Two SJSU Students Win at CSU-Wide Research Competitions

Lupe Franco and Muhammad Khan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving a voice to a vulnerable population

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new approach to mitigating disease spread

Muhammad Khan research presentation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about Khan’s research here.

James Nguyen contributed to this story.

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.

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

Kim Blisniuk, Associate Professor of Geology

Photo: Patrick Record

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

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

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

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

Read the full story about Blisniuk’s findings here.

New Study Sheds Light on Endangered Seabirds and the Need for International Protection

Laysan and black-footed albatrosses at Tern Island, French Frigate Shoals, Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Photo credit: SJSU Professor Scott Shaffer

SJSU Biological Sciences Professor Scott Shaffer and an international team of researchers published a paper in the scientific journal Science Advances on endangered seabirds’ movements and the need to protect these highly threatened seabirds using a global approach.

The researchers tracked the movements of 5,775 individual birds belonging to 39 species from across the globe. The birds were equipped with bio-loggers, or miniature electronic data recorders, at 87 remote breeding sites in 17 countries.

In the Pacific Ocean alone, researchers studied albatrosses at colonies on the Japanese island of Torishima in the North Pacific, to subantarctic islands of New Zealand and Australia in the South Pacific, which hosts some of the highest diversity of albatrosses and petrels globally.

“This was a truly international effort for a global conservation need,” said Professor Shaffer. “Hopefully, the results of this research will bring about meaningful change to protect these amazing ocean travelers.”

The researchers found that all albatrosses and petrels studied spend at least 39% of their time on the high seas, which are international waters where no single country has jurisdiction. Yet, these high seas regions cover half of the world’s oceans and a third of the earth’s surface. They discovered all species regularly cross into other countries’ territorial waters, meaning that no single nation can adequately ensure their conservation.

“Seabirds like albatrosses are the ultimate globetrotters,” said Martin Beal, lead author of the study at the Marine and Environmental Sciences Centre at Instituto Universitário in Lisbon, Portugal (ISPA). “But this incredible lifestyle makes them vulnerable to threats in places where legal protection is inadequate.”

Albatrosses and large petrels are among the world’s most threatened animals, with over half of the species at risk of extinction. While at sea, they face many threats, including injury or death from entanglement with fishing gear, the impact from pollution, and loss of their natural prey due to overfishing and climate change.

“This means that a Black-footed Albatross breeding in the protected Northwest Hawaiian Islands can fall victim to a fishing operation from any number of flag nations on the high seas,” said Professor Shaffer. “Protective measures to avoid bird entanglements are not standardized, and it’s a real challenge to verify compliance at any given time.”

For example, the endangered Amsterdam Albatross spends 47% of its time in the international waters of the Indian Ocean. Although it benefits from strong protection at its only breeding colony on Amsterdam Island (one of the French Southern Territories), its conservation at sea is much more challenging.

When roaming the seas in search of their prey—squid, the fewer than 100 remaining adult Amsterdam Albatrosses use a vast area stretching from South Africa to Australia, requiring international coordination to minimize the risk of being killed in fishing gear.

In a global-scale collaboration, the team of researchers revealed the extent to which seabirds connect countries, as well as to the high seas. The study comes as the United Nations discusses a global treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in international waters.

“Our study unequivocally shows that albatrosses and large petrels need reliable protection that extends beyond the borders of any single country,” said Beal. “This treaty represents a massive opportunity for countries to commit to protecting species wherever they may roam.”

Legal measures up for discussion under the treaty include instituting environmental impact assessments on industrial activities in the high seas.  Beal added, “Animals have no concept of human borders. What we have shown here with seabirds is certainly true for many other marine animals, like sea turtles, seals, whales, and fish. To ensure their survival, we must work together to protect and conserve the global ocean.”

The study was made possible thanks to the cooperation of dozens of researchers across 16 countries, who agreed to share their data through the Seabird Tracking Database, a repository managed by BirdLife International to facilitate international collaborations between researchers working on the conservation of seabirds.

SJSU Hosts Wildfire Briefing: Addressing Wildfire and Smoke Impacts in California

(L-R) Vincent J. Del Casino, SJSU Provost, Eli Goodsell, Director of Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserves, California State University, Chico, Craig Clements, Professor and Director of the Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center, San José State University

Wildfire is one of the most critical issues facing California in the 21st century. According to CalFire, five of the top 20 wildfires in California occurred in 2020, including the largest single fire in state history. The agency reports a record 4.2 million acres burned,10,500 structures damaged or destroyed, and 33 people killed due to wildfires in 2020 alone.

To address the problem, San José State University brought together wildfire experts from across the California State University (CSU) system at the Addressing Wildfire and Smoke Impacts in California briefing on January 15, 2021.

California State Senator John Laid, representing District 17, provided opening remarks at the briefing.

