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.

$3M Anonymous Gift Will Establish Endowments at SJSU

Three students hover over a laptop while studying together.

An anonymous $3 million planned gift will establish three endowments at SJSU. Photo taken prior to COVID-19 pandemic.

San José, Calif. — San José State University is pleased to announce that it has received a $3 million gift commitment from anonymous donors. The gift will create three $1 million endowments to provide full tuition to eligible students majoring in management information systems (MIS) in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, computer science in the College of Science and computer engineering in the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering.

“We believe strongly in the importance of education. It is important to invest in the future by giving back to the educational institute which we attended and to invest and assist future students,” said the donors, a married couple who graduated from San José State. “We hope our gift will help students achieve their academic goals and so serve as our investment in the future.”

“Recognizing the importance of supporting students in areas of study as wide-ranging as business, science, and engineering is quintessentially San José State,” said Theresa Davis, vice president for university advancement and CEO of the Tower Foundation. “The donors, both alumni, demonstrate how our Spartan family champions one another’s disparate dreams and vision for the future. We are incredibly grateful for their generosity.”

“With rising inequality, support for student scholarships has never been more important,” said Sheryl Ehrman, dean of the Davidson College of Engineering. “Our society will greatly benefit from the ideas generated by these computer engineering students supported by these scholarships!”

“This gift will expand access to our high-quality computer science degree program—and the outstanding experiential learning, internship, and career opportunities that come with it—regardless of a student’s ability to pay for their education,” said Michael Kaufman, dean of the College of Science. “This aligns precisely with SJSU’s role as a transformative institution and the College of Science’s mission of creating knowledge and expanding opportunity. We are extremely grateful for the generosity of the donors.

“This incredibly generous gift is truly an investment in our MIS students’ future,” said Dan Moshavi, dean of the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business. “These scholarships will significantly reduce financial pressures and allow students to spend more time focusing on their studies and engaging in co-curricular activities that can advance their careers.”

“This wonderful act of generosity will help provide a high-quality education to a new generation of Spartans,” said SJSU President Mary A. Papazian. “Investments by donors like these enable us to transform the lives of our students and their families, and for that we are very grateful.”

To learn how you can support the university through a planned gift, please contact Randy Balogh, director of planned giving, at 408-924-1123 or via email at

About San José State University

The founding campus of the 23-campus California State University system, San José State provides a comprehensive university education, granting bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in 250 areas of study—offered through its nine colleges. With more than 35,000 students and nearly 4,370 employees, San José 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 280,000 alumni, 60 percent of whom live and work in the Bay Area.

Jobelle Abellera Named 2020-2021 CSU Trustee Scholar

Jobelle Abellera, ’21 Computer Science

Photo courtesy of Jobelle Abellera, ’21 Computer Science

The California State University has selected Jobelle Abellera, ’21 Computer Science, for the CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement for the 2020-2021 academic year.

San José State student Abellera earned the prestigious Trustee William Hauck and Padget Kaiser Scholar award as a result of her superior academic performance, exemplary community service and personal accomplishments. A portrait of fortitude, Abellera earned this award overcoming considerable physical and financial adversities.

Growing up in the Bay Area in a low-income household, Abellera didn’t have access to the “cool things that everyone had.” However, during elementary school, she found something that excites her even today: her parents’ old computer. Toying with the computer and playing video games soon became a source of inspiration. Abellera came to appreciate the stories, characters, music, coded graphics, and all the defining elements of these games. “I like playing online games. I used to have a PlayStation during my elementary school years. I used to play on that until my dad gave it away,” she said.

Her parents instilled in her the value of education early on. She quotes her father: “Go to college, get a degree and you will have a career and you will have a good life.” Abellera took the advice by heart and always made an effort to stay on course.

When Abellera was in middle school she was diagnosed with scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine, that left her in acute pain. “I wore a back brace during the first two years of my middle school, and did therapeutic back exercises to correct my spine,” she said. It was during this time that her self-esteem dipped  and she became reclusive. Abellera felt she didn’t “fit in” with the braces sticking out her clothes. The efforts yielded insufficient results as the curvature worsened, and she was forced to undergo back surgery. “I have a metal rod on my back, and most people don’t know that about me,” she said.

“I was out of school for two months after surgery. I was just getting homeschooled and was trying to keep up even though I was sitting at home in bed with a sore back,” she said. With support from friends and family, Abellera came out of the most difficult phase of her life.

The summer after she graduated high school brought in new challenges. Abellera got evicted from a Sunnyvale mobile home community after the landlord decided to sell off the land. She now lives in a suburban town an hour away from San José State.

Her work ethic has always served her well. “I’ve never turned in an assignment late,” she said. Abellera has been an honor student throughout her life. At San José State, she received the Dean’s Scholar and President’s Scholar awards for maintaining a high GPA. Abellera has been saving up all the scholarship money that she has been awarded throughout her life, not just for her education but also for her two younger siblings to use for school.

