University Fall Convocation 2017

August 17, 2017

Good morning and welcome to Fall Convocation 2017. First let’s offer a round of applause to our photographer and videographer Emilio Flores, and the superb team at Communications and Public Affairs, for taking us back through the music and memories that are such a wonderful part of the university’s history.

As we mark the start of a new academic year, we are acutely aware of the ways in which national events unsettled our university community last term, driving us to reaffirm our core ideals and ethics. We meet together today to celebrate the dedication and goodwill that have defined this university for seven decades, to reaffirm our collective mission, with an unrelenting commitment to our students, our colleagues, and our community, and enthusiasm for the future that we are creating together.

Let me be clear about current events. There is no moral equivalency between those who embrace social justice rooted in inclusion, free speech, and equity, and those who perpetuate a legacy of hate, violence, misogyny, bigotry, antisemitism, hostility toward the LGBTQ Plus community, and white supremacy.

The tragedy in Charlottesville reminds me that those of us in higher education at public universities are here because we have a strong stake in social, economic, and political equity and social justice. That’s what we stand for and that’s what we will continue to stand for.

As we celebrate Cal State LA’s 70th anniversary, we look back with pride at the roads we’ve traveled since 1947. What has been accomplished here over seven decades could not have taken place without generations of students, faculty and staff, generations of alumni and supporters working collectively for the public good. We are all part of that rich legacy.

So many architects of that legacy are here today. Let me ask the members of our emeriti faculty, members of the President’s Council, and members of the Alumni Assn. Board joining us today to please stand. Thank you for being with us.

The new president of the student body is David Zitser. With all of you, I wish David and his ASI colleagues much success, and look forward to their leadership and spirit this year. David, please stand. Welcome and congratulations. 

Last year was filled with milestones. In January, an unprecedented research study published in the New York Times ranked us number one in the nation for the upward mobility of our students. We already knew that we transform lives and help students write new futures, but now we have data to demonstrate conclusively that we’ve been number one at this enterprise for decades. This is a point of pride no other university can claim. Feel free to use it liberally.

This last year we dedicated: the Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services, James M. Rosser Hall, and the Erika J. Glazer Family Dreamers Resource Center. Our Educational Participation in Communities program, also known as EPIC, celebrated its 50th anniversary. And our Early Entrance Program celebrated 35 years of welcoming brilliant younger students to Cal State LA. This October, the signature event for our Athletics Department will mark its 20th anniversary. The Billie Jean King and Friends Gala has supported hundreds of student athletes over the years.

We had another remarkable fundraising year, with over $14 million in new philanthropic support—and that number may rise when the tallying is finalized. Thank you to University Advancement for bringing in the dollars that help us move forward in critical ways.

STRATEGIC PLAN

Last year at Fall Convocation I unveiled our Strategic Plan, our roadmap for the future. I’m pleased to report that, throughout the university community, the plan has come to life.  Each college, department, division, office is helping to transform the four pillars of the Strategic Plan into reality. Evidence of our forward movement can be seen in new programs and initiatives, better outcomes for students, national honors and awards. Today, we can point to these developments as vivid illustrations of the journey we have undertaken together.

Today, let’s take a look at the progress we’ve made in the plan’s four strategic priority areas.

ACADEMIC DISTINCTION

For the second year in a row, Cal State LA saw the highest increase in the number of student applications of any CSU campus. That increase is yet another indicator of our growing prominence and distinction. We continue to respond with upgrades and improvements in all areas of the university to accommodate for our growth.

Today we welcome 40 new faculty members and plan to add another 50 next year. You are joining a faculty that is deeply passionate about transforming their disciplines with path breaking research and scholarship, and transforming the lives of those they teach.

The faculty’s success continues to earn national recognition. The American Council on Education recognized the Center for Effective Teaching and Learning for its exemplary efforts to increase student success through innovative instruction. The council’s report refers to CETL as a “crucial lever” in our plan to achieve the goals of Graduation Initiative 2025.

And once again the National Science Foundation ranks Cal State LA as the number one masters granting institution in the nation for graduating Latino students in STEM who go on to earn the PhD. Many thanks to the deans, chairs and faculty of the College of Natural and Social Sciences and the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology for earning this recognition.

At a time when funding of externally sponsored programs has become more limited, Cal State LA continues to win significant grants and contracts. In fiscal year 16-17, University Auxiliary Services received more than $42.7 million in new awards. That’s up from $34 million in fiscal year 15-16. Kinesiology Professor Stéfan Keslacy is the principle investigator for a $600,000 federal grant to study the exercise needs of wheelchair users. Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Marina Mondin is principle investigator for a $380,000 grant from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to conduct research designed to improve cyber security. Bianca Guzman is principle investigator for a $473,178 grant from the Los Angeles Unified School District. And Associate Dean Rita Ledesma is principle investigator for a $16.6 million grant from the California Department of Health Care Services to promote dental health among underserved populations in Los Angeles.

