San José State University brings diversity and storytelling to its HonorsX program with Adobe Creative Cloud


With more than 300,000 current and former students, San José State University (SJSU) has had a big impact on California’s Silicon Valley and Bay Area over its 160-year history. The university prides itself on its commitment to diversity, from student civil rights activism to strong support for first-generation students. By becoming an Adobe Creative Campus, SJSU provides all students, faculty, and staff with access to Adobe Creative Cloud apps encouraging students to build creative communication skills demanded by all careers.

SJSU stayed true to its inclusive and diverse educational philosophy as it built out its new 15-unit minor in Interdisciplinary Studies called HonorsX. “Traditional honors programs focus on markers of success such as GPA, which can exclude historically underrepresented students,” explains Dr. Ruma Chopra, professor of history and co-founder and director of the HonorsX program. “HonorsX takes the best parts of a traditional honors program — excellence, immersion, and mentorship — with a fresh focus on inclusivity and creativity.”

“HonorsX is designed by faculty to engage students in addressing some of our world’s most challenging problems. The students in HonorsX have to break the mold of how we think and approach everyday practical and intellectual questions,” notes Vincent Del Casino, provost and senior vice president of Academic Affairs, San José State University.

San José State University Honors.

Any junior or incoming transfer student is invited to apply for HonorsX, regardless of their grades or field of study. Students progress through the first year with the same cohort of students and three faculty advisors from across diverse fields. The remaining coursework is flexible and tailored to student interests. For the program’s inaugural launch, students selected the topic, “Developing Sustainable Societies,” as the primary issue to tackle throughout the year. Students who complete the full program, including a final public presentation, receive a minor in Interdisciplinary Studies which enhances any major and helps students with career readiness.

“The ultimate goal is to help students become interdisciplinary thinkers and problem solvers,” says Dr. Chopra. “Creativity and storytelling are big parts of these goals, as we want students to come at problems from different angles and learn how to promote their ideas. That’s why it was so important for us to incorporate Adobe creative apps and encourage students to harness their digital literacy skills throughout the program.”

Students of San José State University.

Communicating new sustainability ideas

Faculty help students expand their understanding of sustainability by assigning projects involving different formats and media. For example, students were asked to create a video explaining a sustainability topic in greater detail. Using video apps within Creative Cloud, students combined strong visuals with narration and music to help audiences instantly understand why issues such as plastics or clean water affected them. Students also conducted interviews, piecing them together with apps such as Adobe Audition to bring real-world issues to life, and created sustainability reports with Adobe Express. All of the assignments are brought together in Adobe Portfolio to create a living document that students can share with future employers.

The capstone project is a product, business model, or policy brief created in small groups. Computer science major Calum Cain teamed up with mechanical engineering major Tanner Dunn, digital design major Jocelynne Malta-Diaz, and business major Sofia Malushkina to tackle the question of sustainability in baby toys. Over 90 percent of baby toys are made out of hard plastic. They’re hard to recycle, and typically get thrown away when they break. The group came up with the idea for Tinker Baby: a toy company that would not only make its toys out of easily recyclable materials, but also employ a closed-loop recycling model to create a more sustainable toy ecosystem.

Tinkerbaby Toys for the future.

“Right now, we’re looking at more research into what educational features we could add to more fully engage babies and help develop their minds,” says Cain. “Collaborating with students from different disciplines has been really interesting for me. It’s helped me learn how to think more creatively when we’re brainstorming ideas. These skills also translate to my computer science work.”

Cain is working closely with Malta-Diaz to create a website that will help attract the eyes of both investors and parents and encourage them to join focus groups. “I haven’t done a lot of website work, but it’s been pretty easy with Adobe,” says Cain. “Jocelynne is the designer, and she uses Adobe XD to come up with her designs. She passes them on to me and I build them out in Adobe Dreamweaver. I know exactly what she wants it to look like, so I can focus on learning new web skills to share our idea for Tinker Baby with more people.”

Business Idea, Target Market, Competitive Advantage and Team.

Building stronger policies through shared insights

After graduating with an associate degree from Cabrillo College, anthropology major Valeria Foxworthy Gonzales decided to enroll at SJSU. They joined the HonorsX program to facilitate their transition to a four-year university as a transfer student.

“Coming into SJSU as an older transfer student, I thought it would be cool to work with a diverse group of people,” says Foxworthy Gonzales. “It was great to meet people from all fields and walks of life, many of whom typically get left out of the honors conversation. It spoke to the true interdisciplinary goal of the project.”

Foxworthy Gonzales teamed up with a small group of students to develop public policy ideas around helping marginalized people in the community gain access to resources such as education, food, clean air, and clean water. Working together, the team members share resources, brainstorm ideas, and help each other develop their policies ahead of a final class presentation. Foxworthy Gonzales is particularly interested in the importance of having interpreters who can facilitate conversations between schools and non-English-speaking parents, allowing parents to be more active in schooling.

Packout Pouch.

“We’ve used Adobe Express to create presentation slides just to show our progress and share our ideas with the cohort,” says Foxworthy Gonzales. “Even though we’re all working on different policy topics, everyone brings something to the table. The group pushes me to look at my policies from different angles, like science and financing, while giving me an opportunity to share my own insights and experiences with others.”

Survey Findings about where people throw away their trash.

Celebrating all honors students

As the HonorsX program prepares to enter its second year, SJSU plans to expand upon the topic of sustainability, but with a greater focus on the role of youth activism on sustainability. While the cohorts remain small, Dr Chopra hopes the program will find ways to engage the entire campus community.

“We want to break down the barriers of traditional honors programs and encourage people from all backgrounds to think of themselves as scholars worthy of the ‘honors’ title,” says Dr. Chopra. “No matter what their career aspirations are, digital literacy will be a skill that helps them put their best foot forward, share their ideas effectively, and take advantage of opportunities that come their way. Adobe Creative Cloud will be important to our program for years to come.”

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