Three months ago the Hispanic community of Riverside started campaigning for a Hispanic chancellor at the University of California at Riverside. This week the fruits of their efforts were realized when France A. Córdova was named chancellor.
Córdova, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant and a fifth-generation Irish-American, will head the diverse UC Riverside campus starting July 1.
UC regents voted 16-0 Tuesday (April 9) to award the position to Cordova, 54, an astrophysicist and vice-chancellor of research at UC Santa Barbara. She is the first female Hispanic chancellor in UC history.
The announcement was greeted with cheers of “Bravo” and Viva” by students, professors and alumni, gathered in UCR’s ethnic studies department conference room. Hispanic advocates had launched a statewide letter writing and lobbying campaign for a Hispanic chancellor.
“The community voiced their opinion, and the community got what it wanted,” said Adam Flores, 23, a Chicano studies major who flew to San Francisco to lobby the regents.
But UC President Richard C. Atkinson said ethnicity was not a consideration in choosing the former NASA chief scientist.
“I’m just the happy person that got selected,” Cordova said.
Until Tuesday’s appointment, eight of the 10 UC chancellors were men and nine were white. One chancellor is Asian. Asian, black and Hispanic students combined outnumber whites at UC campuses.
“It’s almost like having a double whammy,” said Dee Ortega, head of the Rialto chapter of the Mexican American Political Association. “We have broken through two barriers.”
Córdova, 54, served as chief scientist at NASA before coming to UC Santa Barbara in 1996. She previously headed the department of astronomy and astrophysics at Pennsylvania State University and served as deputy group leader of the Space Astronomy and Astrophysics Group at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“France Córdova brings outstanding academic credentials, solid leadership experience, a commitment to educational opportunity, and a talent for working cooperatively with both the campus community and the broader community,” Atkinson said. “Her enthusiasm, intelligence, charisma and record of achievement will make her a superb chancellor for UC Riverside.”
“I am deeply honored by this appointment, and I look forward to joining the Riverside community,” Córdova said. “Riverside is a beautiful city, and UC Riverside is a vibrant institution with a demonstrated commitment to excellence in teaching, research and public service. I eagerly anticipate working with the faculty, students, staff, alumni, neighbors and friends of UCR to build on the progress and distinguished achievements they have made.”
Córdova serves as professor of physics and vice chancellor for research at UC Santa Barbara. As vice chancellor, in addition to her regular duties, she initiated a program to encourage and fund research across disciplines. She also spearheaded a campus-wide effort to increase opportunities for students to engage in research, establishing panels of faculty and students, visiting dormitories, speaking at student orientations, developing a research Web site, and allocating funding to encourage undergraduate research, among other things.
The scientific contributions of Córdova’s career have been in the areas of observational and experimental astrophysics, multi-spectral research on X-ray and gamma ray sources, and space-borne instrumentation. She has published more than 130 scientific papers.
From 1993 to 1996, she was chief scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, serving as the primary scientific advisor to the NASA administrator and the principal interface between NASA headquarters and the broader scientific community. Prior to that she held positions at Pennsylvania State University from 1989 to 1993 and at the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1979 to 1989.
Córdova is the winner of NASA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal. This year, the National Research Council named her a National Associate of the National Academies in recognition of extraordinary service.
The oldest of 12 children, Córdova attended high school in La Puente, Calif., east of Los Angeles. She then entered Stanford University, where she graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in English and, among other activities, conducted anthropology field work in a Zapotec Indian pueblo in Oaxaca, Mexico. She attained a Ph.D. in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1979.
UC Riverside, a center of research and learning in the rapidly growing Inland Empire region of southern California, is also the fastest-growing campus in the UC system. In fall 2001, UCR enrolled 14,429 students - 10 percent more than the year before - and employed 6,143 faculty and staff. The 1,200-acre campus has an annual budget of more than $312 million.
(Portions of this article were taken from 4/10/02“The Press-Enterprise” Riverside article “Hispanic woman to lead UCR”).