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A New Era: Ellen Junn inaugurated as 11th president of Stanislaus State
California State University Chancellor Timothy White honors Ellen Junn as the 11th president of Stanislaus State. - photo by CANDY PADILLA/The Journal

While certainly not a new face to community, Ellen Junn was officially inaugurated on Thursday as the 11th president of the Stanislaus State and the first Korean-American woman to lead a four-year university throughout the United States.

“Indeed, I am indebted to the Board of Trustees and the Chancellor and all of you today for your trust and confidence in me as the 11th president of California State University, Stanislaus,” said Junn. “I thank each and every one of you for your ongoing rich contributions and activities that enable our students to thrive, succeed, and help our communities prosper.

“We are here for a reason and a shared purpose. On this glorious day, full of reflection, enlightenment, and yes, hope, let us imagine the possibilities, and pledge ourselves to supporting our students, higher education and the future,” continued Junn.

During her speech, Junn not only touched on her plans for the future of Stanislaus State, but also on its past. She thanked the State for its foresight in seeing the need to establish a CSU campus in the Central Valley more than 60 years ago, and honored the eighth Stanislaus State President Marvalene Hughes, who she called an “outstanding and pioneering leader of our campus.” With the endorsement of the Academic Senate and Associated Students, Inc., Junn announced that the Reflecting Pond located near the campus entrance would be named in Hughes’ honor.

“Emerita President Hughes was credited with creating many of the lush ponds, lakes and water features — a fitting homage to her namesake state of Minnesota — by bringing a little bit of the ‘land of 10,000 lakes’ to our Central Valley,” said Junn.

Junn also reflected on her personal history, which began in the Midwest as the oldest of three daughters. Her parents Sungjook (Bob) Junn and Youngsook (Sue) Junn, who immigrated to the United States from South Korea shortly after the Korean War, promised Junn and her sisters three things: the choice to raise a family, the promise of higher education and the privilege of living in a great democracy.

As she stood before the crowd, which included Youngsook (Sue), she publicly thanked her parents for making the courageous decision to leave South Korea in order to create a better life in America.

“My parents lived during very harsh times in South Korean history, and survived many severe hardships in their lives as children and young adults because of the Japanese occupation and the Korean War,” said Junn. “However, their optimism, perseverance and strength have profoundly shaped our family.

“I know if my father were alive today, he would scarcely be able to contain his pride knowing that his daughter achieved what was in his mind, the highest professional calling — to not just teach and do research, but to lead a remarkable university like Stanislaus State, and to fill this critical role as the first Korean-American woman president in the U.S.,” continued Junn.

Junn stressed many unique factors of Stanislaus State, one of which is evident in the students themselves. With roughly 9,700 students at the university, 75 percent are first-generation college students, 63 percent are Pell-eligible, and 58 percent are part of the underrepresented minority. Among those who are first-generation is ASI President Nicole Larson, who served on the presidential search committee and welcomed Junn into the campus family on behalf of the entire student body.

“I’m so excited to be a part of this new era of Stan State, which it truly is, and the future that it holds is so exciting to look forward to,” said Larson. “In the last few months, President Junn has tirelessly worked to create authentic relationships, from working closely with faculty leaders to eating lunch with students in our main dining area to being a part of our town’s holiday parades and to cheering on our Warrior athletes in championship caliber games. Efforts like these create the critical bond between presidents and campuses that make us the family that we are today and what we will continue to be.”

“Stan State has momentum now. The future of this campus is in strong, capable hands that will lead us to surpassing expectations while prioritizing that students needs come first. We have full confidence that that is the direction we are heading,” continued Larson.

Looking ahead, Junn highlighted five central themes she imagines will take precedence in further strengthening the “quality, stature, reach and impact of our unique and outstanding campus for our promising students here in the Valley.” One of these themes centered around her desire to nurture and support a climate of strong, authentic and meaningful relationships between students and faculty, staff and administrators, as well as Stanislaus State’s connection with the entire Central Valley.

“Key to this effort is expanding and developing roadmaps for our K-12 partners and community colleges to create clear pathways for all students to progress towards their baccalaureate degree and beyond,” said Junn. “By growing the pipeline of college-educated students, we can work together with our regional business and industry partners to make a substantial impact to the economic well-being of our region and serve as a catalyst for positive social change in the Central Valley.

One community-wide connection that was made evident Thursday was Stanislaus State’s enduring relationship with the City of Turlock. In order to signify the renewed relationship between the university and city under Junn’s leadership, Mayor Gary Soiseth presented her with a Key to the City.

“For the past few months, I’ve enjoyed working with Ellen as many of you have,” said Soiseth. “She is firmly committed to creating a strong and unbreakable connection between the college and the city, and it starts with this strong relationship between her office and City Hall. Ellen might be new to Turlock, but she embraces and exemplifies what it means to be a citizen of the Central Valley that we all call home.

“While a Key to the City doesn’t open any gates surrounding City Hall, today is does quite the opposite. This key demonstrates to everyone here that you’ve already made a personal effort to tear down any proverbial walls around the university and the city,” added Soiseth.

Junn underscored her aspirations to foster a never-ending desire to learn in every Stanislaus State student and graduate and prepare students to push forward and change the world for the better. She asked the campus community to join her in encouraging, promoting and supporting the creation of an institutional Strategic Plan for Diversity and Inclusion that includes the consideration of all aspects of diversity from the curriculum; staff, faculty and student recruitment and retention; campus climate and community involvement; as well as fostering creativity in the technologically advanced world today.

“As responsible universities in the nexus of these rapid changes, it is our obligation to better prepare, equip and help our students stay current with these technological innovations and help them take charge of evaluating and creating better solutions,” said Junn.