SJSU Public-Private Partnerships Boost Enrollment and Community Relationships:

Changing Higher Ed 193 with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson

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Cover Image: Changing Higher Podcast 193-SJSU Public-Private Partnerships Boost Enrollment and Community Relationships with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

6 February · Episode 193

SJSU Public-Private Partnerships Boost Enrollment and Community Relationships

35 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton

President Teniente-Matson shares insights on utilizing public-private partnerships to develop meaningful student, community, and brand experiences.


Not all news in higher education is doom and gloom. San José State University is shining bright at the heart of innovation, with a spotlight on building public-private partnerships that boost diverse student enrollment and the Spartan brand within the local community and beyond.

In this inspiring discussion, Dr. Drumm McNaughton is joined by Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson, President of San José State University, who shares her insights on leveraging the power of public-private partnerships to elevate the institution’s role in education, innovation, and community engagement. At the helm of SJSU, located in the dynamic ecosystem of Silicon Valley, she exemplifies leadership in navigating and enhancing the university’s impact through strategic collaborations.

As the first public university in the West, SJSU is the original startup of Silicon Valley and a nationally recognized urban-centered, community-based anchor institution leveraging its strategic location to foster an environment ripe for revolutionary and evolutionary change and growth. President Teniente-Matson shares insightful strategies for building robust public-private partnerships and improving relationships within communities.


Innovative Approaches to Education and Technology Integration

At the heart of SJSU’s strategy is the integration of cutting-edge technology into its curriculum, preparing students to thrive in a fast-paced and consistently evolving digital landscape. This is achieved through close collaborations with leading tech companies, which provide students with hands-on experience with the latest innovations, thereby bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application. These partnerships also facilitate research opportunities, enabling students and faculty to contribute to technological advancements.


Addressing Affordable Student Housing with Creative Initiatives

Recognizing the challenges of the high cost of living in Silicon Valley, SJSU has embarked on creative solutions to provide affordable housing to students. Utilizing Higher Education Student Housing (HESH) funds, SJSU has partnered with a third-party developer to transform a former Freemont luxury hotel tower in the downtown Innovation Corridor into a residence hall. The initiative provides much-needed affordable housing options for students, strategically positions them within a vibrant community ecosystem, and contributes to the efforts to revitalize the area.

This is just one example of the multiple plans that demonstrate leveraging vacant or underutilized real estate assets and strategic partnerships with the private sector to solve multiple challenges for the entire community.

“The important collaborative role that a public university has, as we think about urban problem solving, this puts us in the heart of collaboration, vibrancy, revitalization, working very closely with our San Jose downtown associations, our civic centers, the whole group that are known as Team San Jose that are helping to really lift and connect all of this work as we think about conventions and conferences and the like coming into our downtown urban area.” Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson


Why Public-Private Partnerships Are Critical to Enrollment Growth

Attracting more Gen Z students by prioritizing corporate partnerships is essential, as it provides students with direct pipelines to job opportunities and enables them to contribute to community betterment. This strategy aligns educational experiences with Generation Z’s values, focusing on societal concerns such as public health, climate change, and environmental stewardship.

Through strategic collaborations with corporations and community leaders, educational offerings are tailored to meet students’ practical needs and aspirations, significantly enriching their learning experience and contributing to societal well-being. Actively engaging with leading corporations and thought leaders to address issues reflects the priorities of the student body and broader community interests, demonstrating the critical role of corporate partnerships in student enrollment strategies.

The approach to education and community engagement is deeply intertwined with its commitment to innovation and sustainability. By prioritizing projects that have a lasting impact, the university demonstrates a forward-thinking approach that attracts students who want to be leaders in addressing environmental challenges.

As a leader in promoting sustainable practices and incorporating environmental stewardship into its operations and curriculum, the commitment to sustainability is evident in campus initiatives aimed at reducing carbon footprints, conserving resources, and promoting green technologies. Through education and action, SJSU is preparing a new generation of environmental leaders.

