Lynn Stauffer, Ph.D., holds bachelor and master of science degrees and Ph.D. — each in computer science as well as a bachelor of science degree in mathematics. She came to Sonoma State University in 1994 to teach. She was later appointed interim dean and then dean of the School of Science and Technology.
In that role, she oversees nine academic departments together with other programs including the NASA Education and Public Outreach group and the SSU Center for Environmental Inquiry (CEI). The CEI includes three open space preserves totaling 4,160 acres used for research and education.
“I’m most proud of having stuck with my deeply ingrained interest in science and technology and my desire to make a difference in the world through education. Being part of encouraging students from all backgrounds to pursue their dreams, to persevere and overcome difficult times, and to succeed in life and beyond their graduation is incredibly meaningful.”
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR COMPANY
PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: I joined the Sonoma State University (SSU) Computer Science Department in 1994 after earning my Ph.D. in Computer Science at University of California, Irvine. From the start, I engaged in many aspects of the campus community. My contribution in the classroom was highlighted with my receiving the SSU Excellence in Teaching award in 2006. My role evolved from the classroom to department, school and campus leadership. As Chair of the Computer Science Department and Director of Academic Resources and Planning in the School of Science & Technology, I fulfilled critical roles in curricular innovation, student scholarship, and faculty development in addition to a myriad of initiatives encouraging student engagement and success. In 2010, I was appointed Interim Dean and later Dean of the School of Science and Technology (SST) following a national search.
EDUCATION: B.S., mathematics (magna cum laude), 1986; B.S., computer science (summa cum laude), 1986; M.S., computer science, 1990; Ph.D., computer science, 1994; School of Information and Computer Science, University of California, Irvine.
STAFF: I oversee the instructional, administrative and technical staff in the School of Science and Technology at Sonoma State University. Our instructional team includes 64 permanent (aka tenure-track) faculty and about 75 non-permanent lecturers. Our 16-member administrative team includes school and department-level staff. Our nine technicians keep equipment and laboratories up and running.
Sonoma State University (SSU) is one of the 23 campuses of the California State University (CSU), which is the largest system of higher education in the country granting baccalaureate and master’s degrees. The SSU campus has an enrollment of 9,400 students, including 8,600 undergraduate and 800 post baccalaureate/graduate students. SSU bestows about 2,000 undergraduate degrees each year.
As Dean of the School of Science and Technology (SST), I oversee nine academic departments – Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Engineering Science, Geology, Kinesiology, Mathematics & Statistics, Nursing and Physics and Astronomy – together with other programs including the NASA Education and Public Outreach group and the SSU Center for Environmental Inquiry (CEI). The CEI includes three open space preserves totaling 4160 acres used for research and education. With about 1,900 majors supported by 150 faculty and staff, our school provides high-quality academic programs, superior laboratory and research facilities accessible to both undergraduate and graduate students, and challenging yet supportive environments for student achievement. Each year our school’s exceptional graduates go on to contribute to their fields and meet the workforce needs of our region and state in science, technology, healthcare, education, engineering, and many other high-demand fields.
MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENT IN THE PAST YEAR OR SO
As an example of my pursuit of innovative education in STEM, I am the lead (Principal Investigator) on a multi-year grant from the National Science Foundation focused on improving the success of students pursuing degrees in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). The project, S3: STEPping Up STEM at SSU, received $1 million in funding from the NSF STEM Talent Expansion Program (STEP) and brings together faculty working across disciplines and schools to provide an immersive freshman year experience in STEM through an inquiry-based, academic learning community that transforms lives and creates scientists. Based on the findings of external evaluators, the approach works with S3 students three and a half times more likely to continue in a STEM field. This year, our STEM recruitment and retention efforts have expanded to include a course for sophomores, Make, Dream, and Innovate, focused on STEM skill development and collaboration in an entrepreneurial framework.
WHAT IS THE ACHIEVEMENT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
In looking back over my entire education and professional years, I’m most proud of having stuck with my deeply engrained interest in science and technology and my desire to make a difference in the world through education. Being part of encouraging students from all backgrounds to pursue their dreams, to persevere and overcome difficult times, and to succeed in life and beyond their graduation is incredibly meaningful.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE TODAY?
Today’s biggest challenge for our school is attracting and retaining top talent in our faculty and instructor ranks – particularly in those disciplines with high-demand professional pathways (e.g. Computer Science, Engineering, Nursing, Statistics, Kinesiology, Chemistry).
WORDS THAT BEST DESCRIBE YOU: Analytical, pragmatic, self-motivated, forward-thinking, strategic, even-keeled, driven and happy.
AS A SUCCESSFUL FEMALE PROFESSIONAL, WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST OBSTACLES YOU FACED AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
In the book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” author Angela Duckworth strikes a chord with my experience and my way of working to overcome the obstacles I have faced. The word “grit” has become something of a buzzword along with “mindset” and “practice” as put forward by Malcolm Gladwell and others. I find a lot to agree with in these works; having grit, a positive mindset, and dedication to practicing my art have been important to my overcoming obstacles.
For example, while I have always enjoyed mathematics, I also had to practice very hard to master the often-difficult topics. A positive mindset came in handy when I told my professor that I was pregnant and he told me I would have to leave my graduate program. When I reworked my lecture after my all male class rattled me by insisting that I was expecting too much from them took some grit and earned me the nickname “velvet hammer.”
HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR PROFESSION WILL CHANGE IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
There are many challenges facing education today. Higher education in America is changing markedly with demand, demographics, and decreased dollars defining the “new normal.”
WHO WAS YOUR MOST IMPORTANT MENTOR?
I have had several people who have supported and guided me in my educational and professional life. From my female supervisor at Ford Aerospace, Evie Smith, who encouraged me to go to graduate school, to my friend and colleague, Dr. Bill Barnier, who has listened and shared his valuable wisdom with me for the past 20 years. But my most important mentor is my dad, Tom Caverly, who has always encouraged me to do my best while seeking a balance of joy and meaning in my life. His motto – “would you be sorry if you didn’t” – has directed many of my decisions and has given me strength to “go for it” at many forks in the road. Consequently, I have very few regrets over lost opportunities.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG WOMAN ENTERING YOUR PROFESSION OR THE WORK WORLD TODAY?
I advise young woman to pursue their passion and to push back when they feel marginalized or overcome with self-doubt. The fact is, we need woman in all aspects of STEM.
MOST ADMIRED BUSINESSPERSON OUTSIDE