SJSU Joins CSU Initiative to Increase Women Faculty in Engineering

Sheryl Ehrman, dean of the College of Engineering, speaks at San José State’s Silicon Valley Women in Engineering conference in 2019. The university has joined a CSU-wide initiative to increase women faculty in engineering.

More than 30% of tenure or tenure-track faculty at San José State University’s Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering are women — the fourth highest among public engineering colleges in the country, according to the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).

Thanks to a $1.25 million National Science Foundation grant, that number may grow, with an emphasis on increasing diversity as well as expanding networking and support opportunities for women faculty.

Awarded to California State University, Fresno — who is partnering with SJSU, California State University Los Angeles and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo — the grant will support those California State University (CSU) campuses’ efforts to hire more women engineering faculty members, especially underrepresented minority women, according to a release from Fresno State.

Ultimately, the goal is to enroll more female students. Up to 11 more CSU campuses may eventually join the initiative.

“We are excited to participate in this initiative,” said Sheryl Ehrman, the Don Beall Dean of the College of Engineering.

“While we are one of the top public colleges of engineering in the nation with respect to women tenure/tenure-track faculty, there is still room for progress,” she continued. “I appreciate the focus on strengthening research collaborations and building the mentoring and peer-support network.”

The initiative, called the Kindling Inter-University Networks for Diverse (KIND) Engineering Faculty Advancement, is led by Fresno State and will follow a three-pronged approach.

First, it will analyze the campuses’ engineering faculty data using Aspire’s Institutional Change program to evaluate hiring practices, and policies and procedures around supporting and advancing existing faculty.

Second, it will create a CSU-wide network for research collaboration, including mini-grants for network members. And third, it will foster a systemwide mentoring and peer-support network to increase faculty retention and promotion.

The initiative will also create a dashboard where campuses can track the demographics of existing faculty and advancement data, which would allow them to identify potential roadblocks in hiring and retention.

“Is it at the hiring state where we aren’t getting diverse candidates? Is it in faculty departures before tenure? Is there a gender difference there?” asked Kimberly Stillmaker, assistant professor of civil engineering at Fresno State and one of the faculty members who led the grant application process.

“Once we have that data, then we’ll be able to make better changes, more pinpointed changes,” she noted.

In 2019, only 17% of the country’s engineering tenured/tenure-track faculty were women, according to the ASEE, and it’s even lower for Black and Latina women.

Since Ehrman stepped into her role in 2017, she has worked to increase the presence of female faculty in SJSU’s College of Engineering.

“The SJSU campus has made significant changes to our faculty search processes, including training committees in inclusive search practices,” she noted.

“Our college has women in leadership roles — department chairs, associate deans and me as the second female dean — so this helps in recruiting women at all career stages,” Ehrman continued. “We are looking for faculty who are student-focused and who will prioritize delivering a quality educational experience for students as well as research that directly involves students.”

Young Park, associate professor of computer engineering, is one of those faculty members. She uplifts women and underrepresented minorities through cybersecurity hands-on research and industry experience.

“My focus is to let these students overcome stereotypes as they develop skills that are needed for advanced cybersecurity,” she explained.

“I believe diversity is a key factor for successful programs at any organization and any project, because the complete solution can be derived from various backgrounds and environments. Through the KIND project, I hope our female faculty members will become leaders in the engineering field.”

Another strategy that has helped recruit women engineers to SJSU is the college’s emphasis on applied research that benefits society, Ehrman said.

“Women are more drawn to engineering if they see an engineering career as a way they can contribute positively to society, and being an engineering professional, training the next generation of engineers is a way to scale that benefit,” Ehrman explained.

The College of Engineering provides several opportunities for women engineering students to build relationships with mentors and each other. For example, the college hosts an annual Silicon Valley Women in Engineering Conference, where female engineering students from SJSU and other higher ed institutions can learn from women professionals in the field.

SJSU women engineering students can also join SWE SJSU, the campus’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. And in 2017, an engineering sorority was founded on campus as well.

Still, Ehrman emphasized that the KIND Engineering Faculty Advancement initiative will allow SJSU to continue to take big steps toward bringing more women — especially underrepresented minority women — into the engineering field.

“The grant will provide excellent opportunities for networking and support of women faculty across the CSU, so our current and future faculty will greatly benefit,” she said.

“While our percentages are high, our college can improve in recruitment and retention of women faculty of color, and we hope to be able to learn through participation in this grant how we can improve in this area.”

Learn more about the KIND Engineering Faculty Advancement initiative.

SJSU Students Use Bioinformatics to Study How Living Organisms React to Space Travel

International Space Station

SJSU bioinformatics students helped NASA scientists better understand how living organisms react to life on the International Space Station compared to Earth. Image courtesy of NASA.

How does space travel impact the human body? That’s a question scientists are still trying to answer. This summer, they got a little closer to the answer, thanks to some extra help from San José State University students.

A cohort of biology and computer science undergraduate students were the first to participate in San José State’s new bioinformatics internship program with NASA, developed by two SJSU College of Science faculty: Philip Heller, assistant professor of computer science, and Bree Grillo-Hill, assistant professor of biology.

Equipped with knowledge from their SJSU biology and computer science courses — plus training from a bioinformatics bootcamp — six students joined NASA’s GeneLab project. They helped analyze and interpret publicly available data that revealed the RNA of different organisms, including humans, plants, insects and mice, in order to compare how those organisms responded to life on the International Space Station compared to Earth. The internship began in June and ended in August.

“The goal was to gain insights into the biological processes that degrade astronauts’ health in microgravity and other stressful conditions,” explained Heller. “These insights will drive decisions about lowering astronaut health risks, so the implications for science are profound.”

For example, Evelyn Wong, ’21 Biology, analyzed data to help NASA researchers better understand how and if cancer could be a risk following space travel.

“Astronauts are exposed to radiation when traveling to space, which makes them likely candidates for developing cancer later in life,” she explained. “I studied samples that might be able to help identify that possibility for developing cancer in the future.”

Wong said she’s not a natural programmer, so the internship offered her an opportunity to gain new data processing skills while putting her biology knowledge to use. Her hard work paid off: After her internship wrapped up in August, Wong began working as a full-time research associate contracted by Blue Marble Space Institute of Science to work with NASA.

That’s the kind of success Heller was hoping his students would achieve when he developed the internship. Bioinformatics is an increasingly important field, he noted. San José State offers a minor in bioinformatics as well as a master’s degree.

Preserved tissue samples

Publicly available data gathered from preserved tissues such as those seen here, archived at the NASA Ames Research Center, were analyzed and interpreted with the help of SJSU bioinformatics students. Image credit: NASA/Dominic Hart

Grillo-Hill emphasized that the experience can give students an edge in job searches and graduate school applications.

“Many cutting-edge projects in biology research require generating, managing and analyzing large data sets,” she explained. “Our bioinformatics minor teaches students the tools to do this, and internships give them the opportunity to practice these skills on real data sets.”

With NASA’s Artemis program to land humans — the first woman and first person of color, specifically — on the moon in 2024, “the urgency is high” to better understand how humans respond to space travel, Heller emphasized.

He hoped to create a program that would allow both SJSU and NASA to reap the benefits. SJSU could supply a steady stream of talented students interested in bioinformatics, and the next generation of scientists could gain valuable first-hand interdisciplinary experience, he said.

While this isn’t the only opportunity SJSU students have to intern with NASA — the College of Engineering, for example, helps place aerospace engineering students into internships with the agency — it’s the first chance for SJSU students interested in bioinformatics.

To make sure students were ready to hit the ground running, Heller, in collaboration with NASA GeneLab and Universities Space Research Association, kicked off the program with a five-day intensive bootcamp that acquainted students with NASA’s processes and goals and provided a deeper understanding of the field.

Kevin Truong, ’22 Computer Science, found the experience of working in an interdisciplinary environment with NASA scientists eye-opening.

“Working in bioinformatics gave me the opportunity to explore different fields and to learn things I didn’t know — and that I’ll likely never understand. And that’s OK if there is someone else on your team who can explain it. Sometimes, I will be the one to explain things to someone else.

“It’s a fascinating field and can be challenging, but in the end you get to create greater things.”

Heller emphasized that “even if the interns don’t become NASA scientists, they will gain training and experience in techniques that are commonly used in biotech, so we believe their long-term career experiences will be greatly enriched.”

Aeowynn Coakley, ’21 Biology, already feels that her future as a research scientist has been influenced by the experience.

“Whatever I do next, I want to work with an interdisciplinary team. You can go so much further and understand so much more working together that way,” she said.

“Bioinformatics is a really important tool to make meaningful inferences about data being collected,” she continued. “We are in an era of big data, and there’s so much biological information out there and so many scientists working siloed as they delve into this data. Through bioinformatics, we can make really meaningful contributions to the field by introducing an interdisciplinary perspective.”

Learn more about San José State’s MS in Bioinformatics and minor in Bioinformatics.

NSF Grant to Accelerate Wildfire Research at SJSU

SJSU Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center

Craig Clements, director of the SJSU Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center, with a truck equipped for wildfire surveillance. Photo by Robert C. Bain

Wildfire research at San José State University is about to move faster than ever before — and in partnership with key industry and government stakeholders — thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The NSF grant awards the SJSU Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center (WIRC) the designation of an Industry-University Cooperative Research Center (IUCRC), making it part of a program designed to accelerate the impact of research by establishing close relationships with industry innovators, government leaders and world-class academic teams.

WIRC will be the only IUCRC in the U.S. focusing on wildfire research. 

Functioning as an IUCRC will allow wildfire research at SJSU to move at an unprecedented speed, explained Craig Clements, director of WIRC and professor of meteorology. Typically, the academic research process can require months of waiting for funding and approval. In this case, funding is available and projects can start as soon as the stakeholders approve.

WIRC will partner with a board of industry innovators and government agencies, including: San Diego Gas & Electric Company; Pacific Gas & Electric Company; Southern California Edison; Technosylva, Inc.; Jupiter Intelligence, Inc.; State Farm Insurance; CSAA Insurance Group; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; and others.

Those members will each contribute an annual fee of $50,000, which will allow them to work directly with WIRC faculty to determine research goals, share industry data and prioritize the most pressing needs in the area of wildfire research. In addition to annual membership fees, the NSF provides $750,000 over a five-year period.

“This is going to be transformative for our faculty and students in terms of what we can accomplish,” said Clements. “And the members will benefit because they will get access to research results before anyone else. Our students will get to interact with industry and government members, and members get to interact with our talent pool.”

WIRC has identified five initial key areas of research in which it will engage partners, focusing on both physical and social science aspects of wildfire research, according to its proposal submitted to the NSF. Those areas include:

Fire weather and coupled fire-atmosphere modeling and forecasting: In order for industry and government members to make the best fire management decisions, WIRC will prioritize learning how fire interacts with the atmosphere and across complex terrain. 

Fire behavior monitoring and modeling: As remote sensing and long-wave infrared technologies have advanced, WIRC plans to conduct scientific measurements of real-time wildfire data for the first time — which can then be shared with scientists and fire managers around the world as well as contribute to more accurate fire predictions. 

