Fall Convocation 2018


University Convocation Fall 2018

August 17, 2018

Welcome to Convocation 2018. Thank you all for being here today, and for sharing in the enthusiasm and excitement of this new year. I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge and introduce a few guests: First Lady, Dr. Debbie Covino is here. Please join me in welcoming the new dean of the College of Arts and Letters, Linda Essig. And today we welcome 34 new faculty. Last semester, Henoc Preciado came on board as the new director for the Erika J. Glazer Family Dreamers Resource Center. Today we welcome Henoc to the Cal State LA community. The new president of the Associated Students Inc., Nia Johnson, could not be here today, but we wish her the best. She is brimming with excitement and new ideas for partnerships. We look forward to a great year of working together with ASI. And welcome to Dwight Nakata, president of the Cal State LA Alumni Association, and to the members of the Alumni Association board of directors who are here today.  

This summer, I've spent a great deal of time reflecting on our university community, and our many accomplishments over the last five years. Over those years, our standing and reputation have skyrocketed and our contributions to Los Angeles have expanded. If you’ve taught, worked, or studied here during this time, you’ve seen those changes. We-are-soaring! As we stand poised to reach new heights, it’s important to take a moment to look at the sources of our success. Of course, our faculty and staff are deeply committed---there’s not a finer university faculty in the nation. Our students are hardworking and determined. But there’s another far less examined source contributing to our success. We thrive because of the power of our relationships. Our greatest accomplishments are rooted in relationships: our relationships with our students, our relationships with each other and with the communities and region we serve.

In 2013, at my first Convocation as president of Cal State LA, I discussed the goal and logic of our commitment to engagement, service, and the public good. At that time I said, quote: “When we tie learning and scholarship to a sense of place, to grappling with a unique set of opportunities, challenges, and circumstances that define the quality of life, we become the engine of urban and regional transformation.” That statement during my first Convocation was a call to action; a call to forge new and stronger relationships with our community and our region. Faculty, students and staff answered that call.  Through service learning that places thousands of Cal State LA students in the communities every semester. Through new partnerships, collaborations and initiatives designed to grapple with the opportunities and challenges that Los Angeles offers. And because we answered the call, we are transforming our students and the communities of Los Angeles more dramatically than any other university in the region. 

Today, I can say that those words at my first Convocation were prescient. They were spoken before we were ranked number one in the nation for upward mobility; before Mayor Eric Garcetti named Cal State LA a great university in the greatest city on the face of the earth, and before we received the Eddy Award from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation for our contributions to the economy of our region. Today, we stand in the national spotlight once again. 

In May, the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities, in partnership with the Democracy Collaborative, selected Cal State LA for its Higher Education Anchor Mission Initiative, in recognition of our work with the communities we serve. We are one of only 33 universities in the nation to receive this distinction, and the only public university in California. Just as we lead the nation in upward mobility, we are a recognized national leader in building meaningful and impactful relationships that make us a vital resource in our region. This initiative recognizes that we are deeply rooted in Los Angeles, and because of our presence, we have made the communities of Los Angeles better. From our efforts to nurture bioscience through the Cal State LA BioSpace project, to our work to document the history of Chinese Americans with the Chinese American Oral History Project, our impact on Los Angeles is profound. Our success aligns with our top tier initiative articulated in our Strategic Plan. That plan, unveiled at Convocation three years ago, included as a major goal to “become L.A.’s premier educational anchor institution and contribute to the overall well-being of the region.”

We are succeeding in that endeavor. We have demonstrated that universities can and must extend their reach beyond the walls of the institution and into our communities. The university of the 21st century is a university that transforms people and places. The times in which we live, are calling—demanding---for us to be more. By embracing our identity as an engaged anchor institution in Los Angeles, we must make our social value clear. The challenges and opportunities facing Los Angeles are our challenges and our opportunities. Just as we prepare our students for the world, we must also prepare the world for our graduates.  This is a crucial point. It’s one that the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation CEO Bill Allen noted when he awarded Cal State LA its Eddy Award. He said: “Cal State LA consistently strives to transform the role of the university and lay the groundwork for the students to climb the income ladder.”  As we embrace our responsibility to serve communities, we help them become the kinds of places in which our students can prosper.  That is the groundwork that must be laid for our graduates and for others in the region to thrive. 

