SJSU Senior Hannah Bittar Earns 2021 CSU Trustee Award for Outstanding Achievement

SJSU senior and CSU Trustee Award Winner Hannah Bittar, '22 biology

SJSU senior Hannah Bittar is a student leader and nonprofit co-founder, who is galvanized to achieve her higher education goals while helping lift up others.

Last month, San José State University’s Hannah Bittar, ’22 Biology, was awarded California State University’s (CSU) 2021 Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement — the CSU’s highest accolade for student achievement.

Bittar, who is pre-med and studying molecular biology, is among 23 honorees recognized, one from each CSU campus. Each awardee — many of them first-generation college students — also receives a donor-funded scholarship* with their award.

“These 23 scholars wonderfully exemplify the ideals of the California State University,” said CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro. “Every year, and especially this year, our Trustees’ Award honorees demonstrate resilience, tenacity and resolve — together with a keen intellect — while making an indelible, positive impact on their families and their communities. They are truly an

Upon graduating from high school, Bittar faced multiple personal challenges that nearly derailed her goal of attending college. But once she arrived at SJSU, she thrived, balancing work and school, and finding inspiration in giving back to others.

Her passion for making connections with her community, however, started well before she came to San José State. When she was just 17, Bittar co-founded her own nonprofit organization, J&H New Beginnings, which creates care packages and distributes them to residentially challenged people in her community. She also volunteers with a crisis helpline and at Stanford Medicine Valley Care Hospital.

So, what does Bittar say about receiving this recognition and what fuels her?

Hannah Bittar (HB): Receiving the 2021 Trustees’ Award means that all my hard work is paying off and being recognized, that all the obstacles and hardships I encountered and overcame were worth it and are finally paying off. And I am able to continue persevering and working toward my education and goals.

Besides this award, what are some of the major accomplishments you had at SJSU?

HB: Some of the major milestones I have had at SJSU include my recent Supplemental Instruction (SI) Leader job at SJSU’s Peer Connections. This is a big accomplishment for me because, for a couple of years now, I had been on the lookout for a tutoring job or something similar. Now that I have been an SI Leader for a full semester, I can proudly say that I have learned so many valuable lessons and formed numerous amazing connections.

What are the most valuable lessons have you learned from your experience at SJSU?

HB: Some of the most valuable lessons I have learned from my experience at SJSU revolve around teamwork, networking and friendships. A lot of my SI Leader job revolves around teamwork; hosting sessions for my students requires a lot of planning on my end as well as meeting with my peer leaders and supervisors to compare work and ask questions. I also learned the importance of networking and forming friendships, which greatly contribute to my overall happiness and balance in my personal and professional life.

What has the experience of co-founding your nonprofit been like?

HB: It has been a lovely experience giving back to those in need within my community and neighboring communities. Being a founder of this organization has reinforced the incredible value of humanitarian work for me. I cannot put into words how fulfilling it feels to assemble care packages and distribute them to people in need; it is definitely one of my favorite experiences of my life.

What are your career goals and next steps after graduation?

HB: I recently took my MCAT exam. My next step consists of applying to medical school this upcoming spring, which makes me excited and nervous! My ultimate goal is to get accepted into a California medical school and, four years later, get accepted into my dream residency. I would love to specialize in dermatology or obstetrics/gynecology. I’m looking forward to the journey!

How has being a student at San José State transformed your life?

HB: I have gained insight with so many programs, clubs and internships. Additionally, I have met and formed so many valuable connections with fellow students in my classes and in the Peer Connections department. I would not have the friends, connections and opportunities I currently have if it weren’t for SJSU!


*The award and scholarships are made possible by founding leaders from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation and Trustee Emeritus Ali C. Raz; in partnership with CSU Trustees, CSU Foundation board members and private donors.

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

International Space Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preserved tissue samples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SJSU Takes on Pandemics 100 Years Apart

The Spanish flu swept across the campus of the San Jose Normal School, now known as San Jose State University, in October 1918. Then, like now, the school took steps to protect the campus community. Students, faculty, and staff volunteered their time and resources to help the campus and the San Jose region weather the pandemic.

According to the June 1919 LaTorre yearbook, the school closed on October 11, reopened a month later, then closed again December 3 for another month. Students were charged with making their own reusable cloth masks and were required to wear them when classes resumed.

The Normal Hospital

San Jose Normal School Students in 1918

Students at the San Jose Normal School wore masks during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Source: 1918 La Torre yearbook, courtesy of SJSU Special Collections and Archives.

Hospitals in San Jose were so overcrowded at the time that the Intermediate Building on campus was converted into The Normal Hospital and a house on 12th Street was rented and made into a convalescent ward. Some 75 volunteer nurses worked at both makeshift hospitals. The Household Arts Department made meals for the patients. Students and faculty volunteered to care for patients; they donated cots, bedding, clothing, food, and flowers.

“One remarkable feature of the Normal School’s response was how its student body, mainly women, volunteered to serve as untrained nurses, literally putting their lives on the line to serve their community,” said History Professor and Director of the Burdick Military History Project Jonathan Roth.

According to the yearbook, the response and outpouring from the campus and the local community were wonderful. Here’s an excerpt: “And we are proud to know that in a time of great testing, our faculty and students proved themselves loyal and true in the highest sense.”

