Social Mobility Is Focus of National Symposium at CSUSM
By Brian Hiro
Ellen Neufeldt has been passionate about social mobility since long before it became a popular buzzword on college campuses across the country.
At Old Dominion University, where she served as vice president for Student Engagement and Enrollment Services, Neufeldt helped found the first center for social mobility in the nation and she launched a symposium dedicated to the topic. The inaugural event in 2018 featured only 30 people sitting around a conference table.
Much has changed since then. Neufeldt is now entering her fourth year as president of Cal State San Marcos after moving from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast. But social mobility remains near and dear to her heart.
On June 23-24, CSUSM, in partnership with Old Dominion, hosted the fifth annual National Social Mobility Symposium. About 125 people from around the country gathered in the University Student Union over two days to discuss how universities can best support the social mobility of their students and the recovery and growth of their service communities.
“Today we are continuing this very important conversation,” Neufeldt said in remarks to kick off the symposium on June 23. “Because we know that while we have collectively made great strides, we can never stop striving to do more for our students and the communities we serve.”
The emcee of the symposium was Wenda Fong, the new chair of the Board of Trustees for the 23-campus California State University system. Fong is a Los Angeles-based television executive who has produced a variety of shows, specials and live events for four decades.
She spoke movingly of her family’s immigration to the United States from China more than a century ago and how higher education was the golden ticket that allowed generations of family members to thrive, including Fong herself. Through the CSU, she said, “students from all walks of life have access to an affordable, high-quality education that will forever change their lives and transform family trees.”
“I understand the power that advocates, mentors and support networks have in helping young people work toward their goals and reach their fullest potential,” Fong said. “I have seen that power on display throughout my career, and I see that transformative power today in my work with the CSU.”
The keynote speaker at the event was Wil Del Pilar, vice president of higher education policy and practice for The Education Trust, a national nonprofit that works to close opportunity gaps that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income families. Del Pilar discussed the intersection of social mobility and college rankings – whether the influential rankings by publications like U.S. News and World Report reflect the purpose of higher education or just reproduce existing inequities.
The symposium also featured a panel of presidents from universities across the U.S. who shared insights and best practices related to student success.
The lead sponsor of the National Social Mobility Symposium was Stone Brewing. Its co-founder, Steve Wagner, recently gave $1 million to CSUSM to establish a fund to support social mobility, which is a core tenet of the university’s new strategic plan.
Brian Hiro, Communications Specialist
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