Story Leadership

7 Questions with New CSU Bakersfield President Lynnette Zelezny

Jeanne Ricci

​Learn more about this CSU alumna and the core values that guide her collaborative leadership style.


In spring 2018, the California State University Board of Trustees appointed Lynnette Zelezny, Ph.D., to serve as president of CSU Bakersfield.

We spoke with the veteran educator and leader about her new role, her goals and the importance of being the first female president of CSU Bakersfield.

Q: What are some of your first orders of business as president of Bakersfield?

Zelezny: I have a transition team of both campus and community leaders that are helping me in the first 100 days to network with key stakeholders to collectively identify our priorities, which will then be developed into a strategic plan that will, ideally, be collectively embraced.


Q: What is your leadership philosophy?

Zelezny: I serve students, I serve my faculty and staff, and I serve the community. At a larger level, I am a servant leader to the California State University system. In addition, I very much have a spirit of collaborative leadership underneath the larger framework of servant leadership. Throughout my career I have experienced that collective work is the most effective and leads to the greatest successes because it's embraced by everyone and people have "buy-in."


Q: What are the goals of your presidency?

Zelezny: Incorporating three core values: excellence, partnership and community. Excellence means ensuring that we are building a world-class university that serves the region and that we are known for our stellar faculty, curriculum and the way that we leverage our research to improve the quality of life in the Central Valley and beyond. Secondly, thinking broadly about deepening the partnership to our community and making sure that we are working collectively on big issues. I also value our partnerships with other CSUs in the Central Valley — I'm already involved in the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium. We will work together to make sure we are increasing and deepening access for students in the Central Valley, getting students across the finish line and supporting them as they go out to be servant leaders in the region. I'm excited to enter the community in Kern County and, with other leaders, enhance the quality of life here.


Q: You are the first female president of CSU Bakersfield. Does your hiring say something bigger about the university and about the United States today?

Zelezny: Chancellor White has made a bold statement by being very intentional about appointing leaders in presidential positions that reflect the student body of the CSU. It was a great moment when I learned my appointment tipped the CSU into being a university system where the majority of presidents are female. I received about 1,500 emails the day I was appointed and at least 500 of those were from women and girls I didn't even know. It makes a big difference for future female leaders.


Q: What do you do in your free time?

Zelezny: I love to read, walk, and my husband and I sail as much as possible. Being in nature is very important to me.


Q: What are you reading?

Zelezny: As I prepare for my new role as president, I'm rereading one of the classics: "How to Win Friends & Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. I always recommend this book to young leaders who ask me how I build trust, remember people's names and establish a sense of warmth quickly. I still lean back on Carnegie's book.

Q: What's something people would be surprised to learn about you?

Zelezny: People are always surprised when I tell them I'm an introvert. I enjoy quiet time and being thoughtful. I share this because I want to bust the myth that only extroverts are leaders. Great leaders have diverse characteristics. Take Abraham Lincoln — an introvert but also an amazing leader.

About Dr. Zelezny

Most recently, Zelezny served as provost and vice president of academic affairs at Fresno State University, a position she's held since 2014. She joined Fresno State in 1988 and has served in a variety of roles including associate provost, dean and associate vice president for the Division of Continuing and Global Education, associate dean for the Craig School of Business and chair of the psychology department where she was also a lecturer and professor.

A product of the CSU, Zelezny earned bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology from Humboldt State University, a Ph.D. in applied social psychology from Claremont Graduate University and an MBA from Fresno State's Craig School of Business.