San José State University Hosts First CSU-Wide Grad Slam

California State University Grad Slam 2021

Graduate students often invest years of their lives working on focused, in-depth research in their field. Ultimately, they must successfully defend their conclusions to a select committee of faculty advisors with expertise in that area of study.

Now, imagine what it would be like to distill the key ideas of that yearlong research into a presentation that is accessible and interesting for everyone — and do it in three minutes or less.

That’s exactly what graduate students from across 12 California State University (CSU) campuses will do in the first-ever CSU Grad Slam on May 6, hosted by San José State.

Grad Slam is a fast-paced, dynamic competition in which graduate students across all fields face off for the top short presentation of research. The event offers the opportunity for up-and-coming student-researchers to showcase their scholarship and creativity, while challenging them to effectively convey their work in three-minute snackable sound bites to a non-specialist audience.

The system-wide event is a collaborative effort across many of the CSU campuses. Those participating include: Bakersfield, Chico, Dominguez Hills, Fresno, Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Northridge, Sacramento, San José, San Francisco, and Sonoma State.

As the founding university of the CSU system and its leadership in graduate education, San José State is a natural fit to host the inaugural competition. SJSU held its first Grad Slam in 2019, a few short months after the university’s launch of the College of Graduate Studies that January.

The main event

According to SJSU’s College of Graduate Studies Dean Marc d’Alarcao, the creation of this year’s CSU-wide competition encouraged a number of the other CSUs to create their own Grad Slam, from which they will send their top two winners to the system event.

A total of 21 participants from across the 12 campuses will present their research in this year’s livestream virtual competition. San José State is sending its top two winners from the SJSU Grad Slam, which occurred on April 29: Guadalupe “Lupe” Franco (first place) from the MS Environmental Studies program and Remie Gail Mandawe (second place) from the MS Physiology program.

Lupe Franco and Remie Gail Mandawe.

(L-R) SJSU 2021 Grad Slam Winners Lupe Franco and Remie Gail Mandawe.

Franco’s presentation, “Wicked Problems: Understanding How Cities and Counties in California are Tackling Climate Change and Homelessness, emphasizes the need for jurisdictions and planners to “create equitable and just strategies that include the voices of unhoused populations and gain them the access to basic resources needed to protect them from climate change.”

Mandawe’s presentation, “Targeting the Source of our Sixth Sense Using Blue Light” explores how to target and isolate gamma motor neurons in the brain using blue light and better understand why motor dysfunction and motor neuron diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, occur.

The CSU Grad Slam will start with preliminary rounds in the morning, in which small groups of the competitors will present live in three “rooms” over Zoom to panels of three judges. The top-scoring students from each room will advance to the afternoon round for the chance to win one of three cash prizes: first place, second place and the People’s Choice award.

The public can watch the event online and vote on the People’s Choice award in real time during the final segment of the program. Three different judges will score the afternoon’s competitors.

Although there will ultimately be only three winners, everyone who participates gains tremendous benefits from the process. Not only are the graduate students able to develop vital research communication and presentation skills, they can engage with and be inspired by other emerging researchers.

“I think it is beneficial to the graduate students to feel appreciated and have the opportunity to see what their colleagues are doing in a concise and interesting way,” said d’Alarcao.

“It’s invigorating to realize that you’re part of an intellectual community that has all of these different things happening, and that’s really positive for the participants.”

Register today to see CSU’s top graduate student research.

Celebration of Research Event Honors Investigators, Highlights Creativity

Ellen Middaugh

Ellen Middaugh, assistant professor of child and adolescent development, is one of this year’s winners of the SJSU Early Career Investigator Award. Her work was honored at the Celebration of Research on April 29.

Thomas Madura studies the lives of massive stars — from how they’re born to how they die a giant, explosive death.

He also investigates ways to teach young blind or visually impaired students about astronomy, which Madura, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at San José State, says is usually thought of as a “visual science.” By 3D printing models of nebulae, planets, star clusters and the like, Madura’s work lets those students hold pieces of the galaxies in their hands.

Madura was one of two faculty awarded the prestigious SJSU Early Career Investigator Award (ECIA) for his work at the university’s annual Celebration of Research, hosted virtually by the Division of Research and Innovation on April 29. The ECIA recognizes tenure-track faculty members who have excelled in research, scholarship and creative activity at an early point in their careers.

