Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Climbing the Ladder

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Climbing the Ladder

Article excerpt

When Dr. Judy Sakaki becomes president of Sonoma State University (SSU) in July, it will be a milestone in the school's history. Not only will SSU leadership change hands for the first time since 1992, but the university will welcome its second female president and first Asian American president.

Asian American presidents comprise less than 1 percent of the total number of college and university presidents in the United States.

"Oftentimes, Asian Americans in higher education are the workhorses and not the show horses," says Dr. Frank Chong, superintendent/president of Santa Rosa Junior College. "They're people behind the scenes doing a lot of the work without getting credit for it, and when it comes time to consider bringing these people forward to an executive-level position, they're often overlooked."

Chong and Sakaki have been colleagues for 30 years and early on in their careers collaborated to found Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education ( APAHE).

"She's a wonderful listener and collaborator, she's a very insightful person and she's a very inclusive person," Chong says of Sakaki. "Coming from a student affairs background and a counseling background I think will serve her well as she ascends to a presidency because a lot of what we do is problem-solve and try to get people to work together."

At the start of her career in academe, one of Sakaki's first jobs was as a community outreach coordinator at California State University, East Bay, then known as Hayward State, reaching out to Black and Latino students in Oakland. She now serves as the vice president of student affairs in the office of University of California (UC) System President Janet Napolitano.

At UC, Sakaki manages services and policies for 238,000 students at the system's 10 campuses. She has also led fundraising efforts and facilitated alumni and community relations.

Sakaki's background in student affairs makes her a great fit for the presidency, says Dr. Elaine Newman, former SSU Academic Senate chair and president of the SSU chapter of the California Faculty Association, adding, "She's going to bring a renewed focus on students and student life and I think that will be a really terrific change for Sonoma State."

As she looks forward to the upcoming move, Sakaki reflects back on the complicated history that brought her to this point. Her identity as one of the few Asian American university presidents, and one of the even fewer Japanese American presidents, "comes with a certain amount of responsibility? …

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