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Dr. Timothy White is responsible for the 23-campus system and is looking forward to the chance to give back.
California State University Chancellor Dr. Timothy White didn’t seek out his position, he said, but rather, it was brought to his attention. Nonetheless, he has taken on the task of overseeing the state’s 23- campus system with grace, determination and humility. A product of California’s school system himself, White sees his career as a way to give back.
“I said, ‘you know, California got me going as a kid many years ago. Now is my chance to give back,’” White said during a recent interview with the Sentinel.
“ And, I think that sort of student focus, focus on the staff will create the environment for students to learn not only the ABCs of their major but also the skill sets to be successful [i.e.] how to interact with people, culturally competent, technology literate…”
Like many of the students in his system, White was a first generation college grad. The concept of higher education neither occurred nor appealed to his Argentinian family.
“I find it interesting that my facts are different than somebody else’s facts but the stories are pretty much the same,” he said.
“My family’s plan was not to go to college but to get through high school and get a job. My buddies were going away to college, so I talked to my parents about it. So, they said, ‘well Tim that’s great for them but in our family, you go out and get a job.’ So, I said, ‘come on, go check it out.’
“I checked it out and I looked at UC and Cal State, and community college and applied to them all and got admitted. So, I sat down with my dad, and I said, ‘dad I’ve got choices.’ He said, ‘what are they?’
“I explained to him and he said, ‘what’s the difference between them?’ I had no idea, they were all just college. And he said, ‘well how much do they cost?’ It was roughly $5.00 for community, $50.00 for Cal State and $500 for UC. He said, ‘you go to the $5.00 one.’”
And off he went, first to community college, where he developed an interest in sports and teaching. He ended up at Fresno State where he got a degree and teaching credential.
“I started teaching high school and coaching,” White recalled.
“I said, ‘you know I want to teach at a community college. What do I need to do?’ You need a master’s degree. Where can I get one of those?
“What do I have to do to coach at a four year school? Well, you have to have an Ed.D or a PhD. You can get one of those at Berkley, so I went to Berkley and I got exposed to this whole world of science, kinesiology and the human body, chemistry and molecular biology. So, I had this interesting physical activity as a coach and the study of muscles and hearts and bones…”
Looking back, White seems just a bit amazed at his accomplishments so far.
“Who would have thought a boy from Argentina, could accomplish [what I have] all because of starting at community college and Cal State,” he said.
“But that’s who I am. A lot of students might think I was born with silver spoon, but no. I’m you. I’m just 40 years later. And I think [that kind of thinking] helps me be successful in my job.”
White is the seventh chancellor of the CSU system. He is the only alum to hold the position. Before that, he was the chancellor of University of California, Riverside, and as a professor of biology and biomedical sciences there. He served as University of Idaho's president from 2004-2008.
Now, his main goal is to improve educational outcomes at all 23 of CSU’s campuses. He’s looking to create public/ private partnerships to fund things like more residential space on campuses and continuously improve facilities. These things, he said, will contribute to students’ success.
“We certainly know that one of the ways that students succeed is if they get hooked the first year,” said White.
“And so, we call these retention strategies. So, one of the most profound things… instead of you being a commuter, is that you live on campus the first year.
“So, it’s a merging experience, there are people around you looking out for you. You get to meet friends, you get to do theater at night, you get to go to the library at 2:00 in the morning. Some of the distractions of going home with family or friends go away.
“So, we’re actually encouraging campuses to increase their inventory of residential halls on campus. And we’re thinking of a lot of public/ private partnerships to do that. We’re thinking of letting someone build it, own it, run it and make the money. But on our land and then after 20 years they give it to us for a buck.
“In the absence of the state being able to do major capital expansions, how do we get residence halls built? Not to just have residence halls but to improve the success of the kids. So, many of our students (over 50 percent) are the first in their families to go to college.
“When you think about that, that means they can’t go home and ask their parent or their sibling or uncle, ‘hey, I stubbed my toe in history class, how do I get back on track?’ So, we can’t have students come and not be successful because we know they have the aptitude, otherwise they wouldn’t get in…”
In the end, White encourages students coming after him, to pursue higher education. Stick it out, he said. It will be worth it in the end.
“The time and money you spend in school will be worth it. In any economy, the number of unemployed with college degrees will always be less than those without.”
White lives in Long Beach with his youngest (of four) sons and his wife Karen.
For more information on White, CSU, financial aid and other services visit www.calstate.edu.