University Convocation 2014

University Convocation 2014

September 22, 2014

Good morning, and welcome back.

First, thank you to some special guests who honor the university by joining us here today.

Of course, Presidential Medal Recipient Steve Cooley, along with Monterey Park City Councilmembers Peter Chan and Teresa Real Sebastian, Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge, Glendale Unified School  District Board Member Nayiri Nahabedian, long-time Pat Brown Institute Board Member Anita Quiñonez Gabrielian, and representing the Mayor of Los Angeles, Abigail Marquez.

I want to give special recognition to two of our alumni who are not here today.  They gave back to this University by leaving us major gifts through their estates.

Blanca Flanagan Rios, a 1954 alumna who made her career as an educator at a local high school, gave small annual donations to the University for decades.  Her generosity continues with a bequest of over two million dollars that she left to Cal State L.A. We received another estate gift, this one of one million dollars, from the family of William Dermody. Bill Dermody lived a life dedicated to public service–beginning as a Cal State L.A. student and later working as chief of staff to the chancellor of the CSU. After his passing, Mr. Dermody’s mother made provisions for a substantial portion of his estate, and the remainder of hers, to come to Cal State L.A.

Gifts like these make the Cal State L.A. experience possible for students through scholarships, fellowships, enhanced academic programs and facilities, and much more. These donations were considerable, but no matter the size, every donation makes a positive difference in the future of this University and its students.

On September 1, I began my second year as President of Cal State L.A.  One of the ways in which I celebrated was to listen to the 1977 Steve Miller Band song, “Fly Like an Eagle,” which I’ve adopted as an informal anthem. It reminds me that the passage of time (time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin) points us into a future in which we can, indeed, soar: Flying like an eagle through the “revolution,” in which we work together to feed the babies, shoe the children, house the people, in which together, we become the solution. We are, after all, Golden Eagles, dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, for whom a Cal State L.A. education is, indeed, the solution to the inequities and struggles that continue to challenge us. As I shook the hands of nearly 4000 students crossing the stage during our commencement weekend, I knew, and know, that we continue to soar.

So, I’m one year in as your president, and so very grateful for your collective energy and spirit. Together, we’ve achieved a great deal over the past year. At our 2013 convocation, I reported that Washington Monthly magazine ranked us number 18 nationally among 671 Master’s Universities, for our contribution to the public good. The new rankings just came out, and we are—this year—not ranked number 18: we’re ranked number seven. Washington Monthly also ranked us in three specific categories that contribute to the public good: for exceeding our predicted graduation rate, and contributing to the social mobility of our students—last year, #6 nationally; this year, #4 nationally. For securing research funding in support of faculty scholarship that improves the public good: last year we were in the top 10 percent nationally, this year in the top 8 percent. For our contributions to community service, last year we were in the top 25 percent nationally, this year in the top 14 percent. And for sending students on to success in PhD programs, we continue to rank in the top 25 percent nationally.

We’re one year in together, and already achieving terrific new heights. One of our highest priorities is to recruit and appoint faculty who are outstanding educators, scholars, artists, scientists and engineers. This year, we are welcoming 27 new tenure-track faculty, who first joined us at last week's New Faculty Orientation, and who are with us here today.

Our new faculty come from a diverse range of distinguished institutions, including Columbia University, Wesleyan University, The Ohio State University, the University of Washington, the University of Texas, Syracuse University, the University of Toronto, Cal Lutheran, Montclair State University, UC Irvine, UCLA, USC, and others. They are joining a wide range of departments in every college and the University Library. This is the highest number of new faculty we've hired since the fall of 2009, and we hope to surpass that number next fall, almost doubling it, as one of the ways we realize our commitment to engagement, service, and the public good. Let me ask the new faculty here today to please stand and let us welcome you.

To be a great university in a great city—and we are—requires a great faculty.  Will all the members of our great faculty here today please stand and let us welcome you.

Our faculty members are dedicated to the success of our students.  In the College of Health and Human Services, the Department of Communication Disorders has gone from 60 to over 400 undergraduate majors since 2000, has one of the highest graduation rates at Cal State L.A., and is in the third year of a peer tutoring program that helps students master basic science courses. The Communication Disorders graduate program boasts a 100 percent pass rate on the Praxis national examination in Speech-Language Pathology, and has been ranked number 19 nationally and number 1 in California.