Diversity and inclusion are at the heart of President Teniente-Matson and SJSU’s mission. The university has implemented diverse programs and initiatives aimed at supporting underrepresented students to create an inclusive campus culture. These efforts enrich the educational experience for all students, preparing them to thrive in a diverse society. One example of such efforts is the partnership with Adobe, which invests in historically underrepresented student groups.


Building a Resilient and Adaptive Educational Model

In facing the challenges of the 21st century, SJSU is committed to building a resilient and adaptive educational model. This includes embracing new teaching methodologies, exploring online and hybrid learning formats, and continually assessing and updating curricula to meet changing societal needs. By doing so, SJSU ensures that it remains at the forefront of higher education, providing students with a relevant and impactful learning experience.


Three Takeaways for University Presidents and Boards

1. Lean into the significance of being the anchor institution.

Sometimes, you have to remind people that most public universities are not going anywhere. We’re not closing our doors. We lean into the role of being the anchor institution that is of significance to the community. Rural, urban, public, private, regional, et cetera that is irreplaceable in what we do as universities and spaces.

2. Lean into our role as conveners.

When we think about civic and social engagement, how we drive competitive advantage for our communities. Universities have a very special role to play in convening and helping to solve problems and lay out a long, big agenda that’s looking forward to the next generation of learners. That’s what we’re all about. The next generation, so we need to lean into that convening.

3. Focus on collective impact

All of us do good work in our individual lanes, but if we’re really going to move for something big in innovation in making a difference in our communities, we have to work together to focus on collective impact to move that needle and make that mark going forward. And that’s a multidisciplinary, organized approach to problem-solving and design thinking.


Final Thoughts

This episode illuminates San Jose State University’s strategic approach to harnessing public-private partnerships to enhance the educational landscape, strengthen community ties, and address pivotal societal issues. President Teniente-Matson’s leadership demonstrates the potential of universities to transform themselves and their communities. But can all institutions follow suit? What challenges and opportunities exist for wider adoption of these strategies?

For a detailed exploration of these topics and to learn more about SJSU’s innovative approaches to education, partnerships, and community engagement, the full transcript and podcast episode offers a wealth of information and inspiration.


About Our Podcast Guest

Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson serves as the 31st president of San José State University. An internationally recognized Latina leader, President Teniente-Matson is a champion of student success initiatives, diversity, equity and inclusion, civic engagement, and experiential learning. With over 30 years in higher education, she has been instrumental in driving institutional growth and enhancing student experiences. Her tenure as the second president at Texas A&M University-San Antonio marked significant achievements, transitioning it into a comprehensive master’s university, securing the U.S. Department of Education Hispanic Serving Institution designation, and the prestigious Seal of Excelencia. She initiated key projects such as the Mays Center for Experiential Learning and Community Engagement, the Cisneros Institute for Emerging Leaders, and the Institute of Water Resource Science and Technology, alongside establishing a Cyber Engineering Technology & Cyber Security Research Center. Her educational background is robust, holding a BA in Management from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, an MBA from the University of Alaska Anchorage, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from California State University, Fresno.


About the Host

Dr. Drumm McNaughton, host of Changing Higher Ed®, is a consultant to higher education institutions in governance, accreditation, strategy and change, and mergers.



Changing Higher Ed 193 with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson
SJSU Public-Private Partnerships Boost Enrollment and Opinion

P193 – Matson

[00:31:05] Drumm McNaughton: Thank you, David. Our guest today is Dr. Cynthia Teniente Matson, President of San Jose State University. An internationally recognized Latina leader, President Teniente Matson is a champion of student success initiatives, diversity, equity, inclusion, and civic engagement. Cynthia’s 30-plus-year career in higher education includes being the second president of Texas A&M University, San Antonio.

[00:31:31] She’s built strategic partnerships and served on numerous national educational governing and civic boards to help drive student success by enhancing the student experience. Cynthia joins us today to talk about the magic that’s happening at San Jose State and how, through the use of public-private partnerships, she’s turning around enrollment and public opinion about higher education at this institution located in the heart of Silicon Valley.

[00:31:57] Cynthia, welcome to the program.

[00:31:59] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: Hey there, it’s good to see you. Good to be here.

[00:32:02] Drumm McNaughton: I’m so glad you decided to join us. San Jose State, which is where you’re at, is one of those exemplars of what higher ed should look like, and I’m really looking forward to being able to explore that with you.

[00:32:17] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: Me too. I’m looking forward to a great conversation.

[00:32:19] Drumm McNaughton: Me too. And so give us a little bit of background. I mean, I know you were with Texas A&M at San Antonio for eight years, but you’ve done so many things, and you’ve got so many irons in the fire there at San Jose State. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you have going on.

[00:32:39] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: Well, there’s a lot going on at San Jose State University; as you mentioned, I was previously at Texas A& M University in San Antonio; I was its second president there, very, very inspiring role there to help build a university from the ground up, which is a very unique opportunity and to welcome our first class of freshmen. When I was there, I started there when the campus was an upper division-only institution and became a comprehensive master’s degree-serving institution. So I learned a lot there about how we think about the future of higher education as it relates to innovation, public private partnerships, the importance of working together with the community.

[00:33:23] So, the idea of coming back to the California State University system. I was here before for almost 11 years at Fresno State. Coming back to San Jose State as president and CEO was just an exciting opportunity to be at a campus that is in the heart of the Silicon Valley, in the city of San Jose, which is the capital of the Silicon Valley.

[00:33:46] So there’s a lot for us to explore as we think about the world we’re living in now and how much different it’s going to be in just a few years through generative AI, through large language models, through machine learning, artificial intelligence and the like. There’s just a lot for us to be thinking about and leading the university that’s in the center of that is quite exciting to me.

[00:34:08] Drumm McNaughton: Oh, it certainly was. I can’t even spell those things, let alone tell you what they are and being right there in the heart of it. I know when I first got out of the Navy years ago, I settled in San Francisco in the Bay Area and that was when multimedia was going on and it was so exciting to be involved in that kind of technology.

[00:34:28] I can just imagine what it’s like for you there.

[00:34:31] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: Well, many leaders here in the Silicon Valley talk about entrepreneurship, innovation, and disruption, you know, three critical aspects of what it means to be in the Silicon Valley, which is similar to what you’re reflecting on, and those elements hold true even more so now than they ever did. As we think about our post-pandemic recovery, the rising cost of inflation, and what’s happening in public downtowns, our university, San Jose State University, one of the significant attributes of our community is being located in a downtown urban core. There are campuses that are located downtown like we are. We’re not the only one in the United States, but it is a much smaller niche market of institutions that are at the center of a metropolitan, urban university, city enterprise where we’re at the heart of innovation. I can see the Adobe headquarters out of my office. I could see the Zoom headquarters out of my office. I can jump in my car, and I’m 15 minutes away from Apple, Apple Park, and many others. Meta, Google, many of the other names that we all know, and the new names that are coming up and forward, like Open AI and what’s happening in the world. So it makes San Jose State and the crux of higher education here quite unique.

[00:35:59] Drumm McNaughton: Oh, it is. And to have an influence on where higher ed is going and, and how it really needs to be done is just amazing for you, an opportunity there. And what I really liked hearing about or what, and we’ll talk about, is the type of things that you are doing and that you’ll be able to do with public-private partnerships, you know, we all know you can’t solve big problems in silos. And that’s what I think is so exciting about what you’re doing there.

