Stan State gets new president; takes helm July 1

Ellen N. Junn has been named president of California State University, Stanislaus.
Ellen N. Junn has been named president of California State University, Stanislaus. Stanislaus State

A veteran California State University administrator with a knack for helping non-traditional students succeed has been named the next president of CSU Stanislaus in Turlock.

Ellen N. Junn, 58, will leave her post as provost and vice president for academic affairs at California State University, Dominguez Hills, to take the helm at Stanislaus State from retiring President Joseph Sheley, the university’s board of trustees announced Wednesday. Her first official day on the job will be July 1.

Junn (“rhymes with fun or sun”) said Wednesday she is looking forward to returning to the Central Valley, a region that reminds her of her Midwest roots, and continuing campus efforts to forge partnerships in the area.

“It felt like coming home in some ways,” she said of a recent visit to Turlock. “It’s a beautiful campus,” she added, even more so than she remembered from time spent working with Stanislaus faculty 15 to 20 years ago.

“That campus has always had a strong interest by the faculty in their students. It explains why their grad rates are so high,” Junn said.

Junn holds a Ph.D. in cognitive and developmental psychology from Princeton and has focused her research on early childhood education, college teaching effectiveness and educational equity. She has 30 years of experience in teaching and administrative positions, 28 of them in the CSU system. That includes a three-year stint at Fresno State.

“As a higher-education veteran who has held leadership positions at multiple CSU campuses, Dr. Junn is an accomplished and visionary leader who understands the importance of partnering with faculty, the campus community and external stakeholders to bolster educational opportunities for students,” said CSU trustee Hugo N. Morales, who served as the chair of the Trustees Committee for the Selection of the President.

“She has a long history of always putting students first, and has expertise in working to increase academic achievement among students from underserved communities. She is skilled at connecting campus, organizational and political leaders to higher education,” Morales said in a statement.

Innovative programs she helped put in place to support freshmen include an expanded summer session to get incoming freshmen not quite at college level up to speed, and a free general education course offered to students already on track. Both groups spend Fridays getting study skills, advising and other extras.

“It gets them very comfortable on campus, and it’s led to very high retention rates from fall to spring of their freshman year – 93 percent,” Junn said. “Kids start and stay into spring. We have never seen that level of retention in 25 years.”

Another program is the freshman dream seminar, an idea she said she took from Harvard, where top faculty members teach a class of 25 newcomers, picking their own subject. Coming next year is a “Design your Life” course for juniors to explore career and academic options.

“Most of our students – 61 percent – are first-generation,” Junn said. “They have no idea how to pick a major.”

California State University, Dominguez Hills, is a 15,000-student campus in Carson, a Los Angeles suburb east of Torrance. Like the Turlock university, it has a large Latino presence and a majority of low-income students.

“The cool thing about Stanislaus is they already have high graduation rates. The students are very similar to my students,” Junn said.

But the area is very different. Junn speaks of the Central Valley as a potential economic powerhouse on the cusp. Like Sheley, she sees the value of partnering with area cities and business leaders to develop the region.

“The Central Valley has been largely ignored, but it has the most vibrant potential,” she said. “Let’s prepare now for the future of the Central Valley and make it a brighter, sustainable future.”

Junn will earn an annual salary of $283,662, the same as her predecessor, said Laurie Weidner, CSU assistant vice chancellor for public affairs. She also will receive a $1,000 monthly car allowance, and, because Stanislaus does not have a designated home for the president, a $50,000 annual housing allowance.

Sheley, 68, has led Stanislaus State since June 2012. The faculty says he is leaving a more collegial and collaborative campus than he entered following the tumultuous term of his predecessor, Hamid Shirvani. The campus now serves 8,917 students and employs more than 1,000 people.

In announcing his retirement, Sheley said collaboration within the campus community and with the city of Turlock were two areas where he felt he had a lasting impact. “I hope the community really sees this university as its university,” he said at the time.

Sheley, the university’s 10th president, gave it its official nickname, Stan State, and a new double-S logo now flying on banners around the campus. Under his leadership, the campus focused on first-generation and Latino students who make up so much of its student body.

Their success vaulted Stanislaus State high on a number of college ranking lists, including among the Ivy Leaguers in an academic study commissioned by National Public Radio.

Coming up for the college are initiatives formed with the city by Stanislaus State students to shift public bus routes to better serve the campus. Across from the main campus entrance on Monte Vista Avenue, footings have been poured in recent days for a four-story private dormitory complex, The Vista.

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin