SJSU’s digital transformation was no accident, but a result of planning and forward-thinking

Two students using Apple laptop

Stan Olszewski/SOSKIphoto

While the pandemic these past 18 months has been fraught with many challenges for institutions such as ours, a silver lining of sorts at San José State has been the incredible success of our digital platforms. Specifically, the SJSU technology team was critical to our ability to pivot to a virtual environment when we suddenly needed to do so. 

When it became apparent in March of last year that we needed to move from being a traditional, brick-and-mortar campus to one almost exclusively based on remote modalities and digital tools, the transition was swift and seamless. While this may have appeared to some to be a happy accident, that notion could not be further from the truth.

In short, the digital journey on which we already had embarked prepared us for a significant crisis—the pandemic—that we did not know was coming. 

Washington Post reporter Nick Anderson visited our campus recently and published a story that, in part, examines how our success might serve as a model for how higher education institutions are changing and adapting due to the tech lessons they have learned during the pandemic.

We began laying the foundation for SJSU’s digital transformation in earnest in 2017 following the hiring of Bob Lim, who serves as our vice president for information technology and chief information officer. In our initial discussions, Bob and I agreed that SJSU’s geographic position as Silicon Valley’s public university put us in a unique position to become a leading tech-focused university that others might follow.

I elevated Bob’s IT group to a divisional level, and I firmly believed that Bob’s position as a cabinet member—reporting directly to me—would play a critical role in creating a forward-looking digital campus that reflected the unique characteristics of our location, the heart of global innovation.  

To realize this vision—an important part of our Transformation 2030 “rebuild and renew” goal—we developed a long-term digital transformation strategy and built upon our successes each year, ultimately empowering our campus to work and learn anywhere, anyplace and anytime. Some of the enhancements are highly visible, while others are of the “back end” variety but no less important.

Student in the library with laptop.

Strong and effective WiFi, for example, is a must for any college campus. When we look at the list of campus technology initiatives on which we are working — things like integrated cameras, entry sensors and “Internet of Things” devices — almost everything requires an always-on connection. For this and other reasons, we recently completed a coverage update at Martin Luther King, Jr., Library with WiFi 6. We did not stop there, as we then blanketed the majority of our campus’s outdoor spaces with WiFi 6 connectivity. We are the first campus in the CSU system to have WiFi 6, and one of the few higher education institutions anywhere to leverage WiFi with a major company in the western United States.

We have to provide our university with a wireless network that is stable and reliable enough to support the needs of our students and faculty as well as other operational systems around the campus. So I think we can all be excited about the enhancements our IT team continues to develop in this space. 

Digital automation was another key element we wanted to address. To that end, more than 70 percent of all campus manual processes and over 3,100 forms have been digitized, automated or re-engineered thus far. 

Another top priority, of course, is cybersecurity.

Leveraging our strong relationships here in Silicon Valley, we continue to partner with industry leaders to provide SJSU with the state-of-the-art tools and resources required to best protect our students, our campus and our digital life. We proactively manage our digital vulnerabilities by regularly scanning our networks, testing applications and actively assessing our ransomware exposure. We are leading the way with such efforts; we were the first CSU campus, for instance, to implement Multi-Factor Authentication (DUO), which greatly enhances the security of all SJSU accounts, including students, faculty and staff.

Finally, a word about collaboration with industry.

Using our location in Silicon Valley as a competitive advantage, we are now leveraging our partnerships with private businesses to elevate campus technology. These partnerships give our students access to cutting-edge, enterprise-grade tools they normally couldn’t access.

Prez Papazian with IBM VP Naguib Attia.

Photo by Francisco Mendoza, ’21 Photography/San José State University

A prime example is our collaboration with IBM, the first partnership of its kind on the west coast. The IBM Skills Academy and IBM Academic Initiative give our campus community access to $5 million worth of advanced cloud technology, at no cost. These offerings include access to High Performance Computing (HPC), Watson AI, Quantum, Blockchain and more for students, faculty and researchers. We also are extending that access throughout the CSU, including CSU San Bernardino and Humboldt State University.

Another key tech partnership of ours is with LinkedIn, with whom we are working on workforce development to help our students be more prepared for the job market upon graduation. Specifically, we are leveraging LinkedIn’s data on our alumni’s career outcomes, which has the power greatly to accelerate our graduates’ career trajectories.

An event with LinkedIn and EAB (another tech partner) just prior to the pandemic involved more than 60 presidents from other universities and explored the ways in which SJSU is leveraging LinkedIn data to help students better understand what jobs are possible, what skills are necessary to secure a position and how a particular degree will enable a student’s career growth.

Even more recently, our growing partnership with Adobe has made significant strides. As eloquently described in an Adobe blog piece this past summer, SJSU is now an Adobe Creative Campus, giving our students, faculty and staff free access to the full range of Adobe Creative Cloud products. In September, our campus was named an inaugural member of Adobe’s new Anchor School Program, a distinction that included a $1 million grant from the company. We are very fortunate to have tech leaders like Adobe and others right in our own backyard who are investing in programs that help advance the learning of our students and research of our faculty.

I should add that the outcomes I have described are significant with respect to social mobility and equity, two themes that drive much of what we do at SJSU. On our campus, low-income and first-generation college students now have access to state-of the-art technology, firsthand knowledge of how to use it and networking opportunities such as internships and invaluable industry connections that they traditionally have not had.

There is much more to share about our digital transformation at SJSU, and I would encourage readers to learn more at our Information Technology division blog.

As we continue navigating the pandemic and examine the “future of work” and how we can most effectively achieve our higher education mission at SJSU, we can be very proud of the digital transformation we have experienced to date. Kudos to Bob Lim and the rest of our IT division for a job well done.