[00:36:32] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: So let me say a couple of things, you know, as the oldest university in the West, which is San Jose State, our alumni have always been part of a startup ecosystem. I call our campus the original startup and I think it’s really important to understand that our alumni are really at the heart of all of these corporate enterprises and small businesses and innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the tech world and really throughout the Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. So San Jose State has a significant brand and brand presence, but it also influences what’s happening in these large tech companies. So when we think about public-private enterprise and public partnerships, these are at the heart of who we are.

[00:37:21] So some of the most common urban challenges right now are occupancy levels in office buildings, right? Those areas have been slow to return to in-person work because of the opportunity to take advantage of a hybrid and remote workforce and all of these new emerging technologies.

[00:37:43] So, one of the things that San Jose State is engaging in, we’re at the heart of downtown San Jose, on the eastern end of the downtown. We’re actually expanding towards the Western end of our downtown. One of the most recent partnerships we’ve undertaken is collaborating with a third-party developer who’s acquiring a hotel property that was formerly the Fairmont Hotel that changed hands during the pandemic to become a Signia hotel property. It had two towers of the main building in a tower. Its tower will now become residence halls for university students in the heart of the Western end of downtown, so along the quarter that’s known as Paseo del San Antonio that cuts through San Jose into the downtown area and ends close to a place called Cesar Chavez Park. And beyond that, you can see Zoom, Adobe and the like. So imagine university students occupying, if you can even imagine this, what used to be a Fairmont Hotel. So if you think about the brand of the Fairmont Hotel, you probably might think of something opulent, you might think of something grand, you might think of something where you’re going to have a really luxurious experience.

[00:39:02] So imagine that now being converted to a residence hall and what that will mean and feel like for our students as they navigate to and from the campus core to their residence hall. So this is at the heart of one of the p3 projects that we’ve engaged in because it’s no secret that the cost of housing in the Bay Area is significant, and how we think about affordable housing made this project possible through some funding from the higher ed subsidized housing funds, it’s known as the HESH funds, that were made available through Governor Newsom. So San Jose State is putting the thread through the needle to provide this affordable housing, subsidized housing, in the heart of downtown, in the heart of the Innovation Corridor, and it is very exciting for what this means for our university in the future.

[00:39:58] Drumm McNaughton: Two points along those lines. One, can I come back and be a student so long as I can register there?

[00:40:04] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: Absolutely, I am telling you, it’s just unbelievable.

[00:40:07] Drumm McNaughton: And, second, please reach out to Fairmont and ask them to come to sponsor the podcast. No, I’m just kidding. So, well, this is, this is really neat. And that’s a great example. When we talk about the vision for San Jose, we talk about three things, you know, creating an environment beneficial for students, the institution, and local things, being known as innovators, and building the brand and the enrollment.

[00:40:36] So, you know, we’re talking about creating that environment through public-private partnerships. What else are you doing along those lines?

[00:40:44] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: Well, corporate partnerships are really critical. And when you think about what students are looking for, not all students, but many students in Generation Z, are looking for a pipeline to a job. They’re looking for ways to make their communities better. And many of them are thinking about what the world is like now, knowing their youthful experiences through the pandemic.

[00:41:07] So they see the world of public health a little bit differently than maybe we saw when we were in high school, based on these types of experiences. Climate change and environmental stewardship are pretty significant to our current population of Gen Z students, as well as, obviously, other members of our society at large.

[00:41:26] So, the idea of coming to San Jose State and developing partnerships with major corporations and thought leaders in the community is pretty significant. For example, I mentioned Adobe a couple of times, they have been investing in our university community to specifically support historically underrepresented students, and to help career switching here for in demand jobs and meaningful careers. So we think about design. We think about how we present and collaborate and co communicate in this virtual environment, creating content in a very different way.  Adobe and San Jose State have been at the heart of the digital literacy and innovative learning that is taking place because of these partnerships.

