Silicon Valley Center for Entrepreneurship within the College of Business.

“It’s an opportunity to get feedback from judges, professors, peers, and industry professionals on ideas,” Basu said.

The competition, open to all SJSU students, alumni, faculty and staff, have yielded approximately 60 entrants this year, including majors and professionals in the fields of computer science, biotech, engineering, business and hospitality.  Cash awards range from $500 for Best Written Business Plan to $10,000 for the grand prize, The Wanda Ginner Award.

Last year’s first place winner Michael Bayne, an alumnus with an MBA and master’s in systems engineering, won for his business plan for Rota Mobility Inc., a company that builds RoChair and RoTrike manual wheelchairs.

Bayne’s original idea had come from a family member who was prescribed a wheelchair. He observed the family member experiencing shoulder and wrist pain related to pushing the wheels, in addition to gaining weight from not being able to enjoy the benefits of exercise that most of us take for granted. Bayne then came up with the idea of a lever-propelled wheelchair that uses a rowing-type propulsion, eliminating injuries and providing ease in maneuverability.

“Having the ability to incorporate routine exercise and the stigma of being put in a scooter – there are a lot of things that apply to having a good-looking, well-functioning ergonomically sound ride.” Bayne said.

Bayne used the money that he won from the competition to pay for the prototypes and has been demonstrating his products wherever he goes. His advice for incoming competitors this year?

“The judges are looking to award those who simply don’t treat their presentations as a school report, but as something they would really pursue,” Bayne said.