University Convocation 2015

University Convocation 2015

September 24, 2015

Good morning and welcome back. 

As we look toward another academic year focused on innovation and accomplishment, it's fitting that we began this morning's convocation with an appreciation of faculty members who represent the level of dedication that characterizes so many of our professors and lecturers. 

And I'm grateful to Debbie and the Mind Matters team for keeping us focused on wellbeing.

As I said on this stage some months back, compassion and caring for one another are at the heart of what higher education means.

Joining our campus community today are members of our President's Council, Alumni Association, and Foundation Boards, as well as members of our college-based advisory boards.

As I greet this convocation, this coming together of colleagues, students, and friends,

I want to both express my thanks for your extraordinary achievements, and to look ahead. 

Fittingly, the term convocation also refers to a gathering of eagles.  Let me begin with an appreciation of our outstanding staff members, whose accomplishments we celebrated on September 10.  Our longest serving staff members are Lucy Escalante, from the Center for Engagement, Service, and the Public Good, and Arlene Arias, from the Registrar's Office, who have both been with us over 42 years. 

This year, the recipient of the Outstanding Staff Award is someone who has been with us for 12 years, and has served Cal State LA in both the College of Education, and most recently, in Athletics.  She plays a key role in our major athletics fundraisers, and has been praised by many as someone who works tirelessly to keep everything running efficiently, and is the eyes and ears of the department, the glue that keeps everything working.  I am speaking of Linda Tiller. 

Our staff colleagues in Facilities celebrated their accomplishments on September 3, where a number of them received "Champion" awards. These awards recognize those who are Creative, Honest, Admirable, Motivated, Professional, exhibiting Integrity, Optimistic, and Noble (qualities that spell "champion"). Our facilities champions this year are: Alvaro Lopez, Sandy Lomeli, Elsa Ayala, Hilde Dominquez, Juanita Rodriguez, Kevin Adams, Bob Salerno, Marcos Romero, Calvin Howard, Victor Pacheco, and Eber Ahumada

Over 140 new staff members have joined us since our last convocation. Will all of the staff members who have come to Cal State LA since last October please stand and let us welcome you.  Too many to single out, but I would like to give special mention to our new Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, a tremendous colleague, Lynn Mahoney.

This fall we welcome over 27,000 students, surpassing for the first time our enrollment high point back in 1975, when we had 25,276 students.  In other words, we are welcoming the largest student population in the history of Cal State LA. And we are committed to providing the classes, the advice, and the support that will help them succeed. Our retention and graduation rates have been climbing steadily, beyond expectations, and we must continue to do even better. I'm confident that we will. Once again, Washington Monthly magazine has ranked us among the top ten Master's universities in the country, and has ranked us 6th among 233 universities in the West, and first in the CSU, for providing the best value in net tuition, for our graduation rates, and for graduating students who earn enough to pay off their loans and carry significantly less debt into the future. 

US News and World Report has also recognized us as one of the top regional universities for graduating students with low debt, and our overall US News ranking climbed 21 places since last year, an extraordinary surge in achievement and recognition.

These honors, among other indicators, demonstrate that Cal State LA is pushing boundaries. 

Higher education is about just that: expanding understanding, experience, ability, and opportunity. Our scholarship produces new knowledge, perspectives, and interpretations that reshape the way that we see the world, and our teaching is infused with new and more successful approaches to learning. 

I am committed to increasing support for faculty and staff who are dedicated to innovative excellence in learning and teaching, scholarship, and initiatives that benefit our students, our campus community, and our region. We've made a start by devoting about $2.5 million to faculty in support of sabbaticals and other research, scholarship, and artistry. We've also launched the Faculty Fellows for the Public Good program.  Connected with our Center for Engagement, Service, and the Public Good, this program supports summer research that involves ongoing dialogue with fellow scholars.  Our three Fellows this year are Angela Chale, whose project focuses on Vitamin D Status and Cognitive Functioning in Older-Aged Southern California Veterans; Susan Mohini Kane, whose research on The Performing Arts and Civic Engagement examines what Los Angeles and Pasadena value about the arts, and why, in order to uncover a value system that can inform our thinking about civic arts; and Carly Dierkhising, whose research on dual status youth-who are involved in both the juvenile justice and child welfare programs looks at whether the services provided lead to better psychological outcomes.

