The joy in knowledgeFeatures — May 22, 2012
To Albert Karnig, the effort to raise the hopes and expectations of the San Bernardino and Riverside region was inextricably linked to teaching and learning that reached for the brightest star.
by Koren Wetmore
His sights set on academic excellence, Albert Karnig fostered an environment that unlocked students’ potential along with their access to higher education.
Not only could they acquire a quality college education — thanks to scholarships, talented faculty and an expanded academic program — but also accomplish amazing things once they got there.
“We aren’t Harvard or Yale, but I will match our best students with the best anywhere. And I mean anywhere,” said biology professor Stuart Sumida. “I’ve taken our students into the field doing paleontological field work with graduate and undergraduate students from the University of Chicago and undergrads from the Claremont Colleges, and our students were in all measures their equals or better.”
“He was the first in his family to go to college and I think he believes deeply that the mission of the university is to provide access for talented students, regardless of their means.”
Andrew Bodman, provost, CSUSB
Karnig encouraged such academic rigor through the creation of a variety of new degree programs. In his 15 years as CSUSB president, the university saw the development of its first doctoral program in education, master’s degree programs in visual arts and creative writing and bachelor’s degree programs in computer engineering, environmental science, bioinformatics and social work.
During his watch the quality of many academic programs gained national recognition. In 2006, CSUSB’s graduate entrepreneurship program was ranked fourth in the nation by The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine. In 2008, the university became one of only two in the 23-campus California State University system (and only the seventh public or private California institution) to be certified as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education. The College of Business and Public Administration was named in 2010 as one of the four most innovative business schools in the nation by European CEO magazine.
Making such quality programs affordable for students proved one of Karnig’s greatest joys.
“He was the first in his family to go to college and I think he believes deeply that the mission of the university is to provide access for talented students, regardless of their means,” said Andrew Bodman, CSUSB provost and vice president for academic affairs. “[Karnig] has been instrumental in working with donors to provide scholarships across the university, and now there are more than a hundred different scholarship funds available for CSUSB students.”
Among them is the President’s Academic Excellence Scholarship that Karnig created in 2002. Offered to students who are in the top 1 percent of their high school graduating class, the scholarship covers student fees and is renewable for four years, and today provides up to $25,000 in educational funds. More than 300 students have accepted the PAES since the program began. Yet the program’s impact extends beyond that statistic.
“These students bring their friends to campus, many of which are as academically talented as they are,” said Rob Carlson, former CSUSB dean of the College of Natural Sciences, who played an integral part in attracting PAES scholars to campus. “PAES scholars have also demonstrated a level of success in the individual classes that has often increased the overall success of the students enrolled.”
While the PAES and other scholarships attracted students to campus, it was the supportive environment Karnig inspired that helped them to thrive. “Many students arrive with less-than-optimal reading and mathematics preparation. However, the nurturing atmosphere that President Karnig espouses results in very talented faculty and staff working to optimize that learning process,” Carlson said.
In fact, 90 percent of the students requiring remediation in math, English or both receive it within one year of entering the university. With so much support, once the students got on campus, they stayed. The university’s 89.1 percent first-to-second year retention rate ranks among the highest in the California State University system, Bodman said, and retention rates for African American and Hispanic students rank in the top three among the 23 CSU campuses.
And, if the recent figures from the Collegiate Learning Assessment are any indication, CSUSB is poised for continued success. Taken both freshmen and senior years, CLA tests determine students’ academic abilities upon entering college as compared to their performance in their senior year. It is used as a measurement tool nationwide to assess an academic institution’s contribution to students’ critical thinking, reasoning and writing skills.
The 2010-2011 CLA data showed a 25 percent rise in student scores from freshmen to senior year, placing CSUSB at the 96th percentile, or the top 4 percent in the nation for the degree of learning students acquired while in college.
Despite so many achievements during his tenure, Karnig remains humble and attributes the campus’s success to a dedicated faculty and staff. His hope is that their focus on academic excellence will continue well into the future, unhindered by financial concerns.
“The tradeoff between limited budgets and academic excellence has been and will be an ongoing challenge,” he said. “Despite recent increases in tuition fees, CSUSB is still one of the most affordable universities in the nation.”