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2015 COAST Annual Meeting

Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White
Chancellor, California State University
2015 COAST Annual Meeting
Long Beach, CA
April 23, 2015

Thank you Krista for that kind introduction and for your leadership of this great group of scholars and to all of you.

I appreciate the work that every person here today is doing to empower student success and what you do for the people of California.

Krista shared COAST’s draft strategic plan and visited with the 29 Presidents and Vice Chancellors on Tuesday. The work and thought that went into crafting that plan is truly impressive. Each of you should feel a great sense of pride in what this group has accomplished and an even greater sense of anticipation in what is yet to be.

I’m pleased that you came here to Long Beach to represent your campus and deliberate on matters that speak uniquely to California.

I must say it is a tremendous privilege to be in a building with water on two sides and a clear view of the Queen Mary. Long Beach is a beautiful place to live and this office is a wonderful place to work.

But, you also see in Long Beach the power, and not necessarily the wisdom of humans to influence our environment… to straighten a river… to wall off the force of the Pacific… and to shape the boundary with the ocean.

The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles… Rainbow Harbor… even the history of this building is tied to that struggle over the boundary between land and water.

We see the local consequences of human actions. The pollution that runs uninhibited through concrete channels downstream from LA. The oil seepage kept near or on shore by the sea wall. And, of course, the microscopic invaders brought in by the massive shipping vessels.

Humans have changed this small piece of one coastal region. Yet, in the past those who understood the harm being done could at least take solace in the hope that the effects might be kept local.

For decades – perhaps going back two centuries – of industrial development, pollution was seen as a problem of concentration… the solution was dilution. And what could possibly have greater power of dilution than the ocean?

You and other scientists have pointed out that we have reached an end game for dilution, as it is proven in global warming and ocean acidification. We humans are changing the climate and ocean on a massive and global, not local, scale.

This is of course just one of many global human impacts. I recently read a blog entry by a CSU graduate, Chelsea Rochman, who spoke of her journey in the Pacific while she was still a doctoral student in a joint Ph.D. program of San Diego State and UC Davis.

Chelsea wrote of the confluence of plastic garbage that extends for hundreds of miles in the center of the Pacific. Some of those pieces were large, but her concern was the plastic that had broken into small component parts… molecular remnants of plastic that might poison sea life.

Like Chelsea, I’m deeply concerned about the damage being done to our oceans.

Yet, Chelsea’s story gives me a sense of optimism. The first step to solving any problem is recognizing there is a problem. And with a generation led by the likes of Chelsea we can move past identifying the problem and move forward with solutions.

As Chelsea said, “I was inspired to study marine ecology by a college professor, and it is my hope to someday teach at a university and inspire others to latch onto a similar environmental issue that motivates them to work hard to make a difference.”

As we talk about student success, we can celebrate that Chelsea has gone on to serve as a Conservation Research Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Davis. She is well on her way to joining your ranks as a fellow scientist and faculty member.

That is the power you each have. Your research stands equal among that of your peers throughout the world. The CSU is second to none when it comes to activity directed at solving the most entrenched challenges in human interaction with the environment that sustains us.

And the students you influence carry your research forward and build on the legacy you are creating.

I’m a passionate believer in the power of student research. It connects students with learning, it sharpens students’ analytical skills and it teaches students how to deal with ambiguity.

That last point is perhaps the most relevant as a scientist. We have each had the frustration of unclear and ambiguous results. Using ambiguous data to identify weaknesses in methodology and to refine ones testing is the hallmark of a good researcher and a good academic.

You are imparting those skills to the next generation of researchers and faculty members. Your influence also extends well beyond those who may seek to join us in academia.

As an example, I spoke earlier about the impact of shipping on the environment of Long Beach, particularly the microscopic stowaways in ship ballast water.

Cal Maritime’s 500-foot-long, 10,000-ton training ship – the T.S. Golden Bear – contains one of only four subcontracted test facilities in the world approved by the U.S. Coast Guard to perform ballast water management system testing, critical to ensuring that invasive species do not contaminate critical watersheds… partnering with governments and industry on this technology.

That is an amazing opportunity for CSU faculty and students to study ways of mitigating environmental damage caused by global shipping – which is an undeniably critical link in the world economy.

Yet, also consider the influence that being adjacent to this technology provides. Cal Maritime students – even those who may never work on this ballast water system – will know that it is on their ship, they will know why it is on their ship and they will carry this knowledge with them.

That means that every graduate of the campus – as they go on to become leaders in the logistics industry – will be cognizant of the risk of invasive microorganisms. They will be able to educate their peers, and in so doing work toward solutions.

This is why I encourage a meaningful investment in research for students and faculty, because:

  • research is critical to create the environment in which learning occurs
  • research is critical to enhance expertise
  • research is critical to connect the university to its community

And, of course, research helps build a diverse faculty by getting our students interested and engaged in the work we do as academics.

Research will be a central component of Graduation Initiative 2025, which – in the next decade – aims to graduate 100,000 additional CSU bachelor’s students above current rates. We will do this through a relentless focus on opportunity, quality and success.

I know that I can count on each of you to empower your students’ success. I am eager to hear what my colleagues and I can do – from here in Long Beach – to empower your success.

Again, congratulations on all that COAST has achieved in the last seven years – and in the tremendous work you’ve done to ensure that success continues.

Thank you.