Camino Chronicles Arts Series: a Celebration of Mexican and Latin American Music Influenced by California History

Historically, the Camino Real connected Spanish missions along the state of California. Image by Chandler O’Leary.

How can music reframe the story of the ancient road we know as El Camino Real?

Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz and the folk Americana band the Ronstadt Brothers will celebrate California history through their music on October 1-3, during a weekend of activities presented by San José State University’s College of Humanities and the Arts, The Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, TomKat MeDiA, CaminoArts and Symphony Silicon Valley (SSV). The Ronstadt Brothers will also offer a moderated conversation on the business of music.

“CaminoArts celebrates the folk and classical music of Mexico and Latin America through an excavation of El Camino Real, the historical indigenous trade route used by the Spanish to colonize Mexico and what is now the U.S. Southwest and South America,” said Marcela Davison Aviles, managing partner and executive producer at TomKat MeDiA, a production company founded by Tom Steyer and Kat Taylor to inspire creativity for the common good.

“We brought this idea to the Center for Steinbeck Studies as a way to catalyze writing a new fourth-grade curriculum about the history of El Camino Real.”

Gabriela Ortiz.

Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz.

Ortiz’s new composition, a concerto for flute and orchestra entitled “D’Colonial Californio,” will make its world premiere at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, with SSV at the California Theatre, and again at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 3.

Her work is a joint commission underwritten by the TomKat Foundation and presented in collaboration with TomKat MeDiA, SSV, CaminoArts and San José State as part of a broader initiative to examine California history through arts and education.

Admission to the Ronstadt performance is free. Tickets for the symphony performance are on sale through Symphony Silicon Valley.

“The stories and songs inspired by El Camino Real — the transcontinental pathway forged by Indigenous peoples and later colonized by the Spanish and other European powers — set the stage for the Camino Chronicle Arts series,” said Kat Taylor, founding director of the TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation (TKREF) and one of Camino Chronicles’ sponsors.

“We’re thrilled to illuminate the work of Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz, Mexican American singer/songwriters Peter and Michael G. Ronstadt, concert flutist Marisa Canales, the musicians of Symphony Silicon Valley under the baton of Maestra JoAnne Falleta, and project music director Benjamin Juarez Echenique,” she added.

“And we’re doubly delighted to thank San José State University and the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies for believing, as John Steinbeck did, in the unique power of harmony, dissonance, cadence and rhythm of diaspora and migration.”

The symphony will also perform “New World Symphony” by Antonín Dvořák, a piece that was especially meaningful to John Steinbeck, added Steinbeck Center Director and Assistant Professor of American Studies Daniel Rivers. Canales, who also is a co-founder of CaminoArts, will serve as soloist for both the Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon performances, under the direction of Grammy-winning conductor Maestra Falletta.

Ronstadt Brothers

The Ronstadt Brothers will be performing at the Hammer Theatre on Oct. 3. Image courtesy of Marcela Davison Avilas.

The Ronstadt Brothers will perform the world premiere of their new album “The Road,” commissioned by the Camino Chronicles Project and underwritten by the TomKat Foundation, at the Hammer Theatre at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 3. The event is free and open to the public.

“This full-length album from the Ronstadt Brothers centers on the theme of roads, migration and the existential experience of travel,” Rivers said.

Multi-instrumentalists Michael G. Rondstadt and Peter D. Rondstadt describe their music as a “new and fresh take on traditional Southwestern and Mexican folk songs” that carries forward the legacy of their aunt Linda and their father Michael.

“The curricular connections of the Camino Chronicles with the university are related to music, history, humanities and education,” said Shannon Miller, dean of the College of Humanities and the Arts.

“Ortiz’s work rethinks the identity of the El Camino around issues of migration, while the Ronstadt Brothers are composing work in the American folk music tradition while also exploring connections to their Mexican heritage and the Camino’s indigenous roots. This introduces a lot of interesting issues related to decolonizing the curriculum and the arts,” Miller added.

Visit the Symphony Silicon Valley to learn more about the Oct. 2 and 3 performances of Ortiz’s work.

Learn more about the Rondstadt Brothers’ performance and work with the Steinbeck Center.

Read about TomKat MeDia and CaminoArts.

The Record Clearance Project Maintains Impressive 99% Success Rate in Court Throughout Pandemic

Record Clearance Project


The Record Clearance Project staff includes, from left to right: Cindy Parra, Jordan Velosa, ’20 Justice Studies; Jesse Mejia, ’19 Justice Studies; Darlene Montero; Michelle Taikeff, ’19 Justice Studies; Victoria Kirschner; Omar Arauza, ’20 Justice Studies; and Diana Carreras. Photo by Bob Bain.

