Convocation Remarks

Erika D. Beck
Aug. 24, 2017

Good morning and welcome. It is wonderful to see you all back on campus and I hope you have returned from your summer adventures renewed, revitalized, and ready for another year of inquiry and discovery.

I am delighted to be here with all of you as we begin the academic year anew.

Before we begin today, I would like to recognize the passing of a dear and treasured colleague - Rachel Huff, a long-time member of our Police Department. Although I only had the opportunity to get to know Rachel this past year, she left a powerful and memorable imprint on my heart as I know she has with so many of you. She was widely known for fostering relationships, creating connections, and adding joy to every life that she touched. She was a beloved member of our campus and will be deeply missed by her family, friends and colleagues. Rachel had spent the past few months working tirelessly to bring best-selling author and motivational speaker Kelly Corrigan to CI on September 27. Honoring her wishes, we will be continuing with this event about the conscious practice of empathy. We hope that you will all be able to join us. In honor of Rachel, I would like to observe a moment of silence.

Thank you.

The last time we were all together, the largest graduating class in our history walked across the commencement stage to receive their diplomas. It was a powerful and deeply memorable celebration of the acquisition of knowledge.

I wish you all had the opportunity, like I did, to look each graduate in the eye as they grasped their diploma and beamed with pride and optimism for their future.

Irrespective of your particular role on our campus . . . whether you are a faculty member imparting wisdom in the classroom, a member of our financial aid team ensuring that students have sufficient resources to pursue their studies, or if you are responsible for purchasing our equipment or maintaining our buildings -- Commencement was also your moment. And I was so very proud to represent the culmination of your work in that ceremony. You have created a University where everyone - not just the privileged few - has the opportunity to earn a degree.

As we celebrate the beginning of a new academic year, I am delighted to welcome many new faces to our community. Today, we welcome 19 new tenure-track faculty members and 36 new lecturers who hail from disciplines ranging from art history to computer science. We also have welcomed 73 new staff members since I arrived on campus last year. Would all of the new members of our community please stand so that we can greet you properly? We are delighted that you have joined us.

We also have a number of individuals assuming new leadership positions on campus this year. I’d like to welcome our new academic senate chair, Dr. Virgil Adams, new student government president Karina Hinojosa, and returning Staff Council president Rosario Cuevas. Thank you all for your service.

I would also like to welcome our new Dean of Education, Dr. Brian Sevier and extend a hearty welcome to our new Provost, Dr. Geoff Chase. I look forward to your partnership in advancing and realizing the potential of CI.

I stood before you all last year, a mere three weeks into my role, and I told you that I joined this community because I believe that our work has the potential to serve as a national role model in reimagining higher education to serve a new era for a new student population.

As you may recall, I told you that I would begin my first year on campus by listening. And that is precisely what I did.

Thousands of conversations later with people throughout our region, I have observed your good work on behalf of our students and I have heard your aspirations for the future.

I met with faculty, staff, students, and alumni, business leaders, community members, fellow educators, elected officials, members of the media, colleagues in healthcare, the arts, agriculture and technology, chambers of commerce, donors and even elementary and middle schoolers.

And this is what I heard.

At our core, CI is a campus that has embraced an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit that has allowed us to carve new educational pathways for students who might not otherwise have access to a four-year degree. Over the course of the year, I have observed many accomplishments in this regard. For example:

  • Our very own Dr. Amanda Quintero, led a regional Transfer Success Summit, bringing together colleagues from CI, our community colleges and our P-12 partners to develop policies and practices that ensure a seamless transfer to our campus.
  • Earlier this year, we hosted universities from Ohio, Connecticut and Colorado as part of the Foundation for Student Success Program. We were selected as one of seven universities in the country to serve as a mentor to other universities seeking to improve the success of their underrepresented students. Our collective work in this program has the potential to impact hundreds of thousands of students from across the nation.
  • And, our campus was one of two universities from around the world that attained the New Media Consortium’s Center of Excellence Award for “an exceptional record of integrating technology with learning…”

I also heard from each of you that we are a University that believes in the fundamental potential of our students and we place them at the very heart of our campus community.

