Another academic year is upon us and I’d like to welcome back our returning faculty and staff members and give a warm welcome to those who have recently joined our Anteater family. As we greet the incoming freshman class of 2020, there’s a tangible energy and excitement throughout the campus. While some can be attributed to the return of students, much of it comes from the increasing momentum we’ve achieved building UCI as a driving force for innovation and discovery.
I’d like to share some thoughts, recognize some outstanding achievements and talk about a few things I’ve learned since rejoining UCI one year ago as your provost and executive vice chancellor.
Foremost, I want to thank you for being so welcoming to me. I have learned a great deal and am continually impressed with the quality of our faculty, staff and academic programs and the positive, pioneering spirit that still drives this campus. I’ve enjoyed working with the deans of our 12 schools and look forward to continuing frequent, open communication with all faculty and staff.
In the coming months, I plan to spend time getting to know more of you. In particular, I am setting up a series of breakfasts specifically to meet with our assistant professors, who are vital to the mission of UCI. I want to know more about the important work being done and help support each of you in developing your academic career.
I look forward to collaborating with our new leadership, including our recently appointed deans: Nancy Guerra, School of Social Ecology; Richard Arum, School of Education; Stephen Barker, Claire Trevor School of the Arts; and Marios Papaefthymiou, Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences. We are also fortunate to be joined by our new vice chancellor for research, Pramod Khargonekar, and our new vice chancellor for university advancement, Brian T. Hervey.
As you know, our forward momentum continues to be centered on four strategic pillars:
Growth That Makes a Difference: Expanding Our Capacity to Improve Lives
First in Class: Elevating the Student Experience to Prepare Future Leaders
Great Partners: Making Regional and Global Connections That Enhance Our Mission and Serve the People
New Paths for Our Brilliant Future: Forging Best Practices to Power the Coming Century
New metrics have been added to the strategic plan website that show just how far we’ve come and where we’re headed. Despite budget challenges, we’ve achieved a great many things and remain focused on our strategies to make our campus even better. Thanks to the efforts of many, it’s working.
Progress towards our goal to expand our faculty by 250 people, first articulated by the chancellor two years ago, is well underway. Last year, we launched two new efforts: the Midcareer Professor Hiring Program and the Visiting Distinguished Professor Program. We are also continuing the Distinguished Professor, the High Impact, and the Presidential Postdoc hiring programs, as well as the usual school-based recruitments. This year, I am especially interested in creating new opportunities for hiring faculty who are focused on interdisciplinary pursuits, helping to facilitate convergence science and problem-based teaching. We have established research centers and have plans to construct more facilities. Although the state does not provide funding for new buildings, we have been able to expand through strong partnerships with private donors such as Sue and Bill Gross, who are donating $40 million toward a proposed School of Nursing. We are grateful for their generosity and will engage with them and others in Orange County to further grow our campus.
You have helped foster UCI’s reputation as first in class and a sought-after destination for the most talented and ambitious students. We will continue to embrace new forms of pedagogic methods, with a pilot program underway and funding for a center for engaged instruction. We will bring a focus to teaching professors and their research on the efficacy of various teaching techniques, enhanced online resources and technological innovations in the classroom.
Our culture of building great partnerships and meaningful public engagement is strong. Through your efforts and outreach, our visibility within the broader community is growing, and improved coordination of our activities is in the works. Today, UCI is seen as a vibrant, vital part of Orange County and Southern California in the areas of applied innovation, the arts, social ecology, education and health sciences. We are quickly becoming a favorite undergraduate destination for local residents through your involvement in regional service and engaging the K-12 system, particularly in service to underrepresented communities. Thank you for making this happen.
We are off to an incredible start creating new paths for our brilliant future. We recently realized a record-breaking year in both research funding and philanthropic support, with the Office of Research reporting $395 million in grants and contracts and University Advancement reporting $132.5 million in gifts, shattering the previous year’s totals in both areas. We all know the challenges the university faces with a long-term trend of reduced state funding, which makes these milestones even more significant. I am appreciative of the dedication of faculty, staff and graduate students, who have helped ensure that UCI’s world-class discoveries will continue. The campus is making strategic investments in research infrastructure, including an electron microscope facility and a new magnetic imaging center.
I want to take a moment to also recognize our staff, who help the faculty and the entire university family deliver on our mission to reach new heights of excellence and social impact. I want to keep UCI an employer of choice, so we will invest in new technologies to support our administrative systems, more sophisticated technology and tools to eliminate busywork and ensure that everyone has the ability to operate at a higher level. Improved systems for student information, financial management and payroll operations are on the horizon.
During this past year, all of you have met challenges with enthusiasm, embraced opportunities and enhanced our reputation both locally and globally. As we start this new academic year, I want to thank you for all you’ve done and let you know I want to hear from you and to keep learning from you. I am excited for our brilliant future. Together, we will continue to do great things.
Enrique J. Lavernia, Ph.D.
Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Department of Materials Science and Engineering