Engineering Cuts Spark Outcry From Alumni
April 16, 2004 11:22 AM
Horrified disbelief, shock, overwhelming anger and sadness, a wide range of emotion.
The news that programs within SF State's School of Engineering may be phased out and soon cease to exist sparked a massive outcry for reconsideration by alumni.
However they were left with a false glimmer of hope at the time, thinking the fate of their alma mater was not set in stone. They were not informed as to how, why and when such a decision was going to be made.
Most of the letters were sent out sometime before spring break, the week of March 22.
An applicant who had questions about the future of the program brought the letters to the attention of the School of Engineering. This was the first that Wenshen Pong, an engineering professor and graduate advisor, had even heard of the possibility.
Dr. ShyShenq Liou, the school’s director previously had been informed by Dean Sheldon Axler, of the College of Science and Engineering, that admissions to the engineering master’s program were on hold.
When the news became public and rapidly spread throughout the Bay Area, it was more than just the fact that admissions were being put on hold. It was that entire departments within the School of Engineering would be cut.
Close to 300 more letters were sent out. Only this time they came from desperate alumni and were addressed to President Robert Corrigan, Provost John Gemello and Axler, pleading them to reconsider what was presumed to still be a “proposal” and not a plan of action.
The alumni suggested that instead of making a large cut to an entire department, make smaller cuts across the board to release pressure from the budget strain.
One letter was sent from Silvino A. Cruz, who graduate in 1988 and has gone on to become the manager of the Electrical Engineering Division for ATI Architects and Engineers, a 100-person design firm that works on various types of projects related to health care, education, high-tech and commercial facilities.
Like many of the other alumni who voiced their concern and dismay for the dismantling of the engineering department, Cruz mentioned he came from a disadvantaged socio-economic background. Only at SF State had he found that the admission criteria did not restrict him due to the limited or lack of financial and educational resources that were available to him during the course of his life.
Cruz criticized the university for not releasing a more “carefully crafted” public announcement and not setting the facts straight at an early stage. Finding out from a third-party was not his ideal source of information.
“Unfortunately, the decision makers at the University were probably insensitive to the needs of the public. They do not see the valuable contribution SFSU’s engineering school makes in improving people’s lives and leveling the playing field of opportunity. … SFSU helped prepare me to work in a multi-cultural and racially diverse environment. This experience, in my opinion, cannot be duplicated elsewhere,” Cruz wrote in an email response to Xpress.
Some of his other cherished memories from SF State include 99 cent pizzas, the beautiful women on campus, beer at the Pub and long walks to the Science building.
Cruz’s story is not totally unique, as others share his background, experience at SF State, success in his field, and being upwardly mobile as a result of the training he received here.
Judy Curry Pelton was never handed anything in her life. Her parents were “the Grapes of Wrath Okies,” who came to Northern California during World War II to work in the Sausalito shipyard. Pelton describes how her parents, having only an eighth-grade education, scraped by to survive, barely being able to feed their family, let alone themselves.
“My past is filled with dysfunctional tales,” Pelton writes. She details her experience as a teenage bride with only a high school education, her many visits to drug and alcohol rehab during the 1960s and 1970s. Two divorces and a pregnancy later, Pelton found herself in San Francisco with a three-year-old daughter to support and a chance to start her life over.
She made that start at SF State in the School of Engineering. Now Pelton, who graduated in 2002, works for Coastland Civil Engineering Inc. with what she describes as good pay, good benefits, and good relationships with co-workers and her community.
“I realized that so many people are inspired by my success. People have told me that my experience leads them to understand that it is never too late to begin,” Pelton wrote.
In regards to the letters being sent to the prospective applicants about the closure of the department, Pelton wonders why the administration was able to take a unilateral step of such magnitude.
“The timing of the announcement can be compared to an earthquake with the same connotations. It has rocked my foundation, heart and soul.”
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