Last year was an amazing year of achievement for our San Diego State community, and I am excited about our extraordinary opportunity for greater distinction in 2016-17. As we begin the new year, I hope you will take the time to learn more in my video message here.
Category Archives: Community
San Diego State is a dynamic and evolving university with numerous recent accomplishments – each one building on our history of excellence and achievement. To give two examples, the creation of the Susan and Stephen Weber Honors College and the opening of the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union occurred at singular moments in time, but they were the results of decades of efforts by our university community. Similarly, SDSU’s emergence as a nationally renowned research university, while highlighted by a flurry of recent discoveries, reflects the collaborative efforts of faculty, staff, students and administrators over more than five decades.
Today, we have an opportunity that could alter the trajectory of our history for the next several decades. In a recent blog, I mentioned three touchstones for San Diego State’s continued success in the future – the highest-quality programs, service to students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and financial strength. While our current campus footprint of 225 acres is sufficient to support our aspirations in the short term, we will, most assuredly, need more space for the long-term advancement of our university’s programs over the next 50 years.
The San Diego Chargers’ recent decision to leave Mission Valley and pursue a downtown stadium creates this critical opportunity. This decision opens up a host of possibilities for the future of the Qualcomm Stadium site – just eight minutes away by trolley from our College Avenue campus.
While some might argue that the Qualcomm site should be redeveloped along Mission Valley’s familiar high-density, automobile-dependent pattern, San Diego State supports a low- to medium-density vision focusing on sustainable recreational and educational uses.
We see a future in Mission Valley with community parks and recreational opportunities, low- to medium-density housing, a small number of research/technology transfer facilities and, possibly, a stadium – one on a significantly smaller scale than Qualcomm Stadium – that could be shared by San Diego State, a Major League Soccer franchise and other community partners. We are eager to join members of our community in discussing this vision.
The excitement and challenge of realizing such a vision will, of course, be in the details. One especially exciting aspect, mentioned earlier, is that the Metropolitan Transit System’s Trolley provides a rapid, easily accessible connection between our campus and the Qualcomm site. This existing transportation infrastructure is critical to realizing a sustainable, green vision for the redeveloped site and for our entire university. As just one example, faculty, staff and students residing on a redeveloped site could use the trolley system, instead of their cars, to get to campus. This would reduce traffic in Mission Valley and in the College Area, as well as reduce our entire community’s carbon footprint and parking challenges on our campus.
These possibilities will, of course, raise many detailed questions. Who would own the redeveloped site? Who would be the development partners? How would the redevelopment be financed? The blunt answer to these questions at this moment is that we don’t know.
It is, however, time for the communal discussion that will help us find these answers. The end point of a great adventure is rarely known, but the possibilities associated with any grand pursuit must first be envisioned. Let’s dream as a community, knowing that the opportunity to advance the future of our university is before us.
Our community’s achievements are moving SDSU forward into the ranks of the nation’s top public universities. I hope you will take a moment at the beginning of the new academic year to learn more in the video message found here..
Recent events at the University of Oklahoma and UCLA have highlighted something that, in our hearts, we already knew. We have a long way to go in achieving fair and equal treatment of every person on our college campuses. To the good, there has been near-universal condemnation of the blatant racism at Oklahoma and of the anti-Semitism at UCLA. Further, many students, faculty and staff have emphasized that these hateful and discriminatory actions represent the views of only a very small minority on our campuses.
Yet, these atavistic, insular hatreds persist. They are part of a powerful set of forces that are dividing Americans and our university campuses into ever smaller groups based on our race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation and their intersections. Such divisions reinforce old hatreds and create new ones. For example, cultural appropriation, in which one group mocks the cultural identity of another group, and identity politics, in which groups support political positions based solely on their identity, further divide us.
In this maelstrom of separation, we all lose. We lose Dr. King’s vision that, despite the injustices of the past and present, we can all share a common future – that “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.” We lose the benefit of our rich diversity in which we come to appreciate the value of each other’s unique identities. Perhaps most troubling, we lose the ability to act as one SDSU community – which is essential to all of our successes.