One hundred and two years later, the San Jose State community is once again being tested by another pandemic— Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Once again, the SJSU community is stepping up, rallying resources to fight the disease.

Similar to the 1918 flu outbreak, campus leaders have taken measures to protect students, faculty and staff. In an effort to promote social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus, SJSU administrators moved classes online.

Two SJSU alumni, working on the cutting edge of biotechnology, have helped their company, Cepheid, develop the first rapid COVID-19 test that can be administered at hospitals and urgent care centers and deliver test results within 45 minutes.

As local hospitals and emergency rooms run out of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, SJSU’s College of Science stepped in to help.

Boxes of gloves and masks going to Valley Medical Foundation.

Boxes of gloves and masks going to Valley Medical Foundation. Photo: Dean Michael Kaufman

“A group of biology and College of Science staff and faculty contacted me about our stock of gloves and masks, which normally would have been used in spring 2020 biology labs that are no longer meeting,” said College of Science Dean Michael Kaufman. “We quickly inventoried the materials and contacted Valley Medical Foundation. In the end we were able to contribute 56 cases of gloves, plus a smaller supply of N95 and surgical masks. We know that many SJSU graduates are part of the healthcare teams there, so it was especially meaningful to be able to contribute this personal protective equipment to Valley Medical.”

  • The university also donated hydrogen peroxide and isopropyl to a local company to make hand sanitizer, said SJSU Vice President of Administration of Finance Charlie Faas.
  • Faculty in the industrial design department are using 3-D printers to make test kit swabs and badly needed ventilator parts for front line medical staff.
3D printer

SJSU Industrial Design faculty members are using 3-D printers to make ventilator parts, test swab kits and face shield parts. Photo: Jesus Hernandez.

Although the times and the resources are different, students, faculty and staff at the Normal School, and now San Jose State, are uniting, supporting each other, proving themselves loyal and true to help overcome the global pandemics of 1918 and 2020.

San Jose State University Celebrates Historic Groundbreaking on Interdisciplinary Science Building

Media contact:

Robin McElhatton, SJSU Media Relations Specialist, 408-924-1749,

San Jose, Calif. — San Jose State University will celebrate the historic groundbreaking for its new Interdisciplinary Science Building on Thursday, April 25, at 10 a.m. on the university’s campus in front of Duncan Hall.

The first new academic building in 30 years, the Interdisciplinary Science Building construction is the first phase of the university’s new Science Park, part of San Jose State’s commitment to dynamic research and innovation environment in the heart of Silicon Valley.

“The breadth of scientific discovery and research that will take place at the ISB and our future Science Park will be astonishing,” said SJSU President Mary Papazian. “It will truly put us on the map, and we will rightly take our place among the most modern and innovative of all science colleges in the Bay Area and, indeed, the country.”

San Jose State’s research endeavors play a critical role in preparing graduate and undergraduate students who work side by side with faculty mentors. With $60 million in annual research expenditures, SJSU is a top-200 school nationally in terms of research spending. The university’s 33,000 students—including approximately 7,600 graduate students —bring an inherent creativity and diversity of thought and experience that can address and solve the most pressing problems facing society today.

“San Jose State has been meeting the needs of our region since our founding 160 years ago,” said Paul Lanning, vice president for university advancement. “The vision for the Science Park—and the impact it will have for our students and faculty—is unparalleled in SJSU’s history.”

“Our goal is to make research, teaching and collaboration inseparable,” said Michael Kaufman, College of Science dean. “The Interdisciplinary Science Building will be a huge leap forward in San Jose State’s ability to provide modern research experiences and enhanced faculty mentoring opportunities for our students.”

An artistic rendering shows what the Interdisciplinary Science Building will look like in 2021 when it is completed.

An artistic rendering shows what the Interdisciplinary Science Building will look like in 2021 when it is completed.

The Interdisciplinary Science Building will have eight floors of modern science laboratories and research facilities, as well as collaborative, flexible learning environments. The building will be home to chemistry and biology teaching and research spaces, an interdisciplinary Center for High Performance Computing, data and information science labs, and science administration. Each floor will seamlessly integrate teaching and research. Students who move through these programs will graduate with the theoretical background, hands-on skills and collaboration experience necessary to succeed in industry and advanced studies.  

Following the ceremonial groundbreaking and program, attendees can see the future of SJSU science firsthand at the College of Science 15th Annual College of Science Student Research Day, located nearby in the Duncan Hall breezeway. More than 100 student-faculty teams will present original work in all science disciplines. In addition, SJSU’s Celebration of Research will take place 3 – 6 p.m. April 23 in the Diaz Compean Student Union Ballroom.

Complete ISB groundbreaking event information may be found at

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, master’s and doctoral degrees in 250 areas of study—offered through its eight colleges.

With more than 35,000 students and nearly 4,370 employees, San Jose State University continues to be an essential partner in the economic, cultural and social development of Silicon Valley and the state, annually contributing 10,000 graduates to the workforce.

The university is immensely proud of the accomplishments of its more than 260,000 alumni, 60 percent of whom live and work in the Bay Area.

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.

White House Honors Professor

“As a member of an under-represented minority group, I am committed to making the unlimited intellectual possibilities of modern biology accessible to all students,”—Professor Julio Soto.

