Visiting Atlanta: Georgia Tech and Emory University

Monday, June 13, 2022 - On the campus of Georgia Tech, Future U. host Michael Horn and guest host Aimée Eubanks Davis talk with Georgia Tech's President Ángel Cabrera, Emory University's President Greg Fenves, and members of both communities on strengthening student wellbeing, the role of an urban campus, and the impact of research universities.

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Jeff Selingo:

Before the pandemic, it was increasingly clear that university campuses in major Metro areas supercharged the so-called network effects of higher education. With employers, culture and just their overall density, cities were enjoying a big advantage in recruiting students and helping launch them into careers. As recently as 2019, more than half of the nation's college students attended a campus in Metro areas with more than one million people. Of course, at the beginning of the pandemic, whether that trend would remain seemed, to put it mildly, uncertain.

Jeff Selingo:

On the latest episode of the Future U Campus Tour, my co-host Michael Horn and our guest co-host Aimée Eubanks Davis of Braven, travel to a city that has long been among one of the hottest with new college graduates, Atlanta. There at Georgia Tech, they sat down with the President of Tech, Ángel Cabrera, as well as the President of nearby Emory University, Greg Fenves, as the two presidents and a subsequent panel from Georgia Tech and Emory dug into the conversations around student wellness, research and development, the importance of location in the Atlanta Metro area stood out as a common denominator for this episode of Future U.

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Jeff Selingo:

Unfortunately, I couldn't be in Atlanta for the latest stop on the Future U campus tour because of an untimely COVID diagnosis, so Michael Horn was joined by a guest co-host, Aimée Eubanks Davis of Braven, a nonprofit that helps low income students transition from college to career. Michael and Aimée first sat down with Ángel Cabrera and Greg Fenves, the presidents of Georgia Tech and Emory University. Ángel has been president of Georgia Tech since 2019, before that, he was president for seven years at Georgia Mason University in Virginia. He earned his master's and PhD from Georgia Tech, he's also the first native of Spain to serve as president of an American university. Fenves arrived at Emory a year after Cabrera, in 2020, so in many ways, they're both pandemic-era presidents of their institutions. Fenves was previously president of the University of Texas at Austin, from 2015 to 2020. So here's Michael, Aimée, and the latest Future U Campus Tour in Atlanta.

Michael Horn:

Welcome to Future U, Ángel and Greg, thank you both for being here. In our time together, Aimée and I want to go deep on three topics, the first being student wellness, then urbanization and finally research.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

So I want to ask the first question, which is around student wellness and in particular, around belonging and purpose. We have been through quite a couple of years, and it would just be great to hear what you're doing, first Greg, at Emory, to help make sure that your students feel like they belong and have a purpose on your campus.

Greg Fenves:

Well, that's very important for us at Emory and our students, and we learned a lot through COVID. And one of the things I realized is I think we took the on campus in person learning experience for granted, because we'd always done it, we're just used to it, it's the way we did things, and the absence of it showed the importance of it. So as we started bringing all the students back in phases in fall of 2020, and then all the students back in the beginning of 2021, we had orientation for every student, not just first-year orientation, we had second-year orientation, third- year orientation, and for some of the seniors, we had orientation for them to get oriented back to what it meant to be back on campus in an exciting environment. And through that process, we started thinking more deeply about student wellness, it's become maybe a little bit of a buzzword now because we're all recognizing the importance of it.

Greg Fenves:

And so just to be really brief, we have conceived this, our approach is we want every student on campus by the time they graduate to be able to answer two questions for themselves. The first question is, what do I want to be? What are their plans after they graduate? What kind of jobs, careers do they envision themselves having? And how does their education and how do their campus experiences contribute to that? Every college wants a student to answer the question, what do they want to be? But there's a second question we want every one of our students to answer, and that is who do I want to be? Who do I want to be as a person? And that is finding, for each student, finding what their values are, learning from others, discovering a purpose, sometimes they go down one path, find out that's not really who they are, but through, again, the education and the campus experiences.

Greg Fenves:

And then some of the programs we're starting to pilot, help students understand who they are as a person. And so by the time they graduate, they have a deeper understanding of who they are as a person. What they want to be will change over their career, who they want to be should be something that's pretty deep and pretty constant for each student.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

We'll see if we have time, we might come back to what you're doing on that front, it sounds very interesting and innovative. So Ángel, I'm going to add a little bit more to this question, a million students in the last couple years made the decision not to come into a higher education, even at the BA-granting institutions. So I'd love to hear here at Georgia Tech, what are you all doing around sense of belonging and sense of purpose, and do you think that million young people that made this decision not to pursue a higher ed degree, does that have to do with them feeling like maybe they wouldn't belong or wouldn't find a sense of purpose?

Ángel Cabrera:

Well, these are great and complex questions. I mean, one of the things that we've learned, just like Greg was saying, one of the things we've learned during COVID there was this idea that the internet, remember when the internet started, it was going to be the great equalizer, it was going to provide universal access to education, universal access to information, is going to give everybody the same opportunity. When we had to send students home in March of 2020, we realized the fallacy of that. It turned out that when you're on campus in old-fashioned, traditional campuses of the kind we used to criticize before the pandemic, like Georgia Tech, Emory, and so many others, it turns out when you're there, you're sleeping the same dorm, you have access to the same labs, the same computers, the same wifi, you eat the same food, you develop the same relationships.

