Ellen N. Junn is well-versed when it comes to the realm of public education. Serving previously in positions of leadership at five different universities within the California State University system, Junn will now take the reigns as president of Stanislaus State, hoping to continue the legacy of student success that the school has created in recent years.
Junn first visited the Stanislaus State campus 17 years ago as a junior faculty member for a different school, and even then the university held a special place in her heart.
“I just remember it being so beautiful,” said Junn. “I wasn’t anticipating all of the water features and the ponds. The almond trees were blooming in pink clouds, and it took my breath away.”
Nearly two decades later, it is that same, beautiful campus that Junn now presides over. By way of a phone call, CSU Chancellor Timothy White gave Junn the news that she would serve as the university’s second female president and 11th president overall.
“It was tremendous,” said Junn. “I was just so, so excited because this is such a great campus and the opportunity to come here and finish my career as president here was just so exciting.”
The upcoming fall semester at Stanislaus State will mark Junn’s 31st year in the CSU system, where she began her career as an assistant professor of Psychology at CSU San Bernardino. Since then, Junn has filled countless notable roles, including provost, chief academic advisor and vice president of Academic Affairs at CSU Dominguez Hills, chief academic officer at San Jose State, associate provost at Fresno State and other prominent positions at Cal State Fullerton. While the position of president is still new to her, Junn explained that the opportunity means much more than the title itself.
“It’s not the title of the position that’s important to me; it’s what we can do together to make the university a stronger and a better place,” said Junn. “We have the ability to really enact change. I love building programs and I love seeing success, and those are things that we do together.”
Retired President Joseph Sheley was celebrated for the same togetherness that Junn described, most notably helping to bridge the gap between the university and the community of Turlock through the downtown opening of the Art Space on Main, which often features work of university students, as well as the organization of events to promote Turlock’s retail and restaurant trade with students.
After riding alongside Mayor Gary Soiseth in the Fourth of July Downtown Parade, Junn understands Sheley’s love for the town.
“It’s so heartwarming to come to this town where people are so warm and so, ‘Go Stan State!’” said Junn. “It was just fantastic.”
The relationship between the community and Stanislaus State is something that Junn hopes to uphold as the school’s new president, she said, by both strengthening and promoting the programs already in place and working to implement new opportunities for Stanislaus State students to become familiar with Turlock.
While it’s important to Junn to connect the campus with the people of Turlock, she also plans on making the students who attend Stanislaus State feel at one with the university. Since the campus is known as a “commuter school” – meaning most students simply drive to class and then go home – Junn wants to advance programs on campus as well that are meant to promote a sense of community among students. Though advances have been made, such as plans for a new Student Union building, Junn has a number of ideas that she hopes will bring students closer together, including a “Pizza with the President” event where students mingle and meet their administrators and a revived Freshman Convocation for newcomers to the campus.
“I do believe in very strong relationships with all of the constituencies, not just the faculty but the students as well,” said Junn.
Along with strong community ties, Junn also places great importance on the success of students – especially those included in minority groups. During her time at San Jose State, Junn established both the African American and Hispanic Student Success Task Forces to better serve and increase graduation rates among students of color.
“The whole CSU system is known as a leader as far as the nation is concerned because we have such diversity in our state and that’s reflected in our students,” said Junn. “It makes our campus so vibrant because there’s no single majority group; we’re kind of a microcosm of inclusion that I think is so important for any university, especially here in the Central Valley.”
Stanislaus State is no stranger to minority and low-income student success, having gained national recognition for advancing economic mobility and outcomes for its graduates, many of whom are first-generation college students. The university was also ranked as the number one public university in the nation for helping students exceed expectations by Money Magazine and recently took the number one spot in a report highlighting public and private universities in the nation that excel at enrolling and graduating low-income students released by the Obama administration.
Arriving in an environment where the success of minorities is a top priority has come naturally to Junn.
“It makes me very happy to be here because already there is a recognition and a celebration that the campus wants to be noted for its diversity and support for all student success, regardless of background, ethnicity or socioeconomic standing,” said Junn. “This is something that I have some past success and history in, and so being able to come to a campus that already has that as a philosophy and to help create additional supports for all students is extremely exciting.”
Creating affinity groups, such as the two that Junn established at San Jose State, is something that the new president has considered and will support, should the campus community show interest.
The college’s new leader also hopes to blaze a trail for the strong-minded women of the state. Not only does Junn step into the second presidential role filled by a female at Stanislaus State, but she also is the fifth consecutive woman appointed to lead a campus by the CSU Board of Trustees. Including Junn, there are now 11 women serving as CSU presidents – more than at any time in the state’s history. As a female in a position of leadership, the role is something that Junn takes seriously.
“It is a true honor and is something I really feel very privileged to be able to be part of that change,” said Junn. “Outside of the CSU, the percentage of women who occupy the highest level of leadership in universities is so low that the CSU is catching up in a big way in terms of the representation of women, and particularly, women of color.”
In recent years, the CSU system has come under fire for gender imbalance among its top leadership roles. Junn’s appointment reflects Chancellor White’s push for more diversity in hiring throughout the system, and as president, she hopes that she can be an example to young girls looking to climb the ladder of success.
“It weighs heavily on me because I know what an important symbol it really is, and it also shows the commitment that the Board of Trustees and the Chancellor has for filling the highest positions at the universities,” said Junn. “It is an important signal for young women to imagine having a woman president and what life would be like in different or similar ways.”
According to Junn, the most distinctive thing about the university is the amount it has accomplished already, and as president, she hopes to take that achievement to the next level. But first, she has just one request for the Turlock and campus communities.
“I’d prefer that people not necessarily call me President Junn. I mean, my mother didn’t call me President Junn. She called me Ellen, so they should feel free to call me Ellen.”