The Celebration of Research, which drew more than 400 attendees, honored both students and faculty for research, innovation and creative activities. In between awards and recognitions, the event also featured artistic performances and accomplishments.

Ellen Middaugh, assistant professor of child and adolescent development, also received the ECIA award for her work on youth civic engagement — particularly on how to teach social media and Internet skills to those aged 15 to 25.

The goal of Middaugh’s work is to create informed, empowered and ethical civic engagement among adolescents and young adults, “so that people really understand the issues that affect them, they feel that they can have a voice, and they’re mindful of how their words and sharing of information impact other people,” she said.

The event also recognized the work of the two ECIA recipients from 2019, who would have been honored during last year’s Celebration of Research had the event not been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kim Blisniuk, associate professor of geology and 2019 ECIA recipient, was celebrated for her work investigating how landscapes change overtime from earthquakes and climate change.

Also a 2019 ECIA recipient, Yue “Wilson” Yuan, assistant professor of justice studies, was honored for his research studying the origins of fear of crime and how individuals and communities — Asian and Latino, in particular — react to criminal victimization.

The program also featured a special highlight of the “Teeter-Totter Wall” design project, created by Virginia San Fratello, the chair of the Department of Design, and UC Berkeley professor Ronald Rael. Earlier this year, San Fratello was presented with the prestigious Beazley Design of the Year award for her creativity, which brought together people at the U.S.-Mexico border on bright pink seesaws and received international recognition.

Guadalupe Franco, a student in the MS Environmental Studies program, won first place in the SJSU Grad Slam. She presented her three-minute thesis presentation on tackling homelessness and climate change.

Recognizing student research and creative activities

SJSU students took part in two research-based competitions — the 2021 SJSU Grad Slam and the SJSU Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity (RSCA) Competition — for which the winners were announced at the event.

In a Grad Slam competition, graduate students condense the theses of their research projects into engaging, three-minute presentations — which must be understandable by a lay audience. Prizes are awarded based on the success of their presentations.

Guadalupe Franco, in the MS Environmental Studies program, received first place for her thesis, “Wicked Problems: Understanding How Cities and Counties in California are Tackling Climate Change and Homelessness.”

Second place went to Remie Gail Mandawe, who is in the Physiology master’s program, for “Targeting the Source of our Sixth Sense Using Blue Light.”

Celebration of Research attendees voted live for the recipient of the People’s Choice Award. They selected Holt Hanley, who is in the Meteorology master’s program, for his thesis “Estimating the Key Drivers of Wildfire Using Artificial Neural Networks.”

Both Franco and Mandawe will represent SJSU at the CSU Grad Slam on May 6 — the first system-wide competition, which San José State will host.

The eight RSCA Competition finalists — Aeowynn Coakley, Muhammad Khan, Terri Lee, Tomasz Lewicki, Victor Lui, Alaysia Palmer, Nicholas Roubineau and Hung Tong — went on to compete in the 35th Annual CSU Student Research Competition, held virtually on April 30 and May 1.

Khan, ’22 Biological Sciences, won first place in Biological and Agricultural Sciences – Undergraduate category at the state-wide event for his research, “Mutagenesis and Recombinant Expression of Aedes aegypti Serine Protease I (AaSPI), a possible N-Terminal Nucleophile (Ntn) Hydrolase.”

The SJSU Choraliers gave a socially distanced performance.

Amid the honors and recognition, the ceremony elevated artistic feats. Directed by Jeffrey Benson and featuring Vocal Performance major Daniel Rios, the SJSU Choraliers performed a socially distanced rendition of “I’ll Be On My Way” by Shawn Kirchner.

Spartan Film Studios showed their short film “Breakfast,” based on the short story by John Steinbeck and made in large part by SJSU students. The film has been accepted into the Beverly Hills International Film Festival.

The pathway to transformation

In 2019, Mohamed Abousalem joined San José State as the inaugural vice president of research and innovation with a goal: to realize the university’s potential for growth and increased societal impact through research. The Celebration of Research highlighted accomplishments in achieving that goal.

“No wonder San José State University is ranked the #1 Most Transformative University in the nation,” Abousalem said.

“Through the great research work that our faculty and students do, we are able to contribute to solving today’s problems and mitigate tomorrow’s challenges, alongside our industry and community partners.

“Public impact is the primary goal for the San José State University research enterprise,” he continued. “We are focused on bringing real value to our local and global communities, while supporting the scholarly careers of our faculty and providing our students with unique experiential learning.”