That’s why our work with SELA, the Southeast Los Angeles Collaborative, is so important. The cities and communities that make up Southeast Los Angeles--- communities where our students and their families live ---have often been overlooked. The goal of the SELA Collaborative is to empower SELA communities to effectively address key issues impacting the region. The collaborative is focused on the cities of Maywood, Cudahy, Southgate, Lynwood, Bell, Bell Gardens, Vernon, and the incorporated areas of Walnut and Firestone. Its priorities are to strengthen the capacity of nonprofits in the region, to promote the civic engagement of area residents, to develop a community-driven public policy agenda; and to address the dearth of research on the area by promoting and supporting a body of research that reflects the assets, opportunities and challenges of Southeast Los Angeles. The Pat Brown Institute at Cal State LA represents the university on this collaborative, and in partnership with several foundations, has served as a backbone organization for this important effort. 

Our work with SELA is just one example of the kind of relationships our university has forged and the work it does throughout Los Angeles. Beyond our obvious role of educating students, we are at work on persistent and systemic challenges facing Los Angeles. We are engaged in service for the public good. This is the message we delivered to our elected officials in the spring, after the governor released a budget that offered the CSU far less than needed. We explained the true role we play and the responsibilities we shoulder. And we shared our successes in transforming people and places. Our stories moved the needle. The final budget for the new academic year provides the CSU with an ongoing increase of $197.1 million, and $161.1 million in one-time funding to expand enrollment, address deferred maintenance, and bolster campus efforts to support student well-being. I’m encouraged by this move; I believe it signals an understanding and appreciation on the part of our elected officials of the social value of public universities. It also indicates that they see us a sound and wise investment. We leverage the resources of the university to benefit the public good. We know that about 70% of our graduates remain in Los Angeles and almost 85% in Southern California. They will play a vital role: one out of every ten employees in California is a graduate of the CSU. And one out of every 20 Americans with a college degree earned it from the CSU. At Cal State LA, we know our students are civic-minded. They graduate with an ethic of service; an understanding of the value of working for the public good.  Their commitment to engagement, service and the public good will continue as they live and work here in Southern California, among us and around us.

Let me tell you about our new relationship with Everytable. The mission of Everytable is to make nutritious, fresh food affordable and accessible to all. At its locations throughout Los Angeles, Everytable offers healthy meals made from scratch—and its cost is based on the income of the residents in the neighborhood where they operate. This pricing is an outgrowth of their belief in healthy food as a human right. Beginning this fall, Everytable will operate here at Cal State LA, and our university community will benefit from their menu of grab-and-go healthy meals at a reduced cost. The partnership with Everytable coincides with the launch of our community impact fund that will allow us to serve our university and community in new ways. This fund will help us establish and implement programs and initiatives on campus and in the community to enhance nutrition education, to address food insecurity and hunger, and to foster emerging entrepreneurship. All of Cal State LA’s proceeds from Everytable will be directed into this new community impact fund. 

Our experiences over the last five years have shown that when we respond to the needs of our students and communities, our university becomes stronger.  Today at Cal State LA, more than 700 faculty, administrators, staff and students are now certified in Mental Health First Aid. This eight-hour training program teaches participants skills necessary to identify and assist those in need of mental health resources. The training is a partnership between the President’s Office, the Office of the Vice President for Student Life, Counseling and Psychological Services, and the Student Health Center, and grew out of the Mind Matters initiative. Mind Matters grew out of a desire to create a culture of inner well-being at the University. As students face higher and higher levels of stress and anxiety, their need for skills to navigate the demands of university life are great. Debbie and I created Mind Matters with this in mind. Since then, our ability to meet the needs of students has increased. Not only are 700 faculty, staff and students certified, we now have greater capacity to meet the needs at the Student Health Center. Since the early days of Mind Matters, we’ve increased the number of psychological counselors and improved our system of delivery in order to see students sooner. Our counselors at the Student Health Center have seen a 24% increase in unique clients, or separate individuals. This means 355 more students received clinical services at CAPS compared to the previous year. Each new Cal State LA student learns about Mind Matters during orientation, and plans are underway for a Parent Academy that will provide parents of first-generation students with skills to help support their children.  

Through the Mind Matters initiative, students are learning to build and maintain healthy relationships among themselves and with friends and family. Our video this year features students talking to students about ways to nurture inner well-being. Let’s take a look.

Just as our students will leave Cal State LA with an ethos of service; they will also leave with an understanding of the need to focus on inner well-being as part of their recipe for a healthy and rewarding life. I encourage each of you to continue to share the message of well-being throughout the community this year and to be mindful of students who may need assistance. 

