By Destiny Caster
To celebrate the start of the fall semester, the University hosted the President’s Convocation featuring President Richard Yao. At the beginning of the ceremony, Provost Mitch Avila welcomed guests by speaking on behalf of President Yao and his commitment towards students and CI. Chumash elder, Dr. Raudel J. Bañuelos, Jr. conducted a Chumash blessing. The traditional blessing included Bañuelos waving an eagle feather over burning sage to honor the east, west, south, and north. He offered a few words, most notably, he said, “We all should be honored to be here [and that] it has been a place of learning.”
Then, President Yao took the stage to have a moment of silence for Carmen Ramirez who recently passed away. As the first Latina elected to the Oxnard City Council and Ventura County Board of Supervisors, she was an advocate for environmental and social justice and an ally to the University. President Yao described her as “a fierce advocate for environmental and social justice and such a dear, dear friend and ally of our university from the very, very beginning.”
After the moment of silence, President Yao acknowledged the University’s twentieth anniversary and stated that there will be events through the fall and spring semesters to celebrate the two decades of CI’s existence. He reflected on the past, asking the audience a thought-provoking question: “Where were you 20 years ago today?” By asking this question, President Yao briefly stated that we are honoring our past and building our future as we look back on the past twenty years and look forward to the next twenty. CI has welcomed several new opportunities, from new building development to new staff and faculty members that have brought forth a “positive impact on our student’s academic, social and emotional developments,” stated President Yao.
Along with this year’s theme of “honoring our past and building our future,” President Yao presented three words of intentionality for the upcoming year: “Steadiness, focus and coherence.” He said that he wants to focus on due to the challenges that academia has faced over the last few years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with an ongoing global pandemic, the University experienced a drop in enrollment which resulted in an $8 million revenue loss. President Yao expressed that the enrollment drop created some tensions within the University. Between the need to invest in resources such as new programs and initiatives and the need to implement cost-saving measures to protect fiduciary responsibilities, the University will embrace the challenges and engage in discussions with the University’s Strategic Resource Planning Committee which is made up of campus staff, administrators, faculty and students.
Furthermore, the goal is to increase CI’s graduation rates for first-time freshmen and transfer students as part of CSU Graduation Initiative 2025, an initiative across the CSU to improve equity in education. CI has not reached its interim graduation rate goals for 2-year gradation rates of transfer students, 4-year graduation rates of first-time full-time students, with both having taken a hit due to the pandemic. President Yao remained optimistic, however, saying “We are likely to fall below our interim target, but I am confident that we’ll get back on track and meet our GI 2025 goal of 54%.”
The graduation rates for first-time, full-time students have gone up slightly as of Aug. 12, 2022. Four-year graduation rate has gone up 2-3% since the Fall 2017 cohort for the Fall 2018 cohort, now being 27.3%. “This is the University’s greatest area of need, so a 3% increase from the 17 cohort is good news,” stated President Yao. CI is short of the interim target and the Graduation Initiative 2025 goal.
However, the six-year graduation rate has gone up less than one percent for the Fall 2016 cohort, with the current percentage being 55.8%. As for transfer students, the data has gone up as of Aug. 12, 2022. For transfer students, the four-year graduation rate for Fall 2018 cohort went up one percent, now being 77.5%. Finally, the two-year graduation rate for Fall 2020 cohort went up 4-5%, with it now being 39.1%.
There are also some capital projects that the University is working on. Gateway Hall, which The CI View has previously covered in our Fall 2021 print edition, is projected to open by Fall of 2025. There have been some setbacks with this project, those being COVID-19 and the hyperinflation of construction costs. Another project that is moving forward is the Early Childhood Care and Education Center. CI received an additional $2 million allocation as well as philanthropic efforts through University Advancement. Lastly, the Performing Arts Theater is moving forward but still in early stages. As of now, the University is still in the planning stages and is looking at securing funding needed to proceed. This project is “no longer a pipe dream”, stated President Yao.
The last part of Convocation featured the President’s Awards for Student, Faculty, and Staff Excellence. The President’s Award for Student Innovation went to Sheradyn Ruef, a fourth year computer science student, Data Analyst Student Assistant for Career Development and Alumni Engagement, and a President’s Scholar. She was nominated for having “established several postgraduate outcome data projects which have a significant contribution to CSUCI and our regional communities,” stated President Yao. The President’s Teaching and Innovation Award went to Associate Professor of Marketing, Dr. Ekin Pehlivan who was recognized for her dedication to students and focus on her data-driven pedagogy. She launched the Business Analytics and Data Storytelling minor and launched CI Solutions, which was previously a micro-internship program.
Next, the President’s Staff Award for Excellence was awarded to Megan Eberhardt-Alstot who is the Teaching and Learning Innovation’s Learning Design Lead. She had multiple nominations from colleagues and students throughout the University. President Yao stated that “she truly deserves recognition for all she has accomplished within TLI, including her support of the summer faculty development program, and her creation of the Learning Online 101 program which teaches students online habits that will increase their success in their courses.”
Finally, the University’s two newest President’s Faculty Fellows are Dr. LaSonya Davis and Dr. Michelle Dean. Dr. Davis assisted in the development of the Inclusive Excellence Actions Teams and Plan which helps CI “take institutional responsibility for acting upon the values of diversity, inclusion, and equity that we claim and [helps] assess how we can do better”, stated President Yao. And Dr. Michelle Dean is an Associate Professor in our School of Education. Her work is based on preparing students to become special education teachers and teaches in the Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program. She earned a scholarship to focus on disability inclusion, accessibility and acceptance in relation to the disability systems and policies we have on our campus. Dr. Dean will use her findings to make a positive change in the lives of our campus community members with disabilities.
The University is an ever-changing place. With many projects and people being recognized for their hard work and excellence, CI is continuing to pave the way to a better future. By honoring the past and building the future, CI is moving into its next chapter of placing students at the center of their educational experience. Incredible projects underway in every division, including a number of significant new construction projects, alongside of needing to absorb and respond to the sobering enrollment scenario we are facing. “There is much to celebrate and much work to do.” President Yao concluded the 2022 President’s Convocation.
For more information about the President’s Convocation, you can visit: https://www.csuci.edu/president/communication.htm