Wildfire management and policy: How individuals and communities respond to wildfires varies. WIRC will expand its research on how social and behavioral factors contribute to evacuation plans and trust in wildfire management. Additionally, researchers will examine barriers to prescribed fire use on private lands and residential areas. 

Climate change and wildfire risk: As climate change continues, wildfire locations, frequencies, intensities, size and duration will change, too. Researchers will produce detailed information on how climate change has influenced wildfire behavior in the past and how it will likely impact the future. 

STEM fire education and workforce development: In the past, wildfire experts have typically been firefighters. But today, wildfire expertise is interdisciplinary and includes land management agencies, nonprofits, teachers, land-use planners, public health experts, landscape architects, building scientists, insurance agencies and more. WIRC wants to develop a wildfire training program for the next generation of fire-adapted professionals and communities. 

SJSU researchers will work with the U.S. Forest Service Fire Science Lab to train community teachers, park rangers and outdoor educators so that they can teach residents in fire-prone ecosystems how to be more fire adaptive from a young age. WIRC also plans to train the next generation of wildfire experts through a wildfire minor at SJSU and by streamlining opportunities for underrepresented minority students to work with industry members. 

Clements will continue to serve as director of WIRC and primary investigator (PI) along with Amanda Stasiewicz, assistant professor of wildfire management, as co-director and co-PI.

Other leadership faculty include Adam Kochanski, co-PI and assistant professor of wildfire meteorology; Ali Tohidi, co-PI and assistant professor of fire dynamics and mechanical engineering; Kate Wilkin, co-PI and assistant professor of fire ecology; Mario Miguel Valero Pérez, senior personnel and assistant professor of wildfire remote sensing; and Patrick Brown, senior personnel and assistant professor of meteorology and climate science. 

Mohamed Abousalem, vice president for research and innovation at San José State, said the IUCRC designation is an excellent demonstration of the public impact that SJSU research is delivering to local and global communities.

“It is great to see the continuing support from the National Science Foundation to this critically important research program at San José State,” said Abousalem.

“With record-size wildfires currently ravaging through California’s ecosystems and communities, the value and impact of this collaborative research work could not be more timely. SJSU has the depth of expertise and the interdisciplinarity needed to understand, assess, mitigate and manage these wildfires through targeted partnerships with industry and government.”

SJSU Students Use Data to Help Serve City’s Most Vulnerable Communities

A map created by SJSU graduate students presents data from San José’s Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services.

Data has the power to transform communities.

Just ask Saritha Podali, ’22 MS Data Analytics, and Fengling Zhou, ’22 MS Data Analytics. As part of a new partnership with San José State and the City of San José — supported by the Knight Foundation — the pair played a key role in gathering, interpreting and presenting data that can help the city provide resources to those who need it most.

San José’s Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Services (PRNS) offers scholarships for qualifying residents to participate in youth activities and after-school programs. While the city has always sought to ensure the scholarships went to those most in need, certain questions persisted: Were the people receiving the scholarships getting the right amount of aid? Who was being left out, and why?

Saritha Podali, '22 MS Data Analytics

Saritha Podali, ’22 MS Data Analytics

Enter the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation who, thanks to a partnership with SJSU’s MS Data Analytics program, brought Podali and Zhou on board to tackle the issue in what was dubbed the city’s Data Equity Project.

“We define data equity as using the city’s data ethically and in ways that drive equitable outcomes for constituents,” explained Julia Chen, project manager for the Data Equity Project.

Starting in April, Zhou and Podali got to work mining PRNS data — by organizing records from 2009 to 2019 using the programming language Python — to paint a full picture of who was enrolling in the youth programs and who was receiving financial support.

“One of our primary objectives was to provide PRNS folks who might have little or no tech background with an easy-to-use, interactive experience to present the trends to their board,” explained Podali.

Fengling Zhou, '22 Data Analytics

Fengling Zhou, ’22 Data Analytics

And that’s exactly what they did: Their final presentation to PRNS and Mayor Sam Liccardo included an interactive map identifying the city’s most vulnerable communities by ZIP code and how many scholarship dollars were allocated to those areas compared to others. Plus, it highlighted where certain communities indicated a need for programs that were unavailable locally by attending those outside their immediate area.

Podali and Zhou, along with others who worked on the project, shared a list of recommendations on how to use the data, which PRNS plans to do, explained Hal Spangenberg, interim division manager of PRNS.

“We will use this data and information to help inform key decisions in the allocation and distribution of scholarship funds and hopefully increase scholarships to those most in need,” he said.

“We can’t overstate the value of the dashboards they created,” Chen added. “Now, the PRNS team has a level of data and truth they can refer to as they make their future decisions.”

“Data is not anonymous,” she continued. “These are people’s lives we have in our hands. It’s not just analysis for the sake of analysis; we are ultimately here to hopefully better the lives of residents of San Jose. That’s the importance of having local students doing this kind of work and bringing their local context to the table. We need to understand the community we’re serving, so it made sense to partner with the university, where there’s a pipeline of talent.”

A demonstration of the interactive map created by Podali and Zhou for the City of San José.

One of the goals of the SJSU MS Data Analytics program is to show students that they can apply analytics to solve relevant, real-world problems, explained Ruth Duran Huard, dean of the College of Professional and Global Education (CPGE).

“One of our core learning objectives is for our students to integrate multidisciplinary knowledge to engage in practical data analytics projects, from analyzing requirements to managing data, building models, presenting results and assessing societal impacts,” she noted.

“The partnership of CPGE’s Applied Data Science department with the City of San José speaks to our university’s commitment to connect and contribute within our communities,” Huard continued. “To be able to support the city in its efforts to meet its data systems needs and develop an overall data strategy has been invaluable, especially for our faculty and students.”

Mohamed Abousalem, SJSU’s vice president for research and innovation, says this collaboration is an example of how the university’s research expertise can have tremendous public impact.

“SJSU has several areas of research expertise that intersect with the City of San José’s interests and priorities,” he said. “This collaboration was a demonstration of how our students and faculty can help the city make data-informed decisions based on expertise and skill in data analytics. Our partners have a great opportunity to tap into the resources of today’s students to select tomorrow’s employees through meaningful and productive research and development projects.”

For Podali and Zhou, the experience broadened their understanding on the power of data.

“Being fair when creating policies to serve a community is hard,” noted Zhou. “But our data project provides evidence that will help the best decisions to be made.”

“This experience has helped me develop a new perspective of how data can be transformative for communities,” Podali said.

“I now realize the impact technology advancement has when it is leveraged across all walks of life,” she continued. “Studying community problems, identifying areas of improvement and assessing risks using data analytics is the need of the hour. As exciting as it is to work on groundbreaking artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, it is equally important to ensure that communities receive enough help to position themselves in today’s world of technology.”

View the students’ final presentation, and learn more about SJSU’s MS Data Analytics program

San Jose Art Project Illustrates a Safe Emergence from ‘COVID Bubbles’

A live art installation at Heritage Rose Garden directed by SJSU’s Robin Lasser. Photos of the scene appear on billboards around San Jose. Photo by Robin Lasser

There’s a new art exhibit opening this week in San Jose — but you won’t find it in a gallery. Instead, look up.

Starting August 2 and lasting through the month, billboards throughout the city are featuring art installations created by Robin Lasser, professor of art at San José State, and her longtime collaborator and former student Adrienne Pao, ’05 MFA Photography.

The message behind the art? Celebrate a safe, vaccinated emergence as a community from our “COVID bubbles.”

“The ‘bubble’ represents our social, familial or solitary bubbles that we live in during the pandemic,” Lasser explained.

The art is part of a statewide project aimed at reminding Californians that their actions can save lives. Fourteen artist teams throughout the state created pieces designed to empower their communities to protect one another and to show resilience. The project was developed in partnership with The Center at Sierra Health Foundation.

Members of San Jose’s Vietnamese community appeared in a tableau honoring emergence from the pandemic. Photo by Robin Lasser

“One of the goals was to work with harder hit and under-recognized communities during the pandemic,” Lasser explained.

So she and Pao worked with members of San Jose’s Vietnamese and predominantly Mexican American, as well as other Hispanic and Latino, communities to illustrate a celebratory emergence using traditional clothing, cultural elements and, of course, their signature dress tents. Messages like “Vaccinated, no more loneliness!” are written in Vietnamese, Spanish and English onto either silk lanterns or papel picado.

A rendering of a billboard featuring Lasser’s and Pao’s art installation. Image courtesy of Robin Lasser

The installations were created in public spaces. Lasser invited members of the Vietnamese community to Kelly Park on May 30 for one installation, and Mexican American and other Hispanic and Latino community members to Heritage Rose Garden on June 5 for another. At each public gathering, she invited some attendees to participate in the tableau she and Pao created, while the rest served as onlookers watching the scene come to life.

Then, she took photos.

“We wanted to create an event where those who had been vaccinated could finally be together and celebrate that emergence. It’s a two-pronged experience: We created art with members of these communities, and then we took the art and are now placing it back into those very communities with the billboards.”

While this art is specifically geared towards disproportionately affected populations, Lasser emphasized that her work carries a global message.

Map shows where billboards will be feature Lasser's art around San Jose

A map indicates where the tableaus will be featured on billboards around San Jose. Image courtesy of Robin Lasser

“When something happens to everyone everywhere, it helps us unite, to come together, to understand one another, to have greater empathy. Not that everything needs to have a silver lining, but as I spoke with people while working on this, there was a greater sense of openness and understanding for each other because we are all going through the same thing,” she explained.

She added that she hopes that anyone who spots a billboard can feel a similar celebratory feeling.

“The spirit of the work is intended to provide a sense of magic, to uplift, and imagine a hopeful future as we emerge from our solitary bubbles.”

Explore photos, videos and read more about Lasser’s and Pao’s project.

How Diamonds Could Unlock the Secrets of Quantum Physics

What makes diamonds so valuable? Most of us would point to their brilliance, clarity and beauty. But Christopher Smallwood, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at San José State, has a different answer: He looks to diamonds as the key to unearthing the secrets of quantum physics.

Smallwood and his collaborators are examining silicon-vacancy centers, which are a type of atom-sized flaw, in diamonds in order to better understand quantum physics. Illustration by Pourya Nadimi

Smallwood and his collaborators are using diamonds to better understand how the world works at the scale of a single atom. His recent findings, “Hidden Silicon-Vacancy Centers in Diamonds,” were published in May in the journal Physical Review Letters.

In the jewelry store, people typically look for the diamond with the fewest flaws. But Smallwood explained that, in the lab, these flaws are exactly what can make diamond samples so special.

He and fellow researchers create atom-sized flaws in the diamonds. Then, using a laser with pulses of light less than a trillionth of a second, they can observe the details and properties of those flaws “in a way we never had been able to before,” Smallwood said.

Exploring new territory

Christopher Smallwood

Christopher Smallwood, assistant professor of physics and astronomy

Why diamonds? To start, their crystal clear makeup allows scientists to easily access flaws with laser technology, Smallwood explained.

