Ryan Chartrand

With the backdrop of his company’s logo gleaming behind him, the once-39th employee of Cisco Systems held out his yellow tie that boasted the same symbol, and admitted to the crowd that “it’s not a swoosh, but it’s certainly a nice bridge.”

Now it’s a bridge that represents nearly 65,000 employees following now-chairman emeritus John P. Morgridge, who addressed an audience of more than 100 campus administrators, students and state leaders on Sunday afternoon as part of the Baker Forum.

In his speech “The Future of Polytechnic Education,” Morgridge detailed exactly what Cisco – an Internet networking company – and other modern industries expect of polytechnic graduates.

“Global institutions are racing to copy us,” he said. “But the world is changing and competition will be more active.”

An influx of engineers will especially be in high demand, he warned, noting that California alone will require 20,000 to 24,000 engineers in order to meet the state’s infrastructure needs in the next 10 years. Today, one quarter of U.S. patents are issued in California, which also is home to one-fifth of all technology jobs.

A decrease in science and math students will also hamper the future of industries to the point that many will look to other countries for employees, Morgridge said.

“We need to either reenergize our student population or business will find some other way,” he said.

Of Cisco’s near-65,000 employees in 70 countries, about 400 have been Cal Poly students, holding jobs in everything from technical writing to business, but about 100 alumni currently work for Cisco as software engineers or program and project managers.

Since he started working for Cisco 20 years ago as president and CEO, Morgridge increased the company’s sales from $5 million to more than $1 billion.

In 1995, he was appointed chairman and became chairman emeritus in 2006. In addition to his work with Cisco, Morgridge also teaches management at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and serves on several national boards from The Nature Conservancy to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Fund.

Given his leadership and contributions to higher education and public life, Morgridge was also awarded the Wiley Lifetime Achievement Award on Sunday, which was given to him by Cal Poly President Warren Baker.

Bill Durgin, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, cited Morgridge as a “visionary” with a significant polytechnic background and said Morgridge “fit the bill” well for this year’s Baker Forum, which focuses of the future of polytechnic education as well.

The forum takes place every two years and draws leaders from education, industry and government in an effort to foster discussion on how to improve the university. Previous forums have scrutinized the subject of achieving sustainability solutions and the future of science and technology universities.

“It’s a good time for the university to look at subjects that are important and will influence our future,” Durgin said.

This year’s theme is particularly relevant to Cal Poly given not only its polytechnic foundation, but also the changes the university is currently undergoing.

Durgin noted that the theme fits for two other reasons: in addition to the current strategic planning for years ahead that the university has been conducting throughout the last year, Cal Poly is also in the gearing up to renew its accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. The university requires affirmation of its accreditation every 10 years and the year 2000 marked the most recent ratification.

The forum will continue through today as leaders “dig deeper and go further,” Durgin said, noting that there are three particular areas that sessions will examine.

One will examine the nature and importance of diversity in the technological workforce while another focuses on a new liberal education, particularly the importance of the humanities and arts in relation to science, technology and engineering. The third discussion will focus on the importance of working arrangements of the university with government and industrial organizations.

Sunday’s event was free and open to the public, but all other events will be restricted to the Cal Poly President’s Cabinet, which is comprised of community, state and national leaders in business, industry and government.

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