President Beck 2016 Convocation

Good morning. I want to thank each of you for the very warm welcome into this
community for the past three weeks. Your kindness and generosity of spirit have been so consistent, it feels like coming home even though I have never lived in Ventura County. Your welcome is a clear indication of CI’s culture and values, and it has been wonderful to experience that firsthand.

I would like to begin by welcoming the newest members of our community. We have 17 new tenure track faculty members, 63 new lecturers, 19 new staff members and 530 new student assistants. Please stand so we can greet you properly. Welcome to CI; we all look forward to working with you.

I am honored to be with you today and very pleased to address you as the President of California State University Channel Islands (CI).

Convocation is one of my favorite times of the academic year. We gather as a community to celebrate our past accomplishments and, collectively, turn to a crisp new page in our history. It is a time to reflect on where we have been and to look toward our future.

Over the past few weeks, I have enjoyed watching the campus come to life as faculty return to their offices and our students arrive on campus with boundless optimism for the chapter that they are about to write in their own lives.

They’re excited about the adventure... the possibility... but most have no idea how significantly the sum of this experience will change their lives.

Those of us who have witnessed this cycle before know what lies ahead.

We can see to graduation and beyond. We can visualize these students walking across the stage at Commencement to receive their degrees and know that lives will be transformed. But their lives are not the only ones that will be impacted by their experiences at CI. Our students’ journeys have the power to change the trajectory of their families and their communities.

In my conversations with our returning students, I have been asking them about “The CI Way” that I have heard so many of you reference. As I have asked the students what “The CI Way” means to them, they have told me about all of you.

I have heard inspiring stories of success following deep personal struggle. Our students have told me of times when you have believed in their success even when they had doubts themselves. They have shared moments in which you have stayed long after working hours to walk them through challenging theoretical constructs, how you have traveled with them to Santa Rosa Island to conduct hands-on research that transformed their understanding of science, how you have built living learning communities that have fostered deep personal connections and expanded their horizons, and how you have provided them with endless encouragement when they had nowhere else to turn. I have left every one of these conversations understanding that it is your unwavering commitment to their respective futures that is at the very heart of the CI student experience.

These conversations have reminded me just how powerful your, and now our, work is and what it really means to the future of our community. And I have left those conversations filled with pride. Dolphin Pride. We are a community engaged in noble and meaningful work and I am delighted to join you in the journey that lies ahead.

Although I am new to CI, my relationship with our campus began nearly five years ago.

As a founding member of a college that opened just one week after CI, I was very familiar with what was taking place here and deeply interested in your journey. I knew we had shared values and goals and I reached out to President Rush and asked to spend a day with him and his team. He greeted me, as I know he has greeted so many of you, with open arms.

We began our day talking about our respective campuses’ humble beginnings. One began on the grounds of a former state hospital, the other emerged from the rubble of a former vitamin warehouse.

While you were dealing with structures that weren’t up to code and building layouts that were not conducive to classroom settings, we were battling scorpions. Yes, actual scorpions. They had invaded the building prior to our arrival and established a scorpion utopia. And just when we thought we’d gotten the upper hand, they would reappear. We eventually embraced the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy and declared ourselves “The Scorpions.” I don’t think any other institution has discovered its mascot in quite the same way!

I came away from that visit five years ago inspired by the CI story, your Four Pillars and your ideals.

In the years since, President Rush and I have followed each other’s progress and we recognize our similar paths on what truly is a road less travelled in higher education. Compared to our well-established and historical peers, we were reimagining what it means to be an institution of higher learning. We are innovative in our approaches and we are calculated risk takers.

During my visit five years ago, I could not have anticipated how the story would unfold or that I would be standing before you today. But I can’t imagine a better fit or be happier with the outcome. Those first, extremely positive impressions of CI ring true today and the up swell of possibility is palpable.

You might be wondering why I sought to join CI and I’d like to share with you my reason.

I believe in the value of education as a driver of social change and economic opportunity. My passion for the transformative power of higher education is the core of my being and the source of my commitment to the fundamental tenets of the Academy. It is through education that individual lives, collective communities and an entire nation can achieve their greatest potential.

What was true when I visited CI five years ago, and has guided all of you since the very beginning, is an unwavering commitment to access, inclusivity and academic excellence. CI has been steadfast in the dedication to serving a largely underserved, first-generation, low-income student population. CI was designed, from our inception, to serve the community in which we exist.

So, it is an honor to follow President Rush, to take the torch of his leadership and to partner with each of you in moving our University forward.

CI has achieved so much in such a short period of time. You have faced enormous challenges, yet you continued to tackle these challenges with novel and creative solutions.

Within this past 12 months alone, CI has:

  • received a $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which promotes transfer success in partnership with our community colleges;

  • received a $3 million grant from Bridges to Stem Cell Research and Therapy to fund graduate Biotechnology Internships;

  • created the opportunity for 230 students and 47 faculty members to present their research at the SAGE Undergraduate Research Conference;

  • launched another new Living-Learning Community: the Student Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF) program;

  • was recognized, for the second year in a row, by the Center for Higher Education Enterprise as one of the “Most Promising Places to Work in Student Affairs” in the nation;

  • increased student involvement in CI clubs and organizations by 38%, moving to a total of 77 recognized University clubs and organizations, with over 2,300 active members;

  • launched new pathways to support online and blended learning;

  • raised record numbers of philanthropic contributions and outperformed many campuses in our peer group which are far more established;

  • constructed the brand new Santa Rosa Village, which will be home to 600 students this fall;

  • expanded Islands Café, which will significantly enhance the campus dining and social experience;

  • received the Tree Campus USA award for a fourth year in a row in recognition of the efforts of our Facilities team and our commitment to a sustainable future; and,

  • launched the “Blackboard Analytics” project which, when fully implemented, will make it much easier for people to access the requisite data for planning and decision-making.