But what’s more, they contain a treasure trove of quantum secrets for physicists to uncover.

“There are literally books about optical resonances in diamonds for which no one understands the underlying origin,” he said. By resonances, he means physical responses in the diamonds to outside stimuli, such as light.

“From an experimental physicist’s point of view, it’s really great to have so much left to explore.”

Smallwood noted that his research takes place amid Silicon Valley’s push toward quantum engineering — that is, applying quantum physics to technology. Currently, IBM and Google, for example, are building quantum computers, which will have the power to apply quantum physics knowledge to solve today’s most pressing issues, like creating sustainable energy, reducing emissions and developing more helpful artificial intelligence.

Smallwood’s research demonstrates how San José State could become a key player in this process.

“I’ve seen a number of companies pop up in and around Silicon Valley in recent years aiming to make new inroads in quantum technology, and SJSU is well-positioned to help train the workforce required to make these technological dreams a reality,” Smallwood explained. “The publication of this paper helps underscore this potential.”

Shining light at San José State

Smallwood’s recent findings tie closely with his project funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation he received in 2020. The grant has allowed Smallwood to advance San José State’s capabilities of studying the properties of diamonds and other materials through light.

“SJSU is great because of the ways it allows me to directly work with undergraduate and master’s students and stay active in the laboratory,” he said. “Student participation in these research efforts is crucial. And I’ve got some extraordinary graduate and undergraduate students currently working in my group.”

One of those students is Tommy Wen Chin, ’22 Physics, who is helping Smallwood to better understand the recent findings. Together, he and Smallwood will work on another manuscript that explores the theory behind the work, which they will submit for publication.

Tommy Wen Chin, '22 Physics

Tommy Wen Chin, ’22 Physics

Chin said he’s gaining valuable experience for the future: He plans to pursue a PhD in physics and a career in academic research.

“This experience will give me a significant head start in that process, as I learn not only to perform research, but also to formally report it through publications. Being a first author on a publication as an undergraduate student is very rare within academic circles, and this will enhance my credibility as I apply for programs.”

But most importantly, Chin said he is getting to explore his passion and advance his knowledge of quantum physics.

“The opportunity to learn something new in physics is what drives me,” he shared. “The process of research projects often involves learning bits and pieces of the physics here and there. The most interesting and exciting part for me is when all these little pieces fit together seamlessly and tell a cohesive story.”

Smallwood, of course, understands Chin’s passion for quantum physics and the research process as a whole.

“There’s something really aesthetically beautiful about the theoretical side of the work, and on the experimental side, you get to build things with your own hands,” Smallwood said. “I enjoy working with lasers and shining light on things because — even at the level of high-level physics experiments — seeing is believing.”

View Smallwood’s published study in the Physical Review Letters journal.

What Do Recent Historic Heat Waves Mean for Us? A Q&A With SJSU Meteorologist and Climate Scientist Alison Bridger

The SJSU Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center truck overlooks the drought-stricken landscape of Coyote Valley on the outskirts of San José. More wildfires, severe droughts and extreme heat waves are all results of climate change. Photo: Robert C. Bain

Last month, temperatures in the Pacific Northwest reached historic and dangerous levels, like nothing the region has ever experienced before.

In fact, more than 100 Oregon residents died from heat-related illnesses during the record-shattering heat wave, which drove temperatures up to 117 degrees Fahrenheit in some parts of the state. Compare that to 12 hyperthermia deaths reported statewide between 2017 and 2019, according to CNN.

Parts of British Columbia hit 121 degrees Fahrenheit during the heat wave — the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada.

Alison Bridger, professor of meteorology and climate science

What should we make of this phenomenon? Alison Bridger, professor of meteorology and climate science at San José State, has some answers about why this extreme weather occurred in an area known for its cool climate — and how likely it is to happen again.

Q: We know the recent record-breaking heat in the Pacific Northwest was extremely dangerous. Can you give insight as to just how abnormal it is to see temperatures that high in that area?

AB: In the old days, when a high-temperature record got broken, it would be by 1 or 2 degrees. The Pacific Northwest heat dome was shattering records by as much as 10 degrees, which is why there was so much buzz.

It also remained very warm at night, providing little chance for anybody to cool down. Plus, it was in an area where few people use air conditioners — and stayed in place for days — so there was a lot of potential for heat stress, which is when the body can’t get rid of excess heat. As a result, there were many sudden deaths in the Pacific Northwest and in Western Canada.

One more thing is in the west, the highest temperatures tend to occur in July and August, not June.

Q: You used the term “heat dome.” Can you explain what that is and why it’s important?

AB: We meteorologists measure and pay attention to air pressure. In particular, we pay attention to areas where air pressure is higher or lower than average. Our weather is closely linked to whether we have a high- or low-pressure area over us.

Low pressure is associated with warm and cold fronts, clouds and rain — the kind where it rains all morning. High pressure areas are generally clear and dry with no clouds and no rain.

So a heat dome is an example of a high-pressure system — with clear skies, long days and the sun high in the sky. These are typical in the Southwest on really hot days in Death Valley, Las Vegas, Phoenix, etc. When they form, they can sometimes spread their influence further west and can even reach us at the coast, hence our Bay Area heat waves that occur one to three times a year.

We had another notable heat dome event this year, which was centered south and east of us and resulted in a temperature of 128 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley. This was a very strong heat dome and covered much of the west. We got over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in San Jose!

Q: How likely is it that we’ll see these temperatures again soon? Will this become a regular occurrence?

AB: I think so. Climate scientists have been warning about the impacts of climate change for decades, and here we are, seeing those predictions come true. More extreme heatwaves? Check. More rain in the Northeast? Check. More drought in the Southwest? Check. Melting ice caps? Check.

We might not see this type of occurrence every year, but it’s going to be more frequent and will likely occur again within the next five years. As we continue to add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, we will continue to warm, and new extreme events will continue to emerge.

Q: What kind of impact do higher than normal temperatures have on our environment?

AB: Here are some major impacts:

  1. Changes to growing seasons — but if there’s less or no water for irrigation, that won’t matter.
  2. Less snow in the mountains, hence less water in reservoirs for western cities.
    More electrical demand for AC.
  3. Drier forests (trees and vegetation dry out more rapidly after rains due to warmer temperatures), leading to more wildfires.
  4. Animals that live in the mountains are being forced uphill to cooler areas. But when they reach the top, then what?
  5. I’ll bet there’s a human stress impact. People have been told for decades that climate change is coming, and now it’s obviously here, and we’re not doing anything. I know I’m stressed!

Q: Is there any hope that we can make improvements and possibly limit this in the future? If so, what needs to happen?

AB: If we were to suddenly stop adding more greenhouse gases and our carbon dioxide levels become stable, I think the atmosphere would continue to change for maybe 10 to 20 years due to its inertia. Then in 20 years, say, things would settle down to a “new normal,” which would be warmer, but we could start to deal with the consequences.

But, if we wait another 20 years and keep adding greenhouse gases, and then do the above, we’ll be at a warmer new normal, with more impacts that are more extreme and more widespread.

One way we could tackle this is to move faster on colonizing the moon and Mars, so we have an escape hatch. Or, we could work to fix this by moving much faster on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This has to be a global effort, but we in the U.S. can get started regardless.

Let’s generate more solar, wind and tidal energy; do a better job on battery storage; do a better job on power transmission; and use smart devices to use less energy. And let’s provide serious incentives for getting these big tasks done.

Learn more about the SJSU Department of Meteorology and Climate Science.

How To Do Your Part During One of California’s Worst Droughts Yet

Recycled water sign at SJSU

San José State uses recycled water as part of its irrigation system. Photo: David Schmitz

California is in the middle of a severe drought that keeps getting worse.

Last month, the Santa Clara Valley Water district board declared a water shortage emergency, urging the community to conserve water by 15 percent compared to 2019 levels. In May, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency in 41 counties.

Editor’s note: On July 8, Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded the drought emergency to 50 counties and asked all Californians to cut water usage by 15 percent compared to 2020 levels.

The drought is accelerating faster than those of previous years, which can cause more wildfires that spread faster and quickly decimate wildlife habitats, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Climate change may be one of the reasons this drought arrived so soon after the last one, which lasted from 2011 to 2017, said Katherine Cushing, professor of environmental studies at San José State, in a recent ABC News report.

“It’s not just about people conserving water in their homes,” she said in the report. “It’s also about agencies thinking strategically about how to amplify the use of non-conventional water sources like recycled water.”

Unfortunately, she added, more frequent and more severe droughts could be our “new normal.”

Three things you can do, starting today

Katherine Cushing, professor of environmental studies at San José State

Katherine Cushing, professor of environmental studies at San José State. Photo: David Schmitz

To get through this emergency — and help address the bigger, long-term issue of water conservation — we all need to pitch in. Cushing provided three ways we can join the collective effort to conserve our state’s water. Here’s how you can help:

1. Make changes — both big and small — to your everyday habits.

There are lots of easy things to do: take shorter showers, turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth, only run the dishwasher when full. And those things make a difference, Cushing said.

Or, “the average person flushes the toilet five to seven times per day,” she explained. “If you could reduce that to four to six times, that’s a big improvement.”

When it comes to making bigger, more lasting changes, Cushing advises looking outside.

About half of the water the average household uses is for watering outdoors, Cushing pointed out. She suggested collecting rainwater to use for watering your yard.

If you have a spare $200, you could also turn your used laundry water into an irrigation system. Installing a laundry-to-landscape system can be done without a permit and just requires a plumber to route the used water to your outdoor plants. (Note: If you live in Santa Clara County, you could qualify for a rebate if you install this system.)

Or, you might reevaluate your landscaping altogether.

“Even if we’re not in a drought, the average rainfall for San Jose is 17 inches a year. That doesn’t really go with having a huge green lawn in your front or back yard.

“A lot of the water providers and government agencies are offering incentives to homeowners to convert their lawns to drought-tolerant or native landscaping. And that kind of landscaping is beautiful; it’s designed by nature to thrive in this area. It doesn’t need any water in the summer.”

2. Brace yourself for restriction mandates and follow them.

Restrictions are a crucial part of addressing the water shortage crisis. The state is trying to avoid overtaxing its groundwater supply, Cushing explained, because that can cause subsidence, which is gradual sinking or caving of the landscape. That can impact the structural integrity of buildings, causing salt water to infiltrate groundwater and increase flood risk, she noted.

Restrictions vary by county, and most include limits on watering outdoor landscape. Take a look at restrictions and advisements in your area.

In the face of extreme drought, “you have major crop or pasture losses, so there are significant impacts to the agricultural industry,” Cushing explained. “This drought rivals the dryness we saw in the 1970s, during a very, very severe drought for California. This could be a really bad one, and we don’t know how long it will last.”

3. Look out for future policy and infrastructure changes.

While there are natural fluctuations in precipitation levels, the fact that this drought arrived less than five years after the state’s longest dry spell, which started in 2011 and ended in 2017, is concerning.