At the core of her life-long struggle lies a desire to help the underprivileged. Abellera wants to inspire children to be more tech-savvy. In the past, she has taught kids how to code and volunteered at local high schools to raise awareness around tech. “I want to introduce the benefits of technology to people in more rural areas such as where I live now,” she said. “So everyone can work more efficiently and see how technology can build jobs and futures for people.”

Abellera sees education beyond tests and grades. She encourages people to apply skills they have learned to make a difference. Abellera’s dream is to create her own video game someday. “The underlying factor in why I ended up taking computer science was my love for video games and the way they are created,” she said. “I hope to create an artistically original message that’ll inspire future generations to try to get out there and create their own things as well.”

SJSU and Google Offer Computer Science Summer Institute Extension

SJSU students and educators celebrate on the last day of Google's Computer Science Summer Institute Extension Program. Photo by David Schmitz

SJSU students and educators celebrate on the last day of Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute Extension Program. Photo by David Schmitz

This July, 18 incoming freshmen engineering and computer science students got a head start on their studies at Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute (CSSI) Extension. The students spent two weeks learning programming fundamentals and a mix of languages such as HTML, CSS, Python, JavaScript and others, then spent a week developing their own web-based application.

On Aug. 2, representatives from Google, SJSU, family and friends gathered to watch the students’ final presentations. When the students started the program, three weeks before, most of them had no experience with programming. 

Ray Sawyer, a student development specialist at Google, said a few words before the students shared their apps.

“Our main goal is the opportunity to create and increase confidence and passion for technology,” he said, noting that Google engineers volunteered with the summer institute and the students toured the Mountain View headquarters. “I was here on Day 1 and I can see these students are sitting a little taller, smiling a little more and they are more confident. To witness this right here—that is success.”

SJSU Assistant Professor of Computer Science Nada Attar completed a course herself to learn how to teach the CSSI curriculum. Blanca Sanchez-Cruz, the assistant director for Student Support Programs in the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering and director of SJSU’s MESA Engineering program, helped to recruit students from the College of Science and the College of Engineering.

“We did not want to limit it to computer science or software engineering majors,” Sanchez-Cruz said. “Most engineering majors have to take an intro to coding course. We are seeing a need for coding across disciplines.”

Students work on their final assignments during Google's Computer Science Summer Institute Extension. Photo By David Schmitz

Students work on their final assignments during Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute Extension. Photo By David Schmitz

The students were presented with a simple prompt for their app design – create something that solves a problem. The groups came up with ideas for self-improvement, such as an app to help students make healthy choices around diet and exercise, or focused on supporting the campus community, such as an app to help students find professors and classes that match their learning styles.

“We are seeing students with social awareness and social consciousness,” said Sanchez-Cruz.

While the students presented and demonstrated their apps, a panel of judges that included Attar, Sawyer and two teaching assistants, took notes to determine three awards: outstanding presentation, innovative idea, and technical skills. Audience members also voted using a Google form to select an Audience Choice Award.

The first team to present won the Technical Skills award. The trio created a website they called SHOCK – Students Helping Our Community Kindly – that listed references for homeless residents and included a donate button. They deployed their site using Google Cloud Platform and said if they had more time, they would have made the site more interactive.

Ray Sawyer, third from the right, poses with students during the final day of Google's CSSI Extension program. Photo by David Schmitz

Ray Sawyer, third from the right, a student development specialist at Google, poses with students during the final day of the CSSI Extension program. Photo by David Schmitz

Of the teams, four students who worked on an app called “Find My Classmate” received the Outstanding Presentation Award. They created a web app that allows students to register and find other colleagues in their same major, then connect via social media apps. 

Two other students received the Innovative Idea award for creating Bimonthly Improvement. The website allows users to spend two months focused on a specific self-improvement topic such as sleep.

The duo enjoyed getting to know each other through the challenge.

“We made many errors when coding, but we had a fun time fixing them,” said Jesse Nguyen, of working with his partner Alexander Lane.

The team to win Audience Choice included three students who created an app for people to give away free items to other people in their community.

“When we were brainstorming, we had trouble balancing ideas with what’s doable,” said student Jennifer Yang. “We settled on a donating app.”

She and colleague Jared Garcia did most of the back-end coding.

“There were lots of errors and getting lost and finding the solutions,” Yang said. “That’s what software engineering is.”

Computer Science Receives $1.6 Million Gift

A student is working on a laptop.

Photo: Robert C. Bain

Media contact:
Robin McElhatton, SJSU media relations specialist, 408-924-1749,

San Jose, Calif. — San Jose State University is pleased to announce that it has received a $1.6 million planned gift from an anonymous donor. The gift will endow a lectureship in the computer science department, establishing a teaching position upon the donor’s death and expanding opportunities for computer science majors to hear from experts, and explore research, career and internship programs in the field.

“Gifts like this one allow us to provide students with co-curricular experiences that expand their horizons, allow them to encounter diverse viewpoints, and hear from leaders in their future industries,” said Michael Kaufman, dean of the College of Science. “All departments would benefit from such programs.”

