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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

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Ian Pumpian Ian Pumpian

A Professor’s Gratitude Prompts Gift

Ian Pumpian is an example of the SDSU faculty's commitment to student success.
By Tobin Vaughn

“I am very proud that in our College of Education there are several faculty members who are similarly identifying programs that are very important important to them and that really make a difference.”

A career in education? Ian Pumpian never saw it coming.

As a kid in school, social interaction was his strong suit. Academic subjects were lower on his priority list.

“I excelled in friendship,” he said. “As a child, I never would have fancied myself becoming an educator at all.”

Yet Pumpian is now a professor in educational leadership at San Diego State University. He operates a charter high school and is a co-founder of the university’s Interwork Institute, which provides services for transition from education to the community for individuals with disabilities and other non-traditional groups.

Having spent the summers of his youth in camps, he grew into roles as a counselor and camp administrator, developing a knack for helping children. But it was a practicum for a college humanities class called “The Exceptional Child” that would set his educational course.

“I thought exceptional meant gifted, and I loved working around gifted children, so I signed up,” the professor said. He soon found himself working in an institution for people with significant and profound disabilities. For Pumpian, the experience was transforming.

Definition of an educator

Pumpian came to SDSU as a member of the Department of Special Education to coordinate the teacher training program for those intending to work with the severely handicapped. From there his work evolved, along with his reputation as a top-flight educator. In 2014, he received a Monty Award as the outstanding faculty member in the College of Education.

“Supporting people’s development is the definition of being an educator,” Pumpian said. “I would guess that this unites me with most of my colleagues at the university and most educators in general.”

Another thing uniting Pumpian and many of his colleagues is their commitment to student success beyond the classroom. During The Campaign for SDSU, faculty and staff donated more than $88 million to help students succeed in various ways.

Recently, Pumpian contributed a five-figure unrestricted gift to Creative Support Alternatives, part of the SDSU Research Foundation that supports people who have developmental disabilities. He described the gift as a way to help bolster the legacy he will leave the university through the programs he has helped establish during his tenure at SDSU.

“This is just a small way of saying I value that, and if my financial resources can bolster those programs remaining as a useful and functional part of SDSU, I think that's wonderful,” he said. “I plan on doing this again in small amounts.”

More than a tagline

SDSU College of Education Dean Joseph Johnson, Jr. said Pumpian’s gift is emblematic of SDSU faculty members’ dedication, not only in his college, but across the university. He said such contributions demonstrate how the university’s “Leadership Starts Here” slogan is more than just a tagline.

“I am very proud that in our College of Education there are several faculty members who are similarly identifying programs that are very important important to them and that really make a difference. They are not just waiting for others to support that program,” Johnson said. “They are demonstrating their leadership by opening up their checkbooks and contributing in a way that helps advance those efforts."

Pumpian also views his gift as an expression of gratitude for the fulfilment he has realized through his once-improbable career. He sees it as a form of reciprocation for an institution that has endorsed his values as well as his research.

"At SDSU, I was never restricted,” he said. “I came here not expecting to do all my work sitting in my office. I wanted to come to a place that valued me being a part of the community. The fact that the university has rewarded me for that makes this gift a very small part of what I otherwise hope I have given to SDSU."