“As a member of an under-represented minority group, I am committed to making the unlimited intellectual possibilities of modern biology accessible to all students.”—Professor Julio Soto (photo by Christina Olivas)

Media contact:
Pat Harris, 408-924-1748

SAN JOSE, CA – SJSU Professor of Biological Sciences Julio Soto will receive a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring, the White House announced March 27.

The honor, received by just 14 individuals and one organization in the past two years, recognizes the crucial role that mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students studying science and engineering—particularly those who belong to groups that are underrepresented in these fields.

“These educators are helping to cultivate America’s future scientists, engineers and mathematicians,” President Obama said. “They open new worlds to their students, and give them the encouragement they need to learn, discover and innovate. That’s transforming those students’ futures, and our nation’s future, too.”

Principal investigator

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.

Among his students inspired in the classroom to take part in the summer research program is Pareet Raju, ’15 Molecular Biology. “Dr. Soto helped me understand the lecture by providing research articles as a reference…Recently I joined his lab, where he has been guiding me through my research project,” she said.

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.

“As a member of an under-represented minority group, I am committed to making the unlimited intellectual possibilities of modern biology accessible to all students,” Professor Soto said.

Professor and mentor

Soto arrived at SJSU in 1999, with degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, and the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey.

“Dr. Soto has a unique and refreshing approach as a lab mentor,” said Nicko Ly, ’15 Molecular Biology, and a RUMBA participant. “Although he has high expectations for his undergraduate lab researchers and challenges his students to be independent thinkers, he genuinely is passionate and determined to have his students pursuing a career in the sciences.”

In addition to being honored in Washington later this year, Soto will receive an award of $10,000 from the National Science Foundation. The mentors and organization announced March 27 represent the winners for 2012 and 2013.

San Jose State—Silicon Valley’s largest institution of higher learning with 30,000 students and 3,740 employees—is part of the California State University system. SJSU’s 154-acre downtown campus anchors the nation’s 10th largest city.

egg logger

Gaining a Birds-eye View

Did you know some wild birds turn their eggs 50 to 60 times a day during nesting season? Or in some species, the temperature of an egg inside a nest drops about 2.5 degrees from day to night?

Those are just some of the findings Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Scott Shaffer discovered during recent studies with his new high-tech egg loggers.

“The egg loggers open up a lot of new territory to explore what the birds are doing,” said Professor Shaffer, a wildlife biologist in the College of Science.

Micro-electronic eggs

Associate Professor Scott Shaffer

Associate Professor Scott Shaffer (photo by Muhamed Causevic, ’15 BFA Graphic Design)

The egg loggers look like real eggs, but they’re far from it. The eggs are plastic, and made on a 3-D printer. Inside are micro-electronics similar to those used in smart devices such as tablets and cell phones.

An accelerometer and magnetometer measure motion and angle changes in three dimensions, and a thermistor monitors temperature.

Each sensor takes a reading every second, and gives researchers more definite estimates to calculate three-dimensional movements, and create 3-D animations of movement patterns, something not available until now.

Improving hatching rates

Egg turning is critical for embryonic development in most bird species. The information provided by the egg loggers could help researchers learn how to improve hatching rates of artificially incubated eggs.

In addition, researchers are seeking to better understand how man-made disturbances affect hatching success, and even learn how birds laden with certain contaminates like mercury influence hormone levels.

Shaffer and his team developed advanced egg loggers and placed them in the nests of five different-size bird species in geographic locations ranging from the tropics to Antarctica.

The research was funded in part by the California State University Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB).

egg logger

The egg loggers look like real eggs, but they’re far from it (photo by Muhamed Causevic, ’15 BFA Graphic Design).

Technology aiding ecology

“From an ecological view, my long-term goal is to investigate whether birds turn their eggs differently based on the number of eggs in a nest, nest type, age and experience of parent birds, or breeding environment,” Professor Shaffer said.

Bio-logging technology has been used since the mid 1960s, but rapid changes in microprocessors have reduced component size and increased the sophistication of senor technology.

“It allows us to study wild animals in ways that weren’t possible 30 or 40 years ago,” Shaffer said.

walnut research

Researchers Crack Away at the Benefits of Walnuts

walnut research

Ahn Pham and John Kim conducted walnut research at SJSU. Today, Pham is working in the biotechnology industry. Kim is in a doctoral program at the University of Southern California (Dillon Adams photo).

Contact: Pat Lopes Harris, 408-924-1748

San Jose, CA–Walnuts are part of a Mediterranean diet and have been shown to reduce heart disease and are potentially able to fight cancer. Yet as much as science has revealed about the health benefits of walnuts, which components of walnuts are responsible for these effects has remained a mystery.

Researchers at San Jose State University, in collaboration with scientists at North Carolina State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute, have now identified compounds that show anti-cancer effects in human breast cancer cell models.

The research study, “Cytotoxic Effects of Ellagitannins Isolated from Walnuts in Human Cancer Cells”, was published online in September (Volume 66, Issue 8) in the scientific journal, Cancer and Nutrition.

