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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

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Top Stories of 2021

As we look to 2022, we reflect on some of the important SDSU stories of 2021.
By SDSU News Team

This year was one of history-making milestones at San Diego State University. 
The university introduced new undergraduate and graduate programs, events and support resources, including the hiring of new counseling team members for students, and maintained several nationally ranked academic programs. To celebrate graduates earlier this year, the university held a unique and historic Commencement ceremony at Petco Park.
SDSU has expanded instructional faculty and research investments and training initiatives. This year, several proposals were developed for new collaborative research centers, with an additional four projected by May 2023. The university also announced the Big Ideas finalists, innovative faculty-led projects focusing on addressing issues which include homelessness, climate change and social justice through the arts. 
“The achievements of our campus this year have demonstrated that we have what it takes to be a unique, transborder powerhouse, and that we’ve embraced our identity as a national model for research and innovation, social mobility, and public value,” said SDSU President Adela de la Torre
Here, we reflect on some of our university community’s achievements in 2021. 

1. More than Half the Strategic Plan Achieved in Two Years 

Among many other achievements, SDSU faculty, staff, and administrators completed more than 54% of all strategic plan goals by October 2021, about two years after launching the five-year strategic plan. 
Sustainability is an important focus of the plan and, this year, SDSU was, again, recognized for its commitment to sustainability by being named to The Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Campuses. SDSU recently launched a new Office of Energy & Sustainability. Also, the university has more than one dozen buildings with LEED certification and is the only California State University (CSU) campus with two LEED Double Platinum buildings. 
Another important element of the plan is to create greater ease in accessing the highly valuable SDSU degree while addressing both disparities in educational outcomes and the lifelong learning needs of students. SDSU is already well known for its value and, this year, SDSU ranked No. 38 by the The Princeton Review for the “Return on Investment” it offers its students. 
With student success as a key priority, the strategic plan has already resulted in new degree programs at SDSU Imperial Valley and through SDSU Global Campus, new microsite partnerships with community colleges as well as SDSU receiving federal designation as an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI).
“Our students have deeply immersive experiences while at SDSU that prepare them with amazing career prospects, and they graduate with so many opportunities available to them,” said J. Luke Wood, Vice President for Student Affairs and Campus Diversity and implementation co-chair for the strategic plan. 

2. Research, Scholarship on the Rise 

SDSU researchers secured nearly $141 million in grant funding for 2020-21, with nearly 320 principal investigators receiving 723 awards. 

“This was an excellent year for a wide range of crucial research,” said Interim Vice President for Research and Innovation Hala Madanat. “SDSU faculty were ambitious in their efforts.” 

The range of research and innovative solutions faculty are leading include projects dedicated to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, saving corals, identifying the Inti tanager bird for the first time, exploring connections between high heat and social mobility, training a new generation of education leaders to address equity issues, providing better understanding of seasonal fluctuations, more clearly defining the evolutionary history of modern blue whales and engaging students in the comprehensive study of human rights

This fall, SDSU also announced a new five-year, $15 million effort funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to bolster Latinx health disparities research and strengthen the pipeline of scientists focused on the subject.  SDSU FUERTE (Faculty Unified towards Excellence in Research and Transformational Engagement) will hire a cohort of 11 faculty, three of which will be located at SDSU Imperial Valley.

And mechanical engineer Sung-Yong (Sean) Park became the latest at SDSU to earn an NSF CAREER grant, one dedicated to his work on sustainable energy. SDSU engineers and researchers Junfei Xie and Reza Akhavian are also recipients of the highly competitive award. 

3. Donors Provide Significant Investments for Students, Faculty and Staff 

Philanthropic support for SDSU hit new milestones as the university received $133.2 million in gift commitments in the 2020-21 fiscal year. 

The largest donation to a single department in SDSU history came through a $14 million bequest to the Department of Astronomy from the estate of the late Theodore William Booth and his late wife Nhung Lu Booth, a College of Sciences alumna. 

An $8 million grant was also donated and will be provided over a five-year period to KPBS from the Conrad Prebys Foundation. Another $6 million grant, also from the Conrad Prebys Foundation, was provided to the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts to develop a new stage for student productions and rehearsals.

And in the spring, more than 1,950 donors contributed to the March 9 Day of Giving, setting a new participation record and raising more than $301,000 across more than 70 programs.

