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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Innovation Drives Culture at Area Colleges, Universities

EDUCATION: Building a ‘Better, More Inclusive’ Tomorrow

From inland North County to the South Bay, the San Diego region is home to some prolific higher education institutions, schools with their own unique, innovative ways to spread knowledge, and instructors evolving along with them as catalysts for change, championing growth and success for the students they reach and teach.

San Diego County’s universities are focused on working to solve local, national and global issues. They’re on the cutting edge of technological advances even as they work to solve healthcare needs and also remain dedicated to being socially responsible with diversity, equity and inclusion at the forefront of their efforts.

It’s not only public universities like San Diego State University, California State University San Marcos and University of California San Diego that are making impacts, it’s also private institutions like University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University, and private nonprofit National University that are accelerating growth in a variety of arenas.

These schools, with their market-relevant degrees and certificates with career-development coursework, are pushing out into the workplace well-prepared interns and savvy graduates who have real-world experience that allows them to jump into the business world with confidence.

San Diego State University

SDSU, founded in 1897, is the oldest institution of higher learning in San Diego County. But its seniority does not mean it’s out of date – quite the contrary.

Winnie Callahan
SDSU Cyber Tech Academy

At a time when cyber criminals are ramping up their exploits on vulnerable systems, SDSU is offering a new cyber security certificate program, led by nationally renowned cyber security community leader Winnie Callahan and a group of experts in the field.

Under Callahan’s watch, SDSU’s Cyber Tech Academy provides students a 3½-month course that covers cyber security and emerging technology. The initiative, Callahan says, “is truly an innovative approach to help grow and prepare the workforce our nation and especially California need at this critical time.”

“We’re working on an aggressive program to get people that are well-educated, trained to go right in and begin to fill the vacancies in cyber security and technology,” Callahan said.

The academy includes a series of professional certificates focused on the most critical topics in cybersecurity, bringing together prominent current and former government, military and industry practitioners focused on developing a workforce that can defeat threats posed by cyber criminals.

Eric Nielsen
Defense in Depth Cyber Security

Academy topics include Artificial Intelligence for Cyber Security, Cyber and Risk Management, Cloud Security and Governance, Cyber Security in Healthcare and Ethical Hacking.

Defense in Depth Cyber Security CEO Eric Nielsen said the Ethical Hacking certificate “recently launched maps to current cyber industry certifications with a strategic partnership with the cyber range Haiku.”

Haiku is a Nevada-based company which “gamifies” cybersecurity, allowing students to “hone their ethical hacking skills in a realistic and challenging environment,” Nielsen said.

University of California San Diego

Paul Roben, associate vice chancellor for Innovation and Commercialization at UC San Diego, said that the school’s focus is always on innovators and talent, “nurturing an entrepreneurial mindset that builds skills that will serve (students) in any career.”

Paul Roben
Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Commercialization

Roben said that mindset equips UCSD students to build resilient teams, lean into risk, think creatively and become effective leaders. “In this way, we are creating the innovative workforce of the future, one that can sustain social and economic prosperity in our region,” Roben said. “That starts with diversity – of thought, background, language, perspective and more.”

Roben said that through UCSD’s “Innovation Sprints,” teams of students have opportunities to collaborate with seasoned and established regional business, government and military leaders to solve real-world problems in tandem with their academic education.

In one recent Innovation Sprint cohort, students represented more than 70 majors. “Engineers, dancers, economists, health science, political science, cognitive science and more came together… and this is where the truly disruptive approaches to solving problems emerge,” Roben said.

Additionally, the school’s new Talent Foundry program, launched in 2022, has established a critical pipeline for new business owners within historically disenfranchised communities that haven’t been able to fully participate in regional innovation economy.

“The program focuses on building a better, more inclusive tomorrow specifically for the San Diego region, all the while increasing economic growth and changing the way the surrounding community thinks about what’s possible for present and future entrepreneurs,” Roben said.

Corinne Peek-Asa
Vice Chancellor for Research

University research is unique in that it ranges from the very basic and theoretical to applied and translational, says Corinne Peek-Asa, vice chancellor for research at UCSD, who said that “our research focus is always toward societal good and process improvements.”

At UCSD, “we support the academic freedom to experiment without a defined objective or goal, but we also have a robust patent and licensing office that creates a path for university research-based innovation and ideas to reach consumers, government agencies, international partners and intergalactic projects,” Peek-Asa said.

Great opportunity in collaboration between industry and academia continues to exist and UCSD has distinguished itself with a $1.7 billion dollar – and growing – research spending portfolio, she said.

