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Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Come together

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from left, Regent Ann Boynton ’83President Lori E. Varlotta, PhD, Bishop Deborah Hutterer, MDIV, and Rev. Jim Bassey ’66MDiv, February 27 Attend the Raising Ceremony.

Academic, spiritual and ceremonial events celebrating the inauguration of President Lori E. Varlotta, Ph.D. – delayed by the pandemic – were opportunities to restore his vision for the campus.

Cal Lutheran is transforming into a future-focused, faith-based institution that celebrates diversity and academic excellence, prioritizing the Lutheran values ​​of grace, generosity, inclusivity and service to the neighborhood, Varlotta inaugurated an Said in the speech. Here, students, faculty and staff alike are encouraged to explore and navigate the “messy middle” that resides between two extremes on any given spectrum.

By spotlighting and investigating the “messy middle,” the 61-year-old university will help students hone critical and creative thinking skills that are increasingly important in a world marked by extremist rhetoric and polarization.

Varlotta, who began serving as president in September 2020, said, “If we can stop the construction of Echo Chambers, Cal Lutheran will stand apart from most universities – even the elite ones – that give us surround.”

Most of the inaugural events took place during the week of February 22-27 inside a large tent built on the campus to keep the activities as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The festivities began on February 12 with Varlotta running a 5K run/walk that ran through the Cal Lutheran campus. More than 150 runners and walkers took part, said Varlotta, a dedicated runner, from people running full-strength to strolling families.

Dozens of student volunteers encouraged the participants, played music and provided water along the way. The football team built a tunnel for people to run through.

A Faculty/Staff Social with the President on 17 February brought the faculty and staff together for fun and camaraderie. Attendees were treated to food, drink, and entertainment, including giant Jenga and cornhole games.

This was followed by a nightly Academic Excellence Festival at Cal Lutheran, from 22–24 February. Fifteen faculty and two dozen undergraduate and graduate students presented academic research and scholarship on a range of subjects. All of Cal Lutheran’s schools and programs were represented in areas such as chemistry, exercise science, psychology, and film and television.

Among the teachers who presented were Lorena Munoz, PhD, associate professor and program director for Ethnic and Race Studies. He spoke on Cal Lutheran’s commitment to diversity, ethnicity and inclusion, and why ethnic and race study programs matter. Michael Panesis, MBA, executive director of the Steven Dorfman Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, presented the scholarship on “Liberal Starts: The Beneficial Relationship Between the Liberal Arts and Entrepreneurship.”

Each night began with a display of posters showcasing undergraduate and graduate research in the respective majors of students. The presentations demonstrated that research is taking place not only on campus, but also in laboratories and field work around the world, including in Switzerland and Central America.

“You can choose your research project or your academic adventure, from very scientific and technical to artistic and musical productions,” said Regina Biddings-Muro, EdD, University Advancement Vice President, Faculty and Staff Chair of 14 Subcommittees. To make the inaugural events successful including the Academic Excellence Showcase.

“The faculty and staff really showed up,” she said. “It’s really out of love for the institution and support for the mission. Yes, it’s about ushering in new leadership, but it’s also an opportunity for the university to show what an impressive place it is.”

The opening ceremony wrapped up with a worship service – filled with individual prayers and poems on 26 February – and the installation ceremony the next day. Varlotta said she was grateful to those who planned and participated in the many activities, describing them as “the fruit of enormous collective efforts”. Now he is ready to harness the energy of the collegial spirit and inauguration to continue the momentum going forward.

Since their arrival, they have implemented a strategic and master-planning process that will meet the university’s goals in the years to come, from expanding the physical campus to enhancing student and work experiences. It has built a strong DEI structure that works hand in hand with the university’s identity as a Hispanic-serving institution. And she served on the committee to establish shared governance between regents and staff, with the first staff Senate election just months away.

Carol Chung, director of Graduate Admissions, MA, praised Varlotta’s “Charge to Lead” during the inaugural events. “I saw Varlotta work to get it done,” Chung said of adding employees to the shared governance. “I can personally say that his words are supported by his actions.”

In his inaugural address, the President said that bringing Cal Lutheran to an even higher level of excellence will require everyone working together. And she is not oblivious to the work ahead as the world grapples with the global health crisis, social unrest and major disruptions to everyday life.

“At a time when so many people are grappling with the effects of a fragmented world,” she said, “wouldn’t our current and future students and staff enjoy being part of a community that draws together rather than polarizes? “

Katherine Selant covered politics and government for the Los Angeles Times for 20 years. Prior to that she was a staff writer and covered higher education for the Ventura County Star. She is now a freelance writer based in Newbury Park, California.

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