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President's First Convocation: CSUN Shines!

Click here to download a PDF version of this address 

August 23, 2012

Dianne F. Harrison, Ph.D.
President, California State University, Northridge

Delivered at the Valley Performing Arts Center at California State University, Northridge
Thursday, August 23, 2012

Other related links: 
View "A Day as a Matador" video (presented before the program)

(The following is the prepared text for the address)

President Harrison was introduced by Faculty President Steven Stepanek.

I. Thank you Steven, and let me introduce other campus leaders on stage:

  • Associated Students President Sydni Powell
  • and the university cabinet 
    • Provost Harry Hellenbrand 
    • Vice President for Student Affairs William Watkins
    • Vice President for Administration and Finance Tom McCarron
    • Vice President for Information Technology Hilary Baker
    • Vice President for University Advancement Vance Peterson
    • Executive Director of the University Corporation Rick Evans
    • and Chief of Staff Barbara Gross

And thank you to our talented student filmmakers, Robert Xaudaro, Steven Shubert, and Teddy Navarro. (Robert graduated in May and is now working at Universal Sports Network – he just wrapped a major project, editing clips for the Olympic coverage!)

Let me welcome those of you who are new to the campus community or who have taken on new roles. The program lists new tenure-track faculty members and permanent full-time employees who have joined us in the past year or who have taken on new roles. And 75 faculty members were tenured or promoted. (We tried to create accurate and complete lists. If there are mistakes or omissions, we sincerely apologize!) Would everyone here who is in one of these groups please stand – let us welcome and congratulate you!

I’ve been here now for 11 weeks, almost three months. I so appreciate the warm welcome I’ve received. It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to lead this campus. I want to acknowledge the remarkable leadership of my predecessor, one of my mentors, President Jolene Koester, and how she inspired this campus. All of you under Jolene’s leadership established a remarkable foundation, and it is now my privilege and honor to build on that foundation.

I also want to acknowledge Provost Harry Hellenbrand, formerly Interim President Hellenbrand. Under his leadership the university flourished through transition. Harry, you were, and continue to be, remarkable.

II. The title of my address today is “CSUN Shines!”  

Quite simply, I want to celebrate that CSUN does shine!! I love that our initials are C-SUN, so appropriate with our sunny climate – so warm sometimes that we decided to hold this gathering indoors, out of the hot sun – and I have come to appreciate CSUN as a source of light. CSUN is a shining example of the promise and excellence of public higher education, and a shining light for the community we serve who are the students who come to CSUN.

I have discovered that in our university seal, one quadrant contains a symbol of the sun. To the seal’s creators, each quadrant identified part of the rich culture that made CSUN unique, with the sun as a feature of Southern California. The sun held meaning for the university’s founders and it has even more meaning, today!

CSUN shines with a culture of collaboration and problem-solving, and with an unrelenting commitment to student success and initiatives that have made a difference and changed lives.

The university shines through our outstanding faculty, staff and administrators, committed to their work and dedicated to our mission.

CSUN shines through our students who are achieving, making us proud, and making a difference in the world even before they graduate.

The university shines through outstanding and acclaimed academic programs and magnificent facilities and technology.

We shine as a culture of unparalleled diversity with an inspiring history and engagement in the community.

CSUN shines with a growing number of alumni and volunteers and friends, proud and grateful for this great university.

Yes, CSUN shines! I’ve learned a lot about specific ways in which CSUN shines. Let me share some of this with you today.

  • Last fall saw the final WASC visit of the accreditation cycle, with a glowing report and our accreditation reaffirmed for ten years. Thank you co-chairs Elizabeth Say and Michael Neubauer and the many others who contributed.
  • The National Science Foundation ranks Cal State Northridge 1st among comprehensive universities preparing students who later earn doctorate degrees in psychology, 2nd in science and engineering, and 5th in biology.
  • CSUN credentials more teachers than the entire UC system combined. And statistical evidence shows that CSU-educated teachers produce greater academic learning as measured by California’s standardized exams. Alumna Rebecca Mieliwocki, class of 1996, was recognized by President Barak Obama as the 2012 National Teacher of the Year.
  • Our engineering program is the fastest-growing undergraduate engineering program in the country. CSUN was awarded a $5.5 million U.S. Department of Education grant to increase the number of underrepresented and low-income students studying engineering and computer science.
  • One-third of all managing partners of Southern California accounting firms are CSUN alumni. Our College of Business and Economics made the Princeton Review’s list of Best Business Schools for the 5th year in a row.
  • CSUN’s National Center on Deafness enrolls more deaf students than any other mainstream university in the nation. Last year the Center was awarded a $20 million U.S. Department of Education grant to spearhead a national effort to create opportunities for students who are deaf and hard of hearing.
  • Graduates of our Accelerated Nursing Program consistently achieve a 100% pass rate on the state licensure exam. More than one-fourth of all speech-language pathologists in California are CSUN graduates. Our Environmental and Occupational Health program is the largest such accredited program.
  • According to the Higher Education Research Institute, CSUN faculty spend as much time teaching and advising as peers at similar comprehensive universities – also known as “teaching schools” – but they also publish more and apply their research in campus-supported clinics serving 11,000 clients annually.

