Checking In With Chancellor May: Empowering People and Communities

Students in graduation regalia
Students participate in the Graduate Studies commencement ceremony this week. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

To the UC Davis community:

As we celebrate graduation this weekend, it’s important that we acknowledge the devastating ongoing conflict in Gaza, the West Bank, Palestine and Israel. We are deeply saddened by the suffering and loss of life. Our hearts go out to the individuals and families affected, especially the children, students and civilians enduring unimaginable loss. We share the hope that the international community and those involved directly in this ongoing conflict can bring peace to the region and begin to rebuild. 

Many in the UC Davis community have a deep personal connection to the ongoing conflict, and I respect their call for peace and justice. I hear their voices. I respect their passionate advocacy.

As a diverse public university, we must protect the right of every person to hold and express their opinions while we secure the right to feel safe on our campus. As such, we reject all forms of violence and discrimination as antithetical to the values of our university, and we investigate each such incident and take action when the law supports and/or requires it. 

Resources are available to members of our community who feel impacted by harmful speech or offensive behavior:

Our Principles of Community center our belief that everyone deserves to feel safe, be heard, and be free from being targeted for their background or beliefs.

In my ongoing grief as I reflect on the recent passing of my mother, I consider the lessons she left with me. One of the most profound lessons is the need for empathy and compassion for others. We must be able to put ourselves in the place of our neighbors and try to better understand how they might feel.

The UC Davis community is at its best when we speak and listen with compassion. Let’s commit to maintaining a community where all voices are heard and carry that spirit of mutual respect and care from our campus to the world. 

Promising graduates 

I look forward to the future with hope, as the thousands of undergraduates and graduate and professional students launching from UC Davis with new degrees this spring are positioned to transform a world that so needs their brilliant minds and compassionate hearts. 

They are visionaries like Richard Butcher, who will attend UC Berkeley on a full scholarship as he pursues his master’s degree. Richard, a mechanical and aerospace engineering major, attended UC Davis supported by the Guardian Scholars Program for students who have been in the foster care system. He never let the lack of financial and family resources stop him from pursuing his dream. A first-generation student, he credits his experience in the Rocketry Club, Aggie Propulsion and Rocketry Lab and as an engineering and physical science peer advisor as motivations to pursue his goal of building space launch vehicles and engines to advance humanity into the stars.

They are strategists like Brittany Vang, a community and regional development major who will become a planner in Sacramento County after graduation. There, she hopes to play an important role in creating equitable regional policies. Brittany cites opportunities to conduct independent research in the San Joaquin Valley, writing an academic paper assessing neighborhood inequality and an internship studying healthy food and beverage consumption as critical preparation for job interviews and a career in community service.

Investing in health and happiness

Our graduates’ time at UC Davis has been one of the most significant — and rewarding — investments of their lives.

They know what I know: There are few choices with a better return on investment than a degree from UC Davis. That return — in relationships, a deepened sense of community, intellectual development and long-term economic benefit for individuals and their communities — just can’t be beaten.

Their optimism is well-founded, but it comes at a fraught moment for universities. Despite the demonstrated benefits of a college degree, a Pew Research Center Study found that 49% of Americans believe a college degree is less important for securing a well-paying job than it was a few decades ago, and only 22% believe a college degree is worth the expense if someone must take out loans.

The evidence, however, is unequivocal: a college degree — especially one from UC Davis — profoundly benefits both the individuals who attend and their communities. As graduates of the eighth-best school for making an impact for social mobility, research, and community and national service, they are prepared to launch into meaningful careers, advanced academic degrees and valuable service to their communities.

Data from the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities clarifies those benefits. That organization found that college graduates earn $1.2 million more in pay throughout a lifetime. They pay that forward, too. College graduates are twice as likely to volunteer in their communities, contribute three times more to charity, and are 20 percent more likely to vote. They are also healthierlive longer and significantly likelier to report job satisfaction and happiness.

That return is even stronger for UC Davis graduates. A recent College Futures Foundation study checked in on college graduates 10 years after they first set foot on campus, and found the average lower-to-middle-income, four-year UC Davis graduate — across all fields of study — was earning $45,000 more than someone who never attended college. That’s enough to recoup a four-year graduate’s entire out-of-pocket cost of attendance in a single year.

Investing in our student body

Part of the reason that UC Davis students see that return is because the debt load for our graduates is so manageable. In fact, most UC Davis students graduate with no loan debt. In 2021-22, only 37% of UC Davis undergraduate students had any debt at all, and the average debt for those students was only $17,534 — compared with 51% and $29,400 nationwide.

This is possible because grants and scholarships — like the Pathway to Debt-Free program — account for 78-81% of total financial aid funding for undergraduates.

At UC Davis, those benefits are for students of all backgrounds. According to Third Way’s Economic Mobility Index, UC Davis is in the top tier of universities nationwide, offering a “strong return on investment for students with the greatest financial need” because we admit students from a diverse economic background and support them through graduation to prepare for economic success.

UC Davis graduates are launching careers and businesses. They are innovators like Darren Taira, who accepted a full-time position as a firmware engineer at a Livermore solar power company. A computer engineering major and part of a multi-generational Aggie family, he says that internships and classes at UC Davis lined up perfectly for his job search and interviews. He credits an internship with a local software company and a study abroad experience in South Korea with preparing him for many careers after graduation.

They are entrepreneurs like Shyam Agarwal, who came to UC Davis from India and, after graduating in three years with a degree in computer science from the College of Engineering, is joining an AI startup as a founding engineer. He notes that many experiences at UC Davis — from working with internships and startups in the region to teaching an undergraduate class as a third-year student — prepared him to take the leap into his startup.

Investing in social mobility

Increased income is only part of the story. A UC Davis degree provides students vital access to social mobility and generational wealth.

Across the University of California, low-income students earn more than their parents just five years after they graduate, with many doubling their earnings in just 10. That boost in their income builds generational wealth, improving the lives of families across the state, as their communities benefit from educated professionals who serve them.

Investing in communities

The investment in these students extends well beyond individual lives. UC Davis graduates improve our communities and our state.

They are leaders like Dionna Eaglin, whose internships and community experiences helped her find a job as a community services assistant with the City of Fontana. She credits her time as a peer mentor at the Center for African Diaspora Student Success, connecting other students with campus resources and the community she found in the AfroVibes Dance Team, with building her confidence in the job interview process.

They are advocates like Fatima Hernandez Brambila, who is graduating with a degree in sociology and leaving UC Davis with a plan to champion members of her community. The first-generation student who worried about attending college as an undocumented student has accepted a position as a migration advocate to serve her community at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto. There, she will continue the work she began at UC Davis as a College Corps volunteer, where she inspired — and was inspired by — the dreams of other undocumented students who realized they could become doctors, marine biologists or anything else they could imagine.

As we celebrate this weekend, I’m thrilled to hear so many stories about where our Aggie graduates are going and the rewarding opportunities that await them. Their investment in a degree from UC Davis will pay off immediately in fresh starts into career pathways and graduate studies, but the long-term dividend will be a more hopeful and equitable future for communities across our state, nation and world. 

Congratulations, Aggies! There is no limit to what you will do.


Gary S. May

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