San Jose State’s computer science program is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, a nonprofit organization that accredits competitive programs across the nation. In addition to undergraduate and master’s degrees, the department offers a Computer Science Certificate in Cybersecurity, and a bachelor’s of science in software engineering offered in partnership with the computer engineering department. Computer science, jointly with the biological sciences and mathematics and statistics departments, will offer a master of science in bioinformatics, starting later this year.

Connecting San Jose State to Silicon Valley Industry

Although the donor is not originally from this area, after moving here the donor has been able to take advantage of the many opportunities that the Silicon Valley offers in the tech industry. However, over the years, the donor noticed that many local students who grow up surrounded by these great companies don’t have a clear idea how to tap into the opportunities that surround them.

“San Jose State is full of local students. They have a lot they can contribute and they just need a little guidance,” said the donor. “While there are many great ways to help students accomplish their educational goals, this gift helps to get more great faculty to help students prepare for the many local opportunities for computer science majors.”

By endowing a teaching position in computer science, the donor is hoping to ensure that Spartans interested in the field continue to receive an excellent education.

“I have found so much gratification in computer science, and I want to make sure that students who are interested have that opportunity too,” the donor said. “Teachers have been a great influence on me, so I really want students who come here to have great people to learn from.”

“It is so exciting to see a member of our community investing in our future students and faculty members with a commitment like this,” said Paul Lanning, vice president for University Advancement and CEO of the Tower Foundation. “I hope this gift serves as an inspiration to others to think about how they might provide for future generations at San Jose State.”

To learn how you can support the College of Science, please contact Emily Lane, director of development, at 408-924-1145 or

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 continues to be an essential partner in the economic, cultural and social development of Silicon Valley, the state and the world, annually contributing 10,000 graduates to the workforce. The university is immensely proud of the accomplishments of its more than 270,000 alumni, 60 percent of whom live and work in the Bay Area.


Student Hackathon Explores Internet of Things

San Jose State undergraduate and graduate computer science majors whip out their laptops and begin downloading Python and JavaScript software (Photo: Lauren Hernandez, ’15 Journalism).

San Jose State undergraduate and graduate computer science majors whip out their laptops and begin downloading Python and JavaScript software (Photo: Lauren Hernandez, ’15 Journalism).

Thirty San Jose State undergraduate and graduate computer science majors spent a recent Saturday hunched over hardware chips and sensors as part of a two-week Internet of Things Workshop that kicked off on March 19.

The workshop, born from collaboration between the SJSU Department of Computer Science and Aeris, a Santa Clara-based cellular network operator, offers students not only an introduction to various scripting languages but also the opportunity to create their own applications.

“I am thinking about a smart parking garage, so you have an app that says ‘this car is leaving this spot right now,’ then you can direct the people looking for spots to that spot,” said Dennis Hsu, ’16 MS Computer Science.

But even a simple idea requires sophisticated tech tools and collaborating with experts. This is where Aeris comes in.

Aeris senior software engineer Maanasa Madiraju gives thirty San Jose State computer software engineering majors an introduction to downloading software needed for the workshop (Photo: Lauren Hernandez, ’15 Journalism).

Aeris senior software engineer Maanasa Madiraju gives thirty San Jose State computer software engineering majors an introduction to downloading software needed for the workshop (Photo: Lauren Hernandez, ’15 Journalism).

Meredith Ku, VMware intern, and Robinson Raju, MS Computer Science ’16, review the accounts they’ve just set up on Aeris’ cloud management system (Photo: Lauren Hernandez, ’15 Journalism).

Meredith Ku, VMware intern, and Robinson Raju, MS Computer Science ’16, review the accounts they’ve just set up on Aeris’ cloud management system (Photo: Lauren Hernandez, ’15 Journalism).

Meredith Ku, VMware intern, takes a closer look at a blinking Tessel Board as it connects to her laptop (Photo: Lauren Hernandez, ’15 Journalism).

Meredith Ku, VMware intern, takes a closer look at a blinking Tessel Board as it connects to her laptop (Photo: Lauren Hernandez, ’15 Journalism).

“One of the original goals of this was a basic hackathon but at a much higher level, so most of the work is going to be with JavaScript, Python, the Tessel platform and the types of sensors that feed data into the Internet of Things,” said Harry Plant, vice president of social sector at Aeris. “More importantly, I would like [students] to take away a sense of working at a Silicon Valley company.”

The thirty students are divided into ten groups of three, where they are tasked to work collaboratively to build an application over the course of two weeks to solve a real world problem or an application that has commercial value.

Groups were armed with a box of components to kick-start their product development stage, which included AeroCloud credentials to access the company’s Cloud system, a Tessel board hardware platform, connecting cable, climate or RFID (radio-frequency identification) modules, and Python and JavaScript software for coding.

Maanasa Madiraju, Aeris senior software engineer, guided participants in connecting Tessel boards to their laptops and navigating the company’s data management system.

“Our basic objective is to help students learn new languages so they can use them for the mainstream jobs,” Madiraju said.

Hsu, who envisioned the parking garage app, said prior to attending the workshop kick-off, the idea of the Internet of Things was an abstract concept as it relates to the broader connected world.

