Gazing Skyward (Part 3)


The Dynamo

Getting students fired up about their field is what Professor Erik Fritsvold is all about.

by Julene Snyder


Erik Fritsvold is psyched, as usual. And judging by the way he stokes the classroom discussion from a spark to an ember to a blazing bonfire, apparently it’s contagious. Just 10 minutes into class, all two dozen of the students in Sociology 368 (Social Deviance), are listening intently, responsive, fired up. Fritsvold manages the neat trick of seeming simultaneously in constant motion and preternaturally still. The term “catlike” comes to mind.

“For our purposes right now, could someone define subjectivity?” At least half the hands in the room go up. “If you’re subjective, you’re not objective. What does that mean to you? Are we objective social scientists or are we MSNBC vs. Fox News, low-level political hacks?”

In response to his nod, sociology major Stesha Moore-Pavich ‘12 confidently responds: “I don’t think we’re objective in the sense that we can find empirical evidence to support our theory in any way. So it’s about how you want to see the theory itself sometimes, rather than how it really plays out.”

“Very well argued.” Both teacher and student look absolutely delighted.

It’s a good thing that the 33-year-old assistant professor of sociology has an abundance of energy, because his plate isn’t just full, it’s overflowing: He teaches courses related to his department’s crime, justice, law and society concentration, conducts research on and writes about affluent drug crime, the radical environmental movement and nontraditional street gangs, serves as faculty advisor of USD’s surf team, and juggles his schedule to make sure that his wife and young daughter always come first.

“In my life, it’s child, then family, then job, in that order,” he says. A quick smile flashes. “Then surfing.”

The only son of working-class parents, Fritsvold went to public schools until he came to USD in the mid-‘90s. Though he started off as an engineering major — “I always liked math and science,” he admits, almost sheepish, as if confessing his own deviant behavior — his first sociology course led him to change his major within six weeks. “Once I started studying social issues scientifically, it was empowering and exciting,” he recalls. “I didn’t think thoroughly about the career implications.”

Luckily, it’s all worked out pretty well for Fritsvold ’00 (BA), who completed his doctoral work at UC Irvine in 2006. He credits his former professor/mentor, A. Rafik Mohamed, as being instrumental in getting him on the USD faculty. While the pair was collaborating on the book they co-wrote, Dorm Room Dealers: Drugs and the Privileges of Race and Class, every time Fritsvold was on campus, Mohamed would urge him to bring a résumé.

“The morning that he told me there was an opening that would be perfect for me, I’d just come from surfing,” Fritsvold recalls. “I was in board shorts and flip-flops, and must have met with eight different faculty members.” Obviously, none of them held his attire against him, or his background in the local music scene.

“I played in a number of different bands,” he recalls. “I’d always audition for lead guitar, but as it turns out, every band already has a lead guitarist. What they all really need is a mediocre bass player.”

He is equally as self-deprecating about his teaching style: “All I did was pay attention when I was student teaching and learn from the people around me,” he says. “Frankly, I just stole their moves.”

Maybe. But according to Mark Imada ’12, there’s something about Fritsvold: “He respects us, and always gives us a thoughtful response. I mean, that’s what a university is all about, right? Helping students think for themselves?”

The Enthusiast

Making difficult concepts relatable is all in a day’s work for Political Science Professor Del Dickson.

by Karen Gross


Step into Professor Del Dickson’s office, and you immediately get a sense of what makes him happy. A bicycle balances on the wall behind his desk, accompanied by several signed, framed photographs of world-famous cyclists. Cluttering tabletops and shelf space — along with the requisite stack after stack of books — is an impressive collection of autographed baseballs, a testament to his years growing up in idyllic Lake Arrowhead, Calif., as a diehard fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But beyond the baseballs and bicycles, the warm smile and welcoming face, sits a very serious teacher. Dickson’s family tree is heavy with educators, and he’s devoted his career to living that legacy as passionately and purposefully as he can.

“What I want students to do, is learn how to learn,” he says. “And learn how to enjoy learning. To be excited by new ideas. To be excited by new things.”

By any measure, Dickson is succeeding. An award-winning legal scholar and writer, as well as a nationally recognized teacher, he’s been a professor at USD since 1987, focusing much of his attention on an introductory honors political science course and a handful of law-related undergraduate classes.

Often described as funny, kind and accessible, Dickson is also known for subjecting his students to a grueling academic pace. Remarkably, he also inspires a deep-seated sense of devotion and unwavering loyalty among them.

“I’ve never heard one bad thing about him,” enthuses Rachel Black, a 19-year-old sophomore who made it through Dickson’s introductory class last year, and subsequently chose to declare political science as her major, thanks to the deep impression that class made on her. “If you don’t know something, he’ll work with you and help you get the answer. He’s able to make certain things funny. He makes difficult concepts relatable.”

His impact spans generations. One former student, Professor Mike Williams — now chair of Dickson’s own Department of Political Science and International Relations — still describes him as one of only two great teachers in his life. The men first met in 1988, when Williams signed up for his introductory class. They became professional colleagues and close friends, with Dickson often guiding Williams along the academic route he chose to follow.

“He has an ability to make you think critically about material and make arguments in ways you didn’t know you could,” he says. “The students who take his class know they’re in for a tough time. But with that being said, it’s remarkable how his classes fill up.”

His secret? Dickson would tell you there isn’t one. He simply aims to engage each and every participant, and he does that by insisting they all be involved. His classes are ongoing discussions. Students know they need to be prepared, or risk having nothing to say when he calls on them. That requires a great deal of commitment on their part, but not a shred more than Dickson offers himself.