This fall, the Record Clearance Project (RCP) kicks off its 14th year of service at San José State. 

“Having a criminal record is often a major obstacle to employment for low-income residents in San José, and this challenge is amplified for people of color,” said College of Social Sciences Dean Walt Jacobs. 

“The Record Clearance Project assists thousands of people each year with criminal convictions who cannot afford an attorney, enabling them to pursue their legal rights to a full, productive future. SJSU students also benefit from participation in this critically important work, as they learn valuable skills that translate to their areas of study.”

The program offers representation in court on petitions to dismiss eligible convictions and reduce eligible felonies to misdemeanors in Santa Clara County. Students interview clients and prepare their petitions in the appropriate legal format. Students also offer free “speed screenings” to help members of the public understand their individual legal rights to clearing their record. 

SJSU Justice Studies instructor and attorney Margaret (Peggy) Stevenson launched the RCP as a series of justice studies courses and an internship program that provides undergraduates with the training and attorney supervision to help eligible individuals get their records cleared as allowed by law, also known as expungement. 

Since launching the RCP in 2008, Stevenson and her team have spoken to nearly 13,000 people, including 4,000 in custody, explaining expungement law and employment rights of people with convictions at legal rights presentations. Throughout the pandemic, the RCP has pivoted to online services, continuing to consult with clients virtually. 

“Our justice system takes people who have made a mistake in their past and condemns them to limited employment, limited housing and limited education for the rest of their lives,” said Stevenson. “It takes sophistication, knowledge, experience and kindness to interview our clients, share their stories and advocate for them.” 

To help people begin the expungement process, the RCP obtained a LiveScan machine in 2017. Since then, the RCP has provided more than 800 people with their histories, saving them at least $31,500 in commercial services, and received court decisions that removed over $130,000 in debt. 

In addition to the financial benefit, providing a safe, friendly environment alleviates some of the trauma many people experience in being fingerprinted again. 

Peer mentor Diana Carreras and project assistant Omar Arauza in the RCP office at San José State. Photo by Bob Bain.

Stevenson has trained SJSU students to conduct over 2,100 individual legal advice interviews and helped them file more than 1,700 petitions to dismiss convictions on behalf of over 600 clients. The training, practice and role-play pays dividends: The RCP has an impressive 99% success rate in court.

That success is exponential, says RCP alumna Serey Nouth, ’20 Kinesiology. She explained that helping clients made it easier to address her own struggles and gave her hope for the future.

“Every day, we hear and see injustice, inequality, and systemic racism in our justice system,” she said. “Once hopeless and dejected, I now feel more empowered to dedicate my life to becoming part of the solution to these long overdue issues. 

“Every time I get to work with a new client, it’s another life changed for the better. Thanks to RCP, I am now studying for my LSAT and preparing my application for law school.”

Stevenson said that the RCP will continue to hold speed screenings online or by phone, and this fall they will be offering some legal rights presentations via video, enabling access to clients across the state. 

“There are 78 RCP cases on the court docket in August,” she added. “We filed these cases for 12 clients, including convictions as old as 1986. On we go.”

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.

Lurie College Reimagines the Future of Education at the Inaugural Learner Design Summit

San José State’s Connie L. Lurie College of Education hosted a free Learner Design Summit to kickstart an ongoing dialogue about the future of education.

Rebeca Burciaga and Veneice Guillory-Lacy REP4

SJSU Lurie College faculty Rebeca Burciaga (left) and Veneice Guillory-Lacy (right) helped create the Learner Design Summit in July 2021. Photo by Robert Bain.

How do you design inclusive models for teaching and learning? It’s simple: Ask the students.

Last week, the Lurie College held its first Learner Design Summit to launch SJSU’s regional Rapid Education Prototyping (REP4) Alliance.

The REP4 Alliance is a powerful network of regional and national education, industry and technology leaders, led by the six founding higher education partners, including the Lurie College. This alliance brings together diverse learners to develop new ideas for higher education programming using liberatory design principles.

At the summit, a total of 25 local students, including rising 11th and 12th graders, recent high school graduates, community college students and SJSU undergraduates collaborated and designed creative proposals, or “prototypes,” to address existing challenges in the higher education system.

“A prototype is a pitch that students prepare to showcase the needs and solutions that create institutional change,” said Rebeca Burciaga, professor of educational leadership and Chicana and Chicano Studies as well as the faculty executive director of SJSU’s Institute of Emancipatory Education (IEE).

“SJSU student mentors are leading what we call ‘dream teams’ to dream up these ideas. We hope to find ways to incorporate their solutions and perhaps work with campus leaders to make those immediate changes.”

San José State President Mary Papazian kicked off the weeklong event with a message for the Spartan community.

