Faculty Spotlight

Andy Richardson

Meet Andy Richardson, College of Extended Learning Distinguished Faculty Award recipient. Andy has been an instructor at San Francisco State University for many years and brings a wealth of experience to the classroom.

Photo: Andy Richardson

What is your background and how did you get connected with CEL?

I completed undergraduate and graduate degrees in Geography at SF State in the late 80s and early 90s. During my master’s program, the Chancellor’s Office designated SF State as a center of excellence for Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and formed the Multidisciplinary GIS Center at SF State as a GIS resource for all campuses. Because I had shown a great amount of interest and had taken every computer cartography and GIS course offered, Dr. Jerry Davis, the Center’s director, hired me to manage the Center. I did that for a few years, then moved to Sacramento to work for the State. After I left, my successor at the Center worked with CEL to develop the GIS Certificate program, and asked me and a handful of other SF State Geography graduates who were working in the GIS field to teach the classes in the program. That was in either 1994 or 1995, and a couple of us are still teaching in the program. I am still working for the State, doing GIS daily.

What are your favorite teaching moments? Classes?

I would say my favorite teaching moments center around a number of students that I’ve met over the years that I found interesting or otherwise memorable. Some have stayed in touch and let me know how their careers have progressed, and others have become friends.

I teach three different classes, and each presents a different experience. The Introduction to Geographic Information Systems takes tremendous effort (it is the largest, and everyone is just getting started), but is probably the most rewarding due to the amount of progress students make in two days.

What do you like about teaching in the program?

I feel that we provide a quality learning experience and that we do a good job preparing students to be GIS professionals; I am proud to be an integral part of that. On a more personal level, San Francisco State and the Geography Department was a great experience for me, and I really appreciate being able to come back periodically (I teach two-day classes seven times each year) to visit campus and touch base with my professors (most of whom have now retired).

Tell us about the student population. What makes them unique?

The students really are an interesting mix of working professionals, career changers, recent graduates, and occasional recent retirees. There have been events over the years that affected our program; perhaps the most memorable was the dot com bust in the early 2000s that swelled our enrollments with high tech workers that had been laid off and were looking to retool.

How does this certificate prepare students for job advancement or placement?

The certificate program is a pretty intense program requiring completion of at least 11 two-day classes that are taught all day on Fridays and Saturdays. Students typically complete the program in two semesters (sometimes in one), so it is quite immersive. They come into the program knowing very little about GIS and leave with pretty solid skills. The instructors are working GIS professionals, so we are able to impart knowledge about what skills are necessary, the various kinds of jobs that there are, and we can answer just about any question that is asked.

What do students gain from the program?

For one, they can add some pretty respectable credentials (a professional certificate in Geographic Information Systems) to their resumes in a fairly short period of time. Additionally though, they establish a professional relationships with other students and instructors in the program, and have access to job and volunteer opportunities that funnel through the program.

What do you like about teaching?

Perhaps what I like most about teaching is the variety of periodically shifting out of my normal working life and into the teaching experience. Both are good, but I like the variety. It is also rewarding to watch students gain skills over the course of the classes that I teach.

How has your teaching style changed over time?

I would say my teaching style hasn’t really changed that much. One thing I consistently try to keep in mind is that what I’m teaching is new material for my students. This may seem obvious, but when you’ve taught the same topic for a long time, you can fall into a trap of thinking that they’ve already heard what you are saying. I also try to use simple examples and analogies that students can understand.

There are clearly some things I’ve changed over the years, either because of consistent remarks in evaluations, or certain topics that I consistently felt I wasn’t explaining well. My materials have improved over the years, as I’ve taken the time to build effective graphics, diagrams, tables and other content that better convey the topics I try to teach.