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UC Davis Magazine

Volume 30 · Number 2 · Winter 2013

Thinking forward

Provost Ralph Hexter and a panel discuss the future of the student experience at UC Davis.

Cast of characters

portrait photos of eight panelists

Top row, from left: Ken Burtis ’76, professor of molecular and cellular biology and faculty adviser to the chancellor and provost; Christina Cogdell, associate professor of design; Ralph J. Hexter, provost and executive vice chancellor; Andy Jones, M.A., ’92, Ph.D. ’96, lecturer and academic associate director of Academic Technology Services.

Bottom row: Alejandra Ramirez, third-year environmental policy major from Los Angeles;
Walter Robinson, director of Undergraduate Admissions; Bob Segar, assistant vice chancellor for Campus Planning and Community Resources; MacKenzie Smith, university librarian

(Photos by Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Watch video clips

Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi has the vision for UC Davis’ future and, as her second in command, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter leads the campus’s effort to implement that vision. So, how to do it?

On a sunny October afternoon, Hexter joined seven other representatives of the UC Davis community at the campus TV studio to discuss the future of our university. For about an hour, these campus leaders, administrators, alumni, faculty, staff — and one very courageous, poised student — engaged in a spirited conversation about the chancellor’s vision, and our university’s aspirations, opportunities and challenges. Under the glare of bright lights and gaze of video cameras, our eight panelists peered into the future: What will our student body look like? What will our campus look like? How will faculty teach? And how will UC Davis set the standard by which other universities are measured in the years to come?

UC Davis Magazine moderated the conversation, though our panelists needed little prodding as the hour-long conversation flew by. [Watch videos of the discussion in its entirety.] Here, you’ll find a transcript of the conversation, edited for length.

UC Davis Magazine: Ralph, we’d like to start off with a question to you: How do you see UC Davis shaping up over the next 20 years?

Ralph Hexter: UC Davis in 20 years will be recognized as one of the indispensable universities in the world, because in my mind — given all the programs we have, all of our strengths — there’s no other university that can really take on that big question: How will we feed 9 billion people? How will we do it with respect for the environment? How will we have enough energy to do the things that we want to do . . . ? How will we do it with attention to good health and social justice? . . . We’re already doing so much that crosses college and school lines, and I see more incredible opportunities.

I also think there’s going to be an evolution in the way we teach. This is happening already with ever greater reliance on technology. I don’t want to predict that we will become an online university. . . But I think all of our creative students and our faculty will find ways to use all of the technologies that are emerging to enhance their interactions and discover new ways of making that classroom time together absolutely quality time.

UC Davis: Andy Jones, among many things that you do here, you’re an adviser to faculty on bringing technology into the classroom. What is your view on that?

Andy Jones: Increasingly our faculty are using a kind of hybrid approach to teaching their classes — teaching well in the classrooms but also taking advantage of communication technologies to share the content — because we want our students to work independently and collaboratively, to return to content that is really challenging and to work through it. Once upon a time that might have meant going over one’s notes, but increasingly it can mean complementing that with audio and video. . . So the professor becomes a curator of relevant information for a particular class, as well as the producer for the content that’s really going to inspire the students.

UC Davis: Walter, what do you see the student body itself looking like in the future? What are the challenges they’ll be facing, and what are the opportun

Walter Robinson: The world is shrinking, and it makes a lot of sense for us to think of ourselves as an evolving, globally diverse undergraduate student body. I think that it is value added to the educational experience of each and every student when you can interact with students from all over the world, from a variety of different kinds of experiences and language backgrounds. In the office of Undergraduate Admissions, we are traveling the world — virtually as well as physically — trying to identify students, develop relationships with superintend-ents and principals and counselors at schools in South America, in Africa, in the Pacific Rim, so we can bring those students here [and] put them together with students from across the country and from throughout the state. . . .

The challenge of the campus is to make sure that we’re prepared to support the ever increasing diversity that we’re about to experience over the next decade or two.

UC Davis: Alejandra, how does the student experience that Walter described, looking forward, compare with your student experience today?

Alejandra Ramirez: It seems very similar. I believe that we do have a lot of resources, especially with the new Community Center — which has the Cross Cultural Center, the LGBT Resource Center — where students can find any kind of help. The problem is that students are not aware these resources are available to them and that most of them are completely free to them. One of the biggest challenges for the university is to keep the students informed.


(Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

UC Davis: Walter talked about creating this more international experience for students. How does that scenario compare with the student body you are a part of today?

Ramirez: I don’t see that many international students, which I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. . . . I feel like maybe we should focus more on California and nationally than we should on international.

Robinson: You know that’s interesting. This year, we’re expecting to enroll a freshman class that’s comprised of 84 percent Californians. I don’t believe that we have done due diligence to California students by not providing them with an international experience here. So I think what you see now is just the tip of the iceberg. I think it will be value added . . . and in no way will it displace Californians. At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of undergraduate students here will be from California.

UC Davis: Ken, you are one of the leads on the 2020 Initiative. Could you could talk a little bit about where we are going, vis-à-vis Alejandra’s concerns and questions?