“It’s an impact of climate change,” she said. “We’re entering a time where more severe droughts, floods and wildfires are going to occur more frequently, and there’s a higher risk that they’ll be more severe.”

The state needs to be looking for ways to introduce recycled water into its agriculture systems, Cushing said. Construction codes also need to change, so water is used more than once where possible.

“We need to make water conservation and water use a priority,” she added. “It’s an exciting time to think about what we can do, and since we’re in California, in Silicon Valley, we’re in the hotbed of innovation. We are poised to be leaders in this area.”

Learn more about how SJSU’s Office of Sustainability is working to use water more efficiently.

Social Work Professor Finds Online Substance-Abuse Prevention Programs Work During a Pandemic

Edward Cohen, Professor of Social Work

Most in-person gatherings went virtual when the pandemic hit in March 2020 — including substance abuse prevention groups. Turns out, virtual meetings like these can still yield positive outcomes for the participants.

That’s what Edward Cohen, professor for San José State’s School of Social Work, discovered when the in-person Celebrating Families!, an intervention program that focuses on improving parental skills and relationships in families where at least one parent has a substance abuse problem, moved to an online format. He studied participants’ outcomes and satisfaction in the program over 16 weeks, then published his findings in the journal Research on Social Work Practice.

What can we do with this information now that it’s becoming safer to meet in-person? The SJSU News and Editorial Team sat down with Cohen, who shared his insight on the wider implications of his study.

You define Celebrating Families! (CF!) as a family-based intervention program. What does that mean?

Edward Cohen (EC): Family-based interventions are those that attempt to strengthen families, reduce harm caused by poverty and traumatic experiences, improve parenting, and prevent future problems for family members such as child abuse, substance use problems and family violence.

These programs work by recognizing the centrality of the family in child development and strengthening resiliencies — those factors that help people deal with adversity. These interventions draw from the theories and practices of family therapy, child development, neuropsychology, trauma-informed care, peer support and cognitive behavioral therapies.

CF! is one of several programs that serve families in groups and provide classes focused on parenting skills development, improved family communication, improved healthy living, reduced violence in the home and reduced harmful substance use, among other goals.

What were the main concerns about moving this program online?

EC: CF! is a very relational type of program: It focuses on engaging families who need but have not made the best use of formal treatment services. The classes include a lot of experiential exercises, role modeling of positive behavior and personal support — all easier to do in person. And because all family members are involved in each class, they also include breakout groups for children and adolescents.

The program developers and treatment sites had concerns initially about the ability of group leaders to do similar work with online classes. Also, these families tend to have fewer technology resources, such as newer computers and Internet connectivity, which could limit participation.

However, our hope was that it would have a wider reach, and that delivering the content directly to families’ homes would provide a more realistic setting for families to practice new skills.

What surprised you about your findings?

EC: The online program performed much better than anyone expected. Some sites — CF! has sites all over the U.S. — reported better attendance in the online classes, especially in the early days of the pandemic when most people were home. Later in the year, however, some sites reported a lot of distractions — family members Zooming in from the car or while shopping, for example.

Nevertheless, the outcomes, measured by valid and reliable instruments, consistently have shown improved parenting skills, emotional health, relationships and self-confidence of parents. There were very few differences in outcomes comparing the previous in-person classes to those delivered online; both modes showed improvement.

The access to technology was also better than expected and did not pose a problem for most families. And Latinx families, which comprised 65 percent of one large sample in California, improved at the same rate as non-Latinx families in both the in-person and online classes. We’re hoping to see similar results in other sites, including Native American tribal authorities that have implemented CF!.

Now that we know CF! was effective online, would a family-based intervention online program serve as a suitable stand-in when an in-person program might not be available?

EC: It seems that it could. However, one area of concern is the difficulty in delivering the program to young children.

Most sites using the specialized curriculum for children up to 7 years old could only work online with the parents, whereas the in-person classes were able to provide therapeutic play activities for children on similar topics discussed by the adults at the same time.

Also, as the pandemic progressed, middle-school children seemed to suffer “Zoom burnout” from online schoolwork and were less interested in participating in the online activities. Adolescents seemed to have a better sustained response to the online activities.

Increased substance use seems to be a recurring theme during the pandemic. That makes us think that there may be an increase in issues relating to substance abuse and families. What has your research uncovered about how we can deal with this issue moving forward?

EC: The developers of CF! hope to break the cycle of substance-use problems, which tend to be intergenerational, as is family violence. Such programs have a place in the continuum of care: as a way to engage families in treatment and get them on the road to recovery.

However, there are gaps in our treatment systems, and for various reasons, people fall through the cracks and don’t get the treatment they need in formal outpatient clinics. The hope is that interventions like CF! will be expanded beyond the current families whose problems have already reached a crisis point — and extended to families early enough before major crises occur, like child maltreatment or intimate partner violence related to substance abuse.

CF! is currently expanding implementation of its newer early childhood programs. Both early prevention and later-stage interventions are needed to address the current increase in substance addiction problems.

As we start to open back up and in-person interactions become more and more safe, what can we do with these findings?

EC: I think that the online experience will have a lasting impact on how these sites deliver this program, even when they return to full in-person mode. I can imagine a hybrid type of intervention, especially in rural areas, similar to how telemedicine was initially developed to provide medical care to rural communities. Even in urban areas like San José, I expect we will see more online communication, such as special “homework” to practice at home what is learned in-person at the agency.

In terms of future research, we don’t know the longer term impact of this program. Sixteen weeks is such a short time period in these families’ lives, so we will be conducting more research from program graduates, and we will be trying to collect data about long-term avoidance of child maltreatment, violence and substance use problems.

To learn more about Cohen’s work, read the entire published study.

Doctor of Nursing Practice Graduates Look Ahead to Improving Health Care

The SJSU Valley Foundation School of Nursing Doctor of Nursing Practice program graduated its first cohort in May.

Eleven members of the San José State class of 2021 are graduates of the university’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program — and they are prepared to make a difference in health care in California and beyond.

The cohort is the first to graduate from the SJSU Valley Foundation School of Nursing DNP program since the university launched its own in 2019. Previously, SJSU partnered with Fresno State University to provide a joint program.

Offered mostly online and designed for working professionals, the SJSU program was created to develop leaders in nursing, including advanced practice clinicians and nursing faculty.

California faces a nursing faculty shortage, which affects the amount of nurses graduating from programs. This contributes overall to a lack of practicing nurses in the state, said Associate Professor Michelle Hampton, who coordinates the program alongside Ruth Rosenblum, also an associate professor in the School of Nursing.

“This [faculty] shortage severely limits the capacity to enroll qualified students,” Hampton explained.

So in 2012, the California State University system launched two joint DNP programs — one in Northern California and one in Southern California — to increase the potential pool of future nursing faculty. SJSU was part of the northern consortium, which graduated seven cohorts.

Then, as part of an overall strategy to help improve health care throughout the state of California, starting with Silicon Valley, SJSU launched its own DNP program.

“This doctoral program has helped us reposition the College of Health and Human Sciences as a conduit to the ever-expanding healthcare industry,” said President Mary A. Papazian. “Not only do we want to contribute to one of the fastest growing sectors in Silicon Valley, but in doing so, we must be at the forefront of understanding and addressing the health disparities that exist within our communities’ most marginalized populations.”

Using research to enact change

While a PhD in nursing focuses on advanced research and investigation, earning a DNP degree means learning how to put that research into practice and evaluate its efficacy. Each graduate completed a doctoral project allowing them to do just that.

“Some of these students have been in practice for awhile, and they’re seeing clinical issues that they think warrant further study,” explained Colleen O’Leary-Kelly, director of the School of Nursing. “They want to look a little deeper and expand the knowledge base of these areas. And these projects that I see them working on — they’re just fantastic.”

Vanndy Loth-Kumar

Vanndy Loth-Kumar

Vanndy Loth-Kumar, for example, used existing literature and guidelines on caring for patients with schizophrenia to execute her project, “Evaluation of a Wellness and Recovery Medication Services Program” at her workplace, AACI (formerly known as Asian Americans for Community Involvement).

Established patients at AACI had been required to receive therapy in order to qualify for medication services. But the Wellness and Recovery Medication Services (WARMS) pilot program explored whether or not some patients could successfully forgo therapy and still receive the medication.

“Therapy only lasts so long for some people,” Loth-Kumar said. “Once you learn coping skills, how long do you need to continue? The pilot program allowed us to see that some people didn’t need therapy for 15 years; they were able to stay stable. It also freed up counselors to provide care for new patients.”

Because Loth-Kumar was familiarized with WARMS through her project, she was promoted to integrated services lead of the program. She looks forward to “growing and shaping the program, while being mindful of who might fall through the cracks in the system.”

“Before this program, there was a lot of me just complaining about the way things are done,” she shared. “Now, after the program, it’s a lot more of looking into the research to see what can be done. I think it really helped me develop a proactive approach to problem solving in a professional setting.”

Sandy Phan

Sandy Phan

Meanwhile, Sandy Phan, a nursing professional development specialist at Stanford Health Care, wants to improve health outcomes by addressing the nursing culture within.

Through her project, “Promoting Civility in the Workplace: Addressing Bullying in New Graduate Nurses Using Simulation and Cognitive Rehearsal,” Phan created and implemented a curriculum to help recent nursing graduates, who occupy the lowest ranks of the hierarchy and are less experienced, to develop skills to identify and address bullying.

“Bullying fractures communication and teamwork, which ultimately can trickle down into patient care,” Phan said. “Units that have bullies can cause more infections and errors, because nursing is a team-based practice.”

“The research indicates that 64 to 97 percent of nurses witness or encounter nurse bullying in their practice,” she explained. “It’s a well-known phenomenon. I think it’s because of the way nursing was founded, in a very patriarchal society. But now, we’re an integral part of the team. We’re leaders.”

Envisioning a healthier future

Lynette Apen

Lynette Apen

Lynette Apen, division dean of nursing and allied health at Evergreen Valley College, always had professional goals of serving as an advocate in nursing education, and thanks to the DNP program, she says she’s more prepared than ever to take that on.

She recently stepped into the role of president of the northern region of the California Organization of Associate Degree Nursing, which she says she might not have done as early in her career had it not been for the program.

“This degree has given me the foundation and vocabulary and — though I’m still working on it — the confidence in having conversations with legislators, these decision makers who impact the work of nurses every day,” Apen said.

Last fall, she even testified in favor of the passage of AB 2288, which allowed for flexibility in clinical hours requirements for nursing students during the pandemic and contributed to more California nursing students being able to graduate during COVID-19.

Ultimately, her doctoral project, “Nursing Academic Leadership: An Urgent Workforce Shortage in California Nursing Education,” could increase understanding of how to address a particular shortage of nursing program directors, which is critical to the success of nursing programs.

Apen examined trends in nursing academic leadership positions that will soon leave several vacancies with few options to fill them as well as immediate and long-term interventions to improve the workforce pipeline.

Audrey Shillington, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences, noted that the pandemic has demonstrated how vital nurses are to health and well-being.

