Remarks by Dr. Jolene Koester - September 23, 2022

President Richard Yao Investiture Ceremony, September 23, 2022
Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester
Chancellor's Remarks (as prepared)

Thank you, Chair Fong, and good morning!

A little more than one year ago, Dr. Yao gathered a few members of his leadership team and traveled to Santa Rosa Island, about 40 miles off this gorgeous coastline and part of the island chain for which this extraordinary university is named. The purpose of the trip was to meet with National Park Service leaders to engage in important long-term planning for the Santa Rosa Island Research Station that provides such vital research and experiential learning opportunities for Channel Islands students.

The intense and high-level discussions continued through a working lunch on the beach. But Rich's attention was uncharacteristically diverted by a group of seals. He politely excused himself, saying, “I'm sorry, but I am going to need a moment. I've never had lunch with elephant seals before!"

After a time in reverie, Rich shared that he had been in the middle of the kind of profound, place-based experience that he hoped to provide Channel Islands' students, reminding the group, “That's why we're here."

He intentionally allowed himself to viscerally and humbly connect with the place with the experience and, ultimately, with the students he serves.

On the way home from that trip, Rich learned through a colleague that a member of the boat's crew was, coincidentally, a former Channel Islands student who had stopped out just shy of his degree due to pandemic-related challenges. Rich immediately introduced himself to the former student and spoke quietly to him for a bit not as a university president but simply as one man to a younger man to learn about the particular challenges he faced, to offer support and to extend an open invitation to meet again on campus to discuss a path forward.

Of course, this is just a snapshot. Just one day.

But in reality for Dr. Yao it is every day.

Days that begin jaw-droppingly early and often include a pre-dawn run through campus. Rich makes a point of stopping to chat with members of the grounds crew (the only others up at that hour), taking the time to get to know them personally, checking in on their well-being and always reminding them how their work directly and positively impacts the entire CSUCI community by creating a safe and beautiful environment in which to live, learn and work.

Making meaningful personal connections isn't just part of Rich's daily work. He has imbued the practice into the campus culture, challenging faculty and staff to make a difference every day by showing they care about Channel Islands' students as human beings, so that students feel welcomed, valued, respected and inspired to successes they may never have imagined possible.

Now I don't want to give the impression that Rich leads strictly with his compassionate heart and extraordinary humanity. I am sure there are hundreds of current and former colleagues here today who can attest to Dr. Yao's near-legendary commitment to data-informed decision-making. He is more than at home in the data and the detail. It is his happy place. And it is one of the reasons that he has such an impressive track record of effective strategic planning and developing innovative academic programming and student support strategies.

This is perhaps Dr. Yao's greatest gift as an educational leader. He is a leader who can dig into the numbers– asking the hard questions, refining and enhancing success strategies, assessing their results and pushing for continuous improvement. And he is the rare leader who can do those things while simultaneously seeing the big picture, always considering the human impact, always remembering – as he did that day on Santa Rosa Island – that's why we're here.

The term “servant-leader" is thrown around loosely, so much so that it has lost some of its essential meaning. According to the founder of the servant leadership movement, Robert K. Greenleaf, the key lies in the order of the two words: servant, leader. The true servant leader is driven first by the deep desire – an innate impulse – to serve – to help others to become wiser, healthier, freer, and perhaps to one day become servants themselves. What follows that impulse to serve is the conscious choice to lead.

That defines the true servant leader. That defines Dr. Richard Yao. That's why he's here.

Thank you.

Dr. Yao, will you please join me at the podium?

By the authority granted to me by the trustees of the California State University, I hereby invest you, Dr. Richard Yao, with the office of president of California State University Channel Islands, with all of the honors, privileges and, most important, the authority, responsibilities and accountability pertaining thereto.


Ladies and gentlemen, it is indeed an honor to present to you, President Richard Yao!