Sac State’s public art: A history lesson

This article was originally published on my Medium profile on Dec. 13, 2016. Featured photo by Michael Zhang.


There’s a room at a far end corner of the University Library Gallery at Sacramento State that not many people tend to take notice. Its door was painted white — so white that a blink of an eye can lead you to see its long, vertical rectangular frame and the wall blended as one.

Inside, high metal shelves storing folded chairs completely overtake three sides of the room while the remaining wall, facing the hustle and bustle of the University Union and The Store, serves as an office area.

And this is where Phil Hitchcock has been working for the past four decades.

When Hitchcock arrived at Sac State to join the art department in 1975, the campus was bare and bleak with nothing other than classroom buildings, students, staff, squirrels, trees and grass.

“Oh my god, there was nothing here before I came,” Hitchcock said. “But I chose Sac State because of the alumni — very productive, talented and well known around the country.”

Hitchcock is now a professor and lead director of the University Library Gallery, a position he took on since 2001. At Sac State, he is considered as one of the longest staying faculty in the art department.

Professor Phil Hitchcock stands in front of art piece in a previous exhibit inside the University Library Gallery. (Photo courtesy of Phil Hitchcock)
Professor Phil Hitchcock stands in front of art piece in a previous exhibit inside the University Library Gallery. (Photo courtesy of Phil Hitchcock)

In addition to his own major development projects around Sacramento like the Sheraton Grand Hotel and Meridian Plaza as well as being a special advisor to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission during the 1980s, Hitchcock is also known at Sac State for being the first person to bring most of the outdoor sculptures and indoor paintings to the campus.

Hitchcock said he doesn’t even remember how many pieces of artwork he has gathered throughout his time at the university.

According to a comprehensive list from the art department, there are about 77 pieces and counting displayed across campus.

These pieces include an untitled painting by nationally known artist, muralist and former Sac State professor Esteban Villa hanging inside Serna Center and a tall lacquered steel sculpture titled “Daimaru XVI” by Michael Todd outside Shasta Hall.

The 70-something-year-old gallery director doesn’t even remember what the first piece he acquired. But for him, it doesn’t matter because what’s most important is his passion to show off works of alumni, faculty and staff to the community.

“The alumni and faculty that we have produced here at Sac State are right up there with the best of the universities in the country,” Hitchcock said.

Also, Hitchcock wasn’t the only person who worked to accumulate masterpieces of Sac State affiliated artists. During the earlier years, he worked alongside William Sullivan—Dean of the former School of Arts and Science (1984–1998) and the then newly formed College of the Arts and Letters (1998–2004)—to help bring the collection to its current status.

When choosing which piece to feature and if deserved of a spot of the campus real estate, aesthetic is the last thing Hitchcock looks for. Instead, he looks for connections and the artist’s prominence in the legacy of the university. After all, Sac State’s boisterous, welcoming crop of talented employees was the main reason he decided to stay on for this long.

“Phil (Hitchcock) has a great deal of respect for me as an artist and he has a great pair of eyes for contemporary work,” said Julia Couzens, former Sac State faculty member and current art writer for the Sacramento Bee, whose original work is being loaned to the university for the next five years.

According to Hitchcock, the majority of the sculptures and other artworks were gifted to the campus by the artists themselves or by the family of William H. Cook, a well-known local developer who passed away in June of 1993 who Hitchcock has worked with in the past.

And instead of giving backstories of how each piece came about and the reason why it was sculpted the way it looks, Hitchcock reflected back on the artists and their connection to Sac State, as well as how their presence and legacy on campus through their sculptures are so important.

Click the paint palette for more information on each location.

Outside Shasta Hall

“Daimaru XVI” by Michael Todd, 1982, lacquered steel sculpture (Photo by Michael Zhang)

Located on the outskirt of campus next to the gravel faculty parking lot in front of Residence Hall and Shasta Hall, this large lacquered steel sculpture (pictured above) was acquired by the university in the early 1980s as a gift from the artist himself, Michael Todd.

This sculpture is one of the few pieces in Todd’s “Daimaru XVI” series — a very similar piece can be found in front of a redeveloped building on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles.

According to Hitchcock, the large ring that encircles the other multi-shaped steel pieces reflects back to Todd’s famous works inspired by Zen concepts, calligraphy and the freedom of expression in California during the late 1960s.

Details of “Daimaru XVI” by Michael Todd (Photos by Michael Zhang, top, and Vu Chau, bottom)

During this era, Todd explored many ideas and experienced many shapes and materials that match his inspiration of the cosmos and composition in space.

