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2020 IEP “Talent” Award Finalist Spotlight: Talent and Workforce Innovation from California State University, Northridge

By Julia Potter, Director of Educational Partnership Development & Special University Projects
California State University, Northridge


This article is included as part of APLU’s Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Designation and Awards Perspectives Blog. Read other articles around strategies, programs, and impact of APLU’s IEP designees at www.APLU.org/IEPBlog. Earn APLU’s IEP designation. Learn more at www.APLU.org/SeekIEP.

Never before has the role of the university as an economically-engaged institution been more important or more necessary. Now, in the time of COVID-19, we at CSUN recognize and accept our responsibility to maximize our commitment as an integral force for the recovery and improvement of our community. CSUN is a large, comprehensive university that welcomes and serves students who largely hail from the greater Los Angeles area, mirroring the ethnic, racial, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity of the region. Our graduates tend to stay in the region, so our engagement with our community is deep, broad and long-term.

Participating in the IEP process confirmed our successes in engagement with our external community where our capacity to develop talent, improve place and nurture innovation is critical to elevating the region. It revealed that we are doing important work, but also that we needed to centralize access to our work. We began to take action to build a community exchange hub. Although that work is not complete, we are today more able to connect, engage, and support both our CSUN community and our larger external community.

The enhanced connectivity allowed the university to pivot effectively to improve its offerings of virtual community engagement including service learning, virtual internships, community resources and activities to support needed connections and services among community members. For example, the Office of Community Engagement launched “Connect with Community” that links to a wide range of COVID-19 resources offered by the university, the community and various stakeholders.

Our practices in talent development – providing access to opportunity and resources, feeding intellectual hunger, celebrating creativity, encouraging curiosity, providing wrap-around services to improve outcomes – work. The three case studies we present for this award in Talent – BUILD PODER, CSUN Connections, IntersectLA – demonstrate our innovative and high-impact talent-development activities that positively impact our place.

BUILD PODER [Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) Promoting Opportunities for Diversity in Education and Research (PODER)] is a large undergraduate biomedical research training program established in 2014 by a $22 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. “Poder” also means “power” or “to be able to” in Spanish. BUILD PODER’s transformative framework is Critical Race Theory. Through that lens, the program’s focus is on social justice and reducing health disparities in communities. Students and mentors are challenged to develop research questions, methods, interpretations, and applications relevant to their experiences and framed in familiar social justice issues. BUILD PODER provides linkages between biomedical research and social justice so that students and their faculty mentors can plainly see that their work on behalf of health equity will be feasible and meaningful. BUILD PODER shows that when we diversify the biomedical workforce, researchers generate innovative and relevant research questions, methods, and interpretations that lead to health equity.

CSUN Connections is a reverse-transfer partnership among CSUN, UNITE LA (a nonprofit organization) and three local community colleges that promotes degree completion and attainment, provides a pathway for students, and better integrates the student experience between community college and the university. CSUN students who had transferred units from partner community colleges, and were in good standing but had stopped attending CSUN, were identified, contacted and invited to “Claim What (They’ve) Earned!” to have their degree awarded or evaluate the few remaining courses.

However, CSUN Connections has another track for which it is unique – leveraging the concept of reverse transfer to develop a pathway for students who started at CSUN as first time freshmen but struggled, resulting in academic disqualification within the first three terms. Through CSUN Connections, we offer an integrated pathway from CSUN to the community college and back again – offering concierge services, specialized advising and, most important, a continued sense of community and belonging through connection to CSUN. Through this “ReRoute to Success,” CSUN addresses many of the challenges cited by students who disqualify: cost of attendance, transportation challenges, class size, and lack of community.

IntersectLA is a fresh take on how college should prepare students for their careers after graduation through immersive real-world engagement that broadens perspectives, develops competencies, builds resumes and grows professional networks. A student-operated and faculty-managed full-service brand + creative strategy agency at CSUN, IntersectLA was specifically developed for students from diverse disciplines to collaborate and fully understand the creative side of business while building their skills. Whether in business, art, design, psychology, engineering, or computer science, students work with real-world clients to gain the experiences and opportunities they need to excel long after they finish college. IntersectLA presents a case study about how an on-campus center has evolved beyond the classroom to a student enterprise for creative collaboration, cultural learning and talent development through client-based projects. The result is a high-impact student enterprise that incubates talent, builds confidence, instills a sense of purpose, and provides financial resources to help students succeed while in school and beyond.

This article is included as part of APLU’s Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Designation and Awards Perspectives Blog. Read other articles around strategies, programs, and impact of APLU’s IEP designees at www.APLU.org/IEPBlog. Earn APLU’s IEP designation. Learn more at www.APLU.org/SeekIEP.

  • IEP

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