Student opportunities

A team of undergraduate students at SJSU in the labs of Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Brandon White and Professor of Chemistry Roy Okuda conducted the study characterizing the effects of the compounds on various breast cancer cells. Mary Grace, a senior researcher in Mary Ann Lila’s lab at the Plants for Human Health Institute, provided purified compounds that were used in this study.

“Not only is this research beneficial to human health, it has also given students at SJSU an opportunity to work in the cancer biology field,” Professor White said.

These students received hands on training from Professors White and Okuda as part of their educational experience at SJSU.  Working in the lab has helped these students go on to working in biotech, doctoral programs, and pharmacy school.”

The student researchers were Vy Le, ’14 Biology; Danny Ha, ’14 Biology; Anh Pham, ’12 Biology; Anthony Bortolazzo, ’14 Biology; Zackery Bevens, ’14 Biology; and John Kim, ’12 Chemistry.

Valuable insight

Walnuts are the second largest nut crop in the United States, which produces over 900 million pounds annually with a production value of more than $1 billion. The U.S is the world’s largest exporter of walnuts. Walnuts are also sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and antioxidant compounds associated with heart health.

“Identifying which compounds are active individually or synergistically will provide valuable insight into understanding their mechanisms of action. By gaining a better understanding of the unique properties of walnuts and how they promote human health, researchers may one day be able to target certain ailments by recommending consumption of walnuts,” Professor White said.

The California Walnut Commission provided funding support for this research project.

San Jose State — Silicon Valley’s largest institution of higher learning with 30,000 students and 3,740 employees — is part of the California State University system. SJSU’s 154-acre downtown campus anchors the nation’s 10th largest city.

Faculty Notes: Research, Recognition and Applied Learning

Ryan Carrington

Lecturer Ryan Carrington, Department of Art and Art History, holds an MFA in spatial art from SJSU and teaches sculpture, foundry work and mold making.

Professor Ted Butryn and Associate Professor Matthew Masucci, Department of Kinesiology, spoke on February 26 at the King Library as part of the University Scholar Series on the topic of female triathletes’ awareness of doping and the anti-doping movement. Their research was funded by a two-year grant from the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Lecturer Ryan Carrington, Department of Art and Art History, received an Emerging Artist/Artist Laureate Award from Silicon Valley Creates. His art explores the theme of labor through gallery installations, performances and site-specific work. He holds an MFA in spatial art from SJSU and currently teaches sculpture, foundry work and mold making.

Professor Emeritus Betty Chu, Department of Economics, was profiled last month in TheHuffington Post for her success in breeding Angora rabbits. One of the oldest kinds of domestic rabbit, the Angora rabbit, along with the Angora cat and the Angora goat, originated in Turkey. Chu holds the distinction of breeding the only Angora that has ever won the Open Best in Show award at the American Rabbit Breeder Association National Convention.

faculty notes

Asst. Prof. Kasuen Mauldin

Assistant Professor G. Craig Hobbs, Department of Art and Art History, and director of Learning and Games Consortium, organized and served as faculty advisor of Global Game Jam, held January 24-26 on campus. A competitive “hackathon” focused on game development, it was an event open to students from all majors and focused on collaboratively creating games under tight deadlines using computers, software and brainwave sensor technologies.

Assistant Professor Kasuen Mauldin, Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging, received the 2014 California Dietetics Association Excellence in Research Award. Her research focuses on human metabolism and, more specifically, lipoprotein homeostasis. She will also chair the 2014 Center for Healthy Aging in a Multicultural Population (CHAMP) conference.

faculty notes

Asso. Prof. Cathleen Miller’s book

Creative writing Associate Professor Cathleen Miller and Professor Alan Soldofsky read and signed their most recent books at Barnes and Noble in San Jose on February 12. Miller’s Champion of Choice (University of Nebraska Press) is a biography of Dr. Nafis Sadik, the first female director of a United Nations agency and a renowned advocate for women’s health and reproductive rights. Soldofsky’s poetry collection, In the Buddha Factory (Truman State University Press), takes Silicon Valley as its backdrop.

Professor David Parent, Department of Electrical Engineering, has been working with Silicon Valley employers Atmel, Texas Instruments and Linear Tech to secure internships and acquire donations of equipment for the department, including boards and chips. Atmel recently recognized SJSU as one of the top universities from which to acquire talented electrical engineering graduates.

Director of Film and Television Production Babak Sarrafan won the Broadcast Education Association’s Educational/Instructional Video Award of Excellence in the faculty video category. His “Green Ninja Episode 4: Styrofoam Man” is the latest in an ongoing series featuring an environmental ninja. “My aim is to make environmental responsibility entertaining,” he said. SJSU students also took home top prizes, including Best in Show for Always Learning, a feature-length film by Robert Krakower. The BEA is the largest association of Radio-TV-Film programs in the United States with 260 member institutions.

Assistant Professor Katie Wilkinson, Department of Biological Sciences, oversaw student teams competing in the American Physiological Society’s Phantasic Physiology Voyage: “Function Follows Form” video contest. To be considered, videos had to explore, for a general public audience, a specific physiological function in five minutes or less (including credits). Students Peter Luu, Lubayna Elahi, Laura Philbin and David Tatarakis received the Judge’s Award, which carries a prize of $750, for “Avian Surgery.”

faculty notes

Prof. Emily Wughalter

Professor Emily Wughalter, Department of Kinesiology, will receive the Luther Halsey Gulick Medal from the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance at the AAHPERD national conference in April. The highest award bestowed by the organization, it recognizes Wughalter’s 33 years of distinguished service to her profession. A strong advocate for girls and women in sport, she previously received the Honor Award from the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS) and served as president of the Western Society for Physical Education of College Women. In January 2014, she received a distinguished service award from the National Association for Kinesiology in Higher Education (NAKHE).


