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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

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120 Years of Community Centeredness

SDSU’s commitment to the community has been at the core of the university’s mission.
By Katie White

This year, San Diego State University celebrates the 120th anniversary of its founding as a teacher training school. Now a top public research university, SDSU is an economic driver of San Diego, a source of the region's workforce and a community of faculty, staff and students committed to serving the city.

Throughout its 120-year history, San Diego State University’s commitment to the community has been at the core of the university’s mission. SDSU not only educates the local workforce, but the programs and initiatives led by SDSU students, faculty and staff also leave a lasting legacy in the community.

Initiatives such as Aztecs Rock Hunger, Compact for Success, the City Heights Collaborative and many others underscore SDSU’s central connection to San Diego. The first of these community-centered programs was the Campus Laboratory School.

Founded in 1899, the facility served a dual purpose, allowing student teachers under supervision of master teachers to practice their teaching skills, while providing the local community with a progressive resource for educating young people. The Campus Lab School educated hundreds of students in grades 1-8 for several decades until state budget cuts forced its closure in 1970.

Aztecs Rock Hunger

Fast-forward more than 40 years and SDSU is still giving back to the community. An initiative of Associated Students in collaboration with the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank, Aztecs Rock Hunger has raised more than 1.5 million pounds of food—or the monetary equivalent—in six years. What started in 2010 as a competition between local universities to help San Diegans affected by food insecurity has grown into an Aztec tradition.

“SDSU is an integral part of the San Diego community, and this campaign brings the campus community together to raise awareness and fight food insecurity in San Diego,” said Associated Students vice president Hayden Willis, who oversees Aztecs Rock Hunger. “Last year alone, students, faculty and staff raised 448,240 pounds of food, and we hope to break the record this year and crack the 500,000-pound mark.”

The Aztecs Rock Hunger campaign runs through Oct. 22.

Collaboration with City Heights

Price Community Scholars Program
Price Community Scholars Program
Around the time of SDSU’s centennial, then-president Stephen L. Weber helped foster a collaboration that would improve learning outcomes in one of San Diego’s most underserved neighborhoods. Thanks to an $18 million gift from Price Charities, the university initiated an unparalleled public-private partnership with the City Heights community.

Weber committed more than 100 faculty members and scores of students from about 40 departments across campus to this effort. In the fall of 1998, SDSU and its collaborators—the San Diego Unified School District, the San Diego Education Association, and Price Philanthropies—united in an effort to transform education at Rosa Parks Elementary School, Monroe Clark Middle School and Hoover High School.

These efforts created a college-bound culture in a community where many students had not envisioned themselves as university graduates. SDSU and Price Philanthropies made a further commitment of City Heights through the Price Community Scholars program. The top-ranked students in this program receive up to $7,500 for each of their four years at SDSU in exchange for serving as mentors to middle and high school students in City Heights.

Compact for Success

Compact for Success
Compact for Success
For more than 10 years, SDSU has also partnered with the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) in San Diego’s South Bay for a unique program that fosters student success.

Compact for Success guarantees admission to SDSU for students enrolled in the Sweetwater district from seventh through 12th grades and who maintain a 3.0 grade point average while meeting predetermined academic benchmarks. Many of these students, known as Compact Scholars, are first-generation college students for whom higher education may have appeared out of reach.

Now in its 17th year, the partnership is taking its mission to the next level. SDSU and SUHSD recently kicked off the Return, Inspire, and become a Sweetwater Educator (R.I.S.E.) Program. Through R.I.S.E., students who successfully complete all program requirements and earn their teaching credentials in a discipline affected by the statewide teacher shortage (math, science and special education) are guaranteed employment with SUHSD after graduation from SDSU.

Guardian Scholars

Guardian Scholars
Guardian Scholars
SDSU is also committed to the future of the region’s homeless and foster youth population through Guardian Scholars. This program provides support services, including year-round campus housing or housing stipends, dedicated counselors, peer mentoring, free tutoring and generous financial aid and scholarship opportunities.

Community service learning

One of the university’s major goals is to make an impact in the community while offering students real-world experiences in addition to classroom learning. SDSU’s Service Learning and Community Engagement Program (SLCEP) fosters civic engagement, civic participation and civic responsibility by integrating service learning into other high-impact practices, including study abroad.
Service learning courses incorporate essential civic knowledge capacities and learning outcomes that ensure students’ ability to apply course content as they serve the community. Many of SDSU’s service learning courses are multidisciplinary, emphasizing collaborative learning and fostering relationships between students from different areas on campus and with partners in the community.


The SDSU campus is also home to KPBS, a public radio and television service.  The university holds the station’s FM license and the California State University Board of Trustees holds the KPBS television license.

Founded in 1960 by SDSU alumnus Ken Jones, the station started with five-day-a-week educational radio programming. Its current programming includes multiple television channels examining local history, current issues and news important to San Diegans.  

Since its early days, the main television channel has been an affiliate of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the station continues to offer non-commercial educational programming, including a half-hour locally focused news program that airs each weeknight.