“Despite all the health-care challenges we faced in recent months, both our faculty and students stepped up and leaned into the community needs in addition to what are already demanding roles of teacher and learner. There is no other time when such a stellar group of nursing leaders are needed,” she said.

“I am so proud of all the hard work that our faculty, staff and students have been engaged in during recent years to bring us to this celebration of our first DNP graduating cohort.”

The DNP Class of 2021 and their doctoral projects:

Lynette Vallecillo Apen
Division Dean, Nursing and Allied Health, Evergreen Valley College
“Nursing Academic Leadership: An Urgent Workforce Shortage in California Nursing Education”

Ena Andrea Arce
Health Center Manager, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center
“Programmatic Colorectal (CRC) Screening During a Pandemic: Nursing Telemedicine Education Among Latinx Adults in an Ambulatory Safety Net Clinic”

Vanndy Linda Loth-Kumar
Integration Services Lead, AACI
Public Health Nurse, Santa Clara County Public Health Department
“Evaluation of a Wellness and Recovery Medication Services Program”

Elisa Nguyen
Director of Clinical Services, Stanford Health Care
“The Effectiveness of Resilience Training for Nurse Managers: A Case Study”

Sandy Phan
Nursing Professional Development Specialist, Stanford Health Care
“Promoting Civility in the Workplace: Addressing Bullying in New Graduate Nurses Using Simulation and Cognitive Rehearsal”

Tammi K. Reeves-Messner
Assistant Nurse Manager, Kaiser Permanente
“Neuroprotective Care in the NICU: A Quality Improvement Project”

Reynaldo G. Rosario Jr.
Enterprise Quality Manager – Accreditation, Regulatory Affairs, & Licensing (Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, O’Connor Hospital, St. Louise Regional Hospital, and DePaul Health Center)
“Quality Improvement Initiative: To Improve Surgical Wound Classification”

Dominique Ellen Teaford
Supervising Public Health Nurse III, County of Santa Cruz – Health Services Agency
“Website Redesign Project to Improve the Quality and Usefulness of the Perinatal Mental Health Coalition’s Resource Website”

Stacey L. Teicher
Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Kaiser Permanente
“The Effects of Telehealth on Patient Satisfaction and Information Recall for Breast Cancer Survivors During the COVID-19 Pandemic”

Silvia L. Turner
Nurse Educator, New Nurse Employee Orientation Coordinator, VA Palo Alto Healthcare System
“Virtual Training Impact on Nurses’ Self-Efficacy of Safe Patient Handling Equipment Usage”

Colleen A. Vega
Clinical Nurse Specialist, Stanford Health Care
Lecturer, San Francisco State University
“The Effects of Virtual Reality on Symptom Distress in Patients Undergoing Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant”

Two SJSU Students Win at CSU-Wide Research Competitions

Lupe Franco and Muhammad Khan

(From L-R): Lupe Franco, ’21 MS Environmental Studies, received the Audience Choice Award at the CSU Grad Slam. Muhammad Khan, ’22 Biological Sciences, won first place in the Biological and Agricultural Sciences Undergraduate category at the 35th Annual CSU Student Research Competition.

Turning months — even years — of in-depth research into a concise, engaging presentation isn’t easy. Yet two San José State students were triumphant at two recent California State University system-wide competitions that required them to do just that.

Lupe Franco, ‘21 MS Environmental Studies, received the Audience Choice Award at the first-ever CSU Grad Slam on May 6, which was hosted by San José State.

Her research analyzed how California cities and counties are considering homeless populations in their plans to address the effects of climate change. Franco placed first in the SJSU Grad Slam, held April 29 during the university’s annual Celebration of Research event.

Muhammad Khan, ‘22 Biological Sciences, earned first place in the Biological and Agricultural Sciences Undergraduate category at the 35th Annual CSU Student Research Competition — hosted by Cal Poly Pomona on April 30 and May 1. Khan presented his research on population control of a mosquito known for spreading diseases such as Zika, Dengue fever and yellow fever.

In the CSU Grad Slam competition, graduate students condensed the theses of their research projects into three-minute presentations to be understandable by a lay audience. Prizes are awarded based on the success of their presentation, and the Audience Choice Award is selected live by the attendees of the event.

At the CSU Student Research Competition, both graduate and undergraduate students present their research through pre-recorded videos followed by a live Q&A with a jury and an audience. The event is held to recognize outstanding accomplishments from students throughout the CSU system.

Giving a voice to a vulnerable population

In her presentation (shown here at the SJSU Grad Slam), Franco included a painting by student artist Gina Geissinger of Greg Tarola, a homeless man who died on the streets of Sacramento.

Franco began her presentation with the story of Greg Tarola, a homeless man who was found dead on the Sacramento streets in November. It was 37 degrees Fahrenheit the morning he was found, and his blankets were wet from the previous night’s rain.

What’s more, Tarola had told CapRadio News just days before that he had never heard of warming stations in Sacramento.

“This is the reality for over 150,000 Californians who are experiencing houselessness, of which 68 percent are considered unsheltered,” Franco said in her presentation.

“This danger is only going to increase as climate change brings California more frequent and intense weather events, such as heat waves and floodings.”

Franco analyzed 15 climate action plans from cities and counties in California with the largest unhoused populations to understand how they were considering that demographic in their strategies to address climate change.

Her findings? No jurisdictions had met with unhoused populations before developing their plans.

“This is what researchers call the power of representation dilemma, meaning that as outsiders, planners can only make assumptions of what the community faces, which leads to the development of strategies that do not accurately reflect what the local needs are,” she explained.

Franco’s research provided an analysis of the 15 plans, and she provided a list of recommendations that the cities and counties can consider as they continue to update their plans, such as “requiring planners to have on-the-ground training with local organizations in their jurisdictions, so they can learn about important street-level issues.”

Costanza Rampini, assistant professor of environmental studies and Franco’s thesis advisor, said that Franco is tackling issues most people see as completely separate.

“Her work speaks to people’s desire for better solutions, for better systems, for better communities,” she said. “Lupe is a fantastic researcher and asks all the right questions.”

Marc d’Alarcao, dean of the College of Graduate Studies, agreed.

“Lupe effectively engaged the audience by presenting her work through the lens of the tragic story of an unhoused man in Sacramento who suffered because the policies that could have helped him were not designed with his circumstances in mind,” he said.

Franco plans to continue her research and interview unhoused individuals to better understand their needs as she pursues a PhD in geography from UC Davis. She’s hopeful her research can make an impact on local communities.

“With these findings and recommendations, my research can spark the initial conversation about creating equitable and just strategies that give unhoused individuals a voice and access to critical resources,” she noted. “This is what Greg Tarola deserved.”

Watch the full CSU Grad Slam event, including Franco’s presentation, here.

A new approach to mitigating disease spread

Muhammad Khan research presentation

Khan’s research explores population control of the Aedes aegypti mosquito through mutagenesis and recombinant expression.

Khan researched mutagenesis and recombinant expression in the Aedes aegypti mosquito — known for spreading potentially lethal diseases like Zika, Dengue fever, yellow fever and chikungunya — in hopes of providing a safe, new approach to control their population.

“Studying the midgut digestive enzymes of the Aedes aegypti mosquito is important locally and nationally because simulated models based on current climate data predict the expansion of mosquito ecological niches in the near future,” Khan said in his presentation.

He noted one study that estimates 390 million Dengue fever infections every year, while another found that 3.9 billion people worldwide are at risk of the disease. Current control strategies for mosquito larvae and adults include pesticides and biocides. But Khan said most of these treatments can have devastating effects on the environment.

Khan began his research through FIRES, the Freshmen Initiative: Research to Engage Students program sponsored by the W.M. Keck Foundation and led by a team of SJSU chemistry professors.

“We are very pleased to see Muhammad Khan winning a first place award at the 35th Annual CSU Student Research Competition,” said Mohamed Abousalem, vice president for research and innovation at SJSU.

“This is a great achievement and a testament to his capabilities and the sound guidance he received from his faculty mentor, Dr. Alberto Rascón, Jr. We hope that Muhammad will be encouraged by this recognition to embrace research as a way of thinking and doing throughout his career.”

Learn more about Khan’s research here.

James Nguyen contributed to this story.

Celebration of Research Event Honors Investigators, Highlights Creativity

Ellen Middaugh

Ellen Middaugh, assistant professor of child and adolescent development, is one of this year’s winners of the SJSU Early Career Investigator Award. Her work was honored at the Celebration of Research on April 29.

Thomas Madura studies the lives of massive stars — from how they’re born to how they die a giant, explosive death.

He also investigates ways to teach young blind or visually impaired students about astronomy, which Madura, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at San José State, says is usually thought of as a “visual science.” By 3D printing models of nebulae, planets, star clusters and the like, Madura’s work lets those students hold pieces of the galaxies in their hands.

Madura was one of two faculty awarded the prestigious SJSU Early Career Investigator Award (ECIA) for his work at the university’s annual Celebration of Research, hosted virtually by the Division of Research and Innovation on April 29. The ECIA recognizes tenure-track faculty members who have excelled in research, scholarship and creative activity at an early point in their careers.

The Celebration of Research, which drew more than 400 attendees, honored both students and faculty for research, innovation and creative activities. In between awards and recognitions, the event also featured artistic performances and accomplishments.

Ellen Middaugh, assistant professor of child and adolescent development, also received the ECIA award for her work on youth civic engagement — particularly on how to teach social media and Internet skills to those aged 15 to 25.

The goal of Middaugh’s work is to create informed, empowered and ethical civic engagement among adolescents and young adults, “so that people really understand the issues that affect them, they feel that they can have a voice, and they’re mindful of how their words and sharing of information impact other people,” she said.

The event also recognized the work of the two ECIA recipients from 2019, who would have been honored during last year’s Celebration of Research had the event not been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kim Blisniuk, associate professor of geology and 2019 ECIA recipient, was celebrated for her work investigating how landscapes change overtime from earthquakes and climate change.

Also a 2019 ECIA recipient, Yue “Wilson” Yuan, assistant professor of justice studies, was honored for his research studying the origins of fear of crime and how individuals and communities — Asian and Latino, in particular — react to criminal victimization.

The program also featured a special highlight of the “Teeter-Totter Wall” design project, created by Virginia San Fratello, the chair of the Department of Design, and UC Berkeley professor Ronald Rael. Earlier this year, San Fratello was presented with the prestigious Beazley Design of the Year award for her creativity, which brought together people at the U.S.-Mexico border on bright pink seesaws and received international recognition.

Guadalupe Franco, a student in the MS Environmental Studies program, won first place in the SJSU Grad Slam. She presented her three-minute thesis presentation on tackling homelessness and climate change.

Recognizing student research and creative activities

SJSU students took part in two research-based competitions — the 2021 SJSU Grad Slam and the SJSU Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity (RSCA) Competition — for which the winners were announced at the event.

In a Grad Slam competition, graduate students condense the theses of their research projects into engaging, three-minute presentations — which must be understandable by a lay audience. Prizes are awarded based on the success of their presentations.

