Newswise — While the COVID-19 pandemic may have taken a toll on California’s (and the world’s) economy, the state is taking cautious steps to gradually reopen and recover, allowing many people to head back to work and employers to begin hiring again.
Time and again, California has recovered from economic challenges like those it faces now. Globally, the state continues to be celebrated for its strong, diverse industries—from wine and technology in the north to tourism and agriculture in the south. As a key part of this resilient California spirit, the CSU continues to prepare students for success in their careers. In fact, one out of every 10 employees in the Golden State is a CSU graduate.
Take a look at five major California industries and discover the ways the CSU is educating students to work in those fields even as it drives innovation and change in them.
At Your Service: The Hospitality Industry
With dozens of national and state parks, picturesque beach resorts, world-class music festivals and amusement parks, California is known around the globe as a travel destination. While the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on the tourism industry, the sector is set to rebound. When it does, the state will need those troops of trained hospitality professionals: hotel and restaurant managers, event planners, tour operators and marketers.
To meet this demand, California State University, San Bernardino launched a new hospitality management program at its Palm Desert campus. This region boasts a $7.5 billion hospitality and tourism industry that employs 22 percent of local workers thanks to its extensive collection of golf courses, rental properties, resorts and events like the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival—which alone draws 99,000 people per festival day.
“Almost one in four jobs in the Coachella Valley is related to the hospitality and tourism industry; statewide, nationally, globally, it's closer to one in 10," says Joseph Tormey, D.HTM, director of the hospitality management program. “The hospitality workforce is especially vital to the regional economy."
Which is why the local hospitality and tourism industry was a large driver behind the new program, which is one of many hospitality-related programs in the Cal State system. “Part of the outcry is that we need a program not only to educate our local population so they don't pursue their educational needs elsewhere, but also to attract students from outside of the valley, and perhaps bring needed talent to the area where there are jobs," Dr. Tormey explains.
As a result, Tormey has forged close ties with industry partners to enhance the students’ learning experience through guest speakers or hands-on internships. When circumstances around the pandemic allow, he also plans to take students on local field trips to restaurants, hotels, resorts, the Palm Springs International Airport and the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau—as well as visits to locations further from campus like Disneyland, the museums of Los Angeles, the hotels of Las Vegas and Joshua Tree National Park.
In the future, Tormey hopes to introduce trips to the Hotel Show in New York City, the Chicago Restaurant Show and various international destinations, including an annual short-term study abroad trip to Italy during spring break.
“[The program is] developing not only hospitality knowledge, skills and abilities, but also cultural competency," he says. “Eventually, they're going to start working in their respective careers in the Coachella Valley, and they'll have the confidence and experience to interact with the different types of guests and tourists, many of whom have second homes here and hail from international destinations. The international piece through study and internships abroad is going to give students exposure [to other cultures] and provide global awareness and familiarity with the diversity of travelers and businesses outside the Valley."
The campus will welcome its first cohort of hospitality management students this fall.
“We're hoping to contribute to California's hospitality workforce on a larger scale by first helping local industry in creating a pipeline of exceptional students who have the right knowledge and skill set to fast-track into supervisory and management careers when they graduate."
Up and Away: The Aerospace Industry
Home to the likes of Space X, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Boeing and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, just to name a few, Southern California is a hotbed of aerospace research and innovation. With the creation of a new on-campus Solid Propulsion and Combustion Laboratory, California State University, Long Beach is deepening its involvement in the industry.
Joseph Kalman, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, is leading the new lab and using it to continue his research on topics like propulsion systems and how solid fuels ignite, decompose or mix with other materials. In turn, his work and that of his students will help the industry better optimize and understand its technology.
“The idea is that we're going to help solve some of the problems that the industry faces and that the government labs and defense labs face from an academic standpoint to help develop other technologies," Dr. Kalman says. “It's consulting or giving input on different technologies, running experiments, things like that where we can utilize our facilities for them to help solve an industry problem."
Along with the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons at China Lake, where Kalman worked previously, the lab is partnering with Edwards Air Force Base and the Naval Research Lab, part of the Office of Naval Research, which gave Kalman's lab a grant to purchase equipment. CSULB's College of Engineering is also part of the California Aerospace Technologies Institute of Excellence, which brings together military partners, private companies and academic institutions to develop new aerospace technology.
In addition to helping develop aerospace technology, the lab is training the next generation of the industry's workforce by giving students hands-on experience in real-world situations. Since Southern California's aerospace industry accounts for more than 100,000 local jobs, the region will need those trained professionals.
“By having the lab here, students get hands-on experience, and you get to reinforce that class knowledge," he explains. “But more important, the things you learn when you're doing something in the lab are much more valuable than only understanding the physics or the chemistry. They're going to be developing critical thinking, getting experience and using equipment that is state of the art. That is what the future of this field will be."
Lessons Learned: The Higher Education Industry
With 10,521 public schools (not counting charter or private schools), 115 community colleges, 23 Cal States, 10 UCs and dozens of other private four-year universities, California depends on a steady pipeline of education professionals.
The Cal States have premier teacher preparation programs, training more of California's K-12 teachers than any other institution. However, its Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (Ed.D.) programs are also key to training the educators, counselors, mental health professionals, superintendents and other administrators who serve the state's schools, community colleges and universities.
The Ed.D. program at California State University, Stanislaus is one shining example. Designed for professionals already working in the field, it tends to serve those at regional schools and hosts two tracks for its students: K-12 and Community College (which includes a university focus).
“One of the problems we have in our educational system is we keep doing things exactly the same way," says Stanislaus State Ed.D. Program Director Debra Bukko, Ed.D. “We need leaders who are ready to question practices from a place of saying, 'Why are we doing this, is it effective and is it creating or removing barriers?' The need for this is even more apparent given the inequities becoming increasingly apparent during the COVID-19 reality."
It's the power to inspire positive change by thinking and working this way that she says most students glean from the program. Specifically, the program is helping them identify “institutional systems and barriers that are limiting opportunities for people, needs for changes in policies and programs to increase equity and [ways to] make sure that they are not creating barriers for individuals who are attempting to access higher education."
In this spirit, faculty and student research is driving change in local education, in area schools and its own Ed.D. program.
For example, Dr. Bukko and two CSU graduates studied how program participants think Stanislaus State's Ed.D. program can better support them, resulting in the introduction of structured mentorship, a leadership seminar and a stronger emphasis on students' social and emotional wellness.
To help the community, the Ed.D. program is working with local high schools and Modesto Junior College through the California Academic Partnership Program to ensure high schools better prepare their students to succeed in their first-year college math classes. The project is tied to Assembly Bill 705, which requires students to complete a transfer-level math and English class in their first year of community college.
In addition, the Stanislaus team partnered with local community and educational organizations on the countywide Cradle to Career initiative, which aims to understand the efficacy of local school districts' practices and how to improve them.
But Ed.D. students are also driving change. After receiving classroom training in equity audits, one assistant principal applied that learning to his school's policies, resulting in a revised handbook. A high school teacher also applied the audit to his grading practices, turning the work into his dissertation before teaching fellow educators to use the technique.
“If we're really going to have equity in our educational systems and are truly going to transform our educational systems, then we have to base it on research and data to tell us if our practices are working or not working," Bukko says. “The Ed.D. program goal is to prepare scholar-practitioners to do this critical work."
Leading the Way: Alternative Energy Industry
California has been a key leader in the transition to more sustainable, greener alternative energy sources, “trailblazing and leading everyone forward," says David Blekhman, Ph.D., a professor in California State University, Los Angeles's College of Engineering, Computer Science and Technology.
Just look to the road: California has the most registered electric vehicles (EV) in the nation, almost 180,000, and the largest number of EV stations and charging outlets, 61 of which are on Cal State LA's campus (including six fast-charging stations). The state also hosts the most hydrogen-powered cars and 41 of the 46 retail hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S.
As a result, California is home to research facilities and companies involved in these industries, and Cal State LA is ensuring its students are prepared to secure those jobs. “Cal State LA boasts one of the best real-world living labs facilities for students' practical training," says Dr. Blekhman, who directs the Technology Department's Sustainable Energy and Transportation program.
For the past seven years, Cal State LA students, under Blekhman's guidance, have participated in two EcoCAR projects, competitions run by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors to make vehicles more energy efficient. Most recently, the four-year EcoCAR3 competition, which ended in 2018, required teams to redesign a Chevrolet Camaro to improve its efficiency while maintaining its performance. The Cal State LA team designed a plug-in hybrid police car, which is now a case study for the electric and hybrid vehicles course, and received the 2018 Clean Air Award from the South Coast Air Quality Management District for educating the public about energy-efficient vehicles.
