Cal State San Bernardino invited a group of women in higher education from 12 different countries and local universities to the campus’ Yasuda Center on June 6 for the International Women in Higher Education Leadership Summit.

The event, which was in partnership with the University of California, Riverside, featured a panel presentation, focusing on some of the successful CSUSB programs that have helped improve the community, as well as a question-and-answer roundtable discussion.

Shari McMahan, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, gave the opening remarks. She explained to the guests the California State University system, highlighted the ways and overall culture of CSUSB, and talked about the Inland Empire and CSUSB’s relationship with the region.

“In the Inland Empire a lot of people don’t go to college to get college degrees, and so we have a large job to fill to provide the education that’s needed for the workforce,” she said.

McMahan also pointed out the number of women who are in leadership roles throughout the CSU system as well as CSUSB.

“We have more women as president in the CSU this year than men,” said McMahan, who is also the first woman in CSUSB to lead the Division of Academic Affairs. “We are headed in the right direction!”

The panel presentation included Diane Podolske, director of the Office of Community Engagement; Cherstin Lyon, history professor, faculty associate for the Office of Community Engagement and co-director of the Faculty Center for Excellence; and Deirdre Thomas, assistant dean of the College of Extended Learning – Professional and Continuing Education. Each talked about their area of expertise and shared information about their programs.

Podolske focused on community engagement and explained how CSUSB has become an award-winning university, offering the audience five key structures that have been implemented to the program and have contributed to its success.

“Our community needs us, and they appreciate us, and they support us, but there is more to do,” said Podolske, “and I think this foundation is helping us launch forward into the next 20 years and beyond of having our community engagement efforts be a part of what makes this university great.”

Lyon, who is the first faculty associate of the Office of Community Engagement, explained that community engagement was one of the five core areas the university included in its Strategic Plan. She highlighted some of the items under the plan, which include systemically matching the needs of the community with university resources, faculty recognition, and creating new funding to develop new partnerships.

“To do all of this, one of the major strategies was to integrate faculty into the Office of Community Engagement,” she said. “And my job as the first faculty associate for the Office of Community Engagement is to further that strategic plan and also to co-direct the Faculty Center for Excellence, which integrates into professional development for faculty — community engagement as one of the areas … all of those things help reinforce our commitment to community engagement.”

The last speaker, Thomas, talked about the university’s work with nontraditional students who have troubled backgrounds, how CSUSB has helped them through workforce development programs and partnerships, and even touched on her own personal experiences growing up in poverty.

“Coming to work for the university provided me with a tremendous opportunity to make a difference within the community in which I came from,” she said, “recognizing that there is a population of individuals that may not be immediately college-bound … but they still need to develop skills that can assist them out of the poverty level.”

Thomas said that the CSUSB programs give hope and encouragement to those who complete them.

“Our college provides as much advising and counseling as does the academic environment,” she said. “Once successfully passing our courses, many students look for the next opportunity and consider continuing their education … there have been a few that have applied to the university.

“I truly believe that education is the key to improving one’s life and is a fundamental solution to poverty,” she said.

During lunch, attendees were able to ask questions during a roundtable discussion. The talk, which was moderated by Tatiana Karmanova, dean of the College of Extended Learning, included:

  • Terry Ballman, dean of the College of Arts and Letters;
  • Andrea Davalos, president of Associated Students Inc.;
  • Dorota Huizinga, associate provost for research, and dean of Graduate Studies;
  • Olivia Rosas, associate vice president of Student Success and Educational Equity;
  • Alysson Satterlund, associate vice president of Student Affairs and dean of students;
  • Michelle Skiljan, executive director of the Inland Empire Women Business Center and Coachella Valley Women Business Center;
  • Jill Vassilakos-Long, coordinator of Special Collections/Archives and co-director of the League of Women Voters of the San Bernardino area; and
  • Clare Weber, deputy provost of Academic Programs.

Following the discussion, attendees were given a campus tour.

The International Women in Higher Education Leadership Summit at CSUSB was sponsored in part by the Ford Foundation grant, “Women and University Leadership in Post-Conflict and Transitional Societies.”

To learn more about the Ford Foundation, visit its website at