In the College of Business and Economics, the Department of Accounting features the third largest undergraduate program on campus with 1083 majors. The Department offers the well-known VITA tax assistance program annually to help low-income tax payers prepare their annual income tax returns and to give students a real hands-on experience, and supports the most active student organizations in the college—Beta Alpha Psi and the Accounting Society. The top accounting firms in Los Angeles recruit and hire our students.

In the College of Arts and Letters, the Department of TV, Film, and Media Studies—for the fourth year in a row—received a $50,000 award to support student projects, from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Red Studios, formerly the Desi Arnaz/Lucille Ball Studios, along with AVID, Sony, and many others, know how talented and driven our students are, and so our faculty continue to place many of our students as interns with these entertainment industry partners.

In the College of Natural and Social Sciences, two outstanding grant-supported programs—Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and Minority Opportunities in Research (MORE)—contributed enormously to student success in 2013-14.  Twenty-five students from these programs, who graduated from Cal State L.A. this past June, will enter PhD programs in fall 2014, and nine will be starting Master’s programs en route to obtaining PhDs. These 34 students were mentored by professors in Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Geosciences and Environment, Math, Physics and Astronomy, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Psychology.  

In the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology, a group of faculty in the engineering programs received a $200,000 National Science Foundation grant to develop and implement an integrated sophomore level curriculum. This approach, launching this fall, will integrate three fundamental core engineering courses into a single integrated one-year course, to afford our students deep understanding of engineering concepts and applications.

In the Charter College of Education, the joint PhD program in Special Education—with UCLA—has a history of success reaching back to 1965. By the end of this coming year, 63 students—85 percent of those enrolled—will have earned a PhD from this program.

Many of our students are involved in significant research projects with the faculty, and the faculty themselves are receiving significant grant funding for very important projects. Here are a few of our many notable grants:

  1.  $5,000,000 from the National Science Foundation to Professor Feimeng Zhou in the College of Natural and Social Sciences.
  2.  $4,232,316 from the U.S. Department of Education to Professor A. Dee Williams in the Charter College of Education.
  3.  $3,000,000 from NASA to Professor Helen Boussalis in the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology.
  4.  $2,744,469 from the National Science Foundation to Professor Nancy Warter-Perez in the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology.
  5.  $1,772,000 from the Department of Health and Human Services to Professor Siyon Rhee in the College of Health and Human Services.
  6.  $1,630,785 from the Regents of UC (UC Irvine) to Professor Robert Land in the Charter College of Education.

Our staff members are equally dedicated to student success and the advancement of the University. In June, we celebrated their achievements and paid tribute to those who were nominated for the 2014 Outstanding Staff Award. The roster of awardees from years past is a who’s who of staff members who are still making great contributions to the distinction and success of Cal State L.A. Our outstanding staff awardees have included Yvonne Hasegawa, Amy Miller, Joanna Martel, Suzanne Galyean, Gonzalo Centeno, Monica Ling, Gwen Franklin, Cheryl Siguira, Edward Fisher, Libby Kent, Jeff Cheam, Joann Arriola, Brian Magness, Yolanda Galvan, Linda Wong, Jean Gee, William Wimberly, and—from 1987—Sandra Siguira, and Pat Tom.

Will all here today who have won an Outstanding Staff Award please stand and receive our thanks. Please remain standing, while I ask all of the staff members and administrators here today to stand and let us welcome you.

We have several major searches under way for members of our administrative team. We are continuing our search for a Dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences, for a Senior Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management, and for a University Provost. As we move these searches toward completion, I want to commend the continuing excellent leadership of interim Dean Scott Bowman, interim Senior Associate Vice President Nancy Wada-McKee, and interim Provost Cheryl Ney.