SJSU Receives $250,000 from Keck Foundation

Keck Foundation Provides $250,000 for Science Lab Class Innovations

Professor Joseph Pesek has helped nearly 100 graduate students complete their theses, mentored 60 undergraduate research students in his lab, and he’s not done yet (photo courtesy of Professor Pesek).

The W. M. Keck Foundation has made a $250,000 gift to San Jose State to develop laboratory exercises more similar to what students will find in the workplace while introducing new technology into the curriculum.

Professor of Analytical Chemistry Joseph Pesek will serve as principal investigator, working with Professor of Material and Chemical Engineering Claire Komives, Professor of Biological Sciences Brandon White and Professor of Justice Studies Steven Lee.

Faculty and student researchers will develop applications for aqueous normal-phase chromatography, a method for analyzing samples developed at San Jose State. Protocols for these applications will become the basis for lab exercises, to be tested as classwork for SJSU students.

Keck Foundation Provides $250,000 for Science Lab Class Innovations

Professor Joseph Pesek

In this way, the project will provide undergraduate research opportunities and benefit the next generation of college students.

This aligns well with Professor Pesek’s record of service, including more than four decades of teaching and mentoring experience, almost entirely at San Jose State.

The professor has helped nearly 100 graduate students complete their theses, mentored 60 undergraduate research students in his lab, and he’s not done yet.

“If we are successful,” Pesek said, “our work could touch hundreds if not thousands of lab science students, depending on how many institutions adopt the new protocols for use in their teaching laboratories.”

The W.M. Keck Foundation supports pioneering discoveries in science, engineering and medical research.

In the area of education, the foundation supports undergraduate programs that promote inventive approaches to instruction and effective involvement of students in research.

NBC Bay Area: Congressman Visits SJSU to See Impact of Sequestration Cuts

NBC Bay Area: Congressman Visits SJSU to See Impact of Sequestration Cuts

NBC Bay Area: Congressman Visits SJSU to See Impact of Sequestration Cuts

NBC Bay Area interviews SJSU student Vanessa Jimenez.

Posted by NBC Bay Area Sept. 5, 2013.

South Bay Congressman Mike Honda toured the science labs at San Jose State University to get a better understanding of how students are being affected by federal cuts. Damian Trujillo reports. Read more about the event and the Minority Access to Research Careers program.

SJSU Remembers Professor Sally Veregge: “A Loved and Respected Teacher”

SJSU Remembers Professor Sally Veregge: “A Loved and Respected Teacher”

Professor Sally Veregge

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

SJSU lost an outstanding teacher and true believer in mentoring all students, especially young women scientists, when Professor of Biology Sally Ann Veregge lost her battle against cancer Sept. 22. She was 66.

Services will be held 10 a.m. Sept. 26, at the Wesley United Methodist Church, 566 N. Fifth St, San Jose. In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully requests donations to the First United Methodist Church of San Jose or the Department of Biological Sciences at San Jose State.

Donate online or send checks to the Tower Foundation of San Jose State University, One Washington Square, San Jose, CA, 95192-0183. Please note the purpose of the gift: “Department of Biological Sciences, in memory of Professor Veregge.”

Many Contributions

An obituary published by the San Jose Mercury News notes Professor Veregge’s many contributions to the university community:

“Sally thoroughly immersed herself in education and the integration of education within the world … She brought her strong educational background and eclectic working background to the Department of Biological Sciences … in 1984, where she taught a wide variety of courses rose to the rank of professor and chair …

“Quietly innovative as a professor, Sally collaborated with others to create interdisciplinary curricula such as one of the first Professional Science Masters in the country, a master’s in biotechnology, providing students strong internship opportunities in the valley, and working closely with the hospitals and clinics in the area to build and support a Clinical Laboratory Science program.

“Sally was a loved and respected teacher. She treated every student as if he or she was her only student. She spread the ability to learn and the love of learning to thousands of students. She engaged students in her research laboratory as well. Students from high school, undergraduate and graduate students worked collaboratively to tackle the impact of gonadal steroids on the brain including estrogen’s impact on epilepsy.

Encouraging Girls to Study Science

“Sally was also a longstanding organizer and contributor to Expanding Your Horizons which served over 800 young girls every year to encourage them to pursue studies and work in science and engineering. She was a ‘Teacher-Scholar’ at SJSU and was named 2002 ‘Woman of Achievement’ award at the 28th Annual Women’s Fund of Silicon Valley among many academic honors …

“Sally always saw the positives in people and situations. Beyond words, this was often expressed by her trademark smile that she used frequently. We will keep Sally in our hearts and minds by remembering how she enjoyed life and respected and helped others; how she was always strong in spirit and conviction, lived life to the fullest, and cherished her family and friends.”

