SJSU Students Use Data to Help Serve City’s Most Vulnerable Communities

A map created by SJSU graduate students presents data from San José’s Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services.

Data has the power to transform communities.

Just ask Saritha Podali, ’22 MS Data Analytics, and Fengling Zhou, ’22 MS Data Analytics. As part of a new partnership with San José State and the City of San José — supported by the Knight Foundation — the pair played a key role in gathering, interpreting and presenting data that can help the city provide resources to those who need it most.

San José’s Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Services (PRNS) offers scholarships for qualifying residents to participate in youth activities and after-school programs. While the city has always sought to ensure the scholarships went to those most in need, certain questions persisted: Were the people receiving the scholarships getting the right amount of aid? Who was being left out, and why?

Saritha Podali, '22 MS Data Analytics

Saritha Podali, ’22 MS Data Analytics

Enter the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation who, thanks to a partnership with SJSU’s MS Data Analytics program, brought Podali and Zhou on board to tackle the issue in what was dubbed the city’s Data Equity Project.

“We define data equity as using the city’s data ethically and in ways that drive equitable outcomes for constituents,” explained Julia Chen, project manager for the Data Equity Project.

Starting in April, Zhou and Podali got to work mining PRNS data — by organizing records from 2009 to 2019 using the programming language Python — to paint a full picture of who was enrolling in the youth programs and who was receiving financial support.

“One of our primary objectives was to provide PRNS folks who might have little or no tech background with an easy-to-use, interactive experience to present the trends to their board,” explained Podali.

Fengling Zhou, '22 Data Analytics

Fengling Zhou, ’22 Data Analytics

And that’s exactly what they did: Their final presentation to PRNS and Mayor Sam Liccardo included an interactive map identifying the city’s most vulnerable communities by ZIP code and how many scholarship dollars were allocated to those areas compared to others. Plus, it highlighted where certain communities indicated a need for programs that were unavailable locally by attending those outside their immediate area.

Podali and Zhou, along with others who worked on the project, shared a list of recommendations on how to use the data, which PRNS plans to do, explained Hal Spangenberg, interim division manager of PRNS.

“We will use this data and information to help inform key decisions in the allocation and distribution of scholarship funds and hopefully increase scholarships to those most in need,” he said.

“We can’t overstate the value of the dashboards they created,” Chen added. “Now, the PRNS team has a level of data and truth they can refer to as they make their future decisions.”

“Data is not anonymous,” she continued. “These are people’s lives we have in our hands. It’s not just analysis for the sake of analysis; we are ultimately here to hopefully better the lives of residents of San Jose. That’s the importance of having local students doing this kind of work and bringing their local context to the table. We need to understand the community we’re serving, so it made sense to partner with the university, where there’s a pipeline of talent.”

A demonstration of the interactive map created by Podali and Zhou for the City of San José.

One of the goals of the SJSU MS Data Analytics program is to show students that they can apply analytics to solve relevant, real-world problems, explained Ruth Duran Huard, dean of the College of Professional and Global Education (CPGE).

“One of our core learning objectives is for our students to integrate multidisciplinary knowledge to engage in practical data analytics projects, from analyzing requirements to managing data, building models, presenting results and assessing societal impacts,” she noted.

“The partnership of CPGE’s Applied Data Science department with the City of San José speaks to our university’s commitment to connect and contribute within our communities,” Huard continued. “To be able to support the city in its efforts to meet its data systems needs and develop an overall data strategy has been invaluable, especially for our faculty and students.”

Mohamed Abousalem, SJSU’s vice president for research and innovation, says this collaboration is an example of how the university’s research expertise can have tremendous public impact.

“SJSU has several areas of research expertise that intersect with the City of San José’s interests and priorities,” he said. “This collaboration was a demonstration of how our students and faculty can help the city make data-informed decisions based on expertise and skill in data analytics. Our partners have a great opportunity to tap into the resources of today’s students to select tomorrow’s employees through meaningful and productive research and development projects.”

For Podali and Zhou, the experience broadened their understanding on the power of data.

“Being fair when creating policies to serve a community is hard,” noted Zhou. “But our data project provides evidence that will help the best decisions to be made.”

“This experience has helped me develop a new perspective of how data can be transformative for communities,” Podali said.

“I now realize the impact technology advancement has when it is leveraged across all walks of life,” she continued. “Studying community problems, identifying areas of improvement and assessing risks using data analytics is the need of the hour. As exciting as it is to work on groundbreaking artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, it is equally important to ensure that communities receive enough help to position themselves in today’s world of technology.”

