UC Riverside Welcomes UC President Janet Napolitano for a Visit

New president visits UCR as part of a listening and learning tour

Janet Napolitano sits with UCR mascot, Scotty Highlander.Peter Phun

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — University of California President Janet Napolitano met with UC Riverside faculty, staff, students and selected community members on Monday, Nov. 4, to familiarize herself with the personality and character of the Riverside campus.

This is part of a listening and learning tour that will take Napolitano to every campus and national laboratory in the state’s premier higher education system. She had breakfast with students, heard from a panel of faculty members, met with the deans of the colleges, and discussed staff concerns. In the evening she visited with community members before returning to Oakland, the headquarters of the UC system.

“The conversations have been frank, substantial and quite useful,” Napolitano wrote in a note to the chancellors of all 10 campuses.

Janet Napolitano visits UC Riverside

Janet Napolitano visits UC Riverside. Peter Phun

“The president’s visit is a chance to get a 360-degree view of campus,” said Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox, who himself is in his first few months of leadership of the campus. “UCR is an institution on the move,” he said. “We have a great set of traditions, tremendous faculty, students and staff. We are going to make an impact in coming years.”

One of the highlights was with students of Professor Juan Felipe Herrera, California’s current poet laureate. Napolitano sang and laughed with them as they read poetry together. “It was like a deep workshop,” said Herrera, who has been holding workshops in towns all over California as part of his two years as poet laureate.

In a separate faculty panel, members of the UCR Academic Senate briefed Napolitano on the damage done by several years of declining investments in California’s higher education system, as well as UCR’s unique challenges in teaching a highly diverse student population.

UC President Janet Napolitano, at left, visits UCR's Neil A. Campbell Science Learning Laboratory on Monday, Nov. 4. UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox is second from the right. Peter Phun

UC President Janet Napolitano, at left, visits UCR’s Neil A. Campbell Science Learning Laboratory on Monday, Nov. 4. UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox is second from the right. Peter Phun

The president visited and observed in the labs of Associate Professor Anandasankar Ray, who works with mosquitoes that carry human disease, and in Distinguished Professor Susan Wessler’s hands-on learning lab, named after Neil A. Campbell and located in the University Laboratory Building.

Staff Assembly President Robert Wolfer, along with several staff colleagues, met with Napolitano to talk about the need for professional development and career advancement for UCR staff. “She was open and receptive to hearing about the concerns here,” he said. She asked questions to clarify points, and she reflected on her own experiences. She let us do most of the talking.”

Last week Napolitano – the former head of Homeland Security — announced $15 million in non-state money to be split evenly between support for graduate student recruitment, post-doctoral fellowships, and assistance for undocumented students.

That made an impression on Italia Garcia, 23, who is a senior studying political science and an activist on behalf of undocumented students who are called “Dreamers” because they came to the U.S. with their parents as young children and are trying to pursue their college dreams despite obstacles resulting from their legal status.

“This is a huge step in the right direction,” Garcia said of the new money for undocumented students. “She is not just showing her support verbally, but in the way undocumented students need it the most, which is financially.”

Napolitano stopped at the Chicano Student Programs office, where she met students Nelson Guevara and Alyssa Gray. They said they were happy to be included in the visit, even if only for a brief stop. Napolitano asked them questions about the kinds of programs offered at Chicano Student Programs; both students said they are taking a wait-and-see approach to Napolitano’s presidency.

A group of about 20 peaceful protesters, some holding signs against deportation, gathered at the bell tower and walked to the School of Medicine Education Building while Napolitano was inside talking with students.

But the first female UC President also has admirers.

“I’m a fan,” said Tina Aoun, a senior majoring in creative writing with a minor in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. She was one of about 12 students who ate breakfast with Napolitano on Monday.

“I went in there very intimidated and scared,” said Aoun, 22. “But she is actually very charming and so in favor of the students and what we want,” said Aoun. “She is so intelligent.  She has an incredible education and an incredible background.”

Aoun said the students did most of the talking. Napolitano listened, took notes and followed up on their comments.

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