As she entered her second month on the job, CSUN President Erika D. Beck checked in, in-depth, on the heart of the university: its students.
As part of a “listening tour” during the first 100 days of her tenure, Beck met with hundreds of Matadors in a virtual forum Feb. 15, to hear about their concerns, their dreams, their challenges and triumphs. The Presidents’ Day “Afternoon with President Beck” took place on Zoom, with Beck answering a number of student questions and then engaging in a Q&A session with undergraduates and graduate students. The forum was sponsored by Associated Students (AS) and the Division of Student Affairs, with an introduction by Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students William Watkins.
“I am exceptionally honored to be part of such a vibrant academic community and the transformational excellence that happens on our community,” Beck said. “I know that there is a long tradition and deep commitment to student success at CSUN, and I look forward to working with all of you to build on those efforts. I want you to know that I am dedicated to fostering a culture that places people first and allows every member of our campus community, but most especially our students, to achieve their highest aspirations.
“I just don’t think there is another place like CSUN, and I am so delighted to serve this remarkable institution and all of you,” Beck told students. “The strength that all of you bring to the university is reflected in your resilience and dogged determination in these unprecedented times. I know you are working extremely hard to balance all of these challenges, to remain engaged and successful, and to build and maintain community in virtual environments. I just want you to know that I’m really proud of you. We believe in you, and we are here to support you.”
In an hour moderated by AS President Rose Merida, students shared their concerns and desires for CSUN’s future, including diversifying faculty and staff, and creating more forums and programs for students to share their lived experiences — to forge more “unity in diversity,” as student Naurice Minor put it.
“As an undergraduate at UC San Diego, I never had a psychology professor who looked like me, who was Latinx,” said Daniel Garcia, now a graduate student at CSUN. “Students of color … need to be taught by somebody who has a lived experience of what it means to be a person of color. Students of color need to see themselves reflected in the professors.”
Garcia asked Beck to consider instituting more recruitment programs for scholars from underrepresented groups, such as a postdoctoral teaching program, similar to the CSU’s Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholars program.
Beck shared her commitment to diversifying faculty and staff and noted her work on this issue for more than two decades.
“Ensuring that we have a faculty and staff that reflects the richness of diversity of our community is core to our mission, and it is a clear priority for me,” Beck said. “It doesn’t stop at recruitment. We want our employees to want to devote their careers to CSUN, so we also need to examine employee retention, just like we examine student retention — making sure that all of our new hires are supported and experience a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose.”
In response to prompts, students shared with Beck their favorite programs at CSUN, and what they consider the most critical resources on campus, such as the CSUN Food Pantry, Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), and Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES). Students praised the wide variety of student clubs and organizations available, and they credited their involvement with campus organizations with enriching and improving their academic experiences.
“The greatest parts of being at this university [are] the people, everything you can do and everything you can make out of it for yourself,” said Shayan Moshtael, who has served as a peer mentor and been active in Associated Students. “What you put into CSUN is what you get out of it.”
Students also took the opportunity to get to know CSUN’s new president, asking Beck what she enjoys doing when she’s not at work — she noted that she loves playing games like Yahtzee and Connect Four with her two sons, and playing with the family’s “menagerie” of pets including dogs, a guinea pig and a turtle. Students also asked about her greatest strengths as a leader.
“I’m a leader that really is present and engaged and listens,” Beck said. “What I love most is spending time with students, and really understanding better how the students, the faculty, the staff, the community, how everyone collectively envisions a brighter and more equitable future through the university and the work that we accomplish together. I really believe that public higher education is the solution to so much of what ails us as a society.”
Beck emphasized that advancing student success and eliminating equity gaps are her highest priorities. “It is the core of what I hope to accomplish as a leader,” she said.
Beck, who became CSUN’s sixth president on Jan. 11, reinforced her commitment to working with a broad coalition of students and leaders across the campus to set the course for the university’s future, starting with the listening tour over the first 100 days of her tenure. The purpose of the tour is to understand the context in which CSUN operates as well as current strategic priorities, she said.
Before arriving at CSUN, Beck served as president of CSU Channel Islands for more than four years. Prior to that, she was provost and executive vice president at Nevada State College. A California native, she holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California, San Diego, a master’s degree in psychology from San Diego State University and a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from UC San Diego.
As the Presidents’ Day virtual forum concluded, Beck thanked Matadors for taking the time to share their stories, their challenges and their aspirations.
“I want to thank everyone for your direct, thoughtful, courageous, well-informed and well-articulated perspectives,” she said. “It is so incredibly helpful to me — I cannot tell you how much I appreciate them, and I want you to know that I heard what you said. … You’re also here and participating in service to your fellow students, to improving the university more broadly.”