University Convocation 2016

University Convocation 2016

August 18, 2016

Welcome, everyone, to the fall 2016 semester.  Many thanks to the hundreds of people who helped to make this moment a reality.

We’re honored to have members of the Alumni Assn. Board and emeriti faculty joining us today. Please stand. Thank you for joining us. Kayla Stamps is the newly elected student body president. Please stand, Kayla, so that we can congratulate and welcome you. We’re looking forward to a great year working with our new student government.  

I look back over the past three years with a profound sense of gratitude. We’ve accomplished a great deal together. Today, we see a new University emerging: a University that is moving forward, fueled by our collective energy.

We open this new semester during a particularly turbulent time for our nation. Recent national and international events underscore the critical role universities play in a democracy. The students we greet next week are tomorrow’s leaders, thinkers, builders. We must continue to sharpen every element of our university, to fulfill our responsibility to them—and to the future that they will create.

With that aim in mind today, we’re taking a look back to celebrate the distance we’ve traveled in just three years. And we’re planning for the years ahead.

At our fall convocation three years ago we were just beginning to launch the conversion from quarters to semesters. And now, here we are. Moving from quarters to semesters was an enormous undertaking, a collective enterprise that involved every division of the University. Faculty and staff worked hard to create a new University catalog: thousands of courses were re-created for Semester Conversion. Thank you to the faculty and department chairs for all the heavy lifting needed to ensure students have the courses they need to graduate and succeed. And thanks to our academic advisors, who spent thousands of hours helping students navigate the changing landscape through the Individualized Advising Plan or IAP, answering questions, and allaying concerns, and to the staff of the Registrar’s Office, who converted the records and keyed in the new curriculum; and to the staff of ITS for carrying out the final work on conversion--while also dealing with the aftermath an overnight flood that forced them out of their offices in the basement of the library.

And thank you to the semester conversion leadership team: Rennie Schoepflin; Parviz Partow-Navid; Richard Valenzuela; and Katherine Chim, for your day to day attention, support, and cheerleading during this extraordinary undertaking.

Many of the changes we’ve put in place over the past three years benefited from the stalwart leadership in our colleges and our offices of undergraduate and graduate studies---from guiding curricular revisions, to the development of new funding opportunities and the recruitment of new faculty. Many thanks to our deans: Emily Allen; Jim Goodrich; Scott Bowman; Cheryl Ney; Ron Vogel; Eric Bullard; Trinh Pham; Michelle Hawley, and Karin Elliott Brown. And thank you to the associate deans and department chairs for your leadership and forbearance. Please join me in welcoming our new deans: Carlos Rodriguez, dean of the University Library and Pamela Scott-Johnson, dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences.

Our faculty are among the best anywhere, distinguished by their research, scholarship, and dedication to student success. In 2015-2016 our faculty secured more than $32 million in grants and contracts, published articles and books that changed the face of their disciplines, gave conference presentations that activated important intellectual dialogue, and created artworks and performances that enriched our lives. Adding new faculty means adding to these achievements, and to the success of our students. During the 2013-2014 academic year we hired just nine new faculty members. But as you saw in the video, that number has increased every year since then. This year we welcome 52 new faculty colleagues.

Through the efforts of this fine faculty, Cal State LA has earned great academic distinction. Our nursing program is ranked among the best in the nation. Our new downtown campus is introducing Cal State LA to a new audience of students. LA BioSpace, our bioscience incubator, is bringing together students, faculty and entrepreneurs who are driving innovation. Knowing that increasing support for our academic programs is crucial, we appreciate and applaud the staff of University Advancement, and the leadership of Vice President Janet Dial, for their superb work in increasing alumni engagement, and securing philanthropic gifts. Thanks to the outstanding work of the Directors of Development, including, Denise Gutierrez, Greg Lehr, Hailey Morris, Stephanie Pell, and Dolores Ybarra, fundraising at Cal State LA has reached an all-time record. Outstanding support from the Stewardship team, led by Maria Magolske and including James Cuaresma and Hannah Bowen, has also increased the visibility of our donors and their support of Cal State LA.  Our Alumni Relations team, led by Maria Ubago, also had an outstanding year, with events at City Hall that drew more than 250 alumni, and a reunion celebrating and inducting the Class of 1965 and earlier classes into a half-century club---a celebration that we will continue annually.  These activities and the outstanding work of the entire Advancement Division have led to another record year. In 2015-2016, our total in gifts and commitments reached more than $14 million dollars (nearly triple the amount raised in 2013-14), and the number of donors to Cal State LA has increased by nearly 1,000.

