CSU Board of Trustees Chair Rebecca Eisen came to Cal Poly Pomona to talk about the CSU’s Graduation Initiative and get a closer look at the campus’ academic programs and sites.
Just as important was the opportunity to share a little about herself with students during the two-day visit Oct. 12-13. And she did just that – talking up the benefits of her English degree, jumping on a computer to participate in a cyber-defense battle against Provost Sylvia A. Alva and playfully teasing a student about having the same name as a famous pop star.
“Does it ever bother you that your name is Sam Smith,” she asked Sam Smith, a junior majoring in business administration, during a meeting with students. “I even know who Sam Smith is.”
Eisen, who has served on the Board of Trustees since 2012 and became its chair this year, visited Cal Poly Pomona as part of a tour of all 23 campuses in the CSU system.
During the meeting with students, Eisen shared that her 36-year career at a 3,000-attorney law firm included being a fellow partner with a future senator from Texas, although they never met.
“The law firm was so big, I had some partners I didn’t even know … like Ted Cruz,” she said.
While there was plenty of levity, Eisen also said she wanted to raise awareness of an important topic to students — the CSU Graduation Initiative. The CSU has launched the system-wide effort to raise graduation rates for first-time freshmen and transfer students—increasing the four-year graduation rate for first-time freshmen from 19 percent to 40 percent by 2025, she said.
“It has everything to do with removing whatever institutional barriers exist between you and whatever your life permits you to graduate in,” Eisen said.
One of the major barriers to graduating in four years, students shared, is the difficulty in getting high-demand courses. Students also discussed what helps them forge a connection to Cal Poly Pomona – caring faculty, attentive mentors and cultural centers on campus that feel like a second home.
Veonte Barnes, a senior majoring in communication and a self-described social butterfly, said he would like more students to get involved in clubs and other activities on campus.
“I feel like one of the biggest reasons that we don’t get involved is because there is a stigma that Cal Poly Pomona is a commuter campus,” he said. “I feel like that alone inhibits your thinking about the campus. Once you hear ‘commuter campus’ you think the campus probably doesn’t have any school spirit.”
Eisen’s first day on campus included a van tour of Spadra Farm and Campus South, the former Lanterman property, and a one-on-one meeting with President Soraya M. Coley. She also heard from the deans of the colleges of engineering and science, as well as students and Professor Steve Alas, director of the Science Educational Enhancement Services program, about efforts to maintain the success of STEM students.
Day two of the visit included a presentation on the cybersecurity program and a tour of the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center. Eisen, an avid birder, also dropped by the Student Innovation Idea Lab to meet with student entrepreneurs, encouraging them to find a solution to the problem of feral cats killing birds.
Eisen also visited the Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies and learned about the facility’s history and mission. Kyle D. Brown, director of the Lyle Center, also addressed current innovative research being conducted by faculty members, including passive heating and cooling systems for buildings.
“Regenerative studies really focuses on the method or the process by which sustainability is achieved,” Brown said. “Sustainability has gained greater currency as a term, but we’ve always continued to hold on to the regenerative studies focus because we really like the way it places the emphasis on how you achieve sustainability.”
Eisen also met with campus administrators, community representatives and alumni over breakfast, chatting about the success Cal Poly Pomona has had with helping students find their passions and a sense of place.
At board meetings Eisen said she often will highlight programs at specific campuses. At one meeting, she outlined Cal Poly Pomona’s efforts to help eradicate a deadly citrus plant disease.
“I always try to find something about one of the campuses that makes it special,” Eisen said. “Now I have a million more ideas, and they’re all from Cal Poly Pomona.”