[00:42:17] And then how we think about providing these learning experiences to other communities that are not just in San Jose or even in California for that matter. How we can partner with other campuses like HBCUs, for example, where we know that there are gaps of underrepresented groups that would benefit from these learning opportunities in ways that we can partner that we couldn’t do before, not only because of the technology but because of our close relationship to those other universities to be able to think differently about how we innovate together across the world.

[00:42:53] Jabal has a longstanding scholars program. They partner with our senior design students and faculty advisors to work on real-world problems and provide access to equipment. We’re talking to other chip manufacturers who are located in the Bay Area about our students going to them and working in their laboratories with their leading scholars and researchers in how they innovate and solve problems that are completely new in how we think about the work that’s developing or emerging from the chips act, the current administration and the chips act. So there is a lot of excitement about those types of things in the tech community. But we can also think about other areas of where we have partnerships, like our Center for Banking and Financial Services. Where we have multi year relationships with at least 10 mid-sized banks and credit unions, that we can bring those professionals to our campus, as well as our students going to them and really being engaged.

[00:43:57] And the thing that really makes this unique is when we think about first-generation students, communities of color, they have an opportunity to see themselves or be introduced to something that they would have never imagined otherwise, just, just for starters.

[00:44:15] Drumm McNaughton: I mean, that’s that is so exciting, and it reminds me, I had Tony who was the provost at Howard University in DC; they had set up a program similar to this with Google where they would have Google summer outings, whatever, but they’d have their students coming and working as interns at Google, and the exposure that the students got was incredible, but even more importantly, it got some of the folks there in Silicon Valley, and it wasn’t just Google it was others, you know, accustomed to having people of color there, to where they were going, wow, some of these people are just darn smart.

[00:44:59] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: Well, everyone that comes in our doors, we think, are filled with talent. I think one of the elements that also makes us unique in terms of leveraging our geography, is with our existing residence halls and the new hotel that I was mentioning, we’re also really leaning into summer programs where we can provide housing as we all know, which is quite expensive in the Bay Area, for college students from wherever they may be around the United States. They don’t necessarily have to be affiliated with San Jose State to have this as a place to live temporarily while they’re doing an internship or a learning experience of some sort here in the Tech Valley and be in a safe, secure college environment and have an opportunity to engage with students all over the United States, which is really quite exciting.

[00:45:49] Drumm McNaughton: And it’s a great revenue stream for the college as well, or the university as well, because had you not been having folks coming in and staying there, these buildings would possibly remain empty for the entire summer.

[00:46:04] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: We always look for a diversity of perspectives, diversity of revenue sources, diversity of students that come together serendipitously and have opportunities to learn and work together in a residential learning community, really makes a difference. Even if they’re not, as you suggest, our students.

[00:46:20] Yes, we may be supplemented from revenue, but there’s so much more that goes on. But I have to tell you that, although we’re in the heart of the tech valley, all of our partnerships aren’t around technology. There’s a lot that we’re doing in K through 12 in the schools. We’re part of a Bay Area collaborative that was awarded around $18 million. About $4 million of that is coming to San Jose State to build pipeline programs, to ignite a student’s passion might be in high school to think about careers in education, careers in technology, and health careers are the three areas of which we’re starting to build a dual enrollment that has an internship component, as well as earning college credit while they’re in high school. So those are some public private partnerships that take us into the school districts. They take us with our community college partners, as well as business enterprises. Here on our main campus, we have a partnership with the city of San Jose, where we run the local performing arts center. It’s called the Hammer Theater. It is directly adjacent to our campus. And so when I mentioned this hotel on Paseo del San Antonio, the firstcivic building, well, any building, but the civic building in particular, directly across the crosswalk from our Paseo del San Antonio is the Hammer Theater. And it is now operated by San Jose State. So our performing arts activities occur there for our music program, our dance program, our theater program, lecture series, but it’s also home to enormous numbers of community events that occur right there at the Hammer Theater. We are actively engaged with the state of California directly across the Paseo, which is just the sidewalk, by the Hammer Theater is another building called the All Quest Building, which is a state GSA building, general services administration building, that is in the process of being transitioned to San Jose state to eventually become repurposed into, again, affordable housing for faculty, staff, and graduate students. And so these two points, which are directly across the crosswalk from San Jose state, and then directly across the sidewalk, parallel, east, west, north, south, is the walkway towards this new partnership we formed with the hotel.

[00:48:47] So the campus is coming fully east to west in ways that link humanities and arts, housing, graduate students, tech valley, and all forms of partnerships with museum and art activities that are along that same Paseo. So it’s an exciting time to see San Jose State rising to new heights in this way.

[00:49:12] Drumm McNaughton: And remind me again, how long have you been here?

[00:49:16] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: I’ve just last week completed my 1st year.

[00:49:19] Drumm McNaughton: Have you gotten any sleep in that time?

[00:49:23] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: Well, the partnership with the hotel has been pretty significant for us to expand and like I said, these other pieces coming together really allowing us to enhance our master plan into the downtown core. And as I started earlier in the conversation mentioning the important collaborative role that a public university has, as we think about urban problem solving, this puts us in the heart of collaboration, vibrancy, revitalization, working very closely with our San Jose downtown associations, our civic centers, the whole group that are known as team San Jose that are helping to really lift and connect all of this work as we think about conventions and conferences and the like coming into our downtown urban area.

[00:50:13] You can imagine the excitement that this will create.

[00:50:15] Drumm McNaughton: Oh, I can, I can hear it in your voice, and obviously you can’t do this in a silo. You’ve had to work closely with the mayor’s office, council of supervisors, education, and these corporations. I can just imagine the communication strategies with this must be, I wouldn’t say daunting, but they’ve got to be very, you know, worked out, as well as building the personal relationships with these folks.

[00:50:47] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: So, Mayor Mayhan, who is our current mayor, started about the same time I started, as did several of our council members and the president of our board of supervisors. So there was a lot of synergy in us coming together close to the same time. I’d like to think about is weaving all of these pieces together like a tapestry of innovation. And so one of my early acts, really within my first ninety days or so, I went to the mayor and asked if we could work together to lift our brand in the community. That as the city of San Jose’s public university, we really wanted to strengthen our presence. So he advanced a budget proposal of which we have shared expenditures for street banners, wayfinding in the downtown corridor. We’re also working towards what I call Spartan heads, so our mascot is the Spartan, and putting Spartan heads on the roadways.

[00:51:46] So there’s a lot of elements that come together so that you know you’re in the city of San Jose, Spartan territory, and not just on the four corners of our campus proper, but all the way through downtown. And, the mayor and his city council did adopt that budget proposal in his first budget message, which was important to us and to San Jose as a community. Along with the significance of affordable housing, you can’t be in the Bay Area and not be talking about affordable housing. And so that connects this hotel opportunity that arose as well as what I was mentioning about the state facility, the All Quest building. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done on that All Quest building, but the, hotel, we have a deadline of being open next fall of ’24 and being full with our next class of students, whether that’ll be freshman transfer students, some blend of the like. And that’s happening remarkably fast. And that only happens through collaboration and pointing to being at the tip of the spear of innovation is where San Jose State sits with all of our partners in the neighborhood.

[00:53:04] Drumm McNaughton: Well, it is one of the, the key places where the major corporations there hire. You’ve got an incredible tech program there and, and technology. Your placement rate too is very high, is it not?

[00:53:19] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: Oh, unequivocally. Our engineering program, for example, the average GPA to come into the program is over a 4. 0. So these students all have very vibrant experiential learning that’s built into their curriculum, hands on work with all kinds of labs. So they all go to work. Our computer science program, very similar, over a 4. 0 GPA to get into the program, as well as our transfer pathways in. But even in our business school, our accounting graduates, according to the Wall Street Journal, are earning the top salaries in the United States wherever they go. So our accountants, our finance majors, and our marketing majors are being placed at high wages in high demand jobs very quickly.