“I love my students,” he says simply. “I just feel very possessive and protective over them. We talk all the time and they know they can always come to me.”

The Elucidator

School of Business Professor Shreesh Deshpande is a master of step-by-step precision.

by Sandra Millers Younger


Mergers and acquisitions, capital budgeting, bond and stock valuation, leverage. The vocabulary of corporate finance is enough to confound the average person. But University of San Diego business students must become well versed in the nuances of these complex topics. Fortunately for them, Corporate Finance Professor Shreesh Deshpande is there to illuminate the path and lead them to understanding and even enlightenment.

A key faculty member at USD’s ac-claimed School of Business Administration since 1988, Deshpande teaches multiple sections of corporate finance, a required course at both the undergraduate and MBA levels. He’s often one of the first instructors business majors meet. And, as it turns out, one they’re most unlikely to forget.

Why? One reason is that students consistently give Deshpande high marks for his expertise in demystifying accounting terms and formulas. In class lectures and generous office hours, he presents each concept with step-by-step precision, and patiently answers every question raised.

“We have to make some assumptions when forecasting future cash flows,” Deshpande tells first-semester MBA candidates learning how to evaluate potential business opportunities. “I’m going to give you guidelines on how to make reasonable assumptions.”

He turns to the whiteboard and divides the cash-flow question into three components, each expressed by a formula and each presented clearly enough for non-business majors to understand.

Deshpande’s characteristic clarity is a big reason he’s won numerous teaching awards over the years. His repertoire also includes MBA courses in investments and advanced corporate finance, plus an undergraduate class in personal finance that covers such useful topics as consumer credit, tax planning and investing for retirement.

To keep his lectures fresh, Deshpande makes a point of maintaining connections with San Diego’s business leaders.

“I really listen to what finance executives in San Diego are thinking about, and I bring that to my students,” he says. “They appreciate it. It’s interesting for a lot of them to hear real-world examples.”

Deshpande’s research agenda, like his teaching, focuses on corporate finance, with additional attention devoted to derivatives and international finance. He’s currently completing a three-year study on employee ownership in private companies, funded by a major grant from the San Diego-based Foundation for Enterprise Development.

Deshpande didn’t set out to become an expert in corporate finance. As an undergraduate in India, he studied mechanical engineering, and he relished his first job in the field. But while pursuing an MBA at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., the young engineer fell in love with finance.

“It was very logical,” he explains. “It made a lot of sense to me.”

So much sense that Deshpande went on to earn a PhD in the subject at Penn State. He took an initial teaching position at Concordia University in Montreal before moving to San Diego, where both he and his wife, an environmental scientist, saw better career opportunities. The position at USD fit Deshpande well, and still does.

“I like it here,” he says. “I’ve always had good students, and over my 23 years, the quality has continued to grow by leaps and bounds. Word is getting out that USD is a good great place to get an education.”

The Idealist

Rosy Mancillas Lopez wants to help others navigate through immigration’s intricacies.

by Trisha J. Ratledge


At the age of six, Rosy Mancillas Lopez began a journey that would take nearly a decade to complete. When her family emigrated from Tijuana, Mexico, to San Diego in 1993 — legally sponsored by her mom, who held a permanent resident card — they had no way of knowing it would take years for Mancillas Lopez, her two older brothers and her dad to gain final approval.

“As kids, we would get picked up from elementary school and we went to lawyer after lawyer until we found one that would actually be helpful,” says Mancillas Lopez ‘09, whose family secured a legal waiver to remain in the United States during the process. “It took eight or 10 years for all of us to get our documents. It wasn’t until we finally got the response saying we’d been approved that I realized how much of a struggle it had been.”

Mancillas Lopez says one hero in their struggle was the attorney who guided her family through immigration; in fact, he inspired her to do the same with her life.

Ever the realist, she did not expect it to be easy. Rising at 2:30 every morning with her brothers to help her mom with a newspaper route, working full time at USD during the day and attending school at night, Mancillas Lopez earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. Now a third-year USD law student focusing on international and immigration law and an advocate for justice and immigration reform, the humble Mancillas Lopez is already making a name for herself.

In November 2011, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development honored her with the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, given annually at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to a single national recipient for leadership and commitment to the poor.

While she works full time in USD’s University Ministry office and attends law school in the evening, Mancillas Lopez’s advocacy has included University Ministry day trips to Tijuana’s La Morita community, legal assistance and immigration education at a local parish through the San Diego Organizing Project, immersion trips to Chiapas, Mexico, and immigration casework at the Legal Aid Society of San Diego. She is also a Big Sister to a local 15-year-old girl and a resident minister in USD’s San Buenaventura apartments.

Those who work with her have long expected great things, such as her high school Spanish teacher, Luis Castro, who has always called her “attorney Mancillas Lopez” and applauds her upcoming graduation. Her nomination for the Cardinal Bernardin Award was submitted by Director of University Ministry Michael Lovette-Colyer, who admires her ambition to help people navigate the immigration system and shape immigration policy.

Mancillas Lopez, however, doesn’t understand the attention. Now 24, she says her work is simply a way to carry forward the kindness she has received since she first stepped into her new country.

“I’ve had such huge support from so many people; I have no idea how I deserve all of this,” she says with characteristic humility. “I’ve been blessed with so many privileges in my life, and I really hope that someday I’m able to bless another person’s life in the same way.”