CSU Alumni

March 20, 2013 Board of Trustees Report

President Guy Heston reports on behalf of the Alumni Council and alumna Rebecca Mieliwocki shares her experience serving as the 2012 National Teacher of the Year. Rebecca is an alumna of both Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and CSU Northridge.


The transcript below is a slightly edited version of the live captioning that accompanied the Board of Trustees meeting.

Chair Linscheid:
Next we will have a report from the CSU Alumni Council. Guy Heston.

Guy Heston:
Thank you. As you mentioned, we had a successful event earlier this month in New York City. We want to particularly thank the presidents who attended. We want to thank Chancellor White for his welcoming remarks and Trustees Farar and Glazer for being there and a special alumni shout out to President García from Fullerton for her great assistance in helping us put this event together.

I would like to share the launch of our 2013 edition of our Working for California booklet. You have it in front of you. It highlights CSU alumni who are leaders in California's key industries. We provided you a copy of the book containing seven alumni selected from among the nearly 200 alumni profiled on the Working for California website and we invite you all to go there and hear the stories of very successful CSU alumni. These alumni were selected because of their key leadership roles. They are featured in the poster boards on the lobby and in display in front of the Governor's Office in June. And I might add that at last week’s Advocacy Day in Sacramento, Alumni Council representatives had the opportunity to distribute the booklet to legislators from across the state and discuss the importance of proper funding and support for the CSU system.

We are extremely fortunate to have with us today one of our Working for California alumni. We often focus on the impact our alumni make in California, but today I am proud and honored to introduce you to someone who made a national impact. California State University is a leader in producing teachers. More than half of the teachers in this state are CSU alumni. But the university is renowned not just for the number of teachers it produces, but the quality of those teachers.

There is no greater example of this than Rebecca Mieliwocki who is with us today and thank you for being here. Rebecca is a graduate from both CSU Northridge and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She was selected from the 3.2 million teachers as the National Teacher of the Year. She was recognized by President Obama in a ceremony at the White House for her excellence in educating our children. Rebecca teachers seventh grade English at Luther Burbank Middle School and has traveled across the country and the world as an ambassador for her profession and we are deeply honored to have her with us today. We’ve asked her to tell us about the impact the California State University has had on her life. Rebecca.

Rebecca Mieliwocki:
Can you hear me now? All right. So despite being a thoroughly California girl I have come a long way to be with you today. I have come to you from Amsterdam in Holland where I was on Sunday, and then I took two days in Palm Springs to collapse with my family and I got up at 4:00 this morning to come your way and I was struck how different 4:00 a.m. is in both places. 4:00 a.m. in Amsterdam -- there is a lot going on, most of which we can't talk about. But in La Quinta at 4:00 a.m.—nothing. [Laughter]

I wanted to thank you for asking me to be here today and recognizing the great accomplishments and highly qualified interesting people that come out of the CSU system. I am very grateful, and I am more grateful to be recognized for my teaching. At a time California is beset with unique economic issues and troubles and many places in the state and most school districts were beleaguered with budget cuts and despite all of that phenomenal teaching was going on across the state, and to be recognized for that and be held up as a model for others was a proud moment for me. I know you talked about doing more with less and that is the hallmark of a great teacher. You can take little and turn it into something amazing and incredible, so to be recognized and noticed, and held up as an example for other teachers and a role model for them makes me proud.

In my year of recognition which started in 2012 and I know it's 2013 and that makes me a has-been, but I have two more months and they sent me everywhere on the planet. All across the United States. I have been to 28 different U.S. states and to seven countries by the time I am done. I have been to Japan and Russia and Singapore and Australia and Holland, Netherlands and I have also spoken to legislators and community members and little people and veteran teachers and retired teachers and the Lion's Club.

I just talked to everybody about this great work that teachers do in this country, and one of the things that stood out when I traveled internationally they send me to the nations to get some context for the international comparisons that U.S. schools are constantly held up to, and they wanted me to see the top schools in the planet, so I could see for myself what they're doing that makes them number one, and that is important to have when you're an educator, so I looked for the greener grass and hoping to find out what the magic was, what the secret was, and I was going to bring it back and share it with the world. People said "It's simple. They teach to the test. They don't do what we do." And that can't be it. That's too simplistic. I am sure the answer is more complicated than that, and I got to the number one schools and I saw what people warned me about. I saw interesting things for sure, but I didn't come away from that experience very impressed, very jealous, very envious and every place I went -- not kidding, we were the envy of the planet.

They wanted to know how do we do what we do? How do we turn out students capable and confident and amazing communicators who like to collaborate and innovate and have that sense of urgency that is uniquely American. I want it all and I want it now -- in fact I want it yesterday. They want to know how we do that. They wouldn't let me out of their sight until I told them, and I was never more proud coming home from all of these countries, more proud of my colleagues that I work with, and how we educate and prepare kids for the future, so I hoped to see something that we could replicate and instead I came home wanting to pat every educator on the back. Keep it going. This is the right stuff. This is sustainable. Their model isn't, and so the reason I am able to be that kind of educator for my students, those seventh graders, those 12 year olds who are a hot mess and I love them.

The reason I am able to do that is because I model what I know and what I was taught.

I am a proud product of California schools from preschool to my last class at Cal State Northridge. I am a proud product of the schools, and I was taught by the best and given so much responsibility and opportunity and expectations through the roof, and one of the things I took from Cal Poly, which is my alma mater and where I earned my degree in speech communication, was their credo of learn by doing. I took that right to my classroom. I make my kids do everything. They have all the responsibility. They're in the driving seat and that's the ticket. When you give kids things to do and show what they know and their skills you see the future being built before your very eyes and that didn't come from me. That came from you and my experiences at the university.

Every single member of my family went to a CSU. I think we're on a grand tour. My dad went to San Francisco State and then Cal Poly. My mom went to Sonoma State University, I have a sister that went to San Diego State and Humboldt State University. And my son harbors these crazy expectations of going to UCLA and I never heard it. He's going to Cal Poly whether he likes it or not. [Laughter] President Armstrong, where are you? We might need to put up a little sign that says UCLA but once he gets there we rip it off. He will go there whether he likes it or not.

I am thankful for recognizing me today, but more for turning me into the teacher I am here today. My experiences at the CSU did that. I am incredibly mindful about the obligation I have to nurture and prepare every successive generation of kids to compete in this beautiful world that is global in nature and innovative and requires creativity and the ability to think critically.

I am so, so obligated to make sure that kids can meet every challenge that faces them and so in order to do that I need to not just teach, but I need to have courage. I need to be a visionary leader in my profession. I need to have open clear dialogue with my leaders and ask them to help lead me in the profession. I need to make sure we encourage every educator to be a leader in the profession and elevate the profession in doing so for the changes that are coming.

I thank you for having me here today. I am a humble grateful person and never more so than a day like today so thank you very much. [Applause]

Guy Heston:
Thank you very much Rebecca for being with us today and sharing your CSU story. As a symbol of our appreciation I would like to ask President Harrison from CSU Northridge and President Armstrong from Cal Poly to join us at the podium and we are going to present a commendation to Rebecca on behalf of the Alumni Council. [Applause]