California State University, Northridge President Dianne F. Harrison highlighted the numerous accomplishments of the university’s faculty, students and staff in her annual Welcome Address to the university Aug. 24, and presented the opportunities and challenges of the new academic year that began Aug. 26.
With nearly 40,000 students anticipated this fall, Harrison affirmed that all employees play a role in “Matadors Rising” — the title of Harrison’s speech and the name of CSUN’s student success campaign to help more students earn degrees and realize their potential.
“With student success as the university’s number one priority — ‘Matadors Rising’ is an effort to which everyone on campus, regardless of our role, department or division — can and does contribute,” she said.
Spotlighting the accolades and milestones that occurred during the past academic year, Harrison linked these initiatives and programs to student success.
“I ask all of you to remain focused on our commitment to our students and to excellence — to doing what you have always done with great dedication in meeting the needs of our students, and to produce graduates who are engaged and prepared to lead in today’s increasingly global world.”
Harrison opened her remarks by welcoming the audience to CSUN’s newly renamed Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Performing Arts (formerly Valley Performing Arts Center) following a transformative $17 million gift from the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Family Foundation in July — one of the largest in the history of the CSU and the system’s largest single gift in support of the arts. The gift will support the first-class performances and student engagement opportunities at the center, which will use the shortened name “The Soraya.”
The speech outlined the university’s planning priorities — from student success to using athletics as a tool for student, community and regional engagement — with particular focus throughout on student success and boosting graduation rates.
In two of many campus highlights and examples of academic success, Harrison praised CSUN students who have developed applications to improve accessibility and quality of life for people with disabilities, as part of technology and entrepreneurship competitions: In the university’s second annual Fast Pitch competition, CSUN undergraduates Edgar Limon, Arvin Flores and Jasmine Beeman developed “smart script” internet code to help visually impaired people better navigate through websites. And in the Information Technology-sponsored VARJAM event, student Miranda Taylor took first place for her “Adventure VR” virtual reality program that helps those with mobility challenges experience nature by bringing it to them.
CSUN’s record-breaking 2017 graduating class of 11,500 will be followed by 10,000 new students this fall. Harrison emphasized a number of innovative campus initiatives that focus on using data to improve CSUN graduation rates and student success, as part of the graduation goals for the year 2025 set forth by the CSU chancellor’s office and the CSU board of trustees.
“I would encourage every faculty member to use our data tools to examine your own results, especially for opportunity gaps,” Harrison said. “Do not rest or feel confident until you have examined your own course data and can in good conscience say, ‘I am reaching and effective with all of my students.’ Make use of new technologies and approaches that relate better to our growing and diverse millennial generation.”
During her remarks, Harrison also struck a more somber note, reflecting the divided and unsettled mood in the country following this month’s violence in Charlottesville, Va.
“Diversity and inclusion are campus priorities and should be explicit in all our endeavors,” Harrison said. “We have to openly and repeatedly reject hate and bigotry in any and all forms.”
Toward the conclusion of her address, Harrison drew the greatest applause from the assembled faculty and staff by speaking about CSUN’s commitment to its values, regardless of the changing political landscape.
“I will not back down from facing white extremists and naming names: neo-Nazis, the KKK and a White House administration that seems so far not to be aligned with the values and goals that we hold at CSUN and the CSU (California State University),” she said.
Philosophy professor Adam Swenson, president of the Faculty Senate, opened the program by welcoming new faculty members, staff and leadership. Jonathan Goldenberg, president of Associated Students, also gave greetings on behalf of CSUN’s students.
“My successes and who I am as a person are a direct result of the experiences I had at this university,” Goldenberg said. “New lives are made here at CSUN.”