CSUN’s sixth president-select, Erika D. Beck, introduced herself to the university community Nov. 12 with a livestreamed conversation with alumnus and CNBC Anchor-At-Large Bill Griffeth ’80 (Journalism), Hon.D. ’17. During their talk, Beck promised to listen to individuals at every level of the university and build a coalition to realize a brighter, just and more equitable future together.
Beck, currently president of California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI), was appointed last month as CSUN’s next president by the CSU Board of Trustees. She will assume her new post Jan. 11, 2021, after Dianne F. Harrison steps away from her position. In her first public conversation with the CSUN community, Beck talked of a career devoted to equity, diversity and inclusion, and explained how she would build on the transformative work accomplished during Harrison’s tenure.
“I believe that the university exists to enable human potential, and that the transformational power of higher education extends beyond an individual to the communities that we serve,” Beck said.
“Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that no leader accomplishes anything on their own,” she continued, noting that the vision for CSUN’s future would be the collective vision of the CSUN academic community. “One of the hallmarks of my leadership style is that I listen and ask a lot of questions. It’s really important to have leadership’s thinking informed by lots of people with varying points of view, in order to come to the best possible solutions.”
A highly respected financial journalist and longtime anchor of several CNBC shows, Griffeth brought his perspective as a proud Matador to the discussion, which was designed as an opportunity for the CSUN community to get to know the incoming president.
Beck’s life and career have highlighted her understanding of CSUN’s mission to elevate students, families and their communities.
A working mother of two boys, ages 12 and 14, Beck grew up in the Bay Area as one of three girls raised by a single mother. When she was 12, she shared that she discovered an introduction to psychology textbook that had been left in her sixth-grade classroom, reading it cover to cover and falling in love with the field. She earned a bachelor’s in psychology and a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from the University of California, San Diego, as well as a master’s in psychology from San Diego State University.
“I am made in the CSU,” she said.
She joined Nevada State College as a founding faculty member when it opened in 2002, helping build an institution modeled after the CSU system and providing a new pathway for students in Nevada to receive a baccalaureate degree at a public institution. She served in many roles at Nevada State, rising to become provost and executive vice president.
“I could not be more proud of the work that we facilitated together,” Beck said. “We became known as the authority for inclusive excellence in the Nevada system of higher education. We did incredible work in graduation rates and closing equity gaps, and really built a thriving university community from nowhere.”
Appointed CSUCI president in 2016, Beck led the university to earn national recognition for providing equitable, affordable and transformative education. In 2019, the campus was recognized as one of nine institutions in the nation and the only one in California, with the prestigious Seal of Excelencia from the Washington, D.C.-based organization Excelencia in Education for its accomplishments in facilitating Latinx student success.
Beck joins CSUN at a time of unprecedented challenges, as the university continues its primarily virtual learning to slow the spread of COVID-19.
While acknowledging the energy of an on-campus community, Beck said the virtual experience has revealed new opportunities for student engagement and distance learning. As the business community re-thinks the way it does things, CSUN must ensure its curriculum continues to meet the evolving needs of the workplace, she said.
“Telecommuting and telework are here to stay in one capacity or another,” Beck said. “And it’s surprising, on a number of levels, how much it’s shifted thinking. What that says is that we need to, as educators, be thinking about how we prepare our students for new skill sets to thrive in those new spaces.”
Ultimately, Beck said, CSUN’s diverse community of students, alumni, faculty, staff and supporters is exceptionally well positioned to help address the complex challenges facing our communities.
“There are decades of research that tell us that diverse teams are more innovative and more effective than homogenous ones,” she said. “As we look around us at the challenges that we face collectively, in order for us to come to novel solutions, we need different thinkers at the table. We need different lived experiences to inform leadership, we need varying disciplines to work together and think about these challenges in ways that they haven’t before.”
A video of the livestreamed conversation can be viewed online on CSUN’s YouTube channel.