Today, 3,000 freshmen and transfer students — most of them the first in their families to attend college — will arrive at Cal State Bakersfield, eager to chase the dream that brought them to the southern valley’s only four-year public university.

Although there will be nerves and questions, this is a day full of opportunity and hope. Anything is possible on the first day of school.

At CSUB, we love new beginnings and being on the rise; in fact, there is no end to new beginnings here. As we welcome our full family of students – more than 11,000 - to the Bakersfield and Antelope Valley campuses, we open a historic age of opportunity in higher education that our region has never seen.

Rising enrollment continues to set records, and we are serving the needs of more and more first-generation college students, a hopeful signal that more valley families are taking to heart that the promise of a college education is within reach. As these first-time students blaze a path to CSUB, their brothers, sisters, cousins and children will follow, creating a tradition of college attendance – and belonging – to our CSUB family.

We pay close attention to first-generation college students, some of whom need help getting here and additional support to stay. We’ve worked to build a climate of support and trust and rely on our close partnerships with local community colleges and K-12 school districts – all of us working together to open doors and dismantle barriers.

Enter the CSUB campus from Roadrunner Way for an example of what collaboration looks – and sounds – like. Crews are busy building temporary classrooms for BC SouthWest students, the first phase of an unprecedented partnership that will bridge the two largest colleges in Kern County as never before. Soon, construction will begin on University Office Center, which will house the permanent southwest campus of Bakersfield College. Future students will transition seamlessly from community college to the university, a common sense solution that will be a model throughout the nation.

The BC students will arrive at a golden time for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education at CSUB. Majors that are STEM-focused are by far the fastest-growing, thanks in large part to a huge leap forward for our engineering program in 2018, when CSUB achieved the prestigious ABET accreditation.

We’re seizing on that momentum with plans to build the Engineering, Energy and Innovation Building, a game-changer for the region that will attract the brightest students to conduct cutting-edge research, advancing Kern County’s proud history as a hub of innovation and discovery. Keeping the valley’s best minds here in our communities to power the local economy depends on investment in innovation, research and entrepreneurship.

At CSUB, we are on the rise, both academically and in the aspirations of our students, faculty, staff and community.

Occasionally, though, as we rise, we need your partnership.

That is why I’m so incredibly proud of the work of several organizations here on campus that offer a hand up when our students need it most. The Veterans Center works with those who have served in the armed forces, our Food Pantry and other programs work to alleviate hunger, the Counseling Center provides support during times of stress, and we are working toward opening a Dream Center for our hard-working DACA students.

Rising to meet our opportunities and challenges is essential for the public good of Bakersfield and Kern County.

As I prepare for the first day – drawing on my more than three decades as an educator – my hope for all students is that they find strength, inspiration and support in the CSUB community.

Our time is now.

When we rise together, there is no limit to how high we can go. 

Lynnette Zelezny is the fifth president of CSUB, and the first woman to lead the university, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in the 2020-2021 academic year.