California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis spent an eventful day at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) on July 24, learning about the university’s master plan, demographics and enrollment growth, experiencing STEM programs that enhance academic achievement, and engaging in immersive conversations with students.
Kounalakis, who is a member of the California State University (CSU) Board of Trustees by virtue of her office, is on a series of fact-finding visits to campuses in the CSU and the University of California systems.
Her CSUDH visit began in the student housing complex, where administrators briefed her on construction projects underway on campus. She was also brought up to date on other ways the university is considering leveraging its land assets, such as public-private partnerships.
They also discussed the enrollment advantages CSUDH offers college-bound students as the only non-impacted campus in the CSU system, as well as deferred maintenance projects, an issue that affects most public universities in California and is one of Kounalakis’ top priorities.
“[During the tour] I have asked to see some of the deferred maintenance because the state senate has placed a bond initiative on the ballot that would bring in some much needed funds for these projects,” she said. “We also have to ensure that we’re building public trust along the way, and transparency is an important part of that.”
Kounalakis also shared a few insights gained when visiting all 58 counties in California while running for lieutenant governor, including her other top priority—ensuring that the state’s public higher education system is affordable and accessible for everyone.
“That is what I committed to voters. Our institutions of public higher education are the key to California being the fifth largest economy in the world,” she said. “That’s why the work that you do here is so incredible. You’re providing great opportunities for students from a broad range of backgrounds to get an education and take advantage of what we have to offer in this state.”
After the meeting with administrators, Kounalakis toured a student apartment and chatted with one of its residents. She then made her way to the University Library, where she met with more than a dozen student leaders from academic programs and student-run groups, such as the Male Success Alliance (MSA), Associated Students, Inc., the Occupational Therapy program, and the new student group Scholars United.
With their chairs arranged in a circle, Kounalakis asked all the students to share their stories, how they are involved on campus, and if they have any questions for her.
While sharing their experiences, several of the students discussed being first in their family to attend college, and a few shared feelings of not fitting in, which Kounalakis understood as the first in her family to finish college.
“College was more overwhelming than anything else and sometimes it felt like there wasn’t anyone like me. So I really think it’s important to recognize that you’re not the only one who is feeling that way—not even close,” said Kounalakis, in response to an MSA student’s remarks about the fellowship the organization offers its members. “Finding each other makes such an enormous difference in creating that feeling that you belong on campus.”
Jacquelyn Ramirez, co-founder of Scholars United, used her time to ask the lieutenant governor advice about starting a Project Rebound program on campus, which assists formerly incarcerated individuals enroll in college and earn a degree.
“I think the most important thing for you to do is find other people on this campus who care about this as much as you do. There is strength in numbers,” said Kounalakis. “Then just keep organizing and pushing and eventually you’ll discover exactly what is needed to start something like Project Rebound here.”
Capping off her visit, Kounalakis found herself in one of CSUDH’s five mobile fabrication laboratories (fab labs), which enable CSUDH to bring the latest science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teaching techniques directly to middle and high school students in Los Angeles County.
Kounalakis was welcomed by Kamal Hamdan, Annenberg-endowed professor and director of the Center for Innovation in STEM Education (CISE). She explored the labs’ technological capabilities, which includes 3D scanners, printers, modeling software, laser cutters, and CNC mills.
The cutting-edge tools were demonstrated for Kounalakis by CSUDH STEM students who have been trained to serve as fab lab technicians and travel to the schools to create projects with kids—with a significant focus on introducing girls to the sciences—and to encourage them to enroll in college and consider selecting a STEM major.
“We can all remember, back when we were kids, that one teacher who made a big difference in our lives,” said Kounalakis. “I’m sure these wonderful student mentors and the fab labs are also creating many of those lasting memories.”