SJSU Celebrates Immigrant Heritage Month with Spartan Stories

During Immigrant Heritage Month, San Jose State University will be telling stories of our students, faculty, staff and alumni who have unique and inspiring immigrant narratives to share. In addition, we will be highlighting our research, scholarship and creative activities that enhance our understanding of immigration and the contributions of immigrant populations to the fabric of SJSU’s campus community and society at large.

Assistant Professor Minghui Diao is originally from China, but moved to the U.S. for graduate school.

Assistant Professor Minghui Diao is originally from China, but moved to the U.S. for graduate school.

San Jose State University Assistant Professor Minghui Diao’s research focuses on the impact of clouds and aerosols on global climate change and regional air quality. Her investigations take her to far-flung regions such as Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, where she completes aircraft-based field campaigns. Traveling far distances is nothing new to the assistant professor who was born in China, moved to New Jersey to complete her doctorate, did her postdoctoral research in Boulder, Colorado, and eventually landed at SJSU four years ago in the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science.

She received a bachelor’s in Environmental Sciences from Peking University in China and then applied directly to doctoral programs. She accepted the Francis Robbins Upton Graduate Fellowship at Princeton University, one of the highest graduate fellowships offered by the in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

“I moved here (the United States) as a student, and I have been very lucky to be in academia,” she said. “Everyone is supportive, intellectual and everyone works very hard.”

Assistant Professor Minghui Diao presents her research at SJSU's Celebration of Research on April 23.

Assistant Professor Minghui Diao presents her research at SJSU’s Celebration of Research on April 23. Photo by Nathaniel Agot

Diao noted it as not easy to get through graduate school, but she formed a close-knit group with fellow students and an advisor who introduced her to working with aircrafts and water vapor to research climate change.

“It appealed to me,” she said. “I wanted to do something that fits into the bigger picture. If I am going to do research for my life’s work, I want it to be important and worthwhile.”

In addition to the rigorous coursework and time spent on research, Diao said an unexpected challenge came when she moved out of the residence halls into an apartment. While living on campus, she had access to dining halls but when she moved out, she had to learn to cook. She said she and her boyfriend at the time, who is now her husband, learned to cook together.

“I am lucky I met him because we helped each other through the difficult times,” she said.

Following the completion of her doctorate in civil and environmental engineering, Diao received a postdoctoral fellowship with National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Advanced Study Program. After her postdoc, she said she was drawn to teaching at San Jose State’s Department of Meteorology and Climate Science as many of her colleagues spoke highly of the program, and because it was the only program in the state of California with a focus on meteorology.

She also noted that she knew the department was research-focused and “everyone was super friendly when I did my interview.”

Since arriving at SJSU, Diao herself has been successful in earning two faculty fellowships from NCAR. She was named one of SJSU’s Early Career Investigator Award recipients for 2018-19 for success in securing grants and publishing her research.

“In grad school, the entire faculty was really supportive of every single student,” Diao said. “They didn’t isolate international students and in the PhD program there were quite a few international students. They never treated us any different than our groupmates…More than that they treated us as peers.”

It is an approach that Diao brings into her own research lab at San Jose State, where she works with graduate and undergraduate students. One of her former graduate students was the lead author on two published papers and is now pursuing a doctorate at the University of Oklahoma. She also regularly invites students to conduct summer research with her through NCAR, and has also prepared students to give oral presentations at professional meetings at the American Mathematical Society (AMS) and the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

While Diao has made a home in academia, she doesn’t get to see her family much since they still live in China. She visits once a year or her parents come to the U.S. to visit her and her husband.

“The last time my parents visited we still lived in an apartment, but last year we bought a house,” she said. “We have space for them too now.”

Spartans, reach out to us at you would like to share your immigrant heritage stories.

SJSU To Send a Dozen Student Researchers to CSU Competition

Kauionalani Kekuawela, right, of the College of Health and Human Sciences works with a patient on her study “Differential Cardiovascular Responses to Acute Exercise in Children.” She is one of a dozen Spartans who will represent SJSU at the CSU Student Research Competition in April.

Kauionalani Kekuawela, right, of the College of Health and Human Sciences, works with a patient. She presented her study “Differential Cardiovascular Responses to Acute Exercise in Children” at the SJSU Student Research Competition Feb. 26 and is one of a dozen Spartans who will represent SJSU at the CSU Student Research Competition in April.

By David Goll

Described as one of the strongest field of competitors in several years, San Jose State University will be sending the maximum number of student researchers allowed per campus to the California State University Student Research Competition in April. The finalists include two teams of two students each as well as eight individuals who will compete against hundreds of students from across the system for top honors.

“We had some very strong presentations this year,” said Gilles Muller, associate dean of Research for SJSU’s Office of Research. The finalists made pitches to a panel of faculty judges Feb. 26 and 27 at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library as part of SJSU’s Student Research Competition.

This year marked the 40th anniversary of SJSU’s campus competition, with individuals and student teams competing from five colleges in five categories. This year, the discipline categories included Biological and Agricultural Sciences; Health, Nutrition and Clinical Sciences; Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Engineering and Computer Science; and Business, Economics and Public Administration.

Richard Bridges, a graduate student in the SJSU College of Health and Human Sciences, is among the students moving onto the CSU-wide competition. He presented his project, titled “Tertiary Treatment of Hepatitis C as Prevention for End Stage Liver Disease: A Qualitative Study Examining the Barriers and Facilitator to Treatment of Chronic HCV Among Current and Former Intravenous Drug Users”. His faculty mentor was Dr. Monica Allen.