“We believe that initiatives such as emancipatory education and REP4 support the development of equitable and inclusive educational systems that nurture the creativity and brilliance of all learners so that our diverse, democratic society can truly thrive,” she said.

“Collectively, the themes of this work are well-aligned with SJSU’s interests in advancing and transforming our educational systems, which many of us believe are in urgent need of radical change.”

The Equity Ambassadors team will be presenting their prototype on Aug. 5. Photo credit: Robert Bain.

Summit participants presented their proposals to SJSU campus leadership this week. Faculty advisors selected the top two group finalists: the Creative Connections team, which provided recommendations for pairing high school students with college mentors, and the Equity Ambassadors team, which suggested creating a career support program for low-income, immigrant and first-generation students.

Both groups will be sharing their prototypes in the online REP4 National Convening on August 5, which brings together student leaders from across the country. By presenting their prototypes to a national audience, the SJSU finalists will have the chance to have their ideas included in REP4’s online search tool for education partners. The repository will make it possible for schools to search for education prototypes that can be put into practice and lead to more equitable education.

“REP4 at SJSU gave high school students and college students alike the opportunity to dream up and reimagine what higher education could look like in the future,” said Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership Veneice Guillory-Lacy, who helped design the agenda and curriculum for the summit.

“It was amazing to witness the students come up with inclusive, equitable and transformational prototypes. We have been blown away by the ingenuity and creativity the REP4 students have displayed in such a short amount of time. We are excited for the future of higher education.”

Creating connections

The Creative Connections team will be presenting at the REP4 National Convening on Aug. 5. The team is composed of SJSU designer Joy Everson, ’22 Mathematics, SJSU mentor Vinson Vu, ’23 Business Administration, community college designer JC Jacinto and high school designers Simon Cha and Amelie Pak. Photo by Robert Bain.

“I really, really enjoyed this experience of meeting and connecting with great people,” said JC Jacinto, one of the community college design leaders. “Everybody shared what problems they had faced, and that really opened up my mind to see what we can do and what we need to change.”

High school design leader Nicole Hoang added that she attended the summit because she wanted to “solve student debt,” but decided to zero in on specific student costs.

“We were able to come up with this really smart solution of partnering with companies to pay for student textbooks,” she said. “Our presentation template and our student mentors were super helpful, and I really enjoyed this experience.”

“REP4 is directly connected to the transformative mission of SJSU and the emancipatory vision of our Institute for Emancipatory Education,” said Heather Lattimer, dean of the Lurie College.

“IEE is founded on the principles of centering marginalized learners, partnering with community and bridging boundaries. These principles will guide our work with REP4.”

The national event will take the best ideas from regional summits to the next level and is hosted by Grand Valley State University. There, learners will present, advocate and respond to questions about their prototypes. The goal of the REP4 Alliance is to prototype, enrich, test and scale new approaches designed together with learners.

“This is a great opportunity for students to help us reimagine higher education and better serve our current and future students by creating more inclusive and equitable campus policies and practices,” added Burciaga.

Learn more about SJSU’s Learner Design Summit and the REP4 Alliance.

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.

Connie L. Lurie College of Education Launches First Online Undergraduate Program

Valerie Barsuglia, ’15 Child and Adolescent Development, completed one of the Lurie College’s degree completion programs to help her jumpstart her teaching career. Photo by Karl Nielsen.

San José State’s Connie L. Lurie College of Education is accepting applications for the first cohort of its fully online bachelor of art’s degree program in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on educational and community leadership.

The curriculum brings together education and the social sciences and emphasizes leadership and social justice to support career advancement. The deadline to apply for fall admission is July 1.

“The primary focus of this program is to develop the teacher pipeline, especially for folks who are already working in schools as aides or paraeducators, or for early childhood educators who want to be master teachers or site supervisors,” said SJSU Child and Adolescent Development Lecturer John Jabagchourian, coordinator of the online program.

Though the college began exploring online education options prior to 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the value of providing SJSU curriculum in online formats.

“This program is designed to provide a high-quality SJSU education to students who wouldn’t typically be able to access the strength of our faculty and programs because of work schedules, childcare requirements and the logistics of getting to campus,” said Heather Lattimer, dean of the Lurie College. “These students bring tremendous strength to the university, and this program is intentionally designed to recognize and value that strength.”

When offering information sessions with prospective students, Jabagchourian met with paraeducators and teaching assistants who are motivated to complete their degrees and need the flexibility of an online program to balance family, school and work responsibilities.

To kick off the new program, the Lurie College is offering scholarships of up to $3,600 over the first year ($1,200 per term) for the first 25 applicants who are admitted. Applicants can also apply for Federal Pell Grants, and those who enroll this fall can apply in spring 2022 for SJSU Lurie College of Education scholarships for the 2022-2023 academic year.

