Fall Convocation 2019

University Convocation Fall 2019

August 19, 2019

Good morning, and welcome to Convocation 2019.

The start of a new academic year is a fresh and exciting opportunity. Again we have the privilege of educating, guiding, and preparing our students as they create the futures they’ve dreamed of. The ability to do this powerful work, to serve as co-creators, pulls each of you here and keeps you coming back. As faculty and staff, you journey with our students for an important chapter of their lives. You work every day with relentless passion and drive, realizing that our students’ success rests on our work, knowing the impact of our actions. This year, as we gather for Convocation, this is what we celebrate: another opportunity for impact through excellence and dedication.

I’d like to take a moment to recognize some of our guests. As you heard earlier, today we welcome 43 new faculty joining us, a vibrant group of superb scholar-teachers, who will no doubt do great things. I want our new faculty to know that you are joining a faculty whose transformative dedication and talent is unparalleled. We also welcome our new staff from across the university. Those staff members who have joined us in the last year, please stand. Welcome to the Golden Eagle family. This year’s president of Associated Students, Inc. is Aaron Castaneda. Please stand, Aaron. Thank you for representing the voice of our students. We wish Aaron and his colleagues all the best and we look forward to a great year of working together. Welcome to our emeriti faculty. We appreciate your presence. Today we’re joined by members of the Board of Directors for the Cal State LA Alumni Association and members of the Board of Directors for the Cal State LA Foundation. I’d like to thank Wendy Baker, executive director for the Luckman Fine Arts Complex, and her staff for their hard work on Convocation. We’re also pleased to have students here who work on We Are LA: The Campaign for Cal State LA, our first comprehensive fundraising campaign. These are the students who call you up to explain why you should give to Cal State LA. They’re very convincing. They usually call right around dinner time. Thank you to students from the Call Center. 

We start the new academic year with a great accomplishment that emphasizes our impact through excellence. The WASC Senior College and University Commission has awarded Cal State LA ten years of accreditation. Our 10-year accreditation says a lot about how we’re doing as an institution. Of the 15 institutions whose accreditations were reaffirmed in June, Cal State LA was just one of two to receive accreditation for 10 years, the maximum term. Others received shorter terms.

The committee pointed to many wonderful successes of Cal State LA. It commended us for:

  • “Taking steps to improve graduation rates by implementing 15-unit course loads and educating students and the campus community on the benefits of a full course load to aid students in timely graduation.”
  • “Thoughtfully using the quarter-to-semester conversion to advance institutional goals, including efforts to define the meaning of the degree and to strengthen curriculum and learning outcomes in support of quality and integrity.”
  • “Demonstrating a commitment to civic and community engagement as reflected in the curriculum and co-curriculum, including the Cal State LA Downtown campus.” Thank you Dean Eric Bullard and the staff of the College of Professional and Global Education.
  • “Developing and using institutional effectiveness tools and services to enhance data-informed decision-making.”
  • And the committee cited our Center for Effective Teaching and Learning (CETL) as a national model for faculty development with a specific focus on student success and equity. Thank you to Cat Haras and the staff of CETL for the work you do every day to support our faculty and promote student success. Cat, please stand.

We extend our deepest gratitude to Dean Karin Elliott Brown, who led the WSCUC Steering Committee and shepherded the university through accreditation. The steering committee includes: Amy Bippus, vice provost for planning and budget; Michele Dunbar, the associate director for Institutional Research; Parviz Partow-Navid, the director for academic facilities and planning; Jessica Dennis, the interim director of assessment, and a faculty member in the Department of Psychology; Jennifer Miller, dean of students; Michael Willard, faculty in the Center for Engagement, Service, and the Public Good; Laura Whitcomb, faculty in the Department of Management; Benjamin Lee, faculty in the Department of Technology; Andre Ellis, faculty in the Department of Geosciences and Environment; Holly Menzies, associate chair in the Division of Special Education and Counseling; William London, faculty in the Department of Public Health; and Andrew Chavez, WSCUC support assistant.

Will Karin and the members of the steering committee please stand? Please join me in thanking them.

Cal State LA continues to hold a distinction to which no other university can lay claim: we are number one in the nation for the upward mobility of our students. This is not just a bragging point—though it is one of the best. It is who we are. 

We are number one because of you, because of what you do every day. Every week. Every month. Every year. Cal State LA is ranked among the nation’s best universities in the upcoming Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings. U.S. News & World Report, in its Best Colleges 2019 guidebook, ranks Cal State LA number 13 among the top public regional universities in the West. Among both public and private universities with undergraduate and master's programs, Cal State LA ranked number 52 among western universities. In just six years we have jumped 37 spots.

The Campaign for College Opportunity named Cal State LA a 2018 Champion of Higher Education for Excellence in Transfer. This recognition celebrates colleges and universities that have significantly increased the number of students earning an Associate Degree for Transfer, enrolling those students at a CSU as juniors, and graduating them with bachelor's degrees.

And we are poised to continue our success.