View the students’ final presentation, and learn more about SJSU’s MS Data Analytics program

San José State University Launches Cybersecurity and Coding Bootcamps With Fullstack Academy

Photo courtesy of Fullstack Academy

To meet demand for tech jobs in the region, San José State University (SJSU) and Fullstack Academy have launched tech bootcamp programs focused on training aspiring cybersecurity and coding professionals.

Offered through SJSU’s College of Professional and Global Education (CPGE), the bootcamps will be presented in a live online format and are geared to train early-career and experienced professionals of any IT level.

Equipping students with the skills and portfolios to enter the tech workforce in just 26 weeks, the SJSU/Fullstack program is uniquely positioned to serve the burgeoning Silicon Valley market, a region long considered the nation’s center for technology and innovation.

San José has more than 10,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs and nearly 17,000 software job openings, according to Cyberseek.

Bootcamp graduates will qualify for high paying cybersecurity or coding jobs. Pay for beginner-level software engineers in the area is roughly $95,000, and cybersecurity analysts are making nearly $80,000 according to Glassdoor. Both figures well exceed the average San José entry-level salary of $36,807.

“Tracing its origins to Silicon Valley, the tech industry continues to grow at an accelerated pace,” said SJSU College of Professional and Global Education Dean, Ruth Duran Huard, Ph.D. “While these cybersecurity and coding bootcamps will present opportunities for those interested in transitioning into the tech market, the part-time live online format provides greater accessibility to anyone considering a career change or looking to develop a new skill-set.”

“Given the influence of the California market, it’s essential that we continue to expand our footprint in the state,” said Mogan Subramanian, president of Fullstack Academy. “To meet the state’s ever-growing demand for skilled technology experts, we’ve now partnered with our fifth prestigious higher learning institution, having already launched with the University of San Diego; Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo; CalTech; and California State University East Bay.”

Applications are now being accepted for the new part-time, 26-week bootcamps. The SJSU Cyber Bootcamp will teach students how to monitor and secure systems, networks and applications, and deploy offensive and defensive tactics needed to appropriately respond to cyber breaches. The SJSU Coding Bootcamp will provide Fullstack JavaScript training, giving students a foundation in front- and back-end web development and the crucial programming skills needed for in-demand coding jobs.

The bootcamps, which do not require SJSU enrollment or prior technical experience, will run from May 24 to November 20, 2021. Students must apply for the bootcamps by May 13, 2021. Scholarships are offered for SJSU alumni, current students and employees, as well as military personnel.

Today’s Tech Revolution Requires Some Humanity, Papazian Tells Sacramento Bee Readers in Opinion Piece

President Mary A. Papazain is a strong proponent of the value of the humanities, liberal arts and social sciences in higher education. Here, she served as a featured guest for the Frankenstein Bicentennial Monster Discussion Panel in 2018. Photo by David Schmitz.

An op-ed by San Jose State University President Mary A. Papazian published in the October 29 edition of the Sacramento Bee asserts that “the liberal arts must remain a vital part of higher education for the sake of the future of our students, our economy, and our society.”

Drawing largely on her academic background and expertise on the English Renaissance era, Papazian writes that “Just as the Renaissance opened mankind’s eyes to the reality that we do not sit at the center of the universe, today’s technology age has expanded our capabilities beyond the imaginations of only decades ago.” She goes on to note how Renaissance figures such as John Donne and Leonardo di Vinci exemplified many of the humanist principles lacking in today’s technology innovators.

Papazian said the messages conveyed in her op-ed piece are more vital than ever, particularly given the perils of technology and social media that have manifested in attacks on elections and the democratic process.

“It is vital that we understand the true impact of the technology-driven world in which we now live,” she said. “We need to be able to guard our global society against the dangers of this digital age. How we ensure that the next generation interacts more responsibility with technology than we have done this far is critical, and refocusing on the talents of humanists and liberal arts is an excellent place to start.”

In July, Papazian delivered a well-received speech at the Council of Graduate Schools Summer Workshop titled “Humanities for the 21st Century: Innovation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” There, she pointed out that “the hard skills learned from STEM programs are essential, but employers actually are desperate for candidates who have balanced their personal portfolios with both digital capabilities and human understanding.”

The partnering of STEM disciplines with the liberal arts, she asserted, can lead to true academic impact at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

“Students will work in groups all their professional lives, and they must be able to collaborate effectively with people from a broad array of backgrounds and working styles,” said Papazian. “They must be able to communicate in a variety of ways, using digital tools that we know are evolving with stunning rapidity. And they will be required to be creative and confident.