  • For example, just last fall, we learned that some of our students were experiencing food insecurity. A team of individuals from every division on campus, including our student leadership, responded by opening a food pantry, establishing an emergency student loan program and identifying potential housing support. That work will continue in earnest this year.
  • Dr. Cindy Wyles, Dr. Selenne Banuelas, Dr. Cynthia Flores, Dr. Caryl Becerra, Dr. Clare Steele, Dr. Alona Kryshchenko and Dr. Brian Thoms mentored, inspired, and enabled 55 of our students to attend the annual Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science national conference. Our students comprised the largest group in attendance from any participating University.
  • And finally, the excellent work of our Police Department and Student Affairs professionals led USA Today College to name us as one of the ten safest campuses in the nation.

Perhaps more than any other single point of pride, I heard about your fundamental commitment to enabling learning that serves as a social and intellectual resource to our community.

  • I saw many examples of this dedication including the work of Early Childhood Studies major Selina Rico, who, along with her classmates, developed hands-on STEM projects with elementary school students in Oxnard. Selina noted “our participation…showed the parents and families that there will soon be well-educated and well-intentioned graduates of the community that prioritize giving back to its fellow members.”
  • Our computer science graduate students worked in collaboration with a local branch of the FBI and the Ventura County District Attorney’s office to solve the problem of attaining timely forensic evidence from computers in a way that prevents evidence tampering.  In just one month, they developed “SEAKER” - a prototype of a digital forensic tool that allows law enforcement to collect evidence in a matter of seconds and enables cybersecurity crime prevention.

I also heard about your commitment to inclusion and enabling human potential in support of a global society. For example:

  • Dr. Andrea Grove was named by Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus to serve as the chief editor of the International Journal of Social Business.
  • Dr. Jennie Luna was named a Faculty Fellow of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, in honor of her scholarly pursuits that are enhancing Latina/o success in higher education.
  • Retention, Outreach and Inclusive Student Services and the new Multicultural Dream Center were recently established to help propel our efforts to increase student success and eliminate the achievement gap.   
  • And in the past three years, CI faculty have served as CSU International Resident Directors in three different countries. Dr. Luda Popenhagen in France last year, Dr. Irina Costache in Italy this year, and Dr. Antonio Jimenez-Jimenez in Spain next year.

And finally, I heard about your commitment to fostering an inquiry-based and interdisciplinary education for our students.

  • For example, this summer, CI hosted its first formal faculty-guided undergraduate research fellows program. Twenty-two students, guided by nine faculty members, engaged in research activities ranging from the habits of hummingbirds to robotics.
  • Combining art, language, history, and culture, faculty and students in the Art Program and Global Languages & Cultures Program will host a portion of the Getty Center's Pacific Standard Time LA/LA project.
  • And finally, Dr. Sean Carswell crafted a course called “The Publishing House,” in which students collaborate with a non-profit publisher to shepherd a text through the publication process, from editing and typesetting to cover design and marketing.

Throughout the year, I have delivered scores of public presentations about CI that highlight the impact of your collective work. And every time I do, I find dozens of new accomplishments that I can showcase. Just like our students on the day of commencement, I beam with pride and optimism for the future every time I speak about all of you and what you mean to our students and our community. So, let’s have one more round of applause for the work that you all engage in and the difference it is making for our students, their families and our entire community.

In our conversations, you have also told me of the challenges that we face in realizing our potential.

I have heard from many of you about your fears of losing the collaborative, innovative and invigorating spirit that brought you to CI.

  • One of my highest priorities moving forward is to ensure that our campus continues to enrich the intellectual, social and cultural aspects of each of your lives. We will implement new tools to ensure our faculty are able to maintain a vibrant intellectual and scholarly life, that our staff have the resources and support that they need to learn new skills and that everyone has the opportunity to assume greater leadership on campus.
  • We have also realigned our communication and events team to enhance our internal communication and ensure that you have greater opportunities to work together, learn together and celebrate together. You will hear more about these advancements in the year ahead.

I have also heard your concerns about increasingly limited state resources and lack of long range planning.

  • As a result of these concerns, I established the Strategic Initiatives Steering Committee last spring, comprised of cabinet members, faculty, staff and our student government president to sponsor conversations across campus that will help identify our collective priorities, and recommend future strategic direction to me. Now led by Provost Chase, the committee will bring the initial process to closure this fall. I hope that each of you will continue to engage in these important conversations.

I have also heard your deep and abiding commitment to increasing access while not losing sight of the very high quality of the education that we offer.

