New Student and Transition Programs director shares therapy dog with patients and students

Clara with a new student orientation group

As director of New Student and Transition Programs, Roxanne Neal knows just how to make new Bruins feel comfortable and cared for during the sometimes difficult transition to college.

Now, it seems, she’s passed on those skills to a protégé – but not a human one.

Neal’s three-year-old yellow Labrador named Clara is a newly certified therapy dog. Together, the two bring smiles and comfort to hospital patients, medical staff and even UCLA students who need a few snuggles from a furry friend to get through a tough day.

Neal started training Clara in obedience when she was just five months old. Her potential as a therapy dog was apparent from the beginning, like when she didn’t even flinch while training next to a boisterous herd of cattle on the ranch where she was born. Last year, Neal began researching therapy dog certification, which is offered through a program called Pet Partners.

Neal said she was partly inspired by her mother, who interacted with a therapy dog at UCLA Medical Center while recovering from knee and hip surgery. Though her mother was never big on dogs, Neal saw how the dog lifted her spirits.

“She really responded to this dog hanging out and being really sweet to everyone. He would just go check on all the patients, and I thought that was a great thing,” Neal said. “People just transform around the dogs.”

The certification process includes a handler course for the human partner, a team evaluation during which the dog demonstrates that it can follow commands and stay calm in unexpected situations, and shadowing a real team in a hospital. Once the team passes a final evaluation, they are ready to start volunteering. For Clara, the process took about eight months; she passed in August.

Roxanne Neal and Clara

Neal and Clara now visit Providence St. John’s Health Center two or three times a month for up to two hours at a time. Upon arrival, they check in with a volunteer coordinator who gives them their room assignments for the day – either a designated floor or patients who have requested a visit. Inside the patient’s room, Clara usually sits on a chair or on the floor next to the patient so the patient can pet her.

“She loves the human interaction. She loves people and the attention and petting,” Neal said. “[With] one patient I put Clara on the chair, and Clara leaned forward with her head on the bed and the patient started petting her and talking softly and Clara just melted. She knows how to take it all in.”

The medical staff are always just as excited as the patients to see Clara, Neal said, and she makes sure they have their snuggles with Clara too. Their last visit was on Thanksgiving morning, which she said felt extra meaningful.

Clara isn’t just a fixture at St. John’s, however – Neal has started bringing her to work too. Clara has become a mascot of sorts for the thousands of freshman and transfer Bruins who attend new student orientation programs during the summer, and many orientation groups even request to have Clara in their group photo. She also brought stress relief to the Hill during midterms and finals this quarter.

Neal said students homesick for their own pets find comfort in showering Clara with affection.

“She was on so many Snapchats,” Neal said. “I joke that she thinks her name is ‘Pretty.’”

As she enters her 30th year with NSTP, Neal said she enjoys putting the skills she’s honed at work to use in a new environment where it’s all about Clara.

“Communication skills and talking to people, that’s literally my job. Being able to do that through my dog who I love gives me a different way to connect with people and do it in a way that really changes the environment a lot,” Neal said. “People that don’t normally want to socialize with a volunteer, they’ll just pet the dog, and that seems to be enough.”

UCLA’s top teachers recognized at ceremony at Chancellor’s residence

The recipients of UCLA’s highest honor for teaching, the Distinguished Teaching Awards, were honored by the UCLA Academic Senate at the Andrea L. Rich Night to Honor Teaching awards ceremony at the Chancellor’s residence on Oct. 25. The winners were selected in three categories: senate faculty members, non-senate faculty members and teaching assistants.

Seen and Heard Backstage at UCLA College Commencement’s 2 p.m. Ceremony

Friday, June 15, 1 p.m. It’s College Commencement Day at UCLA and one of the biggest ceremonies of the year is about to start.

Across campus, families and graduates take photos at Bruin Bear, buy flowers and decide on meeting spots. As the graduates say goodbye and line up on the LATC South Tennis Courts, preparing for their big entrance into Pauley Pavilion, families make their way into the arena, where they survey the crowds of people already packed into the stands, trying to figure out where they’ll have the best view of their graduate.

Inside Pauley Pavilion Club, another group is gathering: the UCLA faculty and student speakers who will lead the ceremony. Here, faculty put on their commencement robes and get into position for their march down the center aisle of Pauley Pavilion’s John Wooden Court to the stage after the graduates have been seated.

For the faculty, commencement isn’t a once in a lifetime experience – it’s an annual one, a ritual they participate in every year to honor their graduating students. Yet in the hour leading up to the ceremony, they are as excited as the graduates marching into Pauley Pavilion, eager to celebrate the Class of 2018 and start bringing another academic year to a close.

Read on for a behind-the-scenes peek backstage at UCLA College Commencement’s 2 p.m. ceremony.

1:00 p.m. College staff volunteers arrive and begin their assignments. Volunteers help set up food, pin hoods to faculty gowns, organize programs and more to make sure the ceremony runs smoothly.

1:17 p.m.: Faculty begin to arrive and get dressed in their commencement robes, with the help of staff volunteers.

1:29 p.m.: A professor compliments her colleague’s matching red robes: “You look like you graduated from the same place I did!”

1:36 p.m.: Faculty chat about their summer plans.

1:37 p.m.: Chancellor Gene Block arrives.

1:40 p.m.: Faculty begin finding their places in the lineup. Chairs are labeled with the names of each member of the faculty and students who will have a speaking role in the ceremony in the order in which they will walk out so they end up in the correct seat onstage. For those who will not be speaking, signs indicate where each College division should gather so they are seated together onstage.

1:49 p.m.: Members of the VIP party – Carol Block and special guests of the stage party – are escorted out to their seats in Pauley Pavilion as the graduates begin the procession.

1:51 p.m.: A professor takes a grinning selfie of himself in his robes.

1:52 p.m.: Chancellor Block takes photos with several faculty members and the student speakers.

1:55 p.m.: An announcement is made about a change to the seating procedures, prompting laughter and jokes around the room about how well the faculty will remember what to do.

2:04 p.m.: Watching a live feed of the graduates entering Pauley Pavilion, student vocalist Ritu Sreenivasan exclaims, “Wow, that’s so cool! I’m gonna cry.”

2:06 p.m.: Dean Patricia A. Turner greets Sreenivasan and student speaker Emily Yamane, who says, “I’m so nervous!” Dean Turner assures her, “You’ll be fine.”

2:08 p.m.: The faculty gather at their assigned seats or with their division to prepare for the processional.

2:16 p.m.: The faculty stand and line up, ready to walk out.

2:18 p.m.: Faculty are told they will have to wait a few more minutes because the graduates are backed up getting into Pauley Pavilion.

2:22 p.m.: Professors and students pose for pictures with each other as they wait.

2:24 p.m.: The faculty are led down to the stage of Pauley Pavilion!

UCLA Faculty on Undergraduate Research Week

Professors Gregory Pottie, Kara Cooney and Alvaro Sagasti share why they support undergraduate research and why they find Undergraduate Research Week so impressive.

Undergraduate Research Week showcases and celebrates undergraduate research and creative projects across disciplines. Open to undergraduate students in all majors, the week provides opportunities for students to present their work to the UCLA campus community, alumni, and visitors. In the first four years of holding the event, participation has grown to over 1,000 student participants.

Undergraduate Research Week 2018 In Photos

Over 1,100 undergraduate students presented original research projects at Undergraduate Research Week, May 21-25, 2018. From Poster Day in Pauley Pavilion to the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Oral Presentations, the students’ hard work and passion for research was on full display. Award receptions for sciences and humanities gave special honors to exceptional student researchers as well as the faculty mentors who have gone above and beyond to support their students’ research goals.

Click through the slideshow to view highlights from the week!