An annual address is always a time to celebrate achievements from the past year. When light shines on any of us, we all shine! There are manyaccomplishments – I can highlight only a few today.

President's Convocation

Let’s start with our students who shine under the direction of our faculty and staff. Next week we will welcome approximately 4,200 new freshmen and 4,000 new transfer students; and each year approximately 10,000 students are eligible to walk in commencement. CSUN shines in how we nurture and mature the talented students who enroll here.

  • You know that in 2011, at the competition hosted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, our engineering students took first place in the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition with Red RAVEN (which stands for Robotic Autonomous Vehicle Engineered in Northridge). Remarkably, in 2012, with a new student team, CSUN was the repeat world champion with Red RAVEN 2.0.
  • CSUN students continue to receive top honors in the national Model United Nations competition – the team earned the Outstanding Delegation Award and several students earned individual awards.
  • Our MBA students took first place at the Small Business Institute competition for their business plan for WatAir, a developer of water generation technology.
  • Journalism students received 22 awards last year from the Society of Professional Journalists and the California College Media Association for work on the Daily Sundial – six first-place, five second-place, and 11 third-place. They earned two first-place awards from the Los Angeles Press Club.
  • Our nationally acclaimed Jazz “A” Band was selected again to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival. They have become a “regular.”
  • Film student, Benny Wold-Yohannes, showcased his senior film, “Pareto Principle,” at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.
  • Liberal Studies major, Deborah Dougall-Loperena, was selected as a Woodrow Wilson-Rockefeller Brothers Fund Fellow for Aspiring Teachers of Color. One of the first in her family to graduate high school, she plans to teach in a high-needs school.

Of course, our students become alumni and continue to shine. Did you know that CSUN is the second highest Peace Corps volunteer-producing Hispanic Serving Institution? And we have engaged our alumni for the university. An Ad Hoc Committee on Athletics Engagement – mostly alumni – is exploring how our athletics program might become a tool to garner more outside support for the university. The group grew out of the Special Task for on Engagement, again mostly alumni. This commitment from alumni is inspiring and a base upon which to grow deeper and greater connections, including financial support.

President's ConvocationLet me now turn our attention to a few of the many accomplishments of our faculty and staff. You shine in our region and the state and the nation, and for our students. Again, the achievements are too many to list:


  • Dr. Susan Love in social work received a $1.2 million grant to develop an online community for at-risk parents to prevent mistreatment of children.
  • Geological science professor, Dr. Dayanthie Weeraratne received a National Science Foundation grant to support her research on plate tectonics and the Earth’s core formation, and to develop a program for increasing the number of underrepresented students in the discipline.
  • CSUN received a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to fund scholarships for the Accelerated Nursing Program. We are one of just 55 recipients nationally and the only recipient in the CSU.
  • This fall we welcome our first cohort pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy. The 32 highly qualified students were selected from among 1,093 applicants. Our physical therapy faculty and alumni were instrumental advocates for legislation authorizing the CSU to offer this applied doctorate, and ours is one of only four independent programs in the CSU.
  • English and linguistics professor Dr. Evelyn McClave was included in The Princeton Review’s, “The Best 300 Professors,” which honors professors who make a lasting impact on the lives of their students.
  • The College of Humanities was awarded a Startalk grant to support its Russian Language and Culture Immersion Program. This is part of the National Security Language Initiative which focuses on important world languages not widely taught in the United States.
  • Kinesiology professor Dr. Steven Loy’s collaboration with the City of San Fernando Partnership for Healthy Families to fight obesity won the Popular Choice Award in First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move! Video Challenge.” The award includes a visit to the White House. Professor Loy is now organizing a CSU-wide effort to provide student-delivered, faculty-supervised community fitness programs – all 21 campuses with kinesiology programs have signed on.
  • For the 27th year, CSUN hosted the annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, the largest of its kind. I would like to acknowledge Sandy Plotin and Mary Ann Cummins-Prager – I have been so impressed by the university’s leadership in this area.
  • Biology professors Dr. Cindy Malone, Dr. Mary-Pat Stein, and Dr. Randy Cohen received funding from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to continue the CSUN-UCLA Bridges to Stem Cell Research Program. Ten CSUN students each year receive training in stem cell research through classes at Northridge and laboratory internships at UCLA.
  • Dr. MariaElena Zavala received continued funding from the NIH for ongoing programs that prepare students from underrepresented communities for careers in biomedical research. Over the years, Dr. Zavala has received more than $30 million in federal grants. Thank you, MariaElena, for being such a strong advocate for our students and a successful producer of grant funding!
  • Physics professors Dr. Gang Lu, Dr. Nicholas Kioussis, and Dr. Donna Sheng, through CSUN’s Keck Computational Materials Theory Center, received a $2.4 million NSF Partnership for Research and Education in Materials (or PREM) grant to provide opportunities for undergraduate students from underrepresented groups to work with Northridge and Princeton professors. CSUN is one of only six institutions awarded a PREM grant, and this is our second. Research through the Keck Center produces approximately 30 peer-reviewed publications annually.
  • Dr. Robert Carpenter and Dr. Peter Edmunds of biology received ongoing NSF funding to study the effects of global climate change on the oceans.
  • Dr. Somnath Chattopadhyay in electrical and computer engineering received a U.S. Department of the Army grant for a three-year cutting-edge microelectronics research project.
  • Dr. Behzad Bavarian, in manufacturing systems engineering and management, received the National Association of Corrosion Engineers International 2012 Technical Achievement Award for his research in vapor phase corrosion inhibitors for protecting power plants during shut down.
  • Dean S. K. Ramesh was elected to the governing board of an international honor society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. Our own chapter supports College of Engineering and Computer Science programs such as a high school outreach and Tech Fest.
  • Dr. James Allen, professor emeritus of Geography received the Distinguished Service Award at the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers for his service to students, the discipline, and the community.
  • Dr. Magnhild Lien was named executive director of the Association for Women in Mathematics. This is in keeping with her determination to support and mentor women in mathematics. Thank you!
  • Faculty members in the Michael D. Eisner College of Education have been working with local school officials and community groups to increase the graduation rates of at-risk youth. Focusing on algebra, they have seen achievement rates jump in just one year.
  • The Michael D. Eisner College received a U.S. Department of Education grant to help students with Asian-language backgrounds become bilingual teachers or earn a master’s degree in multicultural and multilingual education. The College received a similar grant last year for students with Spanish-language backgrounds. Both programs are coordinated by Dr. Clara Park of secondary education.
  • CSUN received a California Postsecondary Education Commission grant as one of 14 institutions selected to help teachers prepare for the state’s new Common Core Standards and the only one to work with teachers who serve deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
  • Police Chief Anne Glavin was sworn in as president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA). She is recognized as blazing a trail for female police executives, and for her work in sexual assault prevention and women’s self defense – important work benefiting all CSU campuses.
  • The Educational Talent Search Program, within Student Outreach and Recruitment Services, received two U.S. Department of Education TRIO grants to encourage local underrepresented, first-generation and low-income young people to graduate high school and go to college. The grants will support 1,200 middle and high school students annually for five years.
  • Our Tseng College of Extended Learning has grown to be the largest continuing and extended education program in the CSU system, and is number one in terms of efficiency and productivity. Thank you Dean Joyce Feucht-Haviar and all of your staff and others for these efforts!

I must stop now for lack of time, but let me say it again, CSUN shines!

To support our many efforts, the campus continues to improve facilities and technology to enhance the experience of students, faculty, and staff, helping us all to shine. Here are a few highlights, ways the campus is moving forward:

  • President's ConvocationWe are currently constructing two new chemistry labs in Eucalyptus Hall and a flexible-space Mathematics Resource Center in Live Oak Hall. We converted the former “black box” theatre in Nordhoff Hall to classroom space, and renovated a geology lab in Chaparral Hall.
  • We completed SMART classroom upgrades, began converting computer labs to dual-use lecture and lab space, and increased campus internet bandwidth 10-fold.
  • Last fall Information Technology completed a year-long collaborative process exploring the ways CSUN students, faculty, and staff expect to experience and use technology. The result – IT Vision@2015 – guides annual university technology priorities and project planning. I am proud to strongly support this vision and plan.
  • Last January we opened the Student Recreation Center – LEED gold certified for its commitment to energy efficiency and sustainable materials – and with state-of-the-art fitness equipment and facilities, and [wow!], have you seen it? Have you used it?
  • Through the Academic Technology Department, the new Course Redesign Institute provides training to help faculty members convert their courses to hybrid or online formats. Another new offering, Lecture Capture lets faculty members capture their lectures digitally so students can watch and rewind, thereby “flipping the classroom.”
  • The new Virtual Software Library, funded through the Campus Quality Fee, provides students with anywhere-anytime access to an array of software previously available only in a physical computer lab, and faculty can also use it for teaching purposes.
  • The service, which offers more than 1,200 online software tutorials, is now provided for CSUN faculty and staff who may access it anytime and anywhere.
  • The new transit station on the west side of campus, made possible by a Federal grant, has improved campus access to public transportation. If you haven’t used public transportation and the Orange, Red or other lines to get around, I encourage you to do so.
  • You now see bike paths on campus. These were created in collaboration with the Sustainability Institute and incorporated student input. A next phase will link the inner-campus paths with the student residence halls.
  • We have new computer lab and lounge space in the University Student Union. Additionally, a new Veterans Resource Center and new Pride Center serving the LGBTQ population will open in September. Both centers will offer peer mentoring and resource referrals, sponsor events and activities, and provide awareness training for faculty, staff, and students. Funding was provided by the University Student Union and the Campus Quality Fee, and the Veterans Resource Center received a grant from an anonymous donor.
  • Last year a Student Veteran Programs and Services Advisory Committee was established to advise the university on delivery of non-instructional programs and services to student veterans, military service members, and their dependents.
  • Improvements in the Plaza del Sol performance hall have made it more comfortable and acoustically and aesthetically pleasing, and a more complimentary venue to the main hall of the Valley Performing Arts Center.
  • There are new outdoor benches across campus, and corridor benches in Jerome Richfield Hall, funded by the Campus Quality Fee.
  • We are nearing completion of Cleary Court between Juniper Hall and the Education Building to make it a usable outdoor space. The project is one of several for which funding sources – Campus Quality Fee and deferred maintenance – were combined to leverage available resources.
  • You can also see on campus expanded seating at Arbor Court and some remodeling and refreshing of other food service venues.
  • Some of you may have heard there were improvements in the President’s Office – let me put this into context. Three years ago, after a physical assault to one of the CSU presidents, President Koester initiated planning for much-needed changes. That three-year old effort was completed last semester, and these improvements made the office more ADA accessible and safer for our staff.
  • Using Campus Quality Fee funding, the beautiful new gymnasium floor in the Matadome was completed this summer, following the installation last year of a new scoreboard, video display boards, and interior graphics.
  • And finally … air conditioning in the Matadome! Finally is right! Are you kidding me? We had our student-athletes compete in there without air conditioning and fans actually came to watch? Thank you to whoever made the cool air happen!

In my view, our most important efforts are those that improve the educational experience for our students. We must maintain an unrelenting focus, be alert to barriers and roadblocks for students, and find solutions. We must think about the total student experience, both in and out of the classroom. Among the most recent examples of success:

  • Automated waitlists were launched for the fall semester through a collaboration of Academic Affairs and Information Technology. Students who want to take a currently full class can place themselves on a waitlist to be added if space becomes available – making life much easier for students and faculty alike! The automated waitlist has so far helped 4,225 students move into 5,726 seats. Reports and data analytics will also help deans and department chairs track demand and plan for upcoming terms. I never want students to be shut out of classes they need to graduate and this system will lessen that possibility considerably. But we won’t stop there.
  • The Early Start Mathematics and Writing programs were launched this summer. More than three-fourths of first-time freshmen needing the programs participated and both faculty and students reported positive outcomes in terms of improved math skills, understanding the pace and level of university writing, better understanding of academic dishonesty issues, and connections with other new students.
  • We have plans to make space in the library more functional for student learning, beginning with a Learning Commons and other features to support student success, including additional outlets for recharging mobile devices.
  • We just began construction of the three-acre Student Recreation Center outdoor fields – our first outdoor space dedicated to student recreation as the primary function and providing a tremendous boost for intramural and Sports Club programs. The fields will use artificial turf for durability and water conservation, and high efficiency lighting for extended night use.

Again, these accomplishments are but a sample. The point is that CSUN shines with strong academic programs, an unrelenting focus on student success, and exceptional and committed faculty and staff.

III. And so what of our future? Like any new president, I have ideas for the future of the university based on early listening. And like any university receiving a new president, you no doubt have questions and are curious about what I am up to!

Let me say, with any leadership change there is anticipation and also apprehension. A change in a president can elicit a variety of responses. We know from research on human behavior and organizational change that there are three universal levels of response to leadership transition. First, there are some who don’t want to let go of the past. Then there are some who sit in the neutral zone waiting to assess the new leader and decide.

Finally, there are some who are ready to jump on board and get rolling.

During my “listening tour,” which I am still on, I have heard everything from “don’t change a thing,” to “shake it up,” to “indulge us.” (Names shall remain anonymous.) And in general, people seem to like or at least be comfortable with change, as long as it doesn’t affect them. I would like to start by reassuring you – I share the values and goals that have made this university great. My aspiration is to build on the great foundation that already exists, to continue to make CSUN shine.

I have been busy. During the summer months, I met and talked with many faculty and staff members and students, including the Associated Students leadership, first-time freshmen I met while welcoming them at freshman orientation, student-athletes and, yes, our student protesters and hunger strikers. I met with campus administrative and faculty leadership and the Ad Hoc Transition Advisory Group, and toured many areas of campus to become familiar with the university landscape and operations. My staff estimated that I made more than 1,100 contacts with faculty and staff, met with 220 students, plus welcomed all of the 4,200 new freshmen who attended orientation. I also met and attended events with more than 600 external stakeholders – alumni, volunteers, donors, elected officials, and business, media, and civic leaders.  

