Top Dog 2022
Philip Neufeld, 1993, '15
2022 Outstanding Alumnus Award
Division of Research and Graduate Studies
Born in Canada to first-generation Mennonite immigrants from Ukraine, Philip Neufeld spent part of his childhood in the Congo, where his parents served as medical missionaries. Neufeld learned about the diversity and richness of the world and about giving back others as he traveled with his family on service trips.
Arriving in Fresno from the Congo “helped me become more aware of what it means to be on the margin…and from that standpoint, I went to Wolters [Elementary], then to Nelson [Elementary], and I was one of the only students who didn’t come from a lower socioeconomic background…What stunned me when I got to Clovis West was why weren’t these super capable colleagues of mine getting the same access to opportunities I was getting [at Clovis West]?… I think it was then that I started to get a sense of, ‘What’s justice and how does it work? What’s equity?’”
After high school, Neufeld went to college in Canada. While a college student, Neufeld taught English in Japan, where he met his wife, Debbie, who is also Canadian. He earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Canadian Mennonite University and a second bachelor’s in honor’s history from the University of Winnipeg in 1988. After completing his degrees, he and his wife moved to Fresno to be closer to family and to continue their studies.
In Fresno, Debbie was studying at Fresno Pacific University and Philip was pursuing a master’s degree in Old Testament while also working as a software developer. Ultimately, Neufeld changed course and decided to focus on creating his own software company, which led to his pursuit of a MBA from Fresno State. He completed his MBA in 1993. In addition to building a business, Neufeld served as a board director for local and national nonprofit organizations. They sold the software company in 2000.
After selling their company, Neufeld served in information technology leadership at several local and national firms. In 2008, Neufeld took a position as senior director in information technology at Fresno State. In this role, Neufeld co-designed and managed various initiatives and cultivated a collaborative and service-responsive culture. The opportunity to work in the public sector and make an impact was what drew Neufeld to Fresno State. “How do you work in an organization like that to get the best, so that first-generation students who can’t afford other schools get the best education they can?”
While working at Fresno State, former vice president “Cynthia Matson advised me to get a doctorate in educational leadership, which I did while working full-time. My dissertation and subsequent work combined technology design [and] rollouts, analytics and equitable student outcomes.” Neufeld earned his doctorate from Fresno State in 2015.
In 2014 Neufeld was recruited by Kurt Madden to work for Fresno Unified School District. “He said, ‘You can go from 20,000 to 70,000 students.’ And think about what that does for the region, for colleges or universities.”
When Neufeld took on the position as executive officer of technology services for Fresno Unified, schools had very few computers and most didn’t work well. Wi-Fi was unreliable. Students were graduating without key skills they’d need for a successful future.
“Now we have [about] 70,000 devices. They work reliably. Our Wi-Fi just rocks! Our uptime is phenomenal. Our layers of defense, from a cybersecurity standpoint, I’m super proud of. And then along the way we got some one-time funds, [and] I said we shouldn’t just spend them on projectors in classrooms, we should do something that changes how instruction works.”
Neufeld went on to co-lead the Personalized Learning Initiative , which brought together more than 1,000 teachers to engage in personalized, blended learning models over the course of five years. Research showed that students in such classrooms outperformed their peers, and this model helped Fresno Unified transition to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m super proud of that. And at the same time…I started work on learning analytics with Microsoft…We were able to tell how students were collaborating with whom, and on the teacher side [you see] how much more powerful it is than students working independently. One teacher said, ‘I went from being the only authority in class to having 35 people working with each other, helping each other learn.’”
“It was so powerful in terms of how we moved adult behavior and our learning analytics that [dignitaries from] Helsinki, Finland visited Microsoft to better understand learning analytics and the digital platforms for learning. Then they came down to Fresno…They were so impressed.” Neufeld remains committed to shaping educational ecosystems in ways that better prepare students for #AsYetImagined futures.
Neufeld is grateful for his educational experiences including his graduate studies at Fresno State. He has been able to take what he has learned and apply it to both his workplace and his board service. He continues to enjoy serving on a variety of boards, including Educational Employees Credit Union, KingsView Behavioral Health, SHLB Coalition and the Fresno Coalition for Digital Inclusion. And he continues to enjoy time with family and friends and serving the community.