Throughout last year, beginning with Convocation, I proposed that the key to our success is engagement, as an integral part of our mission, vision, and values, not only as a commitment to working with external partners, but also as a guiding principle for teaching and learning. The University community committed to this principle in two major ways: first, by rebuilding and revitalizing the curriculum as part of the process of converting from a quarter calendar to a semester calendar. You have over the last year reinvented over 4500 courses and programs, embedding in many of them the most current best practices for creating an engaged and engaging learning environment. Some of these achievements will be on display from 2-4 today just outside the Golden Eagle ballroom, where a number of poster presentations will describe ways in which the faculty—working with the Center for Effective Teaching and Learning—are building a new and engaging curriculum. The second major curricular contribution to engagement, which will also debut as part of semester conversion, is the GE requirement that all students complete two courses that feature “engagement with the surrounding multicultural communities and the greater Los Angeles area,” and which involve civic learning and community service closely connected with their coursework. I’ve heard nothing but excitement and accolades from current and future community partners who are looking forward to welcoming thousands of Cal State L.A. students into civic and community service.

As we look forward to initiating this new General Education requirement, we are developing new opportunities for civic and community service through our Center for Engagement, Service, and the Public Good, under the leadership of Taffany Lim.  This year, the Center will launch #IServeLA, to feature our campus-wide, expanding service learning program. Expanding our partnerships is important because, beginning in fall 2016, this program will provide Los Angeles and beyond with more than 6000 engaged students annually.

The Center for Engagement, Service, and the Public Good is also the home of GO East L.A.: A Pathway for College and Career Success. Professor Bianca Guzman is the Cal State L.A. Director of this program, which is a partnership with East Los Angeles College and LA Unified to provide “cradle to career” support for the youth of East L.A. This year we are focusing on Garfield High School and the elementary and middle schools that produce Garfield students. East LA College President Marvin Martinez and I will be visiting these elementary and middle schools to talk with parents and students about the importance of creating a pathway to college, and later this year the GO East L.A. team will publish a continuum that illustrates support services that will be available from early childhood forward to all of our GO East L.A. students, along with the benchmarks that will measure our success. This fall, we have a cohort of 51 Garfield High School students who are newly-enrolled at Cal State L.A. Support services are being developed to help them transition from high school to university life, with weekly email tips, a website, student-to-student mentoring, and advisement.

A number of our Go East L.A. partners are here today.

They include Los Angeles School Board Member Monica Garcia, Garfield High School Principal Jose Huerta, Karen Glenn of Grifols, and East Los Angeles College President Marvin Martinez, who is here with numerous members of his GO East L.A. leadership team.

One year in together, we are redefining the educational experience at Cal State L.A., and strengthening our commitment to align the curriculum, pedagogy, and support services with our values and goals. In addition to devoting tremendous energy to semester conversion, we are developing a vision for the future of academic programs and their delivery here at Cal State L.A. Last October, I convened a faculty visioning task force whose charge was to craft a recommendation for innovative academic programs that anticipate the future needs of Los Angeles and beyond. Between January and June, 23 faculty examined workforce reports, economic data, and community needs assessments and heard from experts on pressing economic and educational issues. Over the summer, a writing group synthesized the resources gathered, reviewed and discussed by the task force. The report lays the groundwork for a set of recommendations that focus on Institutional Context, Program Development, Student-Centeredness, Teaching Innovation, and Collaboration. A draft of this significant report will be presented to the campus community for review and comment. I look forward to receiving the final report and recommendations at the end of October.

As I have already noted, a wide variety and number of programs at Cal State L.A. include students working side by side with their professors on important scholarship, research, and artistry. These programs also engage local partners and many reflect the campus commitment to research that addresses challenges facing Los Angeles, the region and the nation. They include:

  •  The largest Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility on any campus in the nation. By the end of October our fueling station will be open to the public.  Drivers will be able to pull off the 10 or 710 freeways and fill up their cars on our campus.
  •  A Residential Simulation Lab, created in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.
  •  The Los Angeles Urban Teacher Residency Program, which equips future math and science teachers to close the achievement gap in high-need urban schools.
  •  The California Reading and Literature project, a partnership with local K-12 schools to design long-term professional development plans for increasing the academic achievement of all students.
  •  The Earthquake Response and Rehabilitation Project, which models the susceptibility of structures to earthquake damage, and brings these results to practitioners in the Los Angeles area.