The plan to create a new College of Ethnic, Racial, and Social Transformation has reached my desk, and we are moving forward. The college will be home to the departments of Asian and Asian American Studies, Chicana(o) and Latina(o) Studies and Pan-African Studies, which were all birthed by community-led movements, and will feature a curriculum that includes faculty from across the university. With the creation of this college, Cal State LA will become the premier destination for ethnic studies scholarship, praxis and training of educators. The proposed mission of the college “is to provide an interdisciplinary intellectual space that centers the histories, traditions, cultures, experiences, struggles and accomplishments of diasporic communities of color, making connections between the local and transnational. It empowers traditionally oppressed and underrepresented people to engage in rigorous, self-reflexive study that motivates critical engagement, self-determination and de-colonial understandings of the world.”

And because of the founding departments’ longstanding relationships with community-based organizations, the college will boast an inclusive network of community-based partners and center a pedagogy of praxis in-community with local neighborhood, educational and civic leaders. This aligns with our commitment to engagement, service, and the public good.

We applaud the work of those who proposed and are leading the effort to begin this groundbreaking college.

As a community, we are doing our part to create a sustainable world. This spring, we took an important step by banning plastic straws, which will be followed by a ban on plastic water bottles and Styrofoam. This semester we continue our move toward zero waste with the introduction of central zero waste stations located in building hallways. It’s a significant step that will have a big impact.

Second Nature is an organization committed to accelerating climate action in, and through, higher education. The organization has confirmed that Cal State LA has achieved its reporting requirements for the first three years of the Climate Commitment. This includes the publication of annual greenhouse gas emissions inventories, a campus-community resilience assessment, active support of a joint campus-community resilience task force, and the development of a comprehensive Climate Action Plan.

Convocation and Commencement are the bookends of the academic year. Just a few short months ago, many of us were together for Commencement. I shook the hands of more than 6,000 students. My hand has recovered just in time for the start of the fall semester. At each of our 15 Commencement ceremonies, I shared a story or two of a student’s amazing success that demonstrates the kind of change that takes place in the lives of our students.

Behind each student’s story, there are many other great stories. In these narratives, you—Cal State LA faculty and staff—are the co-stars. You are a part of the story of students like Sade Meeks, who I spoke about at Commencement in 2018. Sade was a stellar student who sometimes experienced food insecurity. She relied on the university’s Food Pantry when her money ran low. And based on her experiences, she wrote a cookbook to teach other students how to eat well when funds are low. 

Last year at Commencement I spoke about David Fonth. David was an Honors College student who majored in philosophy. He was on the Dean’s List every semester, and earned the Outstanding Thesis Award. David was an EOP student who also worked in EOP. Through that work, he wanted to provide other EOP students the support that helped him throughout his academic career. This year EOP celebrates its 50th anniversary. In that spirit, we’ll have more celebrations. Thank you to the staff of EOP for your work in transforming the lives of students.

Many of the students I spoke about at Commencement identified faculty who provided them with life-changing guidance: Joaquin Miguel Lopez credited Professor José Cruz González with helping him develop his skills as a visual storyteller and Professor Ligiah Villalobos with helping him find a niche working in short film. Without the influence of his two professors, Lopez said, “I don’t know if I would have figured out that I was going to do this. Now I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

At Commencement in June, I spoke about Matthew Keels, who found support and camaraderie through the Veterans Resource Center. And this year, 42 students participated in our Dreamers Graduate Recognition Ceremony.

We know the fantastic support and guidance they received through our Erika J. Glazer Family Dreamers Resource Center, headed by Henoc Preciado.

Cal State LA is not just a university; it is a community that strives to meet the needs of our students. The support that these students received exemplifies the many ways we provide for students. When we are guided by the needs of students—and our belief in what they can become—we create a climate in which students like Sade, Joaquin, David and Matthew can thrive, in spite of the challenges they face.

That is the heart of our Mind Matters initiative. Mind Matters is now a comprehensive approach to wellness: From helping students achieve inner well-being to combating food and housing insecurity, Mind Matters is providing for our students’ needs.

  • Through this initiative we are addressing food insecurity. In 2018-2019, more than 4,600 students visited our Food Pantry. And our donations are up significantly. More of you are giving to the pantry, which has received more than $17,000 worth of gifts to help feed our students. We screened 1,200 students for CalFresh, a state nutrition program, and we submitted more than 500 applications for assistance on behalf of students.

Last spring, more than 400 students participated in our first Pantry to Plate program. Through this program students learn how to cook a nutritious meal, on a budget, maximizing the food they receive from the pantry.