SJSU President Mary Papazian noted that when the university developed its Transformation 2030 Strategic Plan, leadership “quickly realized that research was a strategic growth area for the university.”

For example, one of the goals within the plan is to Excel and Lead.

“One of the ways we do that is by engaging students through faculty-mentored research, scholarship and creative activities,” Papazian explained. “Another one of our Transformation 2030 goals is to Connect and Contribute. And indeed, our research aligns with this goal.

“Our research and innovation brings value to our communities by contributing to an improved overall quality of life and by fueling economic growth. This will become even more critical as the state and regional economy emerges from this pandemic.”

Those who missed the event or want to catch it again will soon be able to access a recording on the Division of Research and Innovation website.

Computer Engineering Faculty Receives NSF Grant to Protect Biometric Data

Nima Karimian, assistant professor of computer engineering

Nima Karimian, assistant professor of computer engineering, recently received a National Science Foundation grant to better understand how to protect biometric data. Photo courtesy of Nima Karimian.

When your password on an account is compromised, you change it. But what happens when your password is your fingerprint?

Facial recognition, fingerprint Touch ID, iris scanning and even voice commands to Alexa or Siri are all examples of technology that use our biometric data to access personal information. Nima Karimian, assistant professor of computer engineering at San José State, recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to better understand how to keep that data as safe as possible.

Karimian was awarded $175,000 from the NSF Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Research Initiation Initiative (CRII) to strengthen biometric security systems, particularly from breaches known as side-channel attacks. Those infiltrations rely on details gathered when a system is designed and implemented — like the amount of time it may take a user to enter a password.

The NSF CISE award supports research among early-career faculty who are in their first three years in an academic position after earning their PhD. The CRII program provides resources to help early-career primary investigators launch a career in research.

Karimian said that biometric data will be used in many ways in the future to “make everyday tasks more efficient and comfortable.” Think bank account access, airport security, border identity checkpoints, patient authentication in health care settings and more.

“At the same time, sharing biometric data may introduce theft, privacy threats and illegal access to confidential information,” he explained.

“For instance, if your fingerprint or face biometric data is compromised by an adversary, it could be reused to gain unauthorized access to a system or even duplicate the biometric data to hack into victims’ devices or accounts.”

While side-channel attacks are well understood in other contexts, Karimian argues they’ve been understudied in systems that use biometric data. His research project, “Physical Side-Channel Attacks in Biometric Systems,” will develop metrics, deep-learning algorithms, protocols and tools for physical side-channel attacks and countermeasures in biometric systems.

“Receiving this prestigious award is a great honor for me,” Karimian said. “This grant allows me to launch my independent research here at SJSU and to start new research directions developing secure biometric systems that can protect citizens’ privacy.

Karimian added that he hopes the grant will allow him to support both graduate and undergraduate students from underrepresented groups.

“Dr. Karimian’s grant is right in line with the Davidson College of Engineering’s objectives to conduct research that addresses important societal needs,” noted Sheryl H. Ehrman, the Don Beall Dean of the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering.

“In the case of this project, our college will play a part in advancing hardware security, with the potential for significant global impact based upon the increasing use of biometric data.”

Karimian emphasized that “biometric data is part of your identity, which represents the entire you and can never be changed. When a password is compromised, it can be changed, but you can’t change your identity if the same scenario happens with biometric data.”

“Hence, it is important to find the vulnerabilities of biometric technologies and protect them from being hacked and leaked.”

To learn more about Karimian’s work, visit nimakarimian.com.

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.

How Has COVID-19 Impacted the Health and Well-being of the LGBTQ+ Community?: A Q&A With Laurie Drabble

Laurie Drabble.

Laurie Drabble, associate dean for research and faculty.

It’s known that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning+ (LGBTQ+) community face health disparities driven by social stigma and discrimination. But what happens when you introduce a global pandemic?

Laurie Drabble, associate dean for research and faculty with the San José State University College of Health and Human Sciences, explored the impact of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ+ community by serving as co-editor of a special issue of the Journal of Homosexuality, which was published earlier this year.

The issue also featured her recent research exploring alcohol and marijuana use among LGBTQ+ women during the pandemic.

The SJSU Editorial and News team sat down with Drabble to learn more:

What is the biggest takeaway from this special issue?

Laurie Drabble (LD): Social stigma and discrimination are important drivers of disparities in risk for depression, anxiety and suicidality among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender non-binary groups. LGBTQ+ people also reported more job loss and financial difficulty compared to heterosexual and cisgender people. These risks were amplified during the with COVID-19 pandemic and need to be addressed.

What surprised you about the research findings?

LD: Research in the special issue found that LGBTQ+ individuals were more likely than heterosexual people to adhere to social distancing guidelines. This may not be entirely surprising, given collective experience with the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.

That past experience heightened community buy-in about the importance of public health strategies to curb disease transmission—and contributed to viewing adherence to public health guidelines as more of a collective responsibility than an individual choice.

However, adhering to guidelines was also associated with psychological distress, which underscores the importance of both formal and social support in public health crises.

This issue pulls together data and research that spans the globe. Did the U.S. stand out?

LD: I was struck by the commonalities between countries. In particular, studies described the negative impact of losing access to LGBTQ+ positive spaces, reduced access to social support, and concerns about invisibility and potential discrimination.

It was also notable that LGBTQ+ people across countries use technology to connect with community, friends and family more than heterosexual and cisgender groups. This is likely a consequence of being part of a community that is defined by common identity rather than location. So, many LGBTQ+ people already used apps, social media and technology tools to find community before the pandemic.

Health disparities already existed in the LGBTQ+ community. Are we making any progress in closing these gaps?

LD: We were making progress in some ways. For example, research has consistently found that reducing structural stigma—such as the legalization of same-sex marriage—has helped reduce disparities in mental health outcomes.

However, research from our special issue and other studies suggest that LGBTQ+ people—particularly LGBTQ people of color—are disproportionately experiencing health and economic harms associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to make sure that policies and services intended to address the impact of the pandemic include the needs of LGBTQ+ populations.

Let’s talk about your research focusing on LGBTQ+ women and marijuana and alcohol use during the pandemic. What surprised you about what you learned?

LD: One of the more interesting findings was the degree to which routines or norms associated with alcohol and marijuana use were disrupted or changed.

For example, some study participants described drinking more because they used alcohol to mark the end of the day, and many described using more alcohol and marijuana to simply relieve stress or boredom. Others used less, because they were not spending time in social settings where they would typically drink alcohol or use marijuana with friends.

Sexual minority women had greater risks for hazardous drinking and drug use compared to heterosexual women before the pandemic, so it will be important to continue to study [post pandemic] whether or not these risks have been amplified over time.

Now that we have this information, what do we need to do about it?

LD: First, we need to continue to reduce stigma and address the economic impacts of the pandemic that disproportionately impact people of color and sexual and gender minorities.

For example, a growing number of states have passed harmful laws allowing health and social service providers to be exempt on religious grounds from laws prohibiting discrimination based on sex or gender identity. These trends are deeply concerning, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Second, given our research suggesting that LGBTQ+ people are frequent users of Internet-based communications and apps, enhancing access to online and remote health and mental health services would be timely.

Third, the research in this issue highlighted the importance of access to community and social support. So it is critical to provide financial support to ensure the survival of LGBTQ+ health and social service organizations, as well as LGBTQ+-centered physical spaces.

How can this information help us better care for the LGBTQ+ members of our SJSU community?

LD: For many LGBTQ+ young adults, university communities are important for finding safe and affirming support, particularly for students who may need to live with unsupportive families for financial reasons. Providing opportunities for social support and counseling—such as those provided by the SJSU PRIDE Center and Student Services—are crucial.

Read more about Drabble’s research and these topics.

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.

SJSU Researchers Launch New COVID-19 Economic Dashboard for Silicon Valley

A dashboard showing various charts that focus on different areas such as unemployment claims and open businesses.

COVID-19 Economic Dashboard for Silicon Valley

Experts from the Department of Economics at San José State have developed a first-of-its-kind online tool to help Silicon Valley businesses analyze and respond to changing economic conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 Economic Dashboard for Silicon Valley provides visual insight into key economic indicators for the San José Metro area, including employment trends, housing supply and demand, and business closures due to COVID-19 restrictions. With near real-time updates, the dashboard can track the current state of the local economy and trends that show the impact of the pandemic on the Silicon Valley community.

Assistant Professor of Economics Justin Rietz and graduate student Ji An Lee, ‘21, MS Computer Science, with the support of the College of Social Sciences and College of Science, developed the dashboard for various users. “We have specifically targeted this tool to be useful for policymakers, researchers, government officials, business leaders and community members in the greater Bay Area,” said Assistant Professor Rietz.

