Fulfilling his goals to interact with students, President C.L. Max Nikias shared his plans for the university with students Tuesday at this semester’s final Campus Conversations Series event held in The Forum.
Hosted by the Office of Campus Activities, the event began with Nikias delivering what he said was not a speech but remarks followed by a 30-minute question-and-answer session during which Nikias walked among the crowd and answered questions.
“He was remarkably engaging,” said Chris Cheng, president of Undergraduate Student Government. “He was weaving in and out of the crowd. There’s no better way to hear feedback from the university than to hear it from the students.”
Nikias, born on the island of Cyprus, said his parents’ passion for education instilled in him a similar drive for learning, which guides many of his goals for the university.
“I advise you to develop an appreciation for the arts. They are couriers, messengers of core values of who we are as human beings,” Nikias, who created the arts and humanities initiative Visions and Voices, said. “Through the arts, you can become a much more complete human being.”
He also advised students on the importance of constantly reading books despite having busy schedules and promised to post to the president’s Facebook page during the month of April his recommendations of books to read over the summer.
Cheng asked Nikias about how he plans to maintain a close relationship with students throughout his tenure
“What I can assure you is that as long as I am president of USC, being in close contact with the students is always going to be a priority,” Nikias said. “I would love to hear from you about how I can be closer with the students.”
Nikias announced a speech that he will be giving solely to students on Feb. 1 at 4 p.m. — an idea he said he received from USG earlier in the year during an afternoon tea meeting, which he holds with various campus groups each month.
“It’s not just him throwing his message out. It’s a two-way initiative,” Cheng said.
Cheng said that it was wonderful to hear that Nikias listened to his suggestion to address students directly.
One piece of advice Nikias gave students was to explore classes outside of their majors and find something to be passionate about to study.
“Being in a university environment, you’ve got to let your imagination fly,” Nikias said. “It’s OK to experiment and it’s OK to take some risks, and like any other experiment, some experiments succeed and some experiments fail, but it’s OK.”
Nikias said he plans to strengthen the relationship with the community surrounding campus and has already visited 10 of the 15 schools in the USC Family of Schools in order to understand and interact better with the students and faculty in the neighborhood.
“It’s been a wonderful experience for me to visit those schools on their grounds,” Nikias said. “I had a real hard time going to sleep in the evenings. I was having a lot of ideas of what we can do to make a difference, especially for the kids.”
In the spring, Nikias said he will be making two major announcements regarding outreach to the community. First, he will present an initiative that will focus on job training and job creation in the neighborhood, targeting businesses on Vermont Avenue and Figueroa Street.
His second announcement will be his plan to offer the same high-speed Internet access that students use on campus to the 100 homes closest to campus, which will be paid for by the university and free to those community members.
“He’s concerned not just about the academics, but about the community around him,” said Murtaza Najmuddin, a graduate student studying construction management, who attended the event. “It’s all spreading.”
As part of his plan to transform USC into a truly residential university, Nikias said administrators are in the process of finalizing designs involved in the Master Plan to redevelop campus, particularly focusing on the University Village, which will be remodeled to contain housing specifically for graduate students, retail shops and a gym.
In response to a student who raised concerns about redeveloping the University Village as a completely university space that might exclude the community, Nikias said the university has been receiving input and feedback from the neighborhood as it designs plans for that area.
“I don’t want to see the chains of Armani and Gucci — that’s not the right image that I want to project for the university or for our community. There will be retail stores that are affordable. I don’t want to be selling things that are very expensive, but they will be of good quality,” Nikias said. “We live in a community and we live for a community.”
At the end of the event, the Torch and Tassel chapter of Mortar Board at USC, a senior honor society, presented Nikias with a certificate designating him an honorary member of the USC chapter of the national organization.