Guadalupe Franco, in the MS Environmental Studies program, received first place for her thesis, “Wicked Problems: Understanding How Cities and Counties in California are Tackling Climate Change and Homelessness.”

Second place went to Remie Gail Mandawe, who is in the Physiology master’s program, for “Targeting the Source of our Sixth Sense Using Blue Light.”

Celebration of Research attendees voted live for the recipient of the People’s Choice Award. They selected Holt Hanley, who is in the Meteorology master’s program, for his thesis “Estimating the Key Drivers of Wildfire Using Artificial Neural Networks.”

Both Franco and Mandawe will represent SJSU at the CSU Grad Slam on May 6 — the first system-wide competition, which San José State will host.

The eight RSCA Competition finalists — Aeowynn Coakley, Muhammad Khan, Terri Lee, Tomasz Lewicki, Victor Lui, Alaysia Palmer, Nicholas Roubineau and Hung Tong — went on to compete in the 35th Annual CSU Student Research Competition, held virtually on April 30 and May 1.

Khan, ’22 Biological Sciences, won first place in Biological and Agricultural Sciences – Undergraduate category at the state-wide event for his research, “Mutagenesis and Recombinant Expression of Aedes aegypti Serine Protease I (AaSPI), a possible N-Terminal Nucleophile (Ntn) Hydrolase.”

The SJSU Choraliers gave a socially distanced performance.

Amid the honors and recognition, the ceremony elevated artistic feats. Directed by Jeffrey Benson and featuring Vocal Performance major Daniel Rios, the SJSU Choraliers performed a socially distanced rendition of “I’ll Be On My Way” by Shawn Kirchner.

Spartan Film Studios showed their short film “Breakfast,” based on the short story by John Steinbeck and made in large part by SJSU students. The film has been accepted into the Beverly Hills International Film Festival.

The pathway to transformation

In 2019, Mohamed Abousalem joined San José State as the inaugural vice president of research and innovation with a goal: to realize the university’s potential for growth and increased societal impact through research. The Celebration of Research highlighted accomplishments in achieving that goal.

“No wonder San José State University is ranked the #1 Most Transformative University in the nation,” Abousalem said.

“Through the great research work that our faculty and students do, we are able to contribute to solving today’s problems and mitigate tomorrow’s challenges, alongside our industry and community partners.

“Public impact is the primary goal for the San José State University research enterprise,” he continued. “We are focused on bringing real value to our local and global communities, while supporting the scholarly careers of our faculty and providing our students with unique experiential learning.”

SJSU President Mary Papazian noted that when the university developed its Transformation 2030 Strategic Plan, leadership “quickly realized that research was a strategic growth area for the university.”

For example, one of the goals within the plan is to Excel and Lead.

“One of the ways we do that is by engaging students through faculty-mentored research, scholarship and creative activities,” Papazian explained. “Another one of our Transformation 2030 goals is to Connect and Contribute. And indeed, our research aligns with this goal.

“Our research and innovation brings value to our communities by contributing to an improved overall quality of life and by fueling economic growth. This will become even more critical as the state and regional economy emerges from this pandemic.”

Those who missed the event or want to catch it again will soon be able to access a recording on the Division of Research and Innovation website.

Computer Engineering Faculty Receives NSF Grant to Protect Biometric Data

Nima Karimian, assistant professor of computer engineering

Nima Karimian, assistant professor of computer engineering, recently received a National Science Foundation grant to better understand how to protect biometric data. Photo courtesy of Nima Karimian.

When your password on an account is compromised, you change it. But what happens when your password is your fingerprint?

Facial recognition, fingerprint Touch ID, iris scanning and even voice commands to Alexa or Siri are all examples of technology that use our biometric data to access personal information. Nima Karimian, assistant professor of computer engineering at San José State, recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to better understand how to keep that data as safe as possible.

Karimian was awarded $175,000 from the NSF Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Research Initiation Initiative (CRII) to strengthen biometric security systems, particularly from breaches known as side-channel attacks. Those infiltrations rely on details gathered when a system is designed and implemented — like the amount of time it may take a user to enter a password.

The NSF CISE award supports research among early-career faculty who are in their first three years in an academic position after earning their PhD. The CRII program provides resources to help early-career primary investigators launch a career in research.

Karimian said that biometric data will be used in many ways in the future to “make everyday tasks more efficient and comfortable.” Think bank account access, airport security, border identity checkpoints, patient authentication in health care settings and more.

“At the same time, sharing biometric data may introduce theft, privacy threats and illegal access to confidential information,” he explained.

“For instance, if your fingerprint or face biometric data is compromised by an adversary, it could be reused to gain unauthorized access to a system or even duplicate the biometric data to hack into victims’ devices or accounts.”

While side-channel attacks are well understood in other contexts, Karimian argues they’ve been understudied in systems that use biometric data. His research project, “Physical Side-Channel Attacks in Biometric Systems,” will develop metrics, deep-learning algorithms, protocols and tools for physical side-channel attacks and countermeasures in biometric systems.

“Receiving this prestigious award is a great honor for me,” Karimian said. “This grant allows me to launch my independent research here at SJSU and to start new research directions developing secure biometric systems that can protect citizens’ privacy.

Karimian added that he hopes the grant will allow him to support both graduate and undergraduate students from underrepresented groups.

“Dr. Karimian’s grant is right in line with the Davidson College of Engineering’s objectives to conduct research that addresses important societal needs,” noted Sheryl H. Ehrman, the Don Beall Dean of the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering.

“In the case of this project, our college will play a part in advancing hardware security, with the potential for significant global impact based upon the increasing use of biometric data.”

Karimian emphasized that “biometric data is part of your identity, which represents the entire you and can never be changed. When a password is compromised, it can be changed, but you can’t change your identity if the same scenario happens with biometric data.”

“Hence, it is important to find the vulnerabilities of biometric technologies and protect them from being hacked and leaked.”

To learn more about Karimian’s work, visit nimakarimian.com.

Making an Impact on Earth Day and Beyond: A Conversation with Climate Scientist Eugene Cordero

Eugene Cordero and the Green Ninja

Eugene Cordero is a climate scientist and professor in the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science. He is also the founder and director of the Green Ninja Project, an educational initiative that supports teachers and students with digital media and curricula designed around climate science and solutions. Photo: David Schmitz

We’re big fans of Earth Day here at San José State. After all, the founder of the annual celebration is a Spartan. So we’re looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint on April 22 and beyond.

Eugene Cordero — SJSU professor of meteorology and climate science and fellow Earth advocate — has some great ideas for how we can all make a difference in protecting our environment. Whether it’s opting for chicken instead of carne asada on his burrito or choosing a bicycle as a primary mode of transportation, Cordero stresses that even the smallest changes can make a difference.

But there are ways to make a big impact, too, Cordero says — through the power of education.

Cordero’s research published last year found that students who enrolled in a university course that educated them on ways to reduce their carbon footprint adopted environmentally friendly practices that they kept for years down the line. Cordero is also the creator of Green Ninja, a comprehensive curriculum that uses solutions to environmental problems as a framework for teaching science and engineering to middle school students.

He wants to see education about protecting the environment more widely adopted — both at the university level and as early as middle school. We asked Cordero about the wider implications of his research and how we can all be Earth advocates — on Earth Day and beyond.

Last year, you published research that illustrated the impact universities can have on climate change through education. What surprised you most about your findings?

Eugene Cordero (EC): I was actually quite surprised to see how the course really had an impact on students, even many years later. The data that we collected and the stories we heard from alumni demonstrated that educational experiences, if well-designed, can have a lasting impact on students’ lives.

The study centered around one two-semester course at San José State, Global Climate Change I and II. What about this course sets itself apart?

EC: We identified three elements in the course that stood out as significant contributors to the lasting impact it had.

First, it made climate change personal, helping students understand how climate change was relevant to their personal and professional lives.

Second, it provided empowerment opportunities: Students developed projects where they created their own local solutions to climate change.

And third, it encouraged empathy for the environment — creating opportunities for students to observe and connect with living things.

The course also had a unique format as it was taught over a year (six units in the first semester, three units in the second) and used an interdisciplinary approach with three faculty from different departments team-teaching the course.

You have said it’s important to bring this type of education to a younger audience. What impact could that have?

EC: Our analysis suggests that this type of education, if scaled appropriately, could be as important in reducing carbon emissions as rooftop solar panels or electric vehicles. So for us, the big take-home message from this research is that climate-action plans need to include education as part of the strategies being used to reduce carbon emissions.

Are there other SJSU courses or programs you’d recommend for a student who wants to learn more about reducing their carbon footprint?

EC: SJSU has a lot of amazing courses where students can learn about the environment and what we can do to support a more sustainable world. These range from the courses we offer in our Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, to courses in Environmental Studies, Public Health and even Business. Students could take a look at this listing from our Office of Sustainability as a starting point.

Can you share about other ongoing or upcoming research?

EC: Our research program continues to look for innovative ways to educate and empower our youth in the area of climate and environmental solutions. We recently completed a study where students used data from their smartphone to coach drivers in their family towards more energy efficient driving behaviors, such as reducing driving speed and reducing the frequency of hard accelerations and hard brakes.

In the past, you’ve emphasized that our food choices can help reduce our carbon footprint. We love your example of the difference in carbon emissions when ordering chicken instead of beef in a burrito. Are there other ways the food we eat can make a difference?

EC: I think food choices are a great way to think about our personal carbon footprint since we have a lot of control over what we eat. We don’t always get the opportunity to purchase a new car or choose how to power our homes, but we typically get the chance to choose what we eat every day, and these choices can make a really large impact on our personal carbon footprint.

For example, choosing a diet lower in red meat and dairy can reduce our carbon footprint a similar amount as switching to a very fuel efficient vehicle. I also find learning about food — how it’s grown and the social and environmental impacts — to be fascinating!

We are seeing more effects of climate change every day. Standing up for the environment can sometimes feel like fighting a winless battle. Is there anything we can do to really make an impact as individuals?

EC: I understand that it’s a huge problem, and many of us feel helpless to make any real change. But I’d like to encourage people to believe in their power to create change, and just start.

Writing a persuasive letter to a lawmaker, attending a city council or school board meeting, getting involved in a local group that supports the environment — these are all ways we can get involved to make a difference. We can’t just sit on the sidelines and expect things to get better, we need more folks involved in advocating for and creating change.

I think if we do this, we can stop climate change, and we can make real progress towards a more equitable and habitable planet.

We also hear a lot of bad news or about how bad things can happen if we don’t make change fast. Is there any good news out there?

EC: There are a lot of committed people and groups working on climate change, but for me, the really good recent news is the U.S. government appears to be finally taking climate change seriously. We need individuals pushing for change, but having the government open to such changes is really a game changer.

What, if any, impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on fighting climate change?

EC: I believe the pandemic has demonstrated that technology can help us connect in ways that can reduce our need to travel as much as we did in the past. Do we need to attend a physical workplace every day? Do we need to attend every conference physically, or could a remote meeting accomplish similar outcomes in some cases?

Certainly, there have been reductions in transportation-related carbon emissions as a result of the pandemic, and moving forward, this experience now offers us more options for how and when we do travel for work in the future.