I’ve worked out at the Student Recreation Center, eaten in the Sierra Center Marketplace, and hosted staff members for breakfast at University House. I took the Orange and Red Lines to downtown Los Angeles. I decided to meet more frequently with the deans and hold more frequent meetings of my Extended Cabinet, which was established as consisting of the cabinet and the deans and which I expanded to also include Steven Stepanek, the Faculty Senate President. I hope they don’t mind the more frequent meetings! Last Friday night my husband and I attended the opening game of our women’s soccer team – they beat ASU 1-0! This Friday night we will attend the 57th annual celebration event of the San Fernando Valley branch of the NAACP.

And of course, my own transition occurs at a time of great transition in the CSU – changes in the membership of the Board of Trustees, the announced retirement of Chancellor Reed and a search for his successor, and other new presidential appointments. It remains to be seen what will unfold with changes at the Chancellor’s Office. We have had great support from the Board Chair, Robert Linscheid, who has been meeting and talking with our CSUN faculty leaders about the future of the CSU. I am very supportive of these efforts. We do so well when we work as a team in pursuit of a common mission.

After listening, asking questions, and listening more, both on campus and off, let me share with you thoughts for the future and my priorities. All that I have learned about this campus demonstrates a strong foundation and many remarkable achievements. Still, there are areas that I will prioritize. I want to help us add the “second story” to our existing solid foundation and structure.

  • First, it seems no president’s address in these times can avoid the topic of resources. Budget issues continue to plague the CSU and all of public higher education, threatening both access and affordability. We continue to see a challenged California economy and the disinvestment of scarce state funds from public higher education. There is also uncertainty in the Federal budget which could affect Pell grants and the Federal agencies that fund research. So while we will continue to lobby, and lobby hard, we also must plan for a future where we are less dependent on state funding. Only about 30% of our funding now comes from the state of California!

First the good news – thanks to the campus’ growing reputation and remarkably prudent planning and fiscal conservation under the leadership of President Koester, Provost Hellenbrand, Vice President McCarron, and others, we are in good shape for now. The campus has persevered and moved forward through the past five years of budget challenges and we have planned well for the coming year. Foresight in implementing a Campus Quality Fee, in growing enrollments, in adding self support programs that serve the changing needs of the region, and in spending conservatively – these have all contributed to our financial stability. We have been able to move forward and invest in the future.

President's ConvocationStill, the CSU Board of Trustees will be considering contingency budget plans for the system in the event the Governor’s tax initiative fails. A provision of the 2012-13 state budget is that if Proposition 30 fails, the CSU will face a $250 million "trigger" cut, on top of the other cuts already enacted.

The strategies being considered by the Board of Trustees will require shared sacrifice from all of us. Students may be affected through either a tuition fee increase or enrollment limits. All employees may be affected in some way. (Let me emphasize that any strategy of reducing personnel costs first requires collective bargaining with the various unions.)

These are painful alternatives to consider, and I want to emphasize that the Board has made no decision yet. At their meeting in September they may adopt a contingency plan. What we know is, budget cuts from the state have become the norm, and so the CSU system must plan and the campus must plan in a way that preserves our ability to educate students. It seems inevitable that the CSU will need to get out of the “box” of our past, with campuses hopefully allowed to operate more autonomously and manage with more flexibility because one size does not fit all.

What we must do at CSUN is continue the momentum begun years ago to be less dependent on state funding. We must continue to cultivate non-state resources – increasing the number of international and other non-resident students (which requires ensuring the requisite support services for these students and not at the expense of California residents), continue to grow our incredibly successful efforts through Extended Learning and the offering of self-support programs, grow grant-funded research and sponsored program activity, and increase development and private gifts.

In all these areas, we launch into the future from a firm foundation. We have had our best summer in six years in terms of new philanthropic commitments (since the extraordinary $10 million pledge in 2006 from Mr. Michael Curb). This year, for the months of June, July, and August – and August isn’t over yet – we raised over $5 million in new private gifts, including $500,000 from the Bernard T. Osher Foundation for California community college transfer students. And I’m especially pleased to announce this morning a gift of $2.1 million from the founders of the “99 Cent Only Stores” for students who are not eligible for financial aid but whose families are challenged to pay for tuition. Over the course of the gift, 120 students will receive four years of full tuition!

I am hopeful that this establishes a new pace and level of expectation for private support at CSUN. I am fully committed to doing my part, and spending an enormous amount of time and energy in external relations of all types, including with our financial supporters, donors, and prospects. If you have ideas about donors, prospects or foundations for gifts, let me know! We will all benefit. We need to be out there telling our story and attracting funds.

