Though most operations at California State University, Stanislaus have slowed down dramatically since annual commencement ceremonies wrapped up in late May, outgoing president, Dr. Ellen Junn, is far from done with her work.
In January, Junn announced that she would retire once the current academic year ends on Aug. 1. Until then, she will be busy showing interim president Susan E. Borrego the ropes of the position. But in the midst of her jam-packed schedule, she sat down to reflect on the past seven years living in Turlock as a Warrior.
Junn was inaugurated in 2016 and became the second female president to serve at Stan State and the first Korean-American woman in the United States to lead a four-year public institution. She has lived in Turlock for her entire tenure. Once Aug. 1 comes around, she will be moving to Southern California to enjoy retirement closer family.
“It was not a hard transition for me because Turlock reminds me a lot of my original childhood hometown, Jenison, Michigan, which is a farming town smaller than Turlock. They grew vegetables and other produce, and so even the landscape looks kind of the same. It felt more Midwestern in that there was farming and that the people were very friendly,” Junn said.
Prior to coming to Stan State, President Junn served as provost and vice president at CSU Dominguez Hills, provost and vice president at San Jose State. Prior to serving in those capacities, she served as the associate provost at Fresno State.
Despite Fresno and the Fresno State campus being much larger than Turlock and Stanislaus State, she saw several similarities between the two.
“Fresno is a very large city, the fifth largest city in California, but they had many problems that Stanislaus State had,” Junn said. “There's poverty in the Central Valley, and on this campus, I'm a person who likes to work with the underdogs. That's part of the reason I went to Fresno, to really help with issues in Central Valley where there's more concentrated poverty and less access to education. Our county region has only 18% who get a college degree. We're one of the campuses in the CSU has one of the largest percentages of first-generation college students. We have 74% [who] are first in their family to get a bachelor's degree and we're largely underrepresented minority status students… The state is more like 33% college educated, and less than a little more than half that rate at our county region, so I wanted to come to a place where I knew I could make a difference.”
Indeed, there has been major changes at Stanislaus State since Junn arrived. Aside from the noticeable changes of the new Student Center, the renovated J. Burton Vasche Library and the current construction for the Turlock campus’ new child development center, a number of programs and resources have also been added and made available, including the President’s Central Valley First-Generation Scholarship Initiative, the Warrior Cross Cultural Center, faculty and staff cultural affinity groups, the President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, and CareerReadyU. Most are programs that Junn has seen at other institutions.
“I've been at six CSU campuses, and every campus I've been on, there's always been some of these groups and programs, so that was really surprising,” she said.
Another point of pride is that Stanislaus State has been nationally ranked every year since Junn arrived. This year, the institution was named as a top 10 college in the state of California by Money Magazine.
“It's all based on student metrics, and my role as president is to make sure that I have enough resources and support to give to all the campus vice presidents and faculty and staff to support our students towards graduation and professional success,” Junn said.
“Commencement is just so powerful,” she said. “Usually, at the height, we were graduating about 3,000 students a year, and that means that we generate about 62,000 alumni in the 63 years that we've been operating, and a lot of them want to stay and work in the Central Valley, and that’s so important for our community and economy.”
Another one of Junn’s favorite memories has been participating in the City of Turlock’s annual Fourth of July parade.
“When I first got here, my husband saw the Fourth of July parade [being promoted]. We were staying in a hotel until our house was cleaned and so he said, ‘Have you ever done the Fourth of July parade?’ I said, ‘No,’ so I called the office and asked if the university had a role, and the answer was no. So, I called the mayor’s office, and we did it… In the summer, there aren’t many students taking classes, but many students do live in Turlock, so it was always fun to engage with the community.”
Engaging with the Turlock community will always hold a special place in her heart.
“What I think I will remember most about Turlock is that it is a place that is so remarkable. In terms of what it does for the rest of the nation for agriculture, the campus being here, the many dedicated people working here, the students, the students that bend over backwards for our students, it’s all so great… The people here really do care.”