A key element of raising the visibility of Cal State L.A.'s major Centers and Institutes, has been a reorientation of government leaders to the University, as well as my active involvement with organizations such as the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce (as a Board member), the LA County Economic Development Corporation (as co-chair of Workforce Development), the Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy and Jobs, and the Rotary Club of Los Angeles. I have this year been recognized by and made presentations to the LA City Council and the LA Board of Supervisors, hosted U.S. House Leader Nancy Pelosi, and forged active and productive relationships with Mayor Garcetti, Supervisors Gloria Molina, Mark Ridley-Thomas, and Mike Antonovich, and incoming Supervisor Hilda Solis, as well as Council members Gil Cedillo, Tom LaBonge, and Jose Huizar, and Congress member Judy Chu. We will this year be reaching out to Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Senate President Kevin de Leon, and inviting them to visit and learn about the ways in which we are transforming lives here at Cal State L.A.

Our athletics program offers excellent points of engagement with our community, community partners, and alumni. We broke ground in May for the Rosie Casals/Pancho Gonzalez Tennis Center, which is the first step in a revitalization of the Billie Jean King Sports Complex. This center will embody our commitment to Engagement, Service, and the Public Good, offering a wide range of programs that have the welfare of our community families and children at heart.

Our engagement efforts necessarily include revitalizing our fundraising and public relations. With the leadership of our new Vice President for University Advancement Janet Dial, we are building strong fundraising support for our programs and facilities, and reaching out to our alumni and community partners to ask for their help in telling the Cal State L.A. story. With the leadership of our new Associate Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs, Elena Stern, we are pursuing and providing increasing opportunities to tell that story, and—with an expanded staff—drawing greater attention to the innovation and dedication that characterizes this University.

Helping students feel more engaged with the University requires that we provide them more access to support services that help them negotiate the rigor and complexity of higher education. For this reason, the student success fee that is part of the tuition and fee structure here at Cal State L.A. is devoted to enhancing services that have a crucial role in helping students reach their academic goals. When I arrived at Cal State L.A., I was very encouraged to learn that a large share of the student success fee is being devoted to providing more advisors.  Today, instead of having one advisor for every 1700 students, we have one advisor for every 460 students. This one change, along with our commitment to make the classes students need available in the course schedule, has made a tremendous difference in the rate of progress toward degree. This past year, students were enrolled in over 25,000 more course units than they were the year before. Taking more units means they are getting closer, sooner, to earning their degrees.
Taken by themselves, each of these accomplishments is an exciting step forward. Taken as a whole, they begin to form the narrative of what we can do, just one year into our work together at Cal State L.A. And these are not the only outstanding accomplishments from our last academic year.

There are too many to name, but several more stand out.

  •  Last year, we worked with Mayor Garcetti’s office to launch Civic University. This pilot program, run by our Pat Brown Institute, gave 100 Angelenos the tools they needed to better engage and serve their local government. It’s a program we will expand this year, with the help of a generous gift from AT&T and more gifts to come from our other partners.
  •  The CSU Health Insurance Education project, housed at Cal State L.A.’s Department of Public Health and directed by Professor Walter Zelman, helped cut the uninsured rate among CSU students by 60 percent.
  •  We opened the new TV, Film and Media Center, a state of the art facility poised to increase Cal State L.A.’s presence in one of our city’s signature industries.

And this quarter, we are opening a Dreamers’ Resource Center to support the academic progress of undocumented students, and a 24-hour computer lab and study center to accommodate the complex, night and day schedules that our students maintain. To expand access to success beyond this campus, we are considering additional campus sites in downtown L.A. and in the Hollywood Promise Zone, which will be available for both State supported and self-supported courses and events.

We are one year into our partnership at Cal State L.A., and have much to admire about what we’ve accomplished and where we’re headed. But of course, what we admire most are our students. They represent a generation that, here at Cal State L.A., is characterized by determination and grit. More than anything else, they tell the story of Cal State L.A.

Our story is the story of Justin D’Agostino. Today, Justin is on his way to completing a Masters in Anthropology before beginning his PhD studies. However, his future was not always this certain. As a high schooler, Justin had earned an athletic scholarship to Washington D.C.’s St. John’s College High School. That is, until he was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma, the most dangerous and potentially fatal form of skin cancer. At the same time, Justin was enduring the pain of his parents’ divorce. In his own words “The physical and psychological struggle of dealing with cancer and my parents’ separation at such a young age had a detrimental impact on my academic and athletic performance.  I lost my scholarship.”