And we are also part of the discussions to find long-term solutions. Provost Hellenbrand has been amazing in his relentless efforts on campus and in the CSU system. CSUN faculty, with notable leadership by Professors Steven Stepanek and Michael Hoggan, have organized discussions with CSU leaders around funding the future of the CSU. CSU Board of Trustees Chair Robert Linscheid was quick to tell me about the high caliber of this discussion and the many good ideas generated. Another discussion has been scheduled for October to be followed by a two-day symposium next April.

Let me encourage you too to let your voice be heard. Join the university’s Legislative Network to stay updated on the latest budget news from Sacramento and to advocate for support for public higher education.

  • Another key priority is to continue to bolster the visibility and reputation of the university. This includes accelerating the momentum of eagerly telling our story frequently and assertively. A strong reputation paves the way to solidify support from partners. A strong reputation will encourage the community to speak up and advocate for this university; will help us retain strong students, faculty, and staff; will reawaken the pride of alumni to get involved and return first to CSUN to recruit students and graduates; and is a key factor in attracting resources because donors are eager to support a winning team. We can no longer be quiet or self-effacing about our stories and achievements.

During the summer we put much effort into readying ourselves to launch a university positioning platform – a unifying theme for communicating with pride CSUN’s identity and distinctive qualities. Over the past few weeks we vetted concepts with a cross section of the campus community – the Ad Hoc Transition Advisory Group, the Extended Cabinet, faculty leadership, the Student Affairs Management Council, and groups of students and staff members.

As most of you know, the university already laid the foundation for these efforts over the past couple years, interviewing members of the campus community both internal and external to get a clear picture of who we are and what we represent. That clear picture emerged.  We are relevant, responsive, and ready. We have a strong faculty and exceptional academic programs. We prepare students for personal and professional success. We cultivate and grow talent. We are diverse and inclusive. We are problem solvers and innovators, and we foster change. Our students, alumni, faculty and staff distinguish themselves as leaders emerging from the crowd. We have a history of resilience and a culture of problem solving and collaboration. To sum it up – and it is reflected in the title of this speech – CSUN shines!

Quite simply, this is a place where people come and shine. We can say to students, this is a university where you can shine, realize your dreams and share them with others, and where a successful school career will precede a successful professional career and personal life. Likewise, this is a place where faculty and staff can and do shine. To donors, we can say, when you offer your financial generosity, you keep CSUN shining. CSUN is not just another institution of higher learning, but one of higher enlightenment and vitality. CSUN shines out from the crowd, and the “CSUN shine” is a personality trait that lives in the CSUN community.

The time has come to launch this positioning platform that will serve as a unifying theme for telling our stories with pride and confidence. We will show new graphic expression of our identity to accompany the compelling messages that highlight our excellence – all the ways that CSUN shines.

The best part is that the launching of a positioning platform doesn’t require spending a lot of money, or really any additional money. The existing California State University, Northridge word mark will remain the same and be used in conjunction with new visual identity in materials routinely produced and updated – the university website, student outreach and recruitment materials, events announcements, the Valley Performing Arts Center brochures, electronic newsletters, KCSN-FM announcements, Northridge magazine and other alumni communications, and social media. (We have more than 54,000 followers on Facebook – the largest in the CSU!) The goal is to tell our story to more people who should be interested. Today we have more than 200,000 alumni, yet only 14,000 members of our Alumni Association. We will do better!

Of course, we need your help. Incorporate the positioning platform into your own departmental, college, and divisional marketing efforts, communicate your achievements to let the world know the many ways CSUN shines. When we say that CSUN shines, we mean that you shine. Tell your story – your story is the CSUN story!

And speaking of the website, we are working to create a more functional website to reflect your achievements and tell the CSUN story in a compelling way. In my work to learn about the university prior to coming here, I visited college and divisional websites. I was struck by the disconnect between what I had learned about the excellence of the university and what I found on the web – too often I saw information that was out of date, broken links, pages that appeared to have been abandoned – quite simply, a web presence that didn’t match our excellence. We can do better; we must and we will.

  • Let me emphasize that student success is priority one and we will continue to perfect our focus. As I stated during my first official visit to campus, my first priority is to ensure that CSUN’s student success initiatives are continued and to see what else we need to be doing for full-time and part-time students and for both resident and commuting students with respect to degree completion and graduation.

I was impressed to learn of the progress made over the past decade. Thanks to Harry and Bettina Huber’s deft analyses using national databases, we know that CSUN has by far the highest graduation rates for schools with student populations whose demographics match our own in terms of socioeconomics and academic readiness. CSUN typifies the effect of efforts to improve graduation rates in the CSU. We graduate students at rates above the national averages – something we could not boast a few years ago. And we add value in many other ways. Harry and Bettina’s analyses using the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) show the value we add to students’ knowledge and abilities. For example, gains between freshman and senior year on the CLA are above or well above expectation. However, we can always do better, and we will. We need to close the achievement gap. I want to exceed the national averages and eliminate any achievement gap.