In addition to these venues for support, I am this year appointing and supporting six Special Assistants to the President.

  1. Brenda Solorio, academic advisor in the College of Business and Economics, is Special Assistant for Academic Advising. She will coordinate academic advising across the University.
  2. David Hossain, Professor of Accounting, is Special Assistant for Community Welfare. He will expand health and economic support services for underserved community members. 
  3. Beth Hoffman, Professor of Public Health, is Special Assistant for Los Angeles Based Curricula. She will coordinate a faculty learning community embedding Los Angeles-based content into course syllabi and research.
  4. Christopher Endy, Professor of History, is Special Assistant for Peer Mentoring Program Development. He will expand the numbers of faculty and courses utilizing student peer mentors to foster engaged learning in the classroom to improve success rates in low completion courses.
  5. James Rudd, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is Special Assistant for Science Initiatives. He will work with K-12 and community colleges to articulate science offerings that reinforce STEM pathways.
  6. Gwen Franklin, Athletic Equipment Attendant in the School of Kinesiology and Nutritional Science, is Special Assistant for Staff Professional Development.  She will convene a lunch group of staff members who'd like to learn about the broad range of staff positions and opportunities that stretch across the University.

The efforts of these colleagues and others will encourage us to expand our thinking about what the university can achieve. Special Assistants, please stand and let us welcome you.

With the help of everyone connected with Cal State LA, we will continue to invent new versions and visions of success, and improve the quality of life throughout the region. In other words, we will continue pushing boundaries. No one exemplifies this goal better than our students.

Hugo Avila traveled to Stanford University this summer to, as he puts it, leave his comfort zone.

A Bell Gardens resident, a biochemistry major, and a member of our Minority Opportunities in Research (MORE) program, Hugo earned a spot as an Amgen Scholar and spent the summer conducting research with Stanford's Department of Chemical and Systems Biology. He is one of three 2015 Amgen Scholars from Cal State LA, joining Emily Aguirre and Angela Madira. 

All three spent the summer as researchers at Stanford, Harvard, and UCLA, digging into new research challenges, and enjoying the professional and personal growth that comes from exploring new territory. 

Lilia Kavarian, a business major and Honors College student from La Crescenta, is learning the world of Washington, D.C. She was one of 25 students selected to participate in the Panetta Institute's Congressional Internship Program, affording her hands-on involvement in the legislative side of our democracy. Setting her sights on a career in the law leading to a judgeship, Lilia interned in summer 2014 for Superior Court Judge Suzanne Brugera at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown L.A. Last August, she began working in the Washington, D.C. office of Representive Jim Costa, whose district spans Merced, Fresno, and Madera counties.

Samantha Lorenz, who lives in downtown L.A., exemplifies the qualities that set our students apart.  She is completing her master's degree in anthropology with an emphasis in bioarchaeology, focusing on the evolution of violence.  Economic hardship and other challenges could have brought her quest for academic excellence to an abrupt halt. But she pushed forward, fueled by the dream of helping others escape violence. Her research deals with ancient Mayan sacrificial victims in Belize, and her hope is that her work will give a voice to people who have been silenced, and prevent further atrocities. This month Samantha was honored by the California State University Board of Trustees with its 2015 CSU Trustees' Award for Outstanding Achievement. 

Our Athletics Department also continues to push boundaries. Earlier this year two Golden Eagle pitchers were drafted, one by the New York Yankees and the other by the Chicago White Sox.

Our women's soccer team won the conference last season, and our men's soccer team won the NCAA Division West Regional Championship. Both teams are predicted to win the CCAA division this season. And our Golden Eagles volleyball team is off to the best start since 2008. 

