In selecting Jolene Koester on Tuesday to be the new president of Cal State Northridge, the California State University Board of Trustees touted her inside knowledge of the CSU system.
Koester's experience at Cal State Sacramento, where she rose to be provost and vice president of academic affairs, should indeed serve CSUN well. And her contacts in the capital should make her especially well-prepared to represent CSUN's interests to the governor and the state Legislature.
Equally appealing--and particularly well-suited to being head of the San Fernando Valley's only four-year university--are Koester's academic training and family background.
Koester's field is communications, with an emphasis on cross-cultural communication honed by research in India and Malaysia. The Valley's multicultural population will put such expertise to immediate use.
As for her background, Koester brings a firsthand understanding of the challenges faced by many CSUN students who, like her, are the first in their families to go to college. She also serves as an inspiration for the accomplishments such students can aspire to.
The daughter of German immigrants grew up in Plato, Minn., population 250, a community "of extreme cultural homogeneity."
That line drew laughs on campus. (Did we mention her welcome wit?) But it may not be as foreign an experience to CSUN students as one might think. Whether as immigrants or longtime residents, it's possible to grow up relatively sheltered from interaction with other cultures, even here.
What's key in Koester's case--and what she offers by way of both experience and example--is that she embraced the broadened horizons offered by college and travel and became a strong believer in the strengths of diversity.
Koester was one of four well-qualified finalists who visited CSUN for interviews. Two dropped out before the final selection was made, but the CSUN community need not feel disappointed. Deciding whether a job is a good fit works both ways; two candidates decided it was not. Certainly enthusiasm for a job--especially a job as difficult as this one--is crucial. And Koester is enthusiastic. "Thrilled" was how she described herself.
Koester's experience, academic training, family background, sense of humor and enthusiasm will serve her--and CSUN--well when the going gets tough. And the going will get tough. As one CSUN professor remarked to a Times reporter, picking a university president is like entering into a marriage. Who knows how it will turn out?
Koester looks like a good match for CSUN. We wish this marriage well.