“I like that we got hands-on experience with the devices and actually doing the programming with professionals who give us their feedback and their ideas,” Hsu said.

Paired with Vihneshwari Chandrasekaran, ’17 MS Computer Science, Hsu said most of their early conceptual application ideas were born from various examples provided in short information sessions proctored by Aeris software engineers.

Aeris engineers suggested exploring applications that improve society in some capacity like water filter sensors for water crises, refrigerator sensors to prevent food spoiling and mobile payment applications.

Over the next two weeks, participants will have the opportunity to visit Aeris offices to attend “office hour” sessions, where they can de-bug ideas and gain feedback from Aeris engineers on how to improve their applications.

Students will present their final applications to Aeris on April 2, in a judging process that takes into consideration originality of the idea, technical achievement and execution, and real world value or commercial viability.

“There are two end goals,” Plant said. In addition to completing an app, the firm wants to “bring more students into Silicon Valley workplace and to expose them to the Internet of Things, and have them think from a design perspective,”


Student Helps Develop New 3D Technology

Photo: Neal Waters, ’07 Geography, ’16 MS Mass Communications

Photo: Neal Waters, ’07 Geography, ’16 MS Mass Communications

When holographic reality tech company LEIA Inc. invited 16 computer science students to participate in an automotive hackathon last December, the startup looked forward to the results.

The students did not disappoint, delivering projects utilizing the company’s 3D technology in various capacities including car displays, speedometers, navigation and automation.

But the hackathon was extra meaningful for one Spartan: Daniel Geisler, ’17 Computer Science, is now a member of the company’s software development team.

Photo: Neal Waters, ’07 Geography, ’16 MS Mass Communications

Photo: Neal Waters, ’07 Geography, ’16 MS Mass Communications

“We saw that Daniel was very quick at figuring stuff out and working with the other students and teams, and he had a good technical background,” said LEIA Inc. Project Lead Loren Beyerstein. “We originally were hoping to hire several interns and it turned out that we decided that it was best to start out with one, and we’re hoping that we can bring in more in the future.”

Geisler joined the team in February as an intern, where he’s been working on improving the company’s 3GS technology, a 3D technology that runs in a user’s web browser, so its holographic technology can work smoothly on any platform including Mac, Windows or Android.

The company’s name reflects a scene from Star Wars IV when Luke finds an S.O.S. message from Leia. R2D2 displays the message in 3D. In 1977, this was science fiction. Today, it’s becoming reality.

“I’m trying to describe it more elegantly than just ‘awesome,’ but it is awesome,” Geisler said. “It’s really brand-new technology that is not out in the wild yet, so it’s really good to get first-hand experience before it’s out.”

Although Geisler has only been working with the company for a little over a month, Armand Niederberger, director of data science and algorithms at LEIA Inc., said his contributions are immeasurable.

“He helped build the LEIA Core Library when he first started,” Niederberger said. “In the beginning especially and still now, [he’s] very crucial to helping us get our code clean and to the next level, and to making sure it works with the latest software out there.”

Part of Geisler’s role entails translating the company’s code so it can be utilized on any platform on any computing environment, which can be a tedious task.

Geisler spends eight hours a day fishing through code and ensuring that LEIA Inc.’s animation demos run smoothly.

More recently, Geisler has utilized his prior videogame development experience in fine-tuning LEIA Inc.’s mesh animation, which is technology that is intended to mirror a human’s facial expression and duplicate it on a 3D-simulated character, or avatar.

“I literally just sit there tweaking some code and looking at it to see if it’s working right [by making facial expressions],” Geisler said.

Photo: Neal Waters, ’07 Geography, ’16 MS Mass Communications

Photo: Neal Waters, ’07 Geography, ’16 MS Mass Communications

The technology, which for now offers two avatar choices of either a monkey or a pixie-like character, is intended to one day provide users the opportunity to 3D holographic chat with other users.

“So you’ll be looking at someone else’s avatar, and they’re looking at your avatar, and you’re seeing their real-time face as the monkey, and you’ll be seeing theirs as whatever avatar they want,” Geisler said.

Debra Caires, Geisler’s computer science lecturer, said she is thrilled that her student has benefited from the opportunity to work with a Silicon Valley startup company in SJSU’s backyard and have a hand in developing emerging technology.

“[LEIA Inc.] didn’t view Daniel as merely a student. LEIA presented in the classroom during one of our Wednesday night tech talk events and was already looking at our students as professionals and individuals who have intellectual value,” Caires said. “These collaborations between students and startups [are] phenomenal opportunities.”

Geisler, who sometimes even dreams of finding solutions to 3D technology in his sleep, said his experience is beyond what can be taught in the classroom.

“It’s cool just to see a developer’s environment, like how people in the industry work, and to work with professional code that other developers are going to be using,” Geisler said. “I love to program, so [this is] forcing me to do what I love.”


SJSU/Udacity Update: Spring 2014

SJSU/Udacity: Spring 2014 Update

Media contact:
Pat Lopes Harris, 408-656-6999

SAN JOSE, CA – This spring, San Jose State will offer three online courses that were developed with Udacity to SJSU and California State University students.