We have some of our student athletes here today. Please stand and let us congratulate you. 

Under Dan Bridges' leadership over the last ten years, our student athletes have enjoyed great success on the playing field and in the classroom, and our athletic program has gained distinction that makes us proud.  Dan will retire this December, and I'd like to begin our celebration of his leadership today, with a heartfelt round of applause.

Pushing boundaries means continuing to make the case that Cal State LA is

Los Angeles' premiere comprehensive public university. We are building the University of the future with terrific energy and determination. Last April, I convened the first Cal State LA President's Council, which comprises 42 accomplished leaders, who will give their input and advice as the University solidifies community and corporate partnerships, launches innovative academic and research initiatives, and pushes forward with an ambitious branding campaign. 

Many of the council members are Cal State LA alumni and include former elected officials, philanthropists, and leaders in the arts, culture, business, and government. Members of the President's Council, along with enthusiastic alumni, students and all the members of our campus community, are sending a strong message about the value and promise of

Cal State LA and that message has garnered unprecedented support. In the past fiscal year, under the leadership of Vice President Janet Dial, our fundraising team doubled the amount raised by the University in 2013, reaching the highest level of philanthropic support in the history of Cal State LA.  This total includes two major endowments, $1.6 million for the

Erika J. Glazer Family Dreamers Resource Center, and $1 million for the Gunjit S. Sikand Faculty Endowment for Research in Urban Sustainability, as well as significant additional funding for the Rosie Casals/Pancho Gonzalez Tennis Center, a project that grew out of our great relationship with alumna Billie Jean King.

Along with Chancellor White, we pursued an aggressive advocacy program with our state and national representatives this last year, traveling with students and alumni to Washington and Sacramento, where we told the story of our dedication and accomplishment, and in the case of Cal State LA, our commitment to access. The result was the most significant budget allocation that Cal State LA has received in years: the second highest enrollment allocation in the CSU System, to support our growth, and the highest allocation in the CSU for Student Success and Completion, which will be focused on the elements that we lobbied for all year: tenure-track faculty hiring; enhanced advising; reducing bottlenecks to progress toward degree;

reduction in the number of entering students needing developmental courses in writing and math; continuation of high impact practices, such as service learning; and data driven decision making.

We have strong ongoing practices in most of these areas, and therefore will devote much of our allocation to hiring new faculty. Over the last two years, we have hired 65 new faculty members. 

This year, we are launching 50 searches, and planning 60 more for next year.  That is a total of 175 new tenure-track faculty.  One of our searches this year will be for a Director of Writing Across the Curriculum, to help assure that, consistent with the strong commitment to writing in our GE requirements, we have the leadership in place to support an instructional commitment to highly literate and career-ready graduates.

We continue to develop new and path-breaking programs, several of which emerged during the conversion of our curriculum to semesters, and others that were proposed by the Faculty Visioning Task Force.  Pushing boundaries. We did that in a big way when we launched the first Chicano Studies Program in the nation in 1968. Consistent with that accomplishment, we have been undaunted through the decades in our commitment to social justice and diversity as core values. In this tradition, we are now developing a pioneering bilingual MFA in creative media.

It will provide our students with an exceptional educational experience, one that speaks to the value of multi-lingual literacy, and the increasing prominence of Spanish in Southern California and the nation.

We're pushing our geographical boundaries by opening a campus in downtown L.A. in 2016. 

The downtown campus will expand the University's reach by providing programs in a vibrant and growing area of the city.  We will occupy 21,000 square feet at Cal State LA Downtown, located at 8th and Grand. This spot, at the edge of the Financial District, is in the midst of a residential development boom, with thousands of apartments under construction or in the pipeline, including a 700-unit apartment building anchored by a Whole Foods just across the street from us. Just a short distance from important downtown commercial centers that include the Figueroa Corridor, Arts District, Fashion District and Civic Center, the new campus will focus on meeting the needs of working professionals, those in career transition, and those seeking personal enrichment. The downtown L.A. campus will also be the site for our ongoing

Civic University program. Cal State LA's Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, in partnership with Mayor Eric Garcetti, offers this program to equip residents with the information and tools they need to be better advocates for their communities. Word is spreading about Civic University. Community organizations, local governments, and non-profits are approaching us, and our reputation as a world class center for civic education is growing.

