Massively Big Thinking by Dean Cathy Sandeen

I recently ran across some notes I made when I attended the American Council on Education (ACE) annual meeting earlier this year. ACE is the premier umbrella organization representing all segments of higher education. The organization generally draws well known speakers and big thinkers to its events and its 2012 conference was no exception.


Two talks from the meeting stood out in my mind: Sal Khan, Founder of the Khan Academy and Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University (See slides from their talks here: Khan: The Khan Academy: Empowering People Through Knowledge and Crow: Urgency Required: Institutional Innovation in American Higher Education.)

On the face of it, these two leaders could not be more different. One is at the forefront of the open course movement, focused on tutorials mainly for K-12 students, and the other leads a traditional public research university. I was somewhat surprised to see their messages converged on some common themes, themes I believe are important for those of us thinking about an educational innovation.

Massive scale.  A darling of the news media, The Khan Academy has grown to a massive scale providing open access to various tutorials as a supplement to formal education. As of March 2012, Khan reported his Academy had delivered 125 million lessons to its users.

With over 70,000 students, Crow already leads the largest traditional brick and mortar university in the U.S.

Access. Both see educational success as a means of social justice and mobility and are committed to providing a high level of access.

Student success. Both keep student success at the center of what they do. The Khan Academy began as a way for Sal Khan to help his cousins perform better at math and science. ASU’s organizational goals include at the top of the list quantitative measures of student success, operationalized as persistence and graduation rate.

Data informed. Both measure impact quantitatively and change direction based on data.

New models. The Khan Academy is completely online, open, free, self -directed, and though extremely simple, represents an innovation in tutoring. The Academy has partnered with a school district in Silicon Valley to integrate tutorials into K-12 teaching and learning models.

With its massive scale, ASU naturally provides a high degree of access, including online programs. Despite its scale, the institution also is a leader in assessment and in measuring moving the dial to improve student learning outcomes.

Massive change.  In their own ways both organizations address massive change needed to improve educational attainment. Crow reminded us that goals for improved educational attainment by 2020 for the U.S. population include 100% high school graduation and 50% completion of postsecondary degree or certification.

By way of comparison, according to the National Center for Education Statistics , as of March 2011, 87.6% of the total U.S. population age 25 years or older had completed high school or higher and 30.4% had completed a bachelors degree or higher. The gaps may not seem so large, but increasing completion rates does not occur overnight.

Massive change is needed to achieve goals by 2020. President Crow cautions the U.S. education community against “filiopietism: of or relating to an often excessive veneration of ancestors or tradition (Merriam-Webster)” or (in my words now) a reluctance to innovate.

Any differences?

Yes, a few. For one, The Khan Academy developed its approach and impact in a bottom-up, grassroots, organic way. ASU, as embodied under President Crow’s leadership, developed its approach and impact in a more planned, strategic way.

Two big players. Different student segments. Different methods. Similar conclusions. Important lessons to keep in mind.


Broad and Deep Knowledge Revisited By Dean Cathy Sandeen

My last post focused on the importance of developing broad knowledge and capabilities (Four-Year Career).

In my further reading I have come across a number of ideas that reinforce this point.

Industrial Darwinism or “survival of the fittest industry”

The notion of “Industrial Darwinism” is reflected in this chart. Employment areas that are growing are likely to require higher-level thinking. (A perfect example: according to this analysis, “Think Tanks” are a small, but growing employment sector. Imagine that.)

Source:  imgur

Job Paradox

Then, there’s the notion of “Job Paradox” that the graph below reflects. Though these data end at 2010, the general trend continues today. Despite high unemployment, right now many positions remain open and unfilled. Certainly the current housing market makes it more difficult for people to sell homes in order to relocate. This may be a factor. But another factor may be that employers are keeping jobs unfilled because they are not finding applicants with the knowledge and abilities they seek. Something is not working.

Source:  The American

Liberal Arts Again

A fairly recent article in the Wall Street Journal  is a good example of conversation emerging in higher education circles. The article describes how business school faculty and administrators are considering how to integrate traditional liberal arts knowledge and skills (again, critical thinking, problems solving, synthesis, communication) into their undergraduate business curricula.

