UC Davis starts the new academic year with two new leaders in the world of undergraduates: Cynthia Carter Ching as interim vice provost of Undergraduate Education, and Pablo G. Reguerín as vice chancellor of Student Affairs.
Each of the leaders recently participated in a question-and-answer session with their communications office, to give the campus community an opportunity to get to know them better.
Cynthia Carter Ching
- Interim vice provost of Undergraduate Education, as of July 15
- Professor, School of Education, a member of the UC Davis faculty since 2007
- Associate dean for academic programs, School of Education, 2015-20
- Faculty director, education minor, School of Education, 2008-13
- Bachelor of Arts, psychology, UC Irvine
- Ph.D., education, UCLA
- Research focus: Technology in teaching and learning
What attracted you to the role of interim vice provost and dean for Undergraduate Education, particularly in a time of national crises that are impacting higher education?
The idea of being in a role where the primary job is to advocate for undergraduate students — especially in this office, where it’s our only mission — is compelling. I’m an education scholar and a product of the University of California. Undergraduate education is important.
As associate dean in the School of Education, I had a lot of existing connections with Undergraduate Education. Education is the largest minor on our campus, so I’ve worked with First-Year Seminars, the University Honors Program, the Center for Educational Effectiveness, etc. I had a strong sense of UE as important and growing and having a wider purview on campus.
My term as associate dean was just wrapping up when the VPD position became open. I had planned to go on sabbatical, write a book, spend some time deciding what’s next — but I knew this was the right next step. I am a creative problem solver, and taking on this role in this intense period is consistent with the way I approach my career. I like taking on challenges, and my best-laid plans to relax never seem to quite work out. That’s OK.
How is the experience that you bring from the School of Education positioning you to think about our national and institutional reckoning with systemic racism?
Something that School of Education and UE have in common is that we care fundamentally about the educational experience of students. In the School of Education, social justice is a key driving component of who we are and what we do.
And yet sometimes we find — and this is common to a lot of institutions — that our outward mission and the ways we think about students, whether they’re K-12 or university, don’t always translate to how we treat one another as colleagues, to what happens to our everyday interactions, to our thinking about the structures we inhabit and the ways those structures may also be participating in racism — institutional racism in particular.
So it’s not enough to have morally worthy goals, missions and external efforts. We have to be vigilant and active in how we’re conducting ourselves every single day. We can’t assume that because we’re good people and we want good things to happen, that good things are automatically going to happen.
You’ve done a lot of research on digital technology in education. Can you talk about that in the context of the pandemic?
I’ve always been interested in the idea that learning happens in multiple places and spaces, and the ways that technology can be the conduit or connective tissue. One strand of my work that’s particularly relevant today has to do with digital identities — the idea that there’s something about yourself as a student that’s evident in your participation in online classes.
“When we’re all back on campus ... I hope we think about how to maximize our use of campus space, our resources, our faculty, our student time so that when we are together, it matters that we’re together.”
There’s a lot of research in online education that says the more social presence you can have, the better; the more engaged the learners are, the richer the interactions. The issue is that, until now, remote learning programs have been largely self-selecting; students opt in and have the necessary technology, and faculty are trained to teach this way. That’s not necessarily the case in the current situation, for either students or faculty.
Now when a professor asks everyone to turn on their video so they can have these rich social interactions, there are bandwidth issues that make video impossible for some people, or it creates an awkward delay. Many of our students have very little control over their physical space. Digital identities in remote learning can’t be curated the way they can on social media. It feels much more raw and sometimes invasive to have this real-time element of “show me your face, your environment, wherever you are.” As faculty we have to recognize the ways this can impact how students show up.
What opportunities might arise from the full-scale transition to remote learning? What might we learn from this massive move to technology that we want to bring with us into the post-COVID times?
One of the things I hope we carry forward is that when we’re all back on campus, when we have everybody together again, we don’t take that togetherness for granted. That we don’t assume our physical presence, that actually being somewhere together and speaking to one another and interacting with one another, without the mediation of the screen, is something that we think of as important and that we prioritize in our learning.
There are a lot of assumptions we had before that are being questioned in interesting ways. We’re experimenting with what learning can be accomplished via asynchronous or synchronous activities, and not necessarily in the same space. I don’t know what the answers are; it’s going to vary by discipline, but I think we may end up with more options coming out of this than we had going into it.
I hope we think about how to leverage technology to maximize our use of campus space, our resources, our faculty and our student time, so that when we are together, it matters that we’re together.
