SJSU Social Sciences

The SJSU College of Social Sciences fall 2015 magazine is now online, in HTML and PDF formats. Check it out to learn more about the college’s people, processes, and plans! Also, please consider making an investment to assist us in our work. The college mailed an end of the year solicitation letter last month; I’ll reproduce it below. Please also spread the word to others!

December 3, 2015

Dear _____:

I trust you enjoyed your Fall 2015 copy of our college’s Together newsletter. If you have yet to receive a copy, you may view it online: You will meet the college’s eight new faculty members, learn about the revamped Applied Research Center (ARC), and read about our Information Technology Coordinator’s long-term partnership with a local Native American community, the Muwekma Ohlone. The newsletter also includes some information about me, your new dean.

I’m writing to ask you to consider a year-end gift to the college. Your investment of any amount will directly and positively impact the important work of our students, faculty, and staff. As an example, at a recent ARC event, Professor Amy Leisenring discussed her research on parental engagement in San José elementary schools. The college supported this research with a grant; some of the grant money allowed undergraduate students to assist with data collection and analysis. This activity fit well into our college’s priority to provide financial support and opportunities for our graduate and undergraduate students to do actual research. As you can see, much of the research our students engage in is actually done in collaboration with local communities to solve pressing social issues.

Another college priority is to support our students so they can graduate as quickly as possible. A major strategy to accomplish this is through our Academic Counseling Center for Excellence in the Social Sciences (ACCESS). ACCESS provides students with academic advising, as well as tutoring in key social science skills like writing and statistical analysis. Our undergraduate students work 12-18 hours a week as peer advisors in ACCESS. A gift of $105 would enable one of these peer advisors to tutor an additional student for 10 hours. A $6,000 gift will enable a peer advisor to support fellow students for an entire semester!

Thank you for considering a year-end gift to support our work. An envelope is enclosed for your convenience. You may also go to our secured website to give: Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like additional information on ways you can help your college and its students.

Warmest Regards,

Walter R. Jacobs
Dean, College of Social Sciences

P.S. Together, we impact the future of countless students. Please make your gifts today before the year-end tax deadline.

Yesterday I attended the Silicon Valley Innovation Challenge, an event that promotes creativity and entrepreneurship from San José State University students, alumni, faculty, and staff. One of the most interesting ideas was a project to deploy drones to monitor neighborhood criminal activity. I asked the students about privacy concurs, and they steered answered towards technical considerations. It appeared that they had not yet thought much about ethical and cultural issues surrounding drone deployment. I should have suggested that they add a social science major to the team!

Lots of folks don’t understand the nuances of capitalism, socialism, and communism. To better understand a comment Donald Trump made about Bernie Sanders being a “socialist-slash-communist,” a reporter asked a high school teacher and a university professor to explain the concepts. The university professor interviewed was the chairperson of SJSU’s Department of Political Science, Professor Lawrence Quill!

Halloween is coming up in a couple of weeks, so student affairs offices around the country are gearing up warnings about offensive Halloween costumes. I really like Wesleyan U’s poster campaign:


My college has a tradition of holding a lunch hour Halloween party. I’m not worried about anyone showing up in inappropriate gear. I’ll go as Darth Vader, and a few others will dress up in Star Wars costumes. I expect Boba Fett to make an appearance, along with at least two stormtroopers. Should be a fun event!


One of my former colleagues in the University of Wisconsin system has posted an interesting article to the Association of American Colleges & Universities’ (AAC&U) LEAP Challenge Blog. Check out his “Learning Through Friendship” reflection. LEAP, by the way, stands for Liberal Education and America’s Promise, an AAC&U national public advocacy and campus action initiative. I should think more about how I can use LEAP in strategic planning for the college.

In a blog post from my first year as a new dean I referenced technorealism:

“In this heady age of rapid technological change, we all struggle to maintain our bearings. The developments that unfold each day in communications and computing can be thrilling and disorienting. One understandable reaction is to wonder: Are these changes good or bad? Should we welcome or fear them? The answer is both.”

