Thomas Appointed Provost at Cal State Fullerton

Carolyn Thomas with five students.
Carolyn Thomas, vice provost and dean for Undergraduate Education, third from left, with members of the Undergraduate Education Student Advisory Board, from left: Christal Juarez, Izac Parra, Izaac Ornelas, Justin Hurst and Elizabeth Picazo.

Carolyn Thomas, vice provost and dean for Undergraduate Education, has been appointed provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at her alma mater, California State University, Fullerton. She will join the administration there on July 15.

Carolyn Thomas

A member of the UC Davis faculty since 2001, Thomas became vice provost and dean on Jan. 1, 2013, serving on an interim basis until receiving the permanent appointment later that year. A highly engaged leader, she has implemented an ambitious agenda of advancing equity in the classroom, and evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning.

“Carolyn has been an extraordinary leader and advocate for excellence in undergraduate education,” said Ralph J. Hexter, provost and executive vice chancellor. “She is passionate about the importance of teaching in the research university and about finding the best ways to help all our students advance and reach their full potential.”

Alma mater welcomes her back

Fram Virjee, president of Cal State Fullerton, said in an announcement today (May 29): “We at Dr. Thomas’s alma mater are proud and grateful that her passion for equitable access to public higher education has become a lifelong commitment to reinvest its transformative power in others.

“The Titan Family has long admired her work, leadership, and achievements from afar — at times with a pinch of jealousy, perhaps, but always with a huge sense of pride — and we are honored to not only welcome her home, but also thank UC Davis for the two decades of opportunities it provided one of our best and brightest.”

Thomas earned high honors upon her graduation from CSUF with a Bachelor of Arts degree in American studies and German. She went on to the University of Texas at Austin, earning a Ph.D. in American studies.

A professor in the Department of American Studies, she has written two books, including Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda (2010); and co-edited two books. She and history professor Louis Warren were the founding co-editors of Boom: A Journal of California from UC Press.

An advocate for first-generation college students

CSUF offers 110 degree programs and is known for its success in supporting first-generation and underrepresented students. Thomas has championed the same causes at UC Davis, by growing high-impact programs such as First-Year Seminars and restructuring the University Honors Program, which now offers a distinctive four-year curriculum representative of the campus’s diversity. New summer programs for incoming international and transfer students, and the innovative Quarter at Aggie Square, were also developed under her tenure.

A first-gen college graduate herself, she led UC Davis’ First Generation Faculty initiative, unique within the UC system for its faculty-facing approach. She championed the importance of academic advising, creating a new office to unify and support advising staff.

She has been a dedicated teacher and researcher throughout her time at UC Davis. She was a Chancellor’s Fellow (2008-13) and received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research (2005-06). She has previously served as undergraduate and graduate faculty advisor, department chair and director of the UC Davis Humanities Institute.

In consultation with Chancellor Gary S. May, Provost Hexter will immediately initiate a process to identify an interim vice provost and dean, with the hope that this person could be appointed in late June or early July. A search for a new vice provost and dean replacement will begin under the leadership of the new provost and executive vice chancellor, not yet selected, who will succeed Hexter as he steps down to focus on his teaching and research.

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