What has the pandemic taught us about the impact we can have as individuals when a big issue faces us collectively?

EC: For me, it was amazing to see how science and policy worked together so quickly to create solutions to the pandemic. It didn’t go perfectly for sure, but having a vaccine out within a year and already distributed to hundreds of millions of people is really amazing.

If we can develop a similar focus on climate change, we can absolutely respond to climate change.

Want to learn more about Cordero’s research? Take a look at One Carbon Footprint at a Time, a documentary that highlights his findings.

SJSU Fire Weather Research Workshop Highlights Advances in Wildfire Prediction and Tracking

Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center

Photo courtesy of the SJSU Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center

California braces for yet another menacing fire season

Twice a month, San José State researchers collect samples from local vegetation, or “fuels”—and what they found for April was foreboding: Craig Clements, director of the SJSU Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center, told KPIX 5 News last week.

“This is the time of year when the fuels should have the most moisture content of the season, and they’re actually the lowest we’ve ever measured for April,” he said in the news report.

But there’s hope: Fire prediction and tracking tools are advancing—a key takeaway from SJSU’s Fire Weather Research Workshop held April 8-9—and the university is leading the effort in providing fire management agencies with state-of-the-art resources to help curb the spread of wildfires.

The virtual event drew hundreds of researchers, students and fire management stakeholders from 20 countries to discuss the latest research and technology on fighting wildfires.

On the same day, California Gov. Gavin Newson announced a $536 million plan to prepare the state for the upcoming fire season. The California Legislature passed the package on April 12, and Newsom signed it April 13.

Intel from above the flames

Once a windstorm and an ignition come together, there’s little to be done.

“There’s nothing you can do to stop that fire,” explained Clements.

The best shot is to try to contain the fire with an “initial attack,” he continued. “That’s where remote sensing technology comes in, because the sooner you can detect the fire, the faster you can get into it.”

WRF-SFIRE is a forecast and modeling system—and a crucial resource to help curb the spread of wildfires—that relies on remote sensing technology. Developed and operated by SJSU, the system pairs data from satellite and infrared imaging with a simulation tool, and it combines a weather forecast model (Weather Research Forecast) with a fire-spread model (SFIRE).

During the workshop, faculty shared updates on WRF-SFIRE, including the addition of wildfire smoke dispersion forecasts, improved data input and analysis, more options for running simulations, and even a mobile-friendly interface.

Adam Kochanski, assistant professor of wildfire modeling, shared how WRF-SFIRE now can model smoke behavior based on fire-spread predictions.

Adam Kochanski, assistant professor of wildfire modeling, shared how WRF-SFIRE now can model smoke behavior based on fire-spread predictions.

But while tracking and prediction technology is advancing, not enough satellite and infrared imaging data is being gathered in day-to-day fire management operations, noted Miguel Valero Peréz, assistant professor of wildfire behavior and remote sensing at SJSU. He said that bringing that process up to speed is crucial and requires widespread collaboration.

“We need to collaborate with everyone—fire management agencies, academia, industry. We can only solve this problem if we work together,” Valero Peréz emphasized.

Solving a bigger problem

Newsom’s package may be able to help the state get ahead of the game as another dangerous fire season approaches. His plan provides funding to invest in workforce training, vegetation and terrain management, home protection and more.

But the effort to track conditions needs to be year-round, Clements told NBC Bay Area News.

“We need to be doing predictions for the conditions that would lead up to a severe fire season, so using the state-of-the-science modeling we have at San José State and running that operationally throughout the whole season versus a fire here and a fire there like we usually do,” he explained on the news report.

Joaquin Ramirez is principal consultant with Technosylva, Inc., a wildfire technology company that partners with SJSU by using WRF-SFIRE to assist management agencies like Cal Fire during fire season. In 2020, they offered Cal Fire support with more than 9,000 fires.

Wildfires in 2020 California

Joaquin Ramirez of Technosylva, Inc., a wildfire technology company, provided a look back at 2020 fires in California.

He said the workshop is proof of the exciting research and technology in progress, but that there’s still much to do when it comes to solving the wider problem.

“An all-hands job is needed, starting from supporting citizens that understand that we have to live with fire in a smarter way—and that we need to support scientists as much as we support our firefighters.”

A community service

Clements said that while the workshop is about exchanging research and ideas, it’s also about providing information directly to those fighting fires on the front lines.

Because it’s free and several topics are covered in a shorter amount of time, it can be a good alternative to a conference, which might not always be an option for fire management agency employees.

“It’s part of our service to the community to host this workshop and to have it to be free to anyone,” he explained. “It’s about accessibility to the knowledge.”

WRF-SFIRE is available on mobile platforms

WRF-SFIRE is now accessible on mobile devices, a new addition to the system by wildfire researchers at SJSU.

Martin Kurtovich, senior utilities engineer for California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), said their staff participated to engage on important fire science topics—particularly wildfire modeling and predictions for forecasting future fire conditions.

He added, “I appreciate the important work being done at SJSU in not only conducting important research on California wildfires but also training future leaders in wildfire management.”

Learn more about SJSU’s Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center here.

How Has COVID-19 Impacted the Health and Well-being of the LGBTQ+ Community?: A Q&A With Laurie Drabble

Laurie Drabble.

Laurie Drabble, associate dean for research and faculty.

It’s known that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning+ (LGBTQ+) community face health disparities driven by social stigma and discrimination. But what happens when you introduce a global pandemic?

Laurie Drabble, associate dean for research and faculty with the San José State University College of Health and Human Sciences, explored the impact of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ+ community by serving as co-editor of a special issue of the Journal of Homosexuality, which was published earlier this year.

The issue also featured her recent research exploring alcohol and marijuana use among LGBTQ+ women during the pandemic.

The SJSU Editorial and News team sat down with Drabble to learn more:

What is the biggest takeaway from this special issue?

Laurie Drabble (LD): Social stigma and discrimination are important drivers of disparities in risk for depression, anxiety and suicidality among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender non-binary groups. LGBTQ+ people also reported more job loss and financial difficulty compared to heterosexual and cisgender people. These risks were amplified during the with COVID-19 pandemic and need to be addressed.

What surprised you about the research findings?

LD: Research in the special issue found that LGBTQ+ individuals were more likely than heterosexual people to adhere to social distancing guidelines. This may not be entirely surprising, given collective experience with the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.

That past experience heightened community buy-in about the importance of public health strategies to curb disease transmission—and contributed to viewing adherence to public health guidelines as more of a collective responsibility than an individual choice.

However, adhering to guidelines was also associated with psychological distress, which underscores the importance of both formal and social support in public health crises.

This issue pulls together data and research that spans the globe. Did the U.S. stand out?

LD: I was struck by the commonalities between countries. In particular, studies described the negative impact of losing access to LGBTQ+ positive spaces, reduced access to social support, and concerns about invisibility and potential discrimination.

It was also notable that LGBTQ+ people across countries use technology to connect with community, friends and family more than heterosexual and cisgender groups. This is likely a consequence of being part of a community that is defined by common identity rather than location. So, many LGBTQ+ people already used apps, social media and technology tools to find community before the pandemic.

Health disparities already existed in the LGBTQ+ community. Are we making any progress in closing these gaps?

LD: We were making progress in some ways. For example, research has consistently found that reducing structural stigma—such as the legalization of same-sex marriage—has helped reduce disparities in mental health outcomes.

However, research from our special issue and other studies suggest that LGBTQ+ people—particularly LGBTQ people of color—are disproportionately experiencing health and economic harms associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to make sure that policies and services intended to address the impact of the pandemic include the needs of LGBTQ+ populations.

Let’s talk about your research focusing on LGBTQ+ women and marijuana and alcohol use during the pandemic. What surprised you about what you learned?

LD: One of the more interesting findings was the degree to which routines or norms associated with alcohol and marijuana use were disrupted or changed.

For example, some study participants described drinking more because they used alcohol to mark the end of the day, and many described using more alcohol and marijuana to simply relieve stress or boredom. Others used less, because they were not spending time in social settings where they would typically drink alcohol or use marijuana with friends.

Sexual minority women had greater risks for hazardous drinking and drug use compared to heterosexual women before the pandemic, so it will be important to continue to study [post pandemic] whether or not these risks have been amplified over time.

Now that we have this information, what do we need to do about it?

LD: First, we need to continue to reduce stigma and address the economic impacts of the pandemic that disproportionately impact people of color and sexual and gender minorities.

For example, a growing number of states have passed harmful laws allowing health and social service providers to be exempt on religious grounds from laws prohibiting discrimination based on sex or gender identity. These trends are deeply concerning, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Second, given our research suggesting that LGBTQ+ people are frequent users of Internet-based communications and apps, enhancing access to online and remote health and mental health services would be timely.

Third, the research in this issue highlighted the importance of access to community and social support. So it is critical to provide financial support to ensure the survival of LGBTQ+ health and social service organizations, as well as LGBTQ+-centered physical spaces.

How can this information help us better care for the LGBTQ+ members of our SJSU community?

LD: For many LGBTQ+ young adults, university communities are important for finding safe and affirming support, particularly for students who may need to live with unsupportive families for financial reasons. Providing opportunities for social support and counseling—such as those provided by the SJSU PRIDE Center and Student Services—are crucial.

Read more about Drabble’s research and these topics.

Geology Professor Kim Blisniuk Unearths New Information About Southern California’s Next “Big One”

Kim Blisniuk, Associate Professor of Geology

Photo: Patrick Record

Ten years ago, two female geologists went for a hike in the Coachella Valley desert along a southern portion of the San Andreas Fault. One of them was Kimberly Blisniuk, now an associate professor of geology at San José State University. The pair spent days in the desert, traversing the landscape, studying its ridges and formations.

They weren’t sure what they were looking for. The San Andreas is a well-studied fault: The roughly 750-mile geographical rift running the length of most of California is positioned to set off what’s known as the next “Big One”—a massive earthquake predicted to strike Southern California, devastating the Los Angeles area, in particular.

Still, Blisniuk wanted to see if the terrain revealed something—anything—that might have been missed or not yet understood by geologists before them.

Sure enough, she found something. And after a decade of work to confirm her discovery, Blisniuk’s research, published March 24 in Science Advances, indicates that the highly anticipated earthquake—which scientists say is about 80 years overdue—might not ravage LA as much as previously thought.

Read the full story about Blisniuk’s findings here.

Annual SJSU Conference to Encourage Women to ‘Reimagine the Future’ of Engineering

Silicon Valley Women in Engineering Conference 2021

Diana Knobler, ‘22 Biomedical Engineering, grew up in a predominantly Hispanic Los Angeles neighborhood, where it was rare for high school students to attend four-year universities. After arriving at San José State, Knobler was surprised to discover she was even more of an exception to the rule than she thought.

“My introductory engineering course had three times as many male students as it did female students, and even fewer Latinx students,” Knobler explained.

That’s a big reason why she decided to attend this year’s Silicon Valley Women in Engineering Conference, which will be held virtually on Saturday, March 20, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The conference, in its seventh year, is hosted by the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering at San José State.

