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Looking back: Reflections and highlights from a year of challenges and progress

  • July 2, 2010

Presiding over Cal State East Bay’s five commencement ceremonies last month, I was reminded what a powerful experience this graduation ritual is for our students and their families. As I shared in my remarks at the ceremonies, I am struck by the diversity and dedication of our students.

Of the nearly 3,700 students receiving their bachelor’s degrees, the average age is 28 — the youngest is 19, the oldest 76. Many are first generation college graduates. Most combined their studies with work, home, and community responsibilities. One of every seven students came to Cal State East Bay directly from high school. The remainder transferred from 167 public and private institutions in California, as well as institutions in 40 states and 34 foreign countries.

And for the nearly 1,400 master’s degree candidates, the average age is 33. Half of these graduates have at least one dependent, half took classes only in the evenings, and 70 percent worked full-time while in school. Almost a quarter of these graduate students also received undergraduate degrees at Cal State East Bay. There are also 170 international students representing 34 countries.

Even in the face of economic troubles, these graduates persevered to achieve their dreams. It was a challenging year for the state and the nation, and Cal State East Bay was no exception. The university began the year in a tough spot, with the state budget still unsettled and facing a number of deep cuts. The Chancellor’s office required all CSUs to reduce enrollment for 2010-11. As an additional measure, each university instituted mandatory employee furloughs to help close the financial gap. We also announced several staff layoffs and reductions in lecturer faculty. These difficult decisions forced us to change rapidly while pushing several important long-term goals back.

But I am proud of how we faced and managed those challenges to minimize the impact to students as much as possible. We worked together to mitigate the worst negative consequences of these cuts. Through your efforts, some of the staff layoffs were rescinded and jobs preserved. We maintained services, streamlined and reorganized our divisions, and began changing the way we think about higher education as a day-to-day operation. The university community responded to the reality that we cannot continue to do “business as usual.”

This spring we were reminded how critical our “business” is to the state and the region, not just for students but in economic terms. A recent study commissioned by the CSU system showed that Cal State East Bay has a total regional impact of $415 million, spending $266 million annually. Our university supports more than 3,200 jobs in the region. More than $23.8 million in local and $26.8 million in state tax revenue flow from Cal State East Bay’s operation. You can read more about the study on our news site — it is a compelling reminder of the many ways we contribute to the economic vibrancy of the East Bay.

Despite reduced staff and faculty time due to furloughs, which ended in June, we still served a record-high student body. Our academic accomplishments over the past year included recognition from the Princeton Review as a “best in the west” university and a “best business school”— and a record number of applications for Fall 2010, both of which demonstrate how we are growing as a university of choice for the region.

We also expanded our online degree completion programs, allowing more students to earn credits toward their degrees on a more flexible schedule, and created new opportunities to join the workforce of tomorrow with certificate programs targeting leading industries. Our faculty and staff submitted more than $40 million worth of proposals for research projects this year, compared to $27 million last year, indicating their dedication and effort in supporting the university mission.

And we welcomed our new provost, James Houpis. His experience as dean of the College of Natural Sciences at CSU Chico and his background in environmental science are bringing valuable insights to the launch of Cal State East Bay’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education initiative.

It has long been our vision that Cal State East Bay be transformed into a more vibrant “university village” that connects the East Bay community more directly with our students and campuses. One major step in that process was the CSU trustees' approval in the fall of the master plan for the Hayward campus. The expansion and planning of new construction — including the parking garage and a new STEM Education Center — will be guided by this master plan.

The plan sets sustainability targets for energy, water, and waste reduction, as well as car travel. You’re already seeing our green efforts at work; ASI has partnered with Zipcar to help students and faculty travel more efficiently to and from campus, and the university is moving forward on a project with PG&E to bring a 1.4-megawatt fuel cell demonstration site to CSUEB.

The idea of a university village also drives our commitment to achieving academic excellence through inclusion. Each university division has a diversity plan, and the Faculty Diversity and Equity Committee hosted the university’s first Diversity Day this spring. We continue working with regional partners to increase access to higher education, especially for students in underserved communities.

In May, we celebrated the top 234 students in the 2010 graduating class at the Honors Convocation. They are not alone — students across the university earned myriad impressive honors. To name just a few from this year: CSUEB psychology students took first place at the 24th Annual CSU Research Competition; three multimedia graduate students earned acclaim for their interactive thesis project on Route 66; and several art students had works chosen for shows at San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum.

This was also a banner year for Pioneer Athletics, completing the first full year of competition in the NCAA Division II. Our teams will enter the final year of candidacy this fall in the renovated Pioneer Stadium. They unveiled a new logo in the fall, representing our dynamic new imagining of what a “Pioneer” can be. I’m also proud of our many student athletes who were recognized with NCAA and conference honors and awards.

Finally, we concluded the first year of the University of Possibilities fundraising campaign, receiving an unprecedented amount of support for our mission with more than $6 million in gifts and pledges recorded as of June 30.

This spring we announced a $1.5 million commitment from Chevron Corp., to support the Mathematics Achievement Academies. Corporate and foundation support will be key to this early leadership phase of the university fundraising campaign, and we are delighted that Chevron, an East Bay-based company, has chosen Cal State East Bay as its partner in outreach.

We also received several generous gifts from notable alumni. We’re grateful to Jack Acosta ’75, MBA ’78; Lou Miramontes ’76; and Rich Sherratt ’70, and their families, for their early commitments to this transformational campaign.

Good news must be shared, so to promote all of these wonderful stories, we’ve reached out with the tools of today’s social media. We’ve launched the Inside CSUEB News Blog, which has brought a number of new visitors to our site to read about campus life. Connecting our news and Web content with Facebook, Twitter, and other sharing sites allows us to leverage the ever-expanding reach of the Internet to tell the world about our triumphs and achievements.

Next month, I will share with you what we are looking ahead to for the 2010-11 fiscal and academic year, then in the fall we’ll resume our university-wide discussion of STEM education. Thank you all for your hard work and dedication, and congratulations to our graduates!

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