[00:54:03] So coming to San Jose State is a very strong indicator, predictor of success of employment, of going right to work at a very competitive high wage.

[00:54:16] Drumm McNaughton: And with the partnerships that you have with the corporations, you’re a known entity to those corporations.

[00:54:24] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: Unequivocally, as I mentioned, our alumni are placed in all kinds of strategic areas in all the major corporations, in names that you know of throughout the country.

[00:54:36] Drumm McNaughton: One of the things that’s interesting, I’m going to, I’m going to back up to something about your partnerships with the public officials. When we spoke the other day, one of the things that amazed me is how the public officials use the university.

[00:54:53] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: Yes. And so, well, City Hall. So again, this is being a major urban geographical setting. City Hall is literally three minutes across the crosswalk, the walkway. So the city and the university work much closer together in a number of areas. For example, the city of San Jose has hosted city-wide employer workshops for our students to introduce them to professions they might not even know exist working as a public employee in the city. They have a very large urban-looking rotunda that is an open space where we can host these types of job fairs as well as the outdoor area. So it’s a three or four minute walk at best and it’s connected through sidewalks. So we go there, the mayor and his elected officials come here for press conferences, for major announcements, to engage with students sometimes just to come over and eat in our food courts here in the downtown Core.

[00:55:56] So we are very interconnected. You might remember about 20 years ago or so, a little bit longer than that, the city of San Jose and San Jose state announced a partnership to build, this was a very innovative at the time, to build a public library, so it’s a city university, community library, 8 stories tall, right at the corner and entryway to our campus.

[00:56:23] So the city and the university came together in a very innovative way to share land to think about our facilities coming together and build this very vibrant hub of activity. And that was really one of the early steps that was created, you know, by my predecessors at that time, and it really lit the fire for this innovation between our two entities, undoubtedly. And even post-pandemic, we celebrated 20 years of this beautiful library just this last September, and it’s leading us down the path of what else can we do together. What is that next wave of innovation look like as we think about generative AI, large language learning models, virtual, and augmented reality? All of these elements are coming together because we’ve done it before and we can do it again.

[00:57:15] Drumm McNaughton: So if you had advice for a fellow president, you know, not getting into our, our three takeaways just yet, but if you had advice for a fellow president who wanted to pursue these type of relationships, town gown type of things, what would you say to him or her?

[00:57:34] Where do they start?

[00:57:35] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: Hopefully with their government relations teams and, and, you know, not every university is able to have a robust government relations team. So, start with your government relations program. If you don’t have one, start with your local elected officials that represent you at the city, county, state, and national levels.

[00:57:54] Most presidents know this, but really listening to and understanding what are their agendas? What are they trying to achieve? This is really, for me, has been a critical inflection point with my presidency, my tenure here at San Jose State, but also aligning with, as I mentioned, my mayor, my elected officials and their agenda and finding commonality in that because we cannot do anything alone.

[00:58:19] As public universities, we have to dig deeper into partnerships with everyone with anyone that will partner with us. K through 12 community colleges, elected officials, corporate partnerships, nonprofit partnerships, local museums, you know, like I mentioned, performing arts centers and the like, we all have to come together in this multidisciplinary approach to really disrupt and change where we’re going into the future as we continue to recover from the pandemic.

[00:58:47] We have real challenges before us. In the lag in post pandemic learning that we’ve seen in some communities, especially in communities of color. As we think about democracy, moving into our next election cycle, the role of a public university to advance public democracy, the geopolitical stage that we find ourselves in now that it does not have any easy answers for anyone, requires all of our best minds to come together to either co create new solutions or remind ourselves that, in some ways we’ve been here before, what did we learn from that? And how do we think about that going forward? And we have moments in time where we can think about this. You know, we just finished a week or so ago celebrating Martin Luther King Day. So there’s many lessons that we learn from, that occurred in Martin Luther King Jr’s era, the civil rights movement. Those were big moments of significant change in our country. And we can learn from those big moments of change, of what do big moments of change look like today, and how we do that going forward.

