SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Sidney native Jenny Zorn has been named provost and vice president for academic affairs of California State University-Bakersfield (CSUB).
She will begin her new duties there as the chief academic officer July 31.
Zorn graduated from Sidney High School in 1976 and was inducted into the Sidney City Schools Hall of Honor in 1999. She takes the reins in Bakersfield following a stint as the interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at Humboldt University.
She fell into administration by accident, she told the Sidney Daily News recently.
“I didn’t plan it,” she said. Her degrees were in geography and she had been teaching geography at the college level for a number of years.
“There was an associate dean’s (position open). I thought it was a way to help students find the path to graduation. I thought it was for a couple of years. It’s been 26 years,” she said.
Those two and a half decades were at California State University-San Bernardino, where she was a professor of geography, an assistant and then associate dean in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and associate provost for academic services.
When she left Sidney for college at Flagler University in St. Augustine, Florida, she had not at all considered a life in higher education. She hoped to teach geography in high schools. But when she enrolled at Ohio State University for a master’s and a doctorate, she discovered that she loved the college environment.
“That’s when I decided to teach at the college level,” she said. With her newly minted degrees, she applied for positions at institutions around the country. The job that came through was in California and she has been in the Golden State ever since.
At CSUB, she will “oversee the academic enterprise of the university, including (its) four schools, Extended University, Antelope Valley Center, and academic support services such as enrollment management, grants, research, and faculty affairs,” according to a release on the CSUB website.
In the release, CSUB President Horace Mitchell praised her accomplishments. “Jenny brings extensive experience in strategic planning, academic affairs, and student support. She has an impressive record of research and publications in the field of geography. Her commitment to teaching and learning, student success, diversity and inclusion, and community engagement aligns well with our vision and values. I look forward to her joining the University’s leadership team,” he wrote.
Being on the leadership team has taken her away from the classroom, however.
“I haven’t taught in about 10 years,” Zorn told the Daily News. “Absolutely, I miss it. I miss the students and the interaction with them. The schedule of a provost is too uncertain (to commit to teaching a regular seminar, for instance). You can’t lock yourself into a classroom and it’s not fair to the students. When the opportunity is to guest lecture, to come in for one or two times, I have done that.”
As her administrative responsibilities have increased, her time for geographical research has also ended; although she remains active in geography associations.
“You always have an inquisitive mind,” she said. Now, her curiosity takes her to studies of higher education as a whole instead of discipline-specific inquiry.
Two issues she will tackle at CSUB are graduation rates and funding.
“We need to get students on the path to graduation, so they graduate in four years,” Zorn said. “Students have many other responsibilities, so it’s hard to get through in four years.”
She is especially concerned about students in Bakersfield, which has a “low going-to-college rate,” she said. “I want to get students to see the value of college education and to provide that value. Bakersfield is in a major agricultural production and oil production area, so we need to provide a skilled workforce for those industries.”
The area reminds her of Sidney and west central Ohio.
“I used to listen to the farm report on the radio every morning,” she said.
The funding issue also is tied, Zorn thinks, to how people value higher education.
“It used to be that the public saw universities as good for society, so they funded (them). We’re seeing that funding decrease dramatically. We have to find new ways to fund universities. The public is being increasingly questionable about where their taxes go. There’s also a lack of understanding in the value they’re getting from higher education,” she said.
Contributions students make to society are a direct illustration of that value, and Zorn is most proud in her career of those she’s taught who have gone on to make “great contributions in their communities and in the world. I don’t even know their names. And to think that I had a hand in helping them reach their dreams,” she said.
She credits her teachers in Sidney for doing just that for her.
“I had outstanding elementary, middle school and high school teachers. Some challenged me to think in ways I never had before,” Zorn said.