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Aggie Spirit Shines Through in Kickoff Festivities

By Cody Kitaura/Dateline on September 24, 2019 in University

What really stood out Monday (Sept. 23) for thousands of new and returning Aggies wasn’t renovated facilities, dancers or free T-shirts — it was UC Davis’ spirit of inclusivity.

“Numbers don’t always tell the full story,” Chancellor Gary S. May said after listing several of UC Davis’ recent successes in national rankings for the Fall Welcome crowd in The Pavilion at the ARC. “One of the biggest strengths of Davis is our welcoming and supportive spirit. ... You’ll never have to fend for yourself at UC Davis.”

The Fall Welcome event, which followed RecFest at the ARC and Rec Pool, built on the concept of Aggie Heroes that May introduced last year — students, faculty, staff and alumni who help others and work to make the world a better place. This year’s event, with the theme “Aggie Heroes: For the Better,” encouraged the entire university community to do the same. Several of last year’s Aggie Heroes shared encouragement with the crowd.

MK Modern dances during Fall Welcome.
Student dance group MK Modern was among the entertainment on hand for Fall Welcome. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

“(We) Aggies, we don’t compete with each other,” said Awais Khan, co-founder of the student support and humanitarian group HOME, Where Friends Become Family, and one of last year’s Aggie Heroes. “We compete with our own selves to make our own selves better every day, to improve and help others improve.”

He shared the stage with HOME co-founder Chun Kit Ho.

“(We) Aggies are known for helping each other,” Ho said. “If we see someone who looks like they need somebody to talk to, we give them a moment of our care.”

Emcee Rebecca Calisi Rodríguez, a professor of neurobiology, physiology and behavior, welcomed the new and returning students in attendance and encouraged them to embrace the diversity that enhances the university community.

“It takes a lot of courage to bring our whole, multilayered, authentic selves to the table,” she said. “It is our diverse backgrounds, our multiple interests and our unique life experiences that come together to create innovative ways to solve problems, help communities and become the heroes this world needs.”

Students walk under a "Welcome to UC Davis" archway.
After Fall Welcome, students headed outside to Hutchison Field for the New Student Resource Fair — and free dinner from one of more than a dozen food trucks. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

RecFest the start of a full day

Chancellor Gary S. May pushes a sled with LeShelle May on it.
Chancellor May started his day Monday with a workout at the ARC, and he got in another one during RecFest: Pushing his wife, LeShelle, on a workout sled as part of the grand opening ceremony.

The day’s festivities started at the ARC, with dozens of people crowding into the newly renovated building’s lobby for RecFest, celebrating its grand opening and the various programs offered there. But while new squat racks and bigger windows were highlighted, speakers said those features just reinforce the campus’s welcoming nature.

Sixing Wang
Wang

Sixing Wang, who worked as a personal trainer at the ARC for three years before graduating this spring, recalled feeling so inadequate and nervous that he would show up to a training session an hour early to plan. When he co-taught the UC Davis Fire Department’s Fit for Fire workout program, he became so nervous during the first class that he told its 30 participants he needed to stop and take a break.

Instead of criticism, Wang said his ARC co-workers met his trepidation with understanding and shared their own stories of setbacks.

“I realized I wasn’t in this by myself,” Wang said.

Those squat racks and new windows reflect that spirit by moving the heaviest weights so they aren’t the first things new visitors see and creating a view into the weight room so patrons know what to expect, he said.

Students the focus of new facilities

Students play in the Rec Pool.
Students spend time at the Rec Pool during RecFest. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

John Campbell, who retired in 2017 as associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs, was added to a wall in the ARC honoring the founders of Campus Recreation. He oversaw Campus Recreation shortly after the ARC was built, and said the renovated building encourages participation and “matches the spirit of the students here.”

John Campbell
Campbell

He said the ARC is a place for different personalities to blend and noted the students using it Monday “seem to walk around with excitement.” 

A short time later, patrons across La Rue Road celebrated the renovated Rec Pool by posing for photos, eating ice cream and, of course, swimming.

Christina White, a senior majoring in international relations, is student manager of aquatics at the Rec Pool. She said the renovated pool — with its emphasis on programs for students, Wi-Fi, spaces to facilitate studying and extended hours — is much more welcoming to students than it was before.

“It used to be entirely kids [from the community] here during any quarter we were open. I never came here as a freshman except to work,” White said. “It’s a very different vibe now.”

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