“Simply put, we are at an inflection point about wildland fire in California,” Senator Laird said. “We have to work to make sure we change how California responds, and that is the important message of today.”

Wildfire experts from eight CSU campuses participated in the briefing, including:

  • Lisa Bentley, Assistant Professor, Sonoma State University
  • Craig Clements, Professor and Director of the Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center, San José State University
  • Eli Goodsell, Director of Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserves, California State University, Chico
  • Megan Jennings, Assistant Adjunct Professor and Director of the Institute for Ecological Monitoring and Management, San Diego State University
  • Jeff Kane, Associate Professor and Director of the Wildland Fire Laboratory, Humboldt State University
  • Matt E. Rahn, Director of the Environmental Leadership Institute, California State University, San Marcos
  • Michael Thomas, Retired Chief for Los Angeles Fire Department and Assistant Professor at CAL State, LA
  • Dan Turner, Interim Director of the Wildland Urban Interface Institute, California Polytechnic State University

The experts discussed the impacts of climate change on landscapes and species; the need to look at the wildland-urban interface and community build-outs; the risk to vulnerable populations, especially indigenous communities and those that have been impacted by wildfires already; and the massive economic impacts of wildfires.

Each CSU representative also talked about how their campus is helping to mitigate wildfires and wildfire smoke impacts through research, analysis, state-of-the-art prediction tools, and educating future wildfire scientists.

SJSU Professor and Director of the Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center Craig Clements told participants, “Our Fire and Smoke Prediction System (WRF-SFIRE) is the most advanced forecasting tool in the nation. We ran it operationally over the fires in the Bay Area all fire season. We hope to run it over the entire state of California in 2021 to protect communities from smoke impacts better. To do this, we will need increased computing resources.”

More than 220 people, including local and state legislative staff, government agency officials, industry and academic representatives attended the virtual briefing.

“At the CSU, we are tackling this fast-growing problem head-on by making investments in leading-edge fire research, both basic and applied,” said SJSU Provost Vincent J. Del Casino, who moderated the briefing. “We are also passionate about educating the next generation of fire scientists at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Workforce development, which builds resilience in communities and natural environments, is a key part of the DNA of the CSU.”

The recording of the Addressing Wildfire and Smoke Impacts in California briefing is here

Learn more about SJSU’s research and work related to wildfires:

SJSU Establishes the Nation’s Largest Interdisciplinary Research Center in the Read about San José State’s Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center

Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center at SJSU

 

 

SJSU Establishes the Nation’s Largest Academic Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center

Largest Cluster Hire of Wildfire Scientists at a University

Photo: Robert Bain/San José State University

San José State University has established the largest academic Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center (WIRC) in the United States with five new tenure-track faculty members and millions of dollars in new technology. The purpose of the new center is to serve as the leading institution in California, providing modern, state-of-knowledge on wildfire science and management.

“In just the past few years, wildfires have scorched California’s landscape, burning millions of acres, injuring and killing hundreds of people and causing billions of dollars in damages. Dealing with this challenge requires interdisciplinary solutions,” said College of Science Dean Michael Kaufman. “The advanced wildfire research enabled by this new center is needed now more than ever before.”

WIRC is housed in the College of Science and will work through an interdisciplinary model with the College of Social Sciences and the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering. WIRC’s new integrated and interdisciplinary academic team specialize in the following areas:

  • Fire Ecology (Biology)
  • Fire and Fluid Dynamics (Mechanical Engineering)
  • Wildfire Behavior Modeling and Wildfire Meteorology (Meteorology)
  • Wildfire Remote Sensing (Meteorology)
  • Wildfire Management and Policy (Environmental Studies)

Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science and Director of the Fire Weather Research Lab Craig Clements will serve as director of the new Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center. Four newly hired tenure-track faculty members join him in wildfire science and management:

Adam Kochanski

Assistant Professor of Wildfire Meteorology

His research interests include fire-atmosphere interactions, including air quality impacts of wildland fires. He is an international leader in wildfire modeling with extensive experience in running numerical simulations of fire, smoke and regional climate on high-performance computing platforms.

Amanda M. Stasiewicz

Assistant Professor of Wildfire Management in the Department of Environmental Studies

Her research focuses on the human dimensions of wildfire, community adaptation to wildfire risk in the wildland-urban interface, and citizen-agency conflict and cooperation during wildfire preparation, prevention and wildfire response (e.g., suppression, evacuation).

Ali Tohidi

Assistant Professor of Fire and Fluid Dynamics in the Department of Mechanical Engineering

His research interests are at the nexus of experimental, data-driven and mathematical modeling of nonlinear spatiotemporal processes across different scales. His current research focus is understanding wildfire spread mechanisms, including firebrand (ember) generation, transport and spot fire ignition, as well as applications of data-driven methods in physics-based models.

