As Jorge Diaz-Herrera makes the transition from dean at a university to president of a college, he plans to draw on his expertise in computer science as a way to guide his new institution.
The founding dean of the B. Thomas Golisano School of Computing and Information Technology at Rochester Institute of Technology, Diaz-Herrera was named president of Keuka College in February.
As he prepares to take over at an institution that has grown by leaps in the last decade, Diaz-Herrera plans to put his own mark on its growth in the future.
"Something on everyone’s mind is the liberal arts education and what role technology will have on it in the future," Diaz-Herrera said. "I’ve been thinking about a concept called computational thinking, which is looking at all problems the way computer people would. I plan to put as much of that into the curriculum as we can."
There are few parts of the curriculum that would not benefit from computational thinking, he said. In biology, computer tools can be emphasized in study and research, and in sociology they could be used to look at the effect social networks have played on interaction.
Even English classes could benefit, studying the changes to storytelling in a digital world, he said.
The focus on computational thinking would put Keuka College among a small group of schools taking this approach. Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has a Center for Computational Thinking, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology also emphasizes it, but it is largely a new concept, Diaz-Herrera said.
"The possibilities are enormous, but we have to go slowly and work closely with the faculty, because they’re the ones who own the curriculum," he said.
Diaz-Herrera said his time so far has been spent talking to as many stakeholders at Keuka as possible and getting acclimated to its culture.
Before coming to RIT in 2002, Diaz-Herrera was head of the computer sciences department at Southern Polytechnic State University in Georgia. Before that he was a professor of software engineering at Carnegie Mellon and worked in the nation’s first software engineering department at Monmouth University in New Jersey.
He also comes with experience outside academia, serving as a consultant for firms and government agencies, including the New York Stock Exchange, the Institute for Defense Analysis and General Electric Corp.
Diaz-Herrera succeeds Joseph Burke, who is retiring after 14 years as Keuka’s president. During that time Burke led a transformation in which a regional institution developed campus centers across the state, online offerings, a strong presence in China and a growing one in Vietnam.
Burke said he has been working with Diaz-Herrera on a transition and believes the college will be in capable hands.
"Everyone is very excited about Jorge," Burke said. "He has all the skills to be a great president, and after an extensive search process with over 60 candidates, he came out No. 1 by far."
The period ahead will be a transitional one not only for Keuka College but for all of higher education, Burke said, citing a survey by the Pew Foundation that found a stark need for change. With the college positioned for success in a global age, Burke said, Diaz-Herrera is ready to continue leading.
"My proudest thing is creating that strong foundation for the college into the future, and Jorge is the perfect person to take us through what’s next," he said. "I’ve heard some people say they hope we don’t change anything about what we’re doing, but I hope we continue to change all the time."
After a decade of growth, one necessary change could be in the nature of the college itself, Diaz-Herrera said.
"We have to look at the college, and if it’s outgrown its regional mission, does that mean we should become a full-blown university? Maybe it does," Diaz-Herrera said. "We need to look at what structure would best suit the future of the institution."
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