He was transferred to a local high school, forced to make new friends, to adjust to his new, limited support system, and to overcome two surgeries. He did all those things. And, one year later, he was cancer free—ready to put his life back on track. That came in the form of an interest in biology, and a desire to better understand his own disease. He would go on to receive a biology degree from San Francisco State University before joining us here at Cal State L.A. Justin received an award for outstanding oral presentation at this University’s 22nd Annual Student Symposium on Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity, and earlier this month, was awarded a 2014 California State University Board of Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement.

Our story is the story of Ronald Martinez. Ronald entered Cal State L.A. in need of math remediation. He was a member of our exceptional Summer Bridge Program and a special admit. Before coming to Cal State L.A., Ronald was, as he puts it, “socially promoted” through the grades, a victim of low expectations.  Here, things changed. As Ronald says, “My life changed from that point.  I met Steve Teixeira, who was the Summer Bridge Coordinator at that time. Teixeira was instrumental in helping me find the desire and courage to stand up for myself. I also participated in a Race, Class, and Gender course, which helped me understand my experience as a youth in urban Los Angeles. This powerful, irreplaceable experience coupled with Teixeira's mentorship propelled me into a positive, forward direction.” Because of that back and forth between Ronald and his faculty and staff mentors, he not only overcame his challenges with math—Ronald now teaches it. Today, he’s a math instructor at East LA College, and a Math facilitator in the Cal State L.A. Summer Bridge Program—quite the journey from his math remediation classes all those years ago.

Our story is the story of Maria E. Gonzalez. Maria was born in Mexico; her mother had a 3rd grade education and her father had a 2nd grade education. At age 4, she lost her father to a heart attack and then illness sent her into a coma. After coming out of the coma, she needed two years of rehabilitation to regain speech, recognize her family, and walk. But that’s not all.

At the age of 10, Maria and her mother took the two day walk across the border into Arizona, because her mother wanted a better life for Maria. Maria attended Hollenbeck Middle School and Roosevelt High School, but at the age of 15 dropped out of school to raise a child. As a 29 year old single mother with three children, she started adult evening school. A counselor there recognized something special and suggested she go to college, a possibility she had never even imagined. She went to Pasadena City College and graduated in Early Childhood Education. This new credential allowed her to better support her family.

She applied to Cal State L.A., faced a number of academic challenges here, and eventually earned a degree in Sociology. She worked at Alta Med in their Adult Day Care area for five years, and then decided to honor her deceased mother and become a Social Worker. She was admitted into the Masters of Social Work Program at Cal State L.A. and she has managed to be a caregiver for her five grandchildren, aged 14 to 8, and continue to work and excel in her studies. The faculty are very proud of her work in the field and her master’s thesis research on immigration and its effects on older adults as they transition from one culture to another.  She plans to graduate this year, and I will be delighted to shake the hand of this remarkable woman at Commencement.

All of our students face significant challenges as they navigate the demands of academic excellence, family responsibility, and jobs. Our first lady, Debbie Covino, and I both know attending college can be overwhelming and stressful and that our students face increasing academic, social, and financial challenges.  That’s why I will be assisting Debbie with a campaign we call “Mind Matters.” We all know that staying in shape—mentally, physically, emotionally—is a key element of academic, professional, and personal success. One great source of help is our student health center, where our dedicated healthcare professionals make the wellbeing of our students their top priority. I’ve authorized the appointment of two additional healthcare professionals specializing in Mind Matters that can get in the way of academic and personal wellbeing:  stress, anxiety, and habits and life choices that work against success. We’ll be increasing the health center space available for psychological counseling, workshops, and activities that promote physical and mental wellbeing. And students will be hearing from Debbie and me, on posters that are beginning to appear on campus, and at presentations designed to help them take advantage of the good habits, choices, and strategies that can help everyone to stay on a successful path to a Cal State L.A. degree.

Together, we are one year into a future that grows more and more promising each day, built on the spirit, energy, and dedication of everyone here, forging a vision that makes us all proud to be part of a great university in a great city. I’ll be happy to take questions, but first let me stress that Debbie and I are thrilled to be continuing this journey with you. Personally, it has been so very rewarding for me to work together with you to provide our students with a stellar educational experience, and to renew our commitment to scholarship and service that make a difference in the life of this region. Together, we’re not just slippin’ into the future. We’re soaring. Thank you. Here’s to another great year.