In the spring we graduated about six thousand students who were excited to begin the next chapters of their lives. Imagine shaking the hands of nearly six thousand students. It was a great day for our graduates, their family and friends—and for Los Angeles. When Cal State LA students climb the ladder of success, Los Angeles climbs. When Cal State LA students graduate, prepared to serve and to lead, Los Angeles reaps the benefits. That’s why we chose to name our first comprehensive fundraising campaign “We are LA: The Campaign for Cal State LA.” In April, during the launch of the campaign, I discussed our unique relationship with Los Angeles and our goal of raising $75 million dollars to celebrate the university’s 75th birthday. On our way to that high mark, we’ve hit some records. Since the launch, we’ve reached $48.5 million dollars, and we have had a record number of donors to the university this year: more than 5,000.  I’m especially pleased to report that we received more than 1,400 gifts from students in spring, 2018. Our relationship with our alumni begins when they are students.  On the campaign website you’ll see the story of donors, just published today, who work at Cal State LA. They, like you, have an up close view of the work that we do and what they’ve witnessed moved them to give. A very special thank you to Alex Harwood, Gail Washington and Aimee Lim for your gifts and for allowing us to share your story.  We’ll tell more of these stories this year and throughout the campaign. 
I look forward to the months ahead, knowing that we are prepared to seize the opportunities and meet the challenges that may come our way. We start this new academic year, once again, facing an uncertain landscape for DACA students as we await rulings in court cases. This summer we witnessed disturbing images of immigrant families separated at the border and the trauma that followed. We watched troubling news stories of African Americans arrested or confronted by law enforcement for innocuous acts, like sitting at Starbucks. And we read and watched tragic accounts of police shootings of African Americans. We recognize that what affects our community also affects our students. It is our responsibility to support our students as they contend with these and other challenges, in a national climate of divisiveness and polarization.  At Cal State LA, we will not allow that toxic climate to determine the manner in which we relate to our students or to each other. We will stand for the values and principles that are central to higher education and to a civil society. We will stand for our students. And we will stand for the communities and the region we serve, simply because this is who we are. 

In March, the University commemorated the 1968 East L.A. Walkouts. The students who walked out to protest inequity in public education 50 years ago helped alter our systems of education for the better. Many of the leaders from that movement were Cal State LA students. We commemorated that event by holding a spectacular “walk-in” attended by more than a thousand high school students, who learned about history and were encouraged to include college in their future plans. This academic year, the Department of Chicana and Chicano and Latina and Latino Studies, the first in the nation, will celebrate its 50th anniversary with the theme: Fifty years of Transforming Minds and Communities. The department has organized a list of events, with a kick-off lecture and reception that will feature civil rights icon Dolores Huerta.  The Department of Pan African Studies is also gearing up for the celebration of its 50th anniversary, as the second oldest in the nation. We look forward to celebrating these world-changing milestones together.  
Our profound impact in the world begins right here in our community, and it begins with you. We have seen this great success because of you. Thank you to the recipients of the Distinguished Women Award for their service. They embody engagement, service, and the public good. This year’s recipients are: 
•    Laura P. Flenoury, Program Evaluation and Research Collaborative
•    Bobbie Galaz, College of Natural and Social Sciences
•    Ruzanna Karmiryan, Department of Sociology
•    Maria Laines, Educational Opportunity Program
•    Allison Mattheis, Division of Applied and Advanced Studies in Education
•    Birte Pfleger-Cullinan, Department of History
•    Isis Stansberry, Office for Students with Disabilities
•    Maria Esparanza Ubago, College of Business and Economics
•    Andrea Zetlin, Division of Special Education and Counseling

And thank you to this year's Outstanding Staff Award recipient,  Arlette Hatttar of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, for her many contributions to our students.  Thank you to all of the students, staff, and faculty who are helping to create a culture of well-being at Cal State LA, including the Mind Matters Committee; the staff of CAPS for supporting the mental health needs of our students, including Thea Winkler and Jonna Fries; and the more than 700 of you who have been certified in mental health first aid. A special thank you to Raphael Sonenshein and Raquel Beltran of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs; to The Facilities Services 2018 Annual Champion Award winners: Patricia Barbarena; Jovita Diaz; Hilde Dominguez; Ed Ornelas; Victor Pacheco; Marcos Romero; Ricardo Soto; Miguel Taico; Donita Towler; Mick Murray; Jared Richard; Carl Kimberlin; Jeremy Emerson; Brandon Erbe; and Hoa Pham and to our students, faculty, and staff who are serving in communities throughout Los Angeles, donating thousands of hours, and logging their service through the I Serve LA tracker. Thank you to our stellar faculty and staff.  And thank you to all of you who are working tirelessly to ensure that our students, our communities and our region thrive. As we start a new year, let’s reaffirm and strengthen our existing relationships and let’s create new relationships that will help our students, our community and our region in new ways. Because of you we are soaring. Our best year yet lies before us. Welcome back.