Tag Archives: Higher Education

‘This is a Pioneering Task’

The founding president of California State University, Monterey Bay shares insight about starting a university.

As I continue to identify and discuss some of the bright spots in the California State University system (see ‘The Trick is Just Doing’ and ‘Make an Impact at the Core of People’s Life’ articles), I realized the recent founding of California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) was an opportunity to better understand the dynamics of starting a complex organization with substantial impact. This realization came through my attendance of the 2011 CSUMB graduation ceremony, where I went to support a good friend who was graduating. Having read about the school’s past, which includes the interesting historical note that the university campus grew out of a former army base named Fort Ord, [1] I set out to learn more about its start. That research led me to a wonderful and insightful discussion with the founding president of CSUMB, Dr. Peter Smith.

Peter SmithHaving started his tenure at CSUMB in 1995, Peter served for over ten years in the role of President until his departure from the university in 2005. He describes the time there as exciting—an excitement based in large part on an opportunity to give life to a vision. Peter elaborates on the meaning of a living vision by stating that their team’s long-term goals were “not just on a wall in someone’s office.” The group of CSUMB founders, Peter believes, was ever focused on the vision of accomplishing a successful launch of an innovative university that would still achieve accreditation (CSUMB became Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation candidate in 1998 and achieved full accreditation in 2003 [2]). Thus, the education model of CSUMB was built around creating something new while adhering to an accreditation standard framework.

CSUMB works to provide students with a distinct environment including the promotion of service-learning opportunities. Peter recalls that the idea of service-learning, which is an integration of service in the community with graduation requirements, [3] as a new concept to many people and not always understood or embraced for the college environment. Another differentiating factor that CSUMB provides students is the required completion of a senior capstone project prior to graduation. [4] Upon approval, the self-selected project is a chance for students to explore and integrate various disciplines learned through their academic experience and apply that theory to a passion or interest. Peter boasts that the projects also give students valuable presentation practice because each project outcome is presented to an audience by the student. Betterment in learning outcomes is the stated driving force behind Peter’s passion for innovation and was expressed in his promotion of new ideas like the service-learning and capstone projects.

In an attempt to give context to the CSUMB start-up opportunity, Peter talks about the lessons learned from his prior involvement with the start of the Vermont Community College system. He says that being successful in these ventures requires the ability to stay proactive. While preparation is important, innovation necessitates strategic planning to give way to “doing” at some point. Peter warns against perpetually “sharpening your [planning] pencil” and never implementing a plan. “Innovation often requires the ‘ready, fire, aim’ mentality,” shares Peter, based on the practice of trying new things with knowledge that missing the targeted goal is a possibility. He goes on to try and explain the concept further through the analogy of building a bicycle while riding it—the process has to sustain forward movement while development is occurring.

Another important part of the innovative process is to take time to review what is and is not working, explains Peter. He stresses the concept with an example from his time at CSUMB where the university broke from class sessions for a full week in the first semester to assess the university’s progress. Taking the time to troubleshoot issues, align resources, and, as Peter states, “collect our wits,” was believed to be a critical component of CSUMB’s administration and growth as an institution. This brief timeframe was also important because it allowed the faculty to realign their activities and efforts toward what was successful and to stop doing what was not.

It is Peter’s opinion that finding faculty members who would provide the highest likelihood of success was a very important step in the process of developing CSUMB. He went on to relay that the newly formed organization needed instructors willing to help “invent this university.” To locate the type of person willing to be an innovator, Peter describes the selection process as “looking at the trees and not the forest,” meaning the qualities of the individual were most important in their selection as instructors. Peter needed faculty who could understand and embrace the idea that their work was creating something new and he would communicate this idea often.

Leading an educational start-up such as a university requires the careful communication of expectations, shares Peter.  This type of innovative work is fundamentally different than managing an established institution, and Peter believes that everyone involved had to rise up to the task with the knowledge there would be various issues encountered along the way. He describes how important it was to consistently “broadcast to people” the unique and challenging nature of starting a university, and, to increase their resolve, he would often state to administrative colleagues, faculty, and students that “this is a pioneering task.”

Jason Freeman is the founder of Work of Start.


1. Acquired from the California State University, Monterey Bay website – CSUMB.edu
2. Acquired from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges – WASCSenior.org
3. Acquired from the California State University, Monterey Bay website – CSUMB.edu
4. Acquired from the California State University, Monterey Bay website – CSUMB.edu

‘Make an Impact at the Core of People’s Life’

The Director of both Outreach and the President’s Scholars Program at California State University, Long Beach, Valerie Bordeaux, shares about the beginning and maturity of the President’s Scholars Program.

Long Beach, California

In my continued investigation of bright spots in a struggling California State University system (see ‘The Trick is Just Doing’ article) I found through personal experience that the President’s Scholars Program at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), is a shining example of sustained success. The first of its kind in California, the President’s Scholars Program offers full tuition and housing support along with many other benefits including priority registration and personalized academic advising [1] to high school valedictorians and national scholars. [2] The program was founded by former President Robert C. Maxson in 1995 and has been directed and managed by Valerie Bordeaux over the past 16 years.

Valerie BordeauxI met with Valerie at her office on the CSULB campus to learn more about the start and development of the President’s Scholars Program. Walking to her office, I was struck by smell of blooming jasmine flowers, the same aroma I encountered each spring when I attended CSULB as a President’s Scholar years ago. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Valerie with the same warm and energetic smile that met me over a decade ago when I began my journey to higher education.

Valerie began the discussion by sharing the question posed to her from former President Robert C. Maxson – “How many valedictorians do we have on campus?” Not having the statistic readily available, Valerie got to work researching the requested information. Her first step was calling California high schools to develop a list of valedictorians. Valerie described the sense of urgency in her research based on President Maxson’s “passion, focused like a laser” to recruit California’s brightest minds to CSULB.

President Maxson had previously developed a program to recruit top students to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, as their university president, and Valerie said that a similar model was adopted for CSULB. According to Valerie, the start of the President’s Scholars Program was more than a formulaic implementation of a model; it was the “magic of everything converging in a special point in time” for the university. She then elaborated that the President’s Scholars Program was a “vision embraced” by everyone involved, and it took President Maxson’s leadership to make the vision “come alive.”

Valerie explained the recruitment tactics starting with the first 10 presidential scholarships offered in the fall of 1995 to over 1,000 scholarships since inception. One of Valerie’s strategies from the beginning was to recruit from all over California, including high school students from smaller towns throughout the state. She knew that these hometowns would “celebrate their superstar” students and help to promote the program. Valerie described sending press releases to student’s local news papers and having great recruitment success from these publications. She also described the practice of sending scholarship recipients back to their hometown high schools to recruit their best and brightest students.

The President’s Scholars Program had become a “deep-seated” part of the institution after growing over a ten-year incubation period under President Maxson’s leadership, explains Valerie. She then described President Maxson’s departure from the university in 2005, and how the program found a new champion in the current university president, F. King Alexander. President Alexander brought his own focus by expanding the access of the program to other nationally recognized scholar achievements including the National Achievement Program [3] for outstanding Black American high school students and the National Hispanic Recognition Scholars [4] for outstanding Hispanic and Latino high school students. The program also adopted a global focus by encouraging students to study abroad.

Everyone involved in the leadership and development of the President’s Scholars Program has played an important role, shares Valerie. Her role started as tactician in the “march to the vision” under President Maxson. That role then shifted to supporting a new leader in President Alexander as he learned of and embraced the critical impact that the President’s Scholars Program has had on students and the surrounding community. Once the value of the program was reaffirmed under a new president, Valerie’s role transformed yet again, now to working on expanding the access of the program to new scholar groups and the global environment. No matter how individual roles have changed, Valerie and the rest of the President’s Scholars team have sustained their drive with the strong-held value to “make an impact at the core of people’s life.”

Mr. Freeman is the founder of Work of Start.

Mr. Freeman would like to extend a special thank you to President Robert C. Maxson for providing additional background information on the President’s Scholars Program.


1. Acquired from California State University, Long Beach website – CSULB.edu
2. National scholar awards include National Merit Semifinalists/Finalists, National Achievement Program Semifinalists/ Finalists, and National Hispanic Recognition Scholars
3. Acquired from National Merit Scholarship Corporation website – NationalMerit.org
4. Acquired from The College Board website – CollegeBoard.org

‘Right People, Right Idea, and Right Time’

The dean of the School of Business at Fresno Pacific University, Dennis Langhofer, Ed.D, talks about the founding and past twenty years of development for the Degree Completion Program.

Fresno, California

Designed for former students, now working professionals, Fresno Pacific University’s (FPU) Degree Completion Program is suited to accommodate a professional’s work schedule, unique academic history, and limited access to educational facilities. Through the Degree Completion Program, a private Christian college has carved out a successful niche for returning students in California’s Central San Joaquin Valley over the past twenty years. To learn more, I met the dean of the Business School at Fresno Pacific University, Dennis Langhofer, Ed.D, for lunch and discussion.

Dennis LanghoferDean Langhofer was the Interim Director of FPU’s Degree Completion program when it began back in 1991, and he remained in that position for much of the decade. “The first five years were a struggle,” said Dean Langhofer after taking a moment to reflect back on the Degree Completion Program’s origins. According to the former Interim Director, the issues began when the program was developed outside the traditional FPU curriculum. To accommodate the prospective students “we had to change our general education and language requirements,” says Dean Langhofer before conceding that this change was somewhat “foreign to traditional academia” at the university.

With an expression of appreciation, Dean Langhofer relays that the program maintained the necessary independence to get established, which was afforded by then Academic Vice President Gerald Winkleman, Ph.D. The dean recalled how the program was sheltered from the pressure of voices challenging the legitimacy of the degree. Knowing that there would be increased scrutiny, his stated mission was to ensure a curriculum that was “different, but equivalent in quality” while relying on the legitimacy obtained from adhering to WASC [1] accreditation standards. Dean Langhofer also believes, in regards to the original detractors, that the program results “won a lot of them over.”

Another challenge in starting the Degree Completion Program was “getting the resources to grow with limited dollars,” states Dean Langhofer. Even with the initial funding obstacles the program did grow. In fact, the Degree Completion Program has established three regional centers and expanded to offer seven different programs in six different disciplines. [2] The initial program was developed for business students and it took six years before the next one was offered in Christian ministries. There are different challenges that come with experiencing growth, cautions the dean, including sustaining what he calls “smart growth.” To meet these new challenges he stated that the program had to ensure the quality of education while continuing to provide a true baccalaureate experience for each new program developed or new regional center established.

Something happened, explains Dean Langhofer, as the program advanced and matured – revenue from these programs became a critical part of the university’s funding and thereby “sustaining FPU as a whole.” Because of the significant role played in the university by the Degree Completion Program, both academically and financially, the programs were absorbed back into the respective schools in 2008. This transition removed the Degree Completion Program’s independence from the various schools in the university, but Dean Langhofer went on to assert that while some things have changed there are some non-negotiable elements to the program.

During its founding, the faculty and administrators agreed an important element would be “that the program should be cohort based, and this has served us well,” says Dean Langhofer. He goes on to suggest that this class structure created a “loyalty to the program and to each other” regarding the students. Other constants are the devotionals in which the class participates together during each session as well as the students’ preparation and sharing of food. The dean reiterates the point that incorporating “food is critical” in connecting the cohort participants and to “bond them together as a group.” He described, in a variety of ways, the Degree Completion Program’s goal for the students to create a support structure by focusing on one another’s spiritual well being while feeding their minds and bodies. The act of providing a support structure is the reason the dean believes many former students maintain a passion for the program and their individual cohort.

When asked the reason for his sustained passion about the Degree Completion Program, Dean Langhofer shared his own higher learning experience, which included starting college at the age of twenty-five. He then shared about the experience of obtaining a masters degree at thirty-one and starting his doctoral studies at fifty-eight. This was a “lifelong learning mandate,” says the dean and it helped him to relate with students returning to higher education in the Degree Completion Program.

In a similar way to promoting the idea of a lifelong learning experience, Dean Langhofer shares that initiating and building a successful academic program means “never assum[ing the work] is finished.” An example of the continuing work of the program is the ongoing investment in its faculty, advises the dean. Faculty development in the Degree Completion Program includes providing coaching opportunities through mixing the team by paring an “experienced instructor with a less experienced.” In the end, the dean says that the success of a dynamic program requires starting with the “right idea” at the “right time,” but it is above all dependent on having the “right people.”

Mr. Freeman is the founder of Work of Start.

Mr. Freeman would like to extend a special thank you to Cindy Steele, Executive Director of Regional Centers at Fresno Pacific University, for providing additional background information on the Degree Completion Program.


1. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
2. Acquired from Fresno Pacific University website – fresno.edu

‘The Trick is Just Doing’

The Manager of Graduate Programs for the Craig School of Business at California State University, Fresno, Tom Burns, discusses the origination and development of the Executive Masters in Business Administration (EMBA) program.

Fresno, California

In the last couple of years it seems I cannot pick up a California newspaper without seeing a story like “CSU may cut 10,000 students next year”[1] (published by the Sacramento Bee, March 2011) highlighting the various effects that budget cuts have had on the California State University (CSU) system. Having graduated from CSU schools for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I knew continuing success stories existed in a struggling CSU system. With that knowledge, I sought to learn about the work of starting these successes and how they were developed. From personal experience, I believe one of these bright spots is the Executive Masters in Business Administration (EMBA) program at Fresno State’s Craig School of Business.

Tom BurnsTo find out more, I accompanied my friend Tom Burns, Manager of Graduate Programs for the Craig School of Business, to a restaurant across the street from the Fresno State campus. This eatery called the Dog House Grill is the same location my executive MBA cohort would dine during lunch breaks from our weekly Saturday class sessions. It is also conveniently named for Fresno State’s mascot, an English bulldog. The next week, Tom and I had a subsequent follow-up meeting for further discussion on the EMBA subject.

Tom shared that he started with the Executive MBA project in 2003 after the preliminary planning of the initiative had moved through the committee process over the prior few years. The initial design of the EMBA project was managed by Professor Mark J. Keppler who went on to become the Executive Director of The Maddy Institute in 2004. [2]

Once the EMBA initiative was approved, then current dean of the Craig School of Business, Dr. Fred Evans, asked Tom if he would “take a shot” at launching the program. Tom remembered fondly how Dean Evans mused “there is no capital to start this project and you don’t get paid unless it goes.” The dean’s statement did not turn out to be exaggerated, and Tom had to put up $5,000 of his own money as a deposit for the first EMBA cohort trip abroad to study in Europe. Tom laughed as he quipped “the school would probably not have been very happy if they knew at the time” when mentioning his personal out-of-pocket expense.

The EMBA program is distinct in that it is self-funded; the program is fully funded by EMBA tuition and special projects for MBA students. There is also an opportunity for the EMBA program to contribute additional funds back to the business school, which Tom highlights as a particular mark of accomplishment. He points out that the program has worked because it was “approached more like a business,” but he also notes the importance of “maintaining the sanctity of the classroom.”

The business mentality comes out in “how I market to and approach a prospective student” Tom states. Whether it is a phone conversation, or as Tom prefers, a face-to-face, he relays the need for intense focus on personal connections and “trying to understand what my customer wants because I was once a customer.” Tom then shared his own experience in the Pepperdine Executive MBA program where he learned “an executive MBA student may not have recent experience in a traditional college setting, but they often bring an emotional maturity and are for the most part engaged.”

One of the observations that Tom found interesting while developing the EMBA program is that the first five years he often heard “I did not know you had a program” from prospective students, and now he encounters many people who say “I hear you have a great program.” He attributes this shift in community perception to the growing base of students that have gone through an EMBA cohort, but this observation does not diminish his desire for further development.

An area that Tom sees as a potential growth opportunity is building an agriculturally focused Executive MBA program. Another potential growth opportunity is an online MBA program for the Craig School of Business. To Tom, the argument that these proposed initiatives could “cannibalize” the existing EMBA program is not adequate justification to stop development. He presents the argument that “this region does not have a lot of choices for an AACSB [3] accredited business school, so we need to accommodate and provide value for the people who live and work here.”

According to Tom, prospective Executive MBA students will often ask “can I do this?” based on anxiety caused by course content or time constraints. Often, Tom’s response to these types of questions is a philosophy he relates to the experience of building an Executive MBA program – “the trick is just doing.”

Mr. Freeman is the founder of Work of Start.


1. Published at SacBee.com on Mar. 22, 2011 by Laurel Rosenhall
2. Acquired from The Maddy Institute website – MaddyInstitute.org
3. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)