In the UC Davis community, every contribution counts: from homemade chocolate bars to protection against bird flu.
"In big ways and little ways, that's what we do — each and every one of us — each and every day," Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef said last week at the university's Fall Convocation. An audience of about 1,250 students, staff, faculty and community members turned out for the Sept. 27 event at Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.
Vanderhoef's theme this year was "Our Personal and Collective Calling: To Make a Difference."
"We have an advantage of attitude — an attitude that's infectious," Vanderhoef said. "We clearly aspire to be the best in what we do, but we recognize that our job's not done unless we can chart a new path, share what we've learned, and better someone's circumstance."
He cited many examples: avian influenza experts who are taking the lead to prevent and prepare for a possible outbreak in California; air quality experts who were the first to analyze the air at ground zero, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and who sounded an early warning about the danger to rescue workers; an alumnae who was named California Teacher of the Year for her classroom innovation and inspiration.
And he introduced seven girls from the community who started the Yummy Dummy Chocolate Co., which donates 10 percent of its profits to charity, most recently a children's shelter in Haiti. One of the girls, Bay Warland, 8, is the daughter of UC Davis' Patricia Pesavento, an assistant professor in veterinary medicine, and David Warland, an assistant researcher in biological sciences.
"As one dad put it," Vanderhoef said, "they're not the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but the girls' two $20 checks to the children's shelter have gone a long way nonetheless."
Eldridge Moores, professor emeritus of geology, said the convocation delivered a great message. "It's high time that we focus on this," he said. He spoke of "flourishing selfishness," and added: "Our country has departed from its need for community and people helping one another."
Moores had nearly a front-row seat: He plays cello in the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, which performed at the convocation.
Another musician, first-year student Michelle Chinoraks of Oakdale, did not perform inside Mondavi Center. She played outside with the California Aggie Marching Band-uh.
"This is our first full-dress gig of the year," said an exuberant Chinoraks, who plays the glockenspiel. "It's really an honor to be part of this wonderful institution — the band and the university."
The marching band greeted convocation-goers as they emerged from the hourlong program. Outside, under a brilliant sun, the university put on a reception for all, with hors d'oeuvres and beverages.
Three other students, Perot Saelao, Jamie Mauhay and James Chang, said the food was an added bonus. They did not know about it when they made arrangements to attend the convocation. "We decided that it would be a good way to start off the school year," said Mauhay, a third-year transfer from Modesto Junior College.
Saelao, a second-year student from Tracy, said he was interested in seeing some of the people who run the university.
Indeed, there were plenty of administrators to see and talk to. And regular staff, too, people like Nancy Tibbitts, a coordinator at the Internship and Career Center.
"The chancellor and the other speakers help us rev our engines for the coming year," said Tibbitts, a university employee for more than 20 years.
Susan Meyer, a professional school advising coordinator who has been part of the UC Davis staff for more than 20 years, connected the convocation theme to everyone's work in Advising Services: "We're here to help students figure out what they want to do and then help them succeed."
Added Tibbitts: "We are passionate about what we do, and that's why we come to convocation."
Judy Wydick, whose husband, Richard, is an emeritus law professor, said she comes to convocation because she is interested in what the chancellor has to say.
"He always has a very uplifting message, and I think it's important to be here," Wydick said. "He sets the tone for the year, and he does it in a superb way."
She added: "The people he brings to this program are also very important. They are making wonderful contributions to the university."
Vanderhoef presented five speakers, and here is some of what each had to say about making a difference:
- Lin King, chair of Staff Assembly and manager of the R4 (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rebuy) program — "My incredible student staff and I teach everyone that their individual efforts can make a huge impact in the world, and the ones willing to give it a try soon become my biggest advocates for recycling."
- Professor Jeffrey Mount, holder of the Roy J. Shlemon Endowed Chair in Applied Geosciences, and director of the Center for Watershed Sciences — "Universities, ours in particular, are the crucibles of social epidemics. Our success in changing the way people think and act stems from our unique culture and the combined talents of our students, staff and faculty."
- Francisco Rodriguez, alumnus and former Student Affairs staff member who today serves as president of Cosumnes River College — "Access and opportunity are the reasons that I am here today in the capacity that I am in, with the responsibility — and I would say obligation — in concert with all of you, my higher education colleagues, to provide access and opportunity for others."
- Professor Emerita Marya Welch, first female faculty member in the physical education department, and a pioneer in establishing athletic opportunities for women — "There is more work to be done, to be sure. So for those of you who may feel this calling, there are women like me who have paved the way for you. But, more importantly, there are women yet to come who are counting on you."
- Eisha Zaid, senior genetics major and premed student from Davis, and a volunteer at the Shifa Community Clinic, run by UC Davis students — "Time is going to go by, so why not have done something over that time? We can't all save the world, but why not try?"