A new school year is well underway at Cal State Bakersfield, and President Lynnette Zelezny has one thing to say about it: it's going to be a busy year.
There are plenty of new additions coming this school year to keep things fresh for students, especially since the university will be celebrating its 50th birthday. CSUB will hold its first December graduation in several years due to growing enrollment, and a center for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students will open later this semester.
With much to look forward to this year, Zelezny sat down with The Californian Tuesday to share several initiatives that will affect students' futures for years to come.
Q: It's the second day of school. How does this year look, especially since it's your second year as president?
A: It's going to be another high-energy year. We started again with over 11,000 students and we'll look forward to a record graduation year. We know students that are on track to graduate. It's so exciting to look forward to that. We're so successful in moving forward our graduation initiative that we will have a December graduation ceremony so that's something to look forward to.
The other thing that's important to note is we spent the last year putting together a very inclusive strategic plan, which is now in its penultimate draft and we have an open forum Wednesday. As I'm looking at the feedback now, it's basically order suggestions. We'll put a stamp of approval as the voice of our community and the voice of CSUB. The one thing that's so important is the student success piece is a driver throughout the five goals. It's helping us launch our first-ever comprehensive capital campaign, which we're in motion with our feasibility study to get our target, but it will again really lift up those five goals.
The exciting thing is we have another large group of faculty that have joined us to bring their energy and vision and academic scholarship. We have some new programs, one in Basque culture we're excited about. Our Student Recreation Center has seen some really big updates ... The support we have at CSUB is very holistic, it's a whole student approach, so we want them to be very healthy and have a balanced life and we provide that.
Q: The university was just recognized by Washington Monthly, and you say this recognition is the one you look forward to the most. Why is that?
A: It's very easy to get up every morning and feel really energized about the work we do at CSUB. We know every day makes a difference for students, and we really are making great strides. In just a year, we've really moved forward on our four-year and six-year graduation rates, and we have worked really hard to close equity gaps. Our students that are underrepresented and coming to us as Pell recipients, so those students under the poverty line in their family, are still moving forward with great graduation rates. That really is what we need here in Kern County because that's the workforce development the community is asking for. They want diverse students, they want students that want to change and transform the trajectory of their families.
Q: Let's talk a little bit about the BC SouthWest campus and some of the educational goals you have for the coming year.
A: This year for me is making sure that folks know all of the energy and good work we have done in just one year to make sure students are successful here at CSUB. One of the things I'm really proud of is we're doing everything we can to reduce barriers for students. The Bakersfield College-CSUB opportunity is just but one of those examples. Two thousand students will have the opportunity to come to Bakersfield College SouthWest campus, which is here at CSUB.
Why that's important is that the students that will come here will be selecting their educational pathways (Associate's Degree Transfers) and they will also know once they finish their two-year degree on our campus, they have the opportunity to continue here for their four-year degree and we'll have a seat ready for them. Why that makes a difference is a student that does not have anyone in their family to ask how do I transition from community college to four-year college, they'll already have us for support. It reduces that transition which is a really big one.
Q: Like how BC has its dual enrollment program and allows high school students to earn an associate's degree by the time they graduate high school, would CSUB consider doing something similar?
A: We're not going to compete with the community college; that's really their role and we want to really be respectful of their role of the general education dual enrollment. However, receiving students that may have finished their associate degree while in high school, we're ready to welcome them as juniors as transfer students. That's how we are collaborative. One of the reasons why our four-year graduation rates have gone up is because we have a large group of students that are graduating every year before four years and that's because of the dual enrollment and collaboration with Bakersfield College.
Q: I hear there will be a center on campus for DACA students. What can you share on this?
A: That came from a group of leaders that serve on our Latino/Latina Advisory Council. The Dreamer Resource Center will be launched this semester. We will have our director in place shortly, and it will include monthly legal services for students and their families. I want to thank the council of community members who helped pushed that forward; it's an important initiative for us.
One of the other things we have our eye on, and this came from another council — our African American Advisory Council — is moving forward on a lot of investment and focus on young men of color. We're working with the community and high school districts to make sure we're identifying young men of color that we hope will come to CSUB. We're involving them in leadership and mentorship. We're really making an investment because we want to have a place where social justice and equity is really at the focus and at the heart of giving people equitable opportunities.
The young men of color is inclusive. It's African American, Latinos, Asian Americans, Pacific Islander and Native American. We're proud of the work that we've started, and I want to thank our collaborators at Kern High.
Q: It's the university's 50th year. What celebrations are in store?
A: They'll really kick off in the spring and early fall. There is a committee, its chair is John Nilon, and he was the chair for the investiture, so you can bet it's going to be another good celebration year. We do also have a book that will be part of that celebration.