CSUSM to Host Kinsey African American Art and History Collection Event

Press Release | By Eric Breier

California State University San Marcos is hosting a one-day event on Friday, Feb. 3 for educators and students to learn how The Kinsey African American Art and History Collection can bring new understanding to the issues of equity and access facing students.

The Kinsey Collection was amassed by Bernard and Shirley Kinsey and includes authentic artifacts, books, letters, manuscripts and photographs that document the African-American experience from 1595 to modern day.

Former Xerox CEO Bernard Kinsey will share pieces of his collection, introduce the “myth of absence” concept that has shaped views of African-Americans, and shed light on the unknown history of African-American leaders in U.S. history.

CSUSM’s College of Education, Health and Human Services (CEHHS) is sponsoring the event in conjunction with the San Diego County Office of Education.

“This event is an outstanding opportunity for students to learn about little-known contributions and achievements of African-Americans,” said Janet Powell, dean of CEHHS. “For educators, it’s also a chance to learn how to bring new understanding of equity and access issues to students.”

The program is from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tickets are $25 for students, $75 for others and includes lunch. The first 50 CSUSM students to register will receive free admission.

What: The Kinsey Collection, an exhibit amassed by Bernard and Shirley Kinsey containing authentic artifacts, documents, photographs and more that document the African-American experience from 1595 to modern day.

When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Feb. 3

Where: California State University San Marcos

Tickets: $75 per person, $25 for students (lunch included); free admission for first 50 CSUSM students to register

Information/registration: Visit the San Diego County Office of Education website

About California State University San Marcos

Building on an innovative 26-year history, California State University San Marcos is a forward-focused institution, dedicated to preparing future leaders, building great communities and solving critical issues. Located on a 304-acre hillside overlooking the City of San Marcos, it is the only public four-year comprehensive university serving North San Diego, Southwest Riverside and South Orange Counties.

The University enrolls over 15,000 students. With approximately 2,000 employees, the institution is a Great College to Work For® (The Chronicle of Higher Education). As a recipient of the annual HEED Award since 2014—a national honor recognizing U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion—CSUSM is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive environment.


Going Beyond Content of Video Games

By Eric Breier


Sinem Siyahhan is used to receiving incredulous looks when she refers to the first-person shooter video game “Halo” as family friendly.

But Siyahhan, an assistant professor of educational technology and learning sciences in Cal State San Marcos’ School of Education, looks beyond the content of video games. Her research on video games and families has been featured on “Forbes Magazine Blog,” “Slate and “Nick Junior.” And she recently gave a keynote on the topic at the “Games, Learning, and Society conference.

With most games, including “Halo,” she sees numerous learning opportunities.

“People tend to focus on the content of video games,” Siyahhan said. “Is this game designed to be educational or just to entertain? But if they just step back, they’ll see that any game could be educational. It’s just a matter of your approach.”

In the last decade, Siyahhan has put that philosophy into work with projects like “Families@Play” where she has been designing game-based experiences around commercial games to support family learning. More recently, she was awarded a National Science Foundation EAGER grant for a project titled, “Play in the Making: Supporting Design Thinking in Maker Spaces among Underrepresented, Underserved, and Minority Students through Game Design.”

The project’s goal is to develop a teaching and learning model to expand Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and Making through game design for girls and minority middle school students from low-income backgrounds. Siyahhan will collaborate with three teachers at Vista Magnet Middle School while her collaborator, Elisabeth Gee from Arizona State University, works with three librarians in Phoenix.

Siyahhan will be introducing game design as a framework in the Maker spaces at each site to see if that helps to engage underserved populations. She is designing challenges in which students will create a game using both low and high tech. For example, they could design a board game and print the pieces using a 3D printer. An additional unique component of the project is that it will engage parents in the process.

The grant is an extension of Siyahhan’s ongoing collaboration with Vista Magnet Middle School where she has been running an after-school game design program for the past two years. This year, she is expanding the project to other elementary and middle schools in North County by engaging undergraduate students in the process of designing and implementing game design activities in K-12 schools.

“My research shows that video games can be a context to bring parents and kids together,” said Siyahhan, whose book “Play to Connect: How Video Games Support Family Learning, Connection and Communication” is scheduled for release in fall 2017 from MIT Press.

“We have all this rhetoric and coverage in popular media of how video games are a point of controversy or disagreements between parents and kids. But there are households where that’s not the case. I highlight those cases in my book and look at how games bring people together.”

Siyahhan played video games as a child, but it was while pursuing her Ph.D. at Indiana University that she rediscovered her passion for them and came to understand games as a context for learning and development.

Siyahhan began her Ph.D. program focused on family learning and designing experiences to see how conversations between parents and children shifted in meaningful ways. But her observation during a research project at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis in 2006 was a turning point.

The project was designed to observe how parents and children discussed art and science at an exhibit about glass blowing and glass art.

