NSF Grant to Accelerate Wildfire Research at SJSU

SJSU Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

SJSU’s Olympic Legacy Continues at Tokyo Games

A picture of 6 SJSU alumni who will be competing at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo

Seven SJSU Spartans will participate in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo from July 23 to August 8. Not pictured: Coach Greg Massialas.

San José State has been a part of nearly every Olympics since 1924. The university will be well represented in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which run from July 23-August 8.

Seven former Spartans will participate in five sports:

  • Suzy Brookshire Gonzales, Mexico softball — first Olympic Games
  • Colton Brown, USA men’s judo — second Olympic Games
  • Michelle Cox, Australia softball — first Olympic Games
  • Emma Entzminger, Canada softball — first Olympic Games
  • Clara Espar Llaquet, Spain women’s water polo — second Olympic Games
  • Robyn Stevens, USA women’s track and field (20k race walking) — first Olympic Games
  • Coach Greg Massialas, USA fencing head coach — seventh Olympic Games, fourth as a head coach (2008, 2012, 2016, 2020)

The five female Olympic athletes are the most for SJSU in any one Olympics. Stevens is the first Spartan women’s track and field Olympian since USA shot put and discus thrower Margaret Jenkins competed in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. .

This is also the first time an SJSU alumnae will appear in softball, which returns to the Olympics schedule for the first time since 2008.

Colton Brown continues SJSU’s impressive judo legacy that began with alumnus Yoshihiro “Yosh” Uchida, ’47 Biological Science, head judo coach at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964. Brown shared his thoughts on competing in his second Olympics and his quest for a gold medal in a Q&A before leaving for Tokyo.

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

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

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

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

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

Alison Bridger, professor of meteorology and climate science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AB: Here are some major impacts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recycled water sign at SJSU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three things you can do, starting today

Katherine Cushing, professor of environmental studies at San José State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or, you might reevaluate your landscaping altogether.

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

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

2. Brace yourself for restriction mandates and follow them.

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

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

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

3. Look out for future policy and infrastructure changes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Cohen, Professor of Social Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What were the main concerns about moving this program online?

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

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

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

What surprised you about your findings?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eugene Cordero and the Green Ninja

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you share about other ongoing or upcoming research?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center

Photo courtesy of the SJSU Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center

California braces for yet another menacing fire season

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

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

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

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

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

Intel from above the flames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solving a bigger problem

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

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

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

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

Wildfires in 2020 California

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

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

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

A community service

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

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

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

WRF-SFIRE is available on mobile platforms

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

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

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

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

Interim President Appointed

Susan Martin

Susan Martin

Chancellor Timothy P. White announced today the appointment of Susan Martin as the interim president of San Jose State University.

Martin, the former president of Eastern Michigan University, is a seasoned higher education leader with extensive experience in managing large, diverse universities.

She will assume leadership of the campus on August 18. Martin replaces President Mohammad Qayoumi who is leaving to serve as the chief advisor for infrastructure and technology to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani.

Read the CSU release.

View Susan Martin’s resume.

SJSU Leads Silicon Valley Hiring

Photo: Christina Olivas

2013 SJSU career fair (photo by Christina Olivas).

Silicon Valley companies hire more San Jose State University students and alumni than any other college or university in the country, according to a recent analysis.

Jobvite, a recruiting platform, analyzed seven million applications and 40,000 hires to determine the schools that had the most students hired by top companies in and around Silicon Valley,” according to Business Insider.

San Jose State came out on top. More than 75,000 career opportunities including 11,000 internships were offered last year through the SJSU Career Center.

Approximately 4,000 employer representatives attended SJSU career fairs last year. Engineering and business were the top two industries recruiting on campus, followed by the non-profit/government, education and communications sectors.

Qayoumi to Leave SJSU for Advisory Role to Afghan President

Mo Qayoumi

Mo Qayoumi

Media contact:
Pat Harris, SJSU Media Relations Director, 408-924-1748, pat.harris@sjsu.edu.

SAN JOSE, CA – San Jose State University President Mohammad Qayoumi will leave the university next month to assume an advisory role to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani. His last working day at SJSU will be Aug. 17.

In a letter to the university community, Qayoumi, a native of Afghanistan, explained his decision.

“Since 2002, I have often been asked to lend my intellectual and operational expertise to many of Afghanistan’s significant economic, educational and infrastructure challenges. President Ashraf Ghani has asked for my immediate assistance and leadership in numerous infrastructure initiatives,” Qayoumi wrote.

