SPECIAL SERIES : SF State Budget Woes
Heartache of the Engineers: Professors Speak Out
April 15, 2004 12:27 PM
Unlike many kids who find it difficult to see the silver lining in a cloudy day, Sergio Franco remembers loving the rains. Franco was born to parents who were sharecroppers, growing up during World War II in a small village in Northern Italy. His family had no money for toys, lest it took away from food that could be served at supper. So Franco used his ingenuity.
He’s not one of the scores of former students, many of whom are minorities, who share stories of commuting six hours a day to attend SF State’s engineering program because other institutions nearby carried price tags that were not an option. But many of those alumni wouldn’t be where they are professionally today, if not for Franco and nearly two-dozen like him.
“I’m close to early retirement,” he admitted. “So perhaps it would not damage me from a practical point of view. But it would certainly wound me in terms of psychologically. Like the all the work I’ve done here over 23 years is going down the drain. … It could scar people.”
Like other colleagues, Franco has had the benefit of seeing the department grow over time from a one-major, generalized program to a school offering specialized and highly marketable undergraduate and graduate engineering degrees.
“There is a passion that goes into making a circuit work. I’ve been trying to convey this passion to my students.”
At 61, Professor V.V. Krishnan has been teaching in the engineering department before many of the SF State’s student body was even born. Since 1974, Krishnan has ferried students through the laws of physics as they apply to the intersection of mechanics and electrical engineering. He was here as the department was first accredited in the mid-1970s by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology, ensuring its superior quality. Krishnan, like Franco, is proud of the contribution he’s made during his tenure here.
“You feel like you’re really accomplishing something here,” he said. “The students may not be the best educated when they come here, but they’re hard working, very committed. And when they finish with the program they’re just as good as anybody else in their industry. That’s the biggest reward in teaching.”
Krishnan, who was raised in India and came to the United States in 1965 to attend college at UC Berkeley, says for the first time in 40 years he’s found himself doing something he hasn’t done since his days back at Berkeley: He’s become an activist again.
“It’s a different kind of activism,” admitted Krishnan, who, with the rest of the engineering faculty, has already spent countless hours strategizing ways to save the program. “I don’t see this as political, this is social. And that’s one of the reasons I came here. It was seen as much more political active than Berkeley. When people protest here, it means something to them.”
To the program’s current 600-plus students, many who come from lower socio-economic levels, it could mean not being able to realize their dreams.
Sharing a similar working class background, Franco appreciates what the opportunity has meant to students over the years. SF State’s engineering program not only provides an affordable, quality education, it opens the door to a profession some still view as a noble pursuit and a ticket out their economic situation. And Franco is proud to have made a contribution to those students’ aspirations.
“If you talk to a white blue collar worker and say, ‘what is your dream for your kids?’ Many will say, ‘I want my son or daughter to be a doctor or a lawyer,’” Franco explained. “If you ask a Hispanic or Filipino, ‘what do you want your son or daughter to be?’ They will say to be an engineer or a doctor. … There is still a respect for the engineer.”
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