— Sharon Knox, director of communications, Undergraduate Education
Pablo G. Reguerín
- Vice chancellor of Student Affairs
- Started at UC Davis on July 20 after a career of nearly 20 years at UC Santa Cruz, rising to associate vice chancellor of student achievement and equity innovation, 2017-20
- Bachelor of Arts, Latin American and Latino Studies, UC Santa Cruz
- Master of Arts, educational leadership, Columbia University
- Ed.D., Capitol Area North Doctorate in Educational Leadership [CANDEL] Program, UC Davis
- His professional interest in supporting student success and equity dates to his time as a work-study student employee in the EOP [Educational Opportunity Programs] Center at UC Santa Cruz.
“Student affairs” is a broad field that can sometimes be difficult to define. How would you define it, especially to someone who doesn’t understand its value?
I consider student affairs to be a functional area of human and intellectual development outside the classroom and working in partnership with the broader campus to support student success and equity. I consider student affairs to be a co-curricular champion with many opportunities for students to develop community and grow as our future leaders. Learning happens outside the classroom, too, and the connection between how you feel as a person and your sense of belonging is integrally connected to how you perform in the classroom. This is why it is important to understand the whole student and serve them holistically — it produces better outcomes for creating knowledge and a healthy society within our campus and globally.
You’ve been working in higher education and the UC system for much of your career. Why is higher education important to you?
My life has been transformed through the power of education, both from my family and my experiences in higher education. The transformative impact resulted in building opportunities I could have never imagined when I first arrived to the UC system as an undergrad at UC Santa Cruz, growing as both a scholar and engaged community member. This growth continued as I attended graduate school across the country in New York City, where I earned a master’s degree studying educational leadership.
Later in life, I came back to school for a doctorate in education here at UC Davis. This, too, was transformative. It is also where I developed as a scholar-practitioner, and where I began to contribute and engage further in academia while continuing to grow as a leader-practitioner. All of my experiences in higher education come together to form a strong foundation and desire to pay forward the many opportunities I received. This sentiment informs my outlook on my role as an educator and student affairs professional and my sense of service in building opportunities and contributing with my colleagues to make a broader impact in our society within and outside the walls of higher education.
On a lighter note, I have enjoyed my work in the UC system — I find it gratifying to partner with students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members and be in a space of development and growth.
You received your Ed.D. from UC Davis. How do you think your time spent here might influence your approach for this role?
In the School of Education, I studied leadership and racial equity in higher education, and I began to seek opportunities where I could have an impact in these areas, particularly at a public research university. I also saw the opportunity to contribute and learn from the existing team, which I knew would make for a productive and exciting experience.
As vice chancellor of Student Affairs, what is your vision for the division?
There are three pillars that I am bringing to UC Davis that will serve as the foundation for building a collective vision for the division:
- Serving the whole student
- Forming meaningful and long-lasting partnerships
- Developing well-rounded student affairs professionals
In addition, I would add two key areas which include COVID-19 safety and recovery along with racial and social equity initiatives designed to increase educational outcomes. These are foundational concepts and ideas which will require more learning on my end and a lot of listening to better understand the campus community.
What would you want to say to students?
I want students to know that I look forward to working in partnership and that I come to this position with a service-oriented approach. I also want them to get to know me as a person, and that I am a human being who is approachable and will listen and engage as often as I am able to do so. While I come with some ideas, I am open to learning from all. I enjoy my work, and I see student affairs as a labor of love and seek to find joy in the work.
“Learning happens outside the classroom, too, and the connection between how you feel as a person and your sense of belonging is integrally connected to how you perform in the classroom. This is why it is important to understand the whole student and serve them holistically — it produces better outcomes for creating knowledge and a healthy society within our campus and globally.”
On a personal level, I come from a family that immigrated to the United States from Bolivia when I was 2 years old. I grew up in the Bay Area and have many intersecting identities as a Latino male, father, partner and scholar-practitioner. I come from a family of teachers and activists who have always promoted education and service. In my personal life, I enjoy soccer, swimming, basketball and spending time with my family and friends, and I look forward to getting to know students and community members.
It is a priority of mine to cultivate a thoughtful, sustained and meaningful relationship with you and your fellow students, and I welcome your input on the best ways to facilitate this. Please email any ideas to email@example.com.
What would you want to say to Student Affairs staff?
In addition to my answer above, I strongly believe that we as student affairs practitioners should live out our values as much as possible — that by living our guidance, we are better equipped to serve and partner with students. I value varying opinions, healthy debate and respectful disagreement to draw out our best thinking as a collective. I look forward to learning from the Student Affairs team and working alongside them. You may find that I ask a lot of questions and that is part of my learning process, and I appreciate your patience as I come up to speed.
— Nathaniel Curiel, content specialist, Students Affairs Marketing and Communications