The Gatepost Interview: Yaser Najjar, Dean of Graduate Studies

[Photo courtesy of framingham.edu]

By Jesse Sannicandro

Interim Asst. News Editor

What is your educational background and work history?

My educational background started – the undergraduate from Lebanon, then a master’s degree from Alexandria University in Egypt. Then, I went and worked in Jordan in the department of urban planning for three years. Then I decided I wanted to continue my education. I went to Japan, I got a one-year high diploma in economic development. Then I came to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1982. By 1987, I obtained two degrees – a master’s in city planning, urban planning and a Ph.D. in geography with a focus on regional development and planning.

Did you use your experience as a regional developer when you came to Framingham?

Actually, when I came to Framingham State back in 1987, right away I joined the advisory board for the master plan for the town of Framingham. So, I did chair that master plan in 1988. In addition to that, I have been involving my students in the town planning in the surrounding towns and in different areas – mainly in transportation planning, recreation planning and urban design.

Do you know anything about the Framingham Downtown Renaissance project?

Yes, it has actually been a debate since I came here – since 1988. Should the town become a city or should the town reserve its character as a town and there have always have been strong arguments from both sides. The majority, I should say, of the professionals and the people of the town, they recognize the fact that Framingham, although it is the largest town in the United States, it really has the urban characteristics and the urban social problems and the urban economic development. So, by revitalizing the downtown, that will bring, actually, safety, security and life to the downtown area. … Instead of focusing on the golden triangle region, the town has come to focus on the downtown. And, as Framingham State is a major partner, as that major education institution in the area and in the town, we have an interest to develop the downtown and hopefully, in the near future, we might have a site in the downtown where we can offer courses there, especially for adult students.

How has the graduate studies program been expanding, or evolving, recently?

I have been dean since January of 2013, and I argue that the major accomplishments I had in the last four years is growing the graduate study by increasing the number of programs. So, now we’ve developed three major programs in the last four years and a good number of graduate certificates. Also, we’ve expanded our reach overseas. We have a very unique program called IEP, which is International Education Program, where we offer a master’s degree for teachers who work and live overseas. So, when I started, we had 16 sites. Now, we have about 26 sites in different parts of the world. And, as a matter of fact, the president and myself will be visiting – in two weeks, actually – in the middle of April will be traveling to Japan as well as to Saipan. In Saipan, we will meet the alumni because we have been offering that program in Saipan for the last 10 years. And hopefully, we’re going to start a new site in Japan in cooperation with Showa College. … Another thing about the new changes in graduate studies, as a matter of fact, is the integration of graduate education with undergraduate. Now, we are in the process of developing the new programs called the four-plus-one programs, which means our undergraduate students who are qualified and who decide to join these programs, will stay an extra year here, fifth year, so he or she can walk out with two degrees – a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. And already, we’ve approved a policy, which allows senior undergraduate students to take up to three graduate courses, and these three graduate courses could be counted towards their undergraduate degree and towards their master’s degree. I met actually the student government about three years ago and I shared this proposal with them. I wanted to reach undergraduate students. As you know, this college started with the main focus on undergraduate programs, but still, we are recognizing the importance of graduate school, which could enhance enrollment and the quality of our students who will be accepted.

What are you most proud of that you’ve accomplished at FSU?

I joined Framingham State in 1987 as an assistant professor of geography in the geography department. Then, I got promoted to associate professor and I served as the chair of the department for 12 years. So, in that department, the major accomplishment was professionalizing a number of concentrations, especially urban planning, and also, I was one of the founders of the GIS Center, which stands for Geography Information System. But, my contribution as dean of graduate studies is introducing the new programs, integrating graduate and undergraduate. It’s working with academic departments to enhance the opportunity for our undergraduate students to seek graduate education, and also, increasing the number of sites overseas. Very recently, actually, this coming fall, we will be opening the M.B.A. in Ecuador, meaning the master’s of business administration at UMet, Universidád Metropolitana.

What advice would you like to give to FSU students?

I want everyone to be proud that they have been selected to be part of Framingham State’s community, and I would advise them to utilize their time by using the available resources and explore the available facilities we have, in terms of athletic facilities as well as educational facilities. We have a wonderful library. We have a wonderful student enhancement center. We have CASA, which is a really wonderful center for them. And, to go beyond just taking courses because they are requirements. I wish they could take courses because they wanted to educate themselves. I always argued, it’s really easy to get a degree, but you need to get an education, not just a degree. Especially, in these years, when we live in a global environment. Although, we will admire the needs of our locality, we need to understand what are the global issues surrounding us and that are also affecting us.

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