$3M Grant from the Koret Foundation Benefits Students

The Koret Foundation’s focus on higher education aligns with the goals of SJSU’s Transformation 2030 strategic plan, enabling the university to invest in ways to optimize student success. Photo: David Schmitz / San José State University

San José, Calif. — San José State University is pleased to announce that it has received a $3 million grant from the Koret Foundation. The grant aims to directly benefit students by providing scholarships, career preparation resources, and other services.

“It is only through generous, sustained investments from organizations such as the Koret Foundation that we can engage and educate more students and meet our Transformation 2030 strategic plan goals,” said SJSU President Mary A. Papazian. “The foundation’s priorities in higher education align perfectly with our own, making them an ideal partner. I cannot thank them enough.”

The grant comes at a critical time, as higher education institutions grapple with funding and organizational challenges due to the global COVID-19 health pandemic. In addition to SJSU, 11 other Bay Area colleges and universities have received funding totaling $50 million.

The five-year grant aims to directly benefit students by providing scholarships, career preparation resources, and other services. Photo: Robert Bain / San José State University

“Investing in the next generation of talent, innovation and leadership is critical in order to ensure that all students, including the disadvantaged, have the opportunity to lead productive and successful lives,” said Michael J. Boskin, president of the Koret Foundation.

For SJSU, the five-year grant is significant. The Koret Foundation’s focus on higher education aligns with the goals of SJSU’s Transformation 2030 strategic plan, enabling the university to invest in ways to optimize student success.

“Koret’s Higher Education Initiative seeks to support key academic institutions in the Bay Area and fund programs that can spark new thinking, facilitate partnerships, and contribute to student success.” Boskin said.

Five Grant Elements

During a meeting with Boskin in late 2019, Papazian proposed key student needs, which have translated into the grant’s five elements.

The Koret Scholars Program will allow SJSU to continue awarding scholarships to eligible full-time undergraduate students served by SJSU’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) or the Military and Veteran Student Services Office.

The Veterans’ Services Expansion funding will be used to support the design and implementation of expanded programming for SJSU veterans in specific focus areas: career readiness, healthy living, women veterans support, and building community.

The Navigating College-to-Career Success funding will be used to integrate proven education-to-career tools and to engage experts to integrate these resources into existing campus services.

The Diversifying STEM Pipeline Project funding will be used to build upon proven and existing service delivery methods to pilot activities focused on diversifying the STEM pipeline through two avenues: training of teachers who support high school students and offering exceptional hands-on STEM learning experiences.

The Capital Resources for 21st-Century Learning funding will be used to purchase specific items for use by SJSU students with the goal of helping to optimize student success, improve completion rates, and bolster career advancement opportunities.


About San José State University

The founding campus of the 23-campus California State University system, San José State provides a comprehensive university education, granting bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in 250 areas of study—offered through its nine colleges. With more than 35,000 students and nearly 4,370 employees, San José State continues to be an essential partner in the economic, cultural and social development of Silicon Valley and the state, annually contributing 10,000 graduates to the workforce. The university is immensely proud of the accomplishments of its more than 280,000 alumni, 60 percent of whom live and work in the Bay Area.

About the Koret Foundation

The Koret Foundation is committed to strengthening the Bay Area and supporting the Jewish community in the U.S. and Israel through strategic grantmaking to outstanding organizations. Grounded in historical Jewish principles and traditions, and dedicated to humanitarian values, the foundation is committed to innovation, testing new ideas, and serving as a catalyst by bringing people and organizations together to help solve societal and systemic problems of common concern. Learn more about the Koret Foundation and its grantees at koret.org.

STEM Faculty Members Receive $1.69M NSF Grant Award

SJSU community members participating in STEM education program.

Photo: David Schmitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diversity in STEM Master’s Degrees Recognized

Professor sits with science students in lab.

Photo courtesy of Miri VanHoven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bachelor’s Degree Diversity across All Fields

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A student with visual impairment touches a 3D model.