Kate Wilkin

Assistant Professor of Fire Ecology in the Department of Biological Sciences

She has nearly 20 years of experience in natural resource management, outreach and research. Her research focuses on living sustainability in fire-prone ecosystems: wildfire recovery of communities and natural lands, prescribed fire on private lands and wildfire mitigation, including fire-resistant homes, defensible space and fuel treatments.

A fifth tenure-track faculty member in wildfire remote sensing with expertise in monitoring wildfire behavior and developing novel airborne remote sensing technologies will join the team in January 2021.

These new faculty members will join three other faculty members at SJSU:

Craig Clements

Director of the WIRC and Fire Weather Research Laboratory and Professor of Meteorology

He has more than 20 years of experience designing meteorological and wildfire field experiments. His research aims to better understand the complexities of fire weather in mountain areas, including extreme fire behavior in canyons and wildfire plume dynamics. His work has pioneered the deployment of novel observation systems to wildfire incidents to study fire weather phenomena.

Patrick Brown

Assistant Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science

He is a climate scientist who conducts research on weather and climate and how they interact with society. He currently conducts research on the relationship between climate and wildfire risk.

Mike Voss

Staff Meteorologist and Technician; Lecturer in the Meteorology and Climate Science Department

He has more than 25 years of experience forecasting California weather, focusing on fire weather and extreme weather events.

“San José State is bringing together some of the top academic experts in the world who have extensive experience in wildfire science, management, climate and meteorological research,” said Clements. “This is truly a world-class group that is passionate about advancing wildfire science.”

The WIRC will employ an advanced, next-generation, wildfire-atmosphere forecasting system and a suite of mobile assets to conduct research in the field. These assets include two customized trucks equipped with Doppler radar and one truck equipped with Doppler LiDAR. These are the only mobile fire weather units in the United States. They are also the only fire weather research units in the nation qualified to go behind fire lines.

“These new technologies will strengthen the prediction, monitoring and management of wildfire throughout California,” said Clements.

“San José State University’s initial investment in the Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center demonstrates our commitment to advancing wildfire research and to the state of California as it faces one of the most pressing problems the 21st century,” said Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Vincent J. Del Casino Jr. “I am confident there is more to come.”

STEM Faculty Members Receive $1.69M NSF Grant Award

SJSU community members participating in STEM education program.

Photo: David Schmitz

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has recently awarded a $1.69 million grant to San José State’s faculty members for a research proposal titled “Transforming Undergraduate Teaching and Learning Through Culturally Sustaining, Active and Asset-Based Approaches to Introductory Science Courses” that aims to increase diversity, inclusion and retention in STEM.

Over the course of the next five years, the STEM research team led by Cassandra Paul, associate professor of physics and astronomy, and science education, will be employing innovative instructional approaches to reduce attrition rates in introductory STEM courses.

“The goal of this grant is to increase student success and graduation rates for undergraduate students and, more specifically, for Latinx and other students belonging to regional, racial and ethnic minority groups,” said Paul, principal investigator of the project.

Historically, the attrition rates in STEM courses are highest during the first two years of college, especially among Latinx and underrepresented minority students. “We want to make sure that we’re listening to what the students are bringing with them to SJSU, and engaging with them more actively,” said Paul.

According to Pamela Stacks, associate vice president of research, the beauty of the kind of research that Paul and her team are doing is that it not only tells us about Latinx students but provides insights into all students.

“Getting this grant opportunity means that STEM faculty members can now be more collaborative and informed about connections between different STEM disciplines, and also they’ll be able to identify issues students are struggling with,” said Stacks. Stacks added, “eventually when the research gets published, it will impact a much bigger audience and, in the process, elevate our whole institution.”

Co-PIs Tammie Visintainer, assistant professor of teacher education and science education, and Marcos Pizzaro, associate dean of the Lurie College of Education, have lent their expertise in educational equity to the project. Their research and service work informs the culturally sustaining and asset-based approach of this work.

“This grant is truly unique because it explores introductory science instruction as something that needs to be more inclusive and leverage the diverse resources that Latinx and other students of color bring with them—which has consistently been ignored and/or not celebrated in institutions of higher education,” said Visintainer, who played a significant role in writing the grant.

Part of the impetus for the grant, according to Paul, came about during informal meetings with STEM faculty members Resa Kelly, professor of chemistry and science education, and Katherine Wilkinson, associate professor of biological sciences, who are also co-PIs for the project. The idea to better align and link content across different courses like biology, chemistry and physics motivated the team to create a cohesive experience for students entering STEM majors.

The novel part, said Visintainer, “is how faculty “see” students of color and how this shapes their instruction.”

“The innovative approach of this grant is that we are specifically seeking to identify the cultural wealth, assets, and strengths that uniquely position Latinx students to thrive and succeed in STEM disciplines – and tapping into those,” said Visintainer.

The entire first year of the five-year grant will be spent on collecting data, talking to students and interviewing them, and also learning more about their experiences.