The COVID-19 Economic Dashboard for Silicon Valley is unique because it tracks data daily at the local level. Most economic data is tracked monthly or quarterly at the state and national levels.

“Given the economic volatility created by COVID-19, it is important to have data on a daily basis that shows sudden changes in economic conditions,” said Assistant Professor Rietz. “Also, as policies put in place to fight COVID-19, such as shelter-in-place orders, are often at the county level, an accurate picture of local economic conditions requires granular data that can parse out trends that might otherwise be lost in data aggregated at the state or national level.”

The timely and targeted insights provided by the COVID-19 Economic Dashboard for Silicon Valley can also aid in local government policy-making regarding the pandemic, provide business leaders with a tool to help determine potential customer demand, and help inform personal and commercial real estate pricing decisions.

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.

Electrical Engineering Faculty Receives NSF CAREER Award for Cryogenic Electronics Research

Hiu-Yung Wong, assistant professor of electrical engineering at SJSU, with graduate students

Assistant Professor Hiu Yung Wong; Johan Saltin, ’20 MS Electrical Engineering; and Varada Kanchi, ’20 MS Electrical Engineering in the SJSU M-PAC lab.

Hiu-Yung Wong, assistant professor of electrical engineering at San José State University, has received a Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award, a prestigious honor bestowed by the National Science Foundation. The award supports his research of cryogenic electronics—electrical systems that operate at extremely cold temperatures—as well as his project to expand education and research opportunities while building a diverse workforce in the field.

Wong is the first faculty member in more than 15 years in the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering to receive a CAREER award, which supports early-career faculty who show potential as leaders in both their academic and research roles and in advancing the mission of their department or organization.

Wong will receive about $500,000 over five years to implement his project, “Understanding and Modeling of Cryogenic Semiconductor Device Physics down to 4.2K.” While scientists understand the physics of electronics and their surroundings at room temperature, they still don’t fully grasp what happens at extremely cold, cryogenic temperatures, Wong explained.

He wants to close that knowledge gap, which could pave the way for the large-scale realization of quantum computers—as well as interstellar voyages. “Cryogenic-integrated circuits (ICs) are the natural candidate for the exploration of deep space, in which the temperature can drop below 4.2K,” Wong noted. (That’s equivalent to minus 452° Fahrenheit.)

In addition to the research, Wong wants to expand access to cryogenic electronics education, which is not as prevalent in electrical engineering programs today.

He’ll use the funding to develop two courses at San José State focused on cryogenic electronics that will be part of a specialization in the Electrical Engineering master’s program and create hands-on research opportunities for undergraduates.

Ultimately, Wong wants to build a future workforce in the field in a way that promotes diversity and uplifts underserved populations. For example, he plans to introduce a new session on cryogenics and quantum computing at the Silicon Valley Women in Engineering Conference, which connects female students—a minority in engineering programs—with women engineering professionals.

He will also develop a free summer course on cryogenics that will be geared towards socially and economically disadvantaged high school students.

“The goal is to build a pipeline of future students in quantum computing to create a diverse workforce and become an economic driver for vulnerable communities,” he said.

“We are so proud of Hiu-Yung’s achievements,” said Sheryl Ehrman, the Don Beall Dean of the College of Engineering. “He joined our college in 2018 with 12 years of industry experience, and he is a proud graduate from the Engineering Grants Academy program. This is our first home-grown CAREER award since the early 2000s.”

Wong said the award opens up several new research possibilities as well as collaboration opportunities with quantum computing companies.

“This award allows me to venture into more uncertain but also more rewarding research areas,” he added. “I particularly want to thank Dean Ehrman and Electrical Engineering Department Chair Thuy Le for creating a very supportive research environment.”

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

 

 

Research Shows Lockdowns Did Not Decrease Park Visits

A single white crane stands in the middle of a brownish grassy field with a lake path curving behind.

Photo: Robert Bain / San José State University.

Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning Ahoura Zandiatashbar scoured publicly available data and found that although we have limited our visits to stores, Americans are still visiting parks and beaches at near pre-pandemic rates.

In the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, Zandiatashbar—a newly hired faculty member in SJSU’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning in the College of Social Sciences—published a study he co-authored with Shima Hamidi, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Using publicly available data, Zandiatashbar and Hamidi looked at millions of trips in 771 counties. Their model studied the period when the COVID-19 pandemic reduced daily visits to grocery stores, pharmacies and transit stations. They found that people visited “essential” destinations such as grocery stores 13 percent less frequently, yet they did not shy away from visiting parks and beaches.

