Only by chance did Amanda Quintero realize that attending a four-year university was an option for her.
Her parents, both immigrants from Mexico, were unfamiliar with higher education and expected her to stay close to home in West Sacramento. Quintero felt like her high school advisers were steering her toward trade schools.
It was a substitute teacher — in a creative writing class in the last semester of her senior year — who first suggested she consider attending a university.
“I never would’ve seen attending a university as a possibility if it hadn’t been for one person,” Quintero said. “It was by chance for me. It shouldn’t have been that way for me. It shouldn’t be that way for any first-generation college student.”
Quintero has spent her career working to open those doors wider, to make higher education an attainable goal for students of all backgrounds — changing structures and building systems to support them, providing the families of first-generation students with “college knowledge” and helping demystify the process, and creating environments where everyone can thrive once they’re at a university.
She wants academic success for historically underserved students to be intentional — not something that happens by chance.
In February, Quintero was appointed Special Assistant to the President for Inclusive Excellence. In her new role, she serves as a member of the President’s Cabinet and is charged with focusing an equity lens on everything the university does, working closely with staff, faculty and administrators to accelerate an institution-wide strategy for fostering a sense of belonging, improving retention, and closing equity gaps for all students and employees.
Her experience traverses the public service sector and higher education as she has led and evaluated programs at the campus, system, statewide and national level. She previously served as the Associate Vice Provost for Student Success and Equity Initiatives at CSU Channel Islands, one of many roles at the university where she secured nearly $30 million in external funds to lead equity-centered institutional change initiatives. Her efforts built capacity to advance the university’s purpose as an HSI and commitment to Latinx student success and educational equity, including developing culturally relevant and responsive practices, fostering a culture of inclusive excellence, and leading cross-divisional student success teams to close student equity gaps and improve graduation rates. Her expertise is nationally recognized, as she is regularly called upon by the U.S. Department of Education Hispanic-Serving Institution Division, the nonprofit Excelencia in Education and the Foundation for Student Success, which helps postsecondary institutions reduce equity gaps through comprehensive campus culture-change strategies.
Her focus at CSUN has been affirmed by President Erika D. Beck’s 100-Day Listening Tour Report, which highlights the input of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and industry and community leaders who spoke with Beck during her first weeks in office. The report focused on seven themes that emerged during the listening sessions — the first is Standing in Our Values of Equity, Inclusion, and Justice. In conversations with Beck, Matadors spoke of an urgent need to amplify and support the work of creating a welcoming environment for all students and employees — to align this work across the institution and make it more visible.
“Dr. Quintero is a highly respected leader and student success innovator with the experience and expertise to accelerate our institutional strategy for ensuring all members of our campus feel valued and engaged,” Beck said. “The success of our mission depends on how well we engage all stakeholders in efforts to achieve an equitable and inclusive environment that serves the rich diversity of our campus community.”
Quintero understands the challenges many first-generation, historically undeserved students face because she lived them. The university world was unfamiliar to her family, and she faced resistance as she pursued multiple degrees. She felt that many of the educators in her life treated her like someone who wouldn’t succeed in a university environment, she said.
But once she began her higher education journey, Quintero thrived. She earned a bachelor’s degree in global studies from Cal State Monterey Bay, a master’s in public policy and administration from Cal State Long Beach, and a Ph.D. in education with an emphasis in policy, evaluation and reform from Claremont Graduate University. She joined CSU Channel Islands in 2004 and helped the university earn recognition in 2010 as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) and national recognition in 2019 as the first and only HSI in California to earn the Seal of Excelencia for its high level of commitment and effort to serve Latinx students successfully.
In her career, Quintero has leveraged institutional and external resources to remove many of the obstacles and structural barriers that she faced as a student. For example, the first time her parents visited campus was her graduation from Cal State Monterey Bay. Since those days, she has worked to create whole-family outreach programming that invites families to campus to create a sense of belonging.
“It’s also about welcoming the family to be part of the entire experience, not just on the first day, and not just on the last day, but all those opportunities in between,” Quintero said.
Applying an equity lens to everything university leaders and staff think about — in budgeting, in hiring and retaining faculty and staff, in supporting students, nurtures a sense of belonging for everyone.
Quintero has been meeting with the many individuals and organizations on campus who work to advance inclusive excellence. She is assessing infrastructure, programs and resources designed to empower and support the achievements of our students and employees and identifying opportunities for alignment across programs and with broader institutional priorities.
“Applying an equity lens framework will help us to shift the way we conduct our normal business, to stop and to ask critical questions so equity-mindedness becomes part of what we do on a daily basis,” Quintero said. “We’re constantly trying to make sure that we are reviewing our work through multiple lenses and using data to inform our decisions and practices. We must continuously work to understand the needs of the diverse range of students’ that we are here to serve and evolve our institutional structures to meet students where they are.
“A big theme that came up as part of the listening tour report is the need to invest in building the capacity and empowering the campus community, to be the seeds of change and help to grow our culture of inclusive excellence at CSUN,” Quintero continued. “Some of the things that might result in new practices at the institution are new ways of facilitating access to equity-minded professional development to accelerate strategies to address equity gaps in degree attainment. By engaging diverse voices from across campus, bringing them together to help be a part of enacting equity, we hope to realize structural changes in policies, practices and programs such as embedding equity in the faculty hiring process.”