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Fresno State’s Next President

An Interview with Joseph Castro (MPP '90)

Last month, the California State University, Fresno named Joseph Castro (MPP '90) its next president. Joe is currently a vice chancellor at the University of California, San Francisco. He begins his post at the end of July.

Have you always had an interest in higher education? 

I was the first in my family to attend a university when I enrolled at Berkeley in 1984. This opportunity completely transformed my life. I realized this almost immediately and decided during my junior year at Cal to pursue a career in higher education policy. I was fortunate to be admitted to the Sloan Fellowship Program in 1987 [now PPIA], which helped prepare me for admission to the Goldman School in 1988.

What aspects of your GSPP training have you found most useful in your roles at UCSF and now as you take up the leadership of Cal State Fresno?

I met many of my closest friends and work colleagues at GSPP. Todd Greenspan (MPP '84) was my first supervisor in the UC State Governmental Relations Office in Sacramento and Claudia Martinez (MPP '97) and Brian Rivas (MPP '92) have worked closely with me over the years. I was also Daniel Stone's (MPP '90)  best man in his wedding.

The entire GSPP “tool kit” has been essential throughout my career. I have used virtually every part of it in every job. The economics, organizations, law and policy analysis core courses and Professor Martin Trow's higher education policy course have been most helpful to me. As I prepare to assume the presidency at Fresno State, I will draw upon all of my experiences, especially those from studying and working (with Eugene Smolensky and Lee Friedman as Assistant Dean in 1993-97) at GSPP.

What do you see as your top priorities as you step up to this new challenge?

My overall top priority at Fresno State will be to help guide the institution to new heights of success. I want to raise awareness of how great the institution is and strengthen further its academic and athletic programs. Advances in technology provide many exciting opportunities to enhance academic programs while possibly achieving greater efficiencies. Over 70% of Fresno State's students are first generation to college students. I will work closely with my colleagues to graduate as close to 100% of our students as possible and do so in a timely way. By doing this, we will help to transform their lives and strengthen the Central Valley economy.

What do you see as the key public policy challenges for higher education in the next decade?

The most significant challenge facing public higher education institutions is to find a new balance of access to a larger population of diverse students while better managing costs. Advances in technology and more innovative approaches to delivering content provide opportunities for a new equilibrium in higher education. Berkeley and Stanford are at the leading edge in achieving this new balance. Fresno State has also been successful. I want to position Fresno State to achieve a new higher level of excellence and diversity within our fiscal realities. I will invite private individuals, foundations and businesses to invest more in Fresno State. In return, we will provide more highly skilled graduates and do more to help strengthen the economy. We will continue to educate the next generation of leaders.

You grew up in CA's central valley. What does it mean to you to “come home” and serve as Cal State Fresno's next president?

The opportunity to serve as President of the largest and oldest public university in my home region is a dream come true. I grew up 40 miles from the campus and I can get to every town in the region without a GPS.  I will be the eighth president in Fresno State's 102 year history and the first Californian, first Valley native and first Latino to serve. The response to my appointment throughout the Central Valley and state has been incredibly positive. Over 5,000 people from my hometown in Hanford welcomed me back a few weeks ago as graduation speaker at my high school. I was blown away by the outpouring of support.  Using my own life path as an example, I reminded the young people in attendance that their future is bright—even if they live in a small house, if their family has little money, or if they are the first to imagine going to college. I receive many calls and emails each day from people of all backgrounds offering to help me and the campus. I have never experienced anything like this before. On my first visit to Fresno as President-Designate, I went to visit a business leader at his home. As I walked from my car to his house, I saw him—a 95 year old man—in the front doorway of his house get up out of his wheelchair and raise his arms up pumping them in the air. We had never met before, but he and I share a bond of growing up in the Central Valley. He pledged his support for me and I will do whatever I can to support him and his family. I can barely wait for August 1 to arrive!  Go Bears!  Go Dogs!