[This article first appeared in the Orange County Register on June 1 , 2016.]
Last month, on a weekend filled with laughter, family and celebration, nearly 10,000 Cal State Fullerton graduates crossed over into a new stage of their lives.
Reflecting on all that they have learned and experienced during their time with us, they now step into their futures proudly bearing the degrees they have earned as a result of their passion and perseverance.
Our university, too, is engaged in its own transformative evolution: The 2015-16 academic year marked the midpoint of our five-year strategic plan, which set forth bold objectives with the aim of becoming “a model public comprehensive university, nationally recognized for exceptional programs that prepare our diverse student body for academic and professional success.”
We have completed three years of this journey; two years yet remain. While it is tempting to blaze forward into the final stretch, it behooves us also to pause and take stock of how far we’ve already come.
Not only do we continue to be ranked among the top five institutions nationally for awarding baccalaureate degrees to underrepresented and Hispanic students, we are also garnering national acclaim for the caliber of our approach in supporting all students along their educational path.
In May, we were selected as an Outstanding Institutional Advising Program Award Winner from NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising, for our transformative advising initiatives led by the cross-divisional efforts of our Student Success Teams.
The annual Outstanding Advising Program Awards honor programs that “document innovative and/or exemplary practices” that make “significant contributions to the improvement of academic advising.”
Our Student Success Teams – along with the many faculty, staff and students who participate in the resulting outreach campaigns and advising practices – also earned our campus national recognition as a finalist in the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi’s inaugural Excellence in Innovation Award. The three finalists were selected from a national pool by a jury of emeritus presidents and provosts; each institution was “assessed on the project’s ability to achieve meaningful, measurable outcomes to create systemic large-scale change.”
At the state level, a recent “Demonstrated Excellence” profile by the Campaign for College Opportunity recognized Cal State Fullerton as “a consistent leader in enrolling Associate Degree for Transfer students,” and commended us particularly for the remarkable diversity of this student population.
Furthermore, we are the lead campus in the CSU systemwide initiative on High-Impact Practices, based on our comprehensive, data-informed approach to defining HIPs and integrating them into students’ college experiences.
And, of course, our incredible faculty members continue to garner prestigious state and national grants, honors and awards for their teaching, scholarship and service. Earlier this spring, faculty members Joshua Smith, Joceyln Read, Geoffrey Lovelace and Alfonso Agnew, along with the undergraduate and graduate students working with them in the Gravitational-Wave Physics and Astronomy Center, shared their role as part of an international collaboration of researchers who contributed to the discovery of gravitational waves 100 years after Einstein’s prediction – a breakthrough that some expect to lead to a Nobel prize.
These are but a few examples of the ways in which we are closing in on the vision of becoming a national model for student success, based on the extensive, multi-faceted efforts of our campus community.
In the year ahead, we will continue to harness this energy as we work collectively to reach ever higher, especially through the completion of Cal State Fullerton’s Academic Master Plan (AMP). The final AMP, developed to incorporate the engaged and thoughtful input of our campus community, will further clarify our core institutional values and position us well to advance our institutional mission in the decades to come.
We face the same constraints as our peers in public higher education to serve the needs of all of our students equitably in an era of decreased state support and heightened public scrutiny. Yet, through the profound, committed and coordinated efforts of our campus community, we are poised to not only meet the ambitious objectives of our strategic plan, but emerge from the process as a national model for how public comprehensive universities can transform the challenges of today into opportunities for all.
José L. Cruz is CSUF’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. He holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.