Graduate Division Commencement Keynote Address, UC Santa Barbara 2016

Graduate Division Commencement Keynote Address, UC Santa Barbara 2016

DAM 2016 commencement keynote UCSB

Commencement Address to Graduate Division Candidates University of California, Santa Barbara

Duncan A. Mellichamp | June 12, 2016

Below is the transcript of the address. This is part of the impactmania’s interview with Duncan Mellichamp.

Prof. Carol Genetti, Dean of the UCSB Graduate Division University of California, Santa Barbara. Introduction of Professor emeritus Duncan Mellichamp Commencement Keynote Speaker, 2016

Genetti: Dr. Mellichamp is a chemical engineer who earned his bachelor of science at Georgia Tech and his Ph.D. at Purdue University. He went on to become a research engineer with DuPont, but was recruited to UC Santa Barbara to help create the Department of Chemical Engineering in 1966. This

December will mark 50 years of his dedicated service to this campus.

He is the author of more than 100 research publications. He is also a renowned teacher, and has mentored more than 50 graduate students to degrees, including the first student to earn a Ph.D. granted in Chemical Engineering and the first female student to earn a Ph.D. in the College of Engineering.

Over the decades, Dr. Mellichamp has served on numerous boards and committees. He was Chair of the Academic Senate at UC Santa Barbara, and then for the entire University of California, and he has served on the UC Board of Regents.

Also, since 2003 he has held the position of Trustee of the UC Santa Barbara Foundation and in that role he chaired an advisory committee on Isla Vista, which produced a roadmap for positive change in that community, the results of which are visible today.

But Dr. Mellichamp’s impact does not even stop there. He and his wife Suzanne, a UCSB graduate alumna with a master’s in Education, have significantly focused their philanthropy on the UC Santa Barbara campus. They have endowed 13 faculty chairs, thus, in conversation with campus leadership, they have directly shaped the UCSB faculty. Currently, three areas are targeted for growth through these chairs: systems biology, globalization, and sustainable chemistry. The couple also actively supports half a dozen local arts groups, including Opera Santa Barbara.

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Duncan Mellichamp.


Duncan Mellichamp Commencement Keynote at UC Santa Barbara, 2016. Photo courtesy of UCSB and Peter Allen.

Duncan Mellichamp Commencement Keynote at UC Santa Barbara, 2016. It’s there! Hold on!!! Must be there!! Nope, there! …Good Luck And Go Gauchos!