“The first year is really about getting a better understanding of what the students’ STEM experience is at SJSU in order to be better informed for the next stages of the grant,” Paul said. Subsequently, the team has plans to develop new faculty learning communities that will engage with the data, identify different aspects of the curriculum, and then adapt and align content to ensure a coherent experience for the students.

Since it’s a grant with a particular focus on Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI), Tammie Visintainer said, “we are going to focus on that population while also transforming science and undergraduate education for everybody.”

Stacks agrees that gender, race and ethnicity elements are crucial in STEM, she thinks that diversity of thought is what the community should strive for. “What’s more powerful as we become more inclusive is that we expand the intellectual elements, and then we make possible solutions to how we approach things,” said Stacks.

Stacks said that Paul has implemented a radical reform process in her physics classes since joining SJSU in 2012. Besides improvising on teaching style and technique, Paul is also experimenting with grade scales that are different from the traditional percent scale for assessing students. “We saw our fail rates go way down. And so our students are much more successful in the course,” said Paul. “We’ve also started group quizzes and group portions of the finals. So every aspect of the class has a community element to it,” she added.

“In this moment in history, the most exciting part of this grant is that it creates space for a true reimagining of undergraduate STEM education,” said Visintainer.

The other important aspect of the grant is that the research faculty members were supported for preliminary research by CSU STEM-NET (a system-wide research affinity group) that promotes research, community building and innovative educational ideas across the CSU university system.

Diversity in STEM Master’s Degrees Recognized

Professor sits with science students in lab.

Photo courtesy of Miri VanHoven.

The July 23 issue of Diverse Issues in Higher Education highlighted a list of institutions that best produce minority post-baccalaureate graduates in STEM fields. San José State took multiple honors.

In addition to its regular annual top 100 rankings, Diverse published an expanded list highlighting master’s degrees in the STEM fields of engineering, math and statistics, and physical science. SJSU was included on all three lists.

In granting a master’s in engineering, SJSU ranked #5 in diversity among all institutions, any size, public or private. Rounding out the top five were Georgia Tech, UC Berkeley, USC, and Stanford. Minorities also earned SJSU master’s degrees at high rates in:

  • Mathematics and statistics: #13
  • Physical sciences: #52

This analysis was based on master’s degrees conferred in the 2017-2018 academic year.

Marc d’Alarcao, dean of the College of Graduate Studies, said, “One of our priorities in the College of Graduate Studies (CGS) is to assure that the grad student population reflects the diversity of the community. Although we still have more work to do, we’re delighted to be recognized in this way.”

In March, the CGS hired Dr. Amy Leisenring as associate dean of inclusive student success. Her work, d’Alarcao said, would “continue to deepen an examination of our practices in the College of Graduate Studies, focusing on making them inclusive and equitable.”

“San Jose State University is proud of its role in serving all students seeking graduate degrees in STEM fields,” President Mary A. Papazian said. “SJSU has a legacy of a commitment to inclusion, and sending our diverse group of talented STEM graduates into the Silicon Valley workforce and beyond, and on to advanced degrees, is just one way we demonstrate that commitment.”

In 2019, SJSU ranked #1 for total minorities receiving master’s degrees in Diverse’s library science category, and #1 for Asian Americans, Hispanics, and African Americans.

Bachelor’s Degree Diversity across All Fields

San José State University has also previously topped the magazine’s charts for diversity in bachelor’s degrees awarded.

San José State was the #1 school in the country in Diverse‘s rankings for producing Asian American bachelor’s degree graduates in visual and performing arts, and in business administration, management and operations. For both those undergraduate majors, the school ranked #3 nationwide in total minorities (including Hispanic, African American, Native American, and graduates who list multiple ethnicities).

For all disciplines combined, SJSU ranked #5 in the 2019 data for Asian American bachelor’s degrees, split evenly between men (1285) and women (1262).

Those same rankings show SJSU placing tenth in all minorities completing a bachelor’s in the two fields of communication/journalism/related degrees and natural resources and conservation. Nationally, SJSU ranked #6 in engineering bachelor’s degrees for all minorities.

“The diversity of the undergraduate program reflects the larger community,” d’Alarcao said, “and we hope undergraduate students stay on for graduate school, further increasing our diversity there.”

These recognitions come on the heels of recent rankings demonstrating SJSU’s excellence at facilitating social mobility. Last year, U.S. News and World Report added a ranking for social mobility that compares how well universities and colleges do in graduating Pell grant-eligible students. SJSU ranked #3 among public universities in the West, and #5 overall for the region.

NSF Awards $1.5M to Fund STEM Curricula for Students with Visual Impairments

A student with visual impairment touches a 3D model.

A student explores a 3D printed tactile model of the constellation Orion. The spherical stars have diameters that represent their true relative brightnesses and are attached to posts whose lengths indicate the stars’ true relative distances from the Earth. Photo: Professor Thomas Madura/San José State University.

