President Harris Engages University of the Third Age Audience

President Harris Engages University of the Third Age Audience

The University of the Third Age (U3A), the University of San Diego's longest-running community outreach program and considered one of the top educational offerings locally for people ages 55 and up, is celebrating its 40th anniversary during its three-week January and June sessions.

Earlier this week, USD President James T. Harris had his first opportunity to engage and speak to a U3A audience in the Warren Auditorium. Presenting on the topic of “The Last 40 Years and Envisioning 2024,” he focused on a mix of a few historic moments, observations and his thoughts on where the university is now and where it is heading strategically toward the 75th anniversary of its 1949 founding.

Moments of Impact on Campus

Harris touched on a few campus happenings as then United States Vice President Richard Nixon’s visit to San Diego College for Women and College for Men to participate in graduation exercises and the dedication of the Hall of Science building (now Serra Hall) in June 1959; Harris showed video footage of a 1988 campus visit by Mother Teresa (now Saint Teresa of Calcutta) to a crowd in excess of 6,000 people in Torero Stadium; and Harris delved into USD’s hosting of the presidential debate between incumbent Bill Clinton and Sen. Robert Dole and opportunities it presented to students, faculty and staff to be part of such an national publicity-generating event for the institution.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s words spoken resonated with Harris. He appreciated that hers “was a life lived that reflected our values as a university in recognizing the dignity of every person, especially the poor. She said, ‘In serving the poor, we’re serving God.’’ Harris also relayed a story he’d heard about when Teresa met with a small USD group during her visit: “Before you go to sleep at night, hold out your fingers and count what you’ve done that day for God.”

Another aspect of Harris’ talk was sharing his religious faith with the audience — he converted to Catholicism while in college, inspired by Pope John Paul II — and acknowledging the conversion to Catholicism is one commonality he had with USD’s inaugural president, the late Author “Art” Hughes, who served the university from 1971 to 1995. Harris shared a poignant video in which Hughes spoke on how converting to Catholicism helped shape his leadership path at a private Catholic institution and the mission and values it professes.

“It has to do with the way people are treated; having a respect for human dignity is the essence of Christ’s message. If we manifest that in a way we behave here, we’d be meeting the goals of a Catholic institution,” Hughes said in the video clip. “Along with the Sacraments, having the Masses and all of the things that are traditional in a parish, we use value orientation, and that’s what we mean by respect for human dignity. Personal values such as honesty, integrity, loyalty, truth, social values, peace and justice and having faith, believing in God.”

Envisioning USD’s Plan Toward 2024

Harris then turned to USD’s current focus, Envisioning 2024: Strategic Plan for USD. The Envisioning 2024 vision statement — “The University of San Diego sets the standard for an engaged, contemporary Catholic university where innovative Changemakers confront humanity's urgent challenges” — led into a quick overview of the five principles and six pathways that comprise the plan. There is slogan that’s been adopted for USD — following an extensive tour nationally and internationally when Harris first arrived in 2015-16 — came when an alumnus answered a question about how can USD promote our values, he said, “because the world needs Changemakers.”

Harris touched on USD’s entities on campus that make an impact in San Diego, such as the Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate, the Nonprofit Institute and the Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action, and our interest in hosting dialogues, educating and taking action on social issues such as homelessness, immigration, and looking at what role our Catholic institution should have in helping to strengthen relations at the U.S.-Mexico border, such as the Trans-Border Institute and entrepreneurial business events such as the Global Social Innovation Challenge and the V2 Pitch Competition.

“To be a great global university, we need to be a great local university,” Harris stated, as he showed a recent documentation of community engagement at USD in which more than 418,000 total hours were put in by the institution’s students, faculty, staff, through college courses, and spent working alongside USD community partners.

Harris finished his talk with data projections and research provided by Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management, Stephen Pultz, that figure to shape enrollment factors — demographic shifts, more first-generation college students, education affordability, impact of high school graduates from public and private institutions — in the next decade-plus.

Harris then answered questions from University of Third Age audience members. Questions ranged from how USD prioritizes its areas of academic growth, its commitment to a liberal arts education, if and how will USD handle student population growth, the importance of academics among USD’s athletics programs, the population percentage of female to male students; and considering the tuition cost to attend USD or comparable school, what results can USD show post-graduation for its students.

Harris answered each question, but he especially enjoyed answering the last question. In addition to statistics that indicate that the Career Development Center’s multiple resources are helping connect students to job and internship opportunities soon after college while other students are choosing to attend graduate schools, Harris enjoyed sharing with the U3A audience that two Torero graduates — Math alumnus Jonny Kim and Electrical Engineering alumnus Matthew Dominick — took what they learned at USD and are now applying it to new heights as two of 12 new NASA astronaut candidates, chosen among 18,000-plus applications.

— Ryan T. Blystone

Members of the January 2018 University of the Third Age audience listen intently during a presentation by USD President James T. Harris on Members of the January 2018 University of the Third Age audience listen intently during a presentation by USD President James T. Harris on "The Last 40 Years and Envision 2024."

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