On Tuesday UC Davis welcomed state and local leaders from higher education, business and government to the Mondavi Center to discuss the current economic climate and job market with UC Davis students.
ASUCD President Adam Thongsavat posed the idea of a student oriented summit to Chancellor Katehi to discuss the problems, difficulties and possible solutions for graduating university students in the California job market. Students were able to attend the summit by completing an online application. State and local leaders encouraged the students who participated to voice their opinions and ideas in the small breakout sessions following the opening speeches.
“This is truly an unprecedented event,” said Barbara Hayes, the first speaker and president and CEO of the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization (SACTO). “This is a student led job summit. It really is a very important day.”
Chancellor Katehi and former ASUCD President Adam Thongsavat spoke next focusing on the importance of student and faculty cohesion.
“These are problems that can only be solved if we work together,” Chancellor Katehi said.
Thongsavat noted the advantageous circumstances that participating students had.
“We have a unique opportunity to be part of the solution,” he said.
Martha Lofgern, partner of the law firm Brewer Lofgern LLP, following spoke about what business leaders, especially in the Sacramento area, were doing to help revive the economy. She cited the program NextEconomy, a public-private partnership effort by business leaders within the Sacramento area that aims to spur job creation, innovation and investment within the next 12 months, as a large regional prosperity plan in the works.
Concluding her speech Lofgern left students with a soundbite of advice.
“At every stage of your career, look for a mentor,” she said.
Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, representing California’s 8 Assembly District, later spoke on the significance of young and old generations working in unison and the power of being hopeful towards change.
“I always have to embrace the optimism that things can change for the better,” Yamada said.
State Senator Lois Wolk concluded the opening speeches by shifting the conversation towards student fees and job opportunities upon graduating.
“ASUCD and the faculty and administration have made a commitment to assuring that students have not just an excellent education, but they they are able to put their education to work in the form of jobs,” Wolk said.
During breakout sessions, students contributed their perspectives on current educational and economic worries. In addition, they presented pragmatic solutions to better prepare students for job opportunities.
In order to ease the transition from academics to life after graduation, many students emphasized the need for real world experience. Students’ ideas included creating more incentives for studying and working abroad, reaching out to regional businesses, developing more associate degree based programs and fostering interdisciplinary studies.
Sarah Worley, Economics Development Coordinator with the Department of Community Development & Sustainability in Davis, added that UC Davis students have the intellectual capital that many employers will be looking for as jobs become more interdisciplinary.
“The most fundamental skills are not just your technical skill…but it’s your ability to adapt, to do creative problem solving, to have excellent communication skills and lifelong learning. Those are the skills that are going to help get you jobs,” she said.
In the course of the session, government and business leaders acquired insight into discussions happening among students on campus. In exchange, they provided advice on upcoming political initiatives.
In one session, the initiatives that stimulated the most conversation were three proposed tax measures for the November ballot — The Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act of 2012, Millionaires Tax and Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment Act.
Senator Lois Wolk encouraged students to focus on one measure for the November election. She said that if all three end up on the ballot, all three will fail.
“I would encourage you to support that there has to be one in order for any [intiative] to pass. It will be hard enough to get one passed, let alone three,” said Wolk. “It’s absolutely essential for education, because that’s where the cuts will come. It’s absolutely essential for education that we get some revenue on the ballot.”
Additionally, a general consensus among the students, elected officials and community business leaders was that if students want to make a difference, then they have to show up come election time.
“I just want to say to all the students: vote,” Worley said. “You have huge, huge power. If you unify behind an issue at all levels — community college, CSU, UC, graduate schools, private schools — vote. Become informed, encourage your peers, talk to your peers, talk to everyone you know, but absolutely vote.”
The event ended with a panel discussion with members from each breakout group. Panel members included professor of genetics and Faculty Advisor to the Chancellor and Provost Ken Burtis, Alumni Molly Fluet, Executive Director of UCSA Matt Haney, ASUCD Controller Don Ho, Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor, Thongsavat, Wolk and ASUCD President elect Rebecca Sterling.
Panel members brought ideas back to the group that had been discussed in their individual breakout groups. Topics ranged from the difficulty of working through the political system to make changes to the economic role of UC in society. Groups also discussed the university’s ability to provide students with career and internship opportunities.
“We talked about the consequences and the impact of the budget cuts that have come down from the state on the university, and [the university’s] ability to prepare people for a career,” said Haney. “There was a point made that now, with less financial aid available and more tuition that you have to pay, you have to work more. You don’t really have the opportunity to spend as much time really getting to know what you want to do, you’ve gotta pay the bills.”
Overall, many students agreed the summit was a successful meeting of the minds.
“The level of communication and discourse that was available for all participants I think gave a lot of really great perspectives that they wouldn’t normally get. I hope this is something that continues with more publicity and more attendance, because I think that will really benefit it,” said Brian Barnett, a senior history major and Chairman of the Business and Finance Commission.
ASUCD President Adam Thongsavat was excited about the dialogue that circulated throughout the day, and believes students need to carry on that momentum.
The fact that this was largely student initiated and student run says to our elected leaders, to our business community leaders and to people on our own campus that we’re not here to be guided. We’re here to make decisions and to be part of the solution, Thongsavat said.
HANNAH STRUMWASSER contributed to this article. MURPHY, RUSSER and STRUMWASSER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.