Let me dwell for a moment, an important moment, on the drive, courage, dedication, passion and compassion that our staff devotes to Cal State LA. This year’s recipient of the Outstanding Staff Award is defined by all of these virtues. Kind and caring, she has helped foster a sense of community in her department and among neighboring departments. She’s helped anchor a supportive community that helps students thrive. She is the pride of Sociology, Rosie Rodriguez. We see those same virtues in the staff and faculty recipients of our 2016 Distinguished Women Awards: Susan Bergstrom, College of Business and Economics; Gabriela Fried-Amilivia, Department of Sociology; Yajaira Garcia, Financial Aid; Frances Hidalgo, College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology, Yara Jimenez; Upward Bound; Rebecca Joseph, Division of Curriculum and Development; Betty Kennedy, Housing Services, Daphne Liu; Department of Mathematics; Tamie Nguyen, Financial Aid; Sheila Price, Department of Philosophy; Elena Retzer; Department of Modern Languages and Literatures; Romelia Salinas, University Library. Our new staff have joined a stellar team. Let me ask all of the newer staff members, those who have joined us since our last October, to please stand and let us welcome you.

The staff of Facilities Services works hard every day to fulfill its mission of providing “a safe, clean, inviting and engaging campus” that supports the mission of the University. Thank you to Dana Twedell and the entire facilities team. A special thank you to the facilities winners of this year’s Champion Awards: Alvaro Lopez, Juanita Rodriguez; Veronica Luong; Donita Towler; Manny Free; Rene Serafin; Richard Valenzuela; Victor Pacheco; Mario Limas; Ed Ornelas; and Jovita Diaz.  Will all of the Facilities Champions here today please stand.

Speaking of facilities, let me add that, based on persistent and effective arguments by Vice President Lisa Chavez and her team, we are receiving an allocation of more than $35M from the Chancellor’s office to address critical infrastructure projects, along with an allocation for the renovation of the Physical Sciences building that will commence this year.  In addition to the renovation of Physical Sciences, infrastructure improvements will include a new electrical distribution system, a new chiller to stabilize the air conditioning throughout our facilities, improvements in our telecommunications fiber optic cable, water main and piping replacements, and the stabilization of emergency power.

As the premier public comprehensive University in the heart of Los Angeles, we have a unique relationship with the city. We carry its name. We’ve incorporated the skyline into the new brand that we unveiled last year. But we also mirror its dynamic mix of its people, and its promise. More and more students are choosing Cal State LA, pushing our enrollment to record levels. Last year, 61,776 students applied for admission to Cal State LA.

This year we’ve made great progress in our drive to ensure that our student body reflects the city we serve. The number of Latino students remains strong, and our population of Asian American students is growing. The growth of our Black student population is particularly strong, with a nearly 31 percent increase in the number of Black freshmen admitted and a 20 percent increase in Black transfer students. This significant accomplishment was made possible by a cross section of staff, faculty and students working together. Thank you: Marjani Chidinma, Francisco Cornelio, Christina Tsui, Nadia Mendoza, Jacqueline Mendieta, Hiram Channell, Jennifer Celaya Davis, Christopher Johnson, Professor Melina Abdullah, Professor Amina Abdul Jabbar, Becky Hopkins, Danielle Green, Martha Contreras, Steve Wilson, Joshua Mauldin, Liliana Flores-Sainz and students Sesley Lewis, Alesia Miles and members of the Black Student Union.

