News from Academic Affairs

May 2019

Gratitude and Welcome to New Leadership

The commencement season is an incredible time of year as it provides us with an opportunity to celebrate everything that is positive and impactful about the work we do at SSU. First and foremost, I would like to thank every single faculty, staff, volunteer, alum, and community member who has helped our students get to this stage in their lives. It’s time to graduate! I also want to thank Dr. Maureen Buckley and Dr. Karen Thompson for exhibiting tremendous leadership as interim deans over this past year. I am thrilled to welcome two new interim deans, Dr. Dan Petree (Business and Economics) and Dr. David England (School of Education) starting June 3. I also am very happy to welcome our new AVP of Admissions and Recruitment, Barbara Godoy, to campus. Barbara started on May 6, so please stop by her office on the second floor of Salazar and welcome her to campus!

Celebrating Research and Creative Activity

The month of May has brought us many occasions for celebration of research and creative activity. I am very excited for Jazmyne Gill, who is earning an M.S. in biology at SSU, as she recently won a Career Development Grant from the American Association of University Women. Ms. Gill’s research is on climate change as it is expressed through heat-shock proteins and purple sea urchin larvae. She is a passionate scientist and educator who dreams of getting her Ph.D. and eventually becoming a biology professor.

Ms. Gill is one of hundreds of students who benefit every year from the dedication of faculty to support student research. Our recent Week of Research and Creative Activity gave us a chance to celebrate our collective dedication to research, scholarship, creative activity, and mentorship. More than 500 students and faculty exhibited their projects and shared their expertise with the broader campus community over the course of the week.

Finally, I am thrilled to congratulate Professors Rajeev Virmani and Ben Ford for their $586,000 NSF grant. Maker Challenges to Promote Math Learning among English Language Learners aims to promote fourth- and fifth-grade student engagement with STEM through a maker-based active learning curriculum. This innovative project has the potential to transform how we teach mathematics in our schools and provides a powerful example of our commitment to equity, inclusion, and transformative impact at SSU.

Summer is upon us

Summer is almost upon us! After commencement, our collective attention turns to the glorious months of June, July, and August. For many of us, this means turning our attention to research and creative projects. For others, it means focusing on projects that will help the campus prepare for the fall. For faculty who have not fully mapped out the next three months, I recommend this brief article by Anastasia Salter on "Four Suggestions for Planning a Productive Summer." I also really enjoyed Junior Prof’s Making the Most of Summer Plans for its focus on realistic goal setting and decision making. As for my own plans, I look forward to attending Summer at the Green concerts, hiking in Switzerland, and serving on the Modern Language Association’s Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize committee for a third and final year. Out of more than 50 nominees last year, the winner was B. Christina Arce’s México's Nobodies: The Cultural Legacy of the Soldadera and Afro-Mexican Women, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in Latin American race, gender, and women’s studies. I also look forward to re-reading Professor Kathryn Chang’s co-authored article, “The Immiserizing Growth During the Period of China’s Cultural Revolution,” which was published a few months ago in The Chinese Economy.

April 2019

SSU Welcomes New Students and Celebrates Research

Seawolf Decision Day is quickly approaching, and with it comes our chance to celebrate everything we appreciate about Sonoma State. We anticipate approximately 3,000 admitted students and their families visiting this weekend to learn more about all SSU has to offer across our five academic schools, at our incredible preserves, the Green Music Center, and through student life. As we open our doors to more transfer students, SSU continues to signal our commitment to serving students of all backgrounds and doing so with integrity. Thank you for being part of this incredibly impactful and important work!

Part of what makes Sonoma State special is the strong research profile of our faculty and our collective commitment to integrating students into research, scholarship, and creative activities. As we prepare for our first-ever Research and Creative Activity Week this month, I am pleased to highlight the research of two faculty in Science and Technology. Dr. Owen Afinson in Geology is co-leading the American Geophysical Union upcoming conference on Large-Scale Volcanism in the Arctic. The conference will provide an opportunity for researchers from across the disciplines to come together to share knowledge and eventually create a framework for future Arctic research. I also want to congratulate Dr. Daniel Crocker,  Biology, for his grant from the Office of Naval Research for a project on "Developing Metrics of Animal Condition and their Linkage to Vital Rates." As Dr. Crocker describes in his abstract, this research focuses on elephant seals with the goal of determining "how body condition influences wildlife health and reproduction."