Shortly after my arrival, Vice Provost Cynthia Rawitch gave me a lengthy paper listing and describing the many ways in which Academic Affairs and Student Affairs support student success, retention, and graduation. Numerous programs are listed under categories of academic support for new and continuing students, advising, academic enrichment, academic and co-curricular support for specific student populations, support services, and efforts to encourage and support timely graduation. Many efforts have been in place for years and many are relatively new. Clearly a lot of work has been done, and we will continue the momentum.

Our commitment to student success includes removing known barriers. Earlier this year, Provost Hellenbrand set aside funding to add General Education course sections as needed to meet student demand. My goal is for all students to get the classes they need to progress toward degree completion – freshmen and seniors, yes, and also sophomores and juniors. Every one of us needs to own and share in our efforts toward student success.

And we need to think about the future and the curricula needed to prepare 21st century graduates and citizens. We know the importance of hands-on learning – research, community-based learning, internships, field experiences, problem solving. As a university, we can become more focused on expanding external partnerships that benefit both student learning and communities. We can expand the university’s visibility through new and existing partnerships and, at the same time, provide a wealth of opportunities for students to learn by doing.

Additionally, we can distinguish CSUN by encouraging students in all majors to creatively apply innovative thinking and problem solving within their disciplines and within their lives as students at this university. One need not be a business major to have an entrepreneurial spirit. Students preparing today to be the leaders of tomorrow can practice developing solutions to real problems. This can be taught in the classroom, and it can be taught by the university as a whole.

We can start by inviting students to think creatively about how the university can work well for them. We can invite them to help make CSUN shine. We can ask students to share with us an idea that would remove a barrier or bottleneck to their progress, tell us about a problem, but more importantly, a potential solution. And then we can implement the most promising ideas. Faculty and staff, as well, will be invited to help make CSUN shine.

And there are numerous areas of focus going into the future – improving services for non-resident and commuting students, aligning services with the needs of our growing population of international students, creating resource centers such as the new Pride Center and Veterans Resource Center. Student success is not just about the classroom – it is every aspect of student life. And we all own it and play a part.

  • As a fourth priority, I will support, endorse, and champion an increased focus on applied research and sponsored programs. As a regional university, our mission includes applied research conducted by faculty and staff to help provide answers and solutions, and supply evidence and data for making good choices. Applied research also offers opportunities for students to work with faculty, develop research and problem solving skills, and become more engaged with the campus. Going forward, we will fully embrace this part of our mission.

A few moments ago I referred to grants and sponsored projects as a source of revenue and student and faculty support. I’m pleased to see there is much pride in the growth of sponsored projects on our campus –$28 million in funding in 2011-12, a 60% increase over the past five years. Applied research is an essential component of CSUN’s excellence, including instructional excellence in training students as researchers and innovators. Approximately 200 faculty members, 230 staff members, and 220 students are currently involved in sponsored research, sponsored instructional programs, and sponsored community services.

We will grow that further and fully integrate research into the university culture. This includes the university’s teaching culture because involving undergraduate and graduate students in research provides the highest caliber learning experience, and can be a key factor in further graduate education. We are already in the top five universities for bachelor’s-earning students who recently completed the Ph.D.

Our goal today is to double grant volume over the next five years. I believe that’s achievable and Provost Hellenbrand articulated a similar goal before I arrived but gave us a longer window. I challenge us to achieve more and sooner. I want to see research become part of the CSUN identity, to be become known as a place where the faculty and the students they train further knowledge and find solutions to problems. That will advance all of us as citizens of California and as forward-thinking academics in the U.S. and beyond.

President's convocationIn support of this priority, organizational changes will be made within the Office of Graduate Studies, Research and International Programs. I have approved a restructuring which decouples International Programs so that it can focus more fully on that important work in support of students and leaves the Office of Graduate Studies and Research targeted on those areas. I believe these changes recommended by the Provost and the Vice President for Student Affairs will greatly benefit the university, and our faculty, staff, and students.

This fall we will conduct a national search for an Associate Vice President of Graduate Studies and Research. I would like to thank Dr. Helena Noronha who has assumed these responsibilities on an interim basis following the retirement and passing of Dr. Mack Johnson. The Graduate Studies and Research staff will be joined by faculty research mentors who will provide support to faculty as they prepare grant proposals for submission. Emphasis will be placed on nurturing research talent, finding opportunities for collaboration, and removing any infrastructure barriers that may exist for both pre-award and post-award functions.

The University Corporation’s Sponsored Programs area, which administers the awards once received, has already introduced PRO-PI, which stands for Professional, Resourceful and Organized for the Principal Investigator – a program that has improved support for Principal Investigators, easing the administrative burden and streamlining processes. We will support our PIs to every extent possible. Please let me know if we fall short in any area.

