Year One: When the Learning Curve is Steepest

    Guardian Editorial Board: How has the transition for you

    Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Penny Rue: It’s really
    been exciting. It’s really a challenge.
    The best thing that I can liken it to, that college students can relate
    to, is the transition when you first come to college. When, all of a sudden,
    everything in your life is new: new phone numbers, new streets to learn, whole
    new sets of friends. You lose all of your grounding but on the other hand, it’s
    more exciting — the promise, the possibilities and all of that.

    So it’s been very exciting for me. There are obviously
    plenty of challenges as you would expect from a job of this magnitude. But I
    have made my priority be getting to know people and creating relationships
    because that’s what student affairs is, that’s what leadership is. I really felt like I needed to get myself out
    there. That goes for students, staff,
    faculty, alumni. I think it’s very
    common in higher education that you turn upper administrators into objects
    because they seem remote. That creates distance when what you really need to do
    is have trust and respect to get the work done.

    What I’ve tried to do is be as approachable and accessible
    as possible, because all of the work in student affairs is done through
    consensus, people coming together. There might be a rare occasion where I have
    to make a decision and impose it on others. I have really enjoyed San
    . Coming
    from the East Coast, East coasters tend to think of California
    as Los Angeles, they think of it as
    very fashion conscious, very concerned with status and image and all of that.
    But San Diego is very different
    from that. I’ve appreciated the genuineness, the friendliness, the openness —
    and of course the climate.

    Guardian: What were some of the biggest challenges for you?

    Rue: One of the most interesting challenges for me was the
    fact that I have never supervised admissions before, and that’s probably the
    most mission critical aspect of student affairs. If we don’t admit a great
    class, we don’t have a university.

    Guardian: And this year’s statistics, which saw a drop in
    black admissions but rise in Latino admissions?

    Rue: The numbers are so small that it’s hard to call it a
    trend. We’re pleased with the upper trend in Latinos. We’ve already pored over
    the numbers and realized there were a couple of important aspects. One of the
    biggest challenges is the issue of scholarships. UCLA and Berkeley are able to
    give a lot more financial aid. They have $100 million and $375 million,
    respectively, in financial aid endowments.

    Of course, we’re younger, we’re smaller, so that’s a growing
    issue. UCLA has particularly done some things in that areas that we’ll try to
    learn from, and UC Santa Barbara has done some interesting things that are

    Guardian: Does the problem lie in fundraising?

    Rue: It’s partly fundraising for scholarships. Also, the
    African-American students that don’t come here, the top five schools they do go
    to are Berkeley, UCLA, USC, Stanford and Harvard. They’re fabulous schools, but
    I’m sure scholarships have a lot to do with it, especially for private schools.

    But we know we need to do more; one of the data points tells
    us that if prospective students can visit the campus, it increases their
    chances of accepting admissions. The campus has an image of being remote,
    because it’s not embedded in the city. But once students come here they realize
    it’s friendly. But it will continue to be a challenge. We’re exciting with the
    work being done by students with student-initiated outreach. We’ll also be
    working with the faculty’s Committee on Admissions to look at what needs to be
    tweaked. We’ve had successes and setbacks in that area.

    Guardian: One of your foremost focuses this year was
    on-campus mental health. What has the progress of that issue been?

    Rue: We have a really excellent program in Thurgood

    with the Wellness Center
    pilot program. We saw good results and reductions in student stress from that
    project. We also were a part of the Administration of American College Health
    Association’s National College Health Assessment, so we have really good data
    now about prevalence of mental-health issues and concerns. It helps us make a
    case for resources and planning.

    We have some interesting conversations going with the UCSD
    Medical Center
    Their primary-care family medicine physicians are interested in what they call
    integrative medicine, which is more preventive in nature. We’re involved in
    conversations with them.

    In the long run, we’re looking to build a Wellness
    that will pull together
    recreation leaders, mental-health folks, health advocates and stress managers
    to destigmatize health-seeking behavior and create a culture of wellness.

    This also comes back to fundraising issues, but we are
    expecting an increase in mental-health funding from the UC Office of the
    President. When we look at mental health, we look at three tiers: the first is
    direct treatment and service for individuals that identify themselves as
    needing help; the second tier is targeted outreach and prevention activities
    for people that are more prone to stress; the third tier contains things that
    develop a sense of community so that people feel connected and don’t get to the
    end of their rope. We’re hoping to work on all three of those dimensions.

    Guardian: In talking with students, what have you heard
    students say about their relationship to the campus?

    Rue: I’ve found that most students want to create or
    experience enduring campus traditions. They want to feel like they’re a
    long-term part of the UCSD community.

