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A magazine from California State University, Chico -- On-line Edition  
Summer 2007
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To kick off the Chico Experience Week, President Paul Zingg helped artist Jake Early (94) unveil his first Chico Experience print.
Paul Zingg and museum advisory board president Judy Sitton.

Celebrating Campus and Community

No one really knows when the phrase “the Chico experience” first appeared. Undoubtedly, it was felt before it was defined and it was personal before it was institutional. What is certain, though, is that just as no single event or story or value captures its full meaning, it can be linked to a set of activities and characteristics that adds up to something real and discernible.

Throughout our recent and very successful reaccreditation process with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the team of visitors who came to the campus to assess our effectiveness marveled at the frequency with which “the Chico experience” was mentioned and the affection that accompanied the term. They praised the many presentations and forums that provided evidence of this phenomenon. But, as such groups usually do, they yearned for a clearer definition, a firmer handle with which to understand what was going on here under the banner of the phrase. They challenged us to do so for our own purposes, too, because such an understanding could contribute to an even stronger sense of institutional identity, purpose, and performance.

Chico Experience Week is one of the ways we have responded to this challenge. Nearly 100 events, ranging from class and program reunions to athletic competitions and performing arts events, from guest lectures and faculty presentations to gallery openings and tours, filled this 10-day period with pride, connection, and appreciation. Most important, though, the week celebrated campus and community. Therein, I believe, is one of the keys to explaining what “the Chico experience” is.

This issue of Chico Statements emphasizes several elements of how the relationship between campus and community has been formed and nurtured.

Just as the city of Chico is known for its trees and Bidwell Park and the creeks that run through it, the Chico State campus is distinguished through the strong harmony between our built and natural environments. No one has been more responsible for the latter than Wes Dempsey. He has been the steward of our beautiful campus forest and most responsible for the arboretum status we have earned. As an emeritus professor he continues to be engaged with this place he loves.

Just as Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and the city of Chico are synonymous, the same is true between Ken Grossman’s successful enterprise and the University. As Rob Burton’s book on Sierra Nevada (excerpted in this issue) reveals, the connections are many. Particularly with respect to the shared town and gown value of sustainability, no one has championed its principles and practices more than Ken, and few universities anywhere can match Chico State’s commitment and leadership in this area.

The third feature is less about the campus and city per se than it is about the bonds of community that form around a shared experience—a different kind of Chico experience—provided by the University. For 10 months in academic year 1959–1960, 50 students and five faculty traveled throughout Europe on an extended study abroad trip. This was an extraordinary undertaking, unique in the University’s history. The brainchild of history professor Lew Oliver, the trip was the adventure of a lifetime for many who took it. Their recollections form the heart of this article, and it is clear that their appreciation of their adventure has only strengthened after five decades.

As much, then, as our Chico Experience Week was a celebration of the University today, it was a chance to affirm why what we do here matters and how deeply we touch the lives of those who have come here to live and study. For when place, purpose, and promise come together, wonderful things happen—like the shared values and experiences that foster meaningful lives and build strong communities.


—Paul J. Zingg, President