Students Gain Biotech Insights at Annual Symposium

Students and Faculty Members Present Research, Meet Colleagues at CSU Biotech Symposium

Students Gain Biotech Insights at Annual Symposium

Johann Zaroli and Minh Pham, student researchers in Dr. Miri VanHoven's laboratory, collaborated on research presented at the 24th Annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium (CSU Public Affairs photo).

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

Faculty members and students interested in biotech converged on the Santa Clara Marriott Jan. 5-7 for the 24th Annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium, presented by the CSU Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB).

“Due to the proximity of the meeting, it’s not surprising that SJSU had the largest number of participants among all CSU campuses, about 56 out of 600 attendees,” Associate Professor of Chemistry Daryl Eggers said.

“Another item worth noting is that SJSU has received more research funding from CSUPERB over the past three-year period than any other campus!” Eggers added.

Eight finalists for the Don Eden Graduate Student Research Award were selected from among the 23 CSU campuses, including Johann Zaroli, Biological Sciences ’13. He presented “Understanding the molecular mechanisms that mediate axon outgrowth termination in C. elegans,” which looked at factors that control neuron length, work that could help advance spinal cord repair.

Nine finalists for the Glenn Nagel Undergraduate Student Research Award were selected from among the 23 CSU campuses, including Ngoc-Han Tran, Biological Sciences ’13, who presented “Optimization of hybrid P450 enzymes activity for the light-initiated selective hydroxylation of substrate C-H bond.”

Ngoc standing in front of her poster.

Ngoc-Han Tran, a student researcher in Dr. Cheruzel's laboratory, also presented at CSUPERB (Ishraq Alsadhan photo).

Next year’s conference will feature finalists for a new competition, the Early-Stage Biotechnology Commercialization Challenge, which will help students pickup entrepreneurial skills as they develop a life sciences idea into a commercial product.

The symposium — designed to broaden exposure to cutting-edge biotechnologies, product-focused innovation and the spectrum of career paths available in the life sciences — also offered students and faculty members opportunities to meet colleagues and mentors.

Eggers, the CSUPERB Biofuels Taskforce chair, moderated a panel discussion on “Biodiesel Fuels from Local Agricultural Waste Products” and “Chemical Education and Green Materials.”

Assistant Professor of Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging Kasuen Mauldin and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Lionel Cheruzel moderated roundtable discussions on work-life balance and “Where Will a Graduate Degree Take Me?”

Eggers, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Miri VanHoven, and Professor of Chemical and Materials Engineering Guna Selvaduray lead SJSU’s CSUPERB team.

Grad Students Get Cracking on Walnut Research

Students Get Cracking on Walnut Research

Students Get Cracking on Walnut Research

Students Ahn Pham and John Kim help research how walnuts might affect breast cancer activity (Dillon Adams photo).

By Amanda Holst, Public Affairs Assistant

Most people think of walnuts as seasonal snacks. But for a small team of determined SJSU researchers, they hold so much more potential, perhaps even a cure to cancer.

Thanks to a modest, two-year grant from the California Walnut Board, Assistant Professor Brandon White’s cancer biology lab has the opportunity to explore the effect walnut chemicals might have on breast cancer.

“The goal is to take walnuts and try to purify the different components that have cytotoxic activity,” White said. “We’re interested in understanding specifically how they work in cancer, how they kill cancer cells.”

The California Walnut Board provided the team $80,000 over two years and 25 pounds of shelled walnuts for the research, conducted in part by two students.

“I think the most important lesson I am learning is just how to be patient and persevere through the project to achieve new data or understanding of the material,” said researcher John Kim.

Such work is beneficial for students planning to pursue graduate work, including doctoral programs, medical school or dental school, according to White.

“It’s about making connections and seeing how things work in a real-world setting,” he said. “These are experiences that sometimes you don’t get in the classroom.”

Potent Compounds

For this project, White and Professor of Organic Chemistry Roy Okuda have developed what they describe as a “true collaboration between chemistry and biology.”

While White focuses on biological activity, Okuda is working on the chemistry isolation and identification.

“My particular area of specialty is called natural products chemistry, where we investigate novel chemicals from living organisms as potentially new pharmaceuticals,” Okuda said.

According to Okuda, the first step is to purify a compound and then identify it.

“We are still in the process of purifying compounds, but there does appear to be something in there which is quite potent,” he said.

The Nature of Disease

Getting the research published and then continuing the work is Okuda’s ultimate goal.

“This chemical may not end up being used in drugs,” he said. “But our research could  be very helpful in terms of understanding the nature of the disease.”

Student researcher Anh Pham shares the same long-term outlook.

“My goal is to try to produce as much as useful information as possible,” he said, “so that somebody else can come along and make something good out of it.”

Female student mixing chemicals in a beaker.

SJSU Launches Program Training Highly Specialized Clinical Lab Workers

Female student mixing chemicals in a beaker.

The partnership is a good example of how SJSU and the CSU are providing the state with the workforce needed to power our economy.

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

Among the many new students on campus this fall around are over a dozen post-graduates seeking to become licensed “clinical genetic molecular biologist scientists.” And yes, their work is as complex as the abbreviation (CGMBS) suggests.

To simplify things, these students have begun a 52-week pilot program combining academic and hands-on training so that they can help perform research that may result in pharmaceutical breakthroughs improving our well being.