Since then, the circle, which Todd referred to as “the enso,” began to prominently appear in Todd’s works over the course of his decades-long illustrious career.

Todd, one of the few virtuosos who had no prior connection to Sac State, was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1935.

After years of traveling the world before residing in Southern California to teach at UC Los Angeles, UC San Diego and the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, Todd was chosen by Hitchcock to have a piece of his composition permanently installed at Sac State in 1982.

Next to Pho Saigon Bay, Amador Hall and the Library

“Arequipa” by William Wareham, aluminum sculpture (Photo by Michael Zhang)

This geometric, multidimensional aluminum sculpture by William Wareham was one of the many gifts from the city of Sacramento and the family of William H. Cook.

On campus, it is located in the middle of the grass lawn next to Saigon Bay restaurant and Amador Hall since the late ’80s —Hitchcock couldn’t recall the exact year from that decade but he did remember that it was brought onto campus a few year after its creator, artist Wareham (a well-known sculptor from the Bay Area), passed away.

Details of “Arequipa” by William Wareham (Photos by Michael Zhang)

Hitchcock said Wareham’s contemporary touches to his pieces add unique and fresh characteristics to a campus that owns a large variety of art styles.

In “Arequipa,” Wareham’s abstract, kinetic style came through via his use of the materials and how each mini-parts were assembled to give each viewer a different experience and perspective when looking at it.

Wareham’s repertoire is often regarded by many as loud and fearless.

The artist has once said in a statement that he had a small sign in his studio that says, “Do not be afraid!” —a reminder to himself to use his strong aesthetic to pursue the creative act with passion, dynamism, knowledge and intuition.

University Library Lobby

“Waiting” by Ruth Rippon, 2000, ceramic sculpture (Photo by Michael Zhang)

The University Library receives about 200,000 visits on a daily basis. That means this life-sized ceramic sculpture, entitled “Waiting” by Ruth Rippon, receives the exact same number of views.

Resting on a bench as people walk through the front automatic doors to get inside the Library lobby, the sculpture, Hitchcock said, is a perfect representation of the purpose of the building it’s being housed in—storing books and the act of reading those books.

The sculptor reflects back on Rippon’s years of creating works that many have considered as whimsical and humanizing because of the way she portrays realism so effortlessly, yet the details can still be so intricate.

Since 2000, Rippon’s piece has been the reason for many “What is that?” questions posed by thousands of passersby everyday. What they didn’t know is that Rippon was a Sac State alumnae who went on to spread her pragmatic creativity around Sacramento since the 1950s.

Some of Rippon’s legacy include the Creative Artists’ League—an organization that helps put spotlights on the many highly regarded artisans in Sacramento; “The Lollies,” two Waiting-like clay sculptures placed side-by-side in front of the Pavilions Shopping Center, and a bronzed “Lollie” at the entrance of the UC Davis Medical Center’s Ambulatory Care facility.

North Quad (Close by Sacramento Hall)

“Untitled” by Gerald Walburg, 1987, Corten steel sculpture (Photo by Michael Zhang)

Gerald Walburg’s most-recognized public art piece is the “Indo Arch” that extends across the top of the pedestrian pathway at 4th and K streets.

When installed in 1977, Walburg’s Islamic and Indian temples motif of “Indo Arch” was viewed by many Sacramentans as standard with just a few rusted cylindrical shapes that for some people may have resembled too much of a certain body part.

“Soft-Hearted” by Gerald Walburg, 1971, Corten steel sculpture (Photo by Michael Zhang)

This untitled Corten steel sculpture in the front lawn next to Sacramento Hall and Shasta Hall did not create as much controversy, or even any at all, when it was brought onto campus in 1987. Because of this, little information can be found regarding it, as well as Walburg’s other piece entitled “Soft-Hearted” placed outside Sequoia Hall lawn.

Even Hitchcock himself didn’t know much about it, but when it comes to Walburg, the gallery director said that he’s one of the most treasured figures in the city, regardless of controversies.

Outside the Harper Alumni Center

“Brazen” by Stephen Kaltenbach, 1988, faux iron sculpture (Photo by Vu Chau)

“I get inspired by the villains for this piece,” said Stephen Kaltenbach, the sculptor who created “Brazen,” a 6-foot-tall faux iron sculpture of a pair of legs cut off at knee-length that’s located outside the Harper Alumni Center facing College Town Drive.

Who’s the villain that inspired Kaltenbach to sculpt this large piece? He said that it could be either Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler or any other eccentric characters in world’s history.

Kaltenbach also said that a different, more obvious, interpretation viewers of the piece may have is what to refer to the type of footwear as. Is it a pair of boots of sandals? Are they an iron replica of a Roman warrior’s sandals?

