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Renewal marks the path to SSU's future

By Karen Moranski, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and
Monir Ahmed, Vice President for Administration and Finance

Monir Ahmed and Karen Moranski
Monir Ahmed (left), ice President for Administration and Finance/CFO, and Dr. Karen Moranski, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, at the Green Music Center on Seawolf Decision Day 2024.

Some moments in human history shift the ground beneath us and signify a change of such magnitude that our lives are forever different. When “Insights” magazine was published in Spring 2020, the world was experiencing such a moment. As “Insights” went to print, the world – and Sonoma State – was going into hibernation as we faced the COVID-19 virus. 

Meaningfully, the theme of that Spring 2020 issue was sustainability and resilience, and that is what this new issue of “Insights” represents. Profound change is the order of the day in our lives, in our work, and in higher education. The good news, however, is that in 2024, resilience – our ability to seek renewal and a sustainable future – is the continued story of Sonoma State.

In the years before the pandemic, Sonoma State prided itself on providing a high-impact, in-person experience. We had begun our journey as a Hispanic Serving Institution with an increasingly diverse student population. We met our assigned enrollment targets and our budget was relatively stable. With the highest residential student population in the California State University, we were making excellent progress toward meeting our graduation targets and lowering our equity gaps. We had just signed, as “Insights” magazine detailed, the President’s Climate Leadership Commitment, and we had a relatively new strategic plan that focused on priorities like Student Success and Academic Excellence, and core values like Diversity and Social Justice and Sustainability and Environmental Inquiry. 

What we did not know was that another of our Core Values – Adaptability and Responsiveness – might emerge as the most important. With the pandemic came enrollment decline, particularly of our out-of-region student population, and a resulting budget impact. Today, in 2024, we have a much smaller student population and fewer staff and faculty than before the pandemic. We are reorganizing the way we work. Our campus, however, is once again vibrant, our residence halls are beginning to fill as new student enrollment starts to increase, and we now know we can teach online successfully and that some of our students want to learn that way. 

Today, renewal is guided by a leadership team headed by President Ming-Tung “Mike” Lee, who arrived in August 2022 and created a new position -- Vice President for Strategic Enrollment Management (see story, page 16). The campus is making progress on enrollment by developing deeper relationships with P-12 school districts and community colleges and experimenting with digital marketing techniques that reach students on their phones.

Academics is undergoing a profound transformation through an Academic Master Planning process that is focusing on our Hispanic-serving and liberal arts missions, seeking new and better ways to deliver courses and student services, and building our current and new academic programs to serve the next generation of students through interdisciplinary problem-solving. Student success now means both retaining and graduating our students, addressing their mental health and basic needs, and connecting career pathways to every major. And student engagement is increasing – just look at our athletics teams, who are creating a new campus spirit with their incredible success this past year! 

Renewal is also happening for the physical campus as we upgrade aging infrastructure, including buildings, technology, and accessways, as well as safety services and protocols to support a new academic environment that is agile and adaptable to new learning modalities.  The soon-to-be completed solar array brings the campus to a new level of sustainability and makes it less dependent on power supplied by utility companies for its core operations during an emergency. The Stevenson Hall remodel has energized the whole campus with its new digital classrooms and its student and faculty collaboration spaces. 

The campus multi-year budget planning process has been revamped to offer more predictable resources needed in the near future.  The budget process will continue to incorporate various performance metrics and benchmarks to help prioritize our investment in the coming years.

We are pushing forward on the sustainability front, as exemplified by Stevenson Hall’s renovation as a LEED Gold building. Our new Earth Week program, Seawolves Dig In, provides education about Sonoma State’s efforts to encourage native plant growth while developing partnerships between our students and our incredibly hard-working Facilities team.

Sonoma State continues to work through challenges, but renewal is our guiding pathway, and we are leaning into our core strengths and values as we race toward the future.

Read more from Insights / Spring 2024