The quality of work that occurs here is nothing short of remarkable, and you should be very proud of all that you have achieved.

Many other universities across the country are not experiencing such success.

They’re operating on antiquated models that often value institutional exclusivity over societal inclusivity, and they weren’t built to serve the student population that we have embraced as the very foundation of our success.

We have the opportunity to serve as a role model for other institutions of higher learning because what we do here matters not just to our community; it matters to the world.

As a nation, we need an educated workforce and informed citizens to sustain a thriving democratic society. Time and again, the literature reveals to us that individuals who hold a degree are more likely to vote, volunteer and become engaged members of their communities.

We have established that we are leaders in fostering student success. Compared to the systemwide average, we admit a higher percentage of first-generation, low-income and underprepared students. Yet, despite the fact that our students arrive at our door with greater challenges to their success, we graduate them at a higher rate than our peers. There can be no doubt that we are a community that is committed to improving student outcomes.

We must build upon this success and continue to increase the rates at which our students graduate and simultaneously decrease the equity gaps in student performance. Our students need it, our communities and our employers are depending upon us to provide it, and our Governor is asking for our partnership in achieving it.

And, we can deliver. Leading the way, doing things differently and being innovative is in our DNA. It is the “CI Way.”

We must be intentional, though, to apply the resources we have wisely. This means prioritizing our needs, listening to one another and collaborating to achieve our greatest collective good.

My first 100 days on campus will be dedicated to a listening tour. Not only do I need a thorough understanding of our strategic priorities, I need to know you – your aspirations, challenges and vision.

We have crafted a brand new strategic plan. We have a direction in which we can begin to navigate. But, in order to simultaneously maintain our commitment to quality and grow in the context of limited resources, we will need to intentionally align our priorities with our resources. And we will need some consensus on which priorities are most central to our future.

So, I will use what I learn in my listening tour to help us work toward that consensus and to set forth a path forward.

I started my tour immediately, and one of the first discoveries – in this case, a confirmation, really – was about the culture on our campus and how it undergirds CI’s success. I listened to a variety of individuals and groups, but everyone used the same terminology: Community... connection... respect... humor.

Wow! Community...

CI is definitely about the people. And, I mean everyone. It’s broadly known that CI places students at the center of the learning experience. But it’s not just about students. The good taking place here includes all of us.

So, how will our next chapter at CI be distinct from our first?

In many fundamental ways, it will be very much the same. We will remain resolute in our commitment to place students at the center of everything that we do. We will hold fast to our mission of access and opportunity while simultaneously maintaining our commitment to the highest academic standards. We will continue to foster experiential and service learning. We will continue to offer multicultural and international perspectives. We will continue to be interdisciplinary. We will continue to grow and we will continue to excel.

What will be critical, from my perspective, is how we approach this phase of our journey as the sole four year public university in Ventura County. We must continue to deliver the quality educational experiences that our students and our community require. We have many opportunities before us. But in order to thrive in our next chapter and reach our highest ideals, we will have to be intentional about which opportunities we pursue and ground those decisions in our strategic priorities.

And, over the course of this academic year, we will have many serious, collegial discussions about our future. We will be thoughtful and deliberate in setting our course and aligning our resources with our values and our focus on student success and graduation.

Many of you have asked me about my priorities. As part of my commitment to the spirit of shared governance, I believe that institutional priorities are something we set as a community. And, that will take time and collaboration.

But I can tell you what’s important to me:

  • In my view, the fundamental purpose of an institution of higher learning is to enable human potential. I am dedicated to fostering a culture that places people first and allows each of us to achieve our highest aspirations. Not just our students... but all of us.

  • We will continue to set the highest standards for ourselves in attending to our teacher-scholar mission. We should demand excellence in our students and in ourselves. Excellence with heart. Excellence with humor. But, excellence should continue to be our highest priority.

  • A commitment to a world-class higher education means that we are committed to innovative approaches inside the four walls of our classrooms that extend out to every corner of our campus. We should remain resolute in our quest to reimagine higher education to support a 21st century student population and a global society.

  • We are a vital partner in the success of our region. As such, we must continue to be faithful partners in responding to and addressing the social and economic challenges facing our region, our state and our nation. We must continue our commitment to community engagement and economic diversification.

  • Our commitment to inclusivity and the extraordinary benefits of a truly multicultural community will be of increasing importance as we move forward in our efforts to increase our graduation rates and foster even higher rates of student success.

  • We will continue to hire more tenure track faculty and staff as we continue to develop the physical infrastructure to support the delivery of our academic and student success programs.

  • And, finally, we must embrace a culture of evidence-based decision making in order to guide our future and remain effective stewards of our resources.

I am honored and humbled to serve as your President. I cannot imagine having a more fulfilling position or being here at a more exciting time. You have achieved so much, and as we all know, we still have so much yet to accomplish.

So, as we move into this academic year, I ask that you reflect upon our incoming students and their boundless optimism for the chapter that they are about to write in their own lives. They’re excited about the adventure... the possibility... but most have no idea how significantly the sum of this experience will change their lives.

We, too, are about to write a new chapter in the history of our University. I hope that you are excited about the adventure... the possibility... knowing that if we can continue to innovate and collaborate as we reach for even greater levels of success, we will write a bright second chapter together and the sum of the experience will change our own lives.

The CI Way.

Thank you.