Kaltenbach, who graduated from UC Davis in the early 1960s before becoming an art professor at Sac State from 1970 to 2005, said that they’re sandals, not boots.

Also, the piece is more about whether they’re boots or sandals, it is, according to Kaltenbach, a metaphorical representation of the juxtaposition of evil and good in both civilization and human experience.


Due to the constant changes in administration, budget cuts and the constraints in spaces around campus, Hitchcock said he decided to stop collecting more art works in around the year 2008.

Pieces displayed prior to this were stored in collections of university or University Library Gallery.

The university is still accepting donations from student, faculty and staff artists but for Hitchcock, he’s definitely thinking about scaling back since spaces are so limited these days.

“I don’t know if this can even continue,” Hitchcock said. “I don’t want to accept these (donations) anymore since there are no places to curate them or store them since I already filled up spaces that are available on campus to place them on permanent location.”

Three of the latest donors to brighten the campus art scene are from current faculty Branda Louie and Sarah Flohr —whose works can be seen inside the University Library.

Sarah Flohr’s painting hung inside the University Library (Photo by Michael Zhang)

Interestingly, Hitchcock said the proudest moments in his decades-spanning career at Sac State aren’t about these public pieces, but instead, his presence at the university should be known for taking the initiative to collect works from Wayne Thiebaud, one of the world’s most celebrated artists and a former teacher at UC Davis whose works in the ’60s had a strong connection to the Pop Art movement.

But ultimately, when he leaves, Hitchcock hopes that his legacy will live on and there will be some person out there who’s willing to pick up where he left off with the public art collection and finds a way to continue to introduce the 30,000 student-body and hundreds of other staff and faculty in all departments to the vibrant and ever-changing art scene at Sac State.

“You can’t always in your life wait for somebody to pay your bill and buy your dinners,” Hitchcock said. “You have to figure out how to buy your own dinners.”

Sacramento Archives Crawl will celebrate the city’s historic oddities

This article was originally published on SactownMag.com on Oct. 3, 2017. Feature photo courtesy of Center for Sacramento History.


In honor of National Archives Month, four local institutions will display rare artifacts and treasures from their collections for the seventh annual Sacramento Archives Crawl on Oct. 7.

During the free event, the California State Archives, Center for Sacramento History, Sacramento Public Library and California State Library will lead visitors on tours of their facilities, including temperature-controlled rooms where artifacts are kept under lock and key. This year’s theme “It Came from the Archives?!” pays homage to the Northern California’s unusual relics.

“A lot of people think that archives tend to have serious documents and we do have those,” says Dylan McDonald, deputy city historian at the Center for Sacramento History and a coordinator of this year’s crawl. “[But] our committee decided to dedicate the entire day to all of the oddities and wonderful things that some people may not realize we have.”

The Center for Sacramento History will show art films by Darrell Forney, a former Sacramento City College professor, known for his whimsical paintings, while the California State Archives will present vintage crime artifacts, like a mug book, reward posters and an 1893 blueprint of the administration building at Ione’s Preston School of Industry. Known as Preston Castle for its Romanesque architecture, the facility was one of the oldest reform schools in the country. Tour-goers can view a boot with a notched heel worn by the school’s minor wards and a wooden grave marker for a San Quentin inmate from 1921.

The State Archives will also display oddities like a photo of California’s former Secretary of State March Fong Eu shaking hands with a robot and a shot of former Gov. Earl Warren posing with Bozo the Clown in 1952. At the California State Library, archive crawlers can view a showerhead once owned and used by former U.S. President Richard Nixon, as well as a late 1960s advertisement poster for clothing brand Van Heusen’s wrinkle-free Century shirts featuring Ronald Reagan.

Check out artifacts like a Civil War soldier pocket Bible during this year's archives crawl. (Photo courtesy of CSUS & Preston School of Industry)

Local historian Andrew McLeod will give a presentation about rare artifacts in the archives and tales of the rise and fall of could-have-been cities in California at 11 a.m. and again at 2 p.m. at the city’s central library. From its Sacramento Room archives, the library will also show an assortment of still photographs that capture oddities of the city’s past, including chariot races held at the state fairgrounds, and the goggles and script used by Sacramento High School’s Alpha Mu fraternity for the purpose of initiating pledges in 1904.

History buffs can start at any of the four Archives Crawl locations, where they will be given a passport to use as a guide. They can walk, drive or take one of two Amador Stage Line shuttles that will be running between sites every 15 minutes. Visitors who get their passports stamped at three or more host sites will take home a set of limited-edition commemorative coasters featuring quirky archived photos, including one of former Gov. Pat Brown posing with a figure of Frankenstein at a Universal Studios tour in 1965.

