SJSU Biological Sciences Professor Katie Wilkinson Casts Vote as California Elector

On Monday, December 14, San José State Biological Sciences Professor Katie Wilkinson traveled to Sacramento to cast her vote as an elector for the electoral college—one of only 538 Americans to participate in this democratic process. She live tweeted her experience and agreed to answer some questions about her day.

What does it mean to be selected as an elector for the electoral college? What criteria does one need to meet?

There is one elector for every Congressional district and one for each of the two state Senators. Each party chooses their slate of electors and the party that wins the state seats their slate at the Electoral College. In this case, the Democrat who holds the elected office or ran against the winning Republican got to nominate an elector to represent their district. Typically people nominate elected officials, activists, or party volunteers to the seats. The role is largely ceremonial, as it should be to respect the will of the state’s voters.

How and when did you find out that you were selected as an elector?

In September, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren called me to ask if I would like to be CA-19’s elector. Sadly I was driving and missed the call, but I immediately emailed to accept the position after hearing the message.

How did it make you feel?

It is an incredible honor to have been chosen. As a California elector, I represented about 500,000 voters, so it is honestly unbelievable that Rep. Lofgren chose me out of all the people doing amazing things in our district.

How has your political advocacy overlapped with your career as a scientist and educator? I remember you mentioning that you had taken a previous student to Rep. Lofgren’s office. What was that like?

In 2013, the sequester led to a huge budget cut for the NIH-supported Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) training program. The MARC program provides support for students in groups underrepresented in science to gain a mentored research experience. The cuts meant that students lost about 40 percent of the tuition support they had been given and also that the program had to cut about half of the training slots. At the time, Joy Franco, ’14 Mechanical Engineering, was a MARC student in my lab and we worked together to provide a script for people to call their legislators about the funding cuts. We also hosted Rep. Mike Honda to tour research labs and talk to the MARC students.

After that experience, I decided I want to learn how to more effectively advocate for the issues I cared about so I became a Society for Neuroscience Early Career Advocacy Fellow. In that program I got mentored support in learning how to navigate visits with elected officials and how to structure the meetings. In fact, I first met Rep. Lofgren when I scheduled an in district meeting with her. Usually you talk to Congressional staff, but I was offered a last minute opening with the Congresswoman because her office said she was a big supporter of women in STEM. I brought a research student from my lab, Anusha Allawala, ’15 Biomedical Engineering, with me to give a student’s perspective. Anusha was also supported by the Department of Education’s McNair Fellowship program and did a great job explaining the challenges she faced as a first generation college student and recent immigrant to the United States. Rep. Lofgren was also a first generation college student and they had a great conversation. Rep. Lofgren has also visited SJSU to tour research labs and it was great to see students in the lab explain their projects and illustrate firsthand how important federal investment is for SJSU science.

To stay involved in science policy, I joined the American Physiological Society’s Science Policy Committee and, starting in May 2021, I will chair that committee. This is a very exciting opportunity to help shape the issues that the society advocates for and to provide a non-Research Intensive Institution’s perspective.

Tell me about your day. How many people were at the capital? Was it your first time there? What did it feel like to cast your vote?

This was my first time visiting the Capitol Building. The Capitol was empty except for the 55 Electors and minimal staff to help maintain social distancing. We were all given KN95 masks to wear and had to stay six feet away from each other at all times. The actual Electoral College meeting is fairly scripted. We started by taking the Electoral College Oath. Then we nominated and elected an Electoral College Chairperson, Assemblymember Shirley Weber and Secretary Franklin Lima. A few electors couldn’t make it, so replacement electors were nominated, elected, and given their oaths. Then we cast our ballots for President. We were given official ballots to sign and they were collected and counted by the Secretary.

When the Chairwoman announced the 55 ayes for President-elect Biden, there was a huge round of applause. We did the same thing for Vice President-elect Harris. After that, we all had to sign official documents affirming the accuracy of the vote and then were dismissed. The Chairwoman announced that with our California Electoral College votes Joe Biden had over the 270 needed to be elected. The most special thing about the day for me, though, was getting to cast another ballot for the first female Vice President. Since I was a kid I’ve been disappointed that we’ve never had a woman in the White House, so getting to be part of this election was extra special. I have a five-year-old daughter and I’m so excited that the first presidential administration she will pay attention to has a woman of color as Vice President. Our daughter was really excited to learn that Kamala Harris’s mom was an immigrant from the same part of India as her dad.