Jabagchourian hopes that these scholarships, coupled with the relative ease of accessing  online courses, will encourage students who have already completed their associate’s degrees or general education credits to earn their bachelor’s degrees and move up in their careers.

“This program aligns with our college’s goal of having a more diverse workforce in education and teaching, especially in the Bay Area, where teachers tend not to be as diverse as the communities they serve,” he said. “We hope to be part of the solution.”

Learn more about the new interdisciplinary studies online program.

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.

SJSU Launches Inaugural Sustainability Faculty Cohort

Sustainability Faculty Cohort.

Ten SJSU faculty have been selected for the Sustainability Faculty Cohort: top row, l-r: Lecturer Roni Abusaad; Lecturer Sung Jay Ou; Assistant Professor Tianqin Shi; Assistant Professor Faranak Memarzadeh; second row l-r: Associate Professor Edith Kinney; Associate Professor Minghui Diao; Lecturer A. William Musgrave; Lecturer Thomas Shirley; bottom row l-r: Lecturer Igor Tyukhov; and Associate Professor John Delacruz. Image courtesy of the Office of Sustainability.

San José State Justice Studies Lecturer Roni Abusaad is excited to incorporate a module on the environment and human rights law as part of his Human Rights and Justice course this fall.

“This is an evolving area of human rights law and a great opportunity for students to understand the interconnectivity of all rights and connect theory to current issues like climate change,” Abusaad said at a May 24 faculty presentation.

Abusaad is one of 10 SJSU faculty members who are prepared to lead the way in the university’s inaugural Sustainability Faculty Cohort, who will include sustainability modules into their curriculum this fall. The cohort complements existing extracurricular and co-curricular initiatives offered through the Office of Sustainability, the Campus Community Garden and the Environmental Resource Center and offers a chance for faculty to become campus leaders in sustainability education.

The Center for Faculty Development, the Office of Sustainability and CommUniverCity hosted an informational workshop for SJSU faculty this spring to offer information about sustainability and how they could apply for a stipend to develop a sustainability module for their courses.

“There are many different definitions of sustainability,” said SJSU Professor of Geology and Science Education Ellen Metzger, who helped organize the initiative. “In our workshop, we defined it in terms of the three ‘e’s: economy, equity and environment. We used those three pillars to invite faculty to envision where their discipline might connect to one of the themes of sustainability.”

The workshop also highlighted the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted by all UN Member States in 2015 as part of The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The SDGs provide a “global blueprint for dignity, peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and in the future” and supply a framework for interdisciplinary teaching and learning about sustainability. Earlier this year, the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings, which measure worldwide progress around SDGS, ranked SJSU in the top 30 universities among U.S. universities and in the top 500 internationally.

While students have many opportunities to learn about sustainability on and off campus, the faculty cohort ensures that Spartans can learn discipline-specific applications in areas such as hospitality and tourism management, business development, mechanical engineering and more.

“Higher education has a transformative influence on society, and if we want to empower students to become agents of change, it’s going to require us rethinking how we do things,” said Metzger.

“Universities, both in terms of teaching and research, are really well-poised to lead this reframing. What do we want the future to look like? If we want to contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, we must accept that nothing will change unless education changes.”

The desire to become campus sustainability leaders is evident at SJSU. More faculty applied to participate in the inaugural cohort than could be accommodated this fall. Metzger said that the applications demonstrated a hunger to emphasize sustainability in all disciplines — great news, considering that the Office of Sustainability hopes to continue the cohort program indefinitely.

The Campus Community Garden is just one of the many sustainability initiatives at SJSU. Photo by David Schmitz.

“Our campus has made amazing progress to make our facilities sustainable, from incorporating recycled water in all of our non-potable uses to installing solar panels on every suitable surface. I think this initiative builds on that foundation,” said Senior Utility and Sustainability Analyst Debbie Andres, ’07 Chemical Engineering.

Participating faculty will receive a $500 professional development grant courtesy of PepsiCo and are encouraged to share their experiences with other faculty at future Center for Faculty Development workshops.

“We have always offered amazing courses in every college that focus on sustainability, showing that it can and should be incorporated into every department,” continued Andres. “But we have never had a formal cohort dedicated to curriculum development. We saw how successful and well-attended our workshop was and we plan on this being the start of annual workshops.”

“Together faculty can help students develop the skills, knowledge and outlooks that will help them see themselves as change agents and offer opportunities to make a difference,” added Metzger.

Learn more about SJSU’s sustainability initiatives.