Please join me now in welcoming the two newest members of our academic leadership team, our new dean of the College of Business and Economics, Rami Maysami, and our new Associate Vice President for Research Jeffrey Underwood.

WELCOMING AND INCLUSIVE CAMPUS

A vibrant student life---with clubs, organizations and opportunities for involvement---makes it easier for students to feel as if they belong; to connect with other students who share their interests. And when school spirit is high, more students know that they are a part of something special.

This year marked the first time Cal State LA led mandatory orientation programs for transfer students. This allowed all transfer students to meet with their advisors to register for classes, the first step in achieving our goals for Graduation 2025. Thank you to Linda Centeno, Jennifer Celaya Davis and Christopher Johnson for supervising 60 orientation leaders who served as the welcoming face of the university for 3,850 new transfer students.

The Strategic Plan’s Inclusive Campus Consultative Group and the chairs and faculty of our ethnic studies units are looking at ways to make our university more welcoming and inclusive. The group’s recommendations, which I endorse, included giving department status to our Asian/Asian-American Studies program.

Dean Pamela Scott-Johnson is working with faculty to develop a proposal for the creation of a vibrant department that will help students gain a better understanding of the histories, cultures and contributions of Asian and Asian American communities.

I announced our plan to pursue department status last spring at the opening of the Chinese American Oral History Project. The hundreds who attended the event greeted the news with great enthusiasm and excitement.

Our faculty have also initiated the creation of an interdisciplinary and distinctive school or college to house our ethnic studies departments. 

Such a school or college would represent Cal State LA’s commitment to robust interdisciplinary teaching and research on race, ethnicity, culture, language, and identity and draw faculty and students from areas across the university, including the humanities, arts, engineering, business, education, and the natural and social sciences. Cal State LA is home to the nation’s first Chicano Studies Department and the nation’s second Pan-African Studies Department. With this new step forward, we will make history again.

ENGAGEMENT, SERVICE, AND THE PUBLIC GOOD

Our ethic of engagement, service, and the public good extends throughout the university. Each year thousands of our students, faculty and staff serve in the community. At Convocation last year, we officially launched the I Serve LA tracker, which allows us to track and quantify the hours that we collectively donate to the region. Ultimately we’ll be able to translate hours into dollars to offer a concrete illustration of one element of Cal State LA’s economic impact on the region.

This information will also help us to apply for and receive the Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. This prestigious distinction is an indicator of an institution’s commitment to service and engagement. The application for the Carnegie Community Engagement Designation is a two-year process that begins now and ends in 2020 with an announcement of recipients. I hope all of you will help us earn this designation by tracking your service.

At Cal State LA, the Faculty Fellowship for the Public Good supports innovative excellence in learning and teaching, scholarship, and initiatives. Our Faculty Fellows for the Public Good this year are: David Blekhman, Engineering; Dolores Delgado Bernal and Alejandro Covarrubias, Chicano Studies; Sam Landsberger, Engineering; Portia Jackson Preston, Public Health; and Victor Viesca, History.

One of the greatest recent contributions to Engagement, Service, and the Public Good is the Rongxiang Xu Bioscience Innovation Center, which will house the LA BioSpace incubator and serve as a hub for entrepreneurship and job creation. In the spring we launched LA BioStart, a collaboration that includes Cal State LA, the Biocom Institute, and the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. LA BioStart provides entrepreneurs with training, mentoring and skills to launch their own bioscience ventures. The inaugural class of our boot camp is an impressive group of 20 individuals working in areas that will have great impact such as stem cell harvesting, a saliva collection and processing device for point of care diagnoses and screening, and cancer treatment, detection, imaging and therapy, including immunotherapy. Through LA BioStart we are helping to develop much-needed talent in an industry that holds tremendous promise for our region.

GO East LA, our cradle to career initiative, has expanded into the Central City area. GO Central City launched in January and offers the same opportunity and promises to students in Central City schools. Last year, GO East LA and GO Central City served more than 17,000 individuals. Cal State LA students, faculty and staff visited 95 schools and encouraged LA’s children to set their sights on a college degree.

Of course, Cal State LA also engages and serves the public good through the arts. Since 1994 we have provided residents of the region an opportunity to experience the professional arts in a world-class venue. Thousands of artists from around the world have presented their work at the Intimate Theater, the Luckman Gallery, the Street of the Arts, and here in the wonderful Luckman Theatre.