What message would you want to share about civic engagement and staying active in local, statewide and national politics?

It is easy to feel like your single vote or call doesn’t matter, but the truth is our elected officials are literally paid to listen to what we have to say. A pretty small percentage of people actively engage with their representatives so you can help educate them on your issues. Politicians want to hear personal stories that they can use when arguing for a position and their offices do tally phone calls and letters. It can also seem intimidating to talk to your elected officials, but once you do it a few times, it gets much easier. It’s especially helpful to go to a meeting with someone who has done it before or a group of people.

 

67 New SJSU Faculty Members Hired Since COVID-19 Pandemic Began

As San José State University faces a historic $92 million budget cut, SJSU continues to demonstrate its investment in its educational mission by hiring 65 new faculty members since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. Two additional faculty members were recruited during this time period and will be starting in fall 2021. Faculty members span colleges and disciplines, from Justice Studies to Marketing and Business Analytics to members of the newly-formed Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center (WIRC).

The latest faculty cohort reflects San José State’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in more than one way. According to University Personnel, 53 percent of new hires identify as women, 10 percent identify as Latinx, six percent as Black, 25 percent as Asian and 39 percent as white.

Senior Director of Faculty Affairs James Lee provided additional data to demonstrate how the demographics of incoming faculty members have changed since 2015.

*Prior years using PeopleSoft Data. AY 20-21, Interfolio. 2 or more race/ethnicity is not reported.

Interim Vice Provost for Faculty Success and Chicano/a Studies Professor Magdalena Barrera said that new and returning faculty must be cognizant of challenges that students are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our goal is to attract a very diverse pool of faculty applicants—diverse in terms of their training, their areas of expertise, their gender, their ethno-racial identities along multiple axes,” said Barrera. “It’s important that faculty are understanding of issues around diversity and inclusion and are very equity-minded in their approach, using their training and creativity to the best of their abilities to be empathetic towards students. They are helping students get through a very challenging time and it’s important that they keep them motivated to stick with school and make progress toward their degrees.”

Deanna Fassett, assistant vice provost for faculty development at the Center for Faculty Development (CFD) and former chair of SJSU’s Communication Studies department, adapted much of the CFD’s previously face-to-face onboarding activities for remote work. Fassett said the shift to online programming has gone smoothly, with weekly trainings over Zoom ranging from curriculum development for online learning to anti-racist pedagogies. Professional development workshops are recorded and available for members who may not be able to attend in real time.

“This is the most resourced group of [new] faculty” at San José State, Fassett said. “They’re getting the effort and the labor and the drive behind me, eCampus Senior Director Jennifer Redd, our new Equity and Accessibility Educator Valin Jordan and their department chairs. We’re building out guides for how to have more interactive classrooms. There are new Teach Anywhere and Learn Anywhere website resources. Facing new challenges, we leaned in and asked, how can we be better in online mode? The Chancellor’s Office really enabled us to do that.”

“I was really looking forward to getting into the classroom and connecting with students,” said Hillary Hurst, theoretical physicist and newly minted assistant professor of physics and astronomy. She completed some of the activities online while moving from Washington D.C. to California this summer. “I’ve had to rethink some things about how I teach my courses. Jump Start offered an asynchronous onboarding course for faculty members. I started doing sessions before we moved, I continued completing them while we were on our road trip and finished the course in California. I’m looking forward to completing the online teaching certificate this winter. While it’s tough feeling like I’m not quite getting to know the students, I am working on improving my online teaching.”

Fassett also believes that hiring new faculty and updating recruitment and retention practices helps the overall health of the university.

“The better our faculty teach, the more students will come back to us, the better we will retain them, and we will continue to help them advance to their professional goals,” said Fassett. “Our university remains more relevant than ever, and that shows in our enrollments and in the work our faculty do.” ”

Both Fassett and Barrera said that by investing in recruiting, retaining and investing in the continued professional development of faculty, San José State can better address Graduation Initiative 2025, an ambitious system-wide campaign to increase graduation rates while eliminating equity gaps.