Students who are enrolling in Cal State LA for the first time will experience a different and more welcoming atmosphere than students of just a few years ago. We’ve improved the orientation, advising and Welcome Week Programs so students feel supported and so they know, without a doubt, that they’ve made the right decision in coming to Cal State LA. Today freshmen participate in an interactive, dynamic orientation program, meet individually with their advisors, register for classes, and work with campus services. These changes, and more, are possible because of the leadership of Vice President Nancy Wada-McKee, and the collective efforts of the staffs of New Student and Parent Programs, Admissions and Recruitment; Financial Aid; Cashiers; Parking; Career Center, Center for Student Involvement; Cross Cultural Centers; Office for Students with Disabilities; our Educational Opportunity Program, our Veterans Resource Center, our Academic Advisors, and our directors of Student Success and Advising.

On the playing fields and in the classroom, our student-athletes are achieving great things. Following the 2015-2016 academic year, 16 student athletes earned California Collegiate Athletic Association All-Academic Awards, and many other students were also honored for their athletic and academic achievements. Congratulations to all of them. Our NCAA 400 meter hurdle champion Khallifah Rosser shattered records and set new ones, all the while carrying the Golden Eagle name to new heights. Please stand, Khallifah. Congratulations. We look forward to more successes ahead.

As we grow and excel, our systems and processes must be equipped to sustain our vision. This year Academic Affairs set out to award and disburse as many scholarships as possible before the start of the fall semester, in order to recruit and support highly qualified students, and to give them timely help in planning and paying for the new semester. I’m pleased to say that we have already awarded more than $870,000 in scholarships to our students. Thank you to everyone who supported this effort. We’ve made major improvements to Enrollment Services designed to strengthen our business processes and leverage technology in ways that make life better for students.  Admissions, financial aid, scholarship selection, transfer credit evaluation and advisor approved changes will run more smoothly. Thank you, Tom Enders for your work on the scholarship process and improvements using Academic Works, and Vice Provost for Planning and Budget Amy Bippus for your work to ensure a healthy schedule of classes for students.  This fall we’re initiating use of a new budget model that will be more transparent and clearer. Thank you to members of the task force, particularly the faculty and staff who worked on this endeavor: Troy Allen, Daniel Frankle, Peter McAllister, Veena Prabhu, John Tcheng, Nancy Warter-Perez, and Janet Yup.

University directors and their staffs play an important role in improving student life, student learning, and student services. Thank you to Catherine Haras; Mark Pavelchak; Taffany Lim; Christopher Cobb; Tamie Nguyen; Vince Lopez; Jim Bersig; Jason Shiotsugu, Suzanne McEvoy and Marcia Murota.

Our growing prominence has brought opportunities and challenges. Like so many universities we’ve wrestled with the issue of parking. Thanks to Carmen Gachupin, Richard Wall and Peter Hong for creating and implementing our parking action plan. We’ve created a new off-site parking lot with ample space, featuring a new free shuttle, and we’re offering off-site parking permits for only $50 a semester. If you’re on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram you’ve seen our emoji-filled campaign promoting the off-site lot, biking, ridesharing, and carpooling to get to campus. Communications and Public Affairs is spreading the word far and wide so that everyone is aware of the many options available.

As the video indicates, our Mind Matters initiative has made tremendous progress toward providing more campus services and resources that enhance student well-being. We’ve added new counselors who have helped reduce the wait time for students in need of service, and increased the diversity of our counseling staff. Our psychological counselor Maritza Nigro now stars in a series of short videos (available on the home page and Mind Matters page) that teach students how to manage stress and negotiate common emotional problems, and Debbie’s first inner well-being podcast will soon be available on our mobile app. As part our Therapy Dogs program, Debbie and I enjoyed walking mini dachshund Thomas around campus during finals week, to provide some comfort and good humor during this stressful time. In association with the Women’s Heart Alliance and the Clinton Health Foundation, we hosted 3 successful “heart health” screenings, providing students with free blood tests and medical advice. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy kicked off these events on campus last fall, and was wonderful during his interactions with students. Most recently, we’ve drawn national attention with our Pokemon GO Health Walk. Thanks go to the creative forces behind Mind Matters for helping to shape a caring campus community that compliments the work all of you do to show our students how much we all value them: Debbie Covino; Nancy Wada-McKee; Robert Lopez; Stephanie Pell; Paris Silva; Maritza Nigro; Marisa Marcarello; Veena Prabhu; Colleen Friend; Taffany Lim; Dani Molina, alumna Lauren Jacobsen and our new student members, Ella Baxter and Erick Cuevas.

The Conduct, Assessment, Response and Evaluation (CARE) Team remains a vital resource for our University community. We’re fortunate to have a dedicated and skilled team of professionals who take charge when faculty, staff, and peers identify students who need help. As more people have become aware of the CARE Team and what it does, usage has increased. Last year, the CARE Team managed nearly 300 student cases. We appreciate the work of Letycia Gomez, Jen Miller, Rick Wall, Raul Lopez, Larry Bohannon, Araceli Vargas, Monica Jazzabi, Jonna Fries, Neil Ortego, Carol Roberts-Corb, Sam Prater, and Gonzalo Centeno.

Over the last three years we've reduced our carbon footprint and we've strengthened our commitment to the principles of sustainability. Last year we brought on Brad Haydel to serve as our energy and sustainability manager. In November of 2015, Cal State LA joined more than 200 U.S. colleges and universities in signing the White House American Campuses Act on Climate Pledge. With our signing we agreed "to accelerate the transition to low-carbon energy while enhancing sustainable and resilient practices across our campus." We've made good on that promise with practices we've implemented and continue to develop, from zero emissions lawn mowers to a 31% reduction in water use, to the introduction of Zip cars and hydrogen vehicles that can be loaned to faculty and staff. This summer we received a silver star from STARS—the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System. Our award-winning Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility continues to play a critical role in the move to zero-emissions vehicles. 

Since opening the Center for Engagement, Service and the Public Good our students, faculty and staff have spent thousands of hours serving in communities across the region. We’re tutoring, coaching, feeding the homeless, designing and building community gardens, providing assistance to battered women. Through the GO East LA program we’re encouraging students as young as 5-years-old to begin thinking about college. We know anecdotally the many ways these hours of service benefit Los Angeles. A new program will allow us to pair anecdote with data. So today we’re launching the I Serve LA--Make it Count Program. Through a new website students, faculty, and staff will be able to log and track their community service hours. At the end of the year, you’ll know the total number of hours you served. We’ll all know the total number of service hours the University collectively provided the region. You’ll hear more about the program and the reasons we all should participate in an upcoming email. In the meantime, I encourage each of you to look for the new website and log your information. Make your service hours count. 

We’ve seen how much we can accomplish in three years. Our greater visibility, support, determination, and success has led Cal State LA to become a household word throughout greater Los Angeles.  That achievement would not be possible without the stellar team at Communications and Public Affairs. From fall 2013 forward, with the benefit of Vice President Jose Gomez’s oversight, we’ve assembled a team that is the envy of other universities.  Our brand and our achievements are featured across news, information, and social media every day, our web page has become a model for others to imitate (including the CSU Chancellor’s Office), and our reputation for excellence is a national phenomenon (as demonstrated, for instance, by our surge in the US News and World Report rankings).  Many thanks for the transformational work of Jose Gomez, Robert Lopez, Jocelyn Stewart, Emilio Flores, Kate Kealey, Caroline Lee, Margie Low, Irwin Medina, Nery Orellana, Alcie Villoria and Cory Grabow.

