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westfield state university
OCTOBER 14, 2016
PRESIDENT RAMON s. TORRECILHA remarks
as prepared for the Oct. 14 Investiture
thank you, chair marcus. thank you Matthew. Thank you westfield state board of trustees, commissioner santiago and dr. marotta. a heartfelt thank you to my dear friend and mentor dr. holmgren—it is so special to have you here today on this meaningful occasion. to all the delegates who’ve traveled from across the state, region and country, thank you for your presence and support. I want to especially acknowledge all my peers from the council of presidents—it is an honor to serve alongside you as a leader of a sister institution. likewise to the leaders of our community colleges. thank you. A special note of thanks to past interim president dr. elizabeth preston for her tenure of stability and transparency.
to my cabinet—thank you for all your hard work and support as we move this remarkable institution forward. i extend a special welcome to our faculty who are the heart of westfield state and to our staff who are the backbone of this institution. to our students and their families, know that we don’t take lightly the awesome responsibility you’ve entrusted in us to deliver on the promise of westfield state university.
at today’s meaningful occasion, i could not help think of my late grandmother and father. i miss my grandmother’s wisdom and my father’s kindness.
to my special friends and the other members of my family. you know who you are, thank you. to my spouse, randy, i could not have asked for a more supportive and selfless partner in life. thank you and I love you.
today is A MOMENTOUS OCCASION THAT WILL FOREVER RANK AMONG THE best in my life. as much as this day means personally to me, this day symbolizes so much more for westfield state university.
i take the oath of office today, ready to act on the university’s thirst for positive and nimble change.
westfield state deserves my highest expectations. many of you here today are working hard to deliver on those expectations, even exceeding them. it is a rewarding and exciting time to be a part of westfield state university.
i stand here as the product of the american promise. it is a privilege to view things from my current perspective.
i believe my affinity for westfield state has a lot to do with my personal and professional journey to get here.
my first working experience in america was in the orchards of washington state. i was recruited to work for my cheap labor; certainly not my english skills.
upon arriving in white salmon, washington, i knew almost immediately that education was going to directly affect my social class and status and ultimately where I wanted to take my newfound future in america.
characteristic of the american spirit, kind people and accessible institutions helped me along my pursuit.
mr. and mrs. hart offered to drive me to church; kind folks at St. vincent depaul in nearby portland helped me fill out my first job application in english. my restaurant coworker luis who covered for me when i didn’t understand what customers were asking. mrs. rose in portland state university’s admissions office gave me the unlikely opportunity to enroll as i made my case to her as a skinny young man speaking in broken english.
these early interactions created a sense of inclusion for me. these kind individuals nurtured my sense of belonging. IT WAS THEIR COMPASSION, THEIR HUMANITY, THAT HELPED ME in my journey to experience the american promise.
it is human nature to want to feel like we belong and to create environments where we can be safe and ourselves. settings where the intellect is sharp, friendships come easily and we are challenged and pushed to expand our minds while comfortably holding tight to our own morals and values.
created as the first public co-educational college in america to offer an education without barrier to race, creed or economic status, accessibility and acceptance have long been at the core of westfield state university.
i am proud to now call westfield state my home—a fairly small public institution that is unwavering in its focus on student success. a university where faculty care about the students, their positive influence going well beyond the classroom.
for me, the westfield state community is very much like a family. sometimes a complex family, but a family never-the-less. ALL MEMBERS OF CAMPUS PLAY A ROLE IN EDUCATING OUR STUDENTs.
I’ve seen the impact of what the campus as a whole can have on students—a synergy that I wanted to help guide and lead ever since the early days of my education and career.
since first becoming a sociology professor at the university of california, irvine, i have been concerned about access to higher education. in massachusetts, higher education is still seen as a private investment versus a public good.
as that concern about access to public higher education continued to grow, so did my aspirations for leading a university.
this is the job i’ve been working toward, structuring my career to reach. I am happy to be here and even more honored to have been selected to lead this public university.
collectively, we have a tall order ahead of us. as the pool of high school aged students continues to get smaller, we have to be highly strategic with enrollment and retention measures; we need to work toward increased graduation rates; and we need to continually work on ways to narrow the achievement gap for underserved and underrepresented students.
westfield state is not alone in facing the reality of achievement gaps, but we can be a leader in addressing them.
student success needs to be measured more comprehensively.
we will soon implement a structured, four-year plan called the westfield state experience. its aim is to take an active role in students’ academic achievement. the four-year model includes the first year experience, a second year of reflection, a third year of high impact practices and a fourth year, the last mile, engrossing seniors in career-focused, practical projects that will prepare them for the workforce or graduate study. it is my hope that students complete their undergraduate studies as more well-rounded, socially-responsible citizens, ready to positively impact the communities in which they will work and live.
taking our commitment further, we are partnering with our surrounding public high schools to both introduce students to an early college experience and create pathways for a more diverse population of future students.
also, we will strategically grow our graduate programs—taking our cues from the changing job market and creating pathways that easily align with our undergraduate studies.
as we pay attention to future generations of westfield students, we also look at supporting our alumni. we must re-think graduation day as a point along a continuum of learning. as our graduates move along in their young careers, i suggest we reshape how we serve as their alma mater.
by treating every student with humility and respect and making certain all students are confident in their ability to learn, a more comprehensive definition of student success will follow.
currently, we possess the brushstokes of a vision. but decisions about how WE achieve our goals are ongoing. the process is fluid and organic, and relies on input and collaboration from students, faculty, staff and other partners. again, it is an exciting time to be part of westfield state university.
i challenge all of you—the community that has the most interest in westfield state’s growth and sustained excellence—ask yourselves how you can do your part to make this remarkable institution even better.
i will end with a brief story of a recent interaction with an alumnus. for a number of reasons, his engagement dwindled over the last several years. following a re-connection through one of our faculty members, he was brought back into the loop. at a recent visit back to campus, I offered to give him a tour of our new science and innovation center. following the tour, we began talking about where he used to live. we made our way over to davis hall. the longer the visit went on, the further he went down memory lane. as his visit and our conversation came to a close, he said, “everything that went right in my life is because of westfield state. life started here.”
i share this one story because i want us all to remember how transformational westfield state is in shaping the futures of thousands of our students across massachusetts, throughout new england and around the nation and the globe.
I look forward to my continued leadership as we work together to deliver on the westfield state promise.