As part of classes, students also take tours, meet industry leaders and complete internships at local green technology manufacturers, such as electric bus manufacturer Proterra or EV batteries producer Romeo Power.
Students are also getting experience with hydrogen vehicles, especially at the Cal State LA Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, the country's first hydrogen fueling station to qualify for retail sale. While some work in the station as interns, others in the fuel cell course complete labs and assignments related to the station.
“It's a living laboratory for us," says Blekhman, who is also the 2019-20 Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Alternative Energy Technology at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden. “We train students on how to properly operate the hydrogen station. … Students, by working at the station, get a really intimate look at [the procedures and equipment]. And in addition to just operation, they learn maintenance and what potential failures could happen and how to fix them."
Yet the campus goes beyond energy-efficient vehicles with its solar installation that helps power the campus. The installation and management of the solar plant have provided learning opportunities for students in the photovoltaics class, necessary training considering California produces the most solar power in the country and is home to the largest solar farm.
“I'm training students who can design this system and, if needed, inspect their proper installation," Blekhman explains. This includes conducting performance evaluations and predictions, wiring the system and ensuring proper installation to avoid interference and maximize power generation. “It's very beneficial when you teach a course to have access to the physical plant, the installation and then the data that is generated."
Check out our “Moving California Ahead" series to see more ways the CSU is keeping the state at the forefront of cleaner, more sustainable energy.
Home-Grown: The Agriculture Industry
Bringing in almost $50 billion in 2018 and producing 400 commodities, California's agricultural industry is one of the largest and most important sectors in the state. It employs nearly 420,000 people and provides a third of the U.S.'s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts.
But the agricultural industry has been under fire for its contributions to climate change and the unsustainable practices it relies on. To mitigate the industry's environmental impact, the researchers at the Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems (CRARS) at California State University, Chico are finding ways to change agricultural methods—all while teaching these new methods to agriculture students.
“What we have done in agriculture was to completely disregard the mechanisms that nature developed over the last 500 million years for fostering life on this planet and proclaim that we had a better way," says David Johnson, Ph.D., adjunct professor in Chico State's CRARS. “We've spent over a century of breeding plants to enable them to grow in poor soils when we should have been focusing on efforts to improve our soils. We need to get back to mimicking the mechanisms nature developed for growing plants and reintroduce them into our agroecosystems."
To this end, Dr. Johnson, who is also the director of the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at New Mexico State University, is working to improve the health of soil naturally by restoring the populations, diversity and function of microbiomes (that is, the microbes like bacteria and fungi in the soil) that have historically been wiped out by traditional farming methods. He does this using two techniques that are part of his biologically enhanced agricultural management (BEAM) process (developed with his wife, Hui-Chun Su): treating the soil with a fungal-based vermicompost that relies on worms for decomposition and implementing cover crops to feed and provide energy for the soil food web.
His work, as well as that of other researchers, has resulted in the development of healthier soils that require less water, fertilizer and pesticide application while providing greater agricultural production and better quality crops. In some cases, productivity saw a five-fold increase.
To help farmers and ranchers adopt these regenerative methods and reap the resulting benefits, CRARS hosts a variety of workshops and demonstrations.
“The farmers' livelihood is on the line here, and they know that going down the conventional road is leading them to destroy their soils and not make money," Johnson explains. “Adoption of the BEAM approach will allow farmers and ranchers to increase their productivity, substantially reduce their input costs and water use and become more profitable, all while benefitting our environment and producing healthier food."
CRARS is also introducing students to this biologically minded and regenerative approach on Chico State's 800-acre farm. In their future work, students can employ these methods to both improve production and protect the environment.
“We have so many students come up to us and say, 'We were never taught anything about soil microbiology,'" Johnson says. “That's a component that's been missing that we're trying to instill in the system we have now."
Lastly, much of Johnson's work has focused on applying these methods to growing cotton, corn and chiles. Cotton, in particular, requires a significant amount of fertilizer, insecticide and herbicide and is grown worldwide. Applying the BEAM approach to cotton production could mean a cleaner fashion industry that could rely less on microplastics like polyester—but it also shows this process can be applied to other crops globally, providing more food and fiber to regions that need it.
Read “The Farm of the Future" series to learn more about how the CSU is preparing the next generation of agricultural leaders.