Ángel Cabrera:

When we sent students home, we sent them to entirely different realities, and some of our students in rural areas of the city where there was very poor, if any, access to the internet, or we sent them to poorer neighborhoods in our very city, where maybe there's so much dense city of human beings in a home that you don't even have a space where you can isolate and separate and take your classes. So we discovered, like Greg was saying, that there were aspects of the campus experience that are A, they're equalizing, they're putting people on the same footing and B, are essential for aspects of our education that, I agree, we used to not value as much as we should. In their aspects of the education of an 18 to a 22-year-old, when you go to a college, when you have a residential experience that are just not possible to deliver in any other way, I mean, there might be substitutes of aspects of it, but not in other ways.

Ángel Cabrera:

So we have learned a ton, but people thought, oh, you've learned how to use technology. We said, "Well, yes, there's been some improvement in how we use technology, but I think we've learned a ton about how important the campus is." We have a new position in Georgia Tech, in our administration, is the Vice President of Student Engagement and Wellbeing. That's the official title, Student Engagement and Wellbeing. And we struggled with how to call that position, and we thought, well, let's use the two outcomes that we expect. We expect students to have a sense of, we know that engagement on campus is one of the best predictors of performance, some parents are concerned that if they're children engage in too many activities, that's going to conflict with academic performance. It turns out that the more engaged you are on campus, the better you tend to do in wellbeing.

Ángel Cabrera:

And this is a tough one for Georgia Tech, our tradition and our history is a tough one. In fact, if you talk to a graduate, even as early as the '90s, they don't say, "I graduated from Georgia Tech," they say, "I got out." And there's kind of this culture that we've inherited of toughness, you come to Georgia Tech, it's going to be really, really hard, you're going to have to work as you've never worked, and one day you'll be glad you went through it. It's not like we're trying to make Georgia Tech anymore rigorous, but we have an added goal. Not only we want you to be the best you can be in your profession, we want, and we hope when you graduate from Georgia Tech, you'll have developed life skills that will help you lead healthy, fulfilling lives. And this has to be the place where you practice those, where you learn to take care of your body, of your mind, where you develop those practices that carry on with you.

Ángel Cabrera:

So it is the hardest, one of the hardest aspects in our strategic plan, because in a way, it challenges a sort of a core aspect of our historic DNA, but it's hugely important.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

I'm curious, online and hybrid, do you think student wellbeing is a part of that over time, do you all see your institutions continuing some of that?

Greg Fenves:

So I think we've learned about technology, certainly our students have experience, our faculty. If I had taken a poll of Emory faculty in early 2020, how many of them had taught online, there'd be no hands or very few hands, and now everybody has some experience. And there are going to be some, I think, some roles for it, but ultimately, I do believe learning is a human experience that cannot be done, mediated through technology. Now there's certainly specific skills, being able to see a lecture over again, to be able to go through different speeds of it, there are lots of advantages to that. But it's not going to replace the in person learning experience, the collective experience of learning in addition to each individual student learning.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

That's great.

Ángel Cabrera:

I have a slightly different perspective on this, for the sake of the podcast.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

And this is Georgia Tech?

Ángel Cabrera:

Georgia tech. So because we do both and we're very proud of, so we have a powerful undergraduate experience, which has all the elements of really a transformative learning experience. We can go back to your initial question of the million people who are choosing not to go to college, because I think it's a terrible mistake, by the way, and I want to make that clear. And I tend to hear pundits make the argument that you don't need to go to college, and every single one of them has gone to a very nice school, every single one of them will make sure their own children go to a very nice university. So when they say you don't need to go to college, it means other people's children don't need to go to college, mine, of course, do.

Ángel Cabrera:

So I feel slightly strongly about that, because I, like many people in this room and maybe we have had our own lives transformed by higher education. I would not be doing what I'm doing, not even close if I had not had access. So I think that the question and the issue we have to resolve is how to provide more access to higher education, not discarded as having lack of value. Now, having said that and being a very strong defendant of the super transformative experience that an undergraduate student has when they show up on our campus, we're equally proud of the 16, 17,000 professionals who are currently earning their masters from Georgia Tech, 100% online. And there's no contradiction in those two statements because we're serving a different purpose.

Ángel Cabrera:

I mean, these are professionals, a banker in Colorado, who's the mother of two and who is trying to move up in her career, who just simply cannot drop what she's doing and go full time to any college, who now can sign up for the masters, the online masters in computer science at Georgia Tech, for $7,000 plus and get her degree from one of the top computer science programs with the same standards of quality, with the same guidance from the same faculty, and that simply would not be available without the online. So those things are not contradictory, what we're learning is that there are different vehicles that may serve different purposes for different populations, and we're becoming smarter about figuring out what to use when and for what.

Michael Horn:

So I want to stay though on this topic of place in the first front, for the undergraduate population specifically, and not just the campus, but think about the larger surroundings. So much of higher ed's value proposition is connected to the physical space in a specific geographic location. Early in the pandemic, Jeff Selingo's not here so we can pick on him, and for those that don't know, it's because he has COVID, so he sends his regrets that he couldn't be here. But he wrote this piece that was headlined, “A Crisis for Urban Universities” with Richard Florida, and like many of the early pandemic predictions, I think, seems that they were wrong. They basically argued that maybe this great advantage that urban institutions had prior to the pandemic, would not be significant going forward.