“I have informed CSU Chancellor Timothy White of my decision to accept President Ghani’s request to serve as Chief Advisor to the President for Infrastructure and Technology.”

Qayoumi was appointed SJSU president in March 2011 after serving in a similar role for five years at CSU East Bay. He has held numerous CSU leadership roles for more than two decades, actively contributed to U.S. cybersecurity policy and periodically advised various Afghan leaders, including its finance minister.

In a statement, CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White praised Qayoumi’s commitment to STEM education, a key element of SJSU’s influence and impact in Silicon Valley.

“Mo is leaving the campus with a solid fiscal foundation and proud legacy of achievements. His laser focus on innovation, coupled with his tireless work in expanding the visibility of the campus within the technology sector, have advanced the campus’s stronghold in the region as a leading provider of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates,” White said.

Qayoumi expressed gratitude for the opportunity to serve SJSU.

“It has been a privilege to serve as SJSU’s president. My wife Najia and I will depart San Jose with many fond memories and the certainty that we are making the right choice at this time in our lives.”

About San Jose State

The founding campus of the 23-campus California State University system, San Jose State provides a comprehensive university education, granting bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 134 areas of study with 110 concentrations – offered through its eight colleges.

With more than 30,000 students and nearly 4,370 employees, San Jose State continues to be an essential partner in the economic, cultural and social development of Silicon Valley and the state, annually contributing more than 7,000 graduates to the workforce.

The university is immensely proud of the accomplishments of its more than 220,000 alumni, 60 percent of whom live and work in the Bay Area.

San Francisco Chronicle: San Jose Crowd Cheers Youngest Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Posted by the San Francisco Chronicle on June 26, 2015.

By Carla Marinucci, Senior Political Reporter

Malala Yousafzai, the world’s youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate, told hundreds of people in San Jose on Friday that “education is every child’s right” and urged support for widespread efforts to guarantee secondary schooling for children around the world.

Malala, the 17-year-old Pakistani human rights activist, issued the call during comments at San Jose State University, where she was greeted with cheers and a standing ovation by an enthralled audience packed with girls and women, many clutching her best-selling memoir, “I Am Malala.”

Read the full story. 

San Jose Mercury News: San Jose State in the Spotlight for July 4 Parade

Posted by the San Jose Mercury News on June 24, 2016.

By Sal Pizarro

San Jose State University will be in the spotlight at this year’s Rose, White & Blue Parade, which will wind its way through San Jose’s Shasta Hanchett neighborhood on July 4.

When I first heard about the theme, I wondered who would be grand marshal. President Mo Qayoumi? Maybe one of the university’s many distinguished alumni? The answer floored me, and in a good way: Krazy George. The inventor of “the Wave” and the best drum-banging cheerleader the Spartans ever had, will be one of the guys leading the parade and trying for the world’s longest “wave.”Read the full story.

President Obama Honors Professor

President Barack Obama meets with the 2013 winners of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) in the Oval Office, June 17, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama meets with the 2013 winners of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring in the Oval Office, June 17, 2015. Professor Soto is on the far right (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).

Professor of Biological Sciences Julio Soto met President Barack Obama at a White House reception on June 16 recognizing recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring.

The award honors individuals who have made extraordinary efforts to engage students from communities that are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The National Science Foundation organized the event.

Soto served as the principal investigator on two groundbreaking grants at San Jose State. Under HHMI-SCRIBE, Soto and colleagues transformed the core curriculum for biology majors. With NSF-RUMBA, Soto coordinates summer research opportunities for under-represented students.

Together, the programs equip students with the academic and applied opportunities they need to excel in graduate school and beyond, reflecting the department’s emphasis on hands-on, inquiry-based learning activities at the bench and in the field.

SJSU theatrical production

Hammer Theatre Discussions

SJSU theatrical production

SJSU programming, co-productions and a rental program are among the parameters for operating Hammer Theatre (photo by Christina Olivas).

Media contact: Pat Harris, Media Relations, 408-924-1748

San Jose City Council has unanimously approved a recommendation that the city manager negotiate and execute an agreement with San Jose State University for operations and maintenance of the Hammer Theatre for three years.

This is the latest step in a nine-month process that has included input from the campus community, discussions with the Hammer Theatre Advisory Committee, and several public presentations, including today’s.

