Before he rose to helm the College of Health and Human Development at California State University, Northridge and served as associate dean at its sister campus, Cal State LA, Dean Farrell J. Webb sojourned in much colder climates. He earned his doctorate at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and taught for many years at Kansas State University. And though he has spent several years as an academic leader back in his native sunny California, his Midwestern alma mater called Webb “home” to Minneapolis this month for a warm reception, to accept one of its highest alumni awards.
Webb, who earned his Ph.D. in family social sciences from Minnesota, was honored by the university’s College of Education and Human Development with its 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award. The dean traveled to accept the award at a reception and induction dinner Nov. 16 at the Minneapolis campus. The college created the award in 2010 to honor alumni who’ve distinguished themselves in their careers and communities, according to college dean Jean K. Quam.
“I really enjoyed the people at Minnesota — one of the best things about the school,” Webb said. “I was working very closely with families. I liked that there was a clinical component to the program that allowed us to see a direct application of our efforts.”
He worked feverishly, graduating in just two years and earning straight A’s in his classes, he said. “The winter quarter was the toughest — I took 22 units, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ll never do that again!’ It gets dark so early [in the Upper Midwest]. The sun goes down so early in the winter. I went to class in the dark and returned home in the dark, but was enlightened by all of the things that I learned — so I always felt like I was in the sun.”
After graduation, Webb spent more than 19 years at Kansas State University, where he was an associate professor of family studies and human services, and director of the Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program. He also spent three years in the Office of the Provost as Kansas State University’s ombudsman.
Webb joined CSUN as dean of its College of Health and Human Development (HHD) in July 2016. He brought more than 21 years of public and academic administrative experience to the position, including his two years as an associate dean at Cal State LA. At his appointment, Webb said he felt lucky to have been appointed dean. “I get to inherit a lot of good stuff and work collaboratively with some amazing faculty,” he said.
The college has more than 7,900 undergraduate and graduate students in 11 undergraduate degree, 10 graduate degree and three credential programs. Its mission is to prepare competent and caring professionals with a commitment to enhance and promote the health and well-being of the diverse communities CSUN serves.
“The biggest things we want to do here are increase our research footprint by having more [scholarly] articles published, secure more grants and improve our graduation rates. We’re on track for this,” Webb said. “The College of Health and Human Development is also very focused on professional growth, and the faculty are very invested in making sure that happens with their students. They know their students well. The professors and the students have very warm relationships.”
Webb models this warmth, with an engaging and approachable style. After many years in the classroom and working side by side with undergraduate and graduate students, it’s clear that he’s much more comfortable telling stories about students’ and professors’ work than discussing his own awards. He’s an expansive story-teller, gesturing with a pen and smiling easily.
His office in CSUN’s Sequoia Hall is open and busy with student assistants. It’s crucial, Webb said, to let students know that faculty and academic leaders like him are interested in them and that they are there to support students’ progress, success and aspirations.
“I do help people, because I know what it’s like to be in the position where you want to get somewhere, but you don’t know how to do it,” he said.
Webb grew up in Southern California, earning bachelor’s degrees in sociology/political science and communication arts, with an emphasis in film and television production, from Loyola Marymount University.
“I was studying film and TV, but I was more interested in documentaries,” Webb said of his undergraduate years. “My mentor encouraged me to learn more about society, so I started studying sociology.” He went on to earn master’s degrees in sociology, one from Cal State Long Beach in social psychology and one from New York University in applied statistics, and then the doctorate from Minnesota.
Webb has been a post-doctoral scholar and visiting associate professor at Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Human Development and Family Research in Diverse Contexts, where he studies ethnography, geostatistics and epidemiology. He also has received academic certificates from the University of Texas at Austin in hierarchical linear modeling and advanced structural equation modeling. His work is focused on the statistical analyses, research methodologies and interplay of human sexuality, gender, race and ethnic relations, health, poverty and inequality on well-being. He is a lifetime member of Phi Kappa Phi. Webb has earned numerous academic and teaching awards throughout his career, including Outstanding Teaching Professor, Distinguished Service to Students with Disabilities and Distinguished Service to Multicultural Students — all Presidential Awards given at Kansas State University.
Webb has taught at NYU, City University of New York, Bloomfield College and Kansas State University. He has published more than 35 peer-reviewed articles in professional journals and numerous book chapters, as well as made more than 50 conference and other academic presentations. He has had more than $7 million in grant-funded activity from the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and others. In addition, Webb has held membership in the American Psychological Association, American Sociological Association, National Council on Family Relations and National Association for Ethnic Studies.
The college he leads, HHD, includes the Departments of Child and Adolescent Development; Communication Disorders and Sciences; Environmental and Occupational Health; Family and Consumer Sciences; Health Sciences; Kinesiology; Nursing; Physical Therapy; and Recreation and Tourism Management.
It serves as home to several centers and institutes, including the Aquatic Center at Castaic Lake; Center of Achievement through Adapted Physical Activity; Child and Family Studies Center; Consumer Resource Center; Center for Recreation and Tourism; Marilyn Magaram Center for Food Science, Nutrition and Dietetics; and Physical Therapy Center for Advanced Clinical Practice. It also engages with the Institute for Community Health and Wellbeing.