Michael Horn:

Edward Glaser, of course, the urban economist, has said that cities in face to face contact have quote, "this essential learning component that is valuable and crucial for workers in particular who are young." So I want to start with you, Ángel, Georgia Tech and Emory seem to be booming, Atlanta seems to be booming, was the demise of the urban research university, that prediction just plain wrong?

Ángel Cabrera:

It may have been at least slightly premature. Not only Atlanta is thriving, I would argue that Emory would not be what it is if it weren't for Georgia Tech, Georgia State, and because of the full ecosystem. I can definitely tell you, Georgia Tech would not be what it is without those resources around us. Atlanta, we're very proud, the other day we toured with Mayor Dickens, we took a photo with our colleague, Brian Blake, President of Georgia State, and the two of us and the mayor and we bragged on social media like, how many cities have three R one institutions, in the city, not Metro area, state, cities? Well, we found the answer to that, there are only three, New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Ángel Cabrera:

And then on top of those three R ones, you have an amazing set of HBCUs, some of the most legendary brands among HBCUs, and we have other private colleges that create an incredibly rich ecosystem. Proximity, density of talent has created the foundation. And the reason why Google just opened up a whole tower across the street, why Microsoft chose to open what's going to be in their words, their second largest hub, two miles from our campus, and why so many institutions are choosing to come to Atlanta. And when they're coming to Atlanta, these are decisions made last week, last month, not years ago, they're not going to the suburbs, they want be here, they want to be next to Emory, they want to be next to Georgia State, they want to be next to Georgia Tech. So I do think that the demise of the city has been slightly exaggerated.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

Yeah.

Greg Fenves:

I'll give Jeff a break, I think that article was written in May of 2020.

Michael Horn:

Yes, correct.

Greg Fenves:

And I probably could have written a similar article because we just were facing so many unknowns. There was so much uncertainty about how we, as a nation, we as a state, city and certainly at universities, were going to get through this. So I do think it was certainly premature and hopefully wrong. If you just look at the history of cities and of course, Richard Florida has spent his career doing this, they are incredibly resilient. You look at Atlanta, Chicago, New York, any major city, Los Angeles, and what you see in these cities now is completely different than 20 years ago, and it's going to be completely different in 20 years. There's just a resiliency that happens when you get so many people living together, generating ideas, generating economy, creating culture, that's so important to a city.

Greg Fenves:

And Ángel and I have talked a lot about this, cities that have universities like ours, universities like the AUC here just a few miles away, they are going to have a vibrancy that's incredibly special, because I believe people want to be at universities that are in these dynamic, vibrant, diverse environments. And I don't think there's any city in the United States like Atlanta, with all of those characteristics.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

So my organization Braven, helps students who are first in their families to go to college, often on the Pell Grant or underrepresented minorities in the professional workforce, come out of college and get a strong first job in which they earn an entire dollar instead of 66 cents on the dollar. So Spelman College is a huge partner of ours, every single Spelman woman is a part of the Braven experience. I'm just curious, when you think about, and Greg, you talked about this a little bit earlier, so maybe we'll start with you, how are you preparing, I would say in particular, young people who don't come from privileged backgrounds where there's a hidden social capital network in the professional workforce for jobs?

Greg Fenves:

Well, I've spent a lot of my leadership career exactly addressing these issues with first gen students, first in their family to go to college, partly because I think that is the American dream, and that is so important to this country. My wife's first in her family to go to college and I've seen the impact that it had on her, her family and in her community. So the first step is you have to recruit the students, that has to be intentional, at public universities, that's, I think, a very important aspect of it. I've only been at Emory two years, but that was one of the first things I looked at Emory, are they recruiting first-gen students, and they are. The second is you have to recognize these are talented students, but they don't have the experience and the social capital that students who come from families, who many have older siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, have gone to college, maybe even the same college, and so they know the ropes.

Greg Fenves:

And so you have to be prepared with all your student support, your services, the faculty have to be ready to be able to understand how to educate these students, because they're going to be different than maybe students that they had seen before. So it's not just enough to admit the student, it's do you have the tools in place for them to use that opportunity to be successful? And then the third aspect is you have to recognize you're also educating a family, many students, their parents don't really want them to go to college for lots of reasons, and so you have to involve the parents and the family, because it really is important for the entire family, not just the student.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

That's great. Ángel, what about you? And I'd also love to hear, we're going to wrap this up so we can turn it over to the audience, is there an issue that we haven't talked about in terms of student wellness and belonging? 

Ángel Cabrera:

Well, first all, well, I congratulate you on your organization. If we were doing our job right, you should be out of business and you are not out of business, in fact, we need many people like you doing what you do, which means that we need to do better. And I appreciate, I think, what your organization does, not just to serve students, but to also call people's attention on the fact that there is inequity. So I'm a first-generation student, so I've gone through this path myself. You have a huge disadvantage when you don't have that social capital at home, when you don't have parents whose experiences can offer some guidance, who can pick up the phone and call a friend or someone who will know, you just have a huge disadvantage.