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

Multiple 3D printers assembled by students with visual impairment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CyberGirlz Find Friends at Facebook

Photo: David Schmitz

SJSU CyberGirlz program participants at Facebook (photos by David Schmitz).

Thirty-eight middle school girls from San Jose State University’s CyberGirlz program took part in a unique experience this summer that may ultimately be a life changing experience for them. They went to cybersecurity camp at Facebook. For months, students from SJSU’s Jay Pinson STEM Education program taught the girls basic coding and cybersecurity skills in after-school programs made possible through funding from Symantec, Intel, AT&T and Facebook.

At Facebook, the girls advanced those skills and learned more about malware, firewalls and cyber-ethics. They also heard from Facebook’s chief security officer, and a panel of female employees who shared their personal career stories and advice on getting into the cybersecurity field.

Schmitz

Facebook gave each girl a new laptop computer to make sure they continue to hone their cyber sleuthing skills.

Facebook, along with the Jay Pinson STEM Education program and several non-profit groups  are working together to get young girls interested in STEM fields, especially computer science.

They hope to pique their interest early on since some researchers believe girls loose interest in STEM subjects around 12 or 13 years of age. Facebook hopes to keep the interest going. They gave each girl a new laptop computer to make sure they continue to hone their cyber sleuthing skills.

The Jay Pinson STEM Education program is also gearing up for a new year of providing classroom instruction to elementary and middle school students in the San Jose area.

“We feel there’s a need to provide a safe space for girls to explore their curiosity and skills in cybersecurity, so in ten years we see a workforce that resembles our community with at least 50 percent men and 50 percent women participating,” said Virginia Lehmkuhl-Dakhwe, director of the Jay Pinson STEM Education program.

teachers working with models that will aid in computer designs

Teachers Enlist in Intro to Engineering Design Bootcamp

teachers working with models that will aid in computer designs

At SJSU this summer, high school teachers learn about computer-aided design software and best practices for engaging their students in a hands-on, project-based curriculum.

By Emily Allen, Associate Dean, Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering

This month, 20 high school teachers from Northern California schools are on campus for their Introduction to Engineering Design “bootcamp,” a two-week intensive training workshop for our Project Lead the Way engineering curriculum. Project Lead the Way is an important foundation for SJSU’s Engineering Pathways to Success program. The public-private initiative seeks to engage Bay Area middle and high school students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, and empower them to succeed in college engineering programs and engineering careers. More than 2,000 students in 23 Bay Area schools currently participate in the program, with another 20 schools coming on board this fall.  The teachers reside in Campus Village housing and spend eight hours a day in the engineering building learning computer-aided design software and best practices for engaging their students in a hands-on, project-based curriculum. Participants include math, science, and career/tech ed teachers; among them are a few who entered the teaching profession after obtaining engineering degrees.

photo of Susan Santone and incoming SJSU President Mohammad Qayoumi

Nationally Acclaimed Educator Headlines Sustainability Conference

photo of Susan Santone and incoming SJSU President Mohammad Qayoumi

Susan Santone and incoming SJSU President Mohammad Qayoumi. Photo by Michelle Terris.

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

Especially in Silicon Valley, we all know we need to produce more scientists and engineers to lead the way in developing a sustainable way of life. The question is – how? Susan Santone might have the answer.

The driving force behind Michigan-based Creative Change Educational Solutions headlined the “Educating for Sustainability” conference May 3 at SJSU.

The conference was extremely well received, with over 50 participants including educators from as far away as the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The genius of Santone’s approach is it is comprehensive (did you know women in rural Africa spend more than 25 percent of their day carrying water?) while being effective.

Santone’s goal is to affect positive change while increasing student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math, known in academic circles as STEM education.

Santone found the Silicon Valley crowd “acutely aware of the needs and issues surroundings sustainability and STEM education … because of the location and the historic role of STEM in the region.”

“At the same time,” she continued, “the event echoed common themes I’ve found everywhere, from rural Minnesota to urban New York: People have a deep concern about our shared future and the type of world we will leave our children.”

