Upcoming USU Valera NEST Facility to Enrich Student Lives

May 15, 2024

By Teagan Davidge

The Grand Salon was packed with California State University, Northridge (CSUN) staff, students, faculty, alumni, donors, and state officials this month as the University Student Union (USU) hosted a renovation celebration for its newest venture — The Valera NEST.

The Valera NEST (Nurturing Environment for Students to Thrive) is expected to open in the 2025–2026 academic year and will house critical support services that enable students to thrive and reach their educational goals. Advocates as well as those who helped bring the project to life, shared what the project means to them.

Assemblymember Pilar Schiavo addresses the audience

Assemblymember Pilar Schiavo addresses the audience. Photo by Steven Wein.

“I am so proud that we were able to secure the six million dollars from the state budget to cover nearly a third of the funding that’s needed for the Valera NEST to make it a reality, ensuring that it will be a central part of CSUN’s campus,” said California State Assemblymember Pilar Schiavo who represents the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys that comprise District 40. “These are important resources housed in all one location that will allow students to focus on their education…” 

A $125/semester fee increase, approved by students in a 2019 referendum vote, will contribute to the operation costs of the Valera NEST. The increase will fund future improvements to USU spaces as well, including additional indoor and shaded outdoor seating with access to device charging, enhanced food options and more. The fee is proposed to gradually increase over four years, beginning with a $32 per semester increase in 2025–2026 after the opening of the Valera NEST and $31 per semester thereafter until $125 is reached in 2028–2029.

Assemblymember Schiavo said the Valera NEST represents the central principles of CSUN, and how the facility will inspire future students and make them feel welcome.

“This center really speaks to the core values of empathy, community and empowerment that make CSUN one of the leading California schools today. I’m incredibly grateful to be part of this momentous occasion, and this project will really transform lives,” Schiavo said tearfully.

This new facility is named in recognition of an impactful donation from Milt and Debbie Valera. Milt Valera is a CSUN journalism alumnus of the class of ‘68. Additionally, in 2023, the California State University Board of Trustees and CSUN conferred upon Milt Valera the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Milt Valera speaks about the Valera NEST.

Milt Valera speaks about the Valera NEST. Photo by Steven Wein.

“For Debbie and me, CSUN is a very special place, and it seems to get more special every day,” Milt Valera said. “Today, we are absolutely delighted to be even closer to our University Student Union and its many programs. When we learned recently that the original name of the basic needs suite was being changed to the Valera NEST, we felt an immediate sense of added responsibility, and even a little bit of pressure. A Nurturing Environment for Students to Thrive, NEST, is not a place or a commitment to be taken lightly.”

The Valera NEST will feature a community kitchen named in honor of Ila Levy, mother and mother-in-law of Rick and Barbara Levy, respectively. Ila’s Kitchen will include microwaves, hot water dispensers, cold food storage lockers, a food preparation area, a lounge and eating spaces.

“We know from our own experiences how difficult it can be, and also what an amazing steppingstone Cal State Northridge is to its students. You can do anything from here, and they need to know that,” said Barbara Levy, class of ‘74 graduate. “The NEST will provide a space, a home away from home, where students physical needs can be met.” 

Other student resources housed in the Valera NEST will include the CSUN Food Pantry, which will provide shelf stable pantry items alongside fresh produce and perishable items, Matty’s Closet, a clothing boutique which provides gently used and new interview and workplace clothing at no cost for CSUN students, and staff to assist students with securing temporary and long-term housing, while addressing food insecurity and other needs.

“We want to be seen as nurturers. Those who care about and cultivate an environment for students not to just survive, but to thrive. This would not have been possible without all of you,” said Debra Hammond, USU Executive Director, addressing the crowd. “I don’t often get to work on such a collaborative project with so many different partners from so many places and different parts of the university, but also our partners outside the university.”

Hammond then recognized many audience members who had been, and continue to be, vital to the creation of the Valera NEST, thanking them for their time and dedication to the vision of the project.

“The people I want to thank most of all are our students because they are our inspiration behind this. They are the wind beneath our wings, they make all of this happen for us, and it is really important that we celebrate them at all times. So, thank you!” Hammond said.

USU Board of Directors Chair Jasmin Zesati and Vice Chair Daniel Lopez express their excitement for the project.

USU Board of Directors Chair Jasmin Zesati and Vice Chair Daniel Lopez express their excitement for the project. Photo by Steven Wein.

USU Board of Directors (BOD) Chair Jasmin Zesati and Vice Chair Daniel Lopez expressed their excitement about the Valera NEST and its powerful impact on the future of the university and the student union.

“I’ve never felt so supported. Everyone here in the USU here has become my pillar,” Zesati said. “I want to extend that out to everyone here, and I don’t want anyone to ever feel that they don’t have anyone to go to. So, we’re really excited, and I feel really honored to be here.”

“The USU is where I found my home, from getting involved as a community member, the BOD, and just sitting in the Sol Center doing my homework. Now students like myself and future students, hopefully my little sister one day, will be able to utilize the Valera NEST,” said Lopez.

The Valera NEST will be the result of numerous dedicated individuals’ tireless work and passion for improving the lives of students. It is also a CSUN campus partnership with the University Student Union (USU), Division of Student Affairs, Office of Basic Needs, Career Center and the College of Health and Human Development.

“This project is very near and dear to my heart, and I was so thrilled that even in a tough budget year last year we were able to be a part of making this project happen,” said Assemblymember Schiavo. “We are laying the foundation for a legacy of compassion, support and student success that will resonate for generations.”

Dignitaries pose with hard hats and sledgehammers.

Dignitaries pose with hard hats and sledgehammers. Photo by David J. Hawkins.