The new school year not only brought in new students, but also a new school president. Dr. Ellen J. Neufeldt became CSUSM’s fourth president in July of this year, replacing Dr. Karen Haynes.
Neufeldt was born in Lansing, Michigan, where her father attended Michigan State University. Neufeldt grew up in the student family housing there. Later, her father became a professor at Tennessee Technological and Neufeldt’s family was yet again living in a college town/city. Neufeldt said she grew up on college campuses, going to classes with her parents and working as a pretend student for student teachers training to become full-time teachers in middle school.
Being the daughter of a college professor and a college administrative assistant, a future in the academic field seemed to be in her destiny from the start.
Neufeldt studied at Tennessee Tech, earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees there. She earned her doctorate at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in educational administration and policy.
Both of her parents were very passionate about student success and Neufeldt took that idea to heart. In fact, that idea has guided her and been a driving force in her career from the beginning, especially during her time as the vice president for Student Engagement and Enrollment Services at Old Dominion University.
“I’m so lucky because I get to wake up in a purposeful profession every day. For me, it’s always been a part of who I am. To get to see a student graduate, to help students find their passion… I love to be on campuses where there’s a diversity of students who are on our campus and opportunities for first generation students, it means so much to see lives change and to get to do something so powerful,” Neufeldt said.
She smiled, remembering one instance which confirmed that she had chosen the right path. She recalled how she oversaw a student through a difficult time:
“A student almost left school [and when] that student first arrived I wasn’t sure if she was going to get through. The first time I met her this was going to be an uphill climb, she almost left a few times, but when she graduated I remember that feeling of such pride for her and to see how much she changed over time and I had a feeling of pride that I was in some small way a part of that,” Neufeldt said.
This concept of student success carried over into her work here at CSUSM as well. It inspired the Learning and Listening Tour, which began this fall semester. The goal of this program was to link the campus with the outside community.
“What I loved about [this campus] is that people want to be here for a mission. The faculty and staff they care so much about our student [and] community members. They talk about how much it means to mentor students to involve them in undergraduate research… [it’s nice to see] how dedicated the faculty were to that,” Neufeldt said.
Neufeldt called herself “one of the most fortunate people in the world,” given the opportunities she had through her career.
“[I have] been a part of such wonderful campuses that are putting students first,” she said. She likes to work on what she called “a builders campus where we’re all growing together. I learn more from students than I could ever teach,”
This is the mentality that Neufeldt wants to carry into the future of CSUSM.
“We offer every opportunity for our students to be successful, all the way through, how they go out and become great members of society. They have every opportunity while they’re here and after they graduate, doing everything they can to help our students as well as our community really think forward with innovative ideas, where we go next in innovation and entrepreneurship, community-based learning [and] internships” said Neufeldt. “[We need to] really capitalize on relationship we have with the community and make sure we take that to its full potential. I believe that we all do this together and that it’s important that everybody gets to contribute to the community. I think it’s important that we all have an opportunity to lead from where we are and that we honor our place in leadership and that we set our own bar.”