I am excited about the potential of a city/university partnership to provide new, engaging learning opportunities for our students in a variety of disciplines and contribute to vitalizing San Jose’s downtown corridor,” President Mo Qayoumi said.

“It was heartening to hear such strong support from elected officials, community members and arts advocates. I agree with the many speakers who cited other “town gown” collaborations as evidence that this new partnership can thrive.”

Next steps

As the negotiations between SJSU and the city move forward, SJSU will:

  • assess needed facility maintenance and upgrades
  • review other models for university-operated performing arts venues
  • develop a financial model including a tiered rate structure for market-rate theater groups, nonprofits, co-productions by professional theaters collaborating with SJSU, SJSU’s own educational purposes, and a city subsidy

While it is premature to predict when the theatre will reopen, the intent is to have it ready for use as soon as possible. This will be based on time needed for renovations and related operational issues.

About San Jose State University

The founding campus of the 23-campus California State University system, San Jose State provides a comprehensive university education, granting bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 134 areas of study with 110 concentrations—offered through its eight colleges.

With more than 30,000 students and nearly 4,000 employees, San Jose State continues to be an essential partner in the economic, cultural and social development of Silicon Valley and the state, annually contributing more than 7,000 graduates to the workforce.

The university is immensely proud of the accomplishments of its more than 220,000 alumni, 60 percent of whom live and work in the Bay Area.

 

Alumni Win at the Academy Awards

Congratulations to three SJSU alumni! The Walt Disney film they worked on, “Big Hero 6,” won an Oscar for best animated film at this year’s Academy Awards.

“Big Hero 6” is a 3-D animated comedy about a plus-size inflatable robot and a prodigy who team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.

Scott Watanabe was the lead art director. His wife, Kendelle Hoyer, worked as a story artist on the film, and Lauren Brown, ’13 Animation/Illustration, is a publicist.

This is the second win for Hoyer, who also worked as one of the main story board artists on “Paperman,” which won an Oscar for the Academy Award’s Best Animated Short in 2013. Watanabe and Hoyer met in the SJSU Animation/Illustration Program and graduated as art majors in 2006.

The student Animation/Illustration club, ShrunkenHeadMan, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The club started in room ART 218.

“Our alumni try to sneak either ‘SHM’ or ‘218’ into the films, games and shows they produce. You can catch a ‘218’ on one of the buildings in the credits of ‘Big Hero 6,’” said Associate Professor of Animation/Illustration David Chai.

SJSU alumni worked on two other films that were nominees in this year’s Academy Awards:

Animated Feature Film Category
“How to Train Your Dragon 2”
Andrew Harkins

Short Film, Animated Category
“The Dam Keeper”
Jeanie Chang
Cody Gramstad
Kristy Kay
Becky Roberts
Lucie Roberts

Giant Puppet

Spartan Filmmakers Create Movie Magic

Giant Puppet

A crew member works on a puppet for the animated short “Behind My Behind” (courtesy of Animation/Illustration).

San Jose State University will have a big showing at the 25th Cinequest Film Festival, which runs Feb. 24 to March 8 right here in downtown San Jose.

The films are spectacular yet admission is affordable at $6 for students and $8-11 for everyone else.

“Behind My Behind”  

Associate Professor of Animation/Illustration David Chai and 43 current and former students spent three months on “Behind My Behind,” the story of a disheartened writer who reunites with his love for creativity in a secret world he finds in his couch.

“Fueled by Trader Joe’s bananas and Costco pizza, students worked on everything from animation, creating backgrounds and building puppets and sets to looking for props at flea markets,” Professor Chai said.

Behind My Behind

A scene from “Behind My Behind” (courtesy of Associate Professor David Chai).

This is Chai’s 11th film, and the first one featuring stop-motion production. The short has already won two awards and been accepted into six film festivals total.

“Animation is a ton of work,” said Professor Chai, but he and his crew added some fun.

“We had many themed days including plaid and glasses day [dressing like the main character in the film], amazing hat day, chips day, necktie day, superhero shirt day, and a disastrous uncooked rice day,” Professor Chai said.

“Bell Jar”

Joshua Pausanos, ’15 Radio-Television-Film, and three friends had a few laughs while working on their new film, “Bell Jar.” JP Emodi, ’15 RTVF, Riley Leggin, ’17 RTVF, and Nika Burnett, a UC Santa Barbara alumna, shot the film over three days.

Pausanos and Burnett wrote “Bell Jar,” inspired by Sylvia Plath’s novel, The Bell Jar.

