Near the company’s California HQ, a partnership with the local university has spawned a new engineering program
For Andrew Stalboerger, attending college at California State University San Marcos was exactly what he’d hoped for: small class sizes, quality instruction and exposure to local employers. That last item was what led him to his current job as a Viasat systems test engineer.
Stalboerger graduated with a degree in computer science in 2018, the same year CSUSM added its engineering program – made possible in large part by a $1.5 million grant from Viasat.
The school of about 16,000 students – located just 15 minutes away from Viasat’s Carlsbad campus – now offers degrees in electrical and software engineering, with plans to add computer engineering by fall of 2023.
With those degrees now available, Stalboerger believes it’s an even better educational option.
“I loved San Marcos because it was a small enough campus that I had meaningful interactions with my professors,” he said. “Knowing the professors and that they were accessible was my strength in high school; I knew that way I could be successful academically that way in college, too.
“Looking back, going through an engineering program would have been very beneficial to the work I do now. So it’s exciting for Viasat to be investing so much into Cal State San Marcos.”
Viasat’s name is a permanent part of the campus. CSUSM opened its new Viasat Engineering Pavilion to students in April 2020. With students now attending class remotely, the building is temporarily in use as a COVID-19 testing facility.
The engineering program is another highlight at a school that already boasts several distinguishing factors.
The San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation recognizes CSUSM as a Preferred Provider of software and engineering talent.
It’s also above average in its ethnice diversity: About 42 percent of its students are Hispanic or Latino. More than 50 percent of its students are the first in their family to attend college.
Its proximity to Viasat and ability to serve the area’s students has long made CSUSM a natural choice for the company’s support. Viasat Vice President of Corporate Quality Simon Kuo sits on the school’s advisory council, a volunteer board to the leadership of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics. He was on the board when the idea for the engineering program first began.
“Cal State San Marcos is unique in that it serves the North County population, including some regions that are less affluent than the communities surrounding UC-San Diego and San Diego State,” Kuo said. “Not having an engineering program meant that this very diverse student body didn’t have access to such a program.”
Feasibility studies showed high demand for students with engineering degrees in the north county workplace. Yet high school or community college students seeking to pursue such a degree often couldn’t find colleges that fit their needs.
“Some of them are qualified to go to prestigious schools with engineering programs but from a cost perspective, it didn’t work for them,” Kuo said. “Many of them need to stay home to help out with family or work part-time jobs. So the only option for them for a four-year university is Cal State San Marcos.”
Student response to the new offerings clearly show the feasibility studies were on target. About 200 students are currently enrolled in the engineering program.
“They’ve been at capacity for both electrical and software engineering, so the demand definitely was there,” Kuo said.
Speaking from his own experience, Viasat engineer Stalboerger said the programs will be highly beneficial to both students and their future employers. Because he majored in computer science, he was not exposed to some of the engineering classes he now realizes would have been helpful.
“Viasat investing right in their backyard really shows how much they care about these students and the larger community,” he said. “It shines a light on an avenue these students may not have known was even possible.”
Viasat’s partnerships with CSUSM began well before the 2018 donation. It supports its business and STEM programs, and several Viasat leaders sit on different university boards. Viasat financially supports the school’s STEM Summer Scholars Program, where undergraduates gain hands-on experience through research projects.
Viasat’s 2018 donation was “key to us being able to start these two engineering majors,” said Jocelyn Wyndham, CSUSM’s interim associate vice president of philanthropy.
“It’s just such a great endorsement for our program to have Viasat’s name connected to it,” she said. “We’re honored to have this partnership and continue to see it grow.”
The relationship also encourages the students in their studies by showing them that an engineering-based company like Viasat is local. Because many of the students don’t have engineering role models within their families, CSUSM does outreach into high schools and community colleges, encouraging students to consider careers in STEM.
“When we have someone like Viasat in the area, we can say, ‘Hey, you could work right here,’” said Jacqueline Trischman, dean of CSUSM’s College of STEM.
That’s the message Viasat also wants to send. More than 80 percent of the university’s graduates stay in the region, and its alumni also bring diversity to Viasat.
Research shows companies with high racial, ethnic and gender diversity are more likely to report higher financial returns than their industry counterparts, in large part due to innovation.
“When we have people from different backgrounds – diversity in ethnicity, gender, age group, economic status – we make better decisions because we make decisions based on the various perspectives people have,” Kuo said. “Based on the kind of business we want to do, diversity is not just desirable, but busines-critical.”
As a board member, Kuo said he’ll continue urging CSUSM to further its engineering options.
“I am impressed with how fast they were able to get his kicked off and their desire to continue to engage industry – including Viasat – in furthering the program,” he said. “It has been a privilege to serve on the board.”
CSUSM’s Wyndham anticipates the school’s partnership with Viasat will be long-lasting and mutually beneficial.
“The campus feels very embraced by Viasat – not just the science programs – but really across campus,” she said. “We hope Viasat also feels as embraced by us.”
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