Happy New Year! I’ve been reflecting on the milestones UC Davis reached during 2018, like being named fifth-best public university in the nation and seeing our football team claim a share of the Big Sky Conference title. Just last month, the University of Indonesia’s GreenMetric World University Rankings placed us No. 3 in the world and No. 1 in the nation for sustainability.
You can bet UC Davis will blossom even more this year. One of the things I’m most excited about is our university becoming a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution, which we expect to happen this spring.
The designation means that at least 25 percent of our undergraduate population is of Hispanic descent, though the preferred term in California is the more gender-inclusive “Latinx.” But, this is about much more than numbers or semantics.
Fulfilling our mission
It’s recognition that UC Davis is fulfilling its public service mission, with a student population that’s on track to mirror California’s rapidly changing demographics. It means we’re empowering more young people from underserved communities and closing the gap on socioeconomic disparities in access to higher education, particularly research universities.
UC Davis is on the cusp of joining a select group of HSI-designated universities with the highest research activity. This means our Latinx students are occupying the elite spaces in higher education in greater concentrations. They’re going where the game-changing innovations are happening and solutions to societal problems can be found.
We need more underrepresented students in line to become leaders, particularly in health care. UC San Francisco health researchers say California faces a serious shortfall of primary care providers in the next 15 years. Some of the most critical shortages will be in the Latinx-prevalent communities of the Central Valley and along the Central Coast and Mexican border. UC Davis is increasingly well positioned to fill these gaps with medical professionals who know these communities best.
Paving the way
UC Davis has worked on its HSI designation for nearly a decade. It’s the culmination of visionary work from students, faculty, staff, alumni and others who wanted to make UC Davis the most welcome home possible for underrepresented students.
This journey was forged by UC Davis institutions like the Center for Chicanx and Latinx Academic Student Success and Casa Cuauhtémoc, a student residence that provides academic support and cultural experiences for the Latinx community and others. It was reinforced by our AB540 and Undocumented Student Center, which recently received permanent funding and a permanent director.
We also credit such campus pioneers as the Center for the Advancement of Multicultural Perspectives in Science (CAMPOS), which is preparing the next generations of scientists and filling the pipeline with diverse talent.
For more than a decade, we sought talent in untapped communities, and those recruitment efforts have served us well. In 2017, our most recent year of data, UC Davis received nearly 20,000 applicants from the Latinx community. That’s the second-largest demographic of undergraduate applicants behind Asians. And during it all, our admissions standards and rates remained unchanged.
Showing what’s possible
These students are among the best of the best. Take Alicia Garcia, from the small farming town of San Joaquin, where her father still works in the fields. She’s not just the first in her family to attend college, but also the first to earn a high school degree.
Now, Alicia is a third-year Ph.D. student in our School of Education and focuses her research on student retention. As a member of our HSI task force, Alicia and her peers have been remarkably thoughtful. They’ve emphasized the importance of HSI in attracting diverse faculty. Having professors who look like you and share your background goes a long way in showing the possibilities of what you can become.
So, the work is just beginning. I’m committed to providing the best resources possible and finding opportunities to work with the community to help sustain this mission. This is our moment to create change — not just for students, but to change the disparities that exist in our society.
I hope you share in our excitement of building equity on campus and beyond. Here’s to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2019 for all.