The conference’s theme is “Reimagine the Future,” and the event is open to students at SJSU and other higher ed institutions who want to learn about current trends and innovations in the field.

Keynote speakers include Renée DiResta, technical research manager for Stanford Internet Observatory; Ann Lee-Karlon, senior vice president of Genentech; and Jessica J. Marquez, human-systems engineer for NASA Ames Research Center. They will speak on how to detect misinformation on social media, new advances in biotechnology and future trends in space technology.

Attendees can choose from 12 technical talks about emerging technologies and six professional development sessions. They can also mingle with representatives from more than 50 Silicon Valley companies—including sponsors Google, IBM, Netgear, Lam Research and several others—during the conference’s Innovation Showcase.

The overall mission is to educate students, provide them with potential mentors and role models, and to create a community for women engineers in the Silicon Valley, according to Belle Wei, the Carolyn Guidry Chair of Engineering Education and Innovative Learning.

“Women are a minority in engineering classrooms—less than 20 percent of students in an engineering classroom are women,” said Wei, who serves on the conference committee.

“All of these speakers are highly accomplished women professionals,” she continued. “We want them to see that these women have worked hard, had a strategy, persevered and have been successful.”

Many of the students who attend the conference are in a position similar to Knobler’s. Jinny Rhee, conference chair and associate dean of undergraduate programs and student success for the College of Engineering, said attendees often come from underrepresented groups or are first-generation college students.

“So they might not have some of the support structures and infrastructure that other engineering students may take for granted,” Rhee added. “We want to allow them to reimagine the role engineering can take in a developed society. Engineering is there to make the world a better place, and we don’t want anyone to lose sight of that.”

Knobler does want to make the world a better place: She plans to one day introduce life-changing medical devices into the health-care field. After her first semester at SJSU, Knobler joined an engineering and technical sciences sorority, The Beta Upsilon Chapter of Alpha Omega Epsilon, and she said having a female support system has made all the difference.

“Being connected to so many amazing women through this conference feels like the first step to building an industry-level support system,” Knobler explained. “I hope to use the knowledge I gain from these women to become successful in the industry myself and one day return to do the same for [the next generation of] young female engineers.”

Laura Guio, ‘86 Marketing, is doing just that. When she entered the engineering industry more than 30 years ago, there were not many women to whom she could look for inspiration and guidance.

“Fast forward to today, and there are more women tech leaders, but not as many as I would have expected by this point in time,” said Guio, who now serves as general manager and executive for IBM. “As a woman technology leader and an SJSU graduate, I feel it is my responsibility and privilege to talk about my experience and encourage others while sharing my journey.”

Guio will talk about her experiences during a panel discussion on developing career strategies. Rhee and Wei want to see female students persist in their engineering careers long after graduation, but that doesn’t always happen.

“We know a lot of women leave technology fields soon after they graduate for various reasons, and that’s a shame,” Rhee noted. “The research says that the stronger your engineering identity, the more likely you are to get your degree and persist in the field after you graduate.”

They will ask attendees to complete pre- and post-event surveys to better understand how the conference can play a role in fostering that strong identity.

Guio said she wants attendees of the conference to know there are plenty of opportunities for success and many ways to pursue them.

“Everyone’s journey is their own, and you have to know yourself, your skills and what drives and motivates you to begin to understand the path you want to take,” Guio said.

“Technology needs diversity in representation, which brings diversity in thought. Studies show if you have a diverse mix of talent, this will improve performance and success. Most of all, I want to encourage these students to push forward, dream big, but take it one step at a time.”

To learn more about the conference, visit 2021.siliconvalleywie.org.

Electrical Engineering Faculty Receives NSF CAREER Award for Cryogenic Electronics Research

Hiu-Yung Wong, assistant professor of electrical engineering at SJSU, with graduate students

Assistant Professor Hiu Yung Wong; Johan Saltin, ’20 MS Electrical Engineering; and Varada Kanchi, ’20 MS Electrical Engineering in the SJSU M-PAC lab.

Hiu-Yung Wong, assistant professor of electrical engineering at San José State University, has received a Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award, a prestigious honor bestowed by the National Science Foundation. The award supports his research of cryogenic electronics—electrical systems that operate at extremely cold temperatures—as well as his project to expand education and research opportunities while building a diverse workforce in the field.

Wong is the first faculty member in more than 15 years in the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering to receive a CAREER award, which supports early-career faculty who show potential as leaders in both their academic and research roles and in advancing the mission of their department or organization.

Wong will receive about $500,000 over five years to implement his project, “Understanding and Modeling of Cryogenic Semiconductor Device Physics down to 4.2K.” While scientists understand the physics of electronics and their surroundings at room temperature, they still don’t fully grasp what happens at extremely cold, cryogenic temperatures, Wong explained.

He wants to close that knowledge gap, which could pave the way for the large-scale realization of quantum computers—as well as interstellar voyages. “Cryogenic-integrated circuits (ICs) are the natural candidate for the exploration of deep space, in which the temperature can drop below 4.2K,” Wong noted. (That’s equivalent to minus 452° Fahrenheit.)

In addition to the research, Wong wants to expand access to cryogenic electronics education, which is not as prevalent in electrical engineering programs today.

He’ll use the funding to develop two courses at San José State focused on cryogenic electronics that will be part of a specialization in the Electrical Engineering master’s program and create hands-on research opportunities for undergraduates.

Ultimately, Wong wants to build a future workforce in the field in a way that promotes diversity and uplifts underserved populations. For example, he plans to introduce a new session on cryogenics and quantum computing at the Silicon Valley Women in Engineering Conference, which connects female students—a minority in engineering programs—with women engineering professionals.

He will also develop a free summer course on cryogenics that will be geared towards socially and economically disadvantaged high school students.

“The goal is to build a pipeline of future students in quantum computing to create a diverse workforce and become an economic driver for vulnerable communities,” he said.

“We are so proud of Hiu-Yung’s achievements,” said Sheryl Ehrman, the Don Beall Dean of the College of Engineering. “He joined our college in 2018 with 12 years of industry experience, and he is a proud graduate from the Engineering Grants Academy program. This is our first home-grown CAREER award since the early 2000s.”

Wong said the award opens up several new research possibilities as well as collaboration opportunities with quantum computing companies.

“This award allows me to venture into more uncertain but also more rewarding research areas,” he added. “I particularly want to thank Dean Ehrman and Electrical Engineering Department Chair Thuy Le for creating a very supportive research environment.”

Spartan Speaker Series to Focus on Racism, Mental Health, Gender and More, Kicks Off Feb. 10

This semester, the San José State community can take a deep dive into topics such as racism, activism, mental health, gender and identity. The Spring 2021 Spartan Speaker Series at SJSU kicks off virtually on Wednesday, Feb. 10, with comedian, host and producer Baratunde Thurston. The entire series is free and open to the public.

Baratunde Thurston
Deconstructing Racism with Baratunde Thurston

Thurston will give his talk, “How to Deconstruct Racism and Laugh at the Same Time,” at 7 p.m. via Zoom. An Emmy-nominated host who has worked for The Onion, produced for The Daily Show and even advised the Obama White House, Thurston is the author of the New York Times bestseller “How to Be Black.” He’s also the executive producer and host of “We’re Having a Moment”—a podcast examining the intersection of the global pandemic, the fight for racial justice and the spotlight on policing in the U.S—as well as “How to Citizen with Baratunde,” which offers different perspectives on how to improve society collectively.

Student Affairs, who produces the series in collaboration with the César E. Chávez Community Action Center (CCCAC), received requests for speakers focusing on racial justice, journalism and the media. “Baratunde Thurston is a wonderful choice to represent these topics,” says Adrienne Jensen-Doray, assistant director of Student Involvement. “He addresses the social and political landscape in the U.S., as well as trauma and healing. He also provides perspectives on life as an entrepreneur and a podcaster—two topics of interest to many of our students.”

When planning the series as a whole, Jensen-Doray says themes such as “racial justice and mental health and wellness were critical, given the needs and interest of our students and current events. We also considered heritage months, such as Black History Month, Women Herstory Month and Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi American (APIDA) Heritage Month.”

Thurston will conclude his presentation with a Q&A.

Alok Menon

Exploring Gender and Identity with ALOK

Later in the month, Alok Vaid-Menon (ALOK) will serve as the keynote speaker for the 15th anniversary of the CCCAC. In “Beyond the Binary,” on Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m., ALOK, a gender non-conforming writer, performance artist and mixed-media artist, will explore themes of gender, race, trauma and belonging. They are the author of “Femme in Public” and “Beyond the Gender Binary.” In 2019, they were honored as one of NBC’s Pride 50 and Out Magazine’s OUT 100.

Since its inception in 2006, the CCCAC has sought to connect SJSU students with civic engagement opportunities that deepen educational experience while promoting a lifelong commitment to activism and social justice, which are at the heart of the legacy of César Chávez.

“As we move into thinking about the next 15 years for the CCCAC and the world, it’s important we bring a keynote speaker that represents a community not often given the platform to influence the next generation of social justice leaders,” explains Diana Victa, department manager of the CCCAC. “ALOK is the best fit because of their leadership in spreading awareness of gender identities, specifically gender non-conforming folx.”

Thea Monyee

Bridging Mental Health and Activism with Thea Monyee

The CCCAC will also present the “A Conversation with Thea Monyee: Sustaining Joy in the Midst of Social Change: Bridging Mental Health and Activism,” on Tuesday, March 2, at 3 p.m. Monyee, a poet and marriage and family therapist, self identifies as a “Black Woman Creative.” She has appeared on HBO, BET, Spectrum, OWN, Fox Soul and TV One, and her work stems from her commitment to healing, which she believes can only occur in a liberated and non-oppressive society.

“It was very important to us to address mental health this semester,” says Jensen-Doray. “Monyee does this through an activist lens, which we hope will resonate with students.”

Simon Tam

Making Trouble with Simon Tam

Finally, the series will conclude on Wednesday, April 14, at 7 p.m. with a talk by Simon Tam. In “Slanted: How an Asian American Troublemaker Took on the Supreme Court,” Tam will share how he helped expand civil liberties for minorities through the unanimous victory of the U.S. Supreme Court case, Matal v. Tam, in 2017. “He offers a unique perspective on identity and justice, as well as the intersection of arts and activism,” says Jensen-Doray.

Tam is the founder and bassist of The Slants, an all-Asian American dance rock band. He also leads the nonprofit The Slants Foundation, which supports arts and activism projects for underrepresented communities. Tam’s talk will include a musical performance, and he will take questions from participants after his talk.


Attendees of any of the talks should register ahead of time in order to receive a Zoom link.

“I hope those who attend multiple events in this series notice the commonalities and prevalence of specific advice—whether it is about forging your own path, building resilience or mentorship and the role mentors have played in our speakers’ lives,” says Jensen-Doray.

She also adds that Student Involvement seeks input from SJSU students, faculty and staff to identify pertinent themes and speakers-of-interest for the 2021-2022 series. Those interested can provide feedback here.