Social Sciences Faculty Publish an Anthology Reflecting on the Aftermath of George Floyd’s Murder

Walt Jacobs, dean of SJSU’s College of Social Sciences, co-edited this anthology with faculty members Wendy Thompson Taiwo and Amy August. Photo courtesy of Walt Jacobs.

On May 25, 2020, Minnesota resident George Floyd was murdered at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin – a tragedy captured on a cell phone video by a bystander on a nearby sidewalk.
Four days later, San José State College of Social Sciences Dean and Sociology Professor Walt Jacobs emailed his faculty and staff to acknowledge their collective grief and offer a few ideas about how they could respond by contributing to the national dialogue about race in America.

“As human beings, many of us are overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation and the intense emotions it has created,” Jacobs wrote on May 29. “As members of an institution that strives for social justice, we feel discouraged and outraged. And, as social scientists, we are wondering how our disciplines and our knowledge can contribute to solutions.”

That email, coupled with a conversation Jacobs later had with SJSU African American Studies Assistant Professor Wendy Thompson Taiwo, blossomed into a series of essays for The Society Pages. Inspired by the responses he was getting from colleagues with ties to Minnesota, Jacobs recruited Taiwo and Assistant Professor of Sociology Amy August to curate and edit an anthology of 36 essays titled “Sparked: George Floyd, Racism, and the Progressive Illusion” (published by Minnesota Historical Society Press).

A “wonderful and wretched” place for people of color

"Sparked" editors

Three SJSU faculty collaborated to edit “Sparked”: Amy August (top left), Walt Jacobs (top right) and Wendy Thompson Taiwo (center). Photo courtesy of Walt Jacobs.

A self-identified Minnesotan, Jacobs served as a professor of African American Studies at the University of Minnesota for 14 years, five of which he was department chair. Floyd’s murder just a mile from Jacobs’ former home sparked his desire to contextualize the intersectionality of race, culture and academia so often defined as “Minnesota nice.”

As he wrote in a 2016 “Blackasotan” essay, Jacobs asserts that “[life in] the land of 10,000 lakes helped [him] see that there were 10,000 ways to be Black.”

Thompson Taiwo’s experiences as a Black academic and mother in Minnesota prove Jacobs’ thesis. During her four years as assistant professor of ethnic studies at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Thompson Taiwo said she “experienced unmistakably racist personal incidents and saw the way that anti-Blackness operated on a structural level.

“Walt had a more positive relationship to Minnesota; not that he never experienced racism, but for me, it was stark. Thus, the juxtaposition that got this whole project started: Minnesota, for Black people, is both wonderful (Walt) and wretched (me).”

The anthology, published close to the anniversary of Floyd’s death and not long after Chauvin’s guilty verdict, brings together the perspectives of social scientists, professors and academics who work or have worked in Minnesota.

The essays present reflections on racial dynamics in the Twin Cities and the intersection of “wonderful and wretched” sides of that existence, revealing deep complexities, ingrained inequalities and diverse personal experiences. Writers probe how social scientists can offer the data and education required to contribute to change.

“Data is really important — but how we contextualize the data and the narratives we create about that data is equally powerful,” said Thompson Taiwo.

“To bring it directly to SJSU, how can we look at current efforts on campus — defunding and removing the police, enhancing the profile of the African American Studies Department, which provides a lens for understanding anti-Blackness and the long history and continuation of police murders of Black people, putting resources toward hiring more Black faculty and recruiting Black students — and lend our energies and solidarity to pushing those forward?

“Through collective grief and rage comes transformation. There is no reason why that transformation cannot continue on our campus and within our surrounding communities.”

August’s preface, “Coloring in the Progressive Illusion: An Introduction to Racial Dynamics in Minnesota,” provides some benchmark demographics and data detailing racial disparities in home ownership, health care, generational wealth and criminal justice.

As assistant director of the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society, and Social Change, she collaborates with a team of colleagues and student interns to promote social justice in and through sports. Like Jacobs and Thompson Taiwo, she studied and taught in Minnesota for several years.

“Helping to edit this book was a way to better understand how academics of color, including many of my friends and colleagues, were making sense of the racism and racial dynamics in an allegedly ‘progressive’ Minnesota,” said August.

“Because it was within the broader racial context that George Floyd was brutally murdered, within which the Black Lives Matter movement experienced yet another reawakening, and within which Minnesotans are even now reacting to the conviction of former officer Derek Chauvin, I see these essays as must-reads for all those interested in eradicating anti-Blackness and transforming race relations in Minneapolis and beyond,” she added.

Into the future

Jacobs, Thompson Taiwo and August conclude the anthology with an essay entitled “Where Will We Be on May 25, 2022?” They reflect on their initial reactions to Floyd’s murder and their hopes for the future.