“This is a critical moment for us to observe student needs and not lose focus on Graduation Initiative 2025,” said Barrera. “A lot of historically underrepresented students find online learning challenging because they don’t have regular or reliable Internet access. Many of them have taken on more hours at work to provide economically for their loved ones. Incoming faculty members need to be aware of these challenges. How do we turn these into opportunities to really connect with faculty members in terms of their pedagogical styles? We have to think creatively about building community when we can’t physically be together in the classroom or on campus. We want to not just meet those goals; we want to be a leader among the CSU. We have a bigger mission and together we’re working towards it.”

Urban and Regional Planning Department Chair to Lead a National Professional Organization

Laxmi Ramasubramanian in a black blazer and white top smiling.

Photo: Robert Bain / San José State University.

Professor Laxmi Ramasubramanian, chair of the SJSU Department of Urban and Regional Planning, was elected vice president and president-elect of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP).

ACSP, a consortium of more than 100 university departments and programs offering planning degrees, is a scholarly association dedicated “to promoting the field of planning as a diverse global community that works collectively toward healthy, equitable and sustainable neighborhoods, cities and regions,” according to its website.

Ramasubramanian described taking an ACSP leadership position as a “personal calling.” She said she felt now was a good time to help shape how planning professionals do their work because the current era demanded more active promotion of the values she teaches her students to keep forefront.

“My area of research is participatory planning,” Ramasubramanian explained. “I use every opportunity, whether in service, teaching or research, to think about process issues. Planning is about thinking about the future. To me, the governing board of the planning association should reflect the ethos of the field: Our processes should be transparent, accountable, participatory, engaged—all the things we want our public planners to do.”

Ramasubramanian said once the thought of contributing to her profession’s national leadership entered her head, she could not dismiss it. “I’ve been thinking this summer about the national mood,” she said, “which has refocused our attention to inequality in city after city, community after community. So I was struggling with this as an individual. And often I find that I need to be with other people to make change.”

Ramasubramanian said important structural changes could rarely be made by individuals alone, but only in concert with others. “We can’t do what we need to do by ourselves, and we shouldn’t try to do it by ourselves. How can we work in partnership with groups of people to create the kind of transformation they’re aspiring for?” Mulling that over led her to seek her new leadership position.

Ramasubramanian will serve as vice president through 2021, after which she advances automatically to president for the term 2021-2023.

“My goal is to spend this year really listening to the interest groups that are part of our association and who share the same anxieties and fears and mood that is going on around the country,” she said.

A professional organization undergoes the same struggles happening outside it, she said. Ramasubramanian said her role would be to actively support planning faculty and students who are Black, indigenous or people of color through both policy and action. “We’re a good organization,” she said. “We’ve always said the words. An academic organization with our heart in the right place. But that’s not enough right now. That’s what the world is telling us: It’s not enough.”

As a public university, SJSU is accountable to a wide range of people. “At public universities we have a teaching mission,” she said. “We are preparing planning professionals who go out in the world and solve the difficult problems of climate change and environmental degradation, build resilient and inclusive communities, fix our transportation problems. So I’m really proud of the work that universities like ours do.” Ramasubramanian said she hoped to represent the voices of public universities in the ACSP governing board. You have to have diverse points of view in the room to change the conversation.”

SJSU offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in geography and an accredited master’s of urban planning degree—the only programs of their kind in Silicon Valley. The department’s diverse student population includes working students who prefer to attend the program on a part-time basis—a rare opportunity, given that few fully accredited master’s in urban planning programs offer graduate students an entirely part-time option. Emphasizing experiential learning and career preparation, the department’s faculty members teach about architecture, communication, economics, history, public policy, and sociology. Through public service projects, students assist local communities in addressing topical planning issues. SJSU has excelled in the field of urban planning since 1970.

College of Social Sciences Dean Walter Jacobs said, “Laxmi was outstanding in her first year as the chair of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, so I was not surprised to learn that she was selected as vice president of a national organization. I have absolutely no doubts about her ability to thrive as the vice president and then president of ACSP while she continues to excel as a department chair.”