The SJSU Connection

The event was funded in part by Chevron and hosted by the Bay Area Earth Science Institute, within the College of Science. BAESI provides professional development opportunities for teachers in grades 4-12.

BAESI Co-Director Ellen Metzger met Santone while searching for new materials for her master’s in science education students.

Incoming SJSU President Mohammad Qayoumi opened the conference by emphasizing no other region of the world is better positioned to lead the move from oil to alternative fuels than Silicon Valley.

Qayoumi noted the transition will take a huge amount of innovation and entrepreneurialism from a wide range of college-educated professionals, just the sort of people produced by SJSU.

In her opening marks, SJSU Sustainability Director Katherine Cushing shared the story of a San Francisco teacher and SJSU alumna who incorporated sustainability into her math class curriculum.

So for example, instead of solving polynomial equations in the abstract, students used such work as a tool to arrive at solutions for real world environmental issues.

“This approach really can work toward improving student achievement,” said Cushing, noting the students’ test scores improved.

Sharing Ideas

On that positive note, participants literally rolled up their sleeves and got to work on group projects that demonstrate the classroom curriculum developed by Santone.

Afterwards, Bellarmine College Preparatory Science Department Chair Patrick Adams found much to contemplate while returning to work.

“As I was riding my bike back to Bellarmine after the conference, I was struck by how incredibly important opportunities like attending this conference and meeting with a broad cross-section of the community are for educators and planners,” Adams said. “We all spend lots of time working on our own projects and we all have very busy lives but this time to share our ideas and struggles is critical to our collaboration and growth.

“The second ‘big idea’ that I took with me was the inclusion of the creative arts in the STEM model. Thinking about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math without including the ‘A’ for Arts would fail to recognize the absolute need for creativity, imagination and expression that will be required in order to teach for sustainability and move our entire global community toward a truly sustainable future. “

Group shot of SJSU officials accepting $550,000 check.

Science and Math Teacher Training Program Receives $550,000 Gift

Group shot of SJSU officials accepting $550,000 check.

Dana C. Ditmore presents monetary gift to the Center for STEM Education.

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

SJSU’s premiere science and math K-12 teacher training program has received a big boost.

A local group that originally came together to raise funds for two science fairs held in San Jose provided $550,000 in residuals to the Center for STEM Education, including the Jay Pinson Program.

“Jay always said the teacher made the difference when it comes to preparing students for college,” said Dana C. Ditmore, International Science & Engineeering Fair (ISEF) Association board president for events held in 2001 and 2010.

STEM, an abbreviation for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, is common on college campuses nationwide. But it takes on special significance in association with our region and campus.

Pinson, a dean emeritus of engineering, elevated SJSU’s national stature by raising millions to modernize the building housing his college. Even in retirement, he poured his energy into projects readying Silicon Valley youth for work in the tech sector.

Pinson made seeking support from tech executives like Ditmore a top priority. In return, SJSU earned Ditmore’s trust. At a recent checking signing ceremony, he lauded the STEM Center  as a three-college initiative led by the College of Science, with the colleges of education and engineering.

“What I see is a very collaborative environment at this university,” Ditmore said. “This is admirable, and not an easy thing to do, and it’s one of the reasons why we feel we are doing the right thing by leaving the residual to the university. We know it’s in good hands.”

The funding will be used in part to support pre-service teachers pursuing single-subject credentials in math or science, and to provide current teachers with professional development. Keep in mind these are the very same teachers who build the pipeline feeding students to science fairs, SJSU and the entire tech industry.

This is a point not lost on Gerry Selter, provost and vice president for academic affairs. He recalled ISEF, Pinson and the program now bearing his name share a long history. SJSU was the host university for two fairs, supplying all sorts of support from venues to judges, and Pinson was among the first college deans nationwide to offer scholarships to science fair standouts.

“It more than pleases me that those early efforts have created a new model of collaboration,” Selter said. “This is a clear sign that interdisciplinary partnerships coupled with public support from our community, individuals and alumni can bring change. This is what SJSU is all about.”