Office of the Chancellor

What Matters to Me and Why

Section 1

Feb. 12, 2015

Nearly every month during the academic school year, a group of faculty, staff and students from across campus gather around to share stories and get to know each other in a different way.

Instead of interacting with one another in classrooms, laboratories and administrative offices, they’re meeting for lunch at the What Matters to Me and Why speaker series.

Launched in 2012 by the Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture & Inclusion, the What Matters to Me and Why series features a wide range of faculty and staff speakers who share their life journeys, reveal their passions and answer personal questions for about 150 people at an informal luncheon in Humanities Gateway.

The goal is to form meaningful connections between all members of the campus community.

“Everyone who comes to UCI has something in common,” said Doug Haynes, vice provost for academic equity, diversity & inclusion and co-organizer of the series. “Whether you’re a student, faculty member, postdoc or staff member, we each engage in the shared mission of teaching research at a public university. Although we share this commonality, rarely do we get a chance know each other outside of our day-to-day roles.”

The series was created by John Stupar, engineering lecturer, and Jonathan Feng, professor of physics & astronomy, who encountered a similar program at Stanford University while earning his Ph.D.

“One of the nice things about this series is that it brings together people from all across campus in different fields,” said Feng. “Even better than that – it brings together students, faculty and staff in a way that unfortunately doesn’t happen all that much automatically.”

From the outside, the series may look like a typical lecture, but in reality it’s far from it. While faculty members often talk about their research, the focus lies on what motivates them to keep going rather than explaining the fundamentals of their respective fields. In addition to sharing their professional stories, speakers regularly open up about relationships, sexual orientation, personal loss and spiritual views. Attendees also are encouraged to ask questions and get to know the people sitting next to them.

The hope is that by coming together to share stories, the series will foster understanding, strengthen bonds and celebrate diversity on campus, Stupar said.

“These are truly remarkable people,” Haynes said, “It’s sort of staggering when you listen to their personal journeys and the choices and commitments they have made throughout their lives. They’re not simply at UCI because of a narrow preoccupation with their research. There are significant moments in their lives that have developed their passions and led them here.”

Past speakers have included nationally and internationally celebrated authors, lawyers, scientists, and educators from UCI, such as Erwin Chemerinsky, School of Law dean; Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor of Psychology & Social Behavior; Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature; Francisco Ayala, University Professor and Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences; and Dr. Arthur Lander, Donald Bren Professor of Developmental & Cell Biology.

“What Matters to Me and Why is an example of how a single individual can make a difference with an idea,” Haynes said. “UCI is a fertile environment where individuals with interesting ideas can grow and thrive. It reflects the best that’s in us. The program is an amazing way to make new connections.”

To sign up for the next talk in the series and view a video library of past speakers, visit the What Matters to Me and Why website. Registration opens approximately three weeks prior to each talk.

Upcoming speakers in the What Matters to Me and Why series:

  • March 11 – Mark Warschauer, Professor of Education and of Informatics
  • April 8 – Michele Goodwin, Chancellor’s Professor of Law
  • May 20 – Julia Lupton, Professor of English and Director of Illuminations, the Chancellor’s Arts & Culture Initiative

– Anna Iliff, Strategic Communications