Keith Moo-Young said teaching differential equations and science are central to the future success of the country and the region.
However, science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education must be complemented by studying the humanities, no matter where it's taught, including Washington State University Tri-Cities.
"When my students take those classes, they become better thinkers," Moo-Young told about 100 people during a public forum Thursday. "They need to use that side of the brain."
Moo-Young is the third of three chancellor candidates to speak at the Richland campus. He emphasized the need to raise the school's public profile, attract more students, foster student success and better support faculty for the university to brand itself on a national scale.
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"You can't stay the size you are in the long-term economic situation," he said.
Moo-Young said the arts play a central role at California State University-Los Angeles, where he is dean of engineering, computer science and technology. All students are required to take some liberal arts courses and are encouraged to take more as electives.
He said he'd foster that approach at WSU Tri-Cities, noting the best professionals in STEM careers have an appreciation for the arts. He also would work to have a proposed regional performing arts center built on campus.
"Our nation's engineers are more creative because of our more general education model," he said.
Other objectives also must be met to put the university on the map and draw interest from prospective students and donors, he said. Faculty should be encouraged to work with private-sector businesses in the course of their research, and students should have a role in those public-private partnerships.
WSU Tri-Cities also needs to take better advantage of its location near a prominent wine-growing region and a national laboratory to develop partnerships and programs that differentiate it from the others in the WSU system, he said.
Cal State LA has partnered with a local public high school to mentor students, and Moo-Young and others go out into the community annually to encourage students to enroll, he said.
The university also overhauled and centralized its student advising system to push up retention rates.
"There were a lot of hurdles to that, because departments had to give up their own advising," he said.
Moo-Young said moving the university forward has its challenges. Most universities are putting more time and resources into fundraising because state support for higher education is drying up.
"Pretty soon it'll be we're-just-in-the-state institutions," he said to laughter.
Danny Talbot, co-chairman of the chancellor search committee and an associate professor of education leadership, said the chancellor search committee will meet today to evaluate all three candidates.
Recommendations for further interviews will then be given to WSU President Elson S. Floyd, who will make his recommendation to the WSU Board of Regents. He said the new chancellor could be named before summer.