The new president of Portland State University pitched Washington County businesses to take on students as part of a cooperative education program that will offer mutual benefits.
Rahmat Shoureshi, who has been on the job since August, spoke Wednesday (Feb. 14) at a forum sponsored by the Westside Economic Alliance at the Embassy Suites in Tigard.
"From the business perspective, you are not making a lifetime commitment. You are getting the advantage of the skills they will bring," he said.
"From our perspective, students will get experiential learning, so it's not just the classroom. We all know, and so many studies have shown, that experiential learning is the best way to educate.
"Also, it provides them the financial ability to go through school. Instead of working three jobs — and we have so many students in that category, but in jobs that have nothing to do with what they are studying or the future they have — this way we will be able to put them in the right experiential learning."
Shoureshi, whose most recent jobs were at the New York Institute of Technology, said cooperative education is not new. Northeastern University in Boston has had it for more than 100 years.
Under it, a faculty member is a go-between so that each student gets a real chance at learning on the job — for up to 18 months, or two academic years — and each business gets someone who is studying in a specific field. The program starts with second-year students.
"Let me give you an example," Shoureshi said. "If you are a small business, maybe even a large one, you need somebody to maintain and update your website. Guess what? Even some students in high school now can do that. We have students in computers and digital graphics who would be more than happy to do those."
PSU's key person is Erin Flynn, associate vice president for strategic partnerships.
Shoureshi gave a video presentation and spoke, then took part in a conversation with Lesley Hallick, who has been president of Pacific University in Forest Grove since 2009. Hallick was at Oregon Health & Science University for 32 years, the last 20 as its chief academic officer.
Shoureshi said the average age of a Portland State University these days is 27 — many students now start college after working or serving in the armed forces for a few years, instead of coming straight from high school — and already have acquired regular work habits.
"The benefit for businesses (in a co-op program) is that they get to see these people in action for at least two years," he said. "Most likely, they will be the ones they will want to hire afterward because they will have made an investment in them. They will be known quantities for them."
As of fall 2017, PSU's 56 percent of students ages 18-24 ranked just above the 54 percent at the Cascades campus (Bend) of Oregon State University and 41 percent at Oregon Institute of Technology.
In a wide-ranging talk about PSU's future, Shoureshi said PSU — which acquired four-year college status in 1955 and university status in 1969 — is best positioned in Oregon's most populous region to be the economic engine for the region and state.
PSU's more than 27,000 students put it ahead of all four-year public universities except OSU's main campus in Corvallis.
Still, he said, given a decline in direct state support and a greater share of student tuition support, "no university can be everything for everybody."
Shoureshi said it is a false argument about whether a university should concentrate on teaching or research. He said that is why PSU is focusing on developing selected centers of excellence, such as its linkage with the International Space Station — only one of four universities in the nation — healthy living and aging, with Oregon Health & Science University, and advanced manufacturing.
Developing such centers, he said, can draw government, foundation and private grants that can enhance learning opportunities for students.
"We are educating the next generation, but doing research is part of that education," he said.
"If the faculty are not engaged in research, they could easily get obsolete. For the students coming to their classrooms, we will be doing a disservice to them."