Thank you to Wendy Baker and the staff of the Luckman Complex for enriching our community through the arts and for helping Cal State LA to serve the public good—and for hosting our fall convocations.

STUDENT SUCCESS

Last September, Cal State LA launched Graduation Initiative 2025 to increase graduation rates and eliminate graduation and equity gaps. I am committed to increasing the four-year graduation rate to 30%; the six-year graduation rate to 55% for freshmen; the two-year graduation rate to 36%; and the four-year graduation rate to 81% for transfer students. We are on our way to meeting these ambitious goals as faculty and staff launch initiatives directed at improving access to classes, at facilitating engaged teaching and learning, and at new technologies to better serve students. Specific initiatives include the Wise Project, led by Professor Ji Son and Vice Provost Amy Bippus, which offers interactive interventions that address academic abilities, setbacks, and a student’s sense of belonging in higher education. Professor Son and Vice Provost Bippus will also study the impact of these interventions on first-year students. Efforts to reimagine first-year math are also underway, addressing a persistent obstacle to student success. While the CSU recently launched an initiative to improve outcomes across the system, our university planning began months ago. Professors Eyob Demeke and Debasree Raychaudhuri are working with Deans Pamela Scott-Johnson and Michelle Hawley and faculty from across the university to create student-learning pathways that will result in better learning outcomes and greater academic success.

We also made great strides this year in improving access to classes and in better serving our new transfer students. Thank you to the Office of the Vice Provost for Budget and Planning, our associate deans and department chairs for meeting the course needs of students so effectively.  New transfer students got a better start in their Cal State LA careers this year when they received transfer credit evaluations in time for summer advising—a first in our university’s history. Thank you to Margaret Garcia, Cheryl Pugh, Chris Cobb, Vince Lopez, Tammie Leung, Alma Franquez, Lisa Bickley and Tamara Yamada. The university’s eAdvising initiative enjoyed a very successful launch thanks to Tom Enders, Michelle Hawley, Terri Iler, our college directors of Student Success and Academic Advising and our many faculty and staff advisors. Our success will benefit our students dramatically and directly. A CSU study concluded that a first-time freshman who earns a degree just one term earlier will enjoy an immediate gain of $13,264 and a long term gain of $31,370. Thank you to all who are contributing to the Graduation 2025 initiative. 

At Cal State LA we understand that student success is also influenced by our students’ experiences outside the classroom. Our Division of Administration and Finance has worked diligently to meet the needs that come with our growing student population. We’ve opened new venues on campus including Salazar Café, Espresso Bar, King Coffee, Golden Eagle Express and Café 47. And we’ve expanded our offerings to include more healthy menu options. And we offer longer hours. And today, we are a smoke free, tobacco free, and vape free campus. Our tagline is self-explanatory—Cal State LA: smoke-free for the health of all. I encourage you all to share this message. Many thanks to Troy Allen and his committee for leading this effort.

We continue to update systems to improve the experience of students on campus. This year, our GETmobile app users logged 1.4 million transactions using popular functions such as “my class schedule,” “enrollment,” “exam schedule,” and the Starbucks Live Stream. Thank you to Information Technology Services for leading the way in providing better and better technology innovations to our students.

Our faculty and staff are passionate, creative, tenacious, and deeply committed to the success of our students. These attributes are exemplified by the recipients of the 2017 Distinguished Women Awards: Ana Caudillo, Office of the President; Martha Contreras, Educational Opportunity Program; Marianne James, Accounting; Ashley Joseph, Associated Students, Incorporated; Jennifer McCormick, Curriculum and Instruction; Suzanne McEvoy, Academic Affairs; Charity Perry, sociology; Cheryl Pugh, Undergraduate Studies; Lourdes “Lulu” Quiñones, Upward Bound; Lizette Rivera, Liberal Studies; Thea Winkler, Counseling and Psychological Services; and Hengchun Ye, Geosciences and Environment. The recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Staff Award is also a proud alumna of Cal State LA, Iris Aceves. As lead coordinator at the University Writing Center, she helps student develop the skills they need to thrive at the University and throughout their lives. For Iris, the most rewarding aspect of her work is witnessing students develop into professionals. She has served with EPIC and at Mind Matters Town Halls. Iris, will you please stand? Thank you.

