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Sunday, May 28, 2023

An Innovative Building for Future Education

Orange County relies on California State University, Fullerton to drive innovation and ensure a robust pipeline to meet the technology workforce needs of our community.

However, stubborn opportunity gaps persist in meeting this need. These gaps, if not closed, threaten both the fabric and the economic success of our region, our state, and our nation.

The mandate? Take bold action to ensure all students have access to a rigorous and relevant education that cultivates a culture of innovation and prepares our workforce for the engineering and computer science industry in Orange County.

Cal State Fullerton has been hard at work fulfilling this mandate.

This past summer that work began to pay off, when the State of California awarded $67.5 million, about a third of the total expected cost, toward a new Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) Innovation Hub. The preliminary goal for the Innovation Hub, assuming we receive full project funding, is to add 150,000 square feet to the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

While this new physical space will accommodate current and future enrollment, it will also mean so much more to Orange County.

The ECS Innovation Hub will establish a learning and innovation-centered collaborative space focused on providing educational, innovative, and entrepreneurial capacity, across disciplines and across our community. The interdisciplinary aspect of this space will enhance our degree programs and provide access to both K-12 and community college partners on one side and OC business and industry on the other.

Within this Innovation Hub, all sectors will collaborate and gain access to the latest technology in an environment of creativity and innovation for students across campus, and for our business and industrial community.

A building project of this magnitude offers a giant step for three fundamental reasons: First, enhanced and collaborative learning environments facilitate communities of practice, provide a hands-on learning experience, and expand novel thinking and imagination. Second, experiences in such spaces pave foundational paths toward upward social and economic mobility. Third, innovation has no walls, but demands a gathering space that is vividly dynamic, inspiring creativity, and with state-of-the-art systems.

The new ECS Innovation Hub will gather students and educators to create a hands-on learning experience that facilitates innovation and creativity. Such a conclave is critical for the students we serve at Cal State Fullerton; more than half of whom are the first in their families to pursue a college degree. This learning environment will enhance our ability to create communities that are positioned to help students develop into the highly skilled future engineers and computer scientists needed in OC.

Beacon of Opportunity

Of equal importance, the ECS Innovation Hub, the great equalizer, will also serve as a beacon for economic opportunity for our community.

Orange County is already experiencing significant workforce gaps in the STEM fields, especially in engineering and computer science, and these gaps will not improve without growing local talent.

About 80% of CSUF’s 320,000 graduates live and work within a 50-mile radius of the campus. We cannot continue to import our talent base. Instead, we must build the workforce from within OC. The ECS Innovation Hub enhances the economic capacity of our region through the preparation of a workforce vested in the economic, cultural, and civic environment of Orange County. Simply put, CSUF engineers and computer science grads stay in the OC, raise their families, build their businesses, and will be part of a greater OC community for decades to come.

And while innovation and scientific breakthroughs are laudable in and of themselves – and critical to our community’s continued economic and social vibrancy—we believe that increasing the number of women in engineering and computer science, recruiting a diverse faculty, and inspiring a first-generation college student to pursue and graduate from a technically rigorous degree program are also essential breakthroughs in their own right. The innovation born at the Cal State Fullerton ECS Hub will drive Orange County forward, creating economic opportunity and healthy communities.

Cal State Fullerton is profoundly grateful to all our elected officials, and to our local companies like Edwards LifeSciences, Bank of America and Disneyland Resort to name a few, who have invested in the College of ECS or provided letters of support helping us secure this first round of funding.

We are not done; in addition to the campus investment we will make in this project, we are requesting the State to fully fund our original $120M request. This is not the time to partially invest in our future; this is not a project to be completed “on the cheap.” Our students deserve better. Orange County deserves better.

Private Investors Needed
While full state funding will help us construct this complex, we will need private investment to take the College and this facility to the next level. Support from alumni, philanthropists, and companies will be critical to accomplishing our goals. Labs with the latest technology, endowments that support critical programs, software experience centers training our students on the latest skills, and fellowships expanding student-centered research experiences. These are a few of the needs to assure we have a facility to best serve the students and the businesses of Orange County.

Not surprisingly, we at CSUF envision education, the great equalizer, as a pathway to success.

For that reason, we strive to enroll as many students as our physical and financial capacity allows, knowing that the return on that investment will uplift Orange County, our State, and our Nation. While our admissions and academic programs are rigorous—over 80,000 applications a year for 8,500 spots and an average entering GPA of just under 3.7—finances should not be a barrier. Our tuition has increased less than 5% in the last decade. Half of our students graduate each year debt free, and for those with debt, it averages about $17,000. An extraordinary education that is devoted to the citizens of Orange County deserves appropriate facilities.

The Great Equalizer—The ECS Innovation Hub—a space to create communities of practice that increase social mobility, ensuring a culture of innovation permeates Orange County.

Now is the time to bring this meaningful magnet of opportunity and innovation to Cal State Fullerton and Orange County!

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