New faculty gather on the steps of the UCI Student Center after a welcome ceremony that emphasized taking advantage of mentors and reaching out to the community. Steve Zylius/UCI

UCI welcomed 82 new faculty members for the 2015-2016 school year, and as one of the largest cohorts to join UCI in a single year, the group is helping Chancellor Howard Gillman fulfill his goal of increasing the size of the permanent faculty by 20 percent. The 90-minute event at the UCI Student Center was an opportunity for the newcomers to meet one another and hear words of wisdom and experience from veteran UCI academics.

In a twist, the presiding speaker at welcome ceremony was, himself, a new member of the engineering faculty – Enrique J. Lavernia, recently appointed provost & executive vice chancellor at UCI.

Lavernia’s initial remarks hinted at a theme echoed by three following guest speakers. “Mentors are really important,” Lavernia said. “Develop relationships and work with your peers in your departments, because they’re here to support you.”

William Maurer, dean of the School of Social Sciences and a professor in the Department of Anthropology and Social Sciences, urged openness to thoughts, ideas, and people from outside the comfortable confines of the university. He cited examples of chance meetings he had with figures from Hewlett Packard and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, both of which resulted in long-term funded research projects here at UCI.

Maurer, an expert in how societies use money, told the audiences, “You’ve made a very important decision in coming here to UC Irvine, and now I’d like to challenge you to get out there. This is your safe home base, this is the place that will nurture and support you, but we’ve got to get out there into the wider world.”

Michelle Khine, a biomedical engineering associate professor, is a prolific inventor and originator of numerous businesses including Fluxion Biosciences Inc., cardiotoxicity screening company Novoheart, science education kit maker A Hundred Tiny Hands, and Shrink Nanotechnologies Inc.

Her focus on start-ups and technological innovation, however, is secondary to her involvement with students.

“There will be a switch in your careers,” she told new colleagues, “when you are more excited about your students’ accomplishments than your own, and when you think about how to further their careers. It’s kind of unexpected. You’re worried about tenure and worried about publishing, but then it happens. Academia becomes exciting on a whole new level.”

Sandra Tsing Loh closed the program with her smart, witty, rapid-fire delivery of scientific and sociological information that has been a fixture on public radio in Southern California and beyond for more than a decade. Her radio show, “The Loh Down on Science” is produced in partnership with UCI, and Loh is a member of the faculty in both the School of Physical Sciences and the Claire Trevor School of the Arts.

“The experience of being at UC Irvine is, there is always a ‘yes’,” Loh said. “Doors are opened, you’re introduced to people from different departments. The environment here is so creative and innovative, it’s a great place to be.”

Loh acknowledged the recent New York Times ranking of UCI as the number-one university in the nation doing the most for low-income students. “I think that’s actually fantastic,” she said. “The students here are incredibly diverse, and there is a commitment on the part of the university to making an excellent education available to every kid of any socio-economic background. I think that’s really exciting, and that’s what gives me added passion to be here at this great school.”