  • This fall, we will, once again, welcome the largest freshman class in our history. I am very pleased to announce that the Chancellor’s Office and the legislature has supported this growth in the form of 200 additional funded full time equivalent students. While it isn’t a dramatic increase, it does provide greater access to our largely first generation student population. As one of three CSU campuses with capacity for increased student growth, we have a critical role to play in alleviating the unprecedented shortage of individuals with bachelor’s degrees required to lead the future of our state.
  • But growth is only one part of the solution to the challenge facing our community. We also need to significantly increase the rate at which our students graduate as part of the GI2025 initiative led by the Chancellor’s Office and the legislature. Not by lowering our rigorous standards or requiring all of our students to assume a four-year pathway, but by reimagining the support that we provide to our students so that they are able to meet the very high academic standards that we have always expected and by providing them with the opportunity to assume a four-year pathway to graduation. Led by Dr. Scott Frisch, CI’s Interim Associate Vice President for Academic Programs and Planning, our work on GI 2025 began last year and will continue in earnest this fall. Meeting those goals will not be easy, but I am confident that with dedicated effort, we will be able to foster educational achievement and maintain academic excellence as we have always done in the past.

I am also pleased to tell you that we have received one time funding to support our efforts to increase graduation rates. But, of course, one time funds are limited in their utility in supporting long-term projects.

Moving forward, we need to be mindful of the long-range availability of state funds. The Governor has already indicated a decreasing level of support for higher education, particularly as healthcare and other fixed costs soar at the state level.

Our long-term success requires that we prepare for a future of increasingly limited state funding. While other campuses across the country are just beginning to adjust to this reality, we have been securing alternative resources to support our mission since the time of our inception. The exploration of innovative public-private partnerships, the deepening support of our donor base, and the expansion of our collaborative efforts with our regional partners will need to be a significant priority moving forward.

Finally, I have heard about your profound concerns regarding the state of the world. The tragic and deeply disturbing events of the past year have highlighted the fractures of a world deeply mired in conflict and violence.  These events have illuminated the fears of injustice, intolerance and bigotry that so many of our students and our communities face every day.

These events compel us, as a community, to harness our intellectual and social resources to clearly and unambiguously reject racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and hateful ideologies that diminish liberty for us all. Our University was built upon the notion that equity and inclusion are the only pathways to educational excellence and I intend to ensure that we realize that potential.

As a public university, we unequivocally support the democratic right of freedom of expression and will continue to provide opportunities to foster richer and deeper dialogue that models open expression and critical inquiry for our students. We will not, however, tolerate violence in any form.  From my perspective, the best response to vile and repugnant speech is inclusive speech.  As a community, we will continue to ensure that our campus serves as a place of engaged debate, but we will also ensure that all members of our community are safe as we work to realize a future of social justice.

As a vibrant, multicultural campus community, we have the opportunity to stand as a role model for inclusive excellence knowing that diversity, in and of itself, offers no promise of inclusion. Genuine inclusion requires intentional and sustained effort. To that end, I am establishing a new taskforce on inclusive excellence here at CI. The Taskforce will be chaired by Dr. Jose Alamillo and will begin its work immediately. I am confident that with broad discussion and intentional effort, we will be able to solidify inclusion into the structure of our campus to ensure its permanency moving forward.

As I bring this address to a close, I want you to know that I heard what you said – both what you value and the challenges you foresee on the horizon. I concur with your assessment and I will continue to work to affirm our collective values. But I cannot do it alone, I need your partnership in channeling our potential. This year, I ask you all to engage in the dialogue surrounding our Strategic Initiatives planning and I ask you to think critically about the charge from the Chancellor’s Office, and from the state of California to improve our graduation rates. My vision for our campus is that every student, regardless of their background, has an equal chance of succeeding at CI. This is a tremendous task, some would even say unattainable; however, I am confident that through our collective efforts, and only through our collective efforts, we will succeed and serve as a model for the nation!

Of all the things I learned last year, one stands out among the rest. Our faculty, staff, and our students have an unshakeable commitment to providing our community with access to the transformative power of higher education.

Today, I am asking for your continued commitment as we work together to reimagine higher education and serve as a source of hope, empathy and greater understanding in an increasingly divided world.

We are about to embark on a new phase of our journey and I hope that you will move forward into this academic year knowing that you are the heartbeat of this institution and that your work changes lives every day. I look forward to our work… together… as we reach for even greater levels of success.

Thank you!