As we look forward to the future, we do so with a clear sense of purpose and direction. Our new Strategic Plan is a road map for Cal State LA, created by Cal State LA. We received input from more than 2,500 members of the University community. Our Strategic Planning Coordinating Committee included faculty, staff, students, and administrative representatives. The goal was to articulate a vision for Cal State LA’s future, and create a framework to make that vision a reality. 

Provost Lynn Mahoney provided leadership for the strategic planning process, and worked closely with our Strategic Planning Coordinating Committee over the months.  Please join me in thanking the members of that committee: Amy Bippus, Scott Bowman, Eric Bullard, Marjani Chidinma, Ejmin Hakobian, Michelle Hawley, Lynn Mahoney, Gustavo Menezes, Holly Menzies, Veena Prabhu, Mark Pavelchak, Peter Quan, Romelia Salinas, Mike Soldatenko, Jimmy Solis, Kayla Thomas, Ron Vogel, Nancy Warter-Perez, Michael Willard, and Walter Zelman.

Let me also thank our consultants from Blue Beyond, Cheryl Fields Tylor and the team, who conducted four open campus town halls and 20 workshops, and worked closely with SPCC to synthesize a wealth of information and ideas. 

This fall, the Provost will assemble six groups to work with the campus community on implementation of the Strategic Plan Priorities. There will be groups on Engagement, Service, and the Public Good; Becoming an Inclusive Campus; Graduation 2025; Student Life; Academic Distinction; and Becoming a Great Place to Work. They will be working from the document that you’ll all be taking with you today. Let’s take a look at our Strategic Plan:


Cal State LA transforms lives and fosters thriving communities across greater Los Angeles. We cultivate and amplify our students’ unique talents, diverse life experiences, and intellect through engaged teaching, learning, scholarship, research, and public service that support their overall success, well-being, and the greater good.


Cal State LA will be internationally recognized as the premier comprehensive public university in greater Los Angeles. We are dedicated to delivering cutting-edge academic programs that prepare students to be innovative leaders in both their professional and civic lives and to serving the public good through initiatives that engage local, regional, and global communities in mutually beneficial partnerships


Students First - We put our students’ academic success, career-readiness, and well-being at the center of everything we do.

Engagement, Service, and the Public Good - We foster meaningful, collaborative relationships that contribute to the public good among the University community, alumni, and local, regional, and global communities.

Pushing Boundaries - We set ambitious goals to challenge and inspire us, benefitting our role as L.A.’s premiere comprehensive public university.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion - We cultivate diversity, expect cultural competence, and actively seek perspectives and engagement from all constituents in our community, to develop just and equitable expectations.

Student Engagement - We encourage our students to take ownership of their own campus experiences by seeking opportunities that promote inclusion, a sense of belonging, and leadership.

Engaged Teaching and Learning - We cultivate and amplify our students’ unique talents, diverse life experiences and intellect through engaged teaching, learning, scholarship, research and vibrant student life.

Academic Distinction - We foster and promote academic distinction through innovation, academic rigor and the pursuit of lifelong learning.

Community of Scholars - We foster a community of scholars among faculty and students engaged in research, scholarship, and creative accomplishments.

A Culture of Excellence - We encourage and expect all members of our University community to pursue academic, professional, and personal excellence.

Transparent Collaborative Decision-Making - We make data-informed, evidence-based decisions and are collaborative and transparent in our approach and communication.

Mutual Respect - We are committed to cultivating a supportive and accepting environment where each of us commits to fostering a culture of respect for all.

Academic Freedom - We promote academic freedom and professional ethics.

As we commence today, with our Mission, Vision, and Values in mind, I am reminded of a remark by our poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera: “Yes, I am the first Latino poet laureate in the United States. But I'm also here for everyone and from everyone. My voice is made by everyone's voices.”  It is our great privilege to be here at Cal State LA, as it is made and remade by everyone’s voices, as each of us becomes different and better, made and remade by the voices we study, the voices we challenge, the voices we love, and the voice that we own. Thank you all for bringing us to this new beginning.  Here’s to a great year, and to the years ahead.