Multiple 3D printers assembled by students with visual impairment.

3D printers assembled by students with VI at the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons in Kalamazoo, MI. Photo: Professor Thomas Madura/San José State University.

Researchers from San José State University, The Ohio State University and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) located at John Hopkins University have been awarded a $1.5 million dollar Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curricula for students with blindness and visual impairments (VI).

The funding will be used to research and develop STEM Career Exploration Labs (CELs) where students with VI can learn about STEM, career opportunities in STEM and develop STEM skills.

“Students will participate in hands-on activities such as assembling and using desktop 3D printers and using 3D printed models and sound to learn astronomical topics, such as celestial motion and lunar phases,” said Principal Investigator and San José State University Assistant Professor Thomas Madura. “Spatial thinking is particularly important for students with VI, who touch their surroundings and gather information via sound to form mental images and make sense of the world.”

The STEM Career Exploration Labs will also include interactions with STEM professionals with VI and field trips to local businesses that offer insights into STEM careers. The CELs will serve high school students from ages 14 to 20 with VI, their sighted peers, STEM high school teachers and teachers of the visually impaired.  The Council of Schools for the Blind will help recruit students and teachers for the program.

Previously, researchers conducted two pilot workshops including one in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs’ Bureau of Services for Blind Persons and the South Carolina Commission For the Blind in Columbia, South Carolina.

“In the workshops, the students explored current research data obtained with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope through 3D prints,” said Hubble Space Telescope Outreach Project Scientist at STScI Dr. Carol Christian. “The use of such tactile materials allows students to discover the wonder as well as some of the scientific detail of the astrophysical universe.”

A student with visual impairment holds a 3D printed model of the Eta Carinae Homunculus nebula.

A student explores a 3D printed model of the Eta Carinae Homunculus nebula created using observations obtained from the European Southern Observatory’s telescope in Chile. Photo: Professor Thomas Madura/San José State University.

According to Assistant Professor Thomas Madura, there is very little research to date on how students with VI learn science and fewer studies on the impact of technological tools designed for students with VI. Researchers will collect and provide new data by investigating:

  • The effect on students with VI’s understanding of scientific concepts
  • How students participate in the inquiry-based STEM work
  • How the project affects student attitudes towards STEM, STEM careers, and astronomy
  • Assess understanding of spatial thinking skills and astronomy concepts
  • Identify STEM high school teachers’ attitudes towards students with disabilities in STEM classes

Data results will be distributed in a variety of ways, including peer-reviewed research journals, presentations, and workshops at various STEM, astronomy, VI, education, 3D printing, persons with disabilities and related domestic and international conferences.

“We know very little about how persons with visual impairments understand abstract concepts, such as astronomy, as they are presented through 3D models,” said Project Researcher and Associate Professor at The Ohio State University Tiffany Wild. “The results of this research can impact the way we teach astronomy to students with visual impairments and ultimately increase accessibility for all those with visual impairments to the world of astronomy.”

Depending on the current COVID-19 pandemic, researchers plan to set up STEM Career Exploration Labs in public high schools, schools for the blind, and state agencies in 12 states beginning in spring 2021.

NOAA Selects Moss Landing Marine Labs For New CIMEAS Institute

A boat on the water with partial view of being underwater with seaweed.

Photo credit: Scott Gabara, ’14 MS Phycology

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has selected San José State University’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML) to be a founding member of the agency’s new Cooperative Institute for Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Systems (CIMEAS).

The CIMEAS will conduct collaborative, multidisciplinary research on climate, ocean and ecosystems. Its goal is to advance the regional, national, and global understanding of natural and human-caused impacts on our ecosystems and develop sustainable ways to strengthen our environmental and economic well-being.

“Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML) is excited to join the new CIMEAS organization because it provides extraordinary opportunities for our students and researchers to collaborate on important marine research and aquaculture issues,” said MLML Director Jim Harvey. “Our graduate students will benefit greatly by collaborating with NOAA scientists and others to investigate relevant oceanographic problems and to gain important skills as they become the leaders and researchers of the future.”

In partnership with NOAA and other agencies, CIMEAS will conduct research in four main areas focusing on the western U.S., California Current System and the Pacific and Southern oceans. The science will support:

  • ecosystem-based management of living marine resources
  • research, development, and technology innovation for global ocean observations and monitoring
  • coastal and oceanic observations, analysis, and prediction
  • weather, water, and climate research

The institute, led by UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is comprised of a consortium of graduate degree-granting institutions, including MLML, Humboldt State University, Cal State University Los Angeles, Farallon Institute, University of California Davis, University of California Los Angeles, University of California Santa Barbara, and University of California Santa Cruz.