4. New Services for Student Health, Recognition for DEI Initiatives 

The pandemic demonstrated a nationwide need to enhance digital instructional resources and mental health resources. SDSU has centered on both throughout the year. 
SDSU has increased the number of therapists and advisors to support students and, through a partnership, the University Library introduced a peer mentor program where students are trained in how best to use library resources to bolster their academic performance. At SDSU Imperial Valley, new tenure-track faculty members have been hired along with full-time staff members on the Student Affairs team. 
This fall, the cultural centers reopened, and the Center for Transformative Justice, the Latinx Resource Center, the Native Resource Center and the Undocumented Resource Center each held grand openings of their new locations. 
Another strategic plan outcome, the Basic Needs & Wellness Toolkit was launched to promote and educate students about counseling, economic crisis support and overall wellness. Counseling and Psychological Services also expanded faculty-focused resources, offering consultation to instructors who are responding to student mental health needs in the classroom. 
Also this fall, the newly expanded and remodeled Aztec Recreation Center opened following a campuswide student campaign and Associated Students leadership support. The ARC project is part of an effort to create a more modern campus while also expanding the very resources designed to support students’ physical and mental health.
Also new are expanded resources through the Economic Crisis Response Team (ECRT) and the launch of the Campus Assistance, Response, Engagement and Support (CARES) Team, and others designed specifically for graduate students
SDSU received national recognition this year for its investments in student retention and success and was named: 
  • Among only 10 universities in the nation to receive this year’s Seal of Excelencia granted by Excelencia in Education, recognizing its efforts to close  education equity gap and increasing Latinx degree holders. 
  • Fulbright HSI Leader by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and recognized by Hispanic Outlook in its Top 100 Colleges and Universities for Hispanics list. 
  • A First-gen Forward Advisory Institution in recognition of efforts to improve the experiences and successes of first-generation students.  

5. Technology Enhancements Launched, Others on the Way 

The Information Technology Division launched a collaboration with Project Management and Facilities Services to create more than 100 Connected Classrooms, equipped with audio-visual technology and pan-tilt-zoom auto-tracking cameras, among other devices, to allow instructors to enhance their in person and streaming instruction. 
The enhancements followed the launch and now ongoing training of instructional faculty to help improve their teaching practice across platforms and spaces so that students are more readily engaged and connected with both their instructors and peers. 
“This is new generation instruction, and exactly what our digital immersed students need to be engaged and successful learners and active participants in their own success,” said Jerry Sheehan, vice president for information technology. 
SDSU also transitioned from Blackboard to Canvas this fall. The university is also implementing the my.SDSU is a project, one that will help better serve students and the admissions and financial aid process in a more coordinated and streamlined way. SDSU is integrating PeopleSoft as part of the project to also improve connectivity and accessibility of campus systems.

6. Student are Excelling in the Classroom and on the Field

SDSU is posed to meet or exceed all measures defined under Graduation Initiative 2025, a CSU initiative. Equity gaps are below 4% in most categories, and SDSU has seen a significant rise in graduation and retention rates along with a reduction in equity gaps with the six-year rate increasing from 74% in 2018 to more than 78% in 2020. 

This year, SDSU Imperial Valley graduate Lawson Hardrick III, now pursuing a master’s degree in postsecondary educational leadership at SDSU, earned a 2021 CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement

The football team has had a phenomenal season this year and is preparing for the Dec. 21 Frisco Bowl. The Aztecs (11-2) accepted an invitation to play University of Texas San Antonio in the bowl game, to be held Dec. 21 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. The game will be carried on ESPN.
The Aztecs’ 11 victories under Head Coach Brady Hoke this year are tied for the most in SDSU’s 99 seasons of football. SDSU had a school-record three student-athletes earn Associated Press All-America honors and junior punter Matt Araiza earned the Ray Guy Award, the school’s first national football award.
This fall, the women’s Track & Field team received their rings for winning the 2021 Mountain West Outdoor championship. 

And the men’s basketball team, the two-time defending outright conference champions, have early season victories over Georgetown and Arizona State. The eyes of the college basketball world will be on San Diego State this March when the university one again plays host to the 2022 NCAA Tournament first and second round games to be held in Viejas Arena on March 18 and March 20.

Earlier this year, student athletes took medals during the games in Tokyo: Nevin Harrison, who joined SDSU this fall as a biology major, won the gold Olympic medal in canoe racing; and Adapted Athletics sprint coach Isaac Jean-Paul won a bronze medal in the men’s long jump during the Paralympics. SDSU alumnus Xander Schauffele also won a gold medal at the Olympics.

7. SDSU Mission Valley Milestones

SDSU Mission Valley reached numerous significant milestones this year, including announcing a naming agreement with Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. resulting in the stadium being named Snapdragon Stadium. The agreement will now go to the CSU Board of Trustees for formal approval.
“Our growing relationship will allow us to leverage the best-in-class technological advances of Qualcomm to create superior fan experiences no matter the event,” SDSU Athletic Director JD Wicker said following the signed agreement. SDSU and its partners held a topping out ceremony in July at the new stadium, whose construction remains on track, after more than 2,500 steel beams were placed to support the structure of Snapdragon Stadium. The stadium is on schedule to open in fall 2022, when the Aztec football team will take on the University of Arizona Wildcats in the season home opener on Sept. 3, 2022.
In November, SDSU named the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation and Sycuan Casino Resort as its inaugural founding partner. When the stadium opens, both The Piers location and The Founders Club will bear the Sycuan name. In that same month, the university announced eight inaugural food vendors for the new stadium, including Cali BBQ, The Crack Shack, Everbowl and Hodad’s. 

The site development made excellent progress as well, with grading taking place across the expansive 166-acre site. The construction across SDSU Mission Valley continues to advance, with teams on the ground moving forward with preparing the land to break ground on the River Park next year and readying the site for future housing and Innovation District buildings.

8. COVID-19 Readiness and Response 

Following major positive updates from the state and the County of San Diego on the pandemic conditions, SDSU returned to pre-pandemic operations with the majority of students, faculty and staff on campus in the fall. 
Throughout the year, many SDSU students, faculty, staff and alumni were front line in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At SDSU a coordinated team of cross-discipline professionals provided and sustained through county partnerships ongoing on-campus COVID-19 testing and vaccination options, implemented wastewater testing in residential communities, hosted training forums on safety protocols and general prevention, among numerous other measures. 

Also this year, SDSU’s School of Public Health, ranked among the top 20% of public health schools by the U.S News & World Report, celebrated its 40-year anniversary. About 75% of the public health workforce in San Diego County are its alumni, and many of them have been directly responding to the pandemic. 

In November, SDSU’s cultural centers and the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center, important spaces for community connection and celebrations, reopened after having been shuttered for much of the pandemic. The center had been a long-standing County of San Diego’s Health & Human Services Agency (HHSA) COVID-19 testing site. 

9. New Website Launch, Branch Launch Forthcoming 

In the spring, SDSU unveiled its new and landing pages. The more immersive homepage presents the most sweeping overhaul to the university's web presence since 2014. The site was designed and developed to be accessible to users with differential abilities. New functions and pages launched were geared toward current and prospective SDSU students, as well as their parents and families, with highlights of innovative research and scholarship and the unique Aztec experience.

The website rebrand came ahead of the university’s brand relaunch, slated for spring 2022. Next year’s brand launch will introduce a new university mission statement, tagline and visual identity system, among other additions, in a cohesive identity that brings all university locations under a cohesive brand. 

The brand initiative is one important outcome of the university’s strategic plan, and was identified through the university’s strategic planning process as a critical need to enhance both the understanding of the unique qualities of an SDSU experience and degree while uniting all university locations under a single brand identity. 

10. 125th Anniversary Planning Underway 

SDSU also this year began planning its 125 year anniversary, to launch in March with community events during which all students, faculty, staff, alumni, families and supporters are welcome. 

SDSU Provost Salvador Salvador Hector Ochoa and University History Curator Seth Mallios are co-chairing the 125th Anniversary Advisory Board leading planning for the celebrations. 

The university has launched a 125th anniversary website with information, which will be regularly updated before and after the launch events, both to be held on March 14. More information will be shared in the spring.
“Over 600 days, we will celebrate our university’s vibrant history and promising future. At SDSU, we strongly benefit from a legacy of creativity and innovation and, today, are a community that is strongly diverse and powerful together,” Ochoa said. “As we celebrate our past and look toward our future, we will honor who we are and what we do every single day.” 

Top SDSU Stories of 2021
As we look to 2022, we reflect on some of the important SDSU stories of 2021.