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Close to Home: What's a public university all about anyway?

Sonoma State University opened its doors to 274 students 53 years ago. The campus has grown tremendously and now has 9,100 students; 3,100 of them who live on campus. I'd like to explain how this university is poised to become a showcase example of an innovative and forward-looking public university.

Higher education can enhance regional economic development in several ways — a growing university is an employer, a purchaser, a real estate developer, a workforce developer and an advisor and network builder.

As provost in charge of academic affairs, I am most interested in ensuring we provide the best education possible for our students to stimulate workforce development. But let's not forget how SSU, under the leadership of President Ruben Armi?na, has impacted the region through expanded employment, major purchases and, of course, significant construction as evidenced by the Green Music Center and the new Student Center.

Employment opportunities today are very different from a decade ago. As I reach out to employers in this area, I am being told they want to hire graduates who can think, motivate, communicate effectively, work in teams and solve problems. Sonoma State strives to give our students these skills by offering high-quality, hands-on learning designed to prepare our graduates for complexity, diversity and change within the workplace.

It helps that we are a public residential campus in the liberal arts and sciences tradition because our campus environment includes meaningful co-curricular experiences emphasizing creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and community engagement. The education we provide gives students transferable skills for professional careers and successful futures. It takes more than a major to both contribute to, and prosper in, an economy that is constantly adapting to new challenges, new technologies and new forms of competition.

At Sonoma State, we focus on high-impact learning practices so students benefit from small classes, collaborative classrooms, internships and ample scholarship opportunities with faculty. By their senior year, 65 percent of our students will have engaged in some form of creative activity. And in listening to employers about the need for something extra in our students, we are starting to offer a range of skill-based certificates for our students and the community. Right now, for example, we are offering certificates in social media for the workplace, hospitality and tourism management, audio and recording production and wine business management.

We are not interested in settling for the status quo. Instead we want to build on the strengths we already have and develop a specific set of curricular and organizational innovations that will make us a destination campus regionally, nationally, and internationally.

We want students to come to SSU because they want to craft a lifelong process of imaginative personal growth, collaborative engagement with the diverse society they live in and creative exploration of the changing world around them. If we get it right, young people will come to SSU, not just to "get a job" but to "create a life" and in so doing have an impact on our region every day.

Andrew Rogerson is provost of Sonoma State University.


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