Leveraging a U.S. Department of Labor American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Grant, and a State of California administered stimulus grant, SJSU developed the program in partnership with the San Mateo County Health System and four Bay Area diagnostics companies: XDx, Veracyte, Siemens Medical Solutions Diagnostics, Navigenics and Hunter Laboratories.

Monday through Thursday, students work in labs at these companies. On Friday, they head to campus for a lecture course taught by biology Assistant Professor Brandon White. The program is coordinated by SJSU Clinical Laboratory Scientist (CLS) Training Program Director Suzanne Gayrard.

The CLS and CGMBS efforts are inter-related. Until this program was established, hospitals would train CLS professionals, who would then be hired away by diagnostics companies in need of CGMBS professionals.

“In general, hospitals cannot train people in molecular techniques because they don’t have enough of that kind of testing in their test menus.  That’s why biotech companies have been hiring clinical laboratory scientists from hospitals to work for them,” Gayrard explained.

So creating a CGMBS program not only fills a niche needed by a growing field, but also frees CLS professionals for other work elsewhere in the health care industry. With plans to replicate this statewide, the program is a good example of how SJSU and the CSU are providing the state with the workforce needed to power our economy.

To learn more about the CGMBS and CLS programs, contact Sue Gayrard at (408) 924-4898.

SJSU in the News: San Jose State Leverages Federal Funds to Train Clinical Lab Scientists Statewide

Lab worker shortage threatens hot industry

Originally published by the San Francisco Business Times Aug. 26, 2011.

By Ron Leuty

A tug-of-war for hiring specialized, hard-to-find lab workers could pull a potential growth industry out of California.

Molecular diagnostic test companies — part of the personalized medicine boom — are competing with hospitals and reference labs for master’s degree-level clinical laboratory scientists, or CLSs. That conflict is driving wages higher, company leaders say, as underfunded job-training programs can’t keep up with demand.

But leaders in the life sciences industry and academia will launch a program in September that could alleviate the supply-demand crush. Tapping federal economic stimulus program cash, the program will narrow the scope of CLS training for molecular diagnostics companies, helping them land the workers they need to quickly send test results back to doctors and patients.

At the same time, the new program could allow hospitals to hold onto more broadly trained lab workers.

“Because they are in high demand, they get paid more,” said Pierre Cassigneul, president and CEO of Brisbane’s XDx Inc. “We are happy to pay, but the issue is really getting enough of those people.”

Growth problem

It’s a simple supply-demand issue, made more acute by the growth of Bay Area diagnostics companies like XDx, Genomic Health Inc. Those companies have developed tests that can predict, in the case of Redwood City’s Genomic Health, the likelihood that a type of breast cancer will recur after treatment.

CLS-trained employees process those tests as they arrive from doctors’ offices worldwide.

XDx has seven CLSs. The company has run more than 30,000 tests through its lab.

By 2013, as test volume grows, XDx likely will have to decide whether it will double its Bay Area operations lab — but keep its research lab here — or open a second operations lab in the East or move the entire operation, Cassigneul said.

The ability to find enough CLS graduates to fill positions with salaries of $50,000 or more will play into the decision, Cassigneul said.

“It will take about two months to find a replacement (CLS),” Cassigneul said. “That’s much longer than for any scientist working in the research lab.”

XDx isn’t alone.

It can take Palo Alto-based CardioDx as long as three months to fill an open CLS position, said President and CEO David Levison. It has less than a dozen CLS workers.

CardioDx, whose simple blood test measures the RNA levels of 23 genes to help determine whether a heart patient’s symptoms are due to obstructive coronary artery disease, has processed more than 15,000 of the tests through its lab.

“We clearly need to grow the CLS ranks going forward,” said Levison, who also sits on the XDx board of directors.

Help wanted

People with CLS degrees are generalists and deal with more complex tests, while medical lab technicians can be trained at community colleges and process less-complex tests.

Such programs are largely self-supporting, with industry internships largely determining how many slots a program will have each year.

So if only 10 hospitals, reference labs or molecular diagnostics companies say they can support a large part of the $50,000 to $100,000 cost of training a CLS student, only 10 slots will be available.

The 52-week master’s-level CLS program at San Jose State enrolls 15 to 25 people each year, said Mark Butler, grant program manager for San Jose State University San Jose State University Latest from The Business Journals Qayoumi plans SJSU funding strategyQayoumi plans SJSU funding strategy for tough fiscal timesSan Jose State scores new stadium scoreboard, sound system Follow this company .

Traditionally, hospitals have provided those internship slots, with some CLS students then moving over to smaller or rural hospitals that can’t afford to underwrite training. But as the molecular diagnostics industry has grown over the past five years, it has been plucking more CLS program graduates from hospitals and training them specifically to handle molecular tests.

At the same time, Butler said, cost-conscious hospitals are less able to fund CLS internships.

“When you think about the shortage in the state and that there are two programs up here, we really do have a crisis,” said Lori Lindburg, director of the BayBio Institute, who has worked on job-training programs.

“The problem is, we can probably continue to poach from the hospitals,” Lindburg said, “so it’s probably more of a problem for the hospitals.”