Theme: Legacy and Roads Less Often Traveled

  • Congratulations UCSB graduates!! … both for your good judgment in choosing this 
great school for your graduate work, and for your successful finish (or “near-finish”)!
  • Each of you is someone’s personal legacy. Your family and loved ones have dreamed big, worked hard, perhaps paid hard-earned money, and now they are justifiably proud. Help me thank them.
  • Many of you are here with your faculty mentors. I know how pleased and proud they are feeling. Why do I know this? I have been part of ceremonies like this at UCSB for fifty years! [Yes, I am afraid you heard right.]
  • But this is your moment. I will take just the next few minutes to tell you what that means historically.
  • The story I will tell you is almost unknown at UCSB; ask 100 people, maybe one will know it. I personally find it inspiring; you decide.
  • I begin by pointing towards downtown Sta. Barbara along our Santa Ynez mountain range.
  • The school that eventually became UCSB was begun in 1891 in Santa Barbara by a woman interested in practical education. Her name was Anna S. C. Blake.
  • Take a moment: Our country has arrived at a time in history when the ultimate glass ceiling may soon be shattered, the US Presidency.
  • Now think back 125 years: a time when women could not vote, but a woman founded the school that became UCSB. Blake used her own money to buy property, build a facility, even pay the teachers.
  • The original building stood in downtown Santa Barbara, but soon moved to a Riviera location. After it was joined to the University of California in 1944, this small “liberal arts and teacher training school” was known as the Santa Barbara College of the University of California.
  • In 1954 the school moved from the Riviera here to Campus Point [pointing down], the former Marine Air Station. If you walk around this evening, you can still spot some of the military barracks from WW II.
  • And in a few short years the campus grew to 5,000 students. Older faculty complained … it was far too large!
  • Then in 1959, UCSB became a research university when the first PhD degree was granted … in History.
  • I am pointing just over your heads to the original home of my department, Chemical Engineering. Since we left, that building has been 100% dedicated to the Arts.
  • Exactly 50 years ago this Wednesday, I gave a research seminar there, not really looking for a job. Be careful what you start; it may change your life, and the lives of others.
  • Not long after, Prof. Glenn Culler’s research group in Engineering was working with groups at UCLA, Stanford Research Inst., and Utah–the first four computers to operate on the “DARPA-Net.” We know the system today as “the Internet;” and every one of millions of us can connect to it [hold up cellphone].
  • In 1969, Scott Momaday, a Native American and assistant professor in English, won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. ……. I remember thinking: UCSB is on a roll.
  • But that same year, beyond the Eucalyptus Curtain to your right [pointing], even here on the campus itself, large-scale protests erupted that lasted into the mid-‘70s. It was a troubled period. The Governor of California called our students hoodlums; and my UC colleagues made dismissive comments about UCSB.
  • That was a harsh form of peer review. We brushed it off. But I worried about our students, our campus, and about my own chances of making tenure.
  • We can all be glad that we stayed the course. UCSB is now, as we know, a world intellectual powerhouse.
  • And my department’s unlikely story is the story of our campus. When I helped found it, our program surely ranked dead last of the 150 in North America.
  • But by 2010, the National Research Council placed our Chemical Engineering second, just one point behind the #1 program, based on the impact of published research.
  • Chancellor Yang can recite campus rankings better than I, but the one we all have in mind is our Leiden University ranking—the #2 university in the world, the #1 public university, in terms of research impact at the very highest level. [A party school?!]
  • Every bit as important to me is the “New York Times” label for UC as an Upward Mobility Machine for first-generation college students. UCSB is second of UC campuses. Many of you are first generation college students. Or you may have helped first generation students to learn. If so, my congratulations!
  • How was all this possible … a small campus located on the ocean, adjacent to Isla Vista and its real party reputation, surrounded by major universities up and down the state? How ever to achieve top rankings?
  • And while many of us played a role in writing UCSB’s success story, you are the ones who will carry our story into the future—to the schools, companies, start-ups, and communities where you work and live.
  • Here’s the short version of how I think we did it:
  • We Focus. UCSB avoided the usual academic strategy of trying to build all areas, for example, building costly professional schools. You won’t find a law school, or a medical school, or an old style business school here. But you will find at UCSB many lawyers, MDs, and entrepreneurs, most with PhDs.
  • We Collaborate. This campus has in its DNA a unique ability for interdisciplinary collaboration … where many new discoveries are now being made. Nothing pleases me more than joining a group of diverse faculty and researchers on campus. Great projects and great solutions start in those meetings.
  • We are Optimists. Like Anna Blake; Like Dean Carol Genetti, who believed in an old professor enough to ask him to talk to you today; Like my colleague Prof. Shuji Nakamura, whose persistent research on light-emitting materials led to green, blue, and white devices, and to his well deserved Nobel prize.
  • Like you and your families.
  • Because of those who came before you, you don’t experience the “status anxiety” we 
did in 1975.
  • And by sheer luck, you graduate in 2016—the 125th anniversary year of Anna Blake’s modest idea.
  • Her story is proof that any of us can initiate something big, even if it starts small and may not be recognized for years … Just identify a problem that needs fixing, an opportunity to make good things happen, a way to steer your organization to the top.
  • Well, I have done a lot of pointing this afternoon. Finally, I am going to point in the direction of your future. [pointing up]
  • You graduates are well prepared to go out and make yourselves and your parents proud.
  • Now do that! But don’t forget the faculty and staff here in Santa Barbara. We want to share in your achievements. So stay connected with us at UCSB.
  • Well, it is time for farewells, so I will cover all the options: Good Bye, Good Luck, Godspeed, and Go Gauchos!!

Photos: Courtesy of UCSB and Peter Allen.