The observed family conversations were largely uneventful — until participants reached a portion of the exhibit that featured a video game.

“The conversation between parents and children peaked when they were playing the game,” she said. “That’s when a lightbulb went off in my head and I realized there was something about video games that I could use to support family learning.”

At the time, there was only one option for a video game project at Indiana, so Siyahhan showed up unannounced at the office of professor Sasha Barab and told him she wanted to design games for families.

“He looked at me like I was crazy,” she said. “People working on his project are actually creating 3D games and here I am saying, ‘I have this idea. Could you let me into your project?’ ”

Siyahhan had neither a computer science background nor game design experience, leaving Barab to wonder what she could possibly contribute. But Siyahhan persisted. With a bachelor’s in comparative literature, she offered to write characters, dialogue and stories for Barab’s games. She even said she would work for free for six months to prove that she was serious about learning game design.

Barab agreed and Siyahhan eventually began designing her own games, including one called “Family Quest” that became her dissertation in 2011.

“With video games, you take an action and the system gives you feedback,” she said. “That’s unique and powerful. Parents and kids can play together, they take an action and the system either acts the way they predicted or something surprising happens. That becomes a point for conversation to say, ‘Why did that happen?’ or ‘What can we do next?’ The conversation just comes naturally. That’s unique compared to books or television.”

Siyahhan still plays video games, counting “SimCity,” “Uncharted” and “Fable” among her favorites. Recently, her experience with “SimCity,” in which the player acts as a mayor responsible for developing a city, helped her gain insights into what is happening in San Marcos. The virtual experience of everything from building houses and roads to managing taxes had some real-world application.

“I received a notification about a city council meeting to discuss the recent housing development on Twin Oaks and how to grow the city in a responsible and sustainable way,” she said. “I had this epiphany that the same things that I had to manage and consider while playing ‘SimCity’ were the same things that were relevant to the discussion about San Marcos.

“This is just one example of how playing video games, even the ones designed to entertain, can help people develop appreciation of real-world issues. It can be as stimulating for adults as kids.”




Pacific Crest Trail leaves lasting impression on alumnus

By Eric Breier


Human Development Students Making a Difference

1920_humandevelopment7By Eric Breier

Eliza Bigham knows from experience the importance of culturally appropriate toys for children in different countries.

While on a trip to Vietnam with one of her Cal State San Marcos Human Development classes a few years ago, Bigham saw tour vans pull up to the orphanage where she and her students were based and leave a variety of Disney-related toys for the children.

Once the tour vans left, the kids would return to their previous activities, never showing the slightest interest in the toys that had been left for them.

“They didn’t need Disney toys,” Bigham said. “And Disney toys don’t even really fit in with how these kids play. It’s just not part of their culture.”

Bigham will be taking another HD class abroad in January, this time to Australia, where they will work with children at a YMCA to create toys for Syrian refugees.

To ensure that those toys and lessons with Australian children produce culturally appropriate materials for Syrian refugees, many of Bigham’s current HD students are participating in a project to gain a better understanding of the refugee crisis.

Bigham designs projects in four categories that she has seen her students wanting to pursue – counseling, education, health and nonprofits. Most of the projects are ongoing, though she trades some in and out depending on the availability of community partners and other resources.

The Syrian culture/child development project is one of three being undertaken by students in the nonprofit category. There is a second nonprofit project related to Syrian refugees that is focused on increasing awareness on campus by making the experience personal. The third nonprofit project centers on inclusive language leadership training in partnership with the YMCA of San Diego County.

“All of the students want to do something really good and make a contribution,” Bigham said. “They really, truly want to make a difference.”

Bigham has three teams of students working on the Syrian culture/child development project. The students use a variety of resources for research, including literature, YouTube videos, documentaries and even an in-person interview with someone who grew up in Syria.

One of the teams includes CSUSM students Veronica Cruz, Ashley Duncan, Stephanie Ferro, Jessica Hulteen, Jocelyn Mancilla and Gina Rossi.

Ashley said their research will eventually be given to a nonprofit in Australia to help create activities that are educational-based to send to refugee camps.

While the students were aware of the Syrian refugee crisis before embarking on the project, their work has helped them gain a greater knowledge of the issue.

“We have a little bit more of an understanding because we’ve been consistently researching it and keeping up to date with it,” Ashley said.

Another CSUSM team of students researching the Syrian refugee camps includes Angela Edgcomb, Lizette Leon, Lisbeth Soria Barrios, Sonia Vasquez and Linette Villalobos. They said a typical week of research includes viewing videos, reading news articles, contacting organizations and sharing their findings as a group.

“I knew about it, but I didn’t know how serious it was until I started looking into it and researching the refugee camps,” Lizette said.

Said Lisbeth: “We want to bring awareness to the students here.”