“It gives us a clue that parks are quite important, because people are not reducing their visits,” Zandiatashbar said. “Staying at home increases anxiety. To reduce it, people are relying more and more on park facilities.”

People in more densely populated areas significantly reduced their trips to stores, but not to outdoor spaces—“possibly due to the smaller homes, lack of private yards and the higher level of anxiety amid the pandemic,” the study found. Residents who lived near restaurants may also have more affordable ways to order home delivery online. Reduced in-person shopping leaves time for more frequent park visits, Zandiatashbar said.

Zandiatashbar and Hamidi examined areas based on “compactness”—a measure of four factors: population density, land use, activity centering (how spread out activities are) and walkability. Over the years, compact, dense walkable residential development has been demonstrated to have multiple health benefits. However, the COVID-19 pandemic had some people questioning whether high population densities would be associated with increased viral transmission. “From day one of COVID-19,” Zandiatashbar said, “there was a perception that urban density spreads the virus, but multiple research studies show that urban density was not positively associated with spread of virus, which was interesting.” Residents of less dense areas may consolidate trips, making rarer visits to a single big-box store for grocery, pharmacy and other purchases—but they may also take fewer precautions.

Zandiatashbar and Hamidi surmise why people in denser areas might not necessarily be spreading the virus more widely. “Residents of dense areas have a greater exposure to first-hand information about the susceptibility to the virus,” the study reads. “Knowing people who are being infected is a more powerful force in following social distancing advisories than just hearing about the disease from the media outlets.”

“This finding shows the need for a closer attention to parks,” Zandiatashbar said. During stay-at-home orders, policy should support public use of parks and beaches, while maintaining precautions to prevent them from becoming spreader places, he said. “Local authorities need to be aware that people are going to visit parks more often. Therefore, they have to increase the infrastructure in the parks to make sure that social distancing is being maintained,” Zandiatashbar said.

COVID-19 notwithstanding, he said, “Public parks are a public health resource and great assets in the community. During shelter in place, we saw that park visits are more important than ever and necessary for mental health.”

NPR’s Marketplace reported that steady, intensive public visits to parks now add costs to the strained budgets of the local governments tasked with the additional expense of sanitizing and cleaning them.

“Our policy suggestion includes public education on how to use parks during lockdown or shelter in place. When we saw the results we were happy that people are trying to get some relief from stress. There’s a need for more public education and public information on how to use parks during this time.”

Zandiatashbar is an expert in mining geospatial data, locating patterns such as those found here. The publicly available Google data was based on anonymized mobility information from millions of Android, iPhone and Google Maps users.

Frequently partnering with local communities, Zandiatashbar has published widely on the impact of urban development on the knowledge economy. His research aims to provide data analysis that assists communities with better decision making.
 

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.”

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

Faculty Research: Sexual Harassment on Public Transit

Students waiting to take the VTA in downtown San Jose.

Students waiting to take the VTA in downtown San Jose.

“I was riding the metro alone on a Sunday morning, and as I turned the corner, there was a man masturbating. I was scared and ran away,” recalls Asha Weinstein Agrawal of an incident she encountered as a college student during a vacation in Paris two decades ago.

The Professor of Urban and Regional Planning and the Director of Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) National Transportation Finance Center Agrawal says although she didn’t talk about it then, there’s a need today to start conversations around sexual harassment and recognize behaviors and patterns that women who use public transit witness all over the world.

Over the last three years, almost two-thirds (63 percent) of SJSU students had experienced some form of harassment while using the bus or train, according to the recent MTI-sponsored research study titled “Crime and Harassment on Public Transportation: A Survey of SJSU Students Set in International Context.”

Agrawal’s team includes UCLA Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, one of the global project leaders who put together the original survey, Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Cristina Tortora and Yajing Hu, now a senior scientist at Abbott, who worked as a data analytics intern with the team. The SJSU survey asked essentially the same questions as the global study: “Does sexual harassment happen to you? Are you worried? Have you ever reported? Does fear of harassment change the way you use transit?”