My technorealism post popped into mind today while reading an online article by the chair of the Political Science department here at SJSU, “Our love of technology risks becoming a quiet conspiracy against ourselves.” Lawrence Quill wonders “why so many people outside the charmed circle of technology innovators in Silicon Valley seem willing to embrace its vision – especially when it undermines something as fundamental as the liberal democratic right to personal privacy,” and muses about how elements of the dystopian vision in Dave Eggers’ book The Circle are viewed as inevitable by some current politicians. We need to have a more critical engagement with technology innovation.

The Circle is the 2015 common reading selection at SJSU, and activities include talks by faculty members in Psychology and Communication Studies. Maybe a student will be motivated to launch technorealism 2.0!

Yesterday President Obama issued an Executive Order, “Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People.”  The first paragraph:

A growing body of evidence demonstrates that behavioral science insights — research findings from fields such as behavioral economics and psychology about how people make decisions and act on them — can be used to design government policies to better serve the American people.

Economics and psychology are both in the SJSU College of Social Sciences, along with ten other disciplinary or interdisciplinary departments, so we’ll definitely answer the call of using behavioral sciences in service of the American people. As I discussed in a July post, the social sciences are important!

Yesterday was the 14th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks in the United States. On that day I was in my third year as an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota. When the actual attacks happened I was having breakfast, but did not learn about them until I got to campus about an hour later. When I walked into Appleby Hall the first person who broke the news to me was a student, but I thought that he must have been misinformed, as the news sounded impossible. I walked to my office and said hello to my next door neighbor, who had her door open but was glued to her computer screen. She ignored me, which signaled that something really horrific was happening. After 10 minutes of unsuccessful attempts to connect to the websites of U.S. news providers, I was able to reach the BBC’s website, and spent the rest of the day checking news, and talking with colleagues, friends, and family.

About a month ago I asked my Associate Dean if the college did anything for 9/11 anniversaries, and was told that we do not. Next year will be the 15th anniversary of the attacks, so that may be a good time to start. Perhaps one event can be a screening and discussion of the film Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath. One IMDb synopsis:

When a turbaned Sikh man is brutally murdered in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, a college student journeys across America to discover who counts as “one of us” in a world divided into “us” and “them.” Armed with only a camera, Valarie Kaur encounters hundreds of stories never before told — stories of fear and unspeakable loss, but also of resilience and hope — until she finally finds the heart of America, halfway around the world, in the words of a widow. Weaving expert analysis into a personal journey and cross-country road trip, the film confronts the forces dividing a nation.

I was just informed about the movie by a colleague, and it sounds powerful. I’ll have to check it out as the first step of thinking about a September 11, 2016 commemoration.

Today SJSU’s Associate Vice President for Marketing and Communications informed administrators about the latest phase in the SJSU brand initiative: a new set of banners that bear portraits of students, faculty members, and alumni have been placed on campus, and along one corridor the banners also spell out “SPARTANS.” The Associate Vice President notes:

The banners kicked off a storytelling campaign, “My Story is Here,” a statement of pride in being part of the SJSU community. This effort seeks to involve community members in the larger SJSU story — one of individual and collective grit, smarts, and imagination.

“My Story Is Here” also has an online presence, where the portraits and stories can be viewed. 15 profiles are in the launch, with many more expected to be added over the next few weeks. I’m happy that three of the 15 profiles feature College of Social Sciences folks: Mexican American Studies Professor Julia Curry, Psychology alumnus David Fales, and Behavioral Science/Anthropology alumnus Dylan Wondra. SJSU’s main brand is “Powering Silicon Valley,” but that goes beyond a focus on STEM fields. I look forward to seeing more social scientists being featured!

Next year I’ll have to organize a group photo of the SJSU College of Social Sciences Dean’s Office staff for an entry in the National College Colors Day Challenge. Perhaps we can all get shirts and hats like this: