In October CSU-Pueblo announced its new vision: “To establish Colorado State University-Pueblo as the people’s university of the Southwest United States by 2028.”
Helping to conceive that vision is Provost Mohammed Abdelrahman.
An engineer by trade, Abdelrahman, who also acts as the university’s vice president for academic affairs, is a native of Cairo, Egypt. He has been in the United States since 1992, when he, with an undergraduate and master’s degree from the University of Cairo, moved to Idaho to continue his education and pursue a second master’s degree and a Ph.D.
He first worked as faculty in the U.S. beginning in 1997 at Tennessee Technological University and began his career in administration as associate dean of engineering at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.
Abdelrahman, who took his position with CSU-Pueblo last summer, said the university’s vision will grow more refined in 2019, but it will remain focused on providing quality education, even focusing on nontraditional students — “the people” — in and around Pueblo.
Abdelrahman spoke with the Business Journal this week about growing the student of the future and providing everyone the opportunity to better themselves.
What should readers know about CSU-Pueblo?
Well, I’ve been here about six months and can say the vision the president [Timothy Mottet] is putting together is impressive. The faculty is also very entrepreneurial in terms of getting resources to support their students. …
Our student population is a little above 33 percent Hispanic. We are close to being a minority-serving institution. That line is at 50 percent [for all minorities]. To be a Hispanic-serving institution, your Hispanic population has to be above 25 percent. We are in the 48 or 49 percent range [for minority students], so it’s a diverse institution. I like that part. …
The university is a snapshot of the world and the world is getting more diverse. But our students are getting their education in a smaller setting — we’re about 4,000 students — while having opportunities they wouldn’t find in bigger institutions.
Talk about the university’s vision for the next decade.
It’s something we’ve been working on since May and we produced the vision in October. We’re working toward actually functionalizing this vision and presenting our plan to the board of governors for the CSU system. It’s a strong vision of being the people’s university of the Southwest United States by 2028.
What I like about this vision are the guiding principles. We speak about transforming learning, cultivating entrepreneurship, building knowledge. … It’s a vision that’s inspiring and the faculty is getting behind it. We’re working with the board of governors to find ways to functionalize the vision so it’s not just collecting dust.
What have you drawn inspiration from lately?
One of the books I’m impressed with is [“Robot-Proof”] by Dr. [Joseph] Aoun, president of Northeastern University, where he discusses higher education in the era of artificial intelligence and how we can all be replaced by robots.
They’re not the arm that moves things from left to right. You can see accountants replaced by robots. They’re talking about newscasters being replaceable. We know, as artificial intelligence comes, there are people who say it’s doom and gloom. But others see new opportunities, like during the Industrial Revolution. But the education has to be different. The theme of the book is about human literacy, technical literacy and data literacy and that you have to build all three for your students. Human literacy is the part the robot can least understand — understanding context and having cultural agility and dealing with different people in a different environment. If you ask the same questions in Japan and Egypt, will it be perceived the same way? These are question humans are better suited to deal with. You want your graduates to have that.
Any specific examples of what that looks like on campus?
One thing the president charged me with is looking at the vision of our health sciences programs. We’ve gotten state funding to renovate the Psychology Building. That’s the building the School of Nursing will eventually move into.
But we don’t just want it to be a renovation. … We’re looking to build synergy between health sciences and humanities. … The health sciences vision was built around an integrated center for human health and humanities and where that integration takes place. We’ll try to actually focus on things that health care providers struggle with: communication, understanding policy — in addition to understanding all the data, analytics and technology. So we’re creating a nurse who is not just proficient in health sciences but has cultural agility and can communicate with a diverse population. That is very important.
Anything else happening at the university?
We’re adding a lot of graduate programs. The nursing program is starting in the spring — it’s a Doctor of Nursing Practice. But we also have a master’s in social work that’s accepting applications now and is going to start in the fall. We have the Master’s of Athletic Training [program] that’s starting in the summer. We have a renewed focus on creating more applied and professional master’s programs
Access is also very important to our vision, especially in rural areas. There will always be a focus on the traditional student — the high school student who goes straight into college. But veterans are a very big focus for us. We’re the first university in Colorado to be named a Purple Heart University because of our focus on veterans. But veterans move around and may need a different way to support their learning. They have prior learning experiences we’d like to integrate and give them credit for it. But we want to do that for other nontraditional students who have gained some experience and come back — something to make their life a little easier.
What sort of impact does CSU-Pueblo make on this region?
The focus on the health sciences impacts society right away. We feel rural health care should be a focus. Pueblo itself may not be rural but we’re surrounded by rural communities that lack access to health care.
The [doctor of nursing practice] creates more of the nursing faculty and qualified nurses that can succeed in the current complicated environment of health care.
One of the other things that will be important for us is the culture of entrepreneurship. In smaller areas like Pueblo, you may not find the [large] employers. But by empowering students to think big, even if they don’t create jobs, as they go to work for an employer, entrepreneurship can be seen in that environment. It can be seen in capitalizing ideas and converting that to a stream — whether that’s revenue or social impact.
What are your greatest challenges?
Transforming learning will be a big piece. How do you look at learning so the focus isn’t just on the traditional [students] or the veterans or the nontraditional [students] — but that you’re getting the online students and the international students. Every one of those students needs something different. How do you balance that? We’re in an environment where resources aren’t being dumped into higher education, so how can we be efficient and, at the same time, cater to different streams of students so they can succeed?
Success rate for our students is always a challenge. The six-year graduation is still happening, so what can we do for those students so they can graduate on time? That’s lost time for them. This is something we’re examining in this vision.
Any other goals for 2019?
Finalize the vision and creating a plan to follow. That will be an important part to me. Implementing the vision for health sciences will be an important task. We’ll continue to focus on student success and faculty and staff development. That will happen no matter the direction we go. We’re trying to identify programs we can offer that will be helpful to the region and students.
I’ve seen statistics that, among universities, we are first or second [in the state] for impact on social mobility — our ability to change the direction of a student coming in. It’s because we’re catering to a lot of first-generation students and we can break the cycle of poverty. This is something we pride ourselves on. We can make a huge impact.
What do you think of Colorado?
It’s a very nice state — a very highly educated state. I’m enjoying it. The nature is beautiful.
This is a statistic that is interesting. I think Massachusetts is the highest-educated state [based on degrees] and Colorado is second. But if you look at Colorado-born, we rank 46th or 47th. We attract a lot of educated people, but at the same time we have to focus on how we educate our own.