Ángel Cabrera:

When a low-income student from a rural part of the state makes it to Georgia Tech, that's already a pretty huge leap, unfortunately it shouldn't be, but it is. I mean, for you to beat the odds and actually make admissions requirements and come here. If that student, on top of that, making their way to Georgia Tech, is doing well academically, and somehow we fail to position that student on the same level playing field to start their career, there's something wrong in the system. So very importantly, and I think that's something relatively new for us, is that we now have specific programs for first-generation students with that name. And by the way, these are programs where the students come together, they get a t-shirt, you get a sense of pride. I am a first-generation student, I go, I visit with them and say, "I too, was a first-generation student. Not only is it not something to be ashamed of, actually that gives you extra points, you don't have all the advantages that others have and you're making ..."

Ángel Cabrera:

So recognizing that there's a population out there that actually starts at a disadvantage, and then how do you create community? We started a program in the middle of COVID, even recruiting among our alumni, mentors in the community. People, you can go grab a cup of coffee and you have to somehow put on your suit and your tie and go and have coffee or lunch with a professional right there in tech square, and sit down and talk about what you're doing. It forces you to start having those kinds of conversations to think about what might be possible. Make sure that students don't miss the boat on their internships, that they use the summers well, and someone has to be on top of you saying, "You have to get an internship." I mean, you know this business because that's what you do. So I think what's important is that colleges like ours, that we recognize how hugely important that is and that we do our part, but thank you.

Michael Horn:

Last question from us then, which is around research. I'm curious if during the pandemic you've seen research, both the topics that you're choosing to research and the way researchers have worked together, both within the institution and across institutions, how that has changed and what the lasting impact might be, Ángel?

Ángel Cabrera:

So yes, it has had a huge, and in my view, very positive impact in the very, very quickly. So what happened at Georgia Tech and I'm sure something similar has happened in other research universities, is very quickly our faculty in mechanical engineering, in biomedical engineering, in policy, in industrial engineering, in physics, in math, all of a sudden everybody's asking, "How can I help? Everything that I know, how can my expertise help?" We had mechanical engineers at the beginning, when we needed personal protective equipment, designing, 3D printing, finding manufacturers in Georgia that were idle at the time, to say, "Why don't you produce this stuff?" Eventually hundreds of thousands of pieces were, then it was respirators, then it was, of course, vaccines.

Ángel Cabrera:

There is a project that we actually have done together through our biomedical, when you do your quick, your do at home COVID test, all the tests, the ones that you get from the government, all those tests have been tested, user tested by Emory and Georgia Tech and our colleagues at Children's Hospital, because we actually have to test everything to make sure they work. So this, what I think it did was help every faculty member think about the impact of the research. So we're right now, trying to figure out how to get ourselves organized to create event centers for frugal innovation and rapid innovation, because it's different than solving longer term engineering problems. Can we create methodologies that when the next crisis hits, we can all come together?

Ángel Cabrera:

So I think that it's not that that wasn't there before, but it's the sense of attention to why and how what I do matters, how I can be part of the solution. I mean, our testing, all of our testing, COVID testing was done in-house at Georgia Tech. We had computer science folks, we had GTRI, we had everybody come together to make it happen, so I hope we don't lose that. Honestly, all the pain that the pandemic caused, I hope that that sense of purpose, of meaning, of how essential science is, when things get really, really scary, all we had to rely on was science. Hopefully all that's a lesson also for society, that may have looked at science with a little bit of skepticism before COVID. So I'm hoping that some of those lessons are there to stay.

Michael Horn:

Greg, final word.

Greg Fenves:

Well, this pandemic was, maybe this is not the right way to say it, was right in Emory's wheelhouse. So infectious diseases is one of the strengths in our health sciences, our public health, and certainly in Emory Healthcare, our clinical care system here in Atlanta. Number of years ago, when Ebola was affecting Africa, Emory, it was the first hospital in the United States to treat an Ebola patient then. There was a lot of fear, I wasn't here at the time, but I understand a lot of fear of bringing an Ebola patient into Emory, into Atlanta, into an Emory hospital. And as a result of that, created a whole special infectious diseases unit about how to handle infectious diseases, very involved with the SARS and the predecessors to COVID-19. And so Emory was very well positioned across all aspects, such as vaccines.

Greg Fenves:

And our Emory vaccine center had done some of the foundational research on mRNA, and it's a great research story that mRNA research has been going on for 20 years. People thought it was a waste of time, it would have no application, it could never be used, but it was the right technology, the right time, with some actually bioengineers figuring out how to get RNA into the bloodstream before it decomposed, and of course, it helps get us through the pandemic. We're very proud in terms of the clinical testing of the vaccines, remember back to late 2020, early 2021, nobody knew if these vaccines would work. There were great concerns about the impact on African Americans, on Hispanic communities. So Emory Healthcare and our partnership with Grady Memorial Hospital had the largest, most diverse trials for the mRNA vaccines, to be able to get the data, the real data, to understand how these vaccines worked in a wide number of patients.