San Jose State students are registering now for Elementary Statistics, Introduction to Programming and General Psychology. In addition, the programming and statistics courses will be open to all CSU students through the CSU’s CourseMatch program.

SJSU and CSU students who successfully complete the coursework will receive college credit. The cost will be covered by regular tuition. Udacity has made the content open and free to faculty members, and will receive no payments or revenue from this arrangement.

The SJSU instructors who originally developed the programming and psychology courses with Udacity will continue to teach these classes to SJSU and CSU students this spring. The statistics course will be transitioned to a different SJSU instructor in the same department. SJSU will hire and train teaching assistants as needed. All faculty members and students will use SJSU’s learning management system, Canvas.

Enrollment will be capped at 70 students for the statistics class, 150 students for the programming course and 35 students for the general psychology course. At least half of the seats for programming and statistics will go to SJSU students and the rest will go to CSU students.

San Jose State and Udacity established a partnership in spring 2013 to develop three interactive online courses for credit. The following summer, SJSU and Udacity expanded the partnership to include five courses. All five courses remain open and free to anyone through Udacity’s website. Those who finish a course through Udacity will receive a certificate of completion from Udacity.


Developing a New Kind of Video Game

Developing a New Kind of Video Game

Developing a New Kind of Video Game

Cong Lu, Yuanlei Huang, Glenn Pham and John Pham work on Changuya’s Moon Festival, which won for Best Art Game at the SJSU x NeuroSky Hackathon (photo courtesy of G. Craig Hobbs).

You use your brain to play video games. But did you know you could be using your brain waves?

At the recent SJSU x NeuroSky Hackathon, art, computer science, engineering and animation majors designed the very best video games they could in 24 hours, with a NeuroSky headset being the primary controller.

Developing a New Kind of Video Game

A NeuroSky publicity photo shows the headset with sensor touching the model’s forehead.

“The hackathon provides access and opportunities for students to experiment with emerging technologies, while encouraging innovation, entrepreneurship and interdisciplinary interaction in a fun, creative, and challenging environment,” said G. Craig Hobbs, assistant professor of digital media art.

Silicon Valley connections

A developer from San Jose-based NeuroSky helped run a boot camp for hackathon participants. The headset digitizes electrical brainwaves (more commonly known as EEGs) to control games.

What this boils down to is “writing programs that translate user brain activity into commands, pictures and sounds,” said Jon Pearce, chair of the Department of Computer Science.

The player manipulates the game by concentrating, relaxing or balancing the two to reach a “zen” state. Applications include games for children who need help learning to focus their thinking.

Developing a New Kind of Video Game

A screen shot from the overall winning project, Immunity (image courtesy of Tamara Chang).

The winning game

The overall winning project was Immunity by the team “Pew Pew Studios,” comprised of Arthur Baney, Will Pham, Rocky Oliver and Tamara Chang.

“In our game, you are the immune system of a sickly body,” Chang said. “When the player is relaxing and concentrating, the white blood cells in the body begin to take over the red viruses.

“However, if the player becomes worried or distracted, the red viruses multiply and kill the white blood cells.

We used the NeuroSky headset to simulate how with real illnesses, a person can improve their immune system by remaining calm and keeping a positive attitude.”

Hobbs is director of the Learning and Games Consortium, an interdisciplinary group promoting educational games. Check out student work on the Game Development Club website.

Udacity on Ipad

SJSU Plus: Fall 2013 Update

[This item was updated Sept. 11, 2013, to reflect publication of the National Science Foundation report and historical comparison noted below.]

Media contact: Pat Lopes Harris, 408-656-6999

The following can be attributed to SJSU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Ellen Junn.

With summer drawing to a close, we would like to provide everyone with an update on the SJSU/Udacity partnership. SJSU Plus began in January with just under 300 students in three courses. In June, we added two more courses, with 2,091 students enrolling in all five classes.

What do these courses have in common? All are entry-level classes most students need to graduate. This matches the project’s goal, which is to provide high-quality, low-cost college courses for credit to everyone.

SJSU and Udacity learned quite a bit over the past six months. The spring pilot study funded by the National Science Foundation has been published.

San Jose State has also posted the following document: SJSU Plus Grade Distribution and Historical Comparison.

We would like to share some lessons learned.

Here’s what worked:

  • Learning by doing works. Online video allows us to stop every few minutes and offer students the opportunity to try what they’ve learned with an online exercise. Instructors have found this so effective that some are incorporating SJSU Plus materials into their campus-based courses.
  • Student interaction remains strong. Does online learning stifle conversation? We found the opposite. Students are connecting with each other, instructors and instructional assistants through every means available: text, email, phone calls, chats and meetings.

Here’s where we’ve improved:

  • Students need help preparing for class. With SJSU Plus reaching well beyond the SJSU campus, we are enrolling a growing number of students who are unfamiliar with the demands of college courses. This summer, 89 percent of our SJSU Plus students were not California State University students. So SJSU Plus now offers orientation in various forms in all five courses.
  • Students need help keeping up. Everyone needs a little encouragement to stay on track. So we’ve added tools that help students gauge their progress and we’re checking in with individual students more often.
  • We need to communicate better with students. Although SJSU and Udacity try to be as clear as possible with our online instruction, we know we can do better. Student feedback has been immensely helpful in refining SJSU Plus materials. We’re also sending less email and more messages while students are “in class” online.

