With nearly 250 students, faculty and staff members looking on, Sonoma State University ushered in a new academic year semester on Friday with words of encouragement, hope and “resilience” from campus leaders including President Judy K. Sakaki.
“Last year, our remarkable ability to persevere came to life when we faced the unprecedented North Bay fires,” Sakaki said. “Despite this great tragedy, not only personally but for many others at Sonoma State, as well, our entire campus community came together.” But she said the University is ready to move forward “with intention.”
“I think we are all looking for a fresh start,” said Laura Watt, chair of the Sonoma State University faculty in her welcoming remarks. “And I’m looking forward to working with you all to make this an engaging, creative, collaborative, and constructive year for our campus.
Sakaki, who is beginning her third academic year as president, noted the challenges facing higher education include increasing debate among those largely outside of academia as to whether a college degree – in particular, a liberal arts education - is worth the cost.
“To those of us here, the answers to these questions are self-evident,” she said. “We know that college is necessary . . . College expands the intellectual and professional horizons of our students and puts them on a path to achieving their dreams.”
Nonetheless, she said, administrators and faculty at the university, which is entering its 57th year, needs to be “even more deliberate about how we educate and prepare our students for the future.”
One tool that Sonoma State will have to help this fall is its strategic plan, which was finalized in June. The plan, titled “Building Our Future @ SSU,” calls for a focus on student success, academic excellence and innovation and leadership cultivation, all while having a “transformative impact” on the lives of the 9,400 students at the University.
While SSU will begin implementing its strategic plan in the various schools, departments and units on the campus, Sakaki also called on faculty and staff to look for ways to have a transformative impact on an individual basis.
“How we arrive on campus every single morning, how we show up with an attitude of optimism and service, makes a difference,” Sakaki said. “We each have the ability to lift and encourage our students.”
Provost Lisa Vollendorf applauded all of those who have “refurbished our buildings, readied our labs . . . and doing all of this good work to ensure that we are ready to roll on Monday when the academic year begins.”
She also applauded the SSU for moving forward with its accreditation process and launching its strategic plan in the days during and shortly after the fires of October. These decisions “did indeed help keep the university moving forward, even in a time of loss and recovery,” Vollendorf said.
“Sonoma strong speaks to the resilience, to the empathy and to the strength of our community at Sonoma State and of our broader community in Sonoma and neighboring counties,” she added.
The Convocation, held inside the Weill Hall at the Green Music Center, also featured brief remarks from Carley Chatterley, president of Associated Students at Sonoma State, as well as Sakina Gerhard Bryant and Scott Horstein, winners of the Excellence in Teaching Awards for 2018, and Dr. Jon Fukuto and Dr. Don Romesburg, winners of the President’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship.