Transforming the Social Sciences: Deep Dive in Five with Anne Marie Todd
The answer, of course, is the College of Social Sciences at San José State. Each of the college’s 12 departments offer hands-on and service learning opportunities for Spartans with an eye to community engagement and public impact, says communication studies scholar Anne Marie Todd, who was appointed dean of the college this summer.
Todd joined the Communication Studies Department in 2002, where she developed and taught more than 20 courses, ranging from environmental communication to rhetoric, popular culture and an interdisciplinary course on global climate change. Recipient of the College of Social Sciences’ Teaching Excellence Award in 2013 and the Outstanding Professor Award in 2015, Todd became department chair in 2019, and served as associate dean of academic programs and student success from 2021–2023.
Her 2022 book, “Valley of Heart’s Delight: Environment and Sense of Place in the Santa Clara Valley,” (University of California Press) explores how a community’s sense of place can help map how individuals experience their natural surroundings and their sense of responsibility towards the local environment. Her research, teaching and administrative experience have grounded her as she gears up for an exciting year ahead.
In your 20+ years with SJSU, you’ve served as a professor, department chair, associate dean and now dean. How have you seen the college evolve and change?
Anne Marie Todd (AMT): I think that the perspective changes with each role. I arrived at SJSU in 2002 as an assistant professor in Communication Studies, and as I went up through the ranks of tenure and promotion as a faculty member, I noticed shifts in focus around sustainability, interdisciplinarity, and integrative learning.
I became department chair in 2019, and for the first six months was focused on the administrative tasks associated with supporting the ongoing function of students, faculty and programs. When the pandemic necessitated the shift to remote teaching and learning, this shifted the way that I thought about the department functioning from being strictly administrative to the vital role of community cohesion during the pandemic. We are still feeling the effects of the pandemic in many ways; this influences our curriculum and pedagogy and our co-curricular and community engagements.
One of the real joys of being associate dean was getting to know departments and programs outside of Communications Studies. I gained incredible respect for our twelve amazing departments with distinct programs offering a lot of different approaches to pedagogy and research.
Now as I move into the role of Dean, I have a broader and more intentional focus on the future of college and programs and the resources needed to support the college.
The College has grown in exciting ways. In 2020, we welcomed the Department of Justice Studies to the College. In 2022, we launched two of the first SJSU Online programs, in Anthropology and Economics. Our Ethnic Studies programs serve 3,000-4,000 students a year in Area F courses, and are growing programs in those areas: for example, students can major in Asian American Studies starting in Fall 2024.
Name a common misconception about social sciences. What don’t people know about this college?
AMT: There are two myths about the social sciences that I hear often. First, the question: what can you do with a degree in social sciences? We have to work really hard to explain why our majors prepare students for meaningful careers. While the answers differ across our majors, the skills that students learn in all of our programs — critical thinking, problem-solving, societal perspective — these contribute to a variety of careers.
Second, people don’t think about the role of social scientists in Silicon Valley. Critical thinkers are vital as we consider the ethical and social implications of technology such as the effects of a tech-driven society on our communities. The social sciences play a large part in these conversations; we need to do a better job of framing that idea, not only for students, but for the rest of the community.
What is your vision for the College of Social Sciences?
AMT: The college is about to launch our strategic planning process to develop a mission and vision, and establish our strategic priorities. Our strategic plan will be a set of goals that support university goals and highlight the distinction of our college and make a material difference in the future of CoSS. This will be a clearly articulated plan that can promote productive action to support our mission regardless of what challenges unfold.
There is value in the strategic planning process itself, as the college engages in collective reflection and thinking about its future. Through this process we can cultivate a culture of respectful collaboration that draws strengths from our commonalities and distinct contributions.
In this way, the strartegic planning process can contribute to our sense of identity and belonging in the college. This is critical as we continue to rebuild a sense of place and community that has fluctuated through the remote teaching and learning necessitated by the pandemic.
How can SJSU students get involved with the college?
AMT: Each of our departments has a number of ways of engaging the community and campus — lecture series, community engagement events — and much of this is promoted by our honors societies and student clubs. We send out a student newsletter every other week and are relaunching our blog to promote events and celebrate our news.
What makes the College of Social Sciences special?
AMT: Our twelve departments are diverse in areas of study, but united in their desire to understand the social, cultural, economic, psychological, and environmental dimensions of human behavior. We are connected by the idea that the world will be a better place if we understand each other and the dynamic ways of being human. Our graduates have the skills and knowledge to navigate the social, political, economic, historical, and cultural issues that face our society.
Throughout each of our departments, in our classrooms, and in our research, we focus on the impact of our work on communities and societies and how we can make the world better.