Reflecting on 10 Years as iSchool Director
“Some of the top highlights have been the experiences I’ve had with the people in our program.”
Sandra Hirsh, PhD
Associate Dean for Academics
College of Professional and Global Education
San José State University
San José, California
After 10 years as the director of the School of Information (iSchool), Dr. Sandra Hirsh took a job as the associate dean for academics with the College of Professional and Global Education (CPGE) at San José State University. The CPGE (of which iSchool is a part) is a newly academic college and that means the position presents a rare opportunity, according to Hirsh, “you don’t get the opportunity to start from scratch very often in a university.” While she’ll still get to support the iSchool from behind the scenes, it is a marked shift from her role as the “face of the iSchool” and the direct involvement with the community.
Excellence in Online Education
There has been a lot of change in the educational landscape during Dr. Hirsh’s time as iSchool director. When she first started, offering an exclusively online program was not very common. The iSchool often did things differently and had different needs than the parent university (SJSU). Over time, however, these needs have grown closer together as more general learning has moved online (particularly now that all learning has moved online in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic), and the iSchool has provided a successful model for online learning throughout the past decade.
Since the beginning, Dr. Hirsh made it a priority for the iSchool to deliver excellent online education, recognizing that “not all online education programs are created equal.” In 2014, the Masters of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program was “selected by the Online Learning Consortium to receive the Outstanding Online Program award. This recognition by a national body as the most outstanding online program across all disciplines” along with the other awards the iSchool has received over the years, serves as a great validation of the success of these efforts.
Additionally, the development of the Center for Information Research and Innovation, and the student-run, open access, peer-reviewed Student Research Journal have been highlights in Hirsh’s tenure as iSchool director, providing the opportunity to support the stellar research being done by the iSchool students and faculty.
Although “it’s hard to pick when you reflect over ten years,” said Hirsh, she identified two things that she would classify as her greatest achievements as iSchool director: the implementation of ongoing professional development opportunities for those who are already in the field and the increase of scholarship funds for students.
“When I started, we had degree-granting programs, but we had no professional development offerings. There was nothing that was available to a librarian or information professional who wanted to continue their learning or to retool to learn new things in a field that’s changing as rapidly as ours. There wasn’t much that the iSchool was doing to support our alumni in the field.” To fill this void, there are now certificate programs, open classes for non-matriculated students, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), as well as the Library 2.0 Virtual Conference series, partnerships with the ALA and LYRASIS for e-learning opportunities and a myriad of webinars and webcasts that are open to anyone who is interested.
Another one of her greatest achievements has been “dramatically increasing the amount of student scholarship monies.” In the past five years, there has been an increase of about $200k in school-supported scholarships available for iSchool students. The establishment of the Director’s Scholarship for Excellence and the Special Sessions Scholarships for new and continuing students, as well as funding for student travel to conferences, has had a profound impact on students. “I read all the thank you letters, so I know what a difference these scholarships make. In addition to the scholarships easing their financial burden of pursuing a graduate degree, scholarships help validate the student’s choices. Students frequently mention how being awarded a scholarship from our school confirmed for them that they had made the right career choice and that they had also made the right school choice as well.”
Celebrating the Community
The community is the biggest part Dr. Hirsh will miss, and community figures most prominently in her reflections on her time with iSchool. Getting to meet students and alumni at the iSchool booths, receptions and conferences, including engaging with students and alumni to discuss their Community Impact Posters during iSchool conference receptions, and “working with the great iSchool team on a day-to-day basis. I loved working closely with Dr. Linda Main as my associate director, the amazing iSchool staff and the rest of the iSchool community of faculty, students and alumni.”
Dr. Hirsh is very proud of the impact that students and alumni have had on the LIS field and appreciated any opportunity to recognize and honor the students and community. She noted that it was “always a highlight, every year, to celebrate our graduating students through our synchronous virtual convocations” and getting to meet and celebrate in person with the students who made their way to campus to participate in the college graduation. She has enjoyed every opportunity to celebrate “in the success of our alumni and students and the differences they are making in their communities.”