Photo of Erika D. Beck, Ph.D.

Erika D. Beck, Ph.D.

President | CSU Channel Islands

“What inspires me on a daily basis are our students.
What they want to give back to their community is really extraordinary.”

At first glance, the office of Erika Beck, Ph.D., president of California State University Channel Islands, appears to be an oasis of calm in the middle of a busy fall semester, its clean lines, streaming natural light and blonde wood punctuated by serene shades of blue.

Then you see more: the colorful art piece made by a student for the arched space behind her desk. The neon dolphin—a playful nod to the campus’ mascot, Ekho. Framed photos of Dr. Beck's sons, Aidan, 12, and Tristan, 10. The large model of a brain Beck used when she was a professor of psychology.

Psychology, in fact, was what got Beck to this office in Camarillo, California, where she leads a campus of over 7,000 students and nearly 1,000 faculty and staff. “At the age of 12, I picked up an intro to psychology textbook, fell hopelessly in love, and knew I wanted to be a psychologist,” remembers Beck, who grew up one of three daughters in San Anselmo, in Marin County.

But as much as she loved being a faculty member, it wasn’t long before the professor was drawn into leadership roles. It’s not hard to see why; her easy laughter, warmth and intellect made her a natural. “My colleagues convinced me to run for [faculty senate chair],” she remembers. “They really wanted my leadership and so I agreed. That was a pretty powerful experience for me.” In 2004, she became the founding dean for arts and sciences at Nevada State College (NSC) and, in 2010, the provost and executive vice president.

By the time she arrived at CSU Channel Islands in 2016 to assume the presidency, Beck had not only honed her leadership philosophy, she’d gained deep expertise in running a young university with a lot to prove. (Coincidentally, NSC opened in 2002, the same year as CSUCI.) “I thrive in the space of imagining what comes next,” she says. “I’m very good at taking the long view.”

There’s little question that Beck has audacious goals for the CSU’s youngest campus; her recently released strategic initiatives make that evident. She’s also clear-eyed about where she fits into the equation: “Leadership is service. For me to be the leader the university needs, everyone in the university needs to be working in their best and highest purpose.”

That starts with hiring faculty and staff who have what Beck emphatically calls “an absolutely unwavering commitment to serving a largely first-generation, underserved student population. It has to be in your blood. If that is in your blood and you believe in the importance of that, not just to our community, but to the country and to the world—for me, that is fundamentally the most important thing.”

When she has a few minutes to spare, Beck slips out of her office to walk the campus, nestled in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. She’s invariably stopped by students asking for a selfie with their ebullient president.

“What inspires me on a daily basis are our students. What they want to give back to their community is really extraordinary,” she says with clear delight. “This is a campus that is deeply, deeply invested in civic engagement and our students are just incredible.”

On the tougher days of running a quickly-growing university, Beck turns back to what she calls her “North Star,” the reason why she is always happy to come to work: “We do this because we are transforming human lives for the better.”

 

"There’s no question that my grandmother inspired me. She wanted to come to America to get an education and she became one of a handful of women to obtain a master’s degree in the U.S. in the 1930s."


TRUE NORTH

BY ERIKA D. BECK, Ph.D.

 

Listen to President Beck's essay

I believe in the power of higher education to transform lives for the better. I suspect that is why I went to college and never left, because in my role as a student, faculty member and academic leader, I have seen first-hand that universities enhance human potential and in so doing make our world stronger and more resilient. I cannot imagine a more fulfilling career than one that helps to foster a more inclusive and equitable future for us all.

At Cal State Channel Islands, we reimagine higher education every day to serve a largely first-generation, historically underserved student population. When our students walk across the commencement stage and receive their diplomas, they stand as role models for what is possible when opportunity meets talent and dedication. Obtaining a college degree elevates every student we graduate and, just as important, it changes their family trees forever. This is the essence of what we do and it is at the core of our commitment to academic excellence.

As president, I strive every day to ground the details of our work in its greater purpose. Every financial aid package we process, every lawn that we trim, every word of encouragement we offer and every learning experience we facilitate fosters human potential. That is our North Star – the opportunity, the commitment, and the responsibility to transform lives for the better.

I believe leadership works best when it is shared. Leaders emerge from every corner of our campus community: in the classroom, on the field, in the advising office, in the art studio, and at campus orientation. Formal titles do not automatically invest one with leadership qualities; leadership emerges when one has an abiding commitment to serving others and advancing ideals that matter. It is what we do together that has the greatest impact.

I am profoundly honored to have the opportunity to serve as President of Cal State Channel Islands, where I am surrounded by thousands of leaders who navigate True North and facilitate human potential every day.

PHOTOGRAPHY: PATRICK RECORD; courtesy of Erika beck

VIDEOGRAPHY: PATRICK RECORD

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