UC Davis

Aggie thanks

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This was fun. A few months ago, we had the pleasure of sitting down with UC Davis staff for a retrospective and prospective discussion. Here's a link to the spring 2018 AggieXtra publication.

Therein we explored what it means to be an Aggie, why UC Davis is best-prepared to tackled the world's foremost challenges, the pragmatic and idealistic value of solar, and fond recollections of my late dad, Charlie.

One story I failed to relay: In the early 1970s, when I was toddling at Birch Lane Elementary and my parents were grinding through graduate school, my dad started a company, East Davis Hot Tub Works. Redwood hot tubs were all the rage, particularly when married with solar thermal (hot water heating systems). Many a weekend was spent tagging along with my dad, visiting Davis homes, and observing the installation of hot tubs, decks and thermal systems. My dad was grinding to put food on the table while he completed his PhD in Environmental Toxicology; I, perhaps, was learning a lesson about the value of renewable energy (and serving our community too).

My dad went on to start California Analytical Labs, eventually growing it into the largest environmental testing laboratory in the country. He had a license plate that reflected his passion: Cal Labs was the "BMF LAB". Years later -- when he engaged with the Cal Aggie Alumni Association, UC Davis Foundation and UC Regents -- he would bend many an ear: UC Davis is the Best Mother F@#$*&! University. Period. (BMF UC?)

Many thanks to our comrades at UC Davis for sharing our story.

The Extraordinary Ordinary: Koen Van Rompay

[Originally published November 4, 2015]

By Jennifer Ann Gordon, Repower Yolo's Storyteller

Koen Van Rompay is a radiant man. “I learned the essence of life. Life is much more satisfying when you share what you have,” he said. And share he does. A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and a Ph.D., Koen is a Full Research Virologist at UCD who lives a life of compassion and care in the lab…and everywhere else, too.

His AIDS research has contributed significantly to the development of a therapeutic and preventive drug. “I am but a humble link in the chain,” he said. But when Koen takes his lab coat off, he tackles the AIDS epidemic in a different way. Sahaya International.

Koen founded Sahaya International to  address the social aspects of the AIDS epidemic: poverty, illiteracy, and women having no rights. From its beginnings in India, Sahaya has grown to Kenya, Vietnam, Philippines and Sri Lanka. Director Andy Lauer made an award-winning 20-minute documentary about Sahaya International, Sahaya…Going Beyond, which was narrated by Jeremy Irons.

In 1997, Koen went to India to present his HIV research at an AIDS conference.  He said, “The poverty was overwhelming. I asked myself, ‘How can the world close their eyes?’ I had no social training. I was not a politician. But I had to do something. If I could permanently improve the life of just one child, that would be good.”

“I think people  have to feel loved and have hope. Hope is the strong medicine.”

How did a young Belgian veterinarian come to be an AIDS researcher at UC Davis? After becoming a veterinarian, Koen wondered, “Whatever was I going to do? I needed courage.” His passion was wildlife and zoo animals. He found inspiration when Michael Jackson came to Belgium and sang Man In the Mirror:

I'm starting with the man in the mirror

I'm asking him to change his ways

And no message could have been any clearer

If you want to make the world a better place

Take a look at yourself, and then make a change

(Michael Jackson)

Then Koen read Zoo Animal Medicine, which was edited by Dr. Murray Fowler from UC Davis. This was the first he had heard of UC Davis. He applied for a scholarship to UCD through the Belgian American Educational Foundation. The one-year fellowship was his segue into HIV research. Five years later, Koen had earned his Ph.D.  And he has been here in Davis ever since.

Koen travels to India every winter to see how the children are doing. He “emptied his bank account” to build a five bedroom guesthouse in one of the villages, so that Sahaya supporters, social workers and others would have a place to stay. The guesthouse is next to the schools and one of Koen’s favorite things is to play with the children during their recesses. Some of the children had never seen the ocean, even though they are only two hours away. So Koen takes the children on field trips to the beach to introduce to them the joys of sand and surf. 

“An act of kindness inspires. Be a drop of water that creates a ripple,” said Koen. “Each of us can make a difference, if we just take a step.”

Koen, thank you for exuding such joy, courage, affection, compassion and generosity...for being love-in-action. Thank you for helping rid the world of AIDS. Thank you for empowering women and saving the lives of children and their families. Thank you for starting a love epidemic that floods our community and reaches the world’s most impoverished places. Thank you for being so extraordinary.

The Extraordinary Ordinary: Sandy Lynne Holman

[Originally published October 7, 2015]

By Jennifer Ann Gordon, Repower Yolo's Storyteller

Sandy Lynne Holman lets her light shine brightly. A Davis resident and UCD alumna, Sandy is on a mission to “encourage people to love themselves and others, and share power and resources in the world.”

Regionally and nationally recognized as a leader in social justice, equity, and “anti-hate” programs, talks, workshops and children’s literature, Sandy founded and directs The Culture C.O.-O.P. and United In Unity. She has given keynote addresses, served on boards, consulted with diverse organizations, and won numerous awards. Most recently, she was donned the John Garamendi Woman of the Year 2015 award. “The awards have been overwhelming and are valuable because they draw attention to the tough work I have to do,” she said. “We are living in a world where our ability to work together is critical. A cornerstone of success is understanding and serving diverse people. We become more effective when we understand cultural differences and similarities.”  

There is nothing theoretical about Sandy or her work. She practices what she calls “active research,” where social theory is matched with practical application. She goes into the trenches daily…shoulder-to-shoulder, vis-à-vis, hand-in-hand, and heart-to-heart, with the people who need her most. Battling entrenched beliefs and hatred can be brutal work, but her faith and love sustain her.

Her book, Grandpa, Is Everything Black Bad?, which won the Blackboard Book of the Year Award in 2002, continues to be a favorite throughout the world. Sandy’s grandfather, Rufus X. Holman, helped shape her future. "He left me over 100 poems that he wrote, which were absolutely beautiful and historic, written over a 50-year span," she said. "I had an incredibly close relationship with my grandfather and I saw him pretty regularly through my teen years. He was a talented and wise person. He only had a third grade education, but he continued to read throughout his life and learn as much as he could. I was transfixed by him. He taught me a lot about loving yourself and honoring your history and culture and heritage, and so I grew up not having a lot of the self-esteem issues that a lot of my peers did.”

She has been honored alongside Al Gore, Quincy Jones, and other notable authors for her work in Multi-Cultural Children's Literature at Book Expo in New York. She was the only self-published author ever to win the award, primarily because she didn’t know that self-publishers couldn’t enter. Sandy lets nothing hold her back, and the world and our community are the beneficiaries.

Her next round of children’s stories –Love Is The Root Of All People. Honor Your Elders, Peace Is For People, and You Ain't Dressed Until You Got Your Hat On—is forthcoming. Publishers frequently approach Sandy about her books, but she prefers to be self-published and set up her own publishing company. Sandy gives workshops on self-publishing, as well.

Purple is Sandy’s signature color. “I love purple! When I wear it, it makes me happy. People ask me about all the purple I wear. It opens doors. I decided to do the things that make me happy…the things that make me ecstatic,” she said. An artist, poet, author, speaker, educator, consultant and citizen of the world, Sandy said, “Everyone is a V.I.P. We need to treat everyone like a king or queen.”

Sandy Lynne Holman, thank you for uniting, fortifying and educating us all. Thank you for your generous heart, your clear mind, and your bountiful contributions to peace, equity, and love on earth. Thank you for teaching our children and our teachers to appreciate, accept and celebrate diversity. You are a purple wonder. Thank you for being so extraordinary.