Here’s what happened:

We’re still analyzing summer results. As you know, it can take a while to double check the numbers and understand cause and effect. But SJSU and Udacity are encouraged by improvements in student performance across the board. The following chart shows the percentage of students who earned a C or better.

Spring Pilot 2013 Summer Pilot 2013 SJSU On-Campus
(based on past 6 semesters)
Elementary Statistics 50.5% 83.0% 76.3%
College Algebra 25.4% 72.6% 64.7%
Entry Level Math 23.8% 29.8% 45.5%
General Psychology not offered 67.3% 83.0%
Intro to Programming not offered 70.4% 67.6%

(*Represents students who scored a C or better)

The overall retention rate dropped to 60 percent this summer, compared with 83 percent this spring, reflecting SJSU’s decision to be more flexible when students signaled to instructors that they needed to drop the course.

Here are a few things we’d like to clarify:

  • Over the summer, there were many comparisons made between our SJSU Plus and face-to-face courses. What many people failed to realize is this was not an apples-to-apples comparison.
  • On campus, we have students who are well acquainted with the rigor of college-level work. With SJSU Plus, most students are just beginning or resuming their college careers.
  • Also, the SJSU students enrolled in the SJSU Plus math courses this past spring failed the campus-based versions once before. Normally, these students would have been required to return to community college.
  • And that goes right back to our mission of increasing access. A 30 percent pass rate does sound low, until you stop and think that most of these students would not otherwise have had access to the course at all.

Here’s where we see things going in the future.

  • After taking a breather this fall to set the stage for student success in the future, we will resume offering SJSU Plus courses in January 2014. One major question we need to address is how to better sync our courses with our students’ busy schedules.
  • Many students have asked for greater flexibility in pacing, enabling them to speed up or slow down outside the confines of a conventional semester schedule. Customized scheduling is unprecedented at SJSU, but we would like to explore this option.
Experimental Class Promotes Interdisciplinary "Big Data"

Class Promotes Interdisciplinary “Big Data”

Experimental Class Promotes Interdisciplinary "Big Data"

CS185C : Introduction to Big Data takes a look at wrangling data that can be used for establishing business trends, tracking infection rates, fighting cyber crime, or even screening potential employees.

This semester, the Department of Computer Science introduced an experimental class that is expected to fill a huge unmet need for businesses to pull together and analyze “Big Data” from their growing databases.

“If you understood some of these techniques and could do this, you would be invaluable, instantly employable, and have a ton of job security,” said Department of Computer Science Chair Jon Pearce.

CS185C: Introduction to Big Data takes a look at wrangling the giant amount of data generated by the explosive growth in online communications to address all sorts of issues including establishing business trends, tracking infection rates, fighting cyber crime, or even screening potential employees.

According to class instructor Peter Zadrozny, with the exception of a few master’s programs back East, no other universities are producing graduates that can read Big Data. The class is expected to turn into a four-course certificate program by next semester and hopefully increase interdisciplinary studies on campus.

“We have the tools, we have the techniques, we have the understanding of how to do big data analytics, but we need other departments to tell us what the problem is,” Zadronzy said.

The focus of the course is hands-on, designed with employers in mind. Students in CS185C work in a real-work environment and on a real network and real cloud, thanks to a collaboration with Cloudera, a data management company. Other sponsors for the class include Splunk and GoGrid.

A young man sitting in a conference room

Spartans at Work: At GGV Capital, I “Get to Meet Great Entrepreneurs”

By Sarah Kyo, Web Communications Specialist

(This summer, SJSU Today hits the road, visiting students and recent grads on the job across the country and around the world. Our Spartans at Work series continues with economics alumnus Andrew Manoske.)

Where will an SJSU degree take you? How about spotting the next big thing? San Jose is the heart of Silicon Valley, where startup companies rely on venture capital to grow. Andrew Manoske, ’10 Economics, is in on the action as an associate with GGV Capital.

Based in Menlo Park with offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Singapore, GGV Capital works with U.S. and Asian companies that already have an established product, but want to take the next big step, including significant funding. This is known as expansion stage, and some of the firm’s prominent success stories include Alibaba, Pandora and Tudou (the Chinese YouTube).

For Manoske, a typical day at the office is outside the office. He regularly meets with clients, the people who “spend every waking moment thinking about how we can use technology to change the world.”

“Every day, I get to meet great entrepreneurs and other venture capitalists that are just really charged, excited, passionate about what they do,” he said.

Manoske, who minored in Computer Science, feels inspired by the people he works with on the job. He also felt inspired by the people and atmosphere of SJSU when applying to this university.