Greg Fenves:

And then through innovation that was taking place in real time, our hospital, Emory Hospitals, through a meta study that we didn't do, had the highest survival rates of COVID patients on ventilation, and so 93, 94%, and it was the highest of hospitals in this country and around the world. And that was all real time innovation, experimentation, working under very, very stressful conditions with great hazards to physicians, to nurses, to the medical personnel. So we're really proud of how we responded and that's not even getting into the public health issues. And how do we address skepticism and mistrust of science? What is science? What does that mean? How do you translate that into policy? How do you make decisions? How do you communicate it? And these are all active issues that we need to be working on.

Michael Horn:

Perfect. Greg, Ángel, thank you very much.

Greg Fenves:

Thank you.

Michael Horn:

And with that, we'll take a brief break and be right back on Future U.

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Aimée Eubanks Davis:

Welcome back to Future U. So as we come back from break, we're super excited about our four panelists. I want to welcome Dean Charles Isbell, College of Computing at Georgia Tech, Dr. Joy Harris, Director of Engineering for Social Innovation Center and faculty member here at Georgia Tech, and also Dr. Eric Weeks, the Director of the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence and Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs at Emory University, and Razan Roberts, Senior Director Strategic Engagement and Communications at Salesforce.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

I want to start with the key topic that we were just discussing with the presidents, around student wellness and wellbeing. Of course, each of you has seen this through your own lens, on your campuses or as an employer. So Charles, I'd love to start with you, we'd love to know what you think of this whole notion of belonging and purpose and student wellbeing.

Charles Isbell:

Well, of course, it's central to what it means to be a part of a university, but I think the crucial thing here that we always have to keep in mind, is that you're building a community. So when you talk about student wellness, you're not just talking about the student, you're talking about staff wellness, you're talking about faculty wellness. You're talking about building a community where everyone feels that they're a part of it, and they're walking in the same direction, whether they're going to be here for four or five years as an undergrad, they're going to be here for one or two years as a master's student, or whether they're going to be here for a 20 or 30 year career as a staff member or faculty member, and that crucial notion of community really matters.

Charles Isbell:

Earlier, we were talking about a lot of things and we went back and forth to what it would mean to be online, for example. Well, we have somewhere between 17 and 19,000 students who are online for our various graduate programs, from all walks of life, all 24 time zones, all over the world, with very different backgrounds and very different experiences, and yet they build a sense of community. And what we do to help them do that as they find each other, is we try to find ways of supporting that community that they're finding for themselves. The goal is not for the university to be the mom and the dad that makes certain that every moment of your life is safe, that's not what wellness is. It's to provide an environment and a community where you can be your best, where you can, and I'll put it, practice what it means to be resilient, practice what it means to be a part of a community, and that involves everyone having a stake in that.

Charles Isbell:

So for me, the question of belonging is crucial, the question of mental health is crucial, but really that's another way of talking about building a community where everyone feels that they are a part of it and have a voice.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

That's great. Eric, what about you, from your seat at Emory?

Eric Weeks:

So I'm a faculty member and I'm also doing faculty development in my administrative role, and so I'm thinking of this from a faculty point of view. I think the pandemic has taught faculty to be more compassionate, to be more flexible, to be more thoughtful about the different experiences students are having and how they can try and make their course less stressful, without lowering the rigor. And so I hope that we carry that forward and that helps with student belonging.

Eric Weeks:

The other piece is that we're trying to tell faculty that if a student comes to you and says that they're experiencing mental distress, that your first reaction does not need to be, "You need to go talk to the counseling center. I can't talk to you," but that there's a room for faculty to lean in and be compassionate and say, "Tell me more. Is my class something that is stressing you, or is it something more general?" And then often if a student's coming to a faculty member, it's because they want to talk to you because they see you as somebody they can talk with. And if the faculty are more willing to listen and be a human in the moment, I think that really helps student belongingness and mental health.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

Joy, we'd love to hear from your seat as a professor and a professor, at least in my opinion, of hard subject matter.

Joyelle Harris:

What I see with student wellbeing is that our students, I teach a first year seminar, for example, and they come into the first-year seminar, really assuming that they're supposed to be stressed. They assume that if they are not stressed out, if they're not worried, if they're not on the verge of a breakdown, that something is wrong. I've had students tell me that. And so I feel like our goal is really to help them understand, you're building tools for life, as has been said, college doesn't end and then life begins, you're at this point, developing a lifestyle for mental health, for mental wellbeing. And you should not go through life feeling like if I'm not on the verge of a mental breakdown, then something is wrong. And so helping our students to navigate that, I feel like it's faculty members that's the first step.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

Yeah. Razan, so I'm going to change this up slightly for you, because you're seeing students often on the back end of school as an employer and you have a bird's eye view across the country of what schools are doing, and you're supporting these efforts through the technology that comes clearly into the schools, but also what happens after. What are you hearing from today, in terms of what students could learn as they think about the future?

Razan Fasheh-Roberts:

What we really are seeing on the macro level, is that those institutions that are providing what I'm going to call the true culture of care, are seeing better results on that front. And I want to step back and then I want to talk about what I mean by through a culture of care. On the macro level, anxiety, student anxiety has always been an issue, the pandemic obviously brought it to the forefront, and I want to kind of stress on how massive this issue is. At Salesforce, we did a survey just towards the end of 2020. We surveyed 1,100 students and 1,000 faculty members and staff, 76% of students said, this is number one, top of mind for them, and 73% of staff said the same thing.

