Pat Turner: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Dean Turner at Undergraduate Research Week 2018. Photo by Todd Cheney

As she meets with colleagues across campus and even across the entire University of California, Dean and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Patricia Turner is always struck by how highly regarded the staff of the Undergraduate Education (UE) are. In fact, during her first five year term, working with such well-respected colleagues is one of her “biggest sources of pleasure,” she said.

This fall, Turner was appointed to her second five-year term as Dean and Vice Provost.

Over the next few years, she hopes UE can help lower some of the barriers that may prevent students from graduating with the fullest experience possible.

“When you ask graduating students what makes them most proud about their time at UCLA, they will often say something about their research project, the company they started, their participation in Honors, or the internship they took while studying abroad. And as dean, I know those same experiences have a direct correlation to student success after graduation, in the real world,” Turner said. “My challenge is that the programs that provide those opportunities can’t accommodate every student who wants to participate, and for programs like study abroad, students’ financial situations can pose challenges.”

That’s why fundraising continues to be a priority for her. “With increased funding, more students would be able to have access to these types of experiences,” she said.

“It’s about opening up these opportunities so our restrictions of space and bandwidth don’t interfere with students’ ability to do things,” she said. She encourages staff to embrace their role in helping students chart meaningful pathways through their time at UCLA, whether through co-curricular programs or academic resources.

The entire University of California is feeling the pressure to speed up time-to-degree. “Pressure on UCLA will only increase in the years to come. But at UCLA, we already do an excellent job graduating students in a timely manner,” Turner said. “Still, over the next two to three years, my staff and I will be honing our efforts and developing new ones to help students graduate in four years or fewer, prepared for what comes next.”

”Undergraduate Education shines in our ability to personalize the UCLA undergraduate experience,” Turner said. “Part of our challenge will be to keep that personal touch for students while encouraging their timely completion of degree requirements. Opportunities like service learning and civic engagement enable students to make personal connections with the community and with our faculty and staff and to discover and pursue new passions.”

“What UCLA has afforded with the existence of a division focused on undergraduate education is a home for the academic side of the undergraduate’s experience and a whole team of people who are looking out for that,” she said. “From orientation to academic counseling and scholarships, our programs give students an opportunity to learn about themselves, which gives them a meaning and focus to what they learn in the classrooms and the labs.”

New Student and Transition Programs director trains therapy dog for 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.”