“MLML and SJSU have an excellent reputation for research and education globally, and MLML students have moved on to different levels of research and management that serve the needs of California and the nation,” said MLML Director Jim Harvey. “There are many pressing issues associated with the oceans and coastlines, and MLML is excited to be joining an Institute that will partner with NOAA to understand and help solve these important problems.”

Editors Note:  To learn more about Moss Landing Marine Labs go to Washington Square Magazine

Interdisciplinary Science Building Marks Major Milestone With Topping Out Event

SJSU students sign their names for the topping out event.

SJSU students sign their names for the topping out event. Photo: Robert Bain

Editor’s Note: Story was updated on Tuesday, February 11, after the hoisting of the beam. Additional images and video from the topping out will be added soon.

Some were scribbled while others were written in perfect penmanship. Regardless of how they signed their name at today’s topping out event, hundreds of San Jose State University students, faculty and staff will forever be connected to the Interdisciplinary Science Building (ISB).

Attendees signed the final structural beam for the building before it was hoisted into place shortly after noon on Tuesday, February 11. This ceremonial event marks the latest milestone for the first new academic building on campus in more than 30 years and the first new science facility in nearly 50 years.

“It brings me great joy to see so many members of the campus community taking part in this milestone for an innovative and forward-looking facility that will blend teaching and research, allowing us to explore the intersection between pure learning, application and impact,” said President Mary A. Papazian. “On top of interdisciplinary STEM education, this new building will serve as a beacon of opportunity for our students and faculty members to collaborate with our Silicon Valley industry partners and beyond.”

The eight-story, $181 million ISB is funded using California State University systemwide revenue bonds, and is the first phase of a planned Science Park. The ISB will house chemistry and biology teaching and research lab spaces, an interdisciplinary Center for High-Performance Computing and a data science information lab for the College of Professional and Global Education.

The College of Science serves 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students in the disciplines of biology, chemistry, computer science, geology, mathematics and statistics, marine science, meteorology and climate science, physics and astronomy, and science education. The ISB will have “collaboratories” that allow student research teams to gather away from instrument setups and chemicals to present and discuss results. In addition, the building will have collaborative hubs on every floor for students and faculty members to work together.

“The topping out of the Interdisciplinary Science Building brings us one step closer to a new era of science at San Jose State University,” said College of Science Dean Michael Kaufman. “Having a building designed to carry out 21st century science will be transformative for the College of Science. It will provide opportunities for students and faculty members to approach scientific questions in ways that will propel the university to new heights.”

The building is slated to open in January 2022 and will provide the College of Science a space that can keep up with their research needs. The three buildings housing science on campus—Science Building, MacQuarrie Hall and Duncan Hall—opened their doors between 1957 and 1972.

“The Interdisciplinary Science Building will quickly become one of the most iconic buildings on our campus and, potentially, in downtown San Jose. It will not only serve as a vital place of scientific collaboration and research, but also a personification of the university’s strategic plan, Transformation 2030,” said Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Charlie Faas. “The Interdisciplinary Science Building’s campus location makes it a natural fit to further connect the campus to the downtown San Jose community.”

SJSU’s Minghui Diao Publishes Latest Research on Air Pollution

Two photos compare the way the sky near campus looks on a day with low air pollution vs. a day with high air pollution.

Two photos compare the way the sky near campus looks on a day with low air pollution vs. a day with high air pollution.

SJSU Assistant Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science Minghui Diao’s research focuses on understanding how dirty the air is that we breathe. Her latest research has been published in the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association. In the article Diao, Tracey Holloway and 15 coauthors from 14 universities and federal agencies assess state-of-art estimates for fine particulate matter. Their research is part of an overarching project funded by NASA’s Applied Science Program, and is being conducted by the NASA Health and Air Quality Applied Sciences Team (HAQAST).

The researchers looked at some of the limitations of standard air quality management monitors. Air quality monitors managed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have limited coverage on the ground. The closest ground monitor may be a few blocks away, or hundreds of miles away, from the location being measured. For locations with fewer monitors, it is more difficult to assess the impact of air quality on public health.

Among all types of pollutants, fine particulate matter, particularly PM2.5, have the largest impact on human health. PM2.5 describes particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers. They are so small that twenty PM2.5 particles can fit side by side along the diameter of a strand of hair. These tiny particles can cause severe health impacts to human beings when they enter the bloodstream.

A highlight of the article is that it demonstrates how NASA satellite data play an important role for locations that used to be missing air quality information. Advancement in satellite technology helps to “see” air pollution in those locations. The resulting data will contribute to future development of epidemiology studies and air quality management efforts, while raising public awareness of air pollution’s impact on the environment and health.

“This is a new era during which we will get to know what is affecting the air quality in our back yards, with a helpful view from space,” said Diao.