Just as we extend our reach into downtown L.A., we continue to expand our commitment to the East LA region.  Our GO East LA cradle-to-career project was visible in elementary and middle schools throughout the region last year, where we met with parents, teachers, and students to urge them to push the boundaries of their dreams and expectations, to realize that a college degree is well within their reach. Working with LAUSD Board member

Monica Garcia, area superintendent Roberto Martinez, East L.A. College President Marvin Martinez, and GO East LA Director Bianca Guzman, we delivered a certificate of college admission to 1600 kindergarten students.  Of course, to be admitted they'll need to get a few years older, do well in school, and so forth. But we want them to look at that admission certificate every day, and imagine their future.

On campus, we have pushed the boundaries of the learning environment by building three new state of the art classrooms, fully equipped with technology, furniture, and flexibility that will allow for greater innovation, collaboration, and engagement.  And soon, on campus, we will break ground on LA Biospace, a bioscience incubator funded in part by a $3 million grant from Los Angeles County.

I see this as a teaching and job creation center, which will involve our students in all aspects of its operation, and become a site where bioscience innovators can work with students and faculty on cutting-edge research. Local companies such as Grifols have already agreed that this facility will help them to create 300 new positions in East L.A.

As this and other opportunities come our way, as we continue pushing boundaries, we need to be thoughtful and deliberative about how they fit into our overall mission, values, and priorities. 

It is timely, then, that we begin the development of a new strategic plan for Cal State LA this year, as a guide to our future and a representation of our consensus.  We took initial steps in that process over the last year, as we worked with input from the campus community to develop a new "brand" for Cal State LA. As we know, a brand is more than just a logo. It is shaped by every image and word used in communication materials and interactions. As members of the Cal State LA community, we all have the opportunity to shape the perception of our University through every flyer we create, through social media posts, web pages, brochures and face-to-face interactions, both inside and outside the University.

Our previous logos and communication materials didn't always reflect our evolving personality. 

So, we engaged in a year-long process that sought to identify us in ways that are distinctive and true to both who we are and to where we are located. We asked hundreds of people – faculty, staff, alumni, students, parents, community and civic leaders – what does Cal State LA mean to you? In what ways are we a distinctive and distinguished university?  The responses revealed the strengths and appeal of Cal State LA, and serve as the basis for our brand statement:

Cal State LA is a premiere public comprehensive university that offers a transformative educational experience in the heart of Los Angeles.

The full implementation of the new brand, and the achievement of consistency with our new style guide, will take some time. We will use the fall quarter to introduce the new brand to our university community, beginning today. 

Each of the logo elements were carefully considered to reflect the strengths of Cal State LA. 

The shield, with its urban architecture angles, represents the enterprising, global city in which we reside. Inside the shield, you will find iconic buildings-landmarks-from the Los Angeles skyline. They are drawn to scale and ascend upward, from left to right, pointing toward the future. The thick bordure (outer edge of the shield) has open corners that represent a campus that opens out to the region we serve, where students, faculty, staff, alumni and our community are shaped by Los Angeles and in turn shape its future. Meanwhile the curved gold horizon at the top signifies our infinite potential. Our new fonts enhance and reinforce who we are and what we can be. The bold Futura font represents the strength of the California State University system, while the customized serif font expresses the distinctiveness and individuality of Los Angeles and this University. You may have also noticed, the 'A' in Cal State LA, features an eagle’s beak at its tip. There will be a gift for each of you featuring the new brand. 

I hope that you'll wear it with pride.  When we conclude today, please stay seated because we an additional surprise for some of you!

As we start this great new year, please accept my thanks and warm wishes, and join me in enthusiasm for pushing boundaries as we continue to create our future.