[00:59:57] I mean, obviously, we have different technology now to think about, and we understand equity and equal rights more than we did before. There’s more general acceptance to these conversations. People are more susceptible to listening and hearing in many cases, but we still have a lot of ground ahead of us, including a lot more people challenging the value of a degree, the value of higher education and how people can get ahead with without that, and when we have those conversations about the value of a degree, I often ask myself, would that be the solution you’d provide for your child?

[01:00:37] Drumm McNaughton: Hmm. Very interesting. As I, as I think about it, it’s like those people who do not know history are destined to make the same mistakes yet again. Cynthia, this has been a fabulous conversation. I want to thank you for your time. As we always do. I’d like to wrap up with, with two questions, three takeaways for your fellow presidents and university boards.

[01:01:02] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: Well, first, I would say, lean into the significance of being the anchor institution. Sometimes you have to remind people, most public universities are not going anywhere. We’re not closing our doors. We lean into the role of being the anchor institution that is of significance to the community. Rural, urban, public, private, regional, et cetera, that is irreplaceable in what we do as universities and spaces.

[01:01:32] Second, I have found it really significant to lean into our role as conveners. When we think about civic and social engagement, how we drive competitive advantage for our communities, universities have a very special role to play in convening and helping to solve problems and lay out a long, big agenda that’s looking forward to the next generation of learners. That’s what we’re all about. The next generation, so we need to lean into that convening. And I think, one of my guiding principles has always been to focus on collective impact. That all of us do good work in our individual lanes, but if we’re really going to move for something big in innovation in making a difference in our communities, we have to work together to focus on collective impact to move that needle and make that mark going forward. And that’s a multidisciplinary organized approach to problem solving and design thinking

[01:02:33] Drumm McNaughton: Wow. Those are, those are big. Those are big, thank you. So what’s next? What’s next for you? What’s next for San Jose State?

[01:02:42] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: well. I think I would be remiss if I didn’t say to you, the city of San Jose and San Jose state are the epicenter of the future. There’s not a lot of places where I think we could say that, but given our place in the Silicon Valley, given the cusp of all of the change that’s being sparked by generative AI. We really are the epicenter of the future. So what’s next for me is taking our university to new heights. As I look at coming into my second year of my presidency here, working with our community to come together, to lay down the gauntlet for how do all of our academic community members, our student leaders, our community leaders come together to think about our role and our presence together in shaping generative AI across our disciplines and across our community.

[01:03:34] So those are two significant, and I think lofty, ambitious, goals that we will tackle together as a university community alongside all of the challenges that are before us at San Jose State. There are far more opportunities we can lean into and lead for the next generation of learners and thinkers and doers.

[01:03:57] Drumm McNaughton: Well, Cynthia, thank you. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed having you on the show and look forward to the next time in a year or so. Come back on and let us know how you’re doing with all these projects.

[01:04:08] Cynthia Teniente-Matson: Well, thank you for inviting me. It’s been a fun conversation and I look forward to that next conversation.

[01:04:15] Drumm McNaughton: Likewise. Thanks for listening, and a special thank you to our guest, Dr. Cynthia Teniente Matson, president of San Jose State University, for sharing with us what SJSU is doing to strengthen its town-gown relationships, a model for urban higher ed institutions.

[01:04:34] Tune in next week for a return visit from Melek Khoury. President of Unity Environmental University. Malik has been Unity’s president for seven years, and he’ll share with us what he’s done to transform the university and how it operates. And if you don’t think it’s working, guess what? Unity’s enrollment has grown from 500 students when he first arrived there to over 7,500 now.

[01:04:58] Thanks for listening. See you next week.


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