Dr. Ken Walsh is the founding Dean of the SDSU Georgia Campus. Previously, he served as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering and occupied an endowed position as the AGC-Paul S. Roel Chair in Construction Engineering and Management at San Diego State University.
He holds BSE, MS, and Ph.D. degrees in Civil Engineering from Arizona State University. He was named as the Outstanding Professor in the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering at SDSU in 2014, and holds the National Teaching Award from the Associated Schools of Construction. Dr. Ken summarized his experience in Georgia with CBW:
Dr.Walsh how would you assess your presence in Georgia and process of establishing San Diego State University together with the three state universities?
It’s almost impossible to unpack my experience here in many ways. First of all, it has been the most important experience in my career as I had a chance to be involved in every aspect of university function, from dealing with student’s transcripts, to scheduling classes to everything. I had personal connections with students, which is hard to do it in the US where system is more established. It left me by further richer for the opportunity to come to better understanding of Georgia and how every university has to function in general.
What was the demand of STEM directions in Georgia when you started your activity and what has changed over the years?
I’ve been in Georgia very often since 2013, full time since 2014 and I think, there’s been a lot of change in the students’ interest in science engineering over the time. When I first came to Georgia, there was a rare student having any interest in STEM fields other than medicine, which is completely different. So, most common interest from students was expressed towards international relations or business, and I understand where that comes from. We’ve been working really hard to make the case that modern world is driven by changes in science engineering, that the face of the planet and what we expect from technologies changes this point of a five-year cycle. In order to contrast my grandparent’s life, there was no that many changes the way they lived their lives other than jet aircrafts, while we use technologies routinely that no one used five years ago.
I think young people are more aware than their parents that things are changing fast, and I think even in 2013 they were led by parents to go to business or international relations. Young people are aware of technologies and its impact on their careers, and probably they didn’t believe the opportunity to get proper education in these field in Georgia actually existed.
What do you consider as a major achievement from this 3-year perspective?
You can see the results, our student body is doubled every year, and we can see the demand is increasing dramatically. It was the major achievement to increase popularity, I think we’ve been an important part of it but it won’t be right to take all credits. Government has done a very good job of by emphasizing new developments in science and engineering, and the compact has been very good raising the profile of these fields in general education, as well as higher.
Just a few days ago Ilia State University completed the carcass construction of a new educational building of San Diego University. Tell us more about this space?
The interior still has to be finished. There will be laboratories of computer engineering, our students will be able to complete design projects of industry problems and will be developing solutions for it. This is the key part of the process to make sure, they are ready to go to work on the very first day. So that involvement in industry bringing into that classrooms is only possible if you’ve got modern equipment. We also have new laboratories in civil engineering across the wide range of aspects foundation, hydraulics, river flow, etc.. Those students will have similar experiences and be able to go right to work on the critical infrastructure problems Georgia bases. So, all of these programs were targeted towards workforce needs, and that building makes it possible to meet high standards.
Dr.Walsh, you’ve received numerous awards and have published a number of works, including you are named as an outstanding professor of civil construction and engineering, what advice would you give young people who consider entering one of STEM field?
I will come to this from several different directions. First of all, a lot of times people say it, the only place for computer science and civil engineering is in the US, where there are developed industries, and there is a big demand, while there are so many civil engineers and computer engineers in the states that the competition is extremely stiff. The problem is that Georgia ends up importing a lot of these kinds of skills, so you have a lot of engineering being done by professionals who don’t understand Georgian culture, society and needs. What does engineering solution need to look like in order to satisfy Georgian culture? Nobody can do that in Georgia, right? You’re going to have a mismatch between the kinds of solution that get developed and the demands, unless you get many more Georgian youth educated in science engineering and taking leadership in completing these solutions.
Furthermore, the opportunities are much more richly available here, an excellent outstanding top-notch science graduates in the US faces thousands of competitors just like them from thousands of other universities, while young Georgian graduate faces almost no competitors. They have ability to start new jobs, companies, go on their own be an entrepreneur and build wealth. I think it’s overlooked to not focus on these huge opportunities available to high school students. Maybe US schools look fancier but if we look at the student’s performance in Georgia they do better than our students in San Diego, they do better on GPA, continuation rates, they even do better in writing English. So, students in Georgia are more incapable with an education resources to succeed, to take that and go create businesses. I think, any Georgian student who has interest developed in math and science should feel very confident follow that and get education in Georgia.