Thompson Taiwo writes:

“What if we can, in the wake of George Floyd’s stolen life, have it all, everything our foremothers and othermothers and heroes and ancestors pocketed away and scrimped and hungered and struggled for? To find freedom this way requires one to dig deep into the speculative Black feminist tradition of imagining otherwise and otherworlds, knowing full well that we as Black people continue to live in the long afterlife of slavery, in the forever time of social death, and in a country that is consciously trapped in its own violent white settler colonial origin story.”

The College of Social Sciences’ Institute for Metropolitan Studies hosted a book launch event on May 18, 2021 at which Jacobs, Thompson Taiwo and contributor Marcia Williams, adjunct assistant professor of social and cultural sciences at Marquette University, were interviewed by Gordon Douglas, SJSU assistant professor of Urban and Regional Planning. The college will be hosting additional online book events in fall 2021.

Learn more about “Sparked” here.

 

Spartan Studios’ Steinbeck Adaptation “Breakfast” Debuts at Beverly Hills International Film Festival

Breakfast film_Jessica Perez

L-R: Brett Edwards, Jessica Erin Martin, Darin Cooper and Matt McTighe, ’02 Theatre Arts. A scene from “Breakfast,” a short film directed by Spartan Film Studios. Photo by Jessica Perez.

August 2019, San José’s Coyote Valley: The Spartan Studios film crew awakened at 2 a.m. to prepare for a sunrise shoot of “Breakfast,” a film adaptation of one of John Steinbeck’s short stories.

They only had a few hours to set up camp, ready the old-fashioned stove and capture the dozen or so lines of dialogue that compose the story, which is rumored to have inspired Steinbeck’s masterpiece, “The Grapes of Wrath.

The story, which is excerpted from “The Long Valley,” depicts a man walking alone in the wilderness when he comes upon a migrant camp before sunrise. A young mother busies herself over a stove while nursing an infant, frying bacon and baking biscuits. Two men emerge from a tent to join her for breakfast, and upon noticing the stranger, invite him to join them.

The short film originated a decade ago, when San José State Film and Theatre Lecturer Nick Martinez, ’02 Radio, Television and Film, shared his vision with SJSU’s Director of Production for Film and Theatre Barnaby Dallas, ’00 MA Theatre Arts. Together they approached Nick Taylor, director of SJSU’s Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, and English Professor Susan Schillinglaw, with the idea to acquire the rights to the story.

“Steinbeck fits so much beauty and symbolism in three-and-a-half pages,” said Martinez, who is also co-founder and director of Spartan Studios. “It’s a first-person story, and he didn’t write many first-person stories. The more I researched it, the more I thought, he probably wrote it this way because it happened to him. That means I had an opportunity to put Steinbeck on screen.”

Brett Edwards in Steinbeck's Breakfast

Brett Edwards in “Breakfast.” Photo by Jessica Perez.

Martinez, the film’s director, worked with producers Dallas and Jessica Olthof, ’13 RTVF, of Roann Films, to shoot in summer 2019. Assistant Professor of Film and Theatre Andrea Bechert served as the production designer, Film and Theatre Lecturer Cassandra Carpenter was responsible for wardrobe and costumes, and Costume Shop Manager and Costuming for Theatre Arts Instructor Debbie Weber, ’83 Theatre Arts, was responsible for the student costume and makeup teams on the days of shooting.

“It was the thrill of my career at SJSU to be able to collaborate with Nick, the faculty, staff and students on this film,” said Dallas. “Steinbeck has been and always will be my favorite author.”

The film was funded by Spartan Film Studios, the Film and Theatre Department, and fundraising efforts of Martinez, Dallas and College of Humanities and the Arts Dean Shannon Miller through Artistic Excellence Grants.

Though the project was completed by early 2020, they waited to release it until spring 2021. “Breakfast” premiered in late April at the Beverly Hills Film Festival.

“Adaptation is never easy,” said Film and Theatre Department Chair Elisha Miranda. “Dallas and Martinez did a good job of taking Steinbeck’s intentions during a very different time to create an educational piece of media. The synergy — not just from theatre to film but between faculty, staff and students — is critical to our department and the collaborative nature of the film industry.

“We look forward to more of these productions with our student directors and filmmakers at the helm, which is true to the mission of our department and implemented through our department production entity, Spartan Films,” Miranda added.

“When you always put the students first, and you put great staff and faculty together, San José State is unstoppable,” said Martinez.

“Breakfast” will run the film festival circuit for the rest of the year, with screenings on campus and events through the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies. Martinez said they hope to make it available free of charge to educators who plan to incorporate it into lesson planning.

Learn more about the Center for Steinbeck Studies.

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.