Serving SSU Students with Pride

Over the past month, I have had the privilege of attending two events that highlighted our talented students. Our Career Center held a Career Advising and Handshake Booth pop-up in its new home in International Hall. SSU students were present to teach best practices for shaking hands, meeting people, and maintaining eye contact during interviews. While other students helped me pick out appropriate interview clothes from the donated clothing rack, representatives from Target were on hand to provide feedback on student resumés.

Student Talent on Display

Our students’ talent is on display in the University Art Gallery 2019 Juried Student Exhibition. The beautifully curated show includes art in a variety of media created by SSU students. Jurors for the show were Susie Kantor, Associate Curator of Visual Arts at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Bay Area artist Taravat Talepasand. As an added bonus, I also invite you to visit the intriguing “No-Show Show” in the corridor by the Department of Art and Art History.  Students whose work does not appear in the Juried Student Exhibition has been hung in the “No-Show Show” for all to see.

The Provost Recommends…

People studying and consulting in the Learning and Academic Resource Center (LARC) This month I recommend "How to Make Your Teaching More Engaging" by Sarah Rose Cavanaugh. This article probes intriguing connections between emotion and cognition, learning and community, and teaching and storytelling. Cavanaugh includes numerous tips on getting information through to our students. She also recommends a podcast, Teaching in Higher Ed, focused on “the art and science” of teaching and learning.

March 2019

Updates from the Provost

Artwork in the Alchemia exhibit.Spring break is just around the corner and spring is definitely in the air at Sonoma State. This is a good time to stop and be thankful for the opportunity we have to work in public higher education and to support our students at SSU. We have much to be thankful for at the institution and in this beautiful part of the world, but we also have much work to do to support our surrounding communities impacted by the recent flooding. You can read more about how to support recovery efforts.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the opening of the University Library’s incredibly uplifting Alchemia exhibit. Featuring the work of local artists with developmental disabilities, the exhibit highlights the joy and expressivity made possible through art. If you want to see first-hand the impact non-profits can have on individuals and communities, be sure to see the exhibit before it closes on March 25.

We have many accomplishments to celebrate both on campus and off. This month I want to highlight a new publication in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by Professor Heather J. Smith of the Psychology Department. The article, “Disapproved but Tolerated,” is on the link between respect for and tolerance of under-represented groups. Written by Professor Smith with a group of internationally recognized scholars, the publication describes two separate studies centered on certain group members' respect, disapproval, and tolerance for other groups. At Sonoma State, we are fully committed to moving beyond tolerance to a deeper understanding and appreciation of all cultures and races. Dr. Smith's latest publication reminds us how fortunate we are at Sonoma State to have many faculty engaged in research that aims to further our understanding of how to build a more inclusive and equitable society.

Transfer Student Success

Axcend to a Higher Degree | Your Next Step Sonoma State University We have good news to celebrate! Sonoma State is No. 1 in the CSU for two-year transfer graduation rates. Thanks to the hard work of faculty and staff alike, 62.6 percent of our transfer students now graduate within two years. This means that our transfer students are getting the classes they want and need to graduate in a timely fashion. It also means that our collective focus on creating transfer-friendly curricula across our majors is helping students discover two-year pathways to graduation. Student Affairs built a Transfer and Transitions Center dedicated to helping all transfers, including veterans and those needing additional assistance navigating the university. Our transfers have access to timely progress to degree, which in turn lowers their debt. They also have relatively high early-career earnings compared to graduates of other institutions.

All of this good news helped Sonoma State achieve a No. 12 in the nation ranking in Money magazine's 2019 list of Best Colleges for Transfer Students.

Currently we are proposing to lift impaction for transfers and thereby make it even easier for students to transfer to SSU, including as lower-division undergraduates or as spring applicants. These are just some of the impactful ways in which Sonoma State continues to focus on lifting educational attainment throughout our region.

