Dr. Shonda Goward, Leader in Equitable Student Success, Elected as Board Chair of the CSU Network

By Dr. Thad Nodine
August 2023

Dr. Shonda Goward, associate vice provost of undergraduate advising and success at San José State University, was elected as chair by the advisory board of the California State University Student Success Network (CSU Network). Dr. Goward has been an advocate for student success throughout her career, and a leader in the CSU since serving as director of the Student Center for Academic Achievement at Cal State East Bay from 2020 to 2021. At the CSU Network, she was director of convenings prior to becoming board chair. Dr. Goward has an Ed.D. in higher education administration from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

“Dr. Goward is a leader in making higher education practices work for students, and we are very excited to have her guidance at the Network as we advance equitable student success throughout the CSU,” said Dylan Lohmeyer, interim operations director for the CSU Network. “Our board is growing. Our impacts on campuses are expanding. Campuses are looking for ways to increase equitable student success, and the Network is well positioned to work with the Chancellor’s Office and campus leaders to support these efforts.”

“We’re the largest university system in the nation, and we also need to be the best,” Dr. Goward said. “As the first board chair who is a staff member, I’m focused on working with faculty, staff, administrators, students, and others to shift the CSU to being student ready. That means shifting our policies, our practices, and how we do things so that when students enter the university, they know they’re going to have a strong experience and get their degree in a timely fashion with as few obstacles as possible.”

Focusing on Retention and Success in the CSU

Dr. Goward grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and attended The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as a first-generation, working class college student. “There were no programs to support academic success for first-gen students back then,” she said. “I was interested in the hard sciences, but my faculty advisor said, ‘People like you don’t do well in the sciences.’ He wouldn’t approve me taking those classes, and I never did get to take them. As a seventeen-year-old, I had to figure things out on my own.” Dr. Goward graduated with a double major in political science and journalism/mass communication.

Dr. Goward’s experiences as a college student inspired her to pursue a career supporting retention and success for first-gen students, Students of Color, Pell-eligible and working class students, and other students. After graduate school and several leadership positions in admissions and academic retention and success at universities on the East Coast, she targeted the Bay Area and the California State University because she wanted to support the community where she grew up and its broad-access university where students like her attended.

“When I began working in the CSU, it was good we were focusing on improving graduation rates,” she said. “But I could see that systemically we needed to do more in practice to contribute to student success.” She said that this interest was how she found the CSU Network, because the Network was producing research and bringing people together to help campuses develop and implement plans to improve equity.

The CSU Network Moving Forward

Looking forward, Dr. Goward said that she is particularly interested in supporting high-impact practices and addressing systemic change—for example, connecting the dots between enrollment challenges and administrative barriers that students face. “As board chair, I’m very excited about the Network’s ability to bring faculty and staff together to use research and data to highlight good practices and help campuses implement change.”

The Network’s board members represent 15 campuses plus the Chancellor’s Office, with two additional campuses represented through strand directorships. Dr. Goward said that this broad representation is crucial for networking and spreading information across the CSU about equity practices and goals. “Board members and strand directors are leaders on their campuses,” she said. “We want to make sure that they’re bringing together middle leaders on their campus, leading conversations among faculty and staff, and disseminating information, for example, about shifting to student-ready campuses.”

She emphasized that there are important models and programs already being used within the CSU and at other broad-access universities nationally. In addition, the best approaches will vary across the state because historical context and barriers to student success differ by campus.

She said, however, that the CSU already has a track record in pivoting policy and practice based on the needs of students: “Our experience with COVID has shown that the CSU can be new and nimble in serving our students. A lot of people want to go back to the way things were before, but that didn’t work for lots of students. We need to continue to be new and nimble in how we work together to focus on equitable student success.”

Are you interested in finding out how your campus can work with the Network? Reach out to us here. Engage with us on Twitter @CSU_SUCCESSNET.