Category Archives: College of Engineering

Does tech revolution change education’s foundational goals?

It is commonplace to recognize that changes in societal norms and needs, including technological developments, change our academic programs and educational goals.   For example, the development of land grant universities – focused on agriculture and technology – in the 1860s reflected the needs of an emerging industrial society.   Similarly, the rise of normal schools – San Diego State’s provenance – reflected our society’s need for broad public education in America’s growing democracy of the 19th century.

Students in a classroom in the early days of the San Diego Normal School.

Students in a classroom in the early days of the San Diego Normal School.

The ties between specific technological developments and individual fields of study are even more direct.  Aerospace engineering degrees emerged with human flight and molecular biology degrees emerged from a constellation of discoveries in genetics and biochemistry.

Clearly, the development of information technology is also producing program developments.  The dramatic growth of undergraduate and graduate degree programs in computer science, computer engineering and information systems are three prominent examples.

A more complex question is whether the emergence of multifaceted and ubiquitous information technology should change our broad educational goals. In prior blogs – linked here and here – I have discussed how online learning technologies affect pedagogical approaches and business models in higher education. In this blog, I turn to the question of how these technologies are influencing our broad educational goals and programs.

To consider this issue via analogy, think about how the development of television in the 1950s changed our educational goals and programs.  Television (and related media) allowed mass dissemination of information, including mass marketing, at a heretofore inconceivable pace and scope.  This mass dissemination of information amplified the importance of the ability to persuade others and of the complementary ability to critically evaluate media messages in our society.  Universities responded to this need by incorporating courses on mass communication and critical thinking into their general education curricula and by expanding specific programs in communications; public relations; marketing; and critical studies in ethnic studies, film studies, journalism, and sociology, among other areas.

The widespread availability of computing power and ubiquitous connectivity is also producing significant societal changes.  Most dramatically, the reduced cost of information, computing power and other resources accessed through universal connectivity (e.g., 3-D printers), is dramatically democratizing the ability to produce things – products, algorithms, services and ideas.  The computing power and information inherent in a watch or hand-held device that costs hundreds of dollars today would have cost hundreds of thousands– even millions – of dollars even two decades ago.

These developments create the possibility of an era of mass customization in which small groups with relatively limited resources become centers of production and innovation.  In a dramatic departure from the future envisioned by Marx and Engels, the tie between investment capital and the mechanisms of production has been weakened.  To prepare our students for this future, our educational programs must help them develop the abilities necessary to produce things – the abilities to design, collaborate and create.

The evolving notion of “design thinking” is one framework for preparing our students.  Broadly defined, design thinking focuses on addressing important problems or challenges, developing collaborations to bring people with different abilities together, simulating or rapid prototyping of solutions to challenges, and iterative testing and refinement of potential solutions.  At San Diego State, our Lavin Entrepreneurship Center and our Zahn Innovation Center, with its H.G. Fenton Company Idea Lab, are providing opportunities for growing numbers of students to participate in the design thinking process.  Design thinking is but one concept for fostering the abilities and skills our students will need.  I know our faculty, staff and students are considering, and will devise, many other academic and co-curricular frameworks as we educate students for a future in which relatively low-cost design and production capabilities are widely available.

A student team at SDSU's Zahn Innovation Center is developing ShredLights for skateboards.

A student team at SDSU’s Zahn Innovation Center is developing ShredLights for skateboards.

It would be possible to imagine, as some have, that a focus on design, production and solving challenges highlights the importance of vocational education and diminishes the importance of a classical liberal arts education.

While there are few things in life that are exact, this surmise is exactly wrong.

Just as synthesis requires prior analysis, so the challenges of design thinking require the classical abilities of critical thinking, quantitative and scientific reasoning, and an understanding of diverse places, times and cultures that are at the heart of a liberal arts education.  Meeting challenges and taking advantage of the opportunities presented by our information technology revolution requires taking these classical abilities and applying them in new frameworks of collaboration, synthesis and solution.

