CSUCI President Erika Beck

Erika Beck

President, California State University, Channel Islands, as of May 5
Former provost, executive vice president, founding member of Nevada State College
Former research associate, Salk Institute for Biological Studies
B.A., M.A., Ph.D. in psychology

Tell us about your role at Nevada State College and how that translates to your new role at CSUCI.

Nevada State College opened the same year as Cal State Channel Islands and there’s so many similarities in the two campuses. When you open a campus in 2002 and then 2008 happens, right? So when you’re just in the very beginning, what it [the recession] does is create this entrepreneurial creative innovative mindset that says, how can we accomplish this without the resources? Of all the things that I’ve learned about the university — that’s the really ingrained commitment to reimagining what we do and how we do it to serve the community, I think is our great strength.

Explain further how you managed the recession.

No. 1 was building relationships with the community so that the community could really see that we were on a trajectory toward economic diversification, economic finalization. We were in it together, we were very open. We were willing to have not just the community to come to campus but have the students come to the community, and I think that both campuses have really built that into the core of our identity.

What was the focus of goals for Nevada State College?

To really service that access point to the Baccalaureate degree for students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to pursue a Baccalaureate degree at all and in that instance anywhere in the state of Nevada and at a public university. So it’s this profound sense of mission and of access to the transformative power of higher education as a vehicle for social mobility.

What were some of the programs that did particularly well over there?

There’s one program in particular — Nepantla is a program that was built to serve underrepresented low-income students and it was really a data-driven approach to how can we help students who historically have not performed well and haven’t made it to graduation at the same rates as their non-underserved peers and built in a whole bunch of pieces so there’s a summer bridge program where the students came to campus before their freshman year. They did some academic work but more importantly than that, really talking about identity and about the students seeing themselves as successful college students and learning to navigate the complexities of college life.

Flash-forward to your current role at CSUCI. There’s always room for growth and for improvement. What would you like to add to CSUCI?

I think in general the campus has done an absolutely beautiful job with very limited resources. And one of the spaces we’ve been having a lot of conversation about in respect to student success is this really laser focus on student success and on data. So we are sort of blazing our own trail. We are thinking about teaching and learning in new ways, in really compelling ways guided by evidence and it’s looking at that very specifically to see, did it have an impact?

Doing more of what’s working and doing less of what’s not working so that it’s less of making decisions by intuition or by literature, or things that work at other campuses. It’s really directly tied to this community and this region, to our campus and to our students and then letting the evidence guide us.

Let’s talk about student demographics and what you envision for educational programs.

We’re an overwhelmingly female campus, 65 percent is female. The fastest-growing programs are in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). The majority of our students are the first in their families to attend college. They’re overwhelmingly low income. They’re from the region and they stay in the region. Now, our region extends from Thousand Oaks all the way through Santa Barbara; 75 percent Ventura and L.A. County. We are really thinking about how we build out our degree programs, forward thinking about where is business and industry going and then how can we help provide the graduates that will be there to support the growth of that industry. Mechatronics engineering is our newest degree program; it’s the science of intelligent machines.

It involves robotics and computer science and that came about as a result of the community because we have this really natural relationship with the community and our faculty spent a lot of time with business and industry, organically, in the community. But there was this significant call for engineering and for mechatronics. It’s with those big industry leaders and our faculty together trying to think about the region and the state about what’s not here now that we can uniquely contribute to.

You started on the path of psychology. How did you end up in education?

I was always on the track to become a faculty member. I knew I wanted to get a Ph.D. in psychology when I was 12 years old. I know most people don’t have that experience but I knew. I read an intro to psychology textbook in the sixth grade and I just knew that’s what I wanted. I taught my first college class when I was 22 at San Diego State when I was a graduate student there. I was actually able to teach the course and I fell hopelessly in love with it. I thought I would always be a faculty member and a researcher.

Slowly but surely, I got tapped into leadership roles. It wasn’t really a linear progression for me in that I said, look this is what I want to do. It was much more of a “We need you in this role will you take it.” And then I realized that the more leadership roles I assumed, I realized I had the opportunity to impact more students’ lives even though I really loved the one-on-ones with the students in the classroom.

Now you said that you found yourself being put into these leadership roles so what does it take to be a leader?

Generally I think leadership is service. I fundamentally believe that it really is service to other people and it isn’t a title. Titles do not convey leadership.

I think what it really takes, and I think it’s specific to all people but I think it definitely comes up with women a lot, is that first you have to see yourself as a leader. It’s an identity piece and I think it’s often overlooked. You have to have the opportunity to exert leadership and then that has to be reinforced.

So first you need the opportunity and my favorite quote is Louis Pasteur’s quote, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” My philosophy is — has always been that I loved what I was doing and it mattered – and it mattered to the world. I’ve been blessed; I’ve spent my whole career doing something that I think makes the world a better place. I believe that.

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