Free. Oct. 7. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. California State Archives (1020 O St.), California State Library (900 N St.), Center for Sacramento History (551 Sequoia Pacific Blvd.) and the Sacramento Public Library (828 I St.). For more information, visit sacarchivescrawl.com.

Specialty Coffee Week returns for its fourth year with a bevy of buzzy events

This article was originally published on SactownMag.com on Oct. 11, 2017. Featured photo courtesy of Sacramento Specialty Coffee Week.


Get your buzz on from Oct. 15-21 as the fourth annual Specialty Coffee Week hits the capital city for seven caffeinated days of events, including brewing classes and a boozy coffee drink competition.

Organizer Edie Baker, who co-owns Chocolate Fish Coffee, says that this year’s event will celebrate the quality and innovation of area roasters. “High[-quality] specialty coffee has over 100 aromas and tons of flavors,” she says. “We want people to celebrate these coffees, start to learn more about them and understand why coffee [in Sacramento] is so incredibly good.”

The final lineup is yet to be determined, but Baker predicts that there will be more than 20 events throughout the week. On Oct. 15, Old Soul Co. will host hourly free tastings and home brewing classes, led by co-owner Jason Griest and head roaster Brad Terry from 12-4 p.m. at its midtown location, while a few blocks away from 11-11:45 a.m., Pachamama will offer short lessons on the art and skill of coffee cupping.

Chocolate Fish will also present several events, including demonstrations on Oct. 15 for home baristas to try their hands at using an upscale Londinium espresso machine. On Oct. 17, the Battle of the Brews competition will take place at Bottle & Barlow between teams of local baristas from the likes of Shine Sacramento and Camellia Coffee Roasters and bartenders from watering holes like Shady Lady. Watch as they compete with their custom spiked coffee drinks.

Organizers are known to throw bags of coffee beans, water bottles and T-shirts into the crowd during the finale of Sacramento Public Latte Art Tournament, which coincides with the last day of Specialty Coffee Week. (Photo by Josh Corrigan)
Enter a captionOrganizers are known to throw bags of coffee beans, water bottles and T-shirts into the crowd during the finale of Sacramento Public Latte Art Tournament, which coincides with the last day of Specialty Coffee Week. (Photo by Josh Corrigan)

Organizers are known to throw bags of coffee beans, water bottles and T-shirts into the crowd during the finale of Sacramento Public Latte Art Tournament, which coincides with the last day of Specialty Coffee Week. (Photo by Josh Corrigan)

Closing out the week will be the new daylong grand finale event on Oct. 21 at motorcycle repair shop and cafe Vintage Monkey. Beginning at 10 a.m., Temple’s director of education Cole Cuchna will offer a palate development class with insight on sampling coffee, chocolate and fruit for features like aroma, acidity and sweetness. At 1 p.m., coffee savants can show off their home brewing skills using an AeroPress, as Guatemalan coffee producer Juan Luis Barrios and a panel of judges pick the best cup of joe.

Baker says she expects hundreds of coffee enthusiasts to attend the finale event, during which the last round of the Sacramento Public Latte Art Tournament—which kicked off in June—will turn the skill of swirling milk and espresso into a rowdy spectator sport, pitting the region’s best latte artists against one another for the winning title.

For more information on these events and others during the 2017 Specialty Coffee Week, visit specialtycoffeeweek.com.

Kick off the holiday season at one of these 11 festive tree-lighting ceremonies

This article was originally published on SactownMag.com on Nov. 22, 2017.


Not feeling the holiday spirit just yet? There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned tree lighting ceremony and copious amounts of marshmallow-topped liquid chocolate to warm the cold hearts of even the sourest Scrooges. Behold our list of 11 of the region’s most spirited celebrations.

Old Sacramento

Nov. 22 On the eve of Thanksgiving, Old Saint Nick will arrive at the historic district to light its 60-foot-tall Christmas tree. Sourced from Shasta County, the towering giant will sparkle with about 100,000 lights from Sacramento Theatrical Lighting, four 9-foot-long stockings, three decorative sugarplums and one 4-foot-tall mouse. Stick around after the tree lighting to watch the opening performance of Macy’s Theatre of Lights festival, featuring a live-action retelling of the 1823 poem “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” narrated by Emmy-nominated voice actor Bill Farmer, known for voicing Disney’s Goofy. Free. 6 p.m. 1014 2nd St. 970-5226. oldsacramento.com