    Guardian: What role do you see construction projects like
    Price Center East playing in building campus community?

    Rue: I think it’s fascinating what architecture can do to
    create synergies. If you think about the people that you made friends with in
    your freshman year, it was probably the people who lived closest to you. It
    works that way in offices too, where you create relationships with the people
    you walk past everyday.

    So I think having the alumni affairs office right next to
    the student organization leaders is just brilliant. It will create
    intergenerational collaboration. It will really help us in the long run. I love
    the openness of it; it sends a hugely powerful message to somebody that’s new
    to campus that’s wondering, “Do I belong here. Is this for me?”

    It’s all so inviting, it draws people in. Architectures can
    be very powerful for sending the kind of messages we want to about membership
    and belonging. The Cross-Cultural Center’s position looking right over the open
    area also says so much about messages of inclusion — who belongs and how they
    belong. I think it was a visionary architecture.

    Guardian: What have you heard students say about their
    relationship with San Diego?

    Rue: I find that students really do appreciate the small
    community that the college environment offers, particularly while they’re
    residents. Obviously, after they move off campus, that bond is destroyed. So I
    think there’s a real opportunity there to try to rethink that transition of
    what it means when you become a commuter student.

    Hopefully, I think it’s true for most students, they’ve
    established a set of engagements and relationships that gets them on campus.
    Once you get home, what draws you back to campus? It’ll be interesting to see
    if the Loft, for example, is going to draw students back. Still, San
    is so amazing that I think we undersell it a
    little bit in terms of what it has to offer and how accessible it is. I think La
    is not a college town, but there are plenty of places nearby
    that are.

    Guardian: Does that mean creating more local partnerships?
    How would you want to connect to the local community?

    Rue: It will be interesting to see what Senior Week tells
    us, how popular and successful it is.
    With that, we built partnerships with Sea World and partnerships
    with the Padres.

    Guardian: The state as a whole is hurting for funds. How
    much of that damage trickles down to your office?

    Rue: We don’t know yet, and I wish I could tell you. The
    last thing that the governor did was put the 10-percent cuts on the table, then
    pulled the cuts back from the education sector. We still don’t have a concrete
    budget yet and we’ll probably enter the school year without a budget, which is
    kind of scary. But one of the things we do is review every vacancy to make sure
    it’s necessary; you don’t want to bring new staff on and have to let them go.
    So we want to justify every position and hire right now.

    Guardian: Does it put any pressure on your department’s
    advance planning?

    Rue: Absolutely, of course it does. It’s interesting how
    fast things change. When I first came into this job, this economic forecast
    wasn’t in the cards. The university was in a growth mode with new resources, so
    it wasn’t my initial goal to come to a place and have to work with fiscal
    constraints — but that’s the current reality.

    Guardian: What were your impressions of the new format of
    the Sun God Festival? As this is your first festival, how do you plan on
    dealing with complaints and protests that have mainly been over the new
    festival’s relation to previous festivals?

    Rue: Of course, I don’t have any basis of comparison; I
    don’t know the old Sun God. I’ve heard people talking about. It’s one of those
    things you tend to look at with rose-colored glasses. It’s really not my role
    and responsibility to lay judgment on the event.

    What I need to do is make sure that the students that are
    the planners of it have the support they need from the college. I thought it
    was a very well-run event this year. When you see that many people in one place
    having a good time, it’s pretty inspiring.

    That venue did not work as well for the daytime activities.
    In that sense, it was too big; you had 1,000 people there, but the field holds
    20,000 so it looks like no one is there. I got there at around 4:30 p.m. to
    [the Midway] where they had student performances. And I saw that people loved
    those because they were exciting, but it was a relatively small reach. Those
    are some things I think should be worked on, but they are very doable.

    Guardian: Do you see this year’s form of Sun God as one of
    those “enduring traditions” you mentioned?

    Rue: If that’s what the students want, I’m in favor of that.
    I don’t plan student programs for a reason; I didn’t know any of those bands or
    any of the music. I don’t like that music. But none of it is really up to me. I
    don’t like music that loud. [laughs]

    Guardian: What kind of support did you offer programmers
    this year?

    Rue: What I was most involved in was the creation of our own
    detox center in the Rec Gym. Usually, students that are not hospital-worthy or
    jail-worthy go to detox downtown.

    What students tell us is that it’s a sketchy area. They’d
    get down there, sleep it off with no cell phone or purse. The police would tell
    us the time to take students down there and come back was time away from their
    ability to help on campus. We wondered if we could create a partnership there
    that would enable us to make sure students were safer and cared for on a
    campus-based environment that would support our police, who had a very
    difficult job to do that day. It proved to be very successful.

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