Vocationalization and Specialization

We hear a lot about the “vocationalization” of higher education.  We hear a lot about “return on investment” for degrees. Students and families want and deserve education that will lead to a good job. The prevailing assumption seems to be: the more vocational or skills-based a degree is, the more likely that will lead to employment. For evidence of this, one need only note the degrees that have growing enrollments (e.g., business and healthcare) and those that have declining enrollments (humanities).

Integration and Transdisciplinary

The opposite of vocationalization and specialization is integration and greater transdisciplinarity. In my own conversations with employers and community leaders in my urban area, I repeatedly hear a call for broader transdisciplinary skills. Crossing disciplinary boundaries can be a challenge. But we owe it to our students to move in this direction.

It’s not an “either/or.” We live in an increasingly complex, global, and technology-driven world. That is not going to change. We all need specialized skills for today as well as broader contextual, communication, and analytical skills to carry us through the career lifecycle. Broad and Deep.


The Four-Year Career by Dean Cathy Sandeen


 I read an interesting article in Fast Company last month called The Four-Year Career.

The article highlights a very important trend—reduction in the average tenure one has in a job. This is probably not a temporary trend brought about by our recent economic downturn, but a practice that’s here to stay.  Further, individuals are not just changing jobs within a single industry. There’s a growing trend for people to make massive career shifts through their life time. The Fast Company article highlights a few of these paths.

Other interesting points from the article that resonated with me:

“According to recent statistics, the median number of years a U.S. worker has been in his or her current job is just 4.4, down sharply since the 1970s. This decline in average job tenure is bigger than any economic cycle, bigger than any particular industry, bigger than differences in education levels, and bigger than differences in gender.  . . .  Statistically, the shortening of the job cycle has been driven by two factors. The first is a marked decline in the “long job”–that is, the traditional 20-year capstone to a career. Simultaneously, there’s been an increase in “churning”– workers well into their thirties who have been at their current job for less than a year.”

“Shorter job tenure is associated with a new era of insecurity, volatility, and risk. It’s part of the same employment picture as the increase in part-time, freelance, and contract work; mass layoffs and buyouts; and “creative destruction” within industries. All these changes put more pressure on the individual–to provide our own health care, bridge gaps in income with savings, manage our own retirement planning, and invest in our own education to keep skills marketable and up to date.”

The Institute [for the Future], a Silicon Valley-based think tank, has been researching future work skills for a decade. [Marina Gorbis, Executive Director of the Institute] says, “It’s much harder than it used to be to predict what jobs are going to be around in 10 years.” Projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics can offer a false confidence. “They can say that health care is a growing sector, but exactly what the jobs are going to be, you don’t know.” In looking ahead to 2020, Gorbis’s institute identified big drivers of change such as extended longevity, robotics, and the rise of global connectivity. Then it extrapolated a list of core skills that will be needed in tomorrow’s workplace regardless of industry or position.”

Transdisciplinary skills

The article stresses the importance of being a “T-shaped person,” someone who has broad general knowledge and skills, combined with depth in a specific area.  This isn’t the first place I have encountered such a notion. Broad skills across the top of the “T” include: communication, problem solving, analytical ability, teamwork, global and multicultural awareness, and the ability to synthesize. Deep skills are narrower, more technical and industry specific.

Broad skills are more stable and applicable across jobs, industries, and time; deep knowledge and skills are critical, but the need for these has a tendency to change so the knowledge and skills become obsolete more rapidly.

Take home message

To be able to maneuver in the new environment of rapid job change and personal responsibility, people need to cultivate those broad transdisciplinary knowledge and skills—akin to a traditional liberal arts program—as well as many types of specific technical knowledge over time. They key is, one can never stop learning and growing.

Or as Margaret Mead once said “We must rid ourselves of the idea that anybody can ever finish his education…We need to set up a program into which people can come at any time in their lives and get as much education as they can take.”


Please Judge Us by Our Covers by Dean Cathy Sandeen

Energy. Connections. Whimsy. Diversity. Imagination. Warmth. Color. Light. Dreams. Surprise.

These are the words that come to mind, capturing the essence of UCLA Extension as conveyed through the expressive works of art that appear on the cover of each UCLA Extension quarterly catalog.  Here is a small sample of the complete body of work.

Image          Image          Image          Image

For over twenty years UCLA Extension has engaged true masters of graphic design to create unique designs for its catalog. I must give credit to InJu Sturgeon, retired Creative Director of UCLA Extension for her vision and tenacity in creating this program.