Razan Fasheh-Roberts:

Now, it's important to talk about this mental health thing or wellbeing manifests itself in many ways, it's the death in the family, and that's what we gathered from the survey. It's the financial issues. It's even loneliness, or even just anxiety, to your point, around the course they're attending or something like that. Now what it all boils down to is issues with retention, issues with graduation, issues with the student life all up. The good news is that presidents of universities have that issue as top-of-mind, and American Council on Education, their latest service that 72% of presidents have that issue as their number one issue. Now, what are we seeing, this true culture of care that is making a difference, what are these? There's a few things on my mind that I want to list kind of, that we're seeing, that are making an impact.

Razan Fasheh-Roberts:

First one is around awareness and stigma, peer to peer programs, peer to peer support, students telling each other that it's actually okay not to feel well, it's actually okay to go and seek help. It isn't any different from breaking a leg or breaking an arm, you go to the hospital, it isn't any different than that. That's making a difference. The other point that's making a difference is around scale, around the design of  wellbeing, integrating it within the curriculum, resiliency skills, you talked about resiliency, resiliency skills, stress management skills, so students can actually learn how to deal with the basics by themselves, before they go and seek help.

Razan Fasheh-Roberts:

Third issue is digital first advising, career advising, financial advising, wellbeing advising, academic advising, make it easier. I think someone talked about the adult learner, they don't have time, I think President Cabrera did that, they don't have time. They're not going to go to campus to schedule an appointment, make it easier for them, have advising come to them wherever they are. That third issue is making a difference. Fourth issue is wellbeing and belonging, personalizing every communication that goes to them. They're used to that, particularly gen Z, they're used to Netflix giving them recommendations and Amazon giving them recommendations, that they expect a similar thing. They expect their institution to know them, to know their interest, to know their hobbies and to know a lot more about them.

Michael Horn:

So I want to get into the other topic that we talked about with the presidents, around this pendulum around urbanization and then not, and then again, perhaps in college campuses, and the sense that there was mounting evidence before the pandemic, certainly, that students were increasingly valuing being on an urban campus for their college choice. It was beneficial for their futures, for building social capital, for the schools themselves. The pandemic hit, a lot of us thought, not just Jeff, that this might change, and it seems to be swinging back perhaps the other way now, where it's an environment. So I'm curious, your takes on that, will it be a significant advantage for college campuses going forward or not? Charles, what's your view of this, in particular with the urban element of whether that is a difference maker still for campuses or is it not as big a deal as maybe some of us are making it out to be?

Charles Isbell:

Oh, I think it's a huge deal. I think that if we were concerned about universities and urban areas sort of falling off the map, then what we'd be really worried about is cities falling off the map. People want to be in cities for reasons, the sort of scale that you get from being there is sort of a central attractor of cities, almost by definition. But if you're in a university, I think the crucial thing, and you've heard it in both of the answers so far, is community, it's being a part of a larger community. And what does it mean to do community engagement? We can think about it in a narrow sense of I've got a program with the west side or I'm working with this particular company over here, but engagement really means being a part of the larger community that is the city and the surrounding areas.

Charles Isbell:

So for example, it is important, at least to me, that Georgia Tech is not just an urban campus. I was an undergrad here, and the first thing they told us was if you had a one megaton nuclear bomb and you wanted to do the maximum damage to the city of Atlanta, you would drop it on the east side of Atlanta, welcome to Georgia Tech. So but that meant that a large part of what Georgia Tech was, was being in the center of the city, and as time has gone on and we've crossed over the highway and been a part of Midtown and been a part of our neighbors on the West End, which is where I grew up, you find that you are integrated and woven into the city, that's what it means to be engaged. Georgia Tech, Emory, any university that is worth salt inside of a city, does not see itself as just an economic engine, it sees itself as a citizen, engaged with all of the people and bringing them on.

Charles Isbell:

I think a thing that you've heard again and again, along with community, is a notion of access. So whether people are students here, whether they're staff or whether they're faculty, whether they're employed here, they should still feel that this is a space that they can be a part of. When you look out that window over there, well, you see trees because we're the world's largest urban forest, but if we could move the trees out the way, you would see Google, you would see NCR, you would see Coca-Cola, you would see Home Depot, you would see Microsoft. What we ask them to do when they engage with us, is not just to be an economic engine, not just to think about recruiting, but to be a part of the conversations of what it means to be a part of the city.

Charles Isbell:

So I think that so long as universities are seeing themselves as being engaged in a conversation with all of the people, not just on campus, but all of the entities and constituencies outside campus, this will always be a place where people will want to be, because where else are you going to get that kind of interaction, and that kind of, if I dare say it, sense of belonging?

Eric Weeks:

And one quick addition, what Charles just said and what Joy said, also, I think this ties back to the first question, which is what you just ended with, this is also part of student belongingness. All these advantages of an urban environment are advantages that can lead to senses of purpose and student senses of wellbeing and sense of belonging to something larger than themselves.

Michael Horn:

Razan, what's your take on this as you look across?