Bigham also has a team of students — Alexandra Albarran, William Lebbin, Chelsea Lundeen, Veronica Portillo, Kelsey Quinlan and Daisy Ramirez — working on an art-healing project for Syrian refugees.

“The focus is on using art as an opportunity for a discussion, an opportunity to come together and collaborate,” Bigham said. “And also an opportunity for students to feel like they can do something.”

The team set up tables during each U-hour in October and invited students passing by to help paint half of a mural. The mural is then sent to a Syrian refugee camp where refugees complete the mural and send it back to CSUSM. The group also created materials to display at the tables to help inform other students of the extent of the Syrian refugee crisis.

“It definitely makes you want to speak out about it more and help in any way you can,” Veronica said. “I hardly knew anything about it going into it. Now that I know and understand that not a lot of people know what’s going on, you want to bring people into it and you want them to be aware of what’s going on.”

The project is being undertaken with the assistance of Marilyn Huerta, a communication specialist in the College of Education, Health and Human Services, and Joanne Tawfilis of the Muramid Museum in Oceanside.

It can take many months for murals to be returned to CSUSM, which means the students working on the project this semester may have already graduated by the time a completed mural makes its way back to campus. But the possibility of not seeing a finished product hasn’t dissuaded them.

“Knowing that they are going to be sent to refugee camps and they will be painted is fulfilling in itself,” William said.

Bigham has two teams of students working on inclusive language projects with the YMCA. One team includes Samantha Di Angelis, Liz Leguizamo and Patrick Ross. The other includes Trammie Dang and Marian Rodriguez.

Learning about inclusive language and some of the common words or phrases that they had never given much consideration before this project was an eye-opener for many of the CSUSM students.

“Filling out the sheets for the YMCA staff training, I realized that I’ve used some of those and I didn’t even know it had some of those meanings attached to them until we started doing this project,” Samantha said.

Said Marian: “I had never really thought about it. As we were doing the research, I realized, ‘Oh, I’ve said that before.’ ”

The students in all four project categories will present their work at a poster fair at Markstein Hall on Dec. 1.

“These projects are good and they shouldn’t just be stuffed in a classroom,” Bigham said. “They should be out there.”




Operation Art Helps Healing Process


By Eric Breier

It’s not unusual for the veterans who participate in Operation Art to start with a cautious approach.

“A lot of times they are hesitant and say they’re just going to watch,” said Marilyn Huerta, a communications specialist in Cal State San Marcos’ College of Education, Health and Human Services. “But before you know it, they’re involved.”

Operation Art, an art-healing project aimed at helping homeless veterans, debuted last spring as CSUSM professor Eliza Bigham and Huerta worked with three of Bigham’s human development students to facilitate sessions at the Hawthorne Veteran and Family Resource Center in Escondido on Friday mornings for six weeks.

“Interfaith considers Operation Art a building block to healing for veterans and non-veterans recuperating at our Hawthorne Veteran and Family Resource Center,” said Micki Hickox, volunteer coordinator at Interfaith. “With the support and encouragement from Operation Art volunteers, participants unleash their creativity and rediscover more about themselves than they might expect. It is partnerships such as this that strengthen and enrich our community.”

Operation Art was born from a conversation Huerta had with Greg Anglea, the executive director of Interfaith Community Services. Huerta visited Interfaith while participating in CSUSM’s Leadership North County program in 2015. She asked Anglea if Interfaith ever did art-healing projects with clients, a conversation that led to the creation of Operation Art.

The program completed its second semester this fall, this time with seven students from Bigham’s Human Development 497 class participating. The students gathered research and completed surveys while working with clients at the center.

“It was a definite worthwhile experience that made my Friday mornings something to look forward to,” CSUSM student Lilliana Ojeda said.

The students visited Hawthorne early in the semester to become acquainted with the community and clients at the center. They also examined previous studies on healing arts to learn how art can be used as a tool for healing.

“Art is not just for art majors or people who want to create masterpieces,” Huerta said. “It’s a tool that brings people together. Art helps people to connect, communicate, create and cope.”

Operation Art sessions typically begin with work on a group mural painting, which acts as an icebreaker between the students and the clients.

Other individual art projects have included mask painting, friendship bracelets, drawing and even utilizing coloring books.

“We always try to have them reflect by asking, ‘Can you tell me about your piece?’ ” Huerta said. “We don’t pry. It’s whatever they want to share. Art is the tool for communication.”

Huerta said it’s not only rewarding to work with the veterans, but also to see students who may start out passive and quiet come out of their shells by working with the veterans.

Helping veterans holds special significance for Huerta, who comes from a military family. Her father served in the Air Force, her husband was a Marine, her son is an active-duty Marine and her daughter recently joined the Coast Guard.

“My dad used to do art with me when I was a kid,” she said. “As a kid, I always loved art and my parents always encouraged me. Many years later, I learned how to use art as a tool to help people communicate and connect.”