SJSU One of the Best in the West in Newest U.S. News Rankings

College of Engineering remains #3 in the nation among public universities, and university ranks top 3 in Social Mobility, top 10 in Undergraduate Teaching in the West

San José State University’s impressive showing in recent top colleges and universities rankings continued Monday with the release of the 2021 U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges rankings.

In regional rankings featuring universities in the West, SJSU ranked #7 in Top Public Schools. SJSU also rose several spots from last year’s West rankings in four key areas:

  • #3 in Top Performers in Social Mobility
  • #8 in Most Innovative School
  • #10 in Best Undergraduate Teaching
  • #22 in Best Regional University

Fifteen states make up the U.S. News and World Report’s West region. SJSU also ranked in the top 15 in the West for Best Colleges for Veterans. 

“As the reputation of San José State continues to grow nationally, students and families are coming to the realization that a Spartan education is one worth pursuing, even in—perhaps especially in—challenging times,” said President Mary A. Papazian.

“These latest rankings are a tribute to the exceptional faculty, staff and others here on our campus whose dedication and hard work are matched only by their strong commitment to learning and discovery across a wide span of disciplines,” said Papazian. “Their devotion to our students’ personal and academic growth is the engine that powers our university’s promise and mission.”

Nationally, SJSU’s Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering again ranked #3 among public universities — and #17 overall — in Best Undergraduate Engineering Program – Non-Doctorate.

“We are honored to be recognized again as one of the top engineering programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report,” Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering Dean Sheryl Ehrman said. “As the largest supplier of engineering talent to Silicon Valley, we remain committed to deliver hands-on learning — safely, even during the pandemic — from experienced and engaged faculty.” 

U.S. News and World Report’s rankings focus on academic excellence, with institutions ranked on 17 measures of academic quality, including graduation and retention rates, social mobility and undergraduate academic reputation.

These rankings come on the heels of SJSU being named the #1 Most Transformative College in the nation by Money. The university also rose 80 spots from last year’s rankings to rank #24 on Money’s list of Best Colleges.

Patricia Backer Receives 2020 CSU Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award

Professor of Technology Patricia Backer.

2020 CSU Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award recipient: Professor of Technology Patricia Backer. Photo: Robert C. Bain

In her 30 years in the technology field, Professor of Technology Patricia Backer has been leading and innovating by enabling San José State to do difficult things in a smarter way.

For her achievements, the California State University Chancellor’s Office awarded Backer the 2020 Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award.

The gist of her first innovation: Studies show freshmen tend to stick around for sophomore year when they make friends in their classes as first-year students. Backer led the building of a straightforward—but complex to implement—solution to make that happen.

The Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award “acknowledges faculty members who have demonstrated leadership to improve student success and outcomes in courses with traditionally low success rates or persistent equity gaps.”

Project Succeed: A Novel Path to Improving Retention

The award recognizes Backer’s most recent work on a campus-wide initiative called Project Succeed, funded by a five-year, multimillion-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Backer’s innovative vision—and her talent for interdisciplinary cross-campus teamwork—has improved SJSU’s five-year graduation and retention rates and closed the achievement gap for underrepresented students across all majors.

Director of Student Success Services Cynthia Kato wrote in her nomination letter that Backer’s work led to a “dramatic increase in student success at San José State. Her creativity, dedication, support and guidance in this endeavor exemplify the principles of the Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award.”

The core tool Backer championed was block scheduling of freshmen. Starting in fall 2015, every freshman engineer and business major had extended chances to meet people in classes they shared, such as COMM 20. A peer mentor program, living learning communities, a First Year Experience and other mechanisms further supported freshmen. The scheme soon spread to computer science, biology and other departments. For many students—especially first-generation college students or those typically underrepresented in universities—connecting with peers became a support system that allowed more of them to make it to graduation.

Kato wrote that, “Each year students who were part of the block scheduling group showed higher retention rates.” Students admitted to the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering in fall 2014 had a four-year graduation rate of 11 percent, while the four-year graduation rate for those admitted in fall 2015 was 18 percent. The Lucas College and Graduate School of Business saw four-year graduation rates for those cohorts leap from 29 percent to 40 percent. A dramatic improvement, thanks to a subtle but effective innovation.

“Now almost all freshmen at SJSU are block scheduled and take classes with students from their own major,” Backer said. “That’s been our biggest success, and it started with this project.”

Department of Aviation and Technology Chair Fred Barez praised Backer’s contributions. “Through her effort, we blocked freshmen in dormitories and tried to group them so they would be taking the same calculus class, for example. She’s been receiving excellent recommendations for what she has been doing for the college, improving the retention rate and graduation rate. Our engineering students may be in different disciplines within engineering, but they can make friends and they can actually work together.”

College of Social Sciences Dean Walt Jacobs, one of Backer’s nominators, wrote: “One aspect of Project Succeed that doesn’t get a lot of attention but is quite the accomplishment is Pat’s ability to convince stakeholders from units across the university to come to the table to collaboratively design and implement best practices for student success. There were both technical and philosophical hurdles to the implementation of block scheduling for incoming freshmen, but Pat patiently worked with volunteers to implement it. She has done a great job of showing faculty and staff why blocked scheduling is beneficial for our students.”

“I was so touched by what Walt Jacobs wrote [in his nomination letter],” Backer said. “My job on these projects is to get them done, get them working. Anytime I have a project, I just try to do my best.”

Integrating Equity and Social Good into Engineering

Another innovation Backer helped implement involved a complex restructuring of engineering graduation requirements—with the goal of helping engineers recognize the cultural ripples that fan out from the solutions and products they will design and build.

When the CSU adjusted graduation requirements in 2013, Backer and her colleagues  came up with a solution that met the new standard and simultaneously elevated social awareness to the forefront of engineering education at SJSU.