The changes in information technology that dominate our contemporary lives are revolutionary, and our education goals and programs must evolve.  Yet, even as we embrace new educational approaches, we reaffirm the classical liberal arts education that allows us and our students to understand the implications of these changes and how to respond so we can address our society’s challenges. This is the great opportunity that presents itself at SDSU and throughout higher education.


Filed under College of Engineering, Uncategorized

Building the Future

Our recent commencement weekend was one of pride and celebration and a special opportunity to show the beauty of our campus to the families and friends of our graduates.  Our facilities, custodial and landscaping staff do a great job in showcasing the campus and deserve our thanks.

In its grandeur, our campus is a powerful symbol of our commitment to academic excellence and achievement, and this year was a historic one in the life of our physical campus.  We completed construction on the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union and the newly renovated Storm-Nasatir-Hostler Hall complex.  Two of the largest buildings on our campus, these campus icons are centers of student life and academic programs.

Storm-Nasatir-Hostler halls complex at SDSU

Renovated Storm-Nasatir-Hostler complex

Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union at SDSU

Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union






This summer, we write another chapter.  We are beginning a top-to-bottom renovation of Zura residence hall, breaking ground on our new Basketball Performance Center with its basketball practice courts and facilities and renovating our College of Business Administration with the addition of the Page Pavilion.  We also will be continuing the work on our heating and electrical systems and the painting and refurbishment of many campus buildings that began last summer.

Two important developments related to campus facilities occurred at the recent meeting of the Board of Trustees of the California State University.  First, the board approved the design for our new mixed use development on College Avenue, just south of the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union.

SDSU's proposed housing and retail development on College Avenue.Featuring an urban greenscape and two six-story buildings, the  complex will house over 600  students and provide retail  opportunities for our students,  faculty, staff and the local  community.  The development also will provide much-needed short-term parking for campus visitors.  All of these features will be a significant step forward for our campus and our community.

Second, the board reviewed Governor Brown’s legislative proposal to shift the responsibility for facilities debt service from the state to the California State University, and CSU Chancellor Tim White voiced his public support for this proposal.  Even though the proposal may not pass this year, the landmark change in California’s financing of campus facilities has already been adopted by the University of California and is likely to pass in the near future.

While this change has raised concerns, it also creates possibilities and, for San Diego State, possibilities have always been more important than concerns.  One of the most important aspects of the legislation is that it would allow our university the flexibility to use operating funds to construct campus buildings.

This changes everything.

By combining operating, philanthropic and state funds, we could move from a passive approach of waiting for facilities allocations from the state to a proactive approach of creating funding models that allow us to pursue our academic priorities.  The new engineering and interdisciplinary sciences building that we have dreamed about for many years could move from dream to reality as fast as we could make it happen.

The landscape for public higher education in California continues to be a rapidly changing one.  Yet, within this turbulent environment, there are profound opportunities for building the future. Let’s take them!

Artist's rendering of new Page Pavilion at SDSU's College of Business Administration

Page Pavilion plan

Artist's rendering of Zura Hall renovation plans at SDSU

Rendering of Zura Hall remodel

Proposed Basketball Performance Center at SDSU

Basketball Performance Center

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Filed under Athletics, College of Arts and Letters, College of Business Administration, College of Engineering, News, Uncategorized

Why Rankings Matter

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, the academic year has its own unique seasons and rhythms.  At the beginning of October, the admissions process begins and another notable period, the rankings season, ends – and it has been quite a rankings season for San Diego State University.

Business Insider:  Why SDSU is Soaring Higher in U.S. News Rankings Most notably, U.S. News and World Report named us to its list  of top “Up-and-Coming Schools.”  We were ranked #14  nationally on the list of universities “making the most  promising and innovative changes in the areas of academics,  faculty and student life.”  In an analysis of this year’s rankings,  the Washington Post reported that we have increased our  overall ranking the most of any university in the country since  2011 (31 places).

Other rankings also recognized our efforts.  For example, Washington Monthly ranked us #6 nationally for the economic value of our degrees.  Similarly, individual programs and colleges were also recognized in national rankings.  Our International Business program was ranked #8 in the nation by U.S. News, and our College of Engineering was ranked #15 in a national survey of the economic value of engineering degrees.

This national recognition is a testament to the dedication and passion of our faculty, staff, students, alumni and community supporters.  By highlighting the university’s excellence, it will attract new students and add value to the degrees of our current students and alumni. These distinctions are especially noteworthy given the significant challenges that are transforming public higher education in California, and they occasion many questions.  The two I get most frequently are “Do rankings matter?” and “How did we move up?”

My answer to the question of whether rankings matter is a decided “yes.”  Put directly, rankings reflect (and create) prestige – a reputation based on achievement and success – and achievement and success matter to students, their families, our alumni and prospective employers.  The rankings are especially important for students and their families who are not familiar with the university.  Colleges and universities are complex, hard-to-understand places, and attending a college or university requires a very significant investment of time and money.  The rankings try to help students and their families understand the investment they are about to make.  No ranking can fully characterize an individual university or quantify the match between the needs of an individual student and the strength of a specific university, but students and their families find the rankings to be a useful starting point.

The question of why we have moved up in various rankings has been analyzed in detail by Business Insider.  Three factors were cited as critical:  our campuswide efforts to support student success that improved our retention and graduation rates, the growth of our research efforts and their overall impact on our academic programs, and the success of our first comprehensive fundraising campaign which has raised over $425 million to date.  Each of these factors has contributed directly to metrics used in rankings and, indirectly, to the overall reputation of our university.

There is, however, more to it.  Underlying each individual factor is something more fundamental – a spirit of innovation that aspires to make our university better and always seems to find a way to do so.  It is this spirit of innovation that underlies our efforts to improve student success, advance research and build our culture of philanthropy.  This same spirit – this can-do attitude – motivates the ambitious initiatives proposed in our recently completed strategic plan “Building on Excellence,” and I am certain that it will propel us forward as we pursue these initiatives and advance our university.


Filed under College of Arts and Letters, College of Engineering, International Programs, Uncategorized, Undergraduate Studies

Meeting the Deans

I had the pleasure of meeting individually with three of our Deans, Ric Hovda of Education, David Hayhurst of Engineering, and Geoff Chase of Undergraduate Studies (who also has responsibility for the integration of sustainability into our academic efforts). Each Dean spoke articulately and with passion regarding the needs, challenges and opportunities before them this year.

Just as importantly, they all sounded common themes regarding their and their colleagues’ efforts. A focus on the success of all of our students, an emphasis on the role of research and creative endeavors in addressing local and national challenges, the importance of engaging with all facets of our community, the pre-eminence of diversity and internationalization, and the need to tie these themes together in a way that is environmentally and fiscally sustainable permeated all of our discussions.  I left campus that night excited and energized and  I look forward to hearing  from students, faculty and staff regarding how we can advance these central areas in this and the coming years

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Filed under College of Education, College of Engineering, Community, Undergraduate Studies

Commission on Access, Diversity and Excellence

Last week I attended the summer meeting of the Commission on Access, Diversity and Excellence (CADE) of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU). Drs. Lorenzo Esters and Carla Gary (of APLU and the University of Oregon, respectively) worked with colleagues on CADE’s Executive Board to create an extraordinary program. The program featured symposia on diversifying our faculties, support programs for graduate students, and developing a national agenda for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, among other topics. As a member of the Executive Board, I was especially pleased to be able to share information about the success of our nationally-renowned doctoral program in Clinical Psychology in the symposium on graduate student support. (Kudos to Provost Marlin and our program faculty who helped me prepare for the presentation.)

In addition to the many helpful discussions of approaches for supporting our students and faculty, the meeting highlighted the national consensus on the centrality of a vision of inclusive excellence to the future of our research universities. Universities across the country—from Princeton to Ohio State to the University of Texas to many, many more—have embraced a vision in which all students, regardless of background or station, can achieve excellence. In this regard, San Diego State holds an enviable leadership position in supporting inclusive excellence and I look forward to working with our community to achieve even greater prominence.

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Filed under College of Arts and Letters, College of Business Adminsitration, College of Education, College of Engineering, College of Health and Human Services, College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts, College of Sciences, Community