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An Awesome Responsibility, A Wonderful Opportunity

(January 2005)

The UC mission is research, teaching and public service. But it is the third of these that has traditionally been the least well known. We focus on the subject of public service in conversation with five people who have a close connection to the ways that UC Riverside engages the community, in areas such as education, agriculture, university extension, natural resources and research applied to society. Below are the views of Jack Azzaretto, Pam Clute, Don Cooksey, John Rotenberry and Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez.

UCR is a public, land-grant university. In what key ways does UCR directly serve the public?

Jack Azzaretto: This is so important to our campus. UCR has an obligation to serve our various publics. The most dramatic ways we do that are in the social, cultural and economic betterment of the region. We do that through our faculty being out in the community, the K-12 outreach, and we do it in a grand way, to our roots, in Cooperative Extension. Finally, we do it through University Extension, which serves about 40,000 people annually in continuing education and lifelong learning. The concept of public service has really given way to a new way of thinking.

Don Cooksey: Originally, the University of California was organized to conduct agricultural research and provide those results to the people of the state who farm. In California, every county has a Cooperative Extension office with specialists who study crops and how best to grow them, or they study nutrition and educate the public about eating wisely, or they study wildlands and figure out practical ways to conserve the state’s open spaces. UC Riverside fits into that picture because we serve as one of three headquarters in the state for Cooperative Extension programs. Sometimes you hear it called the Agricultural Experiment Station, because that was the earliest research happening at UCR, back in the early 1900s.

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez: There have been a lot of amendments to expand the land-grant mission to all parts of the community, rural and non-rural. The university, in my view, has become more restricted in its activities. There is generally a disconnect between our instructional programs and the land-grant mission in regards to local communities. As a whole, we’ve become more international, but less involved in the development of the intellectual and educational formats for local communities. I don’t like the term “public service” or “outreach.” It should be a part of the educational mission. In applied social science, engagement with communities serves multiple academic functions.

Jack Azzaretto: Most institutions nationally are reconceptualizing service as engagement. Engagement is a two-way concept, whereas outreach and service suggest one way. In the kind of society we live in, the university is enriched by its community as well.

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez: Absolutely. The Gluck grant that I put together is a perfect example of engaged art through performance and workshop. On the other side, computer engineering has a very practical side. My suggestion is that the social sciences, too, have a heavy responsibility for engagement. A pox on the word outreach! (laughter) It’s very difficult to have people understand what applied social science is. Research should not be for the benefit of the academic researcher, but for the purpose of engaging a population that benefits from our research. I would argue that research, teaching and public service need to be seamless in action and function. Otherwise, we are going to go the way of the dinosaur.

John Rotenberry: To a great extent, I think that we are successfully engaging the community. Bill Mayhew, an early faculty member in biology at UC Riverside, collaborated with two other UC biologists, Mildred Mathias, from UCLA, and Kenneth Norris, from UC Santa Barbara, to found what was then called the Natural Lands and Water Resources. Mayhew also knew Philip Boyd, who was a Regent, and it was Philip Boyd who donated the first property, nearly 17,000 acres. It’s now called the Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center. Mayhew realized that if the university didn’t take steps to protect some of these lands, they would be gone. The three of them are considered the founders of the Natural Reserve System, one of the best-kept secrets of the University of California. It consists of 35 reserves scattered throughout the state in a variety of ecological systems. Deep Canyon is part of the Sonoran desert. At the other end of the Palms to Pines Highway is the James Reserve, which sits at 5,000 feet and is surrounded by conifers and oaks. They (the reserves) are set aside for teaching, research and public service, so they are used for field trips and for fieldwork. We want to be able to preserve the plants and animals on these reserves, the streams and ponds. In some cases, people are interested in fire ecology. In other cases, they are monitoring the nitrogen deposits that happen from pollution.

Pam Clute: That’s a great story about Bill Mayhew, and I think that it illustrates the kind of things UC Riverside has been doing for a very long time. We have a way of reaching out to the schools to improve the professional quality of teaching and the competency of K-12 students. We don’t go out with all the ideas and say this is what you can do to be better. We listen to their ideas and engage in conversation and see how we can work together. How to redesign curriculum to make it more contemporary, how to motivate the teachers so they can better motivate their students, how to provide appropriate opportunities for gifted kids along with not-so-gifted kids. When school districts and the university get together, we can pool our resources.

