Mahatma Gandhi had a saying that he used to mobilize millions of poor people in India to gain independence: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
James Fowler, professor of political science and medical genetics at UC San Diego, told thousands of new freshmen and transfer students gathered at Welcome Convocation Tuesday that they should have a slightly different mantra: “Be the change you wish to see in your network."
As part of his faculty keynote address on RIMAC Field, Fowler spoke about his research on social networks, the power they yield and how they allow one individual to have an impact on hundreds and potentially thousands of other people.
Convocation, which headlined the more than 150 Welcome Week activities, is the university’s ceremony to mark the official entrance of new freshmen and transfer students to the campus community.
Fowler’s address was preceded by a video presentation featuring Suresh Subramani, Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs; Carrol Padden, Dean of the Division of Social Sciences; and Juan González, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, all of whom encouraged the new students to dream big, strive for excellence and enjoy their college experience.
The video was followed by a welcome from Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla, who spoke about resources available to students to ensure they have a positive college experience.
“Our goal is to provide you with the opportunities and education that will make you successful both here at UC San Diego and after you graduate,” Khosla said. “We will provide you with a world-class education and do everything we can to ensure you have the best possible student experience.”
Fowler, who researches social networks, behavior, evolution, politics, genetics and big data, outlined ways in which students can enrich their undergraduate experience at UC San Diego by being a positive influence on others.
“Social networks have been a passion of mine,” Fowler said. “And when I say social networks what do you think about—Twitter, Myspace, Facebook? I am not talking about Facebook. I am talking about real, face-to-face social networks.”
He added, “There are dozens of people in your life who have probably had a profound impact on you. I want to turn this in the other direction. Those people who have been influential to you, you might have been as influential on them.”
He encouraged students to create their own social network at UC San Diego and to realize their network power.
“We not only influence our friends, we influence friends of friends,” Fowler said. “Even if you have five close friends, those friends may have five other friends and so on…you can have an impact on hundreds of people…Each person you make healthier can make others healthier too. We are not in it alone.”
Fowler was recently named to the to Politico50 list of "thinkers, doers and dreamers who really matter in this age of gridlock and dysfunction.” A fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, Fowler has also been named one of Foreign Policy's Top 100 Global Thinkers and TechCrunch's Most Innovative People in Democracy. He has also appeared on The Colbert Report.
In addition to Fowler, students were also welcomed by alumnus Dan Santat, who earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from UC San Diego in 1998. He now has a career as a writer and illustrator of children books and animated shows.
Santat spoke about the importance of following your passion and doing work that you enjoy. He also shared his personal story and how although his parents encouraged him to be a doctor, he decided to choose to study the arts instead.
“Do what you love and the work will find you,” he said. “The thing you love to do is probably the thing you do best.”
Santat is the author and illustrator of Sidekicks and the winner of the Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators for Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World). He is also the creator of the Disney animated hit, “The Replacements.”
“My first job out of art school was making art for video games and as the years went on, I was lucky enough to have some amazing opportunities,” he said. “I have worked with the Beastie Boys. I created my own Disney cartoon, I was even offered a very lucrative job as a creative director for Google. I didn’t take the job because I don’t do art for the money. I do it because it makes me happy.”
Santat also encouraged students to take risks and to take time to get to know themselves while in college.
“Even if you know for certain that you want to be a doctor or an engineer, I still recommended that you go out there and try something new,” he said. “Take some chances! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I can’t promise you fame or riches, but I can tell you that if you follow your heart, you will be happy.”
Following the keynote addresses, students flocked to the picnic area on RIMAC field where they were offered a dinner and opportunities to meet staff and faculty from the campus’s academic departments.