Razan Fasheh-Roberts:

Well, I wonder if you remove the trees, you see the Salesforce tower too, or not. But I think about this question in two different ways. The first one is us, obviously Salesforce as employers, and if you think about us, we're consumers of the higher education product and the higher education product, the future leader, the future critical thinker, the future student with the right skills to join a company and be productive. At Salesforce in specific, we have through IDC research, by 2026, the Salesforce ecosystem, meaning us, our partners and our customers, are going to generate 9.3 million job opportunities by 2026. Without universities like Georgia Tech, like Emory, like many others here, I mean, we will never be able to fill the pipe of the talent that we need to fill the ecosystem. So that's one, if you think about our towers and we talked about Atlanta here, they're all in urban areas where there are university campuses, New York, San Francisco, Sydney, London, and I'm probably blanking on a lot more, they're all in urban areas.

Razan Fasheh-Roberts:

One of the reasons isn't because Google and Microsoft is here, it's because universities and colleges are here and because talent is here. So that's one area to think about it. The other area from my point of view, is that there's kind of value from the campus, at least the way we're seeing it on the macro level, there's value on the campus for the student who is getting out of high school because they need the academic rigor. In addition to that, they need the coming of age experiences in a more friendly way, which is the campus, the urban campus. While the adult learner, and I know COVID disrupted so many lives, millions of people, those might need something different, those might need the online program, those might need the quick skills that they can earn, the stackable credentials, the competency-based, all of these things. But I think there's huge value in the urban campuses for particularly that student who is through coming of age experiences on life.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

So last topic, Joy, I'm just so curious to know, to what Razan was just saying about students. Were you able to keep students engaged in research while the pandemic went on, and if so, what have you learned for the future of keeping them engaged in research?

Joyelle Harris:

Yes, our students were highly engaged in research, they just made me proud. I learned that our students are so resilient and creative. Many of them would've preferred if they could, to have access to our maker spaces and to the equipment on campus that allows them to do different things, but so many of them went into their own garages and built things. They were able to convince their families to buy rudimentary things so that they could do rapid prototyping. A lot of students also did quite a bit virtually online, just using their computer science skills. I had a team of students who built, during the pandemic, a job board for people who have felony convictions because they learned, unfortunately, felony convictions are disproportionately given to particular members of the community, and so they found a way to sift jobs based on either they don't ask or they don't care if you have a felony conviction.

Joyelle Harris:

And we're speaking lucrative jobs, and we were able to give that to a partner organization who is close, we gave the software to Georgia Works, which is a community organization, again, who's local right here. And so just having that experience and then being able to participate in that research and many, many, many others, our students are able to create the future. And that's what I always tell them when they're considering, especially at the undergraduate level, you get to see where the future is going because you're creating it when you're going into the lab and doing this research.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

It's amazing. Charles, same question for you.

Charles Isbell:

Oh, I found that the students have been not just longing for research, but they've continued to engage, and I think that's something that's very special about being in an R one. So every university has its mission, all of those missions are important, you serve the people you serve. But one of the wonderful things about being at a place like this, where you have access to research, is that it's an opportunity to do something and to learn to think in a particular way. When I was an undergrad here-

Michael Horn:

Microphone cut out.

Charles Isbell:

I can't say how long ago it was, it keeps cutting up. But a long time ago, there weren't as many opportunities, but over the last couple of decades or so, we see more and more of that. And I think that that's really important, and I think the students get that it's important, but I don't know that they necessarily understand because I think they see it somewhat transactional. I get to do something cool, I'll get a nice recommendation, I'll have a better chance to get a job. But what you try to teach people, and I think what they eventually grok, is that their tool sets, their skill sets, their mindsets and research is a mindset, it's a way of thinking, it's a way of engaging with the world, whether you're doing it as a computationalist or you're thinking about it as an engineer or as a scientist or through the humanities, it's a way of engaging and a way of thinking.

Charles Isbell:

And the students like that, that's why they want to be here. And it's the thing that they understand will give them a skill, because 10 years from now, whatever it is we teach them, it's going to be obsolete, we'll be moving on to something else. Podcasts didn't even exist 15 seconds ago, and I don't know what's going to be coming next, but those things are going to come next and being able to react to them is going to matter. So we have kept it at least uppermost at our university, to keep those opportunities around for the students, and they have eaten it up like bacon.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

That's great. Eric.

Eric Weeks:

Since you asked about the pandemic, I'm going to give you an anecdote. I'm a physics professor and I had a student who spent her first year of undergraduate in China where she's from, and she was not able to come to the United States. And she reached out to me saying she desperately wanted to do research, could I do anything with her, and I gave her a computational project. And then it was fall 2021 and she could finally come to Atlanta, and it was great to meet her in person and she immediately informed me that the computational project was done, she wanted to be in the lab, hands on. And so we transitioned her to an experimental project, which was great, but it was great to see such excitement about getting engaged with research, no matter the circumstances, that she was in the middle of the night in China having a Coom call with me to go over her simulation.

Eric Weeks:

I think more broadly, I love that students see that research is something that they can do, or maybe they're not doing it because they're busy doing something else, but they see that their friends are doing it. That knowledge is being created on campuses, it's not just something that was done a century ago by Einstein and then they can't do it, but it's being done by undergraduates or graduate students, by faculty, and whether it's in the sciences or in humanities, that there is creation of knowledge that they can be part of. And so whether or not they go on to do that or not, they've seen that that is something that is done by regular people and that it's exciting. So I like that they get that exposure, independent of where they go off afterwards.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

That's awesome.