Ramasubramanian said she saw this step as part and parcel of the university’s larger mission. “I’ve chosen a narrow pathway to have an impact—trying to serve my peers in the academy, a membership organization of university people—but the work that we do, the professors, is hugely important because we impact young people,” she said. “One reason I’m at San José State is that here we can see so clearly how education is the pathway to transformation. The education you receive at SJSU prepares you to move in your career, your life, to move your family and your community to the next aspirational goals you set for yourself, whatever they may be.”

SJSU Faculty Prepare for Fall 2020

More than 1,000 faculty members hone their skills to improve student experience in online courses

With the California State University system recently deciding on a shift to mostly virtual classes for the fall 2020 semester, SJSU faculty members are taking part in the SJSU Teach Online Summer Certificate Program. The program is being supported by a partnership that features the SJSU Center for Faculty Development, eCampus, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), and the outside organization Online Learning Consortium (OLC).

More than 1,000 faculty members have signed up for the three-week online program, which will support them in inclusive, accessible and well-designed online and hybrid instruction for Fall courses.

“I’m excited by the response from our faculty members, who recognize the importance of this opportunity to create the best learning experiences for our students for fall 2020 and beyond,” said Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Vincent Del Casino Jr.

Screengrab of the SJSU Teach Online Summer Certificate Program

Jennifer Redd, Director of eCampus, presents during the first session of the SJSU Teach Online Summer Certificate Program on June 8, 2020.

Faculty members must complete seven modules to earn a certificate, badge and stipend. The program is led by experienced online instructors from a wide range of disciplines who will provide guidance and support. To establish a strong benchmark for everyone participating in the institute, 33 faculty members will be participating in a “train-the-trainer” workshop to serve as program mentors.

“The spring semester prompted a rapid shift in teaching and learning for students, faculty and staff alike,” said eCampus Director Jennifer Redd. “That we can invest in helping faculty members create quality teaching experiences for the fall that represent their dedication is critical to our campus’ long-term success.”

The program begins with a two-hour synchronous session, where faculty members will be introduced to hybrid options for curriculum and how to ensure equity in online teaching.

After the online session, participants will have three weeks to complete seven modules. Four modules are required to be completed by every faculty member:

  • Mastering Online Teaching Essentials,
  • Supporting Universal Design for Learning,
  • Analyzing Assessment Strategies and
  • Equity and Inclusion Frameworks in Design in Online Settings
Screenshot of a lesson from the SJSU Teach Online Summer Certificate Program

Chief Diversity Officer Kathy Wong(Lau) leads a discussion during the first session of the SJSU Teach Online Summer Certificate Program on June 8, 2020.

“I am grateful that ODEI could create a research-informed module on best practices and resources that attend to equity and inclusion in online course design, facilitation, and materials,” said Chief Diversity Officer Kathy Wong(Lau). “Working with this team of campus collaborators has been fantastic.” The additional three modules are selected from a group of optional modules on topics that include how to integrate support services for students, create robust online labs and simulations, and use Adobe’s Creative Cloud solutions in the classroom.

“Experts from across the campus have designed a program that will help any instructor strengthen their teaching, no matter how experienced they are to start,” said Center for Faculty Development Director Deanna Fassett.

Given the overwhelming interest, faculty members have been assigned to cohorts. The first cohort started June 8, with the other two sessions beginning June 29 and July 20.

Along with this program, faculty members are also pursuing opportunities through the CSU Chancellor’s Office, SJSU’s Center for Faculty Development, eCampus, and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

 

Occupational Therapy Professors Earn National Recognition

Two San Jose State Occupational Therapy professors have received national recognition from the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). Assistant Professor Luis de Leon Arabit and Associate Professor Megan C. Chang have been named AOTA fellows, an honor that recognizes occupational therapists who have made significant contributions to the profession with a measured impact on the consumers of occupational therapy services and/or members of the Association. Arabit is recognized as an “occupational therapy expert clinician, leader and advocate,” while Chang is being honored for “supporting the profession through evidence-based research.”

Occupational Therapy Association Fellow, Luis de Leon Arabit.

