As an economist, Mary Beth Walker has an affinity for statistics and an uncanny ability to use numbers to help identify patterns and provide strategies across diverse student populations. After a more than 30-year career in higher education, Walker has brought her skills and determination to CSUN as the university’s provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Contained within the academic records of CSUN’s nearly 40,000 students are clues to launching students into prolonged success — numbers that show why they succeed, and what potential obstacles could hold them back. Walker’s analytical approach reveals patterns that suggest solutions with positive impacts across the diverse student body.
As CSUN continues to work toward boosting its graduation and retention rates by 2025 for its “Matadors Rising” initiative, Walker’s experienced approach will be based on facts — with a deep desire to make a positive impact on students’ lives.
“I’m a real believer in the public university mission,” Walker said. “This is where we really make a difference in the world. When first-generation students go to a university and successfully graduate, that makes a difference to them, and it also makes a difference to their whole family.”
As provost, Walker is CSUN’s chief academic officer. She will help advance student success initiatives and work closely across the university to prepare students to face the challenges of today and tomorrow.
CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison praised Walker, who arrived at CSUN July 1, for her experience in leading efforts to eliminate opportunity gaps.
“Dr. Walker has already made important strides in working with faculty, academic staff and campus leadership to help advance initiatives that will make meaningful, positive impacts on the lives of CSUN students,” Harrison said. “She is working hard to help more students graduate on time and be prepared to flourish as engaged and productive citizens and vital members of the workforce of tomorrow.”
Walker began her career as a professor of economics at Emory University in 1986, then joined the faculty of Georgia State University in 1991. After a handful of interim administrative roles, including chair of Georgia State University’s Department of Economics, she found that she enjoyed the impact she could make in such a role. Although the demographics aren’t an exact match, in CSUN she found a student population reminiscent of GSU’s: many first-generation college students and Pell Grant recipients.
“At the university level, we’re solving day-to-day practical problems,” Walker said. “You can immediately see the impact of the work.”
One of her focuses now is student persistence: identifying students at risk of leaving school, and finding ways to encourage them to continue. Strategies for helping students succeed will be based on existing research — what has worked for students in similar situations at other universities?
An example of a research-based solution already implemented on campus is the Matador Advising Hub, which serves incoming freshmen. Walker said the university is looking at ways to expand the hub’s services to further assist students before they transition to advisement at their respective colleges.
Walker is also interested in faculty development. She wants to identify opportunities for faculty members to expand on their work and continue to evolve as academics. As an example, she mentioned a program at Georgia State that allowed faculty members the opportunity to study a second discipline — such as a political scientist being given the opportunity to learn about experimental economics. Walker said she wants faculty development ideas to be generated from the specific needs of CSUN’s faculty, and she is currently visiting with each department on campus.
Walker said the administration will continue to work with academic departments and faculty members to smooth the pathways for students.
“Our faculty who are in the classroom do the lion’s share,” Walker said. “The job of the administration is to smooth things out to help them be effective at boosting student success.”