Ken Burtis: Sure, in fact we’ve been talking about that a lot for the last 10 months. I’ve had three large task forces of faculty, staff and students who’ve been discussing, among other things, that very issue of what’s the right balance between international students and students from California. We’re looking for a balance that achieves both our mission of serving California, as well as our mission of providing an education that’s relevant in a very international world. I think we do a disservice to our students if we don’t bring the world to them and try to bring them to the world.

My project is focused on a goal we hope to accomplish by 2020. Growth provides an opportunity — to hire perhaps a couple hundred new faculty, to build some new classrooms that are designed around the things Andy was talking about, the pedagogies of the future. I think our students have changed, perhaps even more than the campus or the faculty has. As an undergrad 40 years ago, I sat in lecture classes in Chem 194 — and students are still sitting in lecture classes in Chem 194. But they’ve grown up with mass communication, the Internet, social networking — and if we don’t change along with that, we’re going to fall behind.

UC Davis: Christina, you’re nodding your head in agreement.

Christina Cogdell: I am. I was thinking, in particular, about the age-old, text-based format for graduate student dissertations. I think that there’s an immediate change coming our direction. We should probably just embrace it and move there ourselves — embrace different types of technologies, different types of visual literacy — so that they become multimedia dissertations. I believe that the students are ahead of the faculty in that regard. So then the question is how do we catch up? I feel there’s a role that we in the Department of Design can play in thinking about graphics, multimedia and visual literacy and how to integrate a multimedia approach in disciplines across campus.

UC Davis: This may seem like a bit of a reach, but that makes me think of the stacks of dissertations you could read in libraries. MacKenzie, what will your library look like in 20 years and how will it address the issues that have been raised here so far?

21st century vision


Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi has embraced an ambitious vision for UC Davis, launching key initiatives to position the university for success in the 21st century.

“UC Davis is poised to become one of the world’s great universities as it stays true to its mission to advance the human condition through improving the quality of life for all,” she said in introducing the university’s Vision of Excellence in 2010 (

As an institution with unique academic strengths, UC Davis is in an ideal position to maximize impact on the world’s most pressing issues: food, water, health, society, energy and the environment. In the years ahead, UC Davis — guided by Katehi’s vision and driven by campus leadership and forward-thinking initiatives — will continue to progress as an innovative university, educating students to become future leaders in their chosen fields and supporting outstanding faculty who produce research for a brighter future.

What do you see in store for UC Davis’ future? Where do you think UC Davis should be headed? Please email your thoughts to us.

(Photo: Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

MacKenzie Smith: That is an excellent question and, of course, we’re struggling to answer it. Clearly, academic research libraries have been profoundly affected by the advent of the Internet and the Web. And I would say that for a lot of our undergraduates today, if it’s not online, it’s invisible. So those stacks of theses might as well not exist, unless we can get them digitized and online. Multimedia theses are already happening at a lot of places. The challenge of how you can steward those and preserve them for the future is huge. The technology is so far ahead of our ability as a society to really understand the impact that this is going to have in the long run. So the library . . . is catching up as fast as we can in an age of transition.

Every discipline is moving at a different rate. There are students who embrace the future and students who hang back. How can we, as a university, really bring them forward without leaving people behind? The research library of the future will be online . . . available from wherever you are at any hour of the day or night. That’s our goal. But at the same time we have a physical campus, a physical experience that the students really value. So I’m looking forward to hearing what Bob has to say because we have a lot of real estate that the students depend on.

Bob Segar: It’s fascinating right now, because the question I get to think about all day long and help shape on the campus is — in this future that we’re describing — why will people come to a physical place to get their education? [It’s] totally different than 20 years ago, when the only way to get content was to show up and hear it. Ralph and I were having a conversation, not that long ago, and I found myself saying, “The less publicly funded the university becomes, the more public it needs to get.”

In the future, the university becomes the only place where you can real-life, face-to-face contact with all those communities of people that can help you with your education and your future. . . . So then we get to think about, physically what’s that look like? How do we create indoor and outdoor spaces and connect indoor and outdoor spaces so that we create a rich life and a rich stage for those interactions to go on?

UC Davis: So what we’re looking for is an active learning environment where constantly you have to be there to engage in it. It’s not something you can assimilate passively over the Internet.

Smith: Right. The future of libraries as physical places is to be those intellectual hubs where you can bring together people from different disciplines and students and faculty. We’re being begged to create more group study areas where faculty can work with small numbers of students and they can work with each other. So whether the books are physically there or not becomes kind of a moot point. It’s about providing that intellectual, serious place for study and interaction.

Jones: And for experiences too. Students come to UC Davis often after a visit and they see that we’ve got this huge and safe campus that is bike-able, that is the coolest campus in the country, as we know, and it’s so earthy, crunchy and recyclable. I think something else that’s very exciting is that the students come here and they see, “Oh look, students are running the Coffee House, the biggest restaurant in Yolo County. Students are running the newspaper, and the bus system and the radio station” — and so they realize they can come here and they can really build something, they can participate in experiences. There’s a sort of independence that’s fostered in our students, where they say “We’re going to do this ourselves.”