Here’s a video documenting the design of our current UCLA Extension catalog cover for Winter 2012.

Designed by typographic conceptualist, Andrew Byrom, this cover showcases Byrom’s St. Julian typeface, conceived from furniture forms.

Since moving to the US about a dozen years ago, Byrom, an academic book jacket designer for publishing houses such as Penguin, dreamed of joining lifetime heroes, graphic designers Louis Danziger and Deborah Sussman in creating breakout UCLA Extension covers.

“This was such a big deal for me, I wanted to push things a bit,” said Byrom, who has a deep interest in typeface design. After manipulating 15 pieces of furniture, Byrom was hoisted several feet into the air to find the perfect angle. The tables used in the cover to spell out UCLA were also on display (and used by attendees) at TEDxUCLA last year, where Byrom spoke on the typography he sees in everyday objects.

 The Liverpool, England-born faculty member at Cal State Long Beach and UCLA Extension instructor, spent more than 6 months putting together the photograph, working with furniture designer Leslie Denham to construct functional pieces of art out of simple materials.


This cover, by Augustin Garza for Winter 2007, was the cover when I first arrived at UCLA in December 2006. (I fondly call it the “Exploding Palm Tree” and a giant framed copy of the design sits on the wall just outside my office door to this day.)

Circling back to the title of this post, we all know the old saying, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” We disagree, at least in the case of UCLA Extension. Given the quality, excitement, and dynamism of our catalog designs—and the reputations of the designers—it’s quite all right with us if you judge us by our covers.


Branching out to China Part 2 By Dean Cathy Sandeen

More on my recent trip to China to meet with existing clients and partners and to develop new partnerships and friendships . . . .

From Shenzhen, I traveled to the city of Changsha, a city of around 7 million people in Hunan Province, south central China. It’s a beautiful setting, along two rivers with a large island intersecting one of the rivers. Hunan Province is the birthplace of Chairman Mao and Changsha is where Mao attended university and where he developed his ideas about communism and revolution leading to the formation of the People’s Republic of China. Changsha is also a center for entertainment, creativity, and technology which makes it a particularly good match for UCLA and Los Angeles.

Accompanied by hosts from Changsha TV (a television network in the city and one of our custom program clients), I visited the Hunan Provincial Museum where I saw relics from the Mawangdui Han Tombs.  Discovered and unearthed in the 1970s, the tombs, a perfectly preserved corpse of a 50-something-year-old woman, and 3,000 historic objects are on display providing an glimpse into life in China over 2,000 years ago. Amazing.

In front of the Hunan Provincial Museum

Chinese character font designed by a company owned by Mr. Curt Huang, a Changsha native who helped tour me around sites of the city. (And by the way, Curt’s company designed the character fonts used by Microsoft and Apple iPhone.)

Next, we had lunch in Mao Ze Dong’s favorite restaurant, overlooking a square where auditions for the Chinese version of “X-Factor” were taking place. So fitting in China today—this contrast between history and modern times.

Chinese X-Factor Auditions, November 2011, Changsha, Hunan Province

Next, we visited Yuelu Academy, part of Hunan University. Established in around 1,000 AD, this is one of the oldest universities in the world and it is still functioning today.

Inner courtyard, Yuelu Academy

Final stop in Changsha, Orange Island Park a narrow island in the middle of the Xiangjiang River. The main feature here is a giant sculpture of Mao’s head as a young man. People travel from all over China to see this sculpture.

Orange Island Park, sculpture of Mao Ze Dong, approximate age of 32 years

Day two, Changsha

 I visited the LuValley National Economic and Technical Development Zone. Reflecting on my own time in Silicon Valley, California, I now refer to the LuValley zone as “Silicon Valley on steroids.”  Hosted by Mrs. Zhihong Chen, Deputy Director of the Development Zone, I met with a number of executives and managers of large companies in the zone.

At headquarters for the Development Zone, Mrs. Chen on my left and Mr. Huang on my right.

Afternoon and dinner brought me to Hunan Broadcasting System (Golden Eagle Broadcasting), another client known for its trendy, modern programming.

Hunan Broadcasting System, inside a control room during a live taping

Finally, off to Beijing for my final destination in China. There I met with top officials from State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs (SAFEA) and from Beijing TV network. Beijing is always an experience—a gigantic, vibrant place.

