Remarks by Dr. Jolene Koester - February 10, 2023

President Vanya Quiñones Investiture Ceremony, February 10, 2023
Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester
CSUMB Investiture Ceremony Remarks (as prepared)

Thank you, Chair Fong…and good afternoon! And a special thank you to Nilda Quiñones for sharing your very special daughter with all of us. You did well! And thanks also to Uncles José and Jonhy. What a beautiful family.

Among the plaques and trinkets and family photos decorating her office, Dr. Vanya Quiñones keeps a picture of a cow. Not just any cow, mind you. A very special cow. Daisy – a fine specimen who lives on her uncle's dairy farm in Puerto Rico.

Vanya has said that she likes to look at that photo every once in a while, because – one – it's calming…the blissful bovine clearly doesn't have a care in the world, and – two – she's a pretty darned fabulous cow.

But there's more to it than that. That photo, she has said, grounds her in memories of her family, her proud heritage, her personal and professional journey, and her enduring core values that have coalesced to make her exactly the right person to serve as the fourth president of California State University, Monterey Bay.

Vanya, as she likes us to call her, was born in Arecibo, a small beach town in Puerto Rico where she spent summers on her grandparents' farm. She was raised to understand and appreciate the values of family: faith, pride, and the paramount importance of working together for the good of the farm, no matter one's age or station.

Her family also instilled in the bright and inquisitive Vanya a deep regard for education – so she jumped at the opportunity to attend the University of Puerto Rico. Earning both bachelor's and master's degrees, as well as eventually a Ph.D. from Rutgers University, Dr. Quiñones went on to become a renowned neurobiologist, biopsychologist and researcher – as well as one of the only females – one of the only women of color – in the field of neuroscience. As a pioneer in studying gender differences in human brains at New York's Rockefeller University, she insisted that women be included in any research.

Little did she know that her inherent curiosity and recognition of our differences as humans, her regard for the great discoveries and opportunities that come from diversity and her uncompromising standard for equity and inclusion would ultimately lead her here, into the world of higher education, where for the past two decades she has lived out her dream and mission of helping students of all backgrounds pursue their own dreams and come to see their own differences as superpowers.

And it is in this world that she has once again found family, proudly leading this exceptional university – a jewel of the Central Coast that has utterly transformed an aging army base into a vibrant, vital and growing campus, with more than 750 world-class faculty and staff and more than 7,000 diverse and talented students. Half of Monterey Bay's students are, like Dr. Quiñones, Latino, and more than half are women. And since she joined the university in August, Vanya has set out to hear from every last Otter.

Reflecting her deeply instilled understanding that each of us is important to “the good of the farm," she launched her tenure with a 100-day listening tour: talking with students, conferring with faculty and staff, meeting with community leaders and cheering from the stands – in the student section, of course – for every sports team. To strengthen campus spirit and pride, she even created and joined students in a fun new annual tradition: the Otter Plunge into the Pacific. Those who've met her routinely describe her as warm – although maybe not after the plunge – personable, refreshing and heartfelt. These traits support her strategy.

“The vision of the institution will not come from the president," she has said. “Our priorities will come from all of us."

Indeed, rather than arriving on campus with a long list of new goals, Dr. Quiñones is one of those rare leaders with the humility, grace and wisdom to honor and elevate Monterey Bay's unique strengths, and to join all of you in doubling down on its noble mission:

To remove barriers;

To nurture belonging and engagement;

To enrich Monterey Bay's extraordinary student experience through internships and service learning;

To partner with local industry to meet the region's unique workforce needs, in marine science, health care, agriculture, supply-chain distribution and more;

To support every student in achieving academic and career success;

And, above all, to be a model – and transformational – institution of higher education whose impact can and will be felt nationwide.  

These are lofty and weighty ambitions. But with your support and engagement – and the occasional appreciative glance at Daisy the cow – I have no doubt that Dr. Quiñones will lead CSU Monterey Bay to new heights.

And now for the best part.

I've relayed today how important family is to Vanya, so it is only fitting that I ask Vanya's family and “train friends" to 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. Vanya Quiñones, with the office of president of California State University, Monterey Bay, 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 Vanya Quiñones!