Campus News

A (Graphic) Novel Approach to Education

Nick Sosanis


If there’s one thread that’s consistently woven through Nick Sousanis’ life, it’s comics. And the latest stitch in his life are the two new comics classes he’s teaching at San Francisco State University: “Comics and Culture” and “Making Comics.”

The courses are part of a forthcoming 12-unit minor that’s set to launch later this year or early next year. When it officially launches, SF State will be one of only a handful of universities in the U.S. (not including art schools) with a similar program.

An award-winning graphic novelist, Sousanis says his love for the form began basically at birth. His older brother would read him comic books. When he started talking, his first word was “Batman.” At 13 he published a comic series about a superhero called “Lockerman.” And he’s made comics consistently ever since.

When he pursued his doctorate in education at Columbia University he combined intellectual inquiry and teaching and fused them with comics. The end result was “Unflattening,” a critically acclaimed, award-winning doctoral dissertation in comic form that was later published by Harvard University Press. The book weaves together diverse ways of viewing science, philosophy, art and literature, using narrative illustrations to show that perception is an active process. “Unflattening” is the first-ever comic to be nominated for the American Publishers Association PROSE Award for Excellence in Humanities.

“My work was hailed as sort of this revolutionary thing in academia. But to me, this was just an extension of what comic books could be,” Sousanis said. “I think there’s long been a dissatisfaction with research that has to be 12-point type, double-spaced.”

An outspoken champion of comics and alternative scholarship, Sousanis embraces not just the study of graphic storytelling but the use of it as a tool for education. The form is more than entertainment: It can make complex ideas more accessible.

“I thought I could reach people that needed to be reached,” Sousanis said. “The only reason they couldn’t understand something was because of vocabulary, not because they weren’t smart enough. Comics are a way to bridge those worlds.”

Grooming Tomorrow's Leaders Today

A group of people at a leadership workshop


San Francisco State University has received a $1.3 million gift from the Eustace-Kwan Family Foundation to create the President’s Leadership Fellows Program, which will prepare students to be job- and career-ready while training them to be leaders in the business community.

“We are grateful to the Eustace-Kwan Family Foundation for their ongoing support of SF State students and for this generous and transformational gift, which will create student engagement opportunities to enhance career exploration and cultivate leadership skills that can be used in future jobs and career advancement,” said SF State President Les Wong. “As the city’s university and one of the most diverse universities in the U.S., this gift will go a long way toward helping our students and graduates contribute to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond.”

The creation of the new program builds upon the success of the College of Business Career Services and Professional Development Program, as well as the College’s Fellows program, both of which were launched in fall 2014 and were funded by a gift from the Eustace-Kwan Family Foundation. This unique program prepares first-generation students for career success in Bay Area companies. 

A selection committee will invite up to 500 students campuswide by 2019 to participate, with the first cohort of 100 ambassadors beginning this semester.