View of part of Beijing from the top of the landmark Beijing TV building

Bottom line: Quick trip . . . four cities in eight days . . . two new cities for me (Shenzhen and Changsha) . . .very informative . . . very productive . . . many friends, old and new.  Not my last trip to China, that’s certain.


Branching way out—to China (Part 1) By Dean Cathy Sandeen

UCLA’s Chancellor Block recently returned from a trip to China where he spoke at a major conference in Beijing. UCLA’s  strategic location on the Pacific Rim makes our campus a particularly great fit for a variety of relationships in China.

I traveled to China myself recently to forge even stronger ties with universities, governmental agencies, and companies in China. As part of UCLA’s international strategy, UCLA Extension has developed major partnerships in China for over eight years. These have become stronger and more prolific as our own understanding of China and its educational and economic development needs has grown. Our partnerships benefit UCLA Extension in many ways, not the least of which increasing our own global awareness.

Here’s a quick overview of my trip to China in November 2011.

First, I visited Guangzhou in South China, in particular two of China’s top universities, South China University of Technology, and Sun Yat-Sen University where we have hosted study abroad students and MBA students for customized programs here in Los Angeles. I had not been to Guangzhou in four years. The newly developed area along the Pearl River and around the Canton Tower is remarkable.


Canton Tower, Guangzhou, at night  (photo from TravelPod blog)

Next, I was off to Shenzhen, also in South China near Hong Kong. Shenzhen is one of China’s first “Special Economic Zones,” developed in the 1970s, to foster and encourage entrepreneurship and free enterprise. Shenzhen is a thriving, modern city. I participated in a large conference, sponsored by the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs (SAFEA) and China Association for International Exchange of Personnel (CAIEP). The annual conference supports the international exchange of specialized technical and managerial personnel between China and other countries.  


View from hotel in Shenzhen


At the CAIEP Convention in Shenzhen


The view inside the convention center

My first trip to China was in 2001. I am increasingly amazed by the development of China and by the high level of enthusiasm for establishing partnership with US universities.  Stay tuned for my next post describing more of my recent trip to China.


Face Reality and Take Charge of Your Next Step by Dean Cathy Sandeen

I participated in two interesting discussions last week that underscored something I have been thinking about lately.

First, at the UCLA Extension Dean’s Advisory Board meeting, we heard a presentation by Board member Ed Leamer a faculty member at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast.

Professor Leamer  explained that in previous economic downturns, unemployment increased as industries reduced their workforce. But once conditions improved, displaced workers eventually were rehired into their previous industries.

The current economic downturn is quite a bit different.  Large numbers of jobs in construction and manufacturing have disappeared and they will not be coming back. Other industries have completely changed as well. Think about print journalism, printing in general, advertising, and the music industry.

My second meeting last week was part of UCLA Day with Local Government,” an advocacy day spent meeting with various elected officials and staff at Los Angeles City Hall. I met with a group of executive directors and board members from the local unemployment services/workforce system.

One senior human resources director from a large local firm mentioned he has encountered a number of people in his professional and personal life who have lost jobs and who have not faced the reality that those exact jobs will not reemerge. Almost every industry now requires higher level skills and a greater use of technology. Many unemployed individuals are sitting back and waiting for the world to adapt to them. They are not doing anything to adapt themselves for reemployment in today’s environment.

It is extremely difficult and unsettling for many people to think about going back to school when one has been out of school for 30 years or more.  This dynamic is even more apparent for those who entered the workforce directly from high school.

This brings me back to the title of this post. Facing reality and next steps.

There are many options for someone to build upon past experience and to upgrade knowledge and skills quickly. For many, I would recommend a serious look at rigorous professional certificate programs. We have seen individuals transition

  • from banking to logistics
  • from mortgage broker to starting a waste recycling company
  • from information technology professionals to the healthcare field
  • from sales and marketing people to nonprofit organizations

The key is to get help and advice

  • What transferrable skills do you have?
  • What industries project employment growth?
  • What do you care about?

Then, find a program that can help you connect all the dots and get you from A to B. You can find employment that equals or exceeds your previous position.

Naturally, UCLA Extension offers many options. The most important thing is to face reality and take that important next step.