Elk Grove

Nov. 25 More than 2,000 LED lights will adorn a 70-foot-tall Christmas tree at Elk Grove’s Parade of Lights, which features a cavalcade of colorful cars, bicycles and floats, as well as Christmas sleighs and marching bands, beginning at the corner of Emerald Park Drive and Elk Grove Florin Road and ending at the 30th annual Dickens Street Faire along Elk Grove Boulevard. Kids can hit up “Oliver’s Alley” for bounce houses, face painting and balloon artists, then join Santa for the tree lighting festivities at 7:30 p.m. Free. Parade starts at 6 p.m. Emerald Park Dr. & Elk Grove Florin Rd. Elk Grove. 691-2489. elkgrovecity.org

Folsom

Nov. 26 & Dec. 1 The Palladio hosts its annual tree lighting gathering on Nov. 26, during which families can join the Nutcracker for some cocoa and a chance to take photos with Santa. On Dec. 1, the Folsom Historic District will host its 23rd tree lighting ceremony near the ice-skating rink, featuring live performances from the Sutter Street Theatre carolers and local dance teams. Ride the trackless train through the historic district, where “snow” will fall from shop balconies. The 20-foot-tall Christmas tree at the heart of the ice rink will be set aglow at 7:30 p.m. Free. Palladio: 5-6 p.m. 410 Palladio Pkwy. 542-7408. Historic District: 6-9 p.m. 200 Wool St. Folsom. 985-7452. historicfolsom.org

On Dec. 1, Historic Folsom will light up its 20-foot-tall tree surrounded by an ice skating rink (Photo courtesy of Folsom Historic District Association)On Dec. 1, Historic Folsom will light up its 20-foot-tall tree surrounded by an ice skating rink (Photo courtesy of Folsom Historic District Association)

Davis

Nov. 30 A children’s candlelight parade will kick off the 36th annual downtown Davis holiday celebration where guests can meet Santa and Mrs. Claus. Watch performances by the UC Davis Aggie Marching Band and the “Jazzamatazz” jazz band, as well as a free showing of the animated version of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Varsity Theatre. Hop on a free carriage ride, which departs from Armadillo Music every 10 minutes and take selfies with Davis’ mascot Mr. Toad and other holiday characters like the Nutcracker and a gingerbread man before the city’s 25-foot-tall tree is lit up at 6:30 p.m. Free. 5:30-8:30 p.m. E Street Plaza. 207 F. St. Davis. 530-757-5602. cityofdavis.org

Roseville

Nov. 30 Roseville will channel Disneyland as snow in the form of bubbles fills the air during its annual tree lighting event. Decorate Christmas cookies, grab some hot chocolate and take youngsters to a kids zone, where they can tackle a climbing wall, obstacle courses and other outdoor activities. Thousands of lights will illuminate the tree in the Vernon Street Town Square shortly after 6 p.m. Free. 6-8 p.m. Vernon Street Town Square. 311 Vernon St. Roseville. 772-7529. roseville.ca.us

West Sacramento

Dec. 1 To ring in the holiday season, West Sacramento will celebrate its annual Winter Wonderland tree lighting ceremony, replete with falling snow and performances from school bands, choirs and the BlyueRose Dance Project. Decorate sugar cookies and other holiday crafts, sip hot chocolate, and line up for a meet and greet with Santa, who will arrive on a fire truck. A West Sacramento councilmember will light the city’s 50-foot-tall Christmas tree at 7 p.m. Free. 6-9 p.m. West Sacramento Civic Center. 1110 Capitol Ave. 371-7042. cityofwestsacramento.org

Visit with residents of the North Pole during Elk Grove's Dickens Street Faire and tree lighting event. (Photo courtesy of the City of Elk Grove)Visit with residents of the North Pole during Elk Grove’s Dickens Street Faire and tree lighting event. (Photo courtesy of the City of Elk Grove)

El Dorado Hills

Dec. 2 El Dorado Hills Town Center will teem with activities and the sounds of carolers during the city’s 11th annual Christmas tree lighting. Drink hot chocolate and snack on cookies and kettle corn as you wander through nearby shops, which will be open for the evening. Little ones can participate in the fifth annual “Stuff Your Stocking” game and watch as a city fire truck carries Santa into the Theater Plaza to light the tree at about 6:30 p.m. Free. 4-8 p.m. El Dorado Hills Town Center. 2085 Vine St. El Dorado Hills. 933-3013. edhtowncenter.com