UCSD’s School of Biological Sciences has strategically increased ties to the region’s life sciences industry, which benefits the education and training of students and cultivates a more robust biotechnology/life sciences work force. And its new Co-Op/BioCAP initiative, open to all majors, is designed to cultivate a diverse talent pipeline of competitively trained biology students for the biotechnology/life sciences industries.

The school recently inked a partnership with ThermoFisher in a game-changing initiative that will accelerate technology innovation and training, explore new research frontiers, develop a diverse talent pipeline and achieve ambitious sustainability goals.

National University

National University has several innovative developments around utilizing augmented reality, virtual reality, and a “metaverse or metacampus” to teach and train healthcare workers as well as nursing and public health students.

Steven Johnson
SVP of Innovation
National University

Steven Johnson, NU’s SVP of Innovation, oversees the school’s strategic intelligence unit and an innovation lab, which together serve as a strategic asset to NU as it tries to anticipate and clarify how it best serves students into the future.

“Change continues to accelerate across various domains – applied technology, knowledge, shifting labor markets, and even generational differences,” Johnson said.  “Higher education isn’t traditionally organized to move as quickly as things have been over the past few decades. So, our lab’s focus is on recognizing signals of change so that we can learn how those changes may keep us best serving our students.”

Johnson said the lab, which finished its first year and has completed four of seven initial initiatives – including an adaptive learning tool for mathematics that has been adopted by NU’s math department and is rolled into current coursework – involves faculty, staff and students to shape the path into the future using a design thinking approach.

Gloria McNeal
Associate Vice President for Community Affairs in Health
National University

NU professor Dr. Gloria McNeal is getting NU positioned to move into the world of virtual reality and immersive technologies. “National University is known for thinking out of the box and this is a natural movement for NU to go in this direction,” she said.

“Covid-19 pushed that along,” McNeal added. “We had to pivot, and pivot right away. We were fortunate in finding immersive clinical channels for students. It’s been absolutely critical.”

McNeal said the VR technology allows students to put on headsets from wherever they are, enter a virtual “patient’s” room and do whatever needs to be done, from “placing oxygen, giving the patient medication… and facing any eventuality.”

University of San Diego

USD’s Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies has a mission to equip and empower innovative changemakers to shape more peaceful and just societies. Its initiative – called “The Spark” – is a global accelerator for social innovation.

Andrew Biros
Associate Director of Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at USD

Overseen by Andrew Biros, associate director of social innovation and entrepreneurship at the Peace Studies school, The Spark explores innovative ideas around entrepreneurship and how that can intersect with social issues.

The Spark has three core elements, Biros explains: cultivate social entrepreneurs, produce knowledge for changemakers and connect students to action.

The Spark offers courses, puts on competitions and drives positive social change through a combination of creative and high-impact teaching, learning, knowledge generation, and ongoing engagement with pioneer social innovators and entrepreneurs.

The Spark also invests in innovation by providing resources to students looking to spark life into their world-changing ideas through USD’s Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge, which has connected more than 2,500 students from more than 25 countries around the world recognizing their social ventures based on positive impact and financial sustainability. It has distributed more than $600,000 to seed innovative and promising global ventures.

“Our society is desperate for solutions so our planet will be there for our children,” Biros said. “How do we protect our planet using renewable sources of energy? What is the role of business in making sure we don’t have these huge swings in the economy that decimate people working in these businesses? We need social innovation as a new way of organizing ourselves so more people can share in the prosperity. The way that we are doing things currently will not get us to the next paradigm of prosperity.”

The Spark helps students learn to “work and create content for companies that are doing impactful work,” Biros said.

USD also offers a Global Market Navigator Program through The Knauss School of Business. The program helps local businesses that have some exposure to international markets expand even further globally. Professors and students work with these businesses and the San Diego World Trade Center to help identify ways they can expand their business and help them reach specific milestones.

Eileen Daspro
Faculty Director of International Business
The Knauss School of Business at USD

Eileen Daspro, faculty director of international business and clinical professor of international business at Knauss, said that last December, students at Knauss developed an international expansion strategy for a local San Diego entrepreneur looking to expand abroad.

Five students were partnered with Ruby Balaram, the founder of Real Dog Box, “a local dog treats company on a mission to change the way we all feed our dogs,” Daspro said.

Working with Balaram and Real Dog Box provided USD students “with unparalleled experience to apply trade concepts to a real business opportunity. We are inspired by our local changemaking entrepreneurs whose international vision strengthens our regional economy and for their commitment to supporting the development of local talent,” Daspro said.