I look forward to hosting an event at University House in October to honor and recognize all 170 or so of our Principle Investigators. This will become an annual event and I hope to see a growing number of PIs on the invitation list. Our expectations, rewards and recognition of faculty need to include the securing of external grants, contracts, and partnerships.

  • We will also focus on employees for success. None of our goals and priorities are achievable without people – faculty, staff, and administrators who are engaged and inspired and who care. Employees make it possible to achieve our goals. Employees transmit our organizational values and commitment to the university’s mission, goals, and priorities.

Over the past few months a cross-divisional team has been discussing how best to foster, support and recognize employee engagement. The vision is that CSUN will become known as a destination workplace where every employee recognizes they belong to a community of educators. The vision is that every employee will be acknowledged as a key participant in advancing student success and in providing exemplary service to university stakeholders.

This extends to everyone – the groundskeepers, custodians, and maintenance workers who steward our campus environment; those in Financial Services who make sure the bills are paid so we can buy what we need; the advisors, faculty members, librarians, counselors, and others who work directly with students; those in Admissions and Records, Financial Aid, and academic department and other offices who help students solve their problems and continue their progress; the police officers who work to keep the campus is safe; Information Technology staff who make sure systems are operating; those who prepare food (and good food it is!) – every employee at this university has an important role.

The goals are that every employee will know their work is essential in fulfilling the university’s mission, to enhance and build the sense of campus community, and to ensure a culture of respect, appreciation, and caring for employees.

Some of the early work you will see is the CSUN Navigators program with employee volunteers welcoming and assisting students during the first week of classes, a wall of fame to create permanent recognition for staff service award recipients, and a redesign of the New Employee Welcome Orientation to immediately build pride and purpose in the university mission among new employees. I have committed myself to welcome and meet new employees at these welcome orientation sessions, and by the way, any of you who have never been, or who have taken on a new role, are welcome to attend too.

We also know our employees have great ideas and a desire to see the university be the best it can be. We will invite employees to think creatively about how functions of the university can move from good to great. We invite you to voice your aspirations, to contribute ideas to make CSUN shine. As a university, we will consider how to implement promising ideas and recognize employees who contribute innovative solution-based thinking. Expect to see calls for your “make CSUN shine” ideas, focusing on different target areas in which we can improve.  

In addition, I intend to get to know as many of you as possible. At some point, each of you will receive an invitation to join me in a small group setting at University House for breakfast or lunch. I have already had one staff breakfast at my house in August and hope to host a gathering of staff and a gathering of faculty at least once a month. I will host similar gatherings with student groups; my husband and I have already hosted three student groups and many more are planned.

  • Continuing the momentum. As I’ve said, CSUN shines – and a key contributor is the fact that CSUN has never stood still. No matter what the circumstance, be it devastating earthquake or consecutive years of budget cuts, the campus has stayed committed, and used its best intellectual resources to solve problems, innovate, and lead.

So, as we close this morning, let me mention just a few additional things recently accomplished or underway that will keep our momentum going forward:

  • Improving the appearance and functionality of the university’s website through a web content management system for ease of posting to the web, with web design standards creating a more clean and contemporary look.
  • The upcoming launch of “CSUN Today,” an online newsroom with short, timely campus news items celebrating the excellence of students, faculty, staff.
  • Improving and extending KCSN-FM’s signal coverage and raising the visibility of our impressive radio station on campus and way beyond (hopefully beyond the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys, right Sky?).
  • A renewed commitment to sustainability with strategic goals and direction. We will pursue LEED certification on future construction projects and are planning educational signage on our existing sustainability features.
  • More focused attention and support services for international students.
  • Improved delivery of student services through process improvements.
  • The giving of time and talent to each other. This fall an unprecedented number of faculty members are volunteering their expertise and providing professional development to their colleagues and our staff.
  • The creation of a Southern California Eco-Region Demonstration Garden adjacent to the new transit station, with seating and bike racks to support a growing public transit and bike culture, landscaping to mimic a southern California eco-system and highlight its sustainability and natural beauty, and informational signage. I value sustainability and efforts to model sustainable practices for our region and state.

This semester will be busy and focused as I continue to familiarize myself with the campus, learn more about our programs, meet as many faculty, staff, and students as possible, and continue to engage in the external relations of the university with government officials, non-profit organizations, K-12 and community college partners, business communities, civic leaders, donors and prospective donors, alumni and parents, and whoever else we need to advance our purposes and mission.

Today I am excited as we focus on the start of another academic year. I hope you feel my excitement. I want to say again how pleased and excited I am to be here. I have found here a wonderful spirit of collaboration, commitment, innovation, transparency, dialogue, responsiveness, and respect. In short, CSUN shines!