Judy K. Sakaki, a senior administrator in the University of California system, was named the first new president of Sonoma State University in 24 years on Wednesday, succeeding Ruben Armiñana when he retires in June.
Sakaki, 62, will be the second female president in the school’s 55-year history, and only its seventh president overall. She currently serves as vice president for student affairs at the University of California, where she works in the Office of the President.
“I’m sort of a CSU person,” she said from her office in Oakland. “I really got my start — and I wouldn’t be who I am — had not my education at CSU opened my eyes to the possibilities.”
Sakaki was the first member of her family to graduate from college and went on to forge a career in higher education. She got her start with the CSU system at its Hayward campus, now called CSU East Bay. One of her first jobs was working as an outreach coordinator at Hayward State, reaching out to African-American and Latino students in Oakland, and encouraging them to think about going to college, she said.
“Access, affordability, and student success is sort of what my whole career has been built on,” she said. “It’s coming around full circle.”
Sakaki will be responsible for leading a campus with 9,400 students and more than 1,300 faculty and staff. She said her initial focus at SSU will likely involve engaging the faculty and the campus community.
Armiñana, who arrived at SSU in 1992, presided over a complete makeover of the 269-acre campus and a dramatic expansion of the student body during his tenure. Students hope his successor will spend more money on student interests, said Brandon Stachnik, a 21-year-old senior at SSU and the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, the Sonoma State Star.
“People want to see new parking. People want to see housing cost and tuition cost go down. It’s a really tough thing to do; I understand that. But if anyone can have some say in it, it will be the new president,” Stachnik said.
He said students also hope Sakaki will be more accessible than Armiñana, who was traveling Wednesday and unavailable for comment.
“He wasn’t very reachable, and this goes back to representing the students’ interests. I think people want to see Judy communicating and offering herself to students more, to be more accessible,” Stachnik said.
Sakaki has already gotten a jump start on that. Before she applied for the position, Sakaki spent two days on campus, wandering around, talking to students, checking out a show at the Green Music Center.
“I had a chance to ask a few (students), if they had a magic wand, what would they do to make Sonoma State even better,” she said. “And I learned so much from that. Some of the students even sent me emails. What impressed me, and what really encouraged me to think about applying, was the love that students felt — the fondness for their campus and their education.”
She said students talked to her about wanting an increase in activities and classes, an increase in student-friendly spaces to hang out in, and opportunities to engage with the faculty more.