New SJSU Performance “Alone Together” Explores Life During the COVID-Era at the Hammer Theatre April 24

 
When Elisha Miranda, chair of San José State’s Film and Theatre Department, saw Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Kirsten Brandt at the Hammer Theatre Center for the first time in more than a year, she felt like crying. Though they had collaborated closely on many creative projects over the past year, they had yet to work together face-to-face. 

They came together in person in March 2021 to collaborate on “Alone Together,” a series of plays and monologues written during and about the pandemic. The production is the department’s first in-person performance on the Hammer stage, which will be performed by SJSU actors and livestreamed by Film and Theatre Lecturer Christine Guzzetta, ’86 Radio, Television, Video and Film (RTVF). 

“COVID is a universal issue, though it has impacted different communities in different ways,” said Miranda, who is the show’s co-producer with Barnaby Dallas, SJSU’s director of production for film and theatre.

“Even with our students in “Alone Together,” COVID has become the universal fulcrum that ties us all together and makes us stronger storytellers, more accountable educators and artists.” 

"Alone Together" at the Hammer Theater.

SJSU students rehearse “Alone Together” on the Hammer Theatre Center stage. Photo by Oluchi Nwokocha.

Film and Theatre Lecturer Oluchi Nwokocha, ’12 Theatre Arts, is directing the evening, which features eight short plays and monologues written by professional and distinguished playwrights who were commissioned by UC Santa Barbara’s LAUNCH PAD program in spring 2020: Jami Brandi, Anne García-Romero, Lynn Rosen, Enid Graham, Brian Otaño and Arlene Hutton.

“‘Alone Together’ deals with all the emotions that we have been going through during this time, either with our partners or with ourselves, friends or family,” said Nwokocha. 

“It’s very funny. I think it’s actually pretty cathartic.” 

“With so much death and so much decay happening in the world, knowing that we can create art out of this has been really important,” said Brandt, who is the play’s artistic director. 

Because the plays were written during the pandemic, stage directions recognize the need for actors to socially distance themselves on stage. Most of the pieces are performed by one or two actors to allow them to stay six feet apart. 

In addition, cast and crew are required to comply with strict COVID-19 protocols inside the theater. 

Performing pandemic challenges in real time

Nayeli Roman in "Alone Together"

Nayeli Roman is one of the SJSU students performing in “Alone Together” on April 24.

For Nayeli Roman, ’24 RTVF, “Alone Together” is her first time performing at the Hammer—and her first time performing beyond the confines of her computer screen in over a year. 

During her first semester at SJSU, she performed in “Betty’s Garage,” a radio play adapted by Miranda, and co-wrote a play inspired by folk tales that was produced remotely as part of Brandt’s fall show, “Mementos: Tales for a New Century.” The first time she approached the Hammer Theatre Center in person to buzz inside and rehearse, Roman filmed her entrance on her cell phone—it was that surreal, she recalled.

“All of our creativity is heightened because we are trying to recreate how we perform theater,” said Roman, who plays lead characters in two of the short plays. 

“It was wonderful to see how the sets were built, how our director Oluchi has directed our movements. It almost feels like we’re not doing it all on purpose to keep each other safe. After a year of not being able to perform in person, it reminded me of how much I love theater—the lighting, the excitement, the collaboration. It’s almost indescribable.”

The monologues and vignettes tackle the plight of essential workers, the anxiety and angst of living through a pandemic and even the humor of the unexpected. For example, in “Neither Here Nor There,” Roman plays Katie, an undergraduate in Florida who tries to catch up with her college roommate over Zoom and discovers just how different their lives are. 

The magic of “Alone Together,” Roman said, is the opportunity to inhabit characters who are living through many of the same experiences that she has as a college freshman making the most of school during a global pandemic. 

“‘Alone Together’ not only expresses how the pandemic has become a setback to society but how it is opening new doors to the future,” said Roman. 

“It is teaching us important lessons—reminding us not to take things for granted. This is the beginning of our new normal.”

“Alone Together” is being livestreamed from the Hammer at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 24. 

Tickets are free for students and $10 for general admission. 

To learn more, visit hammertheatre.com/events-list.

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.

SJSU Hosts Global Virtual Event Examining Long-term Effects of Separating Families Due to Immigration

San José State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications tackled hard questions about the impact of immigration policies on families at Families Across Borders: A Live Connection, a  global virtual event, live-streamed from SJSU’s Hammer Theatre on March 23. U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren kicked off the evening with introductory remarks about her commitment to immigration reform from her office in Washington D.C.

The event was emceed by SJSU Journalism and Mass Communication Professor Diane Guerrazzi and Joronica Vinluan, ’21 Journalism, onstage at the Hammer. Five alumnae reporters presented multimedia presentations on families from Mexico, Morocco and the Philippines about the social and psychological effects of family separation. 

