Judy Sakaki named president of Sonoma State University

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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.

“Those are not insurmountable problems,” she said.

David Felte, president of the SSU Alumni Association, served on the presidential selection committee. Sakaki, he said, was a “perfect fit.”

“I wouldn’t say that anything’s broken (at SSU),” he said. “But I would say there are a lot of things that will benefit from a fresh set of eyes and new leadership.”

Santa Rosa Junior College President Frank Chong was also excited about the news. He and Sakaki go back a long time, he said, back to when he was working for community nonprofits in Oakland and she was at Hayward State during the ‘80s. The two are also founding board members of Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education, a group focused on supporting and promoting Asian-American student achievement.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with Judy Sakaki’s appointment,” he said. “She is, I think, the right fit at the right time. ... I was rooting for her.”

Chong applauded her commitment to working with community colleges and to student transfer and diversity on campus.

“With Dr. Sakaki coming on board, she’s going to take it to another level and help us create access for all,” he said. “I think that’s one of our common goals, to make sure that every high school student in Sonoma County who wants to go to college should be able to.”

For the last nine years, Sakaki has been responsible for policies, services and initiatives relating to student access, affordability and success for all 238,000 UC students on 10 campuses. The division includes undergraduate admissions, student financial support and student services. She led fundraising efforts for scholarships, programs and initiatives and represented the university in community and alumni relations efforts.

Previously, Sakaki served as vice chancellor of Student Affairs at UC Davis, and vice president and dean of student affairs at Fresno State. Sakaki is a double alumna of the CSU, having earned both a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and master’s degree in Educational Psychology from CSU Hayward. She holds a Ph.D. in Education from UC Berkeley.

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 521-5205 or On Twitter @SeaWarren.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Judy Sakaki is the seventh president at SSU. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described her as the university's eighth president.

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