Poignant tributes and well wishes marked a farewell reception on May 10 for California State University, Dominguez Hills President Mildred García. More than 250 guests attended to take a look back at the many significant accomplishments García has made during her five-year term at helm of the university.
Discussing what is possibly the broadest accomplishment García has achieved–an increased presence of CSU Dominguez Hills within surrounding communities–guests and speakers alike shared similar views of how she helped to make CSU Dominguez Hills the university of choice in the South Bay.
“I think she has been a benefit to this school, in the way the school is seen by the community. My association here is very positive and I sense that [others think that, too] when I say that’s where I teach,” said adjunct instructor of marketing Noel Craven, who has taught at the university for 10 years.
Providing a visible indication of the bonds García made within the community on behalf of the university were the more than a dozen community leaders and elected officials who attended the reception, several of whom spoke their praises at the podium.
“Dr. García came to [CSU Dominguez Hills] with a vision, with a passion and she leaves the university with a legacy that we can all be proud of,” said alumnus and chairman of the California State Board of Equalization Legislative Committee Jerome E. Horton (Class of ’79, B.S., business administration). He went on to say that he and García worked together on such programs as the Connecting Women to Power Business Conference, which hosted more than 15,000 business women to the campus, the Career Pathway to Success program, which brought more than 1,000 students from throughout the greater Los Angeles area, the volunteer 2012 income tax preparation program that will soon return to California citizens nearly $3 million.
Among other community leaders who attended were alumnus (Class of ’85, B.A., political science) and state Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Los Angeles), Senator Roderick D. Wright (D-Inglewood), Heather Hutt from Senator Isadore Hall’s (D-Compton) office, and Carson Mayor Pro-Tem Julie Ruiz-Raber. Alumna and Carson Councilwoman Lula Davis (Class of ’83, B.A., behavioral science/sociology; ’92, M.A., public administration) and Carson Mayor Jim Dear presented García with a key to the city, recognizing García for her work that has positively affected the community of nearly 95,000 people of Carson.
Members of the campus community who came to pay their respects were met with handshakes and hugs as García greeted them before and after the presentations. While mingling, many shared their thoughts, such as professor of sociology Fumiko Hosokawa, who has a rare perspective; she has taught at CSU Dominguez Hills for 40 years, under the charge of every president in the university’s history. Hosokawa said she was happy to see the first woman president be appointed to the university, and that García, being Latino, was an excellent choice because she has been able to relate to and represent the cultural diversity of the campus. Hosokawa also gave credit to García’s gender.
“Maybe it’s because she’s a woman, that she liked to be socially engaged with the larger community as well as keeping up the image of the university, highlighting its accomplishments and cultural diversity,” said Hosokawa. “I like the way that she has exposed our campus in terms of social and cultural events. She has done a lot in terms of off-campus exposure and fundraising,”
Chair of the anthropology department Sue Needham said it was García’s many accomplishments that will be her legacy.
“Millie has given us much and leaves us with a gift of renewed purpose and pride in our university and the role we play in our students’ lives and our country’s future,” said Needham.
Needham, who was part of the search committee that originally interviewed García, went on to recount García’s notable accomplishments, such overseeing a plan to reduce the $2.8 million structural deficit, and calling for and putting into place programs that increased student retention. Her insistence that CSU Dominguez Hills should no longer be a hidden jewel but rather known for its purpose and quality education has led to increased awareness of the university among local media, business leaders and the surrounding community, more activities and guest speakers hosted on campus, an increase in the number of faculty and staff grants, as well as a dramatic increase in the number of donor and alumni donations. A major priority during her presidency was the creation of a strategic plan for the university to clearly define the university’s core values, mission and goals for the future. She also oversaw a revised campus master plan, which has been approved by the CSU Board of Trustees and includes plans for a new science building, and an academic and student service building to accommodate future growth. She was also responsible for securing the university’s first endowed professorship in the Wallis Annenberg Endowed Professorship for Innovation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Education.
Continuing, Needham recapped some of the honors bestowed upon García. In 2010 she was elected as one of 10 Hispanic education leaders to be on stage with President Barack Obama as he signed the executive order renewing the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. In 2011 she was one of seven university and community college presidents and vice presidents from the United States selected to participate in a Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Program. In that same year, Needham added, García was appointed to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics “and she made sure that the first meeting was held at CSU Dominguez Hills.”
Cynthia Johnson, chair of the School of Nursing and coordinator for Master of Science in Nursing degree program, described García as a “starter.” Johnson explained that, “García is a person who sees an area that needs help and she goes in and fixes it. Maintainers and finishers must follow through and see that her legacy continues.”
Mary O’Neal, the presiding and founding Queenmother of the CSU Dominguez Hills Africana studies Fannie Lou Hamer Queen Mother Society who was on the search committee with Needham, said “When Dr. García responded to my question about community involvement, I knew she was the one. Dr. García has lived up to and exceeded our expectations.”
In addition to building community bonds, a common praise García received throughout the evening was that she has always been focused on the students.
Associated Students, Inc. president Mardel Baldwin said García has always made decisions with the students’ best interest in mind and that, “Students have always come first in everything she has decided to do at this university.”
In an emotional address, García said, “Thank you for a marvelous five years. It is bittersweet. It has been five years that you have touched my soul.”
She went on to say, to university faculty, administrators, staff and community members, “The students here are absolutely wonderful. And I will continue to say that CSU Dominguez Hills is the best university in the system. And the reason for that is because you transform lives every day. Students come here with hopes, dreams and aspirations and you pull them in and you set standards high and you help them reach those standards. It’s been a true honor and privilege to serve you. And I’m proud of the accomplishments and successes. …but, I couldn’t do it without each and every one of you.”