A Proud Spartan Grad and Mentor

Marie Bello, '19 Chemistry, graduated from the College of Science May 22. Photo by David Schmitz

Marie Bello, ’19 Chemistry, graduated from the College of Science May 22.
Photo by David Schmitz

When Marie Bello, ’19 Chemistry (concentration in Biochemistry) arrived for the College of Science commencement ceremony on May 22, she had plenty of family to cheer her on, including her toddler niece who donned a pint-sized graduation cap emulating her aunt.

“I like to think I’ve been a role model since my little sister was born,” Bello said of her younger sister who is also a Spartan. “I am able to experience hardships and obstacles first, hoping to pave a much clearer path for her.”

She adds that her nephews who are in middle school and her one-year old niece are her greatest motivators.

“I love being able to experience growing up with them and I hope that someday they understand the importance and value of education through myself and others,” she said.

Bello will be attending the University of the Pacific Stockton to pursue a Doctor of Pharmacy. She credits her family for supporting her along the way as well as professors Elizabeth Migicovsky and Ningkun Wang.

“They are professors who have a real passion for sharing their knowledge and ensuring students understand the materials taught, which makes a really big impact on student work ethic,” Bello said. “As their former student, I definitely was a lot more motivated and appreciative of what I was learning.”

Her first year on campus left her feeling a little confused and unsure of what she wanted to do, but she slowly she found her bearings after the first semesters.

“As the semesters went on, slowly but surely, I was able to find study techniques that worked best for me and learned to improve my weaknesses,” she said. “Thank you, SJSU, for the wonderful four years. The friends and faculty members that I have come across will remain in a special place in my heart. I am proud and excited to be an SJSU alumna.”

San Jose State University Celebrates Historic Groundbreaking on Interdisciplinary Science Building

Media contact:

Robin McElhatton, SJSU Media Relations Specialist, 408-924-1749, robin.mcelhatton@sjsu.edu

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 sjsu.edu/sciencepark.


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.

Cal-Bridge Grant Readies SJSU Undergrads to Apply for PhDs in Physics and Astronomy

Students, faculty and administrators for the Cal-Bridge North program pose for a photo. Cal-Bridge scholars prepare to apply for PhD programs in physics and astronomy.

Students, faculty and administrators for the Cal-Bridge North program pose for a photo. Cal-Bridge scholars prepare to apply for PhD programs in physics and astronomy.

Media Contact:
Robin McElhatton, 408-924-1749, robin.mcelhatton@sjsu.edu

SAN JOSE, CA– San Jose State University joins a consortium of 15 California State University (CSU) and nine University of California (UC) campuses collectively awarded a five-year, $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to dramatically increase diversity within the fields of physics and astronomy through the Cal-Bridge program.

The Cal-Bridge program launched four years ago. It creates a pathway for underrepresented minority students from multiple CSU campuses to gain the experience needed to apply for doctoral programs in physics and astronomy at UC campuses across California. Currently, students from underrepresented minority groups represent 30 percent of the U.S. population, but represent less than 4 percent of physics and astronomy PhDs recipients nationwide. The national average of underrepresented minorities, or URM students, earning a PhD in these fields is about 80 per year.

“Cal-Bridge has already shown spectacular results in its first phase in Southern California, with a 95 percent admission rate for CSU undergraduates into doctoral programs,” said Aaron Romanowsky, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at SJSU and co-director of the Cal-Bridge North Leadership Council. “Now with the expansion of the program into Northern California, and into physics as well as astronomy, we are excited to begin seeing even more access enabled for CSU students going into advanced STEM education and careers.”

Expanding into Northern California

The recent grant allows Cal-Bridge to expand from about a dozen scholars per year to as many as 50 statewide, with the addition of students from SJSU, San Francisco State, CSU East Bay and CSU Sacramento. SJSU is serving as a lead institution for Cal-Bridge North, with the support of Romanowsky and College of Science Dean Michael Kaufman, former chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. SJSU students Jean Donet and Javier Bustamante joined the first cohort of Cal-Bridge North. Participating Cal-Bridge Scholars receive a full scholarship for the final two years of their undergraduate degree, based on demonstrated need; a year of scholarship funding to cover the first year of graduate school at a participating UC campus; mentoring from faculty members at both CSU and UC campuses; professional development opportunities and research opportunities.

Cal-Bridge is led by Principal Investigator and Director Alexander Rudolph, a Cal Poly Pomona professor of physics and astronomy. Cal-Bridge Scholars are recruited from the 15 CSU campuses and more than 30 community colleges in the Cal-Bridge network, with the help of local faculty and staff liaisons at each campus.

Success for Early Cohorts

The program has been highly successful in its first five years in developing a pipeline of highly diverse, qualified scholars, many of whom have already successfully matriculated to a PhD program in physics or astronomy. The program just selected its fifth cohort of 27 scholars from 10 different CSU campuses across the state, bringing the total number of scholars to 61 in five cohorts, including 35 Latinos, seven African-Americans and 27 women (16 of the 27 women are from underrepresented minority groups).