Can you give some specific examples?

John Rotenberry: I can tell you about one thing that happens at the James reserve, to make information available to a wider audience. The director, Mike Hamilton, was in many respects a pioneer in information technology transfer. He was one of the first to use Web cams. People can actually observe animals moving around, watch hummingbirds come and go. Much of this was funded by a grant from the Department of Education, so that kids could log on to the Internet and take data on the comings and goings of the birds. They have cameras in nest boxes. He was getting literally thousands of hits a day. It attracted people who were involved in embedded sensors, and the operations at the James reserve were a natural for this. When the winters come and the fronts come through, Caltrans will actually use the cameras to see if it’s snowing and whether they need to send out snowplows. If you want to see it, go to

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez: At the Galarza center, we have had a summer internship program in which we bring in five to six junior college students between their freshmen and sophomore years. They were committed to an intense research program for five weeks. Graduate education is also important in this equation. Galarza has provided $154,000 in research support for 23 graduate students and we have provided $66,000 to 22 faculty members. At least five of these graduate students are employed in the academy at other universities. Their engagement in this kind of research spreads out.

Don Cooksey: We actually hired a biotechnology specialist recently, Alan McHughen, and his job is to work with the public and with industry in dealing with the issues related to biotech crops, trying to bring real science-based knowledge to those discussions. And many more of the advisers in specific areas will be dealing with those issues.

John Rotenberry: Can I jump in here and talk about Cooperative Extension a little? Tom Scott is a colleague. We share similar research, in avian landscape ecology, or how plants and animals are influenced by their environment. Tom was one of the first natural resource extension specialists. But I think the university began to recognize that extension specialists weren’t the only people with relevant research. We do environmental research here that has an impact. Our job is getting that information to land managers, city planners and county planners. Tom has been very effective in conveying that information. He is basically the guy who pulls us out of our ivory tower and puts us in contact with people who are making informed decisions.

He does a lot of his own research, but he doesn’t hesitate to plug into what the rest of us are doing and is very interested in taking it to land management decision makers, from the guy who signs off on whether you can put in a brick wall in your back yard to the person who is directing 500-home developments.

Don Cooksey: Another visible Cooperative Extension program is 4-H, which has thousands of volunteers. It’s geared toward educating people about farms. Kids will be working with animals, but it is much broader than that now and includes science and other educational efforts. Just about every county is involved with 4-H and it is coordinated statewide. I was able to see the volunteers in action when we held a series of hearings around the state as we were dealing with budget cuts. We had the deans and the associate deans from each of the campuses, and we called them “listening sessions.” Every one of those sessions was well attended by 4-H volunteers. We had one in Riverside, at UC Extension, in fact, Jack.

Jack Azzaretto: Excellent. UCR Extension helps connect UCR to the broader community. We provide workforce education, the Osher Lifelong Learning program for seniors. We offer youth programs. We help people advance in their careers, or change their careers. We help people better prepare for the new economy that is emerging in the Inland Empire. Amongst the 40,000 people we serve, 12,000 of them are teachers. That helps strengthen the educational community. Dana Reupert, a longtime (Gifted and Talented Education) teacher and administrator in the local school district, said our GATE certificate program has made such a difference in how teachers in our community treat gifted and talented students in the classroom. We hold annual Advanced Placement Institutes in the summer, in cooperation with the College Board, and we draw 300 teachers each year, from all over the United States, to hone their skills teaching Advanced Placement. So through that, we have made a dramatic impact on the talented students who are college-bound. And some of them come to UCR.

Pam Clute: We have a lot of specific programs with acronyms, like MATE and GEMS, that touch the lives of kids even earlier than high school. These were not my ideas. People came to me with a need. We combine equations with critical thinking, so that there is understanding behind the mechanics. To make the whole thing come alive, we analyze the audience and then link the lesson to whatever they have an interest in. We tie mathematics to optical illusions and geometry and make mathematics and science more interesting. We do what we can to make it time well spent.

