SJSU Faculty, Staff Secure More Than $17 Million in Grants

by | Jan 2, 2024 | Academics, Awards and Achievements, Featured

(Editor’s note: Kamryn Williams contributed to this story.)

Before the calendar flipped to 2024, San José State University faculty and staff secured several grants that will create programs in a number of areas, including student success, special education, cybersecurity, climate change and physics. Learn about each of the grants and how they will propel these areas forward for years to come.

Increasing the Number of Low-income Students Prepared to Succeed in Higher Ed

Professors of Counselor Education Dolores Mena and Xiaolu Hu and Assistant Professor of Counselor Education Lorri Capizzi received a seven-year, $10.7 million Gaining Early Awareness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, to increase the number of low-income students who graduate from high school and are prepared to enter and succeed in higher education. 

The partnership grant will provide academic support services to a cohort of East San José students from seventh grade through their first year of postsecondary education. The project’s design is research-based, data-driven and equity-minded with a focus on improving students’ academic success, college and career readiness and personal/social outcomes while acknowledging and honoring students’ and their families’ cultural and linguistic diversity. 

GEAR UP students will receive academic support, college and career awareness and preparation opportunities to achieve the best postsecondary “fit” for each student, and support with personal/social development from SJSU Counselor Education Department faculty and graduate students to address mental health needs that may have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, students and their families will receive extensive financial aid information and guidance to help them transition from high school to postsecondary education.

“Receiving this seven-year GEAR UP grant signifies a long-term commitment to bridging the opportunity gap and promoting educational equity for low-income students living and attending schools within our university’s local community in East San José,” says Mena. “Receiving this grant also signifies a commitment to leveling the playing field and ensuring that all students, regardless of their socioeconomic status, receive resources and support to increase their chances of enrolling, persisting and succeeding in higher education and beyond.”

Grant partners include Alum Rock Union School District, Franklin-McKinley School District, East Side Union High School District, San José-Evergreen Community College District and SJSU. Community partners include East Side Education Foundation, the City of San José and the UCSC Educational Partnership Center/California Student Opportunity Access Program (Cal-SOAP)

Retaining Students on Academic Notice

Shonda Goward, associate vice provost of undergraduate advising and student success, received a $2.18 million grant to restructure SJSU’s advising program and faculty strategies to support students on academic notice. Goward says the grant enables the university to build a culture of evidence-based student support with a holistic approach that can be assessed and refined as other high-impact practices are similarly evaluated. 

The restructure, named Spartan Phalanx, supports students on probation, particularly focusing on the target population of low-income, racially-minoritized, and disproportionately-underserved students by improving academic advising services, increasing success and providing a greater climate of inclusion. Spartan Phalanx has four components critical to improving the academic success of these populations: 

  • Component 1 will create an online course to develop skills and support understanding of students’ community cultural wealth. 
  • Component 2 will provide a comprehensive, accessible tutoring program to serve those on academic probation. 
  • Component 3 will focus on supporting and training faculty teaching courses with high rates of D/F/W grades (W stands for withdraw).
  • Component 4 will develop a robust, coordinated program of coaching support from advisors, clinicians-in-training and peer mentors.

“We want to support students so that they can return to good standing quickly,” Goward says. “We are doing this while also working with several colleges involved to design faculty development opportunities to help make pedagogical changes that will aid in preventing students from landing in academic jeopardy in the first place. This grant provides an opportunity to augment and elevate that work, and refine what we do so that more students can be successful.”

Read more about Goward’s journey to SJSU.

Preparing Special Educators for Advocacy

Sudha Krishnan, assistant professor of special education, received a $1.25 million grant to create Project Mosaic, a multilingual and multicultural outreach program to recruit special educators advocating for inclusive communities. Krishnan says the funding will address the severe shortage of teachers for students with extensive support needs or those with significant disabilities, diversify the special education teacher workforce to match their student populations, meet the unique challenges faced by teachers of color in teacher preparation programs and equip teachers with competencies in evidence-based practices. 

The project will increase the number of teachers of color who are prepared to provide effective and equitable culturally and linguistically responsive instruction, interventions and services through intentional recruitment of 31 diverse scholars over four years. Krishnan encourages students of color graduating from SJSU to consider applying for the program, with the aim of educating and transforming the communities in which they live.

The grant is a significant achievement or milestone for me personally as an early career researcher,” she says. “However, more importantly, it means that our department has been recognized as having the potential to make a huge and lasting impact on education by preparing teachers of color for neighboring school districts, ultimately benefiting students in these districts and the broader community. I also see it as validating and endorsing our department’s expertise and dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Transforming High Energy Physics

Kassahun Betre and Curtis T. Asplund, assistant professors of physics and astronomy, in partnership with the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, received a $1 million grant to accomplish three goals — create a one and a half year long traineeship program for SJSU graduate and undergraduate students; enhance the physics curriculum to prepare students to work with theoretical and experimental high energy physics (HEP) practitioners; and develop research infrastructure in HEP at SJSU. 

The traineeship program will enhance the cooperation between SJSU and SLAC (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center) and establish a sustainable pathway for talented students from underrepresented minority groups to enter the HEP workforce. Traineeships will enhance students’ academic coursework, provide hands-on research and professional development opportunities, offer mentorship, provide financial assistance, and create a supportive community to prepare trainees to be competitive candidates for PhD programs in HEP or other STEM careers.  

HEP is a highly competitive field,” says Betre. “Traditionally, students who succeed in the field come from highly selective research universities. Research experience and advanced coursework have become more standard qualifications to get employment or admission into HEP Ph.D. programs, rather than things that give one an extra leg-up. The traineeship program will set our students on a path to succeed at great careers in this exciting field.” 

Betre hopes the HEP at SJSU program can be a model for successful programs at state schools that can produce many highly-trained and diverse job and Ph.D. candidates. 

Forming a Cybersecurity Alliance

Melody Moh, professor and chair of the department of computer science, and Xiao Su, associate dean for graduate studies and research in the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering, received a $1 million grant to create the SWAT Cybersecurity Regional Alliances and Multi-stakeholder Partnership Pilot Program. The program allows SJSU to both mentor other CSU campuses and support their development of independent cybersecurity workforce development programs.

The program has three areas of focus. It will:

  • Create SJSU-led faculty learning communities to mentor CSU faculty on the development of cybersecurity curricula, as well as embedding cybersecurity principles and practices into computer science and software engineering degree programs.
  • Leverage SJSU-led programs to increase student retention in cybersecurity degree programs and bring a greater number of interested high school and California community college students into the CSU.
  • Extend current SJSU workforce development and industry engagement programs across the CSU. 

Quantifying the Various Solutions for Changing Climate

Minghui Diao, associate professor in the department of meteorology and climate science, received an $950,000 grant from the Department of Energy to establish the California Community and Earth-system Integrated Climate Resilience Center (CalCEI), led by SJSU in partnership with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), UC San Diego, and multiple stakeholders and community leaders.

Diao says the goal is to examine and predict interactions between climate change and multi-ethnic communities. This project will quantify how the disparity of various climate impacts (e.g., wildfires, heat waves and storms) will be exacerbated by a changing climate and build metrics to quantify the effectiveness and equity of various solutions. Integration of field observations with an Earth-system model and other applied science models, such as epidemiological models, will help to build an integrated modeling framework to support decision makers with their adaptation and resilience planning.

“This grant provides unprecedented opportunities for connecting faculty and students from San José State University with state-of-the-art technologies and facilities supported by the U.S. Department of Energy,” says Diao. “The collaboration with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, along with a wide spectrum of stakeholders on our advisory committees, will offer training experience to our students from various ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. Career advancement in the field of meteorology, climate and atmospheric science, and computer science will be available to multiple SJSU students.”

A cross-disciplinary collaborative team will address climate challenges that face many communities and stakeholders in California. The work will improve the understanding of Earth system processes and public health impacts that often lead to increasing disparity for underserved communities when extreme climate events strike. 

Read Diao’s profile in the Spring 2023 edition of Washington Square: The Magazine.

Going Nuclear

Nicholas Esker, assistant professor of nuclear and physical chemistry, received a $312,353 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s RENEW program to establish a sustaining partnership between Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and SJSU. The  Multidisciplinary Training Experience in Nuclear Science (Mt. ENS) traineeship program will introduce students to nuclear science through a two-credit course at the early stages of an undergraduate degree before they actively engage in a summer research activity at LLNL. Mt. ENS will open new career avenues for underrepresented minority students and help broaden and diversify the nuclear science workforce.

Students will take an introductory nuclear science research techniques course before working on a research project under an LLNL scientist for 10 weeks over the summer. Esker says most universities lack nuclear science classes or the ability to do active nuclear science research. He adds this program takes advantage of both SJSU’s long history of educating nuclear scientists and LLNL’s close proximity to establish a new education and research pipeline between our two institutions. 

“I am so excited to be partnering with LLNL in order to offer this opportunity to our students,” Esker says. “I love nuclear science, and I’m thankful everyday for a few chance encounters where people were willing to show me the ins-and-outs of this world. As a first-generation college student, I know how important it is to have a mentor and guide in these spaces. One of the main reasons I became a professor is to be that person for the next generation. The support offered by this program will ensure our students have an engaging, and hopefully life-changing, nuclear science research experience.”