Jeffery O’Neal, statewide director of a biotech initiative within the California community college system’s economic and workforce development program, said schools probably could offer 15 percent more classes than they are. “The demand is there,” he said.

The money, however, is not.

“If (CLS programs) didn’t have to be wholly self-supporting, it would be easier to increase capacity,” Butler said.

On top of that, the CLS workforce is aging, staying on the job in some cases because of the poor economy or because employers are offering bonuses or higher salaries, O’Neal said. The average age of a CLS worker is the late 50s.

“We risk losing the jobs because we’re not training the next wave of the workforce,” O’Neal said. “We may be losing jobs and losing companies.”
Narrowing the problem

Help, however, may be on the way, thanks to a federal economic stimulus program grant.

BayBio, the Northern California life sciences industry trade group, is working with San Jose State to launch a program in September that will spin out a narrower set of CLS skills that are needed by molecular diagnostic labs.

“There’s so much going on in the field right now that you want them to be focused,” said Maryanne Weinell, a consultant working with San Jose State.

Four Bay Area diagnostics companies — XDx, Veracyte Inc. in South San Francisco, Siemens Medical Solutions Diagnostics Siemens Medical Solutions Diagnostics Latest from The Business Journals QB3 houses mavericks both old and newSales jump at Celera GroupMagellan taps new science chief Follow this company in Berkeley and Navigenics Inc. of Foster City — and San Mateo County Public Health will participate in the pilot, Weinell said.

The program is funded in part by a $5 million federal stimulus grant that over two years is expected to train some 200 lab professionals in California. Besides San Jose State, programs will begin this fall for the specialized molecular lab scientist at California State University, Los Angeles, and Cal Poly.

“If we’re successful, we can go after more Labor (Department) dollars to expand this,” BayBio’s Lindburg said.

Chemistry student wearing goggles transfers liquid in glass beaker.

New Partnership Between SJSU and Stanford to Train Teacher-Scholars for Tomorrow

student working in a lab

A newly awarded National Institutes of Health grant will enable a diverse community of postdoctoral scholars to become leading academic teacher-scholars in all areas of biology and chemistry.

By Brandon White, Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences

A newly awarded developmental grant will enable a team from Stanford University and San Jose State University to educate a diverse community of postdoctoral scholars who will become leading academic teacher-scholars in all areas of biology and chemistry.

This project is funded by one of 18 Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Awards (IRACDA) from the National Institutes of Health. The award will enable post-doctoral scholars to combine a traditional mentored research experience with an opportunity to develop teaching skills through assignments at SJSU, a minority-serving institution.

Professor Joseph D. (Jody) Puglisi, Chairman of the Department of Structural Biology at Stanford University School of Medicine, is the director of the program and will oversee the research efforts of the scholars at Stanford. Professor Brandon White in the Department of Biological Sciences at SJSU will serve as co-director and oversee the teaching efforts of the scholars at SJSU.

This training grant will offer the scholars a unique opportunity to get practical, mentored teaching experiences while simultaneously expanding their research skills. Postdocs who have had the IRACDA experience become highly desirable faculty candidates because they already have demonstrated their desire and willingness to become competent teachers.

The program will include three years of concurrent research training and teaching instruction for the scholars. The first four scholars will begin the program in September 2011, and four to five scholars will be recruited each year. A total of 14 scholars will be in the program at its peak.

According to the NIH Program description, “the program is expected to facilitate the progress of postdoctoral candidates toward research and teaching careers in academia” and to “provide a resource to motivate the next generation of scientists at minority-serving institutions, and to promote linkages between research-intensive institutions and minority-serving institutions that can lead to further collaborations in research and teaching.”

In their first year, in addition to conducting their research, postdoctoral scholars will select a class at SJSU that they are interested in teaching and meet with the faculty member who normally teaches that class. Also during their first year, the scholars will take a class preparing them to develop pedagogy, effectively utilize on-line course content, and advise undergraduate students. In year two, the scholars will team teach their selected class with their faculty mentor. In the third year, the scholar will advise SJSU students in the Department of Biological Sciences as well as recruit students from SJSU to participate in research at Stanford.

The scholars will become role models for the students of SJSU, inspiring them to pursue a career in science or technology or to continue their education in a graduate program.

Close up of two sharks in clear ocean water.

SJSU Professor Helps Discover “Marine Serengeti”

Professor Shaffer tags an albatross.

Professor Shaffer tags an albatross.

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

An unprecedented effort to tag and track sea creatures of all kinds by researchers including Professor of Biological Sciences Scott Shaffer has resulted in discoveries that will help protect and conserve biodiversity.

In Nature June 22, the researchers describe “two vast areas of the north Pacific Ocean, one off the west coast of the United States and the other between Hawaii and Alaska” as “marine counterparts of East Africa’s Serengeti plain. Teeming with life, these oceanic ‘hotspots’ provide major migration corridors for large marine predators ranging from tuna to whales.”

Nature News, an affiliate of the journal Nature, also noted that “knowing where and when species overlap is valuable information for efforts to manage and protect critical species and ecosystems.”

“The new paper is the culmination of a decade-long effort to track the movements of top marine predators in the Pacific Ocean. It provides a remarkable picture of migration pathways and critical habitats for these species,” said the University of California, Santa Cruz, which contributed to the effort.