After beginning her presidency at a time when the campus and our world was operating primarily virtually, on Aug. 26, CSUN President Erika D. Beck conducted her first live audience welcome back address to the entire CSUN community at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts (The Soraya). Beck’s address also was broadcast live.
There was a festive air in the center’s Great Hall as professors, staff, administrators and other dignitaries gathered for speeches and multimedia presentations that celebrated the accomplishments of the 21-22 academic year and prepared guests for the road ahead. President Beck welcomed everyone to the event.
“Thank you all for joining me this morning as we gather to welcome the dawning of a new academic year and the promise of a renewed opportunity for our students to realize their greatest aspirations.”
The event began with a greeting and blessing by tribal leaders from the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. There were also welcomes from Faculty President Michael Neubauer and Associated Students President Shayan Moshtael.
Neubauer acknowledged the difficulty of the past few years.
“Out of the experience of trauma on one hand and the experience of resilience on the other hand, we can create an enhanced sense of and commitment to our responsibility to our students, our campus colleagues, the community of the San Fernando Valley, the L.A. region, California and the nation,” Neubauer said.
On behalf of the student body, Moshtael expressed his excitement about returning to campus and his appreciation for the faculty and staff.
“It is not just the talent that makes our faculty and staff so special, it is that they care for the lifeblood of the University: the students,” he said.
President Beck opened by sharing her experiences of the May 2022 commencement ceremonies. It was a powerful reminder of the annual culmination of CSUN’s collective work, where a record-breaking number of nearly 12,000 graduates – many of whom were the first in their families to graduate with a university degree – celebrated their academic accomplishments. As she shared a video of the final graduate who danced cross the stage in one of this year’s ceremonies, she joked,
“This year, we introduced a new commencement tradition — optional dance moves. Turns out, mine are not quite as artistic as our students.'”
Beck used her “Road Map to the Future,”as the framework for her welcome speech. The plan, which was created via a campus-wide effort and unveiled earlier this year, includes six strategic directions to lead CSUN toward a more equitable future for students and to ensure their success at the university. These directions are:
- Advance Academic Excellence
- Enhance Community Connections
- Honor our History and Aspire to a More Equitable Future
- Disrupt System Inequities
- Facilitate Holistic Student Success
- Strengthen Capacity for Institutional Transformation
Praise and Shout-Outs
Throughout her address, Beck praised faculty and staff, particularly for their work over the past few years, navigating classes and taking care of students’ needs amidst shifting COVID-19 restrictions.
“Over the past couple of years, you have navigated unprecedented circumstances and have been challenged in ways we could never have imagined,” she said. “And yet, you continue to innovate, inspire and lead.”
She also highlighted the research work being done on campus, including the impact of rising sea levels on California’s low-lying coastal communities, and research on systemic racism and equitable online education. She paused to show a video of news coverage featuring the work of CSUN students who designed and built an air and ground vehicle system to autonomously fight wildfires.
Beck noted the work being done to improve recruitment and retention of male teachers of color and efforts to expand the pathways to CSUN for Black high school students, as well as to encourage diversity in the pipeline to graduate school.
“How befitting that our campus was named a 2021 equity champion for education by the Campaign for College Opportunity,” Beck said.
Graduation Rates and Equity
Beck also focused on CSUN’s graduation rates.
“Revisiting our 2025 graduation goal of 66% of our entering freshmen graduating in six years, we see that in our finalized numbers from last year, our overall graduation rate has increased to 54.2%,” she said.
However, Beck said, the work to retain students must continue.
“4,785 freshmen walked through our doors in the fall of 2015, with aspirations of walking across that commencement stage to a life that is forever transformed. Six years later, only 2,594 of them did,” she said.
She noted “startling disparities” in the graduation rates for American Indian, Pacific Islander, Latinx and Black students.
“We have to shift the conversation from what our students must do in order to be successful, to what we — as an institution — must do to support our students in realizing our goals,” Beck said.
Beck also noted that CSUN is experiencing a decline in student enrollment this fall, similar to last year.
“This disturbing post-pandemic trend is evident throughout the CSU and across the country and is having a devastating impact on our students of color,” Beck said.
Beck said the work continues at CSUN to build pathways to the university, particularly among Black students, Asian American, Pacific Islander and Desi American students, as well as students from Indigenous communities.
“Our Black Matadors Rise program is opening the door of opportunity for Black students and their families by promoting access to CSUN through outreach, educational workshops, mentorship and career-driven programming,” she said.
“As a proud Minority Serving Institution that relishes the richness of diversity, this is a trend we must reverse,” Beck said.
Beck finished her speech by noting many bright spots on campus and some very exciting upcoming events in the fall semester and 2022-23 academic year, including:
· A highly anticipated celebration at The Soraya in November for activist and labor organizer Dolores Huerta, who will appear at the event.
· Groundbreaking next spring (2023) for an affordable housing project for students.
· Continued construction on the Sierra Annex, the first new state-funded academic building on campus in more than a decade.
· Groundbreaking on the HSI Equity Innovation Hub, to serve as a learning environment for students interested in STEM career pathways.
· Philanthropic commitments and gifts to the university that have reached record heights, and growth in CSUN’s individual donor base.
After the program, Matadors and friends mingled in the late-summer sunshine at a reception held in The Soraya’s beautiful courtyard, where they listened to Masanga Marimba, a student-and-alumni performance group led by CSUN music professor Ric Alviso.