How does this engagement with the community come back to benefit the campus? Are there benefits for our students?

Pam Clute: When kids stop me on campus and remind me that I inspired them to go to college, that is my perk. Whatever I did made an impression. When they show me that I’ve made a difference in the direction of their lives, I consider it to be a major victory. I’m very grateful that there is a role and an appreciation for this kind of work at a university. UCR benefits directly and indirectly from these investments, because it means upcoming students are better prepared for university work. The costs of remediation programs and personnel are substantial.

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez: It’s the same with us. The students who interned with us frequently chose to enroll at UCR. Plus, the benefits of the applied research stay in the area, and boost the area economically. That has a ripple effect and creates even tighter relationships between the community and the university. They are much more willing to help the university in hard times, and that’s key. This loops back to the land-grant mission. We become partners in the research, but also in benefiting each other. It is a reciprocal relationship.

Jack Azzaretto: We have a Summer Academy for talented high school students who want to take regular UCR courses. These students perform as well, or better, than our regular student population. These students go to many institutions, including UCR. We also have an enrichment program that introduces these students to different careers.

I’d like to think that the curriculum offered to our students reflects the global environment. We have a new faculty initiative, headed by [history] Professor Lynda Bell, creating a global studies major. It’s an interdisciplinary major that will prepare our students for a future in a global environment.

Don Cooksey: We want our research topics to be responsive to the needs of California agriculture and natural resources. So we have this connection and the immediate knowledge in the industry about where the information comes from. It’s provided largely for free to the public, but I think there is a strong recognition of how the land-grant university provides the research and extension components. The evidence is that we continue to get very good support from industry in some of our traditional strengths, subtropical crops, for instance. So the citrus and avocado commodity boards provide extensive support for our research.

What kindS of potential impacts do you foresee for UCR’s developing Palm Desert campus?

Jack Azzaretto: University Extension has had a presence in the Coachella Valley for many years offering educational programs to a variety of student audiences, including teachers and businesses. And Cooperative Extension has an experiment station out there. But this will be an institutional presence, and that will create more visibility. We have a tremendous opportunity to pioneer some programs between UCR, College of the Desert, Cal State San Bernardino. People in the desert community want these educational opportunities.

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez: I see a potential nexus in applied social science and the arts, but with a different slant. The arts are already developed and mature in Palm Desert. What is not mature is the relationship between the Southeastern half of the Coachella Valley, and its artistic relationships with Mexico. Another area with potential is micro-enterprise, or very small businesses. The Palm Desert campus provides an opportunity to learn from the local communities on how they can get their micro-enterprise efforts off the ground, using people’s experiences in the community, with credit, environmental issues, zoning laws. I don’t think the Palm Desert campus should become an exclusive club for people north of Coachella. There are wonderful people whose investment is paying off for the people. Even a community that does not have a lot of money can be rich in social wealth. Once you recognize the wealth of information they have, and bring that to light, you can use that knowledge to reduce problems. It’s all integrated. A land-grant institution has the obligation to pursue the whole arena of human endeavor. And that takes training and a lot of cooperation.

Pam Clute: The fact that we now have a presence out there has created some buzz. As we start to establish degree programs, we can be providing all kinds of needed services in the Coachella Valley. That region has the lowest college-going rate in the nation. It doesn’t mean they don’t have pockets of excellence, of the kinds of social wealth that Carlos just mentioned, but there is still a lot of educational need. GEMS is already out there. Right now we operate at a school site in the desert, but I could easily see it being offered at UCR Palm Desert. One of the beautiful things about the ALPHA Center is that it is grant funded, and we don’t charge for our programs. So for the very, very poor in Coachella, these programs are a blessing. They have made it clear to me, in many ways, that they are grateful for the opportunity.

John Rotenberry: The only thing I can add is that Deep Canyon reserve is at the southern edge of Palm Desert and I can imagine plans developing that would involve the reserve lands in some way. Some of the research we do requires facilities, but building those facilities on the reserve land may impact the preservation of the land itself. The idea of having adjunct space, near the reserves, is exciting. Many of our reserves are relatively isolated. Having this sort of adjacent help is potentially quite a bonus.

