Speaking before hundreds of members and friends of the Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce Thursday, President Framroze (Fram) Virjee described what his first few days as CSUF’s new leader have been like. He also spoke of the mission of the university, and how CSUF has built links with the Vietnamese community over the decades.
“I admit that it still shocks and kind of scares me every time I hear someone say that I am responsible for more than 4,000 educators and 40,000 students,” he told the crowd.
“But, on this, my 19th day on the job, I can’t wait for the students to arrive next week for the spring semester. The students are the reason I came to Cal State Fullerton.
“Like more than half of the 11,000 students that graduate from CSUF each year, I too, was the first in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree, and after watching all three of my own sons follow in my footsteps, and now dreaming of my five-month-old grandson becoming a Titan, I know first-hand that our work and partnerships transform not just lives, communities and businesses, but also — and perhaps more importantly — families and their legacy.”
Virjee went on to praise the value of public education.
“I am a product of public schools — high school, university and law school — and yet throughout my career, too often I’ve been separated from those most touched by education’s transformative power: students,” he said. “Whether it was representing K-12 schools, colleges and universities in private legal practice, or working for the past four years as the executive vice chancellor and general counsel for the California State University System and its 475,000 students, I was always working to champion students’ rights to access, quality and completion. However, I did not get the joy and energy of working closely with those students, day in and day out.”
When he taught graduate and law students, Virjee discovered that joy. “I enjoyed being with students; to feel their energy, promise and zest for learning and the future,” he said.
“That is why I’m here. I am committed. Committed to rolling up my sleeves and finding mutually beneficial ways to partner with all of you so the next generation of students has equitable access to succeed not only at our incredible university, but also in our businesses and communities, and in so doing, strengthen the diverse socio-economic fabric of our state and nation.”
Virjee also noted CSUF’s longtime connection with the Vietnamese community in Orange County, and specifically pointed out leaders in the chamber who are CSUF alumni: Tam Nguyen, president of Advance Beauty College and past chair of the chamber; Gia Ly, CEO of Arrow GTP and outgoing chamber chair; and Catherine Nguyen, senior vice president of Umpqua Bank and incoming chamber chair.
“But in light of tonight’s honorees and the entire Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce, I’d like to focus on the role the Cal State Fullerton plays as an Asian American and American Pacific Islander (API)-Serving Institution,” Virjee continued. “For instance, did you know that over the past 25 years, more than 25,000 API students have graduated from Cal State Fullerton? And since 1985, the year the Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce was founded, the number of API students has grown from nine percent to 20 percent of our student body? The number of API faculty and staff also has grown, so that today 20 percent of faculty and staff at CSUF identify as Asian American or Asian Pacific Islander, a testament to our efforts to ensure our student body — and the faculty and staff who serve them — are a direct reflection of the wonderfully supportive communities that surround us.”
Three years ago, the university opened the National Resource Center for Asian Languages, which focuses on developing material and resources, teacher training and promoting dual language immersion for less-commonly taught languages such as Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese and Japanese.
Two years ago, in partnership with the Westminster Unified School District — a community that is 40 percent Vietnamese — the center launched the first Vietnamese-English immersion program in California.
And, in March, CSUF will host its third annual “Titan Night Market,” a collaboration between its Asian Pacific American Resource Center and more than a dozen API student organizations that celebrate the Titan experience through the lens of the Asian American community.
In addition to these and many other programs aimed at better serving our Orange County Vietnamese communities, the university also has a storied history of international work with Vietnam.
In 1995, the U.S. was still a year away from re-establishing diplomatic relations with Vietnam, and one generation removed from the Vietnam War. And yet CSUF managed to arrange an exploratory trip to Vietnam, as well as obtain a grant so Cal State Fullerton faculty could return to train English teachers there.
“These efforts created a very long academic bridge between the two countries, and over the years we have strengthened that bridge so that today, we have more than a dozen unique university partners in Vietnam and a growing contingent of students and alumni who live, work and study there. It is this kind of international perspective and vision that helps define who we are as Titans,” he said.
“This is our mission at Cal State Fullerton – to serve all students, and to be a voice for those who have yet to find their own. It is a mission of hope; a mission of love and caring; and a mission of promise,” he concluded.
“But above all, it is a mission of necessity if we aim to leave our children — and our Titan grandchildren — a more inclusive nation in which the benefits of democracy and higher education are equally and equitably accessible to all.”