Dennis Jaehne: The Mechanic of Undergraduate Studies
By: Austin Belisle
“Undergraduate studies is a great staff, it’s a smart staff that knows their details. To make correct decisions and efficient decisions, we have to have people that know a lot of stuff. By virtue of them knowing all this, you’re spared on the student side and the faculty side from having to deal with a lot of these details.”
Dennis Jaehne is the mechanic behind the well-oiled machine that is San José State University’s undergraduate program. As the Associate Vice President of Undergraduate Studies, Jaehne is hard at work to ensure the best possible experience for students and faculty alike.
“I make the engine run well,” says Jaehne with a smile. “When you drive, you’re going to be happier.”
The drive involves a wide variety of services, from the approval of degree programs and courses to articulation with community colleges for transfer students. Under the hood, Jaehne is utilizing a number of tools to fine-tune the process for all. One of those tools is more than just new technology or CSU funding; it’s his staff.
“My greatest success is hiring good people,” Jaehne says proudly. “The operation has gotten larger and we’re a lot more efficient now, which gives us the power to work on the machine that helps students to be successful. “In a small office on the first floor of the campus’s administration building, Jaehne can’t help but grin when describing his staff.
Some of these details are still being test-driven, including a new program called Statway. Undergraduate Studies attempts to turn problems into solutions, which may include piloting specific courses like Statway that aim to make remedial math a more streamlined process.
“Statway is an approach that starts from ‘I need remediation’ in one year all the way through the GE component using a statistical based treatment of math that a student needs.”
Such a program, according to Jaehne, may help eliminate the redundancy that comes from facing a year of remedial math work before ever advancing to GE classes.
Jaehne’s work may not involve direct contact with students, but his office’s efforts are far-reaching across all of San Jose State University’s campus.
“There’s not a lot of glamour on the frontside of what we’re doing right now,” Jaehne said. “We’re in that phase of being behind the scenes.”
Behind the scenes, Jaehne has been at the forefront of an effort to overhaul the school’s degree programs, which will soon be capped at 120 units.
“Programs here have had to change to cooperate,” Jaehne added. “We’ve been doing a good job bringing those programs up to speed.”
In past years, programs ranged anywhere from 120 to 140 units and made the entire process difficult for students and staff.
According to Jaehne, undergraduate programs used to be defined by a lack of advising, direction, and curricular planning that left people swirling and knotting up in frustration.
Along with the program overhaul, Jaehne and his team are working on technical projects to make the admission process smoother and ease the stress placed on impacted departments.
“All of these moves are made to deal with the problems facing SJSU, from impaction to enrollment issues,” Jaehne says. “Its gotta be rationalized and made more accessible and routine to get through the process.”
Right now, the roads are clearing up, making the drive for students and faculty much smoother than they have been in years past. Along with his staff, Jaehne believes that technology is making undergraduate education at San Jose State one of the best in the CSU system.
“We’re trying to modernize how the university can use technology to improve student record keeping, flow, and student preparation. I think we’re making the right steps, we’re investing, we’re hiring the right people, and that’s all fun to be a part of.”
While the tinkering and tuning is fun for Jaehne now, he sees himself hopeful retiring after next year, where he hopes to focus on global citizenship and study-abroad programs.
Before he can do that though, he needs to finish giving the undergraduate studies a much needed oil-change and tire rotation.