SJSU Occupational Therapy faculty member Luis de Leon Arabit has been named an American Occupational Therapy Association Fellow. Photo courtesy of Luis Arabit.

Arabit says that occupational therapists are health professionals and experts who help improve and support people across the lifespan in their everyday activities or “occupations,” which includes self-care, work, leisure, play, physical activity, sleep and much more.

“When you participate in meaningful activities that occupy your time and your life, it stimulates and promotes your own physical and mental health,” says Arabit, who specializes in neurorehabilitation and physical rehabilitation. He holds numerous certifications in practice, including board certification in physical rehabilitation and neurorehabilitation as well as neuro-developmental treatment techniques.

Growing up in the Philippines, he was first introduced to the field after his grandfather suffered a stroke and was treated by an occupational therapist. A practitioner and clinician for many years, Arabit transitioned into academia because he has a passion for teaching and loves working with students who share his goal of helping clients live their healthiest lives. He is an advocate and leader of the occupational therapy profession, serving in volunteer leadership positions as a former vice president and chair of the Advocacy and Government Affairs Committee of the Occupational Therapy Association of California. He serves on the American Occupational Therapy Political Action Committee, where he is director of the western region states.

“If there is a piece of legislation that affects our practice or affects the way we deliver care for our clients, or if we are prevented or limited from providing certain treatments, then our clients suffer,” Arabit says. “That’s the reason I became an advocate for clients, as well as for the occupational therapy profession.”

Chang says that occupational therapists help people increase their quality of life by overcoming barriers that might impede daily activities. She worked in a hospital daycare in Taiwan where she collaborated with a psychiatrist and a music therapist to create a music therapy group for young adults living with intellectual disabilities, including those with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Chang observed that many of the young adults exhibited sensory processing issues and wondered how occupational therapists could best support clients by assessing their senses. While pursuing her PhD at USC, she worked in the department of Public Health, where she developed research skills in biostatistics that later translated into her own academic pursuits. Her work revolves around “the three Ss: sleep, sensory processing and stress.”

Occupational Therapy Association Fellow, Megan Chang

Megan Chang is one of two SJSU faculty members to receive an AOTA fellowship. Photo courtesy of Megan Chang.

“Occupational therapists also help disease prevention,” says Chang. “We focus on mind and body interactions and adopt a holistic approach.”

Chang has collaborated with SJSU Lecturer Rochelle McLoughlin, ’00 MS Occupational Therapy, on the Mindfulness-Based Healthcare and Human Services (MBHH) Advanced Certificate Program, which is designed to help healthcare providers integrate mindfulness skills into their personal and professional lives. Chang has also recruited students to help her research how to assess sensory processing disorders in adults—a gap in OT research that she believes needs to be addressed. She wants to cultivate a love for research in her students, both for their growth and for the benefit of their future clients.

“My students are scholar-practitioners, which means they not only collaborate on research projects, but they can be research producers,” she says. “They can contribute to the field with clinical expertise. Students are our future and I am glad that that I get a chance to be a small part of their learning process and OT journey. I have learned a lot, not only from my mentors and colleagues, but also my students. They enrich my occupational experience and nourish my research soul.”

Arabit and Chang join Assistant Professor Deborah Bolding, Professor Heidi Pendleton, Associate Professor Gigi Smith and Department Chair Winifred Schultz-Krohn, current OT faculty who have also been honored with this prestigious award.

SJSU Statement: Housing

The following can be attributed to San Jose State University:

It is no secret that housing costs in this area, among the highest in the nation, make it very difficult for some students, faculty and staff members to make ends meet. We have taken some steps to address this vexing problem, including setting aside a limited amount of on-campus housing for faculty and staff, but there is no question that this is a critical challenge for Silicon Valley.

Ms. James-Penney is a part-time temporary faculty member. She taught two courses in spring 2017, and she is teaching four courses in fall 2017. Full-time faculty members teach five courses each term.

Compensation is based on a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the California State University Chancellor’s Office and the California Faculty Association.

Based on the collective bargaining agreement, Ms. James-Penney will earn approximately $34,500 in 2017. In addition, she receives benefits, such as health insurance.