Checking In With Chancellor May: A Vital Source of Innovation

People walking in front of Walker Hall.
The Graduate Center at Walker Hall opened in 2021. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Checking In With Chancellor May: A Vital Source of Innovation

To the UC Davis community:

Happy New Year! I hope you had a restful break and are making a smooth transition to the winter quarter.

The mission of UC Davis to excel in research, teaching and service continues to advance in 2024. Our graduate and professional students are key to making this possible. Today I want to shine a light on those students.

With more than 100 graduate degree programs, UC Davis is home to nearly 7,000 graduate students and 1,000 postdoctoral scholars. They are vital to the university’s research, innovation and academic enrichment. You'll find them across all corners of our campuses, making discoveries in labs, teaching and mentoring students, and improving the lives of patients.

Our support for graduate students is a two-way conversation. I rely on the Chancellor's Graduate & Professional Student Advisory Board to bring ideas and advance them forward. These students keep me up to date with the needs of their peers and provide recommendations to campus leadership.

I also listen closely to my Graduate Student Advisor to the Dean of Graduate Studies and to the Chancellor, or GSADC. This year, Daniel Castaneda, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History, is serving in that role. His research focuses on Latinx politics in California from 1970 through 2000. Daniel’s work helps us better understand our current political climate. When he completes his degree, he plans to pursue a tenure-track faculty position in history, public policy or ethnic studies, while also considering public-service careers in state government or K-12 education.

As a first-generation student of color, Daniel was primarily motivated to serve as the GSADC to build community. He’s especially focused on increasing recruitment and retention efforts for underrepresented students. Daniel is currently working on a yearlong project called “Rising Together: Building Capacity for a More Inclusive Graduate Experience.” The goal of this work is to extend minority student initiatives to the graduate level.

Daniel embraces the opportunity to advocate for all graduate and professional students across UC Davis. I’m thankful to him for all the energy and vision that he brings to this role.

Speaking of public service, I want to take this opportunity to remind all of you to exercise your power in the March 5 primary election — you can register online to vote until Feb. 20, and the University of California has launched a new website that makes it easy to register and make a plan to vote.  

Building support

I remember my graduate student life well from my UC Berkeley days, those busy times of juggling research, teaching and support. That's one reason why I’m so focused on providing a world-class educational experience that invests in professional development, mental wellness resources and the physical infrastructure necessary to support the lives of graduate students.

One shining example is The Graduate Center at Walker Hall, which opened in 2021 and is built solely around the idea of what it means to be a graduate student. The center offers holistic services that include parent rooms, writing spaces, conference spaces and a kitchen. These and other services make UC Davis’ graduate center unique in the entire UC system.

Walker Hall is also home to the GradPathways Institute for Professional Development, a nationally recognized and comprehensive program that helps graduate students and postdoctoral scholars succeed in their chosen career paths and at UC Davis.

Mentoring services from Graduate Studies can also be found in Walker Hall, including the Graduate Mentoring Initiative for faculty, the Mentoring Up program for graduate students, and crucial mental health support specifically for graduate and postdoc scholars. After all, this time of life can be especially stressful and filled with personal sacrifice. According to one study, up to 50% of graduate students report symptoms of depression, anxiety or burnout during their training. This is why our counseling services team is committed to providing student-centered mental health services. Students receive the care they need to thrive at UC Davis and beyond.

The August grand opening of the Orchard Park apartment complex also marked a milestone for student housing on campus. Orchard Park adds 1,500 beds, primarily for graduate students, upper division students and their families. I’m grateful to the graduate students who worked on committees and shared their recommendations. Now you’ll find a green space with at least 40 heritage trees, a children’s play area, and a network of bike and pedestrian paths among the housing.

Solving for the future

Our graduate and professional students are conducting impactful research across a wide number of fields that shape a better tomorrow.

For example, Toluwanimi Odemuyiwa is a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering who researches tensor algebra, which deals with computations on multidimensional data that inform more efficient solutions for real-world systems. One of those systems is network medicine, where graphs representing genes, proteins or metabolic pathways are used to identify diseases and determine how drugs can target them.

Jessica Korte, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, focuses on research to better understand how the cerebellum contributes to overall learning. This is a part of the brain that plays a significant role in balance, movement and processing emotional information.

Grad students are paving the way for research at UC Davis into cultivated meats, which are generated from animal cells and are a hot topic in the world of food. The work of those students and others promises to generate new sustainable food sources.

Antoinette Banks, a Ph.D. student at the School of Education, is a recent winner of the $1 million Black Ambition Prize. She developed an app called Expert IEP that uses predictive AI to optimize individualized education plans for children diagnosed with disabilities.

These examples are just a snapshot of what our graduate students achieve and how they contribute to the university’s mission.

Welcoming to all

UC Davis is an inclusive environment. We actively engage with students from underrepresented backgrounds to encourage them to pursue graduate studies. This work stems from one of our goals in UC Davis’ Strategic Plan to embrace diversity, practice inclusive excellence and strive for equity.

One example of this commitment is the Envision UC Davis program for California senior undergraduates and recent graduates. This initiative is modeled after a similar program I created at Georgia Tech and helps grow the pipeline of underrepresented students into our university's graduate programs. Daniel Castaneda, who I mentioned earlier, is a product of Envision UC Davis’ inaugural cohort.

Graduate Studies also expanded the Cota-Robles Fellowship, which supports degree completion for graduate students who are interested in academic teaching and scholarship. This program has grown almost threefold in the past year to 30 current fellows, who receive full tuition for the duration of their degree completion. This is another key investment at UC Davis in graduate students and their education, and ultimately helps with efforts to diversify academia as a whole.

I want to again express my gratitude to UC Davis’ graduate and professional students. Your contributions are a vital part of moving UC Davis, our region, our nation and our world forward.


Gary S. May

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