Bell Jar

Meticulous preparations for a swim in a scene from “Bell Jar” (courtesy of Joshua Pausanos, ’15 Radio-Television-Film).

“We wanted to tell a very visual story showing the pressure and failure involved in wanting to be perfect at something. We chose to do this by following a swimmer who strives to be perfect,” Pausanos said.

“Bell Jar” won the award for best cinematography at the SJSU Campus MovieFest last October and will compete in the same category at the Campus MovieFest finale this summer in Hollywood.

“9th Hole”

Jacob Ohlausen, ’15 RTVF, and a crew of 20 current or former SJSU students produced “9th Hole,” a comical look at fathers protecting their daughters on prom night.

The film was created for Cinequest’s Barco Escape program, which uses technology to give movie goers a more immersive cinematic experience.

Instead of one screen, the Barco Escape uses three screens of images and sound, placing the viewer right in the middle of the action.

Hubbard

PGA Pro Pops the Question

Hubbard

Mark Hubbard proposes to his girlfriend Meghan McCurley on the 18th green during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (photo by Chris Condon/PGA TOUR).

Love is in the air for two Spartans at the 2015 Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

PGA pro Mark Hubbard, ’11 Business Management, surprised former swim team standout Meghan McCurley, ’12 Kinesiology, with a marriage proposal on the 18th green Feb. 12.

“I felt like I had to do something different than just take her out to dinner or something,” Hubbard told the San Jose Mercury News.

For McCurley, the first sign came when she was alerted to the video board, which was flashing, “Meghan, Will You Marry Me?” Then Hubbard went down on one knee, and she said yes!

The couple has yet to set a date and venue. A return to Pebble Beach might be worth considering. They’ll find many fellow Spartans working there.

The SJSU/Pebble Beach Special Event Management Team is managing the concessions, chalets and skyboxes at this week’s tournament. And that experience often translates into full-time jobs at Pebble Beach Resorts for SJSU alumni.

“The Barbershop Diaries” Debuts

What’s in a barbershop? One heck of a story.

At a shop just blocks from campus, meet the owner, an engineering college dropout seeking salvation after serving time; his old college buddy, now a Hollywood star; a lesbian barber juggling a domestic relationship and her mother’s stage-four breast cancer; a Muslim struggling to find a quiet place to pray between cuts; an Ethiopian immigrant spending his jobless benefits on barber school; and many more people who have found a home at the Barbers Inc.

Associate Professor of Journalism and Mass Communications Michael Cheers and his students premiere their documentary “The Barbershop Diaries” 3 p.m. Feb. 8 at Morris Dailey Auditorium. They’ll also unveil an online portrait gallery saluting South Bay barbers and beauty salon owners.

 

campus gate with clouds

California Shatters Weather Record

campus gate with clouds

Climate change hit home in 2014, when California shattered hot weather records, according to the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science (David Schmitz photo).

California shattered its all-time annual temperature record in 2014 with record highs throughout the state. Data from San Jose State University’s Department of Meteorology and Climate Science shows the annual average temperature in the state spiked unexpectedly in 2014.

The average temperature in the Golden State in 2014 was 63 degrees Fahrenheit. That is 4 degrees above normal and more than 2 degrees hotter than the previous high set during the Dust Bowl era – 1934.

While many of us were worrying about the drought, we were quietly crushing previous temperature records for our state,” said Alison Bridger, chair of the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science.

Professor Bridger attributes the record heat to climate change, driven by increasing amounts of greenhouse gases. Last week, both NOAA and NASA announced that 2014 was the warmest year on record when averaged for the entire globe.

“The record California heat brings the reality of climate change closer to home for all of us in the state,” she said.

El Nino, Drought

Data from the state has long shown steady warming, but 2014 was exceptional. Eugene Cordero, professor, Department of Meteorology and Climate Science, says the rising temperature can impact the state in many ways:

“Warmer temperatures directly affect our agriculture, not to mention precious water resources,” Professor Cordero said.

Both Bridger and Cordero emphasized that the global warmth of 2014 is particularly remarkable since it was a non-El Nino year.  Oceans store heat, which is pumped into the atmosphere during an El Nino event.  When the next big El Nino develops, scientists around the world expect the atmosphere to heat up even more.

The data comes from the Congressional Temperature Trends report compiled by Professor Cordero, University of Maryland Associate Research Scientist, Clark Weaver and colleagues.  The report uses annual temperature records from NOAA’s National Climate Data Center.