Fair Oaks

Dec. 2 Plaza Park in Fair Oaks will transform into a festive Yuletide scene for the city’s 34th Christmas in the Village celebration, featuring a gingerbread house display, holiday ukulele jingles from the River City Ukes, arts and crafts at Santa’s workshop booth and a parade of lights along Fair Oaks Boulevard. Attendees can also sip hot cider, get crafty at wreath and Yule log decorating workshops and nab some selfies with the man in red before the park’s tree is lit around 6 p.m. Free. 3-7 p.m. Fair Oaks Village. 4238 Main St. Fair Oaks. 966-1036. fairoakschamber.com

Rocklin

Dec. 2 Rocklin’s historic Quarry District will host its annual tree lighting festivities in front of the charming, whitewashed Old St. Mary’s Chapel, built in 1883. Go for a wagon or train ride, listen to carolers, visit with costumed characters in Victorian attire, and munch on hot dogs, chili, popcorn and cookies. Kids can tell Santa their favorite gift wishes and take a hop or two inside bounce houses. The tree lighting ceremony is at 7 p.m. Free. 4-7 p.m. Old St. Mary’s. 5251 Front St. Rocklin. rocklintreelighting.org

St. Nick and Mrs. Claus will light the tree at El Dorado Hills Town Center on Dec. 2. (Photo courtesy of El Dorado Hills Town Center)St. Nick and Mrs. Claus will light the tree at El Dorado Hills Town Center on Dec. 2. (Photo courtesy of El Dorado Hills Town Center)

Carmichael

Dec. 7 Bring a canned good to benefit the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services and receive a pass to take photos with Father Christmas at this tree lighting event in Carmichael Park. Kids can also browse booths with cookie decorating and face painting while parents nosh on dinner from local food trucks like Cecil’s Taste, Chando’s Tacos and Bacon Mania. Everyone will gather at 6:15 p.m. around a grand 60-foot-tall redwood tree for the night’s main event. Free. 5-8 p.m. Carmichael Park. 5750 Grant Ave. Carmichael. 485-5322. carmichaelpark.com

Downtown Sacramento

Dec. 7 A 65-foot-tall white fir tree, sourced from a state forest near Redding, arrived on the lawn in front of the State Capitol’s west steps on Nov. 6 and will soon be decorated with about 10,000 LED bulbs, as well as hundreds of handcrafted ornaments that were donated from the California Department of Developmental Services. Gov. Jerry Brown and first lady Ann Gust Brown will set the tree aglow during this 86th annual lighting ceremony, which is hosted by Kitty O’Neal of KFBK and will feature a performance by St. Paul’s Baptist Church choir. Free. 4-10 p.m. West Steps of the State Capitol. 10th St. and Capitol Mall. seecalifornia.com

CSU to eliminate remedial courses, aims graduation rates increase

This article was originally published on StateHornet.com on Aug. 30, 2017. Featured photo was by Nicole Fowler for The State Hornet. I created the infographic below by using Infogram.


The California State University system plans to eliminate all math and English placement exams along with remedial courses by fall 2018 in an executive order issued on Aug. 2.

The Executive Order 1110, signed by Chancellor Timothy White, directs all 23 CSU campuses to stop using the English Placement Test and Entry Level Math scores to pinpoint students’ college-level readiness in the two subjects.

As of this month, a new approach will instead rely on each student’s high school grade-point average, grades earned in math and English; ACT, SAT and Advanced Placement scores; and Smarter Balanced assessments to determine whether incoming freshmen should be placed in remedial courses.

Last fall, about 28 percent of CSU freshmen were placed in remedial math and 23 percent in English during the school year.

Cal State spokesperson Elizabeth Chapin said that by fall 2018, students who need additional academic assistance will enroll in credit-bearing classes while receiving support on the side, which is an attempt to allow those students to earn graduation units like others, save money and obtain their degrees faster.

Source-California-State-University-3-1-768x850

The executive order is another step forward for Graduation Initiative 2025, a system-wide plan that aims to increase four-year graduation rate from 19 to 40 percent by 2025, according to Chapin.

“(Cal State) is changing remedial education to give students opportunities to be more successful in college,” Chapin said. “By not receiving the full 30 units that first year really decreases the likelihood that they’re going to persevere through the rest of their time in college.”

The executive order will also affect the Early Start Program, a series of remedial classes offered to under-prepared students to take over the summer instead of during the school year.

By summer 2019, all ESP classes will be offered with credit toward graduation.

English department Chair David Toise said that the new policy will not affect his department as much since all English classes at Sacramento State are credit-bearing—except for ENGL 1, a basic writing skills course offered every spring semester to a number of students who aren’t prepared for the yearlong ENGL 10, 10M and 11, as well as ENGL 5.

Assistant Math Learning Skills professor Ravin Pan said in an email to The State Hornet that he is worried that a well-structured support system for these students will be removed with the new policy.