Michael Horn:

That's a great place to end it. Any questions before Aimée and I wrap up here? So in the back, we have a question there.

Bonnie Fairy:

Hello, I'm Bonnie Fairy. So I have a question about where you see the future of education, in terms of other types of educational experiences beyond a typical classroom type of experience?

Michael Horn:

Can I pick on you Charles?

Charles Isbell:

Sure. So thank you for the question, Bonnie. I think that, well, the future is bright, that I think the important thing is we tend to think about the classroom as the default and that we have to figure out how to duplicate it, the lecture is the way that you communicate, and so we have to figure out how to duplicate it. The right way to think about this is to remember that the goal is to have educational experiences, to learn something, to figure out the mindset of research, to understand what it means to be a part of a community and communicate, those are the central questions, and then the rest is about delivery and making that more likely.

Charles Isbell:

So I think as we invert that question, that we're not starting from the right answer, which is a structure and then duplicating it in some new technological platform, but rather are making the education and the experience central. Then we can step away and decouple it, disaggregate, as we would say, if this were the 2000s, from the mechanisms of delivery, we're going to see more and more options. So we're going to see more things like online masters of sciences that we do here, we're going to see more opportunities for distance learning and communities being created together, even at the high school level, we're going to see that for certainly people who've gone out in the world and they graduated, they want to come back and get a certificate or take a class or just part of a class or just a little bit here or there, we're going to see more and more of those things.

Charles Isbell:

And I think what's going to happen for us as universities, is we're going to have to figure out two things, one, how to deliver on that promise, how to actually make these things available, and two, in such a way that it still reflects whatever our values are. This is not a secondary thing that we are doing because it'll add 1% to our bottom line or because it's a thing that's demanded of us by the state legislatures, but rather that is central to our mission. A thing that we've been circling around in all of these conversations, I think, even going back to the earlier questions, is around access and what our obligation is towards making education available to more people.

Charles Isbell:

And I think these kinds of mechanisms, the ones that you're hinting at about these things beyond the classroom and standard degrees, are really a large part of the answer to the question of access. How do we bring more people into the conversation and allow them to be educated as they go through the arc of their careers? And we're just going to have to be creative about it and creative about it in a way that at the end of the day, they'll still say, "Go Jackets," and other universities, I'm sure.

Michael Horn:

Terrific. First join me in thanking our panelists. And as we wrap up here, host prerogative, first join me in thanking Aimée, for doing a great job guest co-hosting.

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

Thank you, thanks for having me.

Michael Horn:

You get to go first, reflections on the conversation that we've had today?

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

Here are my top three reflections. One, I just think this pandemic has taught us that we are all human and humans need each other. I'm a mom of three children, also a 14-year-old, a number of us have 14-year-olds, and I'm like from a maturation standpoint, as a former sixth grade teacher, turned talent nerd, actually being able to mature into the world of life, the pathway onto campuses is a very important part of the maturation process. The second part, I really do hope that we reflect on and it got talked about in the president's panel, was honestly this million young people who'd made the decision not to come into higher ed, and who are they? Because I do think this prevailing notion of, oh, all of a sudden online created equity, when actually I think we saw deep inequities, sure, not only in the world of the lack of technology in order to get online, etcetera, but actually the lack of access to campuses like these incredible two at Georgia State and Emory, for that group of young people, what can we do?

Aimée Eubanks Davis:

And then finally, my big reflection is around the importance of faculty and the folks on campuses who are creating these amazing experiences for students, but also what we need to do to make sure that they are nursed and fed as well, because that just feeds right back into the system. How about you, Michael?

Michael Horn:

Those are good. So I want to do three as well, but I'm leaning toward four, so I'm just going to go for it. I have my three Cs and then one R. Which the first is culture of care, I really take that seriously, that stems out of there and really the full wraparound we need. But second, community and not just community, but building it intentionally and technology can do that, in person campuses can do that, but we just need to be intentional about it. And I like that line Charles used, that the goal is not to be mom or dad, but to build the resiliency and the sense of agency really in the young people themselves. And then third, the notion of being citizens in a city, in a community for the individuals, for the campuses, for the companies around, it's not just about the economic engine, I think is an important piece of this.

Michael Horn:

And then the last one I had was just the relevance of research right now, and I think that's been born out clearly over the pandemic for people who've been observing and the important role it's played for society, but I hope more students are able to appreciate earlier, frankly, the opportunities at places like Georgia Tech and like Emory, to engage in serious research. And my only reflection is sometimes I think that falls on your social capital coming in as well, knowing whether it's there or not, and being exposed to it. And so how do we have that intentionality there as well?

Michael Horn:

So I think we'll leave it there, but I just want to thank you all in the audience for joining us on Future U today, appreciate it. And a thank you to our sponsor salesforce.org, of course, without which we could not do the campus tour that we've been on. And thank you to our panelists, presidents and thank you to our host, Georgia Tech, for opening up this beautiful facility that is nourishing our planet at a time where we need it. So just thank you to you all, we'll be back next time on Future U.

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