There is a way forward. We must embrace and respect each other’s identities, both individually and as groups, in all of their complexities. We must also recognize that these diverse identities can come together to support one SDSU community – a community that is defined by shared values, shared aspirations and shared experiences. This is the promise of our diversity. Our “One SDSU Community” initiative – part of the implementation of our strategic plan, “Building on Excellence,” – attempts to realize this promise. The initiative is a multi-faceted effort to foster shared experiences, shared values and shared aspirations in our community. Three major programs were initiated or expanded this year. The Aztec Unity Project brings together diverse student organizations to work on community service projects and reflect on their experiences. Integrative diversity workshops, conducted in partnership with the National Conflict Resolution Center, help student leaders develop skills to communicate about and resolve conflicts related to diversity issues. Campus Collegiate Dialogues bring students together to discuss and reflect on the challenges facing our diverse society. Hundreds of students have participated in these experiences this year with plans to expand our efforts in the coming year.
Our campus’ rich diversity and our substantial diversity programming provide us with a special opportunity to create a distinctive new model for higher education – one in which diversity is embraced, common humanity recognized and shared experiences and values build One SDSU Community. This is the path to greatness. For, as we know from 118 years of our university’s history, we can accomplish anything when we work together as one community.
The arts and sciences present complementary ways of understanding and engaging the world, but both enhance our quality of life and the meaning of our lives – from the powerful insights and emotional experiences produced by great works of art to the profound impact of scientific theories and discoveries in applied disciplines like engineering and medicine.
SDSU has strong traditions in both the arts and sciences, and an innovative group of artists and scientists is taking important steps by exploring the synergies between the two. A great example of these efforts was the recent Phage-Infused Evening of Art. Spearheaded by our distinguished Professor of Biology, Forest Rohwer, this event brought together renowned researchers and artists for a showcase of students’ music and art inspired by the molecular structure of bacteriophages (viruses that kill bacteria). In a scene reminiscent of a SoHo opening – seen in the video here – the University Art Gallery displayed multimedia visual art inspired by phages’ molecular structure, and Professor Joe Waters conducted an original composition based on the fractal patterns in phages’ DNA. The visual art and musical compositions were innovative, dramatic and provocative.
The evening was a fitting start to a spring semester in which we will pursue significant new initiatives in research and creative endeavors. These efforts, part of the implementation of our strategic plan, reflect our community’s ethos that vibrant programs in the arts and sciences are essential elements of the exploration, both of knowledge and ourselves, that characterize a great public university.
These efforts are truly “Building on Excellence.” In the last year alone, Rob Edwards and his colleagues discovered a virus that affects digestion in half the human population, Robert Quimby received the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for work demonstrating that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, and Ralph Axel-Mueller and Inna Fishman discovered brain pathways implicated in autism. Similarly, our efforts in the creative arts advanced with a visually stunning performance of “Les Misérables in Concert,” starring Broadway legend Ivan Rutherford, and our Arts Alive SDSU initiative is on track to present visual art, poetry and pop-up concerts to an audience of over 100,000 by the end of the academic year. (In the fall semester alone, more than 50,000 faculty, staff, and students engaged in the arts at SDSU.)
This spring, we take the next steps. We are recruiting a significant cohort of new faculty in the arts and the sciences. These efforts include the Conrad Prebys Chair in Bio-Medical Research, faculty in our areas of research excellence – viromics, clinical and cognitive neuroscience, climate and sustainability, and human dynamics in a mobile age – and artists in musical theater, music, dance and visual art. These new faculty will bring energy and cutting-edge ideas – the lifeblood of the university – to advance our academic and co-curricular programs.
We are also pursuing program innovations and enhancements. These include expanded opportunities for undergraduate students’ research and creative endeavors, new support for faculty in securing grants, enhancement of research facilities and many additional opportunities to highlight our creative work. The phage exhibit runs through Feb. 5 at the University Art Gallery. The Thousand Plates exhibit of food-related art and design will be at the SDSU Downtown Gallery from Feb. 19 through March 30, and our Arts Alive SDSU initiative will bring creative work to the entire campus throughout the semester.
Further, we continue with planning and fundraising for our most ambitious project – the construction of our new Engineering and Interdisciplinary Sciences Complex. The construction process will begin in July. This project will transform our campus by creating facilities to advance our research, as well as the Thomas B. Day Quad/Courtyard – a central gathering place for our community.
While it is common to highlight the methodological and epistemological differences between the arts and sciences, the deeper commonality that makes both essential is more important. (SDSU artists and scientists discuss that concept in this video.) The arts and the sciences stem from the same fundamental desire to understand and characterize the world, to unlock its mysteries and to capture truths about ourselves and our environment. It is this powerful spirit that guides our efforts in the arts and sciences. I look forward to the excitement and achievement this spring will bring to our campus.
