CHANCELL-ING: May the Fourth Be With You

Gary S. May speaks to students and staff at the Native American Academic Student Success Center.
Chancellor Gary S. May visits the Native American Academic Student Success Center as part of his 2017 listening tour. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Did you know that fruits and flowers are the traditional gifts for a fourth anniversary? This symbolism clicks for me as I celebrate my fourth anniversary this month as chancellor of UC Davis, a university known for its expertise in agriculture and farming.

Chancell-ing logo with photo of Chancellor Gary S. May

Of course, UC Davis has grown from those humble roots into one of the top-ranked public universities in the country. We’re proud of our agricultural heritage and showing the world the best and most sustainable ways to grow those fruits and flowers. At the same time, we’re on a mission to grow our innovative culture and serve as socioeconomic escalator for students of all backgrounds.

At UC Davis, there’s always something to learn from our increasingly diverse community of students, staff and faculty. Overseeing the university is an awesome task, especially in historic times like these, so I’m grateful for the knowledge and input I’ve gained from them and people all around the city of Davis, Yolo County, Sacramento and beyond.

As I look back on these past four years, here are a few leadership lessons and highlights so far:

The importance of listening

One of my mentors, former Georgia Tech President G. Wayne Clough, taught me a great lesson many years ago. He reminded me that effective leaders aren’t necessarily the ones who dominate meetings. Rather, they are good listeners who are open to taking input from as many possible sides.

So, I spent my first months at UC Davis on a “listening tour,” meeting with as many people as possible from the university community and beyond. That included visits to student centers, alumni gatherings around the country, the grand opening of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing in Sacramento, a Unity Rally in Davis Central Park and so much more. I was always on the go it seemed, but there was always something to learn.

I’ve depended on these listening skills even more as UC Davis prepares for a full re-opening next month. This milestone has required input from all corners of UC Davis and open dialogue with the city and county.

The power of planning ahead

Even in these reflections of the past four years, I prefer to look ahead. We’re making good progress with the goals outlined in our strategic plan, “To Boldly Go.”

We completed the plan in 2018, and it focuses on five key goals that range from providing an unparalleled academic experience for students, to growing our diversity and strengthening our research enterprise. We’re also focused on growing our entrepreneurial culture and connecting like never before with the wider world.

Every day brings us one step closer to realizing these goals. We’ve established the Aggie Launch program to improve student outcomes. Our Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is making positive change happen in every corner of campus life. Those are just two examples of our broader efforts.

Collaborating and cooperating

Gary S. May and LeShelle May at a meeting table.
Chancellor Gary S. May and LeShelle May visit campus in February 2017. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Since my first day here, I’ve been determined to have the best possible “town-gown” relationship with the city of Davis and Yolo County. I’m proud to see that collectively, we’ve made significant progress on matters of mutual importance, such as student housing, health and transportation.

In fact, we recently celebrated two milestones with student housing projects. The Green at West Village is now complete and a ceremonial groundbreaking took place at Orchard Park. This much-needed housing is thanks to the ongoing teamwork between UC Davis with the city of Davis, Yolo County and our development partners.

This spirit of collaboration is needed more than ever as we continue to endure the COVID-19 pandemic. Through Healthy Davis Together, we’ve shown the country what’s possible when higher education and civic leadership come together in the name of slowing the virus’ spread and keeping our community healthy.

Let’s keep the teamwork going. We can get through anything, and emerge even stronger, if we keep working together.

Dedicated to diversity

One of the great draws in coming to UC Davis is that it was situated among the most diverse regions in the country. What an incredible opportunity we have to learn from one another and prepare students for a global economy that depends on innovative minds from the widest backgrounds.

And in these polarized times, a culture of mutual respect couldn’t be more important. Over the past year with its waves of social unrest, I’ve been grateful to live in a community that shows such dedication to social justice.

There’s certainly more progress that needs to be made. Since I created the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, we’ve had new resources and programs that advance a climate of equity and excellence. We are seeing people across campus truly embrace DEI as a crucial part of our university’s success.

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone for making LeShelle and me feel so welcome in Davis. We’re looking forward to more growth with you.

Chancellor Gary S. May’s monthly column appears first in The Davis Enterprise and then in Dateline UC Davis.

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