President’s corner: Cynthia Teniente-Matson roots SJSU downtown to secure its future

"There's a lot of opportunity that lends itself to being a university president in this very dynamic geography that gives us a sense of hope and innovation given that we are at the cusp of this reimagined world," she says.

Picture this: You’re flying into San Jose International Airport, gliding past downtown San Jose. As you look out the window, you notice on top of a building a gold and blue emblem shining across the night sky reading “SJSU.” On the drive to your hotel or residence, the streets are bannered with spartan helmets, letting you know that you’re visiting not only San Jose but San Jose State University itself.

If it were up to President Cynthia Teniente-Matson, SJSU’s presence across downtown would have been done yesterday.

SJSU is the oldest university on the West Coast and the founding campus of California State University. As historic as it is, the campus neighbors the world’s most cutting-edge region in Silicon Valley, which finds itself at the cusp of a new frontier with AI. As the city of San Jose and its flagship university embrace new economic and market challenges, President Teniente-Matson is focused on integrating the two so they mutually thrive.

“There’s a lot of opportunity that lends itself to being a university president in this very dynamic geography that gives us a sense of hope and innovation given that we are at the cusp of this reimagined world,” she says.

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Improving student housing

In a booming tech hub, President Teniente-Matson likes to think of SJSU as the original startup. And as startups go, SJSU is continually focused on embracing new ideas and emerging trends, like the proliferation of online learning. Thanks to its robust online infrastructure, its student population is about 36,000 students and 4,000 faculty.

Despite the university’s virtual presence, San Jose and the surrounding Bay Area are among the country’s most expensive. The university desperately needs affordable housing options for its students and faculty and is looking to retrofit a pair of downtown buildings to meet the demand.

The first one, a 134,000-square-foot State of California office building, was granted to SJSU thanks to a law signed in 2021. But owning the land is only the first step. Spending to refurnish the entire building with a contemporary internet connection, competitive student amenities and enough beds for 500 community members is estimated at $750 million for now.

The university recently signed a $113 million “landmark agreement” with Fairmont Hotel to create a 700-bed student residence hall. The money goes directly back into the city and assists a hotel struggling with underutilized, empty hotel space, according to a university statement, San Jose Inside reports.

As with the former office building space, President Teniente-Matson seeks to install more student-friendly amenities, such as dining service areas, learning laboratories, workspaces, and maybe even an esports center.

“We imagine students hanging out there,” she says.

These two acquisitions and partnerships are inaugural steps in SJSU’s Campus Master Plan, which aims to revitalize the main and south campuses and nearby properties throughout Santa Clara County through 2040.

Integrating career pipelines

By fulfilling SJSU’s student housing needs, President Teniente-Matson is doubly fulfilling the university’s co-branding initiative with downtown San Jose.

“It’s really quite exciting to imagine the vibrancy that’s going to occur for residents, small businesses, corporate headquarters, bike paths and public transportation,” she says. “Think of the outdoor green rooms that will occur.”

Improving the college’s branding works in two ways. First, it helps improve the university’s visibility for residents. Secondly, a more involved SJSU presence downtown directly connects students with prominent corporation headquarters, such as Adobe and Zoom.

“[It] create[s] more opportunities for students to think about their futures and the internships and all the cocreation that’s going on,” President Teniente-Matson says. “We can extend back and forth into workforce creation and support for career development and ideation at all levels.”

President Teniente-Matson has engaged in dialogue with regional corporations to create stronger career placement opportunities for its students at Apple, Google, Kaiser Permanente and Adobe, located a couple of miles away or in the Silicon Valley region at least.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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