Following the recent announcement of Esol Education’s strategic educational partnership with American University of Bahrain (AUBH) and California State University, Northridge (CSUN), STRIDES caught up with Dean Joyce Feucht-Haviar, University Senior International Officer & Dean of The Tseng College for Graduate, International, and Midcareer Education at CSUN. Under her leadership, The Tseng College has won many accolades, establishing itself as a leader in innovative program design, winning awards for program excellence; developing the capacity to create and manage distinctive custom-designed and contracted programs; expanding its degree, certificate and professional development programs; and establishing innovative international partnerships. Here, Dean Feucht-Haviar shares some insights into the future of higher education:
Can you tell us about the history of CSUN’s relationship with Esol Education and the factors that led CSUN to pursue collaboration with Esol?
I was first introduced to Esol Education by a colleague at CSUN over 15 years ago. The organization had been working with CSUN on programs and services to support teachers at its international schools. Esol’s Chairman, Walid Abushakra invited me into the world of international schools, and we seemed to find many things to talk about in the world of education, at all levels. I soon discovered that he was highly regarded in this sphere as a visionary committed to educational excellence, not only at his own schools but in the overall field of international education; as well as a remarkably astute businessperson. He made his vision a reality by prioritizing excellence and educational values as the foundations of a highly successful school network. Walid and I shared that odd combination. .
In my field, institutions must be innovative and self-supporting if they are to harness the transformative potential of higher education. When Walid contacted me some years ago about exploring a new university project with CSUN in Egypt, I knew that we could count on Esol being a solid partner that shared a commitment to educational excellence. Esol also had the capacity and experience to make a new university work on all administrative fronts. Without CSUN’s and my own personal experience with Walid and Esol, embarking on a sizeable project halfway across the planet would not be something CSUN would normally consider. However, with Esol we found a partner that shared our purpose and values, and it seemed like a perfectly sensible thing to do. When the organization began another collaboration in the Kingdom of Bahrain, it invited CSUN to help implement a higher university model through an educational partnership with the American University of Bahrain.
COVID-19 has forced a time for invention, creative problem solving, mutual support, and more. As COVID fades from the planet in the years ahead, I predict that all educators would have been pushed to rethink the role and application of technologies in achieving educational outcomes.
What do you see as the key priorities for the future development of the American University of Bahrain (AUBH)?
I don’t think that it has escaped anyone’s notice that the worlds of work and professional practice are changing in fundamental ways. The knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for success in that changing context are, in turn, changing too. Individual employers need to evolve with increasing agility. Organizations are transforming and pivoting, and may evolve into a completely different business model in the future – car companies become transportation companies or mobility companies and reimagine what is possible. What will engineering be when it is shaped by virtual reality, living materials, and or AI? The university-prepared workforce is now expected to be far more conceptually agile the ever before. Innovation, solution design, breadth of education that empowers imagination and analytic capacities are now essential professional capabilities across nearly all fields and disciplines.
The national and international conversations about the future of higher education, the future of the economy, and the future of the global world of work have all recognized these challenges. However, recognizing it is one thing and making radical change is another if you are a well-established university. AUBH, as a new university with an expansive vision, can aspire to model what higher education needs to be to prepare students for success and leadership in the world today – thought leaders and creators as well as leading professionals. Working in partnership with CSUN, one of the largest universities in California, AUBH and CSUN faculty will together create a purposefully interconnected breadth of education that links to college majors in a way that is designed to prepare a different kind of graduate -one that is conceptually sophisticated, committed to values and to making a positive difference. A knowledgeable, innovative and engaged professional that is a ready explorer of new information and possibilities, expecting tomorrow to be different than today and to play a meaningful part in making it so.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has had huge implications for traditional education for schools and universities, accelerating the availability of online offerings. How has the current learning framework at CSUN supported its students?
While CSUN has a very big and impressive campus (you should visit sometime), it has delivered distinctive fully online/virtual programs for more than 20 years. Those programs are carefully crafted, and, in turn, have exceptionally high student success rates. To make that happen, CSUN has built a team of instructional designers to work with faculty developing and teaching in CSUN online programs. Further, CSUN had the good fortune to literally “fall down” in an earthquake in 1994! I say “good fortune” because all such natural disasters (likely including COVID) are unimaginably painful and destructive, but the world that emerges after is not the same. While that includes the hardship of dealing with things lost, it also opens a path to new possibilities. CSUN’s new impressive campus is in part due to the fact that the university was able to rethink and rebuild its campus over the ten years that followed. CSUN faculty had to learn to teach in new ways and in new spaces, including exploring the potential of online education. CSUN today has a large number of faculty members who have embraced and taught one another to use virtual options. This has led to a particular approach to faculty development and a faculty technology center. With the onset of the pandemic, CSUN called on all its online/virtual education resources starting in March 2020 to support faculty in changing instructional modes. We offered lots of professional development programs, acquired some of the latest educational technologies, and provided those who needed it (faculty and students) with laptops and hot spots for expanded Wi Fi connections.
In general, students at CSUN are very comfortable with technology, but having their classes all online was a challenge, not because of the technology, but because of the isolation and disconnection from their usual ways of engaging with other students to work their way through challenging classes. The increasing online instructional skills, which included a lot of focus on approaches to expanding student engagement, has helped. Because CSUN also has students from diverse economic contexts, some students did not have their own laptops and their residences didn’t have Wi Fi. The university acted quickly even with increasingly constrained resources to ensure students had what they needed to keep their education moving forward. No small challenge.
I should also mention that the CSUN instructional design team offered several series of webinars on instructional strategies for delivering online courses, including syllabus development, assignment design, student engagement, and the like. These webinars were also made available to AUBH faculty, just one of the ways we put our collaboration in action!
What changes or innovations should we expect to see in higher education as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
COVID took away a lot of the ability to “assume.” It is a quiet kind of natural disaster. You sit in your home – you don’t see it outside, you don’t hear it, and yet it changes everything in inconceivable ways. Many faculty thought their particular discipline and/or a course of a particular type or level could never be taught in a virtual mode of any kind. Now they know it can. It may not be ideal, but it is possible. And, as each term goes by, faculty are pushing the possibilities further – even if they were new to it, they are getting better at it.
COVID has forced a time for invention, creative problem solving, mutual support, and more. As COVID fades from the planet in the years ahead, I predict that all educators would have been pushed to rethink the role and application of technologies in achieving educational outcomes. And at university level, how to use face-to-face instruction in a more purposeful and impactful way (not just as the assumed default option). I expect that higher education will be in a place that might have taken another decade or more to achieve without COVID. Every faculty member would have added some powerful educational tools and strategies to their skill set. They will be ready to consider new possibilities as they emerge. To use a wider range of tools not just to teach but to collaborate and expand educational experience. Virtual is not just one side of LA to another, it is international – there’s no reason an Esol student couldn’t be in a CSUN class (Summer Session 2021 is all virtual).
I think those new tools and openness to modes of collaboration will impact research and scholarship too, especially for CSUN faculty teaching fully online graduate degree courses in assistive technologies, engineering, virtual reality and digital prototyping.
What advice would you have for Esol Education’s graduates about future career choices and making the most of their time at university?
What will really make the difference for students entering college today is a realization that their careers in the professional world will be in the habits of mind, analytic skills, creative problem solving and innovation. The ability to ask a lot of significant questions and expand possibilities will be essential career skills.
When it comes to choosing a career, few people do well in a field that does not make good use of their talents and connect in some way to their passions. That has long been true but lots of students arrive at a university with the notion that only certain career fields offer a path to more certain financial success. By and large that just isn’t true.
It is important for each student to know themselves well but not think too narrowly about what their own talents and passions mean for career options. For example, someone who is drawn to design and/or the visual arts can find an engaging path forward in media design and development, urban planning and design, architecture, civil engineering, and more. I recommending reading through the websites of several major universities and exploring the full range of majors, even those in which one believes there is no appeal. It’s also important to take a good look at what is on offer at the university you plan to attend – not just academic courses and majors but support services, organizations and community engagement programs. The more you know about the place you will spend time, the better you will be at getting the most out of it. Each university is its own world.
Higher education at its best is truly a remarkable journey. It is hard to imagine a greater gathering of possibilities than a good university. Build up your capacity to ask good questions. Whether you ask them of others or just use them as a spark for you own reflection – good questions are an essential part of learning, innovation, scholarship, and more. The questions others have asked over time are at the heart of every field and discipline. Be prepared to explore. And, if you can, take several courses over your time at university in a field that is completely unknown to you. Overall, have a great time!
California State University, Northridge
California State University, Northridge is a vibrant, diverse university community of 38,310 students and more than 4,000 faculty and staff, sited on a 356-acre campus in the heart of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. The university is committed to serving the needs of applicants from all over the world. Students from more than 93 countries join our student body of over 38,000 to create a vibrant, international campus.
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
Year Established: 1958
Campus Size: 356 Acres (144 Hectares)
Enrollment: 38,000+ students
Faculty: 2,000+ full-time equivalent faculty
Alumni: 370,000+ alumni