Q: You are starting your third year as Fresno State’s president. What are you looking forward to this year and how do you plan to, as you say it, be bolder?
A: I am very excited about starting my third year. I feel like I have listened a lot and learned a lot in these first two years and some of the challenges and opportunities that I see are clearer today than they might have been two years ago.
I see this year as a year of excitement, action and continued focus on serving our students and making sure they get a high quality education and they graduate in a timely way.
As we start this strategic planning process this fall I really want to make sure that focus on student success is explicit and articulated in a way that everybody supports.
We are going to be asking for campus wide input on a framework for the plan. We will ask each student, staff, and faculty member and then in the community, our alumni and our friends, for their ideas and their input on the strategic plan.
My hope is that it will further strengthen our focus on serving the students and that it will lead to even more concerted action to support them, and I will ask everybody to commit to that plan. Everybody needs to be in on that plan so that it can become a reality.
Q: This year we have one of the biggest class sizes in Fresno State’s history. How is the university accommodating the growing number of students?
A: We started out yesterday with nearly 25,000 students, which is the most we have ever had in our history. We have the highest number of applications ever in our history.
The good news on the budget is that Chancellor [Timothy] White gave us the largest growth in the system, so he decides how many new student enrollment each of the 23 campuses gets. He gave us 651 new campus enrollments and that was the most of the 23 campuses, so he recognized the growth that is happening here in terms of applications and the importance of providing access to San Joaquin Valley students.
With that additional funding we will be hiring additional faculty and staff and we will be able to invest more in improving our infrastructure in our classrooms and laboratories. There’s a lot of construction going on, and we are really busy trying to improve the infrastructure of the campus.
I am excited about that because what that means it will make it easier and more fun to be at Fresno State.
With our DiscoverE program we have scaled that to 5,000 students this fall, from 1,000 to 5,000. I was just down there today at lunch and the Hub was filled with people, it was great to see that that’s exciting as well. It also reduces textbook costs, last year it reduced textbook costs by 56 percent and grades were higher in the DiscoverE courses than the same course offered traditionally.
I just like the fact that in addition to all that, that it better prepares our students for the changing workforce. Technology is being utilized in all different sectors of the economy and this gives them a chance to learn and utilize those skills.
Q: Every semester there are problems with parking and now with the growing class size there could be even more issues. Are there any plans being worked on that can alleviate the parking issue?
A: I certainly support [ASI President Abigail] Hudson’s idea to survey students and I would be interested in knowing how they feel about the parking situation and if we ought to build more parking structures.
One of the things I would like to do as part of that process is to make sure we explore all the alternatives to making the situation better. Building another structure is one strategy – its a strategy that is very expensive. A structure could cost as much as $30 million, which would require students to pay high fees.
Before we pursue an alternative like that I would like to look at other ways to alleviate the pressure without having to spend so much money. I want to listen to their voices and help guide our decisions, I would also like people to see the full range of options.
A shuttle could help, other incentives to reduce the number of cars here that could help, or there might be other changes in policies that would help. We ought to look at this new structure as well and weigh the benefits and costs and proceed accordingly.
Q: Are there any other changes or new traditions that will be introduced, like the New Student Convocation, that we will be seeing?
A: Oh, that was exciting the New Student Convocation.
I love the fact that we now have the Fresno State Weeks of Welcome and all the different activities connected to that. We started that last year and then this year the number of events is up, so we are building on the success of last year.
I think what we are going to find as we continue to assess the situation, listen to students’ requests, and figure out ways to make Fresno State and even more exciting place.
Q: After two years as Fresno State’s president, what do you consider your biggest accomplishments to be?
A: The thing that I am most proud of today is the progress we have made in better serving our students, and the increased graduation rate is something that is a really positive outgrowth of all those efforts.
To increase our [graduation] rate from about 49 percent when I arrived, it’s about 58 percent now. To have a nine point increase in this short time is extraordinary and for it to happen here right now is very gratifying and meaningful because our students want to succeed, and our Valley needs them to succeed so they can be part of the next generation of leaders.
That single outcome is reaffirming of what we have done in the last few years and what they did before I came but I think we have accelerated our work in the last two years. We are just getting warmed up, we are just starting to invest in new ways that I think will even lead to better outcomes in the future.
I want every student to know we believe in them, we support them and we want them to succeed. I believe that in the next few years we can have a 70 percent graduation rate and later even higher, we have that potential.
I am also happy we have been able to invest more in our people and that means more support for our students, faculty and staff.
I am also very happy with the Armenian Genocide Memorial. It was an extraordinary experience to see that happen, I will never forget that. To see the outpouring support from our community 5,000 people came that night, my gosh that was great.
We were the first university in the nation to have an Armenian Genocide Memorial, that is definitely one of the prouder moments – one of the most important moments in my presidency.