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San Diego State University

Office of the President

University History

San Diego State University is the oldest higher education institution in San Diego.

Since its founding in 1897, the university has grown to become a leading public research university. Each year, SDSU provides more than 35,000 students with the opportunity to participate in an academic curriculum distinguished by direct contact with faculty and an increasing international emphasis that prepares them for a global future.

In The Beginning

Serving the San Diego region has always been a core part of SDSU’s mission.

Founded March 13, 1897, San Diego State University began as the San Diego Normal School, a training facility for elementary school teachers. Seven faculty and 91 students met in temporary quarters over a downtown drugstore before moving to a newly constructed 17-acre campus on Park Boulevard.

The curriculum was limited at first to English, history and mathematics. Course offerings broadened rapidly under the leadership of Samuel T. Black, who left his position as state superintendent of public instruction to become the new school's first president. Black served from 1898 to 1910.

From 1910 to 1935, President Edward L. Hardy headed a vigorous administration that oversaw major changes to the fledgling institution. In 1921, the Normal School became San Diego State Teachers College, a four-year public institution controlled by the state Board of Education. In that same year, the two-year San Diego Junior College, forerunner of today's local community colleges, became a branch of San Diego State. That union lasted until 1946.

1931 Relocation

By the 1920s, San Diego State was already beginning to outgrow its Park Boulevard location, and San Diegans launched a campaign to build a new campus on the city's eastern border.

In February 1931, students, faculty and staff moved into seven Mission Revival-style buildings surrounding a common area still known as the Main Quad.

Four years later, the Legislature authorized expansion of degree programs beyond teacher education, and San Diego State Teachers College became San Diego State College. Also in 1935, Walter R. Hepner took the helm as president, beginning a 17-year tenure.

The college continued to grow over time, reaching an enrollment of more than 25,000 students during the administration of Malcolm A. Love, who served as president from 1952 to 1971.  The SDSU Library is named after Love.

In 1960, San Diego State became part of the newly created California State College system, now known as the California State University system.

In 1963, just months before he was assassinated, President John F. Kennedy gave the commencement address at San Diego State. The President received the university's first honorary doctorate – also the first in the CSU system.

In the early 1970s, with legislative approval, San Diego State College became San Diego State University.

Leading the institution during the 1970s were Acting President Donald E. Walker (1971-1972), President Brage Golding (1972-1977), Acting President Trevor Colbourn (1977-1978) and President Thomas B. Day, whose tenure spanned 1978 to 1996.

In 1996, Stephen L. Weber became the university's seventh president, presiding over the university's significant gains in student preparation and graduation, philanthropy, research and other areas of excellence.

Dr. Elliot Hirshman has served as president of San Diego State University since 2011 – a period in which SDSU has raised its profile as a major public research university. SDSU ranks in the top 15 for students studying abroad and for ethnic and economic diversity; Forbes, Fortune and U.S. News & World Report rank it top 25 for entrepreneurship; and the university has produced 85 Fulbright student scholars in the past decade.

Under President Hirshman’s leadership, SDSU has implemented an integrated budget and financial strategy, created a new strategic plan, raised more than $700 million for scholarships and new initiatives and programs, established and endowed its Honors College, and built and remodeled facilities across campus. The Campaign for SDSU's final phase is raising additional funds to endow scholarships, professorships, programs and research and to build a new Engineering and Interdisciplinary Sciences complex.

SDSU Today

Now in its 119th year, San Diego State University can take pride in more than a century of achievement in education, research and service.

With an enrollment of more than 35,000 students, SDSU is increasingly becoming a top choice for undergraduates as evidenced by the record number of applications received each year.

Renowned for its academic excellence, the university is home to top-ranked graduate programs in business; engineering; public health; psychology; fine arts; biological sciences; public affairs; education; and speech, language, and hearing sciences. Ranked undergraduate programs include business, engineering and international business. Overall, San Diego State students can choose from 91 undergraduate majors, 76 master's programs and 23 doctoral degree programs.

Local Connection

Committed to serving the richly diverse San Diego region, SDSU ranks among the top universities nationwide in terms of ethnic, racial and economic diversity among its student body, as well as in the number of bachelor's degrees conferred upon students of color.

The Price Scholars program provides financial support for first-generation local students with track records of strong academic achievement and leadership in high school. In turn, these students mentor local middle school students on the road to higher education. SDSU's Guardian Scholars program provides support, including academic mentoring and year-round housing, to students leaving the foster-care system.

Research 

Increasingly recognized for innovative research, SDSU is establishing itself as one of the leading public research universities. It is Carnegie classified as a R2 doctoral university with higher research activity, and SDSU students pursue real-world challenges under the guidance of internationally recognized mentors in innovative on-campus labs, entrepreneurship centers and business incubators.

Campus Growth

Perhaps the most visible evidence of SDSU's growth is in the physical additions to campus and its continued commitment to providing a modern learning environment for students, faculty and staff. The university has reimagined and renovated academic buildings and complexes, the library, labs and residence halls. Currently under construction are a new Engineering and Interdisciplinary Sciences Complex and a new complex that will include student housing and retail.  

The new Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union serves as the center of SDSU campus life. It contains many sustainable and energy-efficient features and has obtained LEED-certified platinum status. In addition, the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center welcomes alumni back to campus and provides a professional meeting and events venue for the entire San Diego region.

Notable Alumni

Beyond accolades and campus expansion, San Diego State University remains, as always, most proud of its alumni family, more than 300,000 strong.

Among those who call SDSU their alma mater are former Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy Muris; former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill A. "Tony" McPeak; San Diego County Supervisors Greg Cox, Dianne Jacob, Ron Roberts and Bill Horn; astronaut and Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ochoa; restaurant executives Linda A. Lang, former CEO of Jack in the Box restaurants, and Ralph Rubio, founder and chairman of Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill; and Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal.

Aztec alumni also include Hollywood producer and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy; entertainers Gregory Peck, Marion Ross, Julie Kavner, and Kathy Najimy; Baseball Hall of Fame member Tony Gwynn; former San Francisco Giants player and former San Diego Padres Manager Bud Black; Pro Football Hall of Fame member Marshall Faulk; U.S. Open winner and former PGA tour golfer Gene Littler; America's Cup Skipper Dennis Conner; NBA basketball player Michael Cage; and current star athletes Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman, and Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg.

The success of these individuals and thousands of other SDSU alumni attest eloquently to the success of their alma mater. From modest beginnings, San Diego State University has evolved into a premier center of education, research and service.

Students help move to the new SDSU campus in 1930
SDSU's new campus on Montezuma Mesa in 1930
San Diego State national champion basketball team from 1941
SDSU coach Don Coryell, shown in 1961, pioneered football's air-oriented attack.
President Kennedy giving the 1963 SDSU Commencement address
Future Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn played college ball at SDSU.
Marshall Faulk set records at SDSU before his NFL Hall of Fame career.
Photo courtesy of the St. Louis Rams
SDSU trolley station opens in 2005
President Elliot Hirshman talks to students.
Sell-out crowd for men's basketball at Viejas Arena