In the last three years, 19 of 21 Cal-Bridge Scholars who have earned their bachelor’s degree in physics have begun or will attend PhD programs in physics or astronomy at top programs nationally, including UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, Harvard University, Northwestern University, the University of Maryland, Michigan State University and Penn State University.

Learn more about Cal-Bridge and watch a video about the program online.

CAL-BRIDGE CONTACT

Alexander Rudolph

Director, Cal-Bridge

Professor of Physics and Astronomy

Cal Poly Pomona

Email: alrudolph@cpp.edu

Cell Phone: 909-717-1851

LOCAL CONTACT

Aaron Romanowsky

Co-Director, Cal-Bridge North Leadership Council

Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy

San Jose State University

Email: aaron.romanowsky@sjsu.edu

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. 

Chevron STEM ZONE

SJSU, A’s, Chevron Share the Science of Sports

Gurdeep Soi, ’15 Electrical Engineering, helps a Richmond Little League baseball player with a hands-on exercise illuminating the science of sports (image courtesy of Chevron).

Gurdeep Soi, ’15 Electrical Engineering, helps a Richmond Little League baseball player with a hands-on exercise illuminating the science of sports (image courtesy of Chevron).

SJSU, the Oakland A’s and Chevron collaborated on a summer clinic June 30 designed to inspire Little League baseball players to take an interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The SJSU students served as volunteer mentors, through the Jay Pinson STEM Education Program. The clinic featured Baseball Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, pitching great Vida Blue, and more than 100 Richmond Little League players at the O.co Coliseum.

Spartans helped youngsters with hands-on activities and instruction in the Chevron STEM ZONE. The project is part of Chevron’s commitment to equipping youth with the critical skills they will need to succeed in jobs of the future.

SJSU with Tony La Russa 530

SJSU student volunteers, from left to right: Puyun Yen, ’17 Mechanical Engineering; Kennis Ko, ’16 Chemical Engineering; Baseball Hall of Famer Tony La Russa; Alex Zavala, ’17 Computer Engineering; AmeriCorps volunteer Philip Ye; and Gurdeep Soi, ’15 Electrical Engineering. Photo courtesy of the Jay Pinson STEM Education Program.

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.

Climate Ride team

Green Ninja Team Joins Climate Ride

Climate Ride

Climate Ride team members before training in Woodside. Left to right, they are Ramya Shenoy, Huong Cheng, Kelly Chang, Eugene Cordero and Clare Cordero (photo by Steve Branz).

A team of Spartans will pedal hundreds of miles along the California coast this spring to raise awareness about climate change, and support SJSU’s environmental outreach program, The Green Ninja Project.

Before joining the team, the last time Ramya Shenoy, ’15 Computer Science, rode a bicycle was 11 years ago to pick up groceries for her parents in India. She recently rode 47 miles, and is determined to complete The Climate Ride, which runs May 17-21.

“I’m putting all my willpower into training for this. I think anything is possible, if you really put your heart into it,” Shenoy said.

The Team

The Green Ninja Team, a diverse group of SJSU students, alumni, and faculty and staff members, is participating in the California Climate Ride. They’ll be biking 320 miles in five days from Eureka to San Francisco to raise awareness about climate change and support environmental non-profit organizations like the Green Ninja project.

Shenoy and several other team members work for the Green Ninja Project, a non-profit environmental outreach program designed to educate middle school kids about climate change and inspire them to take action.

The Green Ninja Project is the brainchild of Professor Eugene Cordero, a climate scientist in the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science.  Convincing Professor Cordero to participate in the Climate Ride wasn’t too difficult.

“I love cycling, I’m passionate about promoting solutions to climate change and our SJSU team is so inspiring,” Cordero said.

Sponsors

Each team member must fundraise $2,800 to ride, but they hope to raise $5,000 a piece.  Kelly Chang, ’13 Biological Sciences, the team captain, loves getting active outside and hopes to inspire others to get outdoors through the Climate Ride. She’s actively promoting the ride, and trying to get more riders and sponsors to sign up.

We’re always looking for new riders, and we welcome all levels of bike riders,” Chang said.

Chang has been contacting local businesses to partner with and support the team. So far, Good Karma Bikes has graciously donated a bike, which will be raffled off in an upcoming silent auction.

Training

The Green Ninja team has organized training rides every other Sunday and they recently completed their longest ride of 47 miles. Huong Cheng, ’15 Animation/Illustration, learned to ride a bike just one month ago.

“I want this to inspire my friends and family to take on challenges in life with a can-do attitude. I know once I finish this ride, I will not be afraid of any obstacle I come across,” Cheng said.

Learn more about SJSU’s Green Ninja Team and support their fundraising goals. Want to join the team?  Contact Kelly@greenninja.org.