When Manuel Gómez, M.A. ’78 says UCI is changing fast, people listen; not only has he been on campus for three decades, he has served for the last 11 years as vice chancellor of student affairs. “Right now there is spectacular growth at UCI. During the early years, campus growth was a steady upward line, but now – from a new student center to big jumps in enrollment – changes are coming in great leaps.” UCi magazine talked with Gómez to learn more about the challenges of change.
How is student life changing on campus?
There’s a new vitality throughout the campus. With about half of all UCI students now living on campus or within walking distance, we’re shedding the old tag of being a commuter school. Already there are a lot more students hanging around on weekends – more walking, more bicycles, more energy. You sense more activity all the time. This will only increase.
Has this change presented new challenges to you?
Certainly. Our intelligent and deeply motivated students bring vigor to everything they do, including expressing their points of view. Almost always this is a positive experience, but there’s also a greater chance of contentiousness. Student Affairs becomes involved because of our role in leadership development. We want to cultivate respect for differences; after all, intellectual drive and learned curiosity are among the most prized coins in the university realm.
How do you respond to this challenge?
We have embarked on several initiatives to encourage our students to exercise their rights constructively. One, for example, is “Imagining the Future: Dissent, Dialogue and the Freedom to Inquire,” a comprehensive campuswide partnership designed to model and maintain our tradition of free intellectual inquiry, open debate and dissent. Another is The XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship that encourages leadership as it relates to ethics, peace, and positive national and global relations. I can’t even express the pride and pleasure the chancellor and I felt when we recently introduced our inaugural scholars to the Dalai Lama (see p. 18). Other initiatives are listed on the Student Affairs Web site, www.vcsa.uci.edu.
You’ve been here three decades. When you walk around campus, what is it that still catches your eye and excites you about student life?
I like hearing the diversity of languages spoken among the students. I like hearing their ideas. I enjoy listening as they talk excitedly about classes, and they do. As you listen to their conversations, they reflect the tremendous quality of the students and faculty with whom they interact. Students are truly enthused about being here.
Describe an interaction with a student that left you thinking, “That’s what UCI is about.”
Recently, a student came to my office who was shocked to get a couple of Ds in some classes. Rather than being defeated or angry, she told me, “I’m going to take those courses over again. It’s not me.” I loved that response. I also recently attended the Merage Foundation for the American Dream Awards, where one of our students accepted a fellowship alongside graduates from other prestigious institutions, such as Harvard and Princeton. Our student expressed an extraordinary dedication to wanting to do something truly worthwhile with her education and in some way repay the community where she had lived. I felt very moved and proud. To me, that’s what UCI is about – getting a first-class education, then going into the broader world to make it better.