“We decided to integrate our senior project classes with our advanced general education coursework,” Backer said. Engineers look at design through a lens of social and equity issues, first in the U.S. and then globally. Their senior engineering projects  directly address social needs they identified after learning about such issues. Projects have included a smart bicycle trailer, a portable UV tracker to fight skin cancer, and an electronic cane to help the visually impaired navigate. Today, in most of the engineering disciplines at SJSU, future engineers are looking not only at the how, but the why.

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), the national accreditor of collegiate engineering programs, “really loved this,” Backer said. “They want engineers to think about their projects as situated in social issues and people issues.”

Davidson College of Engineering Dean Sheryl Ehrman said, “SJSU students are well known and sought after for their effective transition to the workforce and to grad school. Employers and Ph.D.-granting programs, as well as our own students, greatly benefit from Pat’s efforts to place engineering in a societal context.”

Recognition for Innovation and Leadership

CSU Chancellor Timothy White announced the award on August 24. The faculty-led selection committee reviewed more than 120 nominations before choosing Backer. Only one faculty member from each CSU campus may be selected each year. Backer will receive a $5,000 cash award and $10,000 allocated to her academic department.

During her 30 years at SJSU, Backer has served in faculty governance, enriched student success and, in 2011, won the SJSU Distinguished Service Award. Still instructing undergrads, Backer teaches a class each year. This fall, it’s TECH 198: Technology and Civilization, which she conducts remotely. Her involvement in teaching about the internet—going back to the early 1990s and Apple’s Hypercard—precedes the World Wide Web. Technology offers lessons Backer wants today’s SJSU engineering students to understand.

“No one sits down and invents things for no reason,” Backer said. “There’s something motivating them to make that invention.”

National Engineers Week: SJSU Teaches Top Tech Trends

National Engineers Week is February 17-23, with more than 70 engineering, education and cultural societies and more than 50 corporations and government agencies involved in events and activities to celebrate the profession and promote STEM education around the nation. Ranked #3 in the nation among public engineering programs offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees, according to U.S. News & World Report 2019, and a top contributor of talent to Silicon Valley, San Jose State University will be celebrating the faculty, students and programs that make up our Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering in a series of stories on our Newsroom and social media channels. The College of Engineering offers 13 engineering disciplines with 7,400 students enrolled and works closely with its Engineering Industry Advisory Council to ensure the curriculum and learning experiences offered to its students align with workforce needs.

Ahmed Banafa Photo by David Schmitz

Ahmed Banafa
Photo by David Schmitz

Teaching the Top Trends in Technology

Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering Professor Ahmed Banafa, who was recently ranked by LinkedIn as the number one voice to follow in technology, has identified four hot tech trends for 2019. For anyone who uses a fitness tracker, smart phone, email or other applications, asks Alexa or Google Home what the weather will be like today, or accesses public records, these hot trends have potential to impact all these devices and technologies.

An image depicts the hot tech trends of 2019: Internet of Things, Blockchain, AI, and Cybersecurity. Infographic courtesy of Ahmed Banafa.

An image depicts the hot tech trends of 2019: Internet of Things, Blockchain, AI, and Cybersecurity. Infographic courtesy of Ahmed Banafa.

The trends include the Internet of Things, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and Cybersecurity, or as Banafa has dubbed them “IBAC.” SJSU students are learning about these cutting edge technologies in their classrooms, with students and faculty engaged in research in each area.

“SJSU is at the leading edge in all these trends,” Banafa said. “We have classes covering all of them. We teach IoT and we have an excellent lab for that class. I teach the Blockchain class and I show the students how to tap into and use the blockchain network as well as how to create their own cryptocurrency.”

Banafa shares why each area is a boon.

“IoT is what you see now in Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant,” he said. “They are the hubs of IoT future devices and there is a war between the mentioned companies to dominate this market of $1.7 trillion.”

In December, he shared his top predictions for IoT in the coming year. Banafa noted that the number of devices using IoT technology is likely to increase to 3.6 billion that are actively connected to the Internet and used for daily tasks, with their ability to collect data expanding as 5G technology is introduced. He noted as well that digital transformations in industries such as manufacturing and healthcare have tremendous  impact to improve either production performance and patient care, respectively.

In a similar post last September, Banafa shared his predictions for emerging blockchain technology, one of the newer topics covered at SJSU, as providing security a new perspective where human logic is involved at the top of encryption.

“I am really proud of SJSU for covering all the areas mentioned in IBAC with the last piece of the puzzle, Blockchain,” Banafa said. “Few universities in the world teach it. We are in good company with Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford and Berkeley.”

AI continues to gain traction, he said, with the development of “smart devices” including speakers, homes and now cities.

Cybersecurity remains a critical issue, one that is being tackled on multiple fronts through SJSU’s interdisciplinary Silicon Valley Big Data and Cybersecurity Center.

“Just read the news and you will see that we have daily breaches,” he said, noting a recent Marriott Hotels breach that impacted up to 500 million guests along with a Facebook breach that exposed 50 million accounts.

The college has more than 400 faculty members who teach in its 13 departments, many who are engaged in research or work in industries that keep them up to date on the latest trends in engineering, and the program offers interdisciplinary service learning experiences for students.

“Our engineering students at SJSU are positioned better, perhaps, than any other public university in the country to quickly adapt to the newest needs of a rapidly evolving technology market,” said Sheryl Ehrman, dean of the College of Engineering. “Our hands-on curriculum focuses on strong fundamentals to enable development of critical thinking skills that will serve students throughout their career. They can choose elective courses in emerging areas such as Blockchain and AI/machine-learning. Student projects often involve other emerging areas such as IoT, alternative transportation, nanomedicine, micro-robotics and cybersecurity.”