“San José State made hackers,” he said. “They made people who could take very, very little and make amazing, wonderful things out of it, and that was something that really appealed to me. ”

Computer Science Convocation: “Embrace Change,” “Dream Big” and “Pursue Innovation”

Computer Science Convocation: “Embrace Change,” “Dream Big” and “Pursue Innovation”

Computer Science Convocation: “Embrace Change,” “Dream Big” and “Pursue Innovation”

Veteran entrepreneur Carol Realini, pictured here with Chair Jon Pearce, assured computer science grads that tech's future remains bright (Carol Beattie photo).

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

“Embrace change,” “dream big” and “pursue innovation” was the advice serial entrepreneur and alumna Carol Realini offered the Department of Computer Science Convocation May 25 at the Music Concert Hall.

An expert in financial service innovation who has worked with including MasterCard and Citi, Realini assured grads (and their parents!) that the tech industry’s future remains vibrant, even in a down economy.

“Today there are 6.4 billion wireless connections in the world reaching 80 percent of the total population of 7 billion,” she said. Over two billion “people have access to the internet, and this is increasing rapidly with the proliferation of smartphones in the developing world. I expect within five years, 80 percent of the world’s population will have internet access — primarily through smart mobile connections.”

Realini, who graduated from SJSU in 1976 with a master’s in computer science, went on to describe her affinity with SJSU students. “Like many of you, I was the first in my family to embark on a career in high tech. My parents thought the best thing was for me to be a teacher. But my passion was with technology — so I went a different way.”

So what path does she recommend? She encouraged grads to “leverage the valley,” “learn to be disciplined — and undisciplined,” “don’t let anyone say you’re not good enough” and “seek the bigger prize” by helping others.” Realini is a leading advocate of expanding mobile banking and payments to create financial inclusion in developing countries.

You can read her speech on her blog.

video game, characters speaking to leaders

New Classes Promote Interdisciplinary Game Studies

A screen shot of World of Warcraft game with characters that were created by 3rd Faction. The characters are standing on stairs looking up and trying to convince the leader to change his views.

Project Demand Player Sovereignty of Third Faction is an example of how games studies can be interdisciplinary. The project involving SJSU students, faculty, and international artists takes a look at promoting real-world social change in the virtual World of Warcraft. The project was presented at The Inter-Society for the Electronic Arts in Istanbul, Turkey, in early September.

By Amanda Holst, Public Affairs Assistant

New classes are being added to the Department of Computer Science as a way to fulfill growing demand for a games studies culture and to help SJSU students develop soft skills to accompany their programming and computer expertise.

“We found that students were consistently able to solve problems, communicate and form teams while they were playing games,” said Department of Computer Science Chair Jon Pearce. “The idea is to tap into that creativity and bring it into the classroom.”

The classes are a first offering into a “prototype game courses curriculum,” according to Pearce, which could possibly lead into a new games studies major for the university.

The two classes, Introduction to Game Studies and Introduction to Game Design, give students insight into the gaming industry and an opportunity to learn about, design and play games. James Morgan, instructor for Introduction to Game Studies, said his class is preparing students for careers not yet known in games-related art, modeling, animation/illustration, and game design.

“A lot of the contemporary technology is facilitating the independent gaming industry and creating its own market and own space,” Morgan said. “One of the things we want to do is have students be able to show us what these fields are going to be.”

Games Studies Center

A Games Studies Center is in the works, according to Pearce, and is expected to start research activities in spring 2012. The center is expected to promote research and the development of games for that research. These “serious games,” according to Pearce, are designed to model complex systems that are otherwise difficult to model mathematically, such as folding proteins or measuring soft skills. Pearce says the center will be the start of several initiatives that will increase interdisciplinary studies on campus.

“Games studies is the thing we all have in common,” Pearce said. “The gaming approach can be used for simulation games or modeling a virtual world; it’s truly interdisciplinary on a vast scale.”

Game Development Club

Other support for games studies on campus comes from the Game Development Club. The purpose of the club is to gather, network and play games, according to senior animation/illustration major and club Co-President Cindy Chang. The club hosts game nights, 3D game development challenges, and is currently working on building an arcade cabinet to use for club events.

“It can be a place to satisfy a curiosity or a place to gather network and play games,” Chang said.

Gordon Bell typing on the keyboard of a computer the size of a refrigerator.

New Speaker Series Highlights Tremendous Impact of Leading Computing Pioneers

Gordon Bell typing on the keyboard of a computer the size of a refrigerator.

Gordon Bell, pictured here in the 1960s, helped develop small, general purpose computers programmed to do specific jobs, such as controlling the news display in New York’s Times Square. Bell is up first in a new History of Computing Speaker Series at SJSU (photo courtesy of the Computer History Museum).

The recent news about Steve Jobs stepping down as CEO of Apple reminds us all of the tremendous impact the leading computing pioneers have on our daily lives. His technological vision and the geniuses he employed at Apple have changed the way we work with computers and use telephones, and how we can download and listen to music. Jobs has created a new tablet computer industry unlike anything we’ve seen before.