“Where better to learn all of this than in our labs and studios on our campuses? Where better to learn the capacity for these things than in our classrooms and our community-based projects?” she asks.

Developing the tools and the ability to talk about ethics, unconscious bias and the complexity of emotions within individuals and cultures, Papazian said, can help students recognize the choices that lead to collaboration rather than conflict.

“The liberal arts need to be a vital part of the education spectrum if we are to have any hope of addressing the problems we are seeing and reading about on almost a daily basis,” she said.

“Our challenge—and our opportunity—is to seize the moment to influence and shape history meaningfully in this, our present Renaissance.”

 

National Engineers Week: SJSU Teaches Top Tech Trends

National Engineers Week is February 17-23, with more than 70 engineering, education and cultural societies and more than 50 corporations and government agencies involved in events and activities to celebrate the profession and promote STEM education around the nation. Ranked #3 in the nation among public engineering programs offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees, according to U.S. News & World Report 2019, and a top contributor of talent to Silicon Valley, San Jose State University will be celebrating the faculty, students and programs that make up our Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering in a series of stories on our Newsroom and social media channels. The College of Engineering offers 13 engineering disciplines with 7,400 students enrolled and works closely with its Engineering Industry Advisory Council to ensure the curriculum and learning experiences offered to its students align with workforce needs.

Ahmed Banafa Photo by David Schmitz

Ahmed Banafa
Photo by David Schmitz

Teaching the Top Trends in Technology

Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering Professor Ahmed Banafa, who was recently ranked by LinkedIn as the number one voice to follow in technology, has identified four hot tech trends for 2019. For anyone who uses a fitness tracker, smart phone, email or other applications, asks Alexa or Google Home what the weather will be like today, or accesses public records, these hot trends have potential to impact all these devices and technologies.

An image depicts the hot tech trends of 2019: Internet of Things, Blockchain, AI, and Cybersecurity. Infographic courtesy of Ahmed Banafa.

An image depicts the hot tech trends of 2019: Internet of Things, Blockchain, AI, and Cybersecurity. Infographic courtesy of Ahmed Banafa.

The trends include the Internet of Things, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and Cybersecurity, or as Banafa has dubbed them “IBAC.” SJSU students are learning about these cutting edge technologies in their classrooms, with students and faculty engaged in research in each area.

“SJSU is at the leading edge in all these trends,” Banafa said. “We have classes covering all of them. We teach IoT and we have an excellent lab for that class. I teach the Blockchain class and I show the students how to tap into and use the blockchain network as well as how to create their own cryptocurrency.”

Banafa shares why each area is a boon.

“IoT is what you see now in Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant,” he said. “They are the hubs of IoT future devices and there is a war between the mentioned companies to dominate this market of $1.7 trillion.”

In December, he shared his top predictions for IoT in the coming year. Banafa noted that the number of devices using IoT technology is likely to increase to 3.6 billion that are actively connected to the Internet and used for daily tasks, with their ability to collect data expanding as 5G technology is introduced. He noted as well that digital transformations in industries such as manufacturing and healthcare have tremendous  impact to improve either production performance and patient care, respectively.

In a similar post last September, Banafa shared his predictions for emerging blockchain technology, one of the newer topics covered at SJSU, as providing security a new perspective where human logic is involved at the top of encryption.

“I am really proud of SJSU for covering all the areas mentioned in IBAC with the last piece of the puzzle, Blockchain,” Banafa said. “Few universities in the world teach it. We are in good company with Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford and Berkeley.”

AI continues to gain traction, he said, with the development of “smart devices” including speakers, homes and now cities.

Cybersecurity remains a critical issue, one that is being tackled on multiple fronts through SJSU’s interdisciplinary Silicon Valley Big Data and Cybersecurity Center.

“Just read the news and you will see that we have daily breaches,” he said, noting a recent Marriott Hotels breach that impacted up to 500 million guests along with a Facebook breach that exposed 50 million accounts.

The college has more than 400 faculty members who teach in its 13 departments, many who are engaged in research or work in industries that keep them up to date on the latest trends in engineering, and the program offers interdisciplinary service learning experiences for students.

“Our engineering students at SJSU are positioned better, perhaps, than any other public university in the country to quickly adapt to the newest needs of a rapidly evolving technology market,” said Sheryl Ehrman, dean of the College of Engineering. “Our hands-on curriculum focuses on strong fundamentals to enable development of critical thinking skills that will serve students throughout their career. They can choose elective courses in emerging areas such as Blockchain and AI/machine-learning. Student projects often involve other emerging areas such as IoT, alternative transportation, nanomedicine, micro-robotics and cybersecurity.”