Retired Veteran University Administrator Returns to Campus

To Chuck Buck, it must feel a bit like déjà vu.

June 18, 2007

By Pam McLaren

Forty-three years ago he came to Cal State Fullerton and settled into an office in the then Letters and Science Building. Today —after retiring in 2001 but never really leaving the university — Chuck Buck is back once again sitting in an office in that same building, now called McCarthy Hall.

And the interim director of Freshman Programs likes it — a lot.

Known for his long-term service in student affairs, Buck began his Titan career in 1964 as an assistant professor of counseling with some work in the university’s counseling office. During his service, he would be named director of counseling — and hold the position for 10 years — as well as associate vice president of student affairs, the position he held until his retirement.

In 1998, Buck began teaching in the early freshman program and was one of the first to incorporate service learning in the courses he offered — after taking part in a student service-learning program at USC. He taught an upper-division social problems and service learning course, along with Lorraine Prinsky, professor of sociology, for three years.

Retirement did not stop his commitment to Cal State Fullerton or to its students. “I like keeping contact with the university,” says Buck. He continued to teach every fall and occasionally in the spring for freshman programs. “I have a bond with Cal State Fullerton.

“This is a big university,” says Buck who certainly knows how big it has grown from those early days in 1964. “Freshmen can get lost, alienated, especially at a campus that has been known as a commuter institution.”

“Research has shown,” Buck says, “that the greatest percentage of dropouts on college campuses is in the first year. It was that culture that helped establish the Freshman Program.

“So, the university established a learning community for freshman” where they take courses together and share common experiences, says Buck. Currently, 500 freshmen annually select to take part in the Freshmen Program.

The mission of the program is to “facilitate smooth and vital transitions to academic success in higher education.”

Courses are set up in blocks to meet the needs of set groups of students, such as “Compass” for undeclared students,  “Live ’n Learn” for students living in student housing, and “Future Teachers” for freshmen considering teaching as a career. New this year is a block for engineering and computer science students built on the model of the teacher program.

Included in all of the blocks is a University 100 course. The course — team taught by a faculty members, student affairs professional and an upper-division student who serves as a mentor to the 25 freshmen in each course — is composed of study and library research skills, critical thinking and decision making, academic success and integrity, diversity, relationships and communication, as well as basics such as time and financial management, health education and how to utilize campus support services. And, community activities, such as engaging in service learning.

“That’s what makes our program somewhat unique compared to other freshman programs — we have the team effort and it’s a semester long class, rather than a one time seminar,” says Buck with pride. “And then there is the upper-division student as peer mentor. This person is often a first responder to the types of problems that many freshman face. The peer mentor is easier for students to approach.

“In addition, the peer mentors are the ones who organize events and activities for the freshmen in their ‘learning community,’” adds Buck. Examples are attending the university’s annual Concert Under the Stars, the Getty Museum and the Museum of Tolerance.

“It’s a very good program,” says Buck, who gives credit to Bridget Driscoll, the previous director. “I like it. That’s the reason that I have been teaching as part of it every year. I believe in the program.”

As he walks out of his office, he counts off what he sees are the strong points in the program. In the front office are animated students and caring staff members. “I have a very good staff, they really make it easy for me,” he notes, then adds that the programs structure and curriculum also are key to why he feels strongly for the program.

Then there are the instructors. They are a mix of new and veteran faculty from a variety of departments, as well as student affairs professionals. “Its good to meet these people, ” Buck says. “They share my enthusiasm for the program.”

But mostly, he just enjoys being on campus and being around those who share his experiences. It’s a lot of work, he’ll tell you — as he beams with pleasure.

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