Social Justice

Charles Blow, NY Times ColumnistSonoma State was fortunate to have another successful Social Justice Week this spring. Students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members had access to 34 talks covering a wide range of topics. The highlight was a lecture by New York Times columnist Charles Blow, who delivered the Andréa Neves and Barton Evans Social Justice Lecture Series at the Green Music Center on February 26. In conversation that afternoon with Professor Juan Salinas, Mr. Blow spoke with students at The Hub about race and racism in the United States. Later in the day, hundreds of audience members at the Green Music Center heard Mr. Blow speak passionately about structural racism, the power of voting, and the need to denounce hate at all levels of our political and social systems. Mr. Blow’s inspirational messages resonate with our own campus community and with the entire week of social justice programming. As we continue to find ways to structure productive dialogue and trainings to help us strengthen our own commitment to diversity and social justice at Sonoma State, we also can and should continue to find inspiration from those who have committed their lives—in both past and present—to shaping a better society for all.

Writing Our Way to the Future

People studying and consulting in the Learning and Academic Resource Center (LARC)This month I recommend an article from Teaching, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s weekly pedagogy newsletter. “How One Instructor Shows Her Students that Good Writing Matters” is chock-full of ideas about how to connect the classroom experience to the real world, regardless of discipline. Some faculty report assigning interviews about real-world writing to their students, while others create writing assignments about where students envision themselves ten years from now. Still others ask students what skills they believe they need to be prepared for graduation and then integrate the building of those skills into their classes. SSU professor Glenn Brassington reminded me on a rainy afternoon recently that we also need to give students time to process and think, so he invites students who are able and willing to go on a walk during breaks to clear their minds and prepare their minds and bodies for more learning. Our Faculty Center has many workshops on teaching and learning, and if you have ideas for sessions you would like to offer or take, please let them know!

February 2019

Updates from the Provost

The spring semester is well underway, and this is a great time to thank every faculty and staff member at SSU for the work we do collectively to educate and support our students.

I was thrilled to learn that 54 faculty applied for Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity Program funding. On the recommendation of the Faculty Subcommittee on Sponsored Programs, some of the increased funding available this year includes a limited number of Assigned Time awards. All awardees will be notified on March 1.

These are just some of the ways in which we are increasing support for research at SSU. Please mark your calendars for the Research and Creative Activity Symposium, which will feature student and faculty work during the week of April 29-May 2 in the Student Center. This is a great time to thank Dr. Daniel Malpica for stepping into the role as Director of the McNair Program. His leadership has helped bolster our commitment to integrating student research and faculty mentorship.

In the spirit of supporting RSCA, this month I'd like to recommend Scott Jaschik's recent interview with Raphael Folsom, "How to Get Grant Money in the Humanities and Social Sciences." If this piece sparks ideas for you, please reach out to Steve Karp, our Associate Vice President for Research, to identify funding opportunities. Under his leadership, the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs has increased pre-award support offers mentoring via workshops, one-on-one discussions, and grant-writing assistance.

We have many faculty and staff accomplishments to celebrate. I am proud to congratulate Dr. Adam Zagelbaum for the Western Association of Counselor Educators and Supervisors Conference 2018 Outstanding Publication Award. The award was given for the prison education video, "Group Counseling with Inmates: San Quentin Prison." I also want to congratulate Dean Karen Schneider for being elected to a three-year term on the American Library Association's executive board.

I am proud to work with so many talented faculty and staff. If you have ideas about how we can better highlight people's achievements, please send them to me.

Thank you for the leadership you provide both on and off campus in service to our students and our strategic priorities.

In gratitude,

Lisa Vollendorf, Provost

January 2019

Welcome to Spring 2019!

As we kick off a new semester, you might enjoy James M. Lang's article on How to Teach a Good First Day of Class. The article provides great tips for faculty across the disciplines and reminds us of the power of education to help students flourish and grow.

As we continue to prioritize faculty hiring, I am pleased to report that we already have six new faculty who will join SSU this fall. Congratulations to AMCS, CCJS, Sociology, Psychology, and Early Childhood Studies for their recruiting efforts. Our other searches are moving along and should result in hires later this spring. While we were advised not to sponsor visas this year, we are committed to sponsoring them starting with the next hiring cycle. To everyone participating in faculty and staff recruitment this year, thank you for your incredible effort.