Conducting his research among a group of nine black men in San Francisco’s Bayview district, Bridges wanted to investigate reasons for the sharp increase in deaths related to Hep C noted nationally by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 2003 and 2013, and what type of barriers people of color, some of whom contract the disease through intravenous drug use, face in trying to obtain treatment, among other issues.

One barrier that Bridges discovered was a concern by health insurers and providers that drug users could be reinfected after treatment. One of the faculty judges asked Bridges if he found many studies on the subject already available.

“There has been very little research into this disease among this population, and it’s because of the stigma of IV drug use,” he said. “The population in my study does not get the press.”

He added that a new emphasis is being put on the disease by big pharmaceutical companies given its prevalence among baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, most of whom are assumed to have health insurance.

Another team of student researchers who made the cut were Jobelle Peralta and Blake DuPriest, students in the College of Science. Dr. Bree Grillo-Hill served as faculty mentor for the project titled “A New Paradigm for Regulation of Cell Death by Intracellular pH Dynamics in the Fly Eye.”

The pair used cells from the eyes of the insect to assess how the levels of acidity and alkalinity could determine whether those cells would remain healthy or become cancerous. They also examined the causes of cell death in the fly so they could devise strategies to block those causes.

“We were surprised by the results, but that is science,” Peralta said. “You’re always surprised by the results.”

Other finalists in the SJSU competition heading to Fullerton for the competition on April 26 and 27 include:

  • Eric Anderson, Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering, — “Can 3D Printing Compete with Mass Production: A Mechanical Reliability Approach.” Faculty Mentor: Ozgur Keles
  • Sky Eurich and Shivangi Agarwal, Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering — “Takeover Response Times Following Disengagements in Semi-Autonomous Vehicles.” Faculty Mentor: Francesca M. Favaro
  • Avni Gulati, Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering — “Social Recommendation Systems.” Faculty Mentor: Magdalini Eirinaki
  • Sambhav Gupta, Lucas College and Graduate School of Business — “Artificially Intelligent (AI) Tutors in the Classroom: A Needs Assessment Study of Designing Chatbots to Support Student Success.” Faculty Mentor: Yu Chen
  • Vanshika Gupta, College of Science — “Investigating Macromolecular Structures for the Transformation of Greenhouse Gases Into Liquid Fuels.” Faculty Mentor: Madalyn Radlauer
  • Kauionalani Kekuawela, College of Health and Human Sciences — “Differential Cardiovascular Responses to Acute Exercise in Children.” Faculty Mentor: Areum Jensen
  • Sarah Ortega, Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering — “Exploring a Hybrid Design for a Short to Medium Range Transport Aircraft.” Faculty Mentor: Nikos Mourtos
  • Noe Vidales, College of Science — “Clustering Mixed Type Data Sets Using Probability Distance Clustering and Gower’s Metric.” Faculty Mentor: Cristina Tortora

Stellar student researches stellar noise

SJSU physics student Stephanie Striegel is involved in research that could help scientists discover new exoplanets.

SJSU physics student Stephanie Striegel is involved in research that could help scientists discover new exoplanets.

Stephanie Striegel is set to graduate this spring with a bachelor’s in physics but she already has her sights set high — beyond this galaxy to be exact. Last summer, Striegel interned at the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena with Dr. Johanna Teske, where they conducted research on mitigating stellar noise using high cadence radial velocity observations for the purpose of detecting small exoplanets. Exoplanets are planets that orbit a sun other than our sun, according to NASA. Scientists are particularly interested in identifying these bodies beyond our galaxy in their search to find a place that might be habitable.

Striegel’s summer internship was offered through the CAMPARE program, which recruits students from California State University and California community colleges to engage in research, with a goal of increasing underrepresented students in the sciences. She was awarded a $3,000 grant from Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research program to fund an observing run at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile to collect more data on her stellar noise project with Teske during the school year. According to Sigma Xi, 12 percent of the 810 applicants who applied were approved for funding, and of those approved, only 17 percent were undergraduate students.

While she completes the final courses of her undergraduate career, Striegel is also engaged in an internship at NASA’s Ames Research Center (ARC). She is working with Dr. Tom Greene on reducing laboratory data and performing detector characterization for infrared instruments to enable future studies of habitable exoplanets.

“The classes at SJSU have prepared me for my internships both at Carnegie Observatories and NASA ARC,” she said. “Our physics department has a focus on computational physics, which has been especially useful since a lot of astronomy research requires programming skills.”

Before beginning her internships, Striegel worked with Associate Professor Aaron Romanowsky’s student research team. His research group was focused on ultra-compact dwarf  (UCD) galaxies, which are brighter and more compact than typical dwarf galaxies. Her task included mining the Sloan Digital Sky Survey catalogue for possible candidates by analyzing the characteristics of confirmed UCDs and using SQL queries to do comparisons around galaxies in the local universe. Along with other scientists, Romanowsky’s team hopes to discover how UCDs were formed, specifically if they were part of larger galaxies.

“I’m very grateful for the Physics and Astronomy department at SJSU,” she said. “My peers and the faculty here have been nothing but supportive, and every internship or opportunity I’ve had, I owe to them.”