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News & Press: Spotlight

Special Session with CSU Presidents

Thursday, June 6, 2019  
Posted by: Leadership California

During Session II of the California Issues and Trends program, a special session was held featuring six of the California State University Women Presidents.

In 2012, only two of the 23 California State University campuses were led by women presidents. Today, there are currently 12 women presiding over campuses around California. Dr. Timothy White, 2019 Legacy of Leadership Award honoree, made this a top priority when he took the helm in 2013 as chancellor of the California State University. 

The California State University Presidents serving on the panel were:

  • Dr. Erika Beck, President, California State University Channel Islands.
  • Dr. Soraya Coley, President, California Polytechnic State University, Pomona
  • Dr. Jane Close Conoley, President, California State University, Long Beach
  • Dr. Ellen N. Junn, President,  California State University, Stanislaus
  • Dr. Adela de la Torre, President, San Diego State University
  • Dr. Mary A. Papazian, President, San Jose State University

The session was an incredible opportunity to learn more about the leadership journeys of these CSU Presidents. 

Each president had a truly unique story of their path to their current role. Some never saw the leadership role for them and others saw the opportunity and fit early on. Despite their diverse paths, they all spoke to the importance of mentors in getting to where they are, but agreed that mentors and the mentoring relationship can take many forms. 

President Coley encouraged attendees to “think about engaging differently with mentors and sponsors. Look for mentors and sponsors who can feel a range of roles from skills to emotional needs.”

President Junn added to the mentorship conversation reflecting on her long list of people she would consider mentors and saying that “women should look for mentors in unexpected places. Go beyond the traditional mentor definition and appreciate that mentoring can come in snippets.” 

The conversation also touched on important personal experiences in their leadership journey, including how the approach the work/life balance. They all agreed that finding that balance is going to feel tough, and really, isn’t a balance in the end but doing the best you can and shared their guiding principles for trying to achieve a balance. 

President Papazian talked about how navigating her path with kids. She recalled taking a break in being published and how it worried her in her pursuit of her career but a mentor reminded pushed her and she told the women attendees something she was told that was important to her, “don’t apologize for pauses in life for things, like having kids. Own those choices and know what you have to offer.”

Interestingly, the presidents also spoke about the how campuses are like cities and the challenges that presents. They all agreed that teamwork and prioritizing what needs to get done is key. One piece of advice offered by President Beck pointed out that “as a leader, your job is to set priorities, knowing there will be detours, but the leader must stay focused on the vision laid out.”

President Conoley echoed the importance of priorities saying that “the heart of strategy is focusing on priorities,” to which she added, one way she stays focused is by approaching work with the rule of “Do it. Dump it. Delegate it.”

Beyond the functions of a campus, it was fascinating to hear about the different student populations, region and community the campuses serve. Each campus truly has a unique perspective and vision to deliver on. For example, San Diego State plays a notable role being on the border with Mexico. President de la Torre talked about how she must account for those regional considerations offering that “we have an obligation and responsibility to not only serve our students but the region around us that we are intricately tied to because of our location. Keeping that in mind helps drive the vision for the school.”

The Session was moderated by Michelle Hahn, Senior Customer Advisory, Amazon Business and current Leadership California Board Member. 

Leadership California is so grateful to all the presidents who took time out of their busy schedule to join us and share their insight.

From left - CSU Women Presidents Panel: President Adela de la Torre, San Diego State University; President Ellen Junn, California State University, Stanislaus; President Mary Papazian, San Jose State University; Chancellor Timothy White, California State University; President Erika Beck, President, California State University Channel Islands; President Jane Conoley, California State University, Long Beach; President Soraya Coley, California Polytechnic State University, Pomona; Michelle Hahn, panel moderator, Leadership California Board Member; Amazon Business