We have many openings for faculty to serve on administrative search committees. Hiring is among the most important work we do at SSU, and we need diverse representation on our administrative recruitment committees to do this work effectively. Please consider stepping forward for one of these important leadership opportunities by putting your name forward to the Academic Senate at

Together we have created a preliminary strategic plan for the Division of Academic Affairs. Schools and other units (such as the Library, Records, Admissions, and I.T.) are now poised to carry the plan to the next level of implementation. You can see other draft division plans posted on the strategic plan website. We also are moving forward with strategic budgeting, which will include spring budget planning starting with the schools and units up to the division level. Please mark your calendars for the spring Budget Forum (Tuesday, March 12 from 2-4 p.m.). The forum provides a chance to learn about the budget outlook and to share ideas about how to build alignment between resources and strategic priorities.

Thank you for the work you on behalf of and with our students.

In gratitude,

Lisa Vollendorf, Provost

Electronic Transcripts Now Available

I am thrilled to announce that we recently made electronic transcripts available at Sonoma State University. Before this semester, if a current or former student wanted to order a transcript, you had to go in person to the Records office. There you would fill out the form, sign it, pay the postal fee (if applicable) and then, in a week or two, you would get something in the mail.

Now, thanks to the incredible collaboration between Associated Students, Records, IT and other Academic Affairs staff, if you want a transcript, you can do it al online in just a few quick steps.
If you need a transcript for a good driver insurance discount, applications to graduate or professional school, or for job application purposes now can get them almost instantly. In our pilot, we had Associate Students leaders Christina Gamboa and John Dunstan order transcripts, along with two alumni. The transcripts arrived within 10 minutes to their inboxes.  

Read more here about how excited we are to launch this service!

This is one of the first major projects we have undertaken in collaboration with student, faculty and staff input to streamline forms and make our business services more student friendly. We are working to streamline and digitize more processes, so stay tuned for more exciting news to come!

In gratitude,

Lisa Vollendorf, Provost

October 2018

A Bridge to Success

By Claudia Moore, Student Assistant, Office of the Provost

Over the past summer, Sonoma State launched an expanded version of Summer Bridge. This program helps historically low-income and first-generation first-time freshman college students as they transition to college. Bridge gives them an opportunity to get to know our campus, build community with their peers, and meet with advisors and faculty before fall classes begin.

In the past, Summer Bridge served only EOP students. This summer, because of charitable donations from Kalmanovitz Charitable Foundation and generous gifts from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, the program expanded to include EOP, Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, and students from the PUERTA project, which prepares underrepresented educators to become teachers. In total, 187 students got the opportunity to take English and Math classes while also building skills to prepare for the transition to university. The academic emphasis exposed students to data gathering, statistical analysis, college-level writing, and presentation skills. These activities gave students as taste of college course work while also familiarizing them with the campus. This year’s Summer Bridge was a true collaboration and development between both academic and student affairs divisions, which truly met our president’s objectives around refocusing our campus priorities on a student-centered and student-first approach to we service our community.

The academic portion was added as a part of Sonoma State’s Graduation Initiative (GI2025), helping give students a firm foundation for success. Summer Bridge shows an immediate impact on student success and retention for our most vulnerable student populations. Dr. Karen Moranski, Associate Vice President for Academic Programs, stated that "Summer Bridge has a 'ripple effect' by giving students a community to come back to before school even begins and helping them feel connected to others in their first semester." The importance of Summer Bridge is not solely academic; it also helps build lifelong communities.

Summer Bridge Student Leader and third-year SSU student, Ja'Keemah Seals mentored a group of 8-10 first-generation college students in "Team Joy" during Summer Bridge. Ja’Keemah had gone through Summer Bridge . The program gave her a chance to get to know other students and bond with other over a shared experience while build a community, one she is still in close contact with today. Coming back as a Summer Bridge Student Leader gave her the opportunity to give back to the students and the program. One of Ja'keemah's proudest moments as a Summer Bridge Student Leader is when “one of the students said that she didn’t believe she would fit in or even be able to attend [Summer Bridge] at first, and by the end she was so happy to be a part of her bridge team."