The survey found that public transit harassment is not unique to San Jose State students. Agrawal’s team worked on data collected from a random sample of 891 SJSU students. With that many voices woven in, the SJSU narrative mirrors typical concerns that students around the world expressed when the same survey was administered in 18 cities across six continents, including San Jose, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Mexico City in North America, Bogota, Sao Paolo and Rio Claro in South America, London, Paris, Milan, Lisbon, Stockholm, and Huddinge in Europe, Tokyo, Guangzhou and Manila in Asia, Lagos in Africa and Melbourne in Australia.

Although fear of harassment binds all respondents together across demographics, Agrawal has a guess about the underlying reasons behind why SJSU students were less likely to feel “always” or “often” safe after dark on the bus or on the train, compared to students in the other cities in the global study. She points to downtown San Jose’s features after dark—mostly empty streets and transit vehicles. The responses could easily vary in European and Asian cities that have considerable activity on the streets after dark. In addition, relatively high proportions of university students don’t have the luxury of driving private cars. Compared to the population at large, students more frequently use public transit, especially in the United States.

Agrawal says abuse on public transit is not new. Having studied the transportation of 1890s America as part of her doctoral research, she saw that women feared sexual harassment on public transit then, too. “Nice women didn’t want to ride the street cars because they would get groped or harassed” was a common refrain in the articles she remembers reading during her dissertation writing days. There is new attention on the topic of sexual offense today as part of the MeToo movement, but it’s been happening all around the world ever since there was public transit, she adds.

As Agrawal argues, that train of thought is still what stops some women from using public transit. Women throughout history have found themselves at society’s margins, as have older adults, vulnerable people and those who identify as LGBTQ, whose fear of harassment has influenced their participation in broader society.

Transit trips are not limited to vehicle settings. Rather, they are multi-phased activities, including riding on vehicles, waiting at transit stops or walking/biking to and from those points. The survey looked at the transit experience in these three areas as well. “Besides asking for experiences on the bus or on the train, we also asked about while you’re waiting, either at the bus stop or the train stop, and also the access journey,” says Agrawal. These environments are not controlled by transit operators, but offer perspectives on choices a rider may make about using transit. The goal of the survey was to understand how safety concerns affect their choice of transit.

With so many students taking public transit every day, Agrawal wondered if there would be a correlation between the amount of harassment and number of complaints filed. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case,” she says. “People often think it’s so commonplace that there’s no point reporting, or that even if they do, it hardly yields results,” which in turn leads to a feeling of helplessness in victims.

Harassment is largely perceived to be a woman’s issue. Men’s experiences don’t often make it to the headlines. The SJSU survey revealed that 40 percent of men experienced sexual assault on buses or trains, expanding the conversation beyond gender identities.

Agrawal is hopeful that the results of the survey could be a starting point for transit operators to consider certain measures that can proactively address the issues. She says transit operators—and others— who’ve built apps for commuters to report graffiti and broken lights could consider adding a category of language that would make sexual harassment reporting easier, “thus making it more obvious that there is a problem.”

2020 Faculty Award Winners

San Jose State has recognized four distinguished faculty members for noteworthy achievement in teaching, scholarship and service. Read more about each recipient:

President’s Scholar: Lawrence Quill, Department of Political Science

Outstanding Professor: Charlotte Sunseri, Department of Anthropology

Outstanding Lecturer: Sharmin Khan, Department of Linguistics

Distinguished Service: Karen Singmaster, Department of Chemistry

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.

School of Information Researchers Recognized By Emerald Publishing

Emerald Publishing, a firm that has a portfolio of 300 journals, 2,500+ book titles and more than 1,500 case studies on the impact of research, recognized articles authored by two SJSU professors and one alumna.

Their annual Literati Awards recognizes articles in four categories: Highly Commended Paper, Outstanding Paper, Outstanding Reviewer and Outstanding Author Contribution.

College of Professional and Global Education School of Information Associate Professor Hsuanwei “Michelle” Chen and Professor Patricia Franks received an award for Highly Commended Paper for “Voices in the Cloud: Social Media and Trust in Canadian and U.S. Local Governments” in Records Management Journal. Their study examined two questions: Can local government use social media to increase citizen trust and if local government can use social media, what can be learned about the administration of social media that results in an incrase in citizen trust of government. The pair examined 20 local governments in Canada and the USA.

Emily Coyne, ’16 MLIS, received an award for Outstanding Paper for “Big data information governance by accountants” in International Journal of Accounting and Information Management. Her work with colleagues from the University of Memphis, Tennessee, aims to address a lack of understanding about Big Data in the accounting field. The researchers look at ways to address how accountants can turn Big Data into useful information as well as how they can assist with information governance.

New Executive Director Joins Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change

Akilah Carter-Francique, the new executive director of the Institute for the Study of Sport Society and Social Change, poses for a photo during SJSU's Words to Action Town Hall at Levi Stadium. (Photo by David Schmitz)

Akilah Carter-Francique, the new executive director of the Institute for the Study of Sport Society and Social Change, poses for a photo during SJSU’s Words to Action Town Hall at Levi Stadium. (Photo by David Schmitz)

Akilah Carter-Francique said she never pictured moving to Silicon Valley as a step in her career trajectory, but when she saw the job posting for the executive director of the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change at San Jose State University she had to apply. She first connected with SJSU when she was invited to be a faculty affiliate with the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change (ISSSSC). She visited the campus for the first time in October 2018 for the Words to Action: Landmarks and Legacy of Athlete Activism Town Hall.

“It was great to have an opportunity to see the programming with Dr. Harry Edwards, Tommie Smith and John Carlos,” she said. “And especially to hear Wyomia Tyus—to sit in the audience and listen to one of my ‘sheroes’ talk about her experiences at the ’68 Games and learn about the challenges she faced and how she overcame them was a treasured experience.”

In July, Carter-Francique began her tenure as executive director of ISSSSC and will guide the Institute in honoring the university’s history of social justice while also looking toward the future. She aims to move the Institute into a position to not only host important discussions about issues of race, gender equity, and activism but to be able to educate through workshops and provide thought and research that will influence practice and inform policy creation.

Her personal and professional experience made her an ideal choice for the position. She grew up in Topeka, Kansas as the daughter of two K-12 educators. She herself was a student-athlete in track and field in college. She completed a doctorate at the University of Georgia and has experience working in in higher education as a professor and administrator in campus recreation. She also worked a short period of time in K-12 education stimulating her passion for young people and student engagement.

Her scholarly endeavors and field of focus encompasses the intersection of sport, society and social justice that is inclusive of issues of diversity, social movements, and the dynamics of social change and development. She will also serve as an associate professor in the Department of African American Studies, in addition to her work with the Institute. She is the co-editor of Athletic Experience at Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Past Present, and Persistence and Critical Race Theory: Black Athletic Experience in the United States.

Carter-Francique is using her first semester to get to know institutional entities and people on and off campus to find ways to connect on programming and research opportunities. For example, on-campus she is meeting with representatives from the African American Black Student Success Center, the PRIDE Center, the Gender Equity Center and Counseling and Psychological Services, among others.

“I have a student-first mentality, so I want to understand the student groups, who they serve, and how they can be involved,” she said. “I am excited to be here and excited for the opportunity to work with others here.”

While she continues to get to know stakeholders, both on and off campus, Carter-Francique said ISSSSC will focus on a theme of public health and wellness this year, looking at both physical and mental health issues that intersect with sport at all levels.

She noted that her own experience as a student-athlete as well as her husband’s experience as a student-athlete and professional athlete in his native country of Grenada, and who now coaches Grenada’s track and field team, allows her to understand the importance of helping athletes see that they are multidimensional individuals.

“Who do you want to be to make an impact?” she said. “How can you influence and inspire people? You as an individual have value—you can be more than an athlete. You are many things. Maybe you are a sister, a mother, a mentor.”

Carter-Francique is the 2018-19 President of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS), where she has worked to enhance student involvement in conferences with student poster presentation sessions that support the established “take a student to lunch” program.

“There are a number of undergraduate and master’s students who want to go to graduate school,” she said. “Having the opportunity to present research on a national and international level are very important educational opportunities because they are future scholars and leaders.”

Carter-Francique’s discussions of social and global issues extend to her home, where her children’s rooms are decorated with maps. When she or her husband travel to other countries, they discuss with their children the languages that are spoken, the foods that are eaten, sports that are played and other age-appropriate social issues.

“In my daughter’s last school she was learning Mandarin, so when my husband was traveling to China, she taught him how to say hello. She was thrilled that she could share that knowledge with him,” she said. “We are helping our children, and others we interact with, understand sport and its global, diverse communities.”

Department of African American Studies Lecture Series

Carter-Francique will be giving a talk on Thursday, September 12, 2019 in the Martin Luther King Library Room 225 6 to 8 p.m. as a part of the Department of African American Studies Lecture Series.