  • In recent years, the largely first generation students in our First Year Experience program devoted part of each semester to helping us think through the Mind Matters initiative. Hundreds of First Year Experience students have repeatedly offered suggestions for making our campus environment more conducive to healthy practices and effective learning. One request they’ve eagerly voiced year after year is the creation of a garden site on campus that will provide an atmosphere that supports calm, concentration, and clarity.  The resulting concept is the Mind Matters Garden of Well-Being, a beautiful place for meditation, gathering, and relaxation, made possible by philanthropic support.  It will embody multiple uses and serve multiple needs. From the meditative walking path, to the plants that stimulate good feeling, to the gathering space for classroom meetings, campus events, and student engagement, the garden will be at the center of our dedication to improving the public good by fostering inner well-being.  
  • Students also expressed a need and a desire to have a place to sleep on campus. Tomorrow we’ll open the Mind Matters Relaxation Station. Located in the U-SU, the station provides an opportunity to replenish in between classes in our new state of the art sleep pods. Take a look. This is a beginning. We hope to add more pods, which will be made possible by philanthropic support.
  • Tomorrow we are debuting our two Mind Matters Well-Being Classrooms. We understand student well-being encompasses all aspects of their educational experience, including their learning environment. The classrooms in Salazar Hall include a moss wall, ample natural light and features that contribute to well-being and comfort, including air and lighting systems. We expect the classrooms to be WELL-certified in the future. The WELL Building Standard is a certification based on medical research that aims to improve health and well-being through the built environment.
  • We continue to provide resources to meet the psychological needs of students. The number of our psychological counselors has tripled and we are seeing students more immediately than ever before. And more students are utilizing group sessions. We’ve provided after-hours service and weekend service, recognizing that students’ needs don’t observe standard work hours.
  • The staff of Facilities Services plays a crucial role on our campus as we work to provide a comfortable environment for students. Today we opened a new parking structure that will provide more than 2,200 vehicle spaces, and features 36 Level 2 electrical vehicle charging ports, three DC fast-charging stations, rooftop solar panels and a smart parking occupancy system. And we continue to work to update classrooms and systems. A total of 64 rooms in King Hall and the Biological Sciences building were converted to classrooms in a project that required coordination with staff from the divisions of Administration and Finance and Academic Affairs. And we’ve updated the automatic door openers in buildings throughout campus to ensure accessibility. We’ve implemented a system of daily checks to ensure a timely response to any problem.

And we are constructing new student housing that will also provide new study and dining areas available to all students.

I’d like to recognize the recipients of the 2019 Facilities Services Champion Awards: Gilbert Santiago Sr., Cesar Ortiz, Steve Garrett, Hinmer Granados, Henry Washington, Maria Carmen Ramirez, Ines Brizuela, Rine Avalos, Maria Lopez, Matilde Mendoza, Adriana Sandoval, and Melissa Serpa. Please stand. This year’s Outstanding Staff Award recipient is Elia Amaro-Hernandez of the Office of Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities. Amaro-Hernandez’s colleagues commended her for having “an eye on the shared goals of the Cal State LA community.” A nominator noted that she has “a positive attitude, commitment to excellence, and spirit of cooperation and collaboration.” Please stand, Elia.

We Are LA: The Campaign for Cal State LA continues to move toward our goal of $75 million by the university’s 75th anniversary. The campaign has raised more than $61 million. Thank you to Vice President for University Advancement Janet S. Dial for her leadership and to you, faculty and staff, for your support.  

We begin this new academic year against a backdrop of national tragedies. This summer the nation experienced the horror of mass shootings in three cities and an escalating climate of hate. The gunman in the El Paso shootings targeted and killed Latinos, including immigrants, sparking deep fear. ICE raids across the nation are destabilizing lives and tearing families apart. The federal government is taking measures to deny citizenship to those immigrants who accept public assistance.

From the highest office in the land, we heard vile verbal attacks against cities with large Black populations and against Black leaders. And we listened as others defended that vitriol. We read the tweets “go back” and chants of “send her back” directed at a group of women of color who are citizens of our nation—and members of Congress. I’ve thought a lot about how these egregious acts impact our students, and our community. These actions fuel fear, anxiety, anger, a sense of betrayal, mistrust, feelings of being unsafe. Knowing this leaves all of us with a heightened responsibility to look out for and to care for each other. We must work together to maintain a community that embraces diversity and inclusion. We cannot use the tools of “othering,” the tactics of divisiveness, the assumptions of ill-intent. To do so would put us in league with those who cause our community damage through the use of these same devices. If we are not intentional in our resistance to such tactics, the vitriol may seep into our campus and cause even further harm.

This summer the nation lost a national treasure with the passing of the great Toni Morrison, a Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel laureate.  We especially recall her advice to college graduates, encouraging them to recognize their agency to choose the tone and the language of their lives. To them, she said: “But then, I am a teller of stories and therefore an optimist, a believer in the ethical bend of the human heart, a believer in the mind’s disgust with fraud and its appetite for truth, a believer in the ferocity of beauty. So, from my point of view, which is that of a storyteller, I see your life as already artful, waiting, just waiting and ready for you to make it art.”

In this spirit, let’s work together in ways that sustain our bonds and fulfill our purpose. Let’s affirm and declare our belief in the power of education, the beauty of our diversity, and the necessity of caring for each other. I wish you a semester filled with excellence and impact. Let’s have a great new year. Thank you for all that you do to make this a great university.