A Farewell Interview with Penny Rue
Photos by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications
Vice Chancellor – Student Affairs Penny Rue has been at UC San Diego for nearly six years, and will depart from her post at the end of June. Since arriving in September 2007, she has worked to ensure the well-being of students, strengthen the sense of community on campus, increase opportunities for students outside the classroom, and promote diversity, equity and inclusion. As she wraps up her tenure, she talks about the evolution of UC San Diego’s student experience and what she’ll miss most about our region and our campus.
How has the student experience changed over the past five years?
While it is true that our students are intently academically focused, our participation in student organizations, in community service programs and in campus traditions has sky-rocketed. Students have moved from participation to ownership, and they feel they have a real stake in creating a welcoming and lively campus community.
Students from historically underrepresented groups continue to grow in their sense of agency and ability to advocate for their communities. While their percentages are small, their impact is enormous. They are living out one of my mantras—that you can create the world in which you want to live.
How will it continue to change?
UC San Diego is distinctive in its transformative experience, especially for low-income students. We have the highest proportion of Pell-eligible students of any highly selective university in the country—by far. That makes us especially distinctive. Our students are the embodiment of the American dream. They will go on to create ideas, to create jobs and to create a world better than they found.
Why was it important for UC San Diego to start new student traditions on campus, such as Founders’ Day, Hullabaloo, Family and Siblings Weekends and the All Campus Graduation Celebration?
Students develop a sense of community by participating in shared experiences that convey important values and communicate that we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves. Convocation is perhaps the best example of our new traditions. That rite of passage conveys that they belong, that they are members of a very special community. Experiencing a sense of community leads to feelings of membership and belonging, and these perceptions help create Tritons for Life. A strong student experience creates a stronger alumni connection, which in turn strengthens UC San Diego going forward.
What is the one piece of advice that you give to all students?
I want every student to find a niche—some part of the campus experience that fits them like a glove. It is both their holding environment and their launching pad. I ask students to find out how they are like all other students here, what binds them together as Tritons. I ask them to discover how they are like some other students here—what is their niche. And I ask them to realize how they are like no other student here—what sets them apart and makes them truly unique. When they can do all three, we have truly succeeded. Oh—and I tell them, it’s a sign of strength to ask for help. No one is supposed to do this alone!
What has been your favorite part of being Vice Chancellor – Student Affairs at UC San Diego?
The thing I have loved most is that nobody said, “But we’ve always done it this way.” Instead, the message was, “Let’s give it a whirl!” I came with a few high priorities—creating community, enhancing diversity and advancing student well-being. They all have seen progress. And I love how many willing partners I’ve discovered along the journey.
What are you going to miss about UC San Diego and San Diego in general?
I’m going to miss so much. In terms of San Diego, I live near Balboa Park and every weekend I spend some time traversing its beautiful spaces. I love that I can garden 12 months a year, and that it never gets really hot, or humid. I’m a beach bum at heart, so I will miss how easy it is to unplug, walk the beach or catch a sunset. I love how friendly and casual Californians are.
In terms of campus, I so admire the way discovery is in our DNA. I try to attend lectures and symposia that showcase the ground-breaking work that is done in every field. I love the way the natural world is in and around us. I love the Snake Path and the Bear. So, while I will read This Week @ UC San Diego and stay in touch with many people, I’ll miss being a part of daily life here.
Most of all, I will miss our students. They are entrepreneurial, creative, activist, demanding, dedicated and ambitious. They make me laugh, they make me cry, they inspire me, they humble me and they challenge me. The future of America is right here, right now. I’m not sure the rest of the country realizes just what a vibrant multicultural world California has become. If you work with these students, it’s an easy task to be an optimist about our collective future. They are changing the world for the better, and I’m glad to have played a small part in helping them succeed.