Families Across Borders_2

U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (center) spoke at the Families Across Borders event, streamed from the Hammer Theatre on March 23. Joronica Vinluan, ’21 Journalism (left), and SJSU Professor of Journalism and Mass Communications Diane Guerrazzi (right) anchored the evening. Photo by Bob Bain.

“The basic structure of immigration law has been unchanged, for the most part, since 1965,” said Lofgren, former immigration attorney and chair of Congress’ Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship

She recalled hosting her first hearing on immigration on Ellis Island in 2007, where she shared the story of her Swedish grandfather, then an unaccompanied minor, who had immigrated to the U.S. in search of a better life.

“I did that to remind all of us that immigration is really central to our core as Americans,” she said. “The optimism, the courage, the bravery, the value of family, the American dream that immigrants embody and their ancestors embodied is as true today for the immigrants coming to America as it was 100 or 200 years ago.”

As the co-author of the new Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which offers opportunities for farmworkers, their spouses and children to earn legal status through continued employment in agriculture, Lofgren remains hopeful that humane immigration reform is possible. She also mentioned that the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. 

The House of Representatives passed both bills last week.

Spartan journalists share stories of separation 

After Lofrgren’s remarks, Guerrazzi and Vinluan introduced alumnae reporters who shared stories live on Vimeo. 

Spartan journalist Elizabeth Rodriguez shared the story of David, whose mother returned to her native Mexico to see her dying father and whose father was deported. Left without his parents in northern California, David had to help raise his siblings.

While David reflected on the challenges of long-term family separation, Spartan reporter Guadalupe Emigdio, ’20 Communication Studies, shared the story of Hector, who fled violence while immigrating from Mexico. Emigdio translated his responses about the “ugly, sad feelings” that linger when thinks of the miles keeping him from his parents. 

Both David and Hector connected to the livestream to field questions from the reporters.

Kelsey Valle, ’20 Journalism, now an assignment editor at Telemundo 48 Bay Area, produced a story about Kelsea and Ismail, a married couple and parents to an almost 1-year-old daughter. Both Spartans, the couple met at SJSU’s International House and were married in Morocco, Ismail’s home country, in 2019. 

Despite this, immigration laws and COVID-19 restrictions have kept them in different countries, even through the birth of their daughter. Kelsea connected from Turlock and Ismail from Morocco to share how they long to be together as a family once more. 

Nicole Albillar, ’20 Global Studies, interviewed a same-sex couple whose civil union was not recognized by federal immigration laws for years before they were allowed to live permanently in the same country. While Judy and Karin are thrilled to finally make a home together in San José, the years of travel back and forth took a toll.

“It’s like a knife to the heart when you hear about families being separated, regardless of the reason,” said Judy live at the event. “But when it’s the government that’s making you not be able to be together, it’s more heartless.”

Humanizing immigrant narratives

The final piece was produced by Vinluan, the daughter of Filipino immigrants who have been separated from their family members for more than 15 years. Vinluan interviewed her mother Akilah, who lives in San José, and her aunt Maria Teresa, who lives in the Philippines, to answer questions about the impact of their separation.

“When people think of immigration, they tend to think in two ways: politics or family,” said Vinluan. “I want to emphasize the humanity of immigration. If you take the time to understand different cultures, there can be new connections, especially between generations.”

Families Across Borders event

Joronica Vinluan, ’21 Journalism, (left) and SJSU Professor of Journalism and Mass Communications Diane Guerrazzi (right) anchored Families Across Borders, a live event streamed from SJSU’s Hammer Theatre on March 23. The evening included a panel of experts: SJSU Psychology Lecturer Jill Citron (upper left), Human Rights Institute Director William Armaline (center) and associate clinical social worker Yovanna Moran. Photo by Bob Bain.

The event concluded with a panel discussion with William Armaline, director of SJSU’s Human Rights Program; Jill Citron, psychology lecturer; and Yovanna Moran, associate clinical social worker in Stanislaus County. Online viewers shared questions about the effects of family separation, which sometimes include post-traumatic stress disorder, attachment disorders and difficulty trusting others.

The Families Across Borders event was an extension of ongoing immigration reporting done by San José State’s Update News, the weekly student news broadcast, said Guerrazzi. In 2018 and 2019, she taught summer journalism courses in Italy and Greece, where SJSU students reported on the refugee crisis. 

The resulting award-winning special, Beyond Borders: Refugee Realities, covered stories from Italy, Greece, Mexico, Vietnam and the Philippines. A second Update News Refugee Realities special that examines efforts to house children and place families in American communities will air in May. A Families Across Borders podcast to highlight immigrant narratives is also in the works.