“The math department and the Center for College Readiness, have been working with the local high schools and community colleges to solve this (remediation) issue,” Pan said. “(It is) a much longer process to reduce remediation, but sets up the structure to fix other issues.”

During fall 2015, then-freshman communication studies major Adrianna Fletes was required to take at least one semester of MLSK 7A for no graduation credit based on her low ELM score.

It took Fletes — now a junior — two attempts to pass the course before becoming eligible to take MATH 1, a three-unit mathematical reasoning class.

“That first semester was difficult, especially as someone who was new to college and my MLSK professor wasn’t too attentive compared to my second semester’s professor,” Fletes said. “It just depends on who you have to help you prepare for higher level classes.”

Math professor Sarah Ives said that the student demographic that enroll in remedial classes tend to skew toward underrepresented minorities and people of color, in addition to students who were ill-prepared by their high schools.

“As an instructor for these courses, I find it to be fairly difficult to accommodate all groups of students based on their personal experience with math,” Ives said. “Personally, I’d try to keep the pace of my class similar to the pace of the rest of the campus, but at the same time, I don’t want to leave students behind.”

Ives has worked in Texas and North Carolina, and said she’s been “wanting this change to happen” here at Cal State and believes that students who aren’t academically ready for math and English at the college level should still belong in college.

“I have always believed that remediation isn’t just a Sac State issue, but mutually shared among the K-12 and community colleges,” Pan said. “Now, I really don’t know how this policy will affect our work, but I’m wondering if we as a nation have given up on ‘algebra.’ ”

‘Finish in Four’ turns 1: Has it been effective?

This article was originally published on StateHornet.com on Sept. 13, 2017. Featured photo was by Nicole Fowler for The State Hornet. I created the infographic below by using Canva.


Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen said in his fall address Aug. 24 that the Finish in Four initiative has positively affected the university’s graduation rates despite the program having only been in place for one school year.

“Finish in Four” began in fall 2016 as a Sac State commitment to help incoming freshmen earn their degrees within four or six years, and transfer students within two, by offering incentives like discounts on summer classes and campus products, as well as more academic advising sessions.

RELATED: Editorial: It is too early to tell the success of Finish in Four when it’s only been in effect for 1 school year

In return, students must sign a pledge to enroll in at least 15 units per semester to be on track to reach 120 units to graduate — a plan that Nelsen hopes would raise the four-year graduation rate from 8.3 percent to 30 percent by 2025.

Nelsen also mentioned in the address that 64 percent of freshmen signed the pledge during the program’s first year, while 84 percent signed this fall.

Sidebar-infographic

The program also helped usher in at least six new academic advisors, 89 new faculty members, and more than 12,000 added seats in 658 new course sections throughout all departments.

Executive Director of University Initiatives and Student Success Jim Dragna said that the plan is working and the university is progressing to reach that 2025 goal, as there was a 12.5 percent increase from 51.6 percent to 64.1 percent of freshmen enrolling in more than 15 units during their first semester.

“The difficulty here at Sacramento State was over the last 30 years, we have really balanced between 8 and 10 percent of students being able to graduate in four years,” Dragna said. “And that needle hasn’t moved much in recent years.”

He also said the university determined the effectiveness of Finish in Four by examining how many students enrolled in the program are on track for their second year and other data.

One of the program’s main objectives is to be more proactive by using this data. Dragna, who is known as the “graduation czar” for his focus on increasing graduation rates, said Sac State has always examined the rates post-graduations, and then complained about how low they were.

Part of being more proactive includes shifting the “campus culture” by showing support at all times, such as academic advisors reaching out to students throughout the semester.

A total of 2,347 freshmen committed to taking at least 30 units during the 2016-17 school year, and one of them was now-sophomore psychology major Gina Gargano, who said that she’s expecting to finish in four because of the pledge, in addition to being in the honors program.

“I don’t take any more classes than I currently have or am required to so that’s a relief,” Gargano said. “I really don’t want to extend the amount of time that I’m here (at Sac State).”

For freshmen like electrical engineering major Nicholas Johnson and pre-biology major Aliyah Penn, there’s a newfound pressure to get through college within four years by being bound to the contract.

“The contract is like a reality check,” Johnson said. “Being to able to sign something physically kind of keeps it in the back of your head to follow the requirement every semester.”

Penn also said that being a pre-biology major can make it hard to get classes, but with Finish in Four’s incentives, she could use the $1,000 discount on summer courses to take up more units to be on track for graduation.