Does engagement provide economic or other kinds of benefits to California as a whole?

Jack Azzaretto: There’s no doubt. We equip the workforce for the kind of economy here in the Inland region. Our faculty research efforts often lead to new business opportunities. The University’s presence has helped attract global corporations here, partnerships with India have brought new companies. UC Riverside’s work with technology transfer has enhanced the region’s attractiveness to business.

John Rotenberry: It’s fairly well acknowledged that California has an enormous variety of pressing environmental problems. The solution to a lot of those problems is going to involve understanding the natural systems. What we provide are the laboratories where that research can take place. Solving environmental problems has more benefits than costs. We can plan growth so it has fewer impacts on natural systems. We can track the effects of smog on natural systems. The reserves are outdoor laboratories. I think the benefit to the state is enormous. The economic environment is always improved if the sky is clear enough and the water is clean enough.

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez: If you add value to people’s social wealth, you add to the material wealth, and that brings in more taxes. You provide the means for people to be more independent, and then it benefits the entire state. You have healthier populations, vibrant communities. These communities are already vibrant but the opportunities are limited.

How do you see this engagement evolving in the next five to 10 years?

Jack Azzaretto: My life’s work has been built around this public service mission in four different states. I believe that the university of the 21st century has the responsibility to be engaged in its region. We can’t just see ourselves as serving the traditional 18- to 22-year-old student. We must see ourselves as serving a person throughout his or her lifespan, with classes relevant to a 20-year-old, a 30-year-old, a 70-year-old. University Extension has evolved globally. We have centers in Korea and China, and we are hoping to open centers in other countries as well. As we continue a global engagement, not just regional engagement, we must be flexible. Our curriculum and educational programs are different now than they were 10 years ago, and they will be just as different 10 years from now. It’s hard to predict, but I guarantee you it will shift based on the needs of the area. UC Riverside Extension is market driven. People will vote with their feet. If they don’t find what they want here, they will enroll somewhere else. We will add more online and distance learning, but it won’t completely replace the face-to-face contact. Students want convenient, relevant and quality online education. And we are doing that. It will be one more way to access the university’s resources.

Don Cooksey: I think in the future we will see, on the agricultural side, a lot more of our outreach activities coming from genomics and biotechnology. And while the budget cuts to this area were substantial, I think the compact with the governor has stabilized the budget considerably. We are hoping for stability for sure. We’ve had continual downsizing since the early 90s, and we’ve never recovered. I’d like to see some restoration of that over time. It’s up to the Legislature and how well it appreciates what we do. That’s something we really have to work on. And we are. We are putting more effort than I have ever seen in the past in describing the impact of what we do. We now have these easy-to-read one-page reports called “UC Delivers” (see an example on the Web at dealing with everything from nutrition to economics. A lot of people aren’t aware of what we do related to public health, but many of our efforts deal with nutritional issues, and other youth and community development programs that are core to the land-grant mission.

Pam Clute: I think it’s really important that we be creative in finding ways to continue our public service, because it is so important. Those of us in public service are now also in the business of fund raising. That’s just the nature of the beast. We need to leverage resources and bring more people into the process. If we, as a country, want to remain economically powerful and internationally competitive, we will need to rely on citizens who are scientifically literate. The need for the kinds of programs that ALPHA sponsors is only likely to grow in the next 10 years. The subject of mathematics is always changing and traditional adding, subtracting, will be combined with things like topology, dynamic systems, modeling — ideas requiring the dreaded algebra. We have to make sure teachers are prepared by establishing effective partnerships between schools and universities. We can help prepare the next generation of thinkers.

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez: What’s interesting to me is that when you look at the requirements now for the National Science Foundation, they require the answer to the following question: “How is your work going to benefit the population with which you will be engaged?” The NSF, which was once the most elite of organizations, is now focused on engagement. And we are going to need that, because community stability and development are going to be even more problematic in the future. We have an awesome responsibility and also a wonderful opportunity to improve the future.

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