Moments of “awe” and new and untapped opportunities highlighted California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) President Willie J. Hagan’s 2015 Fall Convocation address on Sept. 17 as he painted a “portrait” of the university to help share its triumphs and discuss future plans for the campus.
Hagan began his remarks by welcoming the more than 4,200 new transfer and freshman students and 869 new graduate students to CSUDH.
“This represents the continuous growth that’s going on at this campus, and quite frankly, if we had the resources, we could take on even more students,” he said. “The demand to get into CSU Dominguez Hills is outrageously high.”
Hagan said he sees a campus that’s mission of educational excellence is “going to continue to thrive and grow.” He mentioned CSUDH’s increased student enrollment, and the measurable improvement in student’s academic success, reflected by improved student retention and graduation rates.
Convocation was emceed by Jim Hill, physics professor and chair of the CSUDH Academic Senate. Along with Hagan, the only other speaker was Jordan Sylvestre, president of Associated Students, Inc., who advocates for CSUDH students, while overseeing an ASI budget of $1.6 million, according to Hill.
Sylvestre reminded the audience that ASI is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. He discussed the student organization’s mission and responsibilities before closing with a plea for continued support on campus.
“Support us in our actions. Guide us where needed, but most importantly, I would like to ask everyone to commit to being a campus of open doors,” said Sylvestre, who is on track to graduate next year with his Bachelor of Arts in physical education. “CSU Dominguez Hills begins and ends with the campus community. In order to charge on, we must charge collectively. We as students, and as ASI, will gladly take the lead to ensure that the next 50 years of this institution is progressive and unified. We only ask that you support us and walk with us on that journey.”
Moments of ‘Awe’
To help support that “journey,” Hagan shared a recent journey that he took to Cuba to represent CSUDH as a member of a delegation of more than 60 U.S. college presidents. During the trip, Hagan and other higher education leaders met with nearly 20 of their Cuban counterparts, along with the Cuban minister of higher education, to discuss the feasibility of expanding educational opportunities and student exchange programs between the two nations.
“I was sitting there and thinking, ‘Man, I’m lucky,’” said Hagan. “It was kind of a humbling experience. This was something I could never have imagined doing in my life given my upbringing and where I started, which is consistent with the things we tell students when they come to this university–’If you work hard and get the education that you need you can go places that you could never imagine.’”
According to Hagan, the Cuban university presidents “really enjoyed” the in-depth and detailed discussion during the visit, which was organized by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
Hagan felt a similar feeling when he was in Watts last month to speak to volunteers during the “CSUDH Day of Service,” which included the landscaping of Fire Station 65 and refurbishment of the Bradley Milken Family Source Center
“The point is this. Despite that fact that we are all professionals, there’s still a bit of the kid in us all, and we can still be awed by the circumstances and the things we find ourselves in,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a new student, or a new faculty member on a new campus, or if you’re a new president. You can still find yourself amazed by the opportunities that you have.”
A ‘Portrait’ for the future
Quoting master artist Vincent van Gogh, who said “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together,” Hagan said the reference not only embodied Van Gogh’s work characterized by “hundreds upon hundreds of competitive and small brush strokes,” but also embodies CSUDH.
“Instead of brush strokes, our portrait is drawn by series of actions, services and sacrifices that when revealed and reviewed as a whole give a good picture of who we are. We know our portrait is not yet finished. As with any work of art, we in particular are still a work in progress,” said Hagan. “There will be future presidents, there will be future faculty and staff, and they will build upon what we do. So part of our job is to not just do the job, but build a strong foundation for them to build upon; to paint images and add colors to campus for them to come and see where they can add their marks.”
Hagan believes putting brush to canvas to create an academically intrinsic portrait for the university will include new construction, to both increase the quality of its programs and what it has to offer the campus and local communities, as well as improve CSUDH’s esthetic appeal.
He specifically addressed the status and possibility of constructing a new science building at CSUDH, and said he has already worked with CSU Chancellor Timothy White on a “working plan.”
“This is the first of several buildings we are going to try to build in the future,” he said. “A science building is critical in terms [of the quality and number] of our classrooms and our research base. It’s the kind of environment that our faculty need to teach in and our students need to learn in.”
Along with new construction, Hagan discussed three other areas of “untapped opportunity,” including the university’s “incredible land assets.”
“If you look at a map and see the highways that are close to this campus, you find there are very few pieces of land as open as our land with this much access to highways, which can help us meet the things that we address in our strategic plan,” said Hagan.
Hagan also addressed concerns about “corporatizing” the campus as it looks to better utilize its land assets, and in regards to CSUDH’s existing contract with AEG and the StubHub Center.
“We have finally reached an agreement with AEG to renegotiate the existing contract that this campus has with them in relation to the StubHub Center. There are win-win opportunities with them on campus,” said Hagan. “Any development or partnership opportunity that we engage in with them [AEG], or renegotiation, is going to be guided by one tenent: they have to have a clear and positive impact on our university and academic programs. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
The forth area of opportunity Hagan address was the university’s relationship with the Port of Los Angeles, what he called “one of the largest industry operations in the region.” He mentioned Gene Seroka’s, executive director of the port, desire to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with CSUDH to work with its global logistics faculty.
“We will be putting together a group of faculty and staff to work with port administrators to discuss this proposal in further detail,” said Hagan. “We have been trying to link CSU Dominguez Hills with some of the major industry groups in this region.”
Some of those include national defense and the film and television industries, in which the university has already held meetings, according to Hagan. The university also has its sights on partnerships with “new media” companies, such as “Google,” he said.
“When we talk about the brush strokes that make up this campus, I think everything should be guided by two key questions: ‘What is in the best interest of our university?’ and ‘What is in the best interest of our students?,’” he said. “I still ask myself those questions whenever I have decisions to make, because they apply to so many things.”