After nearly 40 years of dedication to teaching, learning, and serving in his community, Yaser Najjar announced his retirement as dean of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education at FSU.
Najjar said, “I made my retirement decision in early March and informed the Provost, Dr. Ellen Zimmerman, whom I report to.”
Najjar, who began teaching at FSU in September 1987, will officially retire on June 30. Najjar has been the dean of Graduate Studies since Jan. 15, 2013, and for the last two years, he has been the dean of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education.
Ellen Zimmerman, interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said, “I have known Dr. Najjar for many years, both as a respected faculty colleague and as a fellow administrator in Academic Affairs. As dean, Dr. Najjar has brought many positive innovations to graduate studies at FSU.
“Many exciting new graduate programs came into existence at FSU under his guidance, and our international footprint has expanded dramatically, including the addition of programs in Bermuda and Panama that will begin in the spring or fall of 2022,” said Zimmerman.
“Needless to say, we will miss him on both a professional and personal level, but wish him all the very best for this new phase of life,” added Zimmerman.
According to Najjar, this new phase will not mark the end of his dedication to community service and higher education.
“Life is really stages,” said Najjar. “I have been working very hard for almost 40 years in my life, and I now believe there is a new chapter in life.”
According to Najjar, that chapter will focus on three things – family, serving actively in his discipline, and devoting more time on a volunteer basis to serving in his community.
“At the family level, it is really going to allow me to see my wife, my children, and my grandchildren more,” said Najjar. “Hopefully we can go on more family trips together when it is safe to do so.”
As far as his discipline is concerned, Najjar said he will continue reading because there is no end to learning and obtaining knowledge.
“I will continue learning new trends within my discipline, which is geography and urban planning, as well as higher education. The value of knowledge is being able to share it,” said Najjar. “It’s not just to keep it for yourself. Whatever I learn, I try to implement in my course.”
One FSU program that Najjar said he would like to continue serving in is International Education.
“It is a program where we offer master degrees overseas in about 16 countries – mainly in Europe, Asia and Latin America,” said Najjar. “Once COVID-19 is gone, I will try to teach in one of these sites once a year.”
In terms of serving his community, Najjar said he would like to be more involved in the area of social services.
“I think there are a lot of people in need,” said Najjar. “I would like to do work to try to raise money for those in need. Hopefully, I will continue to be able to contribute in whatever capacity I can.”
According to Najjar, his experience as a professor of geography and urban planning allowed him to better understand and interact with the world.
“My teaching gave me a great opportunity to learn more about the land and the inhabitant of the land,” said Najjar. “This really affected me at the personal level and it shaped my value system of appreciating the physical environment. That is why I fell in love with nature and cultures.”
As a Ph.D. student at the University of Cincinnati, he taught physical geography, which led to him becoming fascinated with the physical environment.
“When I came to Framingham in 1987 as an assistant professor, I taught numerous geography classes, as well as urban planning,” said Najjar.
“Geography is always leading me. Once you understand the physical environment and the cultures, it is very easy to communicate with people from different backgrounds. I became much more appreciative of diversity as a result,” he added.
In addition to his teaching, Najjar created field trip programs where he would take students overseas to destinations including Egypt, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Morocco.
“Taking the students overseas and interacting with them outside of the campus is a very rich experience,” said Najjar. “It gave me a better opportunity to understand students and their needs.”
Because of his geography and international background, Najjar became an advocate of increasing opportunities for local students to study overseas, as well as programs to bring international students to FSU.
“I started in 1987 and I really remember those years. It was still Framingham State College and it was more of a homogenous kind of institution,” said Najjar.
“The diversity was not huge. After a few years, the diversity improved. The faculty and administration opened up more, and we started accommodating to more approaches,” Najjar added.
President F. Javier Cevallos was forthright in his recognition of Najjar’s effort to make FSU a global campus.
“Dean Najjar has been part of this community for nearly 35 years, and we are deeply thankful for his hard work and dedication to FSU,” said Cevallos. “I am particularly grateful for his efforts to make us a global campus. FSU has been offering masters’ degrees all over the world for many years, and Dean Najjar has been a champion of these international programs.”
Cevallos had the opportunity to travel with Najjar to a few of FSU’s sites in Asia and Central America, which provided him with a chance to get to know Najjar on a more personal level.
“It left me in awe of the energy and commitment he brings to maintaining and growing those programs,” said Cevallos. “I congratulate him on his well-deserved retirement. He certainly leaves a strong legacy within our Division of Graduate and Continuing Education.”
In addition to his work overseas, Najjar was also very proactive in introducing the 4+1 Graduate Program to FSU.
“I am very proud of introducing the 4+1 Program at FSU,” said Najjar. “Most of our programs were originally focused on recruiting students who had already graduated and wanted to enhance their status in the job market.”
Najjar said he thought about another segment of students who would really like to start graduate school right after they finish their undergraduate degree.
“I know most jobs, when you read any advertisement, they often prefer a certain amount of experience. What if you don’t have any experience? Substitute that experience with more education and you’ve got a master’s degree,” said Najjar.
In the labor market, anyone with a master’s degree has been trained in conducting research. In other words, they will have a tremendous amount of experience by the time they enter the job market, according to Najjar.
“This program allowed us to serve our undergraduates by recruiting our junior students. If they have an interest in taking up to three graduate courses during their senior year, then they can stay for an additional year,” said Najjar. “I started presenting this idea to the graduate program coordinators and the students.”
Najjar often hosted an event called A Town Hall Meeting with the Dean, in which he invited students, faculty and staff to exchange ideas in a public forum once a semester.
“I really believe that it is important to listen to others and to have team contributions. The English Department and the Nutrition Department really took this to heart,” said Najjar.
In a joint statement Dr. Suzanne Neubauer, director of the MS Concentration in Food and Nutrition and Professor Janet Schwartz, director of the MEd Concentration in Nutrition Education, said Dean Najjar has been very supportive of the two 4+1 Dietetics Programs.
“His support has helped make these programs a reality for our department and students,” they said in the statement.
According to Jerusha Nelson-Peterman, chair and associate professor of the nutrition department, when Najjar was asked to help with student issues, he often responded, “You are the expert in your program. I support your decision.”
“We have greatly appreciated this level of respect,” said Nelson-Peterman. “We will miss him and wish him the very best with his retirement.”
English Professor and Graduate Coordinator Desmond McCarthy, said, “Yaser Najjar has been a wise and innovative dean of the graduate school. Without his encouragement, counsel, and support, we would never have been able to develop the 4 + 1 English program that enables students to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in only five years.
“His greatest legacy is the many students—local and international, now and in the future—who will have the opportunity to achieve their dreams by pursuing their graduate degrees at our university,” said McCarthy.