Summer Bridge gives students a strong support system to fall back on when times are difficult. Ja'Keemah Seals emphasized the importance of finding a home away from home on campus; "Finding your community is important because your real family isn't here. People who accept you as valid and visible are key to success in college." Ja'Keemah's main goal of Summer Bridge was to build a community for her students. "Even if they didn’t feel like a part of Team Bridge, I wanted them to feel a part of Team Joy." One of the students on Team Joy told EOP leadership: "My Bridge leader Ja'Keemah was the most comforting gentle person I have ever met. She made me feel comfortable and helped me make SSU my home."

It is not only the program that makes Summer Bridge so special; it is its leaders as well. For Ja’Keemah making sure her students would succeed in every part of college life was essential. She went above and beyond and helped her students find on-campus jobs, build resumes, register for classes, and make friends so they could truly be ready for everything once they made the transition to Sonoma State.

In providing an opportunity for all students to achieve success in the Summer Bridge program delivers on SSU’s strategic core values of diversity, connectivity, and adaptability. Summer Bridge helps students from diverse backgrounds prepare for success. Importantly, it also gives incredible students like Ja'Keemah Seals the opportunity to build leadership skills.

Reaching High: Professor Kim Hester Williams

By Mariah Ponce, Student Assistant, Office of the Provost

Professor Kim Hester Williams has co-edited a new volume of impactful essays about diversity and social justice. Racial Ecologies (University of Washington Press, July 2018) explores the responses of communities of color to environmental crises. Taking a global view, the essays explore the ways in which race, gender, nationality, and colonialism continue to shape our communities and our environment. Professor Claire Jean Kim said of Racial Ecologies, "This is a powerful and important book that should be read by everyone concerned with how to understand and address the ecological crisis that is upon us."

Dr. Hester Williams has been at SSU for over 20 years and says that “working at Sonoma State has been nothing but positive.” A specialist in nineteenth-century American literature, she loves helping students understand the past so they can prepare to help create a sustainable, inclusive future. Her commitment to our students is a strong example of our collective dedication to student success and academic excellence at SSU.

Professor Hester Williams’ teaching and writing also embrace our institutional core values of diversity, sustainability, and adaptability. Helping students to become critical thinkers and responsible members of society is not only beneficial to the campus, but to the broader community as well. Through both teaching and research, Dr. Hester Williams is inspiring our students to be leaders and have a transformative impact both on campus and in the world.

Focus on Student Success

Focus on Student Success Sonoma State University has made great strides towards our Graduation Initiative 2025 goals. A recent preliminary report provided by the Chancellor’s Office shows us making remarkable progress towards almost every single goal.

Importantly, 34.8% of first-time, first-year students graduate from SSU in four years. Our transfer two-year graduation rates are improving as well: this year we hit 62.2%! These are among the best graduation rates we have seen at Sonoma State and also among the best in the system. These results would not be possible without the dedication and thoughtful approach to advising and systems improvements that we have as an educational community at SSU. Our students graduate with less debt and in a timely fashion thanks to our commitment to student success.

SSU strives to serve all students with integrity. This includes providing meaningful advising, meeting student demand for required classes, and giving students access to the support services they need to succeed at university. Faculty and staff support our students every day through formal and informal advising sessions, academic experiences, and co-curricular programming. We want to ease the bureaucracy and decrease reliance on paper, so we are also taking a systems-based approach to helping students succeed. New tools to support this effort include: Platinum Analytics for predicting course demand; Tableau for data visualization; and the Student Success Collaborative for individualized advising.

Early Childhood Studies has some of the best four-year graduation rates at SSU. The department’s chair, Dr. Chiara Bacigalupa, has worked collaboratively with her colleagues to create a strong advising and mentor system for all majors. All tenured and tenure-track faculty participate in advising, as do some compensated lecturers. The system provides training for new advisors to learn the ropes and also has checks and balances in place to minimize mistakes. New faculty advisors shadow more experienced advisors before taking over advising sessions on their own. Following the tried and true model used by master teachers nationwide, this approach helps the department support and meaningfully advise large numbers of majors. ECS has some great advising practices that can be replicated throughout the university! Taking a page out of the playbook of Early Childhood Studies may be an option for other departments on campus.

We have a lot of progress to make if we are going to meet all of our GI2025 goals. You can read more about those goals and see our preliminary progress report on the Graduation Initiative Group website.