During the holiday season, the days are a little shorter, the light a little less brilliant and, even in San Diego, the temperatures are a little bit colder. So, as people have done for thousands of years, we gather together to share our warmth, light and generosity. The last several weeks have been a time for communal gatherings, large and small. Our Department of Geography celebrated its 100th anniversary. We came together for our “Get Together, Give Back” event in support of our military and the Monarch School community.Our School of Theatre, Television and Film and our School of Music and Dance collaborated on an extraordinary concert production of “Les Misérables,” and our athletic teams inspired us with a conference title in women’s soccer, a fifth consecutive bowl game in football and a national ranking in men’s basketball. Add countless department and office celebrations across campus and you appreciate the flurry of activities that accompany the holiday season.
These gatherings illustrate the essential role of community at San Diego State. During the formulation of our strategic plan, “Building on Excellence,” the theme of community and its many meanings arose again and again. People recognized the benefits of strengthening our campus community, the necessity of building relationships with our alumni community and the importance of supporting our regional community. As we have moved forward with implementing “Building on Excellence,” we have initiated the “Get Together, Give Back” program to support faculty and staff morale, the Aztec Mentor Program to bring alumni and current students together, and the Sage Project in National City, in which over a thousand students, faculty and staff work on community projects.
Each of these programs – and others like them – is an important effort in its own right, but each also serves a larger purpose in building our community. Through community, we bring a diversity of perspectives and talents to address our challenges. Equally important, each of our individual efforts takes on a deeper meaning and purpose when it is tied to the common efforts of friends and colleagues in our community. This shared purpose is essential to the Aztec spirit – resolute and indefatigable – with which we meet our challenges, large and small.
The three central themes of “Building on Excellence” are Student Success, Research and Creative Endeavors, and Community and Communication. While we have critical goals in all three areas, our ability to achieve all of our goals rests on our ability to work together as a community. In fact, given the strength and scope of the Aztec family, no aspiration and no goal is beyond our reach when we concentrate our efforts and work together. While life presents many challenges, both to individuals and to universities, this fundamental truth, the power of community, is always essential to addressing them. I look forward to working with all members of our community to continue to make progress and move our university forward in the spring semester.
Best wishes to all for the holiday season and the New Year.
In prior blogs, I described some of the experiences of international students at our university and more about our international partners, and here I would like to talk more about why international programs are essential to our students and to SDSU’s future.
If there were any doubts, today’s global health crises, political upheavals and interconnected economy make it clear that a quality education is one with a global focus and international opportunities.
At San Diego State, our goals and aspirations for international programs are articulated in our strategic plan, “Building on Excellence.” They build upon foundations created by President Emeritus Stephen Weber and Provost Emeritus Nancy Marlin, who recognized the strategic advantage of our location at the gateway to Latin America and the Pacific Rim, as well as the fundamental role that international efforts play in the success of our educational and research programs.
The international initiatives in “Building on Excellence” have three facets. First, reflecting our belief that we must prepare students for professional and civic responsibilities in a global future, we have set an ambitious goal that 30 percent of our graduating students have international experiences – 2,100 students studied abroad last year. We already rank in the top 25 in the nation, and reaching our ambitious goal will place us in the top 10. More important, our students grow intellectually and personally from these experiences.
Second, we are focusing our research on international challenges. A broad range of areas, including climate change, economic prosperity, national security and public health, must be addressed from a global perspective. Our researchers work with colleagues around the world to solve society’s pressing problems.
Third, we are recruiting additional international students, who now constitute 6 percent of our undergraduate population. These students bring perspectives and knowledge that broaden the education of all our students and help build the bridges of friendship that tie nations together.
These international efforts are already gathering philanthropic support. Alumni Keith Behner and Cathy Stiefel recently created a $2.5 million endowment to support our international programs with Brazil, a nation with the world’s seventh-largest economy. This funding will support student exchanges, joint faculty research and strengthened relations between our two nations — advancing all three of our international initiatives. Alumni Jack McGrory and Terry Atkinson – both members of The Campanile Foundation Board – are among those supporting study-abroad scholarships for students who need financial support. Chinyeh Hostler and her late husband, Ambassador Charles W. Hostler, have made significant contributions to our international programs and to the Charles W. Hostler Institute on World Affairs.
In our 117- year history, SDSU has continually evolved with the times. Today, carrying out our educational, research and service missions requires us to take an international perspective. This perspective, in turn, will convey benefits closer to home for our region, state and nation and further our goal to become a top-50 public research university.