The staff of Facilities Services works hard to provide a safe, clean, and inviting campus environment that supports student success. The Facilities Services 2017 Annual Champion Award winners include: Patricia Barberena; Lizbeth De Lira; Jovita Diaz; Nancy Guardado; Calvin Howard; Yolanda Jimenez; Joe Marsetti; Kristil Mejia; Hoa Pham; Luis Ramirez; Dora Serafin; Rosie Solano; Darryl Swayne; and Veronica Vien. The Champions of the Year are Emmanuel Free and Victor Pacheco. Will you please stand?

This year we launched a new initiative aimed at improving our customer service. Thank you to our Customer Service Champions for laying the groundwork for a comprehensive campus-wide training program that will give our dedicated staff and student workers the tools to provide professional, courteous and exceptional service. The Customer Service Champions are Martha Contreras, Jonathan Choy, Christopher Johnson, Lizette Juarez, Anoush Mikayelyan, Victor M. Hernandez, Matt Warren, Michelle Lovasz, Maria Cerce, Ronnie Wills, Veronica Woo, and Chelsey Seely. Will you please stand?

Since 2009, the University-Wide Staff Planning Committee has met and convened three all University staff meetings each year and several summer workshops that enable staff professional development that supports more successful and rewarding work, and better results. Thank you to the members of the University-Wide Staff Meeting Planning Committee: Erika Alvarez-Ramirez, Elia Amaro-Hernandez, Frangelo Ayran, Jennifer Celaya Davis, Cynthia Galvez, Joan G. Lopez, Amy Miller, Delmy Ruiz, Lianne Salerno, Reyna Torres, and Susan Varela.

I’d like to acknowledge our newest staff who may be attending their first Convocation. Will those staff who joined Cal State LA since last September, please stand? Welcome to Cal State LA. 

If you’ve been on campus this summer, you’ve seen the earth movers, and workers in hard hats, and you’ve heard the sounds of progress. We are renovating and building: the Rongxiang Xu Bioscience Innovation Center; Los Angeles Football Club Training Facility; Track and Field Renovation Project, renovation of the building formerly known as Physical Sciences; the new Rosie Casals-Pancho Gonzales Tennis Center. We’ll present plans for our new parking structure to the board of trustees in September.

Let me dwell for a moment on our relationship with the Los Angeles Football Club. This is an example of our success in growing great partnerships. The LAFC is the newest major league soccer team in Los Angeles, and it has selected Cal State LA as the home of its $30 million training facility, soccer operations headquarters, and youth academy. In addition, the LAFC has already committed $1.6 million in support for Cal State LA, including a renovation of the University’s soccer field. Our students will benefit in a number of ways: from the upgraded facilities and from the opportunities supported by our relationship with the LAFC, including internships, practicum hours and a new graduate program in Sport Operations and Athlete Representation. Thank you to Barbara Queen and Warren Jacobs for their work on LAFC and bioscience projects. A special thank you to Executive Vice President Jose Gomez who spearheaded this effort.

Our Athletics Program continues to push toward greater heights. Congratulations to our Women’s Tennis Team and their coaches. The team earned an Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-Academic Team award for having a strong team grade point average. And congratulations to our Track and Field Team and their coaches. Student Ingvar Moseley was the California Collegiate Athletic Association champion in the 400 hurdles. Ingvar and long jumper J’Liyah Miles earned All-Academic honors from the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association this summer. Our soccer teams are starting their seasons with top rankings in the conference. We look forward to another great year for our student athletes.

A key component of Student Success is inner well-being. As many of you know, Debbie Covino and I launched the Mind Matters initiative to integrate well-being into the fabric of university life. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need to ensure that our students understand the importance of caring for their inner selves. And we are providing them with ways to do so.

Last year, 1,600 students participated in Mind Matters Town Halls, where 150 administrators, faculty, staff, and students served as volunteer table coaches. At these gatherings, students created action plans for the health and well-being of the campus community. Those plans will be implemented in the spring of 2018, so stay tuned.

I’m pleased to announce two new components of Mind Matters. This semester marks the start of Well-Being Wednesdays.

On designated Wednesdays, Mind Matters and Student Health Advisory Committee volunteers will be visible on the main walkway, providing students with information and opportunities to engage with each other. Faculty and staff who have received training in Cal State LA Mental Health First Aid will participate as Well-Being Ambassadors. In other words, the campus will feature our many stewards of well-being who can offer tips, strategies and resources for thriving here at Cal State LA.

We’re also launching our Mind Matters Champions Award. This award will recognize faculty and staff who represent exceptional and innovative dedication to the inner well-being of others. With this award we will expand the work of Mind Matters and continue to encourage student success and the health of the campus community.

I wish you all a semester filled with success and well-being. Enjoy the music in the plaza.