Robinson: I will go back to my earlier point: it’s so important to bring the world to Davis. Davis is already fabulous; it can become even more fabulous if you can imagine that, by having people from every county, nook and cranny of the state, I don’t care if you’re from Parlier, or from Pittsburg, there’s a place for you at Davis.

UC Davis: Alejandra, why did you come to UC Davis? What were you looking for, and have you found it?

Ramirez: I was looking for an experience where I could be not just in the classroom, also going out and experiencing . . . I took BIS 2A, “Introduction to Biological Sciences,” and the professor said, “I know that you guys are going to learn everything really well, but by the end of it you’re just going to dump it out and do a clean slate for the next class.” It really made me think about how we learn. There are a lot of classes that you can do a hands-on experience. . . . Animal science majors, as freshmen, go and touch the cows, they go out and work with the animals. But other majors don’t have the same opportunity. Maybe we should try to get other majors or other colleges to also do interdisciplinary work.

UC Davis: Christina, how do you apply the classroom of the future to a design program?

Cogdell: Well, I teach history of design, which means I give lectures and midterms in classrooms . . . so in some ways I’m a fairly standard teacher. But I look forward to collaborative teaching where I am working with a studio faculty member, or I am working with a scientist and we’re bringing the tools and the technologies from our backgrounds together into the classroom and working across those areas. I think the tools are absolutely indispensable, so that students are up to date. We’ve just gotten our first 3D printer [see story, page 40]. We have a computer numerically controlled cutter, so you design on the computer and . . . it cuts complex curves. . . . These are ways a classroom experience goes just beyond the lecture, and becomes interactive, hands-on, experiential.

UC Davis: Ken, in your previous experience as dean of biological sciences, you were very involved in basically blowing up the biological science curriculum, trying to create a new way to teach biology. How does that fit in with the university of the future?

Burtis: That blowing up is still going on. There’s a group of mostly young faculty who are working on the curriculum to bring a lot of active learning principles into it. They’ve worked very hard already to design course labs — they’re very hands-on and not cookbook — so labs that actually ask a question, where students are experiencing research.

What gives me a lot of optimism for that is that young faculty are now arriving very much a part of that world. So just this morning I had this wonderful opportunity to talk to [an alum] who became famous doing science at another university, and has now come back as a chemistry professor with a joint appointment in the school of medicine — a very interdisciplinary and brilliant young man. He was shocked to see that they were still teaching chemistry the same way as when he was an undergrad, which was not so very long ago. And he was going to change that. . . . I think as we hire this next generation of faculty, this is going to become an unstoppable wave.

UC Davis: Andy, what is this faculty of the future showing you in terms of their toolkits that maybe five or 10 years ago the faculty didn’t have?

Jones: Part of it is toolkits — and certainly there are a lot of cloud-based tools that faculty are using increasingly to encourage collaboration. A lot of it has to do, as Ken was just saying, about attitudes. Once upon a time our classes were very instructor-centric, and now they’re more student-centric. So faculty know that they’re going to have to share some of the responsibility for the learning that takes place in the classroom with the students, and that means that you empower the students, but there are also times when you need to get out of their way.

Ramirez: One of the technological toolkits that I use, and I think all students use daily, is SmartSite [an online course management system]. But some of the professors do not know how to use SmartSite to send emails, to manage their grade book. . . .

Maybe we should encourage all the professors to learn how to use SmartSite.We do really depend on SmartSite a lot.

UC Davis: So Ralph, this raises an interesting point, which is the students are coming to campus, speaking of toolkits, with a much more advanced and more elaborate array of tools than they’ve ever had before. How in the future will the faculty keep up with the student body?

Hexter: Well, this is an evolution, and . . . I have a feeling we’re approaching a tipping point. But as we’ve said, there are many generations of learning styles, teaching styles here. As part of the new budget process, we’re going to help all of the colleges focus on how they’re achieving their aims in terms of teaching and learning. And that will I think put increased focus on the way their students are receiving the classes.

One of the things that I wanted to comment on, though, is the world of research and the world of teaching — they’re almost inseparable. Our faculty are engaging with all of these tools to collaborate with their colleagues around the world. . . . Faculty, and students with them, are exploring what are going to be the conditions of our world in 10, 15, 20 years. . . . They’re just beginning to bring those contours into focus.

Cogdell: The kinds of problems I see in the next 20 years are complex problems. They’re not disciplinary-based problems; they are interdisciplinary …It’s absolutely crucial to bridge the disciplinary boundaries and the spatial boundaries on the campus . . . I think when you talk about what makes UC Davis special, it’s going to be the face-to-face interactions, but also the spatial proximity to relationships that occur from being and working collaboratively with each other.

Watch the panel discussion, in two parts





Mitchel Benson, who moderated this discussion, is the director of campus communications and strategic initiatives.