ISB groundbreaking jumpstarts transformative era in SJSU science and research

Dr. Mary A. Papazian

On a gorgeous, sunny morning last Thursday, San Jose State broke ground on its Interdisciplinary Science Building (ISB), a state-of-the-art facility that is sure to transform our campus when occupancy begins in just a few years.


Michael Kaufman, the dean of our College of Science, spoke eloquently about the ISB and all that it will do for our science students and the research that takes place at San Jose State.

When it was my turn at the podium, I reflected on the significance of both the ISB as well as the future Science Park that we hope to develop, with the ISB serving as the hub. I shared with the audience some thoughts around the notions of “Symbolic” versus “Functional.”


We all know of, and have seen, various structures and buildings that represent symbols of some sort:


The Statue of Liberty as a symbol of our nation’s freedom and welcoming spirit.


Further abroad, the Pyramids in Egypt as a symbol of human development.


And, closer to home, the Golden Gate Bridge as an iconic symbol of San Francisco and the west.


And so many others.


But with the ISB, indeed with many buildings here on our campus, we are building a structure that will be both symbolic and functional.


Dean Kaufman spoke at length about the functionality of the ISB. The breadth of scientific discovery and research that will take place there, he made clear, will be astonishing. It will really put our College of Science on the map, and we will rightly take our place among the most modern and innovative of all science colleges in the Bay Area, and indeed, the country.


We will “do stuff” in the ISB!


We will genetically-modify bacteria so it can metabolize e-waste. We will monitor hate-speech on social media using artificial intelligence. We will design biochemical defenses that inhibit mosquito reproduction, thereby limiting the spread of disease. We will construct low-cost medical devices from cell phones to address public health issues in developing countries. 


And so much more!


But in addition to the functional, we also expect the ISB to become one of the enduring, iconic symbols of San Jose State and indeed the City of San Jose’s downtown corridor.


It will symbolize our growing bond and ongoing synergies with Silicon Valley and the tech industry.


It will symbolize our connection to the City of San Jose and to the entire region.


It will symbolize who we are and what we want to be known for at San Jose State University.

If we truly expect to be known as a nationally prominent, urban public university, we need the Interdisciplinary Science Building to help get us there.


If we truly expect to explore the intersection between pure learning, application and impact, we need the Interdisciplinary Science Building to help get us there.


If we wish to contribute to solving the world’s problems through constant reinvention and modification of programs, and if we wish to remain relevant to the changing and emerging economic landscape, then we need the Interdisciplinary Science Building to help get us there.


So that is what we are building. But it does not end here.


Last Thursday, when we shoveled the first mound of dirt from the ground, marked the beginning of our vision, not the end.


As San Jose State continues to adapt to meet the needs of a labor market that is increasingly science and technology-intensive, our Science Park will be the focal point for collaboration. By this, we mean both the kind of technical and scientific collaboration that the ISB represents, but also the industry collaborations that are so vital to our programs and students.


We enjoy a unique relationship with Silicon Valley companies, the companies that are creating the innovative economy of the future.  A typical year will find more than 200 tech employers visiting our campus to recruit thousands of Spartans through job fairs and other recruiting events.


We know that science, technology and data analytics are becoming core to all industries, from manufacturing, automotive, and agriculture to health care and beyond. 


At the same time, we know that the greatest advances in science and technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, are impacting all industries as automation transforms work in foundational ways.

Photo courtesy Josie Lepe/San Jose State University

What then, is the difference that colleges and universities can provide? How might we see the 21st century as an era in which technology and STEM disciplines can work not in isolation, but in partnership and collaboration with the full spectrum of the liberal arts?


A big part of the answer to those questions, for San Jose State, is the Interdisciplinary Science Building and our future Science Park.


It will not be easy, even when we begin to see the ISB rise above us in the months and years ahead.


We will continue to need our partners and alumni, as we know funding for the ambitious Science Park vision will be necessary.


But our future depends on it. And we will make it happen.


No discussion about the ISB and our future Science Park would be complete without noting their most important aspect: at its core, this entire endeavor is about our students.


Krista Wirth, ’17 BS Biological Sciences, speaks at the ISB groundbreaking event (Josie Lepe/San Jose State University)

Our students deserve the very best. They deserve the most state-of-the-art facilities and laboratories and research equipment available, along with the mentorship that comes from our outstanding faculty.


So it is so exciting, so satisfying to all of us who care so much about student success, to be able to embark on a project like this.


I am grateful for support of the Cal State in helping us with the ISB project. Many others, including our alumni, community and civic partners, and elected officials, had a hand in the ISB, and for that I am very appreciative.


With the ISB, the transformation of San Jose State continues!