USD also has a new MBA social impact consulting course it started this semester with Access Trax, Shore Buddies, Brilliant Biome and Golden Coast Mead focused on scaling social ventures in San Diego.

Cal State San Marcos

CSUSM’s Long-range Academic Master Plan, the university’s way of building responsive academic programs that meet the needs of a changing society and industry, is important as it focuses on how to best prepare its students for the future of work, says Mary Oling-Sisay, vice provost for academic affairs at the school.

Mary Oling-Sisay
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
Cal State San Marcos

“We are looking to start a collective vision for future direction about not just what programs we offer but how we offer them to meet the needs of students the surrounding community and society at large,” Oling-Sisay said. “We want to (learn) how CSUSM can continue to provide an education that enables more of the graduate and undergrad students to continue to contribute to our local and global communities.”

Oling-Sisay said the school is attentive to how it can best sustain research and teaching excellence relevance in a rapidly changing world, designing and implementing curriculum “that engages knowledge and skills for graduates to be prepared for an industrial revolution… machine-to-machine communication, self-operating staff and the notion that these changes require students of many majors to work together.”

Oling-Sisay said it also requires new ways for faculty and administrators to be certain that students are prepared to support the changing world of work.

“It really means that we have to think differently about how we connect the classroom to real-world work environments,” she said.

CSUSM also has an innovation hub, in which faculty fellows from across the campus involve the students in their work. The university also hosts a “Game Night,” at which students play video games with the business leaders.

Kambiz Hamadani
Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor
Cal State San Marcos

CSUSM chemistry and biochemistry professor Kambiz Hamadani is in the process of finalizing two new patents which might have commercial value for the school.

Hamadani’s first patent is for a single molecule phenotype that will be a boon for the pharmaceutical industry; his second is for virtual reality lab equipment that will be used to simulate chemistry experiments so they can be done at low cost and with almost no risk.

The VR science lab will allow students to do authentic, tactile experiments without having to be exposed to possibly dangerous chemicals or need for expensive instruments, he said.

“Virtual reality technology has come a long way and it is now possible to do a lot of these laboratory experiences in an online environment,” Hamadani said. “Students will have the freedom to play explore and redo and make mistakes. This is all possible if you take only the things that a student has to physically touch and you track what those students do with the object. We can take a few real knobs and simulate all the other stuff.”

Point Loma Nazarene University

PLNU’s Dean of College of Health Sciences and Professor of Kinesiology Jeff Sullivan said that key initiatives around innovation have been focused on the health sciences and the biotech industry.

Jeff Sullivan
Dean of College of Health Sciences and Professor of Kinesiology
Point Loma Nazarene University

“We see both of these areas as regional strengths for San Diego and as key areas of strength for us at (PLNU) in terms of faculty expertise and developing students,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said his focus has been on developing academic programs to train exceptional graduates in health, fitness, wellness and medicine to transform the well-being of their communities, and that is a shared vision in the college.

“We have a clear focus to prepare our students to serve San Diego first,” he said. “We have worked with the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, San Diego Workforce Partnership and CONNECT to listen to the needs for talent expressed by employers in this region, and then to develop programs in areas so our graduates can meet these needs.”

Sullivan said the College of Health Sciences at PLNU was established in 2021 with the 70,000-square foot Balboa Regional Center. The campus is a launching point for future physician assistants, occupational therapists, mental health practitioners and clinical counselors, exercise physiologists, athletic trainers, sport scientists, health and wellness coaches, and bio mechanists.

“All of our health sciences programs aim to train students to serve in historically underserved areas that may lack access to healthcare,” Sullivan said. “Our desire at the university is for our alumni to be top of mind when San Diego employers look for talent to serve this community in hospitals, clinics and community care centers, as well as to drive the research that improves the wellbeing of San Diego.”

Beth Sullivan
Associate Professor and Program Director
Point Loma Nazarene University

The Occupational Therapy program at PLNU is its newest. The first cohort, expected to have 40 students every year when built out, starts this fall.

“The goal is to produce academically well-prepared students who demonstrate good critical thinking and as professionals can serve underserved populations, people who don’t have access to healthcare services,” said Beth Sullivan, PLNU associate professor and program director of the Masters of Science Occupational Therapy Program in the College of Health Sciences.

The university is in the process of adding new classrooms, movement labs, an orthotics lab and a “full apartment” featuring accessible technologies and modifications to provide OT program participants with hands-on experience.


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