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A Q&A with UA president Peter Likins

JACOB KONST/Arizona Summer Wildcat
UA President Peter Likins dispenses advice to his last group of incoming freshmen as he gets set to retire in the summer of 2006.
By Natasha Bhuyan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
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Upon entering the University of Arizona, freshmen will be assailed with advice ranging from "work hard" to "don't take the east elevator in Koffler because it smells funny."

However, the best advice may come from a man who has been in the university system for more than 50 years: UA president Peter Likins.

Prior to coming to the UA, Likins served as president of Lehigh University, provost of Columbia University, a professor at UCLA and a development engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. He received a bachelor's degree in civil engineering at Stanford, a master's degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctoral degree at Stanford.

After nine years as UA president, Likins will retire next summer. Last week, the university's top cat offered these wise words, via e-mail, for his last freshman class.

Wildcat: Everyone suggests it is a good idea to get involved in clubs or extracurricular activities on campus. What are some specific clubs or activities you encourage freshmen to join?

Likins: There are so many ways to get involved at the University of Arizona that there is literally something for everyone. It doesn't matter whether the involvement relates to cultural affinities like the Black Students Union or aesthetic interests like the marching band or academic interests like the Society of Women Engineers or social interests like a greek organization. What's important is getting involved so you are never alone unless you want to be ... Everyone should get involved somehow.

Wildcat: Since many students will experience social freedom in college that they may not have had in high school, how do you suggest students balance their academic lives with their social lives?

Likins: The best rule for a freshman to keep in mind during the adjustment to the freedom of university life is never lose control.

Wildcat: With the combined cost of parking, books, tuition and housing, many students must work to pay their bills. What are some tips you would give to a freshman in search of a job?

Likins: Experience tells us that students who work on campus tend to stay enrolled and succeed in their studies, while students who work many hours off campus have much less success. Try to get a job on campus if you can.

Wildcat: Regarding academics, what are some important things freshmen should do to ensure they are successful in their courses?

Likins: The simple rule for success in the freshman year is, "go to class and do the work on time." Academic trouble results more often from procrastination than from intellectual deficiency.

Wildcat: For students living in residence halls, any tips on how to make the most of the dorm experience?

Likins: Residence hall life offers almost unlimited opportunity to meet people of all kinds, but unless you reach out to seize that opportunity it can be lost. If you hide in your room, a residence hall can be a lonely place. But if you get out and meet people, you will surely find others who match your interests and enrich your life.

Wildcat: What is one thing about college life you know now that you wish you had known when you were a freshman at Stanford University?

Likins: I wasn't sure that I belonged at Stanford when I first arrived. My family was poor and uneducated, and I was very unsophisticated socially. It took me a little while to realize that what mattered to my new friends was not my background but me, myself and the way I treated others. Probably many freshmen at the University of Arizona feel as I did.

Wildcat: You will be welcoming your last freshman class this August. From what you have observed in your many years as a university president, how has higher education changed for students?

Likins: Student life has changed in many ways since I was a freshman, but the most important changes are the increased opportunities for women and students of color in American universities.

Wildcat: During my freshman induction, I remember you said at Stanford you almost failed calculus, had a fight with your fiancée and got beat up during wrestling practice all in the same week. How did you make it through these times of adversity or disappointment in college?

Likins: I'm pleased that you remember the story I told at your freshman induction. The whole point of the story for freshmen is the ending: I got a B in the course, I made the team and I married the girl! Actually, I was the captain of the team, and the girl I married is now my wife of fifty years!

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