[This article first appeared in the Orange County Register on May 3 , 2016.]
It’s no secret that Cal State Fullerton faculty members are among the top teacher-scholars in their respective fields.
A quick perusal of headlines on the CSUF website and here in the pages of the Orange County Register inevitably reveals faculty members from across the university garnering accolades for their research, their service to the community and their lasting impact on the diverse students who make CSUF home.
But at a campus this large, even the most ambitious media coverage can broadcast only a fraction of the fascinating stories belonging to the more than 2,000 faculty members we are proud to call Titans.
During my tenure as provost, I have returned to this puzzle often: How can we do more to honor and celebrate our amazing faculty? How can we highlight not only the people who are already receiving public recognition, but also those whose most rewarding efforts are measured in less tangible forms?
Earlier this semester, inspired in part by the blog “Humans of New York” — which pairs candid photographs of New Yorkers with short quotations — a staff member in my office pitched the idea of creating a “Titans of CSUF” equivalent that could showcase the incredible variety of faculty members on campus.
In April, that idea became a reality with the launch of “21st Century Titans.”
“21st Century Titans” will encourage the world to “take a closer look” at CSUF’s faculty through weekly portraits created using images related to each individual’s interests and background, accompanied by quotations and a brief biographical text. The project offers a different angle on the singular contributions and qualities each of our faculty members brings to the campus community.
Don’t be surprised if their stories defy your expectations.
Take Alfonso Agnew as an example. Professor of mathematics, member of the Gravitational-Wave Physics and Astronomy Center – and punk rocker?
“I come from a family of musicians,” Agnew explained. “Music was what I assumed I would be doing. In high school, I was in a punk rock band; I was the first homecoming king in Fullerton High School history to have dyed hair. But I was always interested in stars and the universe.”
His curiosity led him to Albert Einstein’s book “The Meaning of Relativity” and eventually to a career in physics and mathematics, contributing to research that is expanding our understanding of the nature of the universe.
Thus, the images that make up his portrait include photographs from NASA’s astronomical image gallery, equations written on a chalkboard and the first page of Einstein’s draft manuscript on the theory of general relativity.
Other faculty members reflect on influential mentors, trace the origins of their passions or talk about why they love what they do.
“Teaching at a university is so different from other kinds of teaching,” said John Gleaves, associate professor of kinesiology and co-director of the International Network of Doping Research. “I’m taking you to the outermost horizons of what we know. And then I’m leaving you there. I’m like, ‘This is it, folks. That’s all we know.’ I love when students hit that moment: ‘What do you mean, you can’t tell me what’s out there?’ Well, not only do I not have the answer, but nobody in the world does. I tell them, ‘We’re doing research, and if you want to come join me, we’ll try to push the envelope of knowledge a little farther.’”
No two stories are the same. We’ve featured 10 faculty members so far — and with one new post a week, we look forward to featuring many, many more.
“We all want to make a difference in the world,” said Ding-Jo Currie, professor of educational leadership and former chancellor of Coast Colleges. “What can you or I do to transform our society and humanity in the way we hope and dream?”
To learn her answer to that question, you’ll have to wait for her portrait to show up on the blog.
But I believe we can start by reminding the world of the incredible richness of knowledge and perspectives that flourish among us, in the faculty of CSUF.
Go to 21stcenturytitans.tumblr.com to meet our modern legends in the making – our “21st Century Titans.”