UC Davis Aggie Heroes Fall Welcome

Aggie Heroes: Fall Welcome

Remarks as prepared for delivery at the UC Davis Fall Welcome on September 24, 2018.  

Welcome everyone!  Let me ask everyone new to UC Davis this year—students, faculty, staff—please stand. Let’s give them a big Aggie welcome!

I’m starting my second year here at UC Davis, so I know what it feels like to be one of those people who just stood.  But I’ve learned quickly about how welcoming this campus is.

Over the past year, I also learned that one of the great perks of being chancellor is to be mostly a giver rather than a receiver of recognition. And right now, I want to recognize all the students and faculty who have stepped forward to address our high-priority student issues on campus.  Let’s thank them for coming on stage and sharing their stories. 

So, why are we calling them “heroes”?  What does it mean to be an “Aggie hero”? Aggie Heroes

Of course, not all selfless acts amount to heroism—like kindly suggesting a rear bike fender to that freshman with the dirty stripe down their back. That’s noble, but not heroic. You become an Aggie hero through your everyday actions and words.  It’s about taking a mindful approach to what you do and say for the sake of your peers, your university community, and humanity at large.

Last year, you heard me talk about my philosophy: Every day, I try to learn something, to help someone, and to make the world a better place. So, what do I mean when I say, “Make the world a better place?”  Well, think of it this way: In pursuing the humanities, the sciences, and fine arts you are positioning yourself to create a better world. You can become the educators who will pass along knowledge and enlightenment to generations of students. You can become the scientists who will help us better understand our world and develop technologies that shape a better tomorrow. You can become the writers, actors, and musicians who bring truth and beauty to the world through self-expression. You can become all these things and more. You are part of a world-class university that fully embraces intellectual curiosity. You are being empowered to find success in a global economy that’s driven by innovation, flexibility, and diversity.

Now, when I say that I try everyday “to help someone,” what I have in mind is mentoring. Every single one of our students, be it a freshman or a doctoral candidate, has clearly found academic success. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here at UC Davis. So how did that happen?  Was it because you were smarter or worked harder than everyone else? No. People helped you, just like people helped me. So even if you’re struggling to find your own visions of success, don’t let that hold you back from helping others find theirs. Help your peers find opportunities and support. I guarantee you’ll be happier for it.

Looking ahead, we’re off to a great start of the school year.  In terms of rankings, UC Davis is on a hit streak like Cardi B. Within the last month, we reached the Top 10 in four different rankings of national universities. U.S. News & World Report says we’re the 10th best public university in the nation, but the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education says we’re in the Top 5. We also made Washington Monthly’s Top 10 list of public and private universities for the third year running. I’m especially proud of this one, because their rankings are—quote—not based on what colleges do for themselves, but on what they do for their country.

We scored particularly well on the academic performance of first-generation students and students from low-income families. This is a big deal. About 45% of our new undergraduates are the first in their families to attend or graduate from a four-year university. Washington Monthly also added a new measurement for voting engagement, which reflects a school’s efforts in encouraging civic participation. UC Davis received the highest number of points available and the highest points among all UC campuses. I’m proud that so many of our students leave with a strong sense of civic engagement.

I’m also proud that we’ve met the numeric threshold for eligibility as a Hispanic Serving Institution, which means 25% of our undergraduate student population comes from a Chicanx/Latinx background. Once UC Davis receives the HSI federal designation next spring, we will be eligible for significant resources to support the academic success of this population, as well as our undergraduate student body as a whole.

Finally, the national search is on to fill the new position of vice chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Having a senior leader dedicated exclusively to these goals will boost our recruitment and retention of the best and brightest students, faculty, and staff. As you can see, we’ve built a great foundation here at Davis.  But our story is just starting to unfold.

I want to update you on the UC Davis 10-year strategic plan, “To Boldly Go.”  It represents a future for UC Davis that’s driven by curiosity and a pioneering spirit. We received more than 900 submissions from the UC Davis community with ideas about what our future should look like and what we should aspire to. We expect to release the plan in the next couple of weeks.

The steering committee identified five key goals that drive the strategic plan:

  • Providing an unparalleled education for our students that prepares them for the global work force.
  • Building on our research strengths to address society’s greatest challenges.
  • Making UC Davis a model of diversity and inclusion.
  • Establishing important and strategic partnerships.
  • And growing an innovative and entrepreneurial culture.

On that note, I’d like to update you on Aggie Square, a transformative initiative that incorporates all 5 elements of the strategic plan.

Aggie Square will be an urban live-learn-work-play “innovation ecosystem” in Sacramento. It will bring together a diverse array of start-ups, established companies, community organizations, and UC Davis researchers, faculty, and students. Aggie Square will be a place to discover new partners, launch new businesses, scale ideas, and provide economic opportunity to residents across demographics, skill levels, and industries. The momentum and support for our Aggie Square initiative grows by the day. We’ve already received $2.8 million in state funds for planning. We anticipate frequent shuttles between Sacramento and Davis, along with new housing, so that students, interns, and entrepreneurs can live in Aggie Square. We also expect that Aggie Square will include venues for music, art, and food for the community to enjoy.

This is just a taste of what you can all look forward to this year. Speaking of taste, I think the food trucks will be ready to serve soon, so I’ll wind things up.

But I hope you continue to stay engaged. We’re entering a great era at UC Davis, so let’s continue working together to create the best university community possible.

Like I said:  Every day, try to learn something. Try to help someone. And try to make the world a better place.

Have a great year, and Go Ags! 


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