The History of Computing Speaker Series, sponsored by IBM and jointly coordinated by the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Computer Engineering, brings to SJSU a stellar group of computer pioneers to speak about their past and current achievements. Students can learn the lessons of how architects and designers overcame the technological, economic, and societal constraints of their day, and thereby making students better architects and designers in the present day. These talks are open to the public.

The speakers include such computing luminaries as Don Knuth, James Gosling, Allan Alcorn, Don Chamberlin, and Alan Kay. Gordon Bell will start the series from 6-7 p.m. Aug. 31 in the Engineering Auditorium (ENG 189). View current schedule, abstracts, and speaker bios.

Adjunct Professor Ron Mak is arranging these speakers in conjunction with his History of Computing class for undergraduate and graduate students. His students work on research projects related to computing history. Some of the speakers and many other computing pioneers inside and outside of Silicon Valley are generously donating their time and expertise to serve as project advisers.

Mak’s “day job” is working as a research staff member at the IBM Almaden Research Center, where he is helping to design and develop SPLASH, a platform for integrating heterogeneous simulation models and data sets in order to solve complex problems such as obesity.

Students posing in front of iconic Universal Studios signage.

Comp Sci Students Gain Academic, Cultural Experience at “Summer University”

Students posing in front of iconic Universal Studios signage.

Computer science students from India, Switzerland, SJSU and CSU Long Beach take a break from summer studies to see the sites including Universal Studios (photo by Rafael Alvarez-Horine).

By Amanda Holst, Public Affairs Assistant

Where do you go to meet people from abroad, experience cutting edge technology in your field, and earn course credits?

“Summer University,” an innovative program hosted this year by California State University, Long Beach for computer science students from colleges in Switzerland, India and the United States, including SJSU.

The Swiss Board of Higher Education of the Canton of Vaud created the program as a way to help students cultivate cultural exchanges and establish international professional connections for future collaborations, said Jon Pearce, chair of SJSU’s Department of Computer Science.

“Traditionally, engineering and science students don’t get to participate in an international program because they have such a heavy unit load,” Pearce said. “This opportunity combined international exposure with the computer science curriculum.”

Students earned units from classes on topics including programming, multiprocessor processing, and artificial intelligence. Swiss and U.S. professors taught the courses, including SJSU professors Soon Tee Teoh (computer graphics applications) and Cay Hortsmann (Scala, a modern multi-paradigm programming language designed to express common programming patterns in a concise, elegant, and type-safe way).

Summer University has also been held in Switzerland, Mexico, Singapore and India, and has focused on all kinds of disciplines including business, enology (study of wine), health care and education. In addition to classes, the program offers company visits, guest speakers from industry, and cultural activities.

Computer science grad Ralph Alvarez-Horine was one of three SJSU students who participated this year and blogged about his experiences while at CSULB.

On Academics

“Overall the academics have been harder than I anticipated so I am spending less time at the beach and more time studying. One highlight is that we are learning how to program using a computer language currently being developed by a Cal State Long Beach professor (according to him, we are the first class who has ever used his language). It’s been challenging, but it is cool to think that we are the first!”

On Cultural Activities

“We went to watch a baseball game where the Angels beat the Mariners (for the Swiss it was their first time at a baseball game). We had a tour of the [NASA] Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena where we not only got a tour of the facilities (including Mission Control), but also attended a lecture given by one of the Mars [Exploration] Rover drivers on the use of computer-aided visualization. We visited the USC Computer Science Department and got a presentation by one of their graduate students specializing in Game Development. We looked into Artificial Intelligence at Comic-Con in San Diego and also got a tour of Dreamworks Animation in Glendale, which included a presentation on the process of creating an animated movie.”

On Cultural Exchange

“The Swiss students have been very fun to be around and it has been neat to see the U.S. through their eyes. Every Swiss student I spoke to has enjoyed visiting the U.S .and has expressed the desire to keep exploring and meeting people (Some are actually planning on staying in the U.S. after the program to continue traveling). They have been very impressed with the ‘openness’ of Americans in general, as many Swiss tend to be very reserved.”

Smarter Planet Faculty Innovation Award San Jose State University

Computer Science Professor Receives IBM Smarter Planet Grant

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

Department of Computer Science Professor Chris Tseng is one of 50 global recipients of IBM’s inaugural Smarter Planet Faculty Innovation Awards.

Each professor, representing 40 universities in 14 countries, has been awarded a $10,000 grant to develop innovative new curricula that address global challenges in fields such as transportation, health care, water and energy.

“We need to focus on developing more advanced skills so that students around the world are equipped to tackle real-world issues when they enter the workforce,” said Jim Corgel, general manager of IBM Academic and Developer Relations.

These real world issues include using technology to help scientists and public health official gather and manage information on infectious diseases, an area of interest for Professor Tseng.

IBM’s overall goal is to prepare students for future leadership in a variety of industries by exposing them to Watson-like technologies in the classroom, sparking collaboration and innovation.

Watson is the IBM-built machine that bested humans to win the game show Jeopardy during episodes aired in February. The machine understands words and sentences rather than the formatted data computers normally process, according to IBM.

These new classes are being taught in the 2011-2012 school year.  Find out more about the award winners.