UC Davis welcomed new and returning Aggie Heroes this week, with Chancellor Gary S. May encouraging students, faculty and staff to spend each day learning, helping others and improving the world.
“You become an Aggie Hero through your everyday actions and words,” he told a crowd of several thousand people who had gathered in The Pavilion at the Activities and Recreation Center on Monday (Sept. 24) for the campus Fall Welcome, an event combining Fall Convocation and the New Student Celebration from years past. “It’s about taking a mindful approach to what you do and say for sake of your peers, your community and humanity at large.”
This fall, an estimated 9,300 new freshman and transfer students are enrolling at UC Davis, bringing enrollment to an expected total of 39,000.
Through their education at UC Davis, May said, those students can improve the world by understanding it more fully, passing along knowledge, creating art, succeeding in business, and more.
May encouraged students to mentor others, saying those who have found the success to attend UC Davis haven’t done so on their own, and should help others in kind.
“If you’re struggling to find your own vision of success, don’t let that hold you back from helping others find theirs,” he said. “Help your peers find opportunities and support. I guarantee you’ll be the happier for it.”
Monday's event wasn't the only welcome new students received. May, his wife, LeShelle, and other campus leaders lent a hand during Move-In Weekend, hauling boxes to residence halls and helping families find their way.
H. Rao Unnava, dean of the Graduate School of Management, chatted with families, and Helene Dillard, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, volunteered the use of a dolly to those with heavy items. Director of Athletics Kevin Blue had more than one reason to smile as he pushed a cart full of items Sunday morning — a day earlier, the Aggie football team defeated Idaho in their conference opener, 44-21.
Students and faculty tackle serious issues
Monday’s event had the flare of performances by DJ Lady Char, dance group MK Modern, drummers Bakuhatsu Taiko Dan and the Cal Aggie Marching Band-Uh!, but it also had discussions of serious issues facing students: food security, diversity and equity, and mental health.
Faculty members took the stage paired with students, with the former talking about their research and work on campus, and the latter talking about how students have addressed the issues.
On food security, recent graduate Rosy Maria Martinez explained how students in need can get free food and personal hygiene items from The Pantry.
“My passion is driven by the need that I’ve seen from the students,” she said, noting an increase in support that has led to The Pantry’s expansion in Lower Freeborn Hall and a second location, in the Memorial Union’s East Wing, as part of Aggie Compass.
On diversity and equity, Rina Singh, a senior who serves on ASUCD’s Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission, said she was encouraged by the steps UC Davis students have taken to elevate the voices of traditionally marginalized groups.
“Being surrounded by peers who are this committed — who are this passionate — about achieving a society where diversity and equity are a reality inspires me for the future,” she said. “It inspires me because I can see that our generation is capable of achieving so many of our dreams in the coming years and I’m so excited to have you all as a part of this campus.”
At the Student Resource Fair after the event, freshman Betzabet Noriega said the campus’s diversity was a draw for her to attend UC Davis.
“The diversity here is really great,” she said.
The third faculty-student pair at the Fall Welcome discussed mental health, with psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor Carolyn Dewa encouraging people to be aware of people who might be struggling, and to make themselves available to help.
Carlee Johnson, a mental well-being student coordinator in Student Health and Counseling Services, said she hopes programs like Each Aggie Matters and the quarterly Therapy Fluffies events continue to reduce the stigma around struggles with mental health.
“As a culture and as a campus we’re starting to acknowledge that mental health is very important, and it plays a role in students’ everyday lives,” Johnson said.
After the event, freshman biological sciences major Harjot Kaeley said she expected to have a harder time mentally adjusting to UC Davis, but the friendly campus has made the transition easier. She recalled how she feels in Sacramento, where she said drivers will slowly edge toward pedestrians crossing the street — to how members of the campus community reaching out have made her feel.
“Here I feel like they’re looking out for you, too,” she said.
That sentiment was echoed by Nayzak Wali-Ali, a new student majoring in political science.
“It’s a friendly environment,” she said.