Even with the program’s rigorous assistance effort, Dragna said only 50 percent of the total freshmen enrolled completed 15 units for fall 2016, and there was a 10 percent increase in the number of those who are progressing into their second year this fall.

Sophomore social work major Paula Melissa is one of the many students who did not complete the first year requirement and is no longer in the program.

“Spring semester was tough,” Melissa said. “It was a hard first year especially with the whole transition, having to live away from home and dealing with financial problems. I failed a couple of classes as a result of that.”

Melissa said she’s now working to finish this 12-unit semester with good grades to get back on the Finish in Four program and graduate within four years.

Pelosi, Matsui, local officials call for Dream Act passage at Sac State conference

This article was originally published on StateHornet.com on Sept. 19, 2017. Claire Morgan received co-byline, with additional reporting by Will Moon. All photos were by Matthew Nobert.


House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Doris Matsui joined a group of local legislators and Sacramento State leaders for a news conference Monday urging Congress to pass the Dream Act.

Pelosi and Matsui both delivered speeches at the event — hosted by Associated Students, Inc. — iterating the importance of the Dream Act, which would grant legal status, and eventually permanent residency, to recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), according to Congress’s website.

Matsui said in her speech that the legislation is the first step toward a comprehensive immigration reform that would streamline the process of becoming a U.S. citizen for those who came to the country without documents.

(Follow Twitter profiles of Vu Chau and Will Moon for more tweets from the event)

“Dreamers are counting on us to do the right thing and stand by our values,” Matsui said.

Pelosi began her speech echoing the attitude of Dream Act supporters: a clean pass.

“A clean bipartisan Dream Act pass (is) really important to our dreamers, but it’s also important to our country,” Pelosi said. “Who are we as a country that we would not recognize how important it is for us to be enhanced, exhilarated, invigorated by our dreamers to our country?”

Standing alongside Pelosi and Matsui at the conference were Associated Students, Inc. President Mia Kagianas, Sac State President Robert Nelsen, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Congressman Ami Bera, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty and other local legislators.

A few Dreamers were also given center stage to tell their stories. One of whom was Oswaldo Hernandez, a DACA recipient and Sac State alumnus.

Hernandez described his experience of suffering from a chronic illness and said that if he is deported, he may not be able to afford his medication and treatments.

“They call us Dreamers, but our ability to dream was taken away from us,” Hernandez said. “We have to stay awake and we have to make plans for tomorrow. The passage of the Dream Act would allow me to dream for once.” (Story continues below photo)

Pelosi made her first stop Monday in San Francisco and was faced with a group of more than 60 young people who chanted pro-immigrant slogans like “all of us or none of us” and “we are not a bargaining chip” at a separate news conference.

After the event at Sac State, Pelosi said to the press that these protesters acted out of fear of not knowing what their future will hold.

“We’re in this fight to win for the Dreamers,” Pelosi said. “We (lawmakers) are disrupters ourselves, so we recognize (why they protested) and respect it in others.”

Pelosi then said that showcasing Dreamers will not only benefit themselves, but also their parents, as she wants to reflect the teaching values these young individuals received through “how beautifully they were raised.”

“We will not rest until we have competence in immigration reform,” Pelosi said. “But we must protect the parents as much as we protect the children.”

For senior sociology major Rossmeri Ramirez, this sentiment hits close to home. As a former DACA recipient, Ramirez said she still has many family members and friends impacted by the Dream Act. She said attending events like the news conference was, for her, a way to put a spotlight on an almost-perpetual problem in American society.

“I’m here to support,” Ramirez said. “I’d just like to see how our representatives and elected officials react to this problem the country is facing.”

Like Ramirez, sophomore liberal studies major Ashley Arias said family is also a strong motivation for her passion to see the Dream Act passed and hopes that the event will help her understand the problem at an even deeper level.

“(I’m here) to become more knowledgeable about what’s going on in our society, and I want to back up (my arguments) and inform others who don’t know much about the situation” Arias said.

As a student representative, Kagianas said that she hopes a strong showing of public leaders will allow her peers to learn about the significance of the Dream Act.

“This is an extremely important event to our community and to ensure the safety of all of our students at Sac State, including our undocumented students and students from mixed-status families,” Kagianas said. “I took a vow to support all our students, and this is where I’m meant to be.”

The message of unity continued post-conference as Matsui said to The State Hornet, Democratic lawmakers — local, state and federal — are “very much in support of” Dreamers.

“I think we’re all lucky that we’re living in a community where people feel very much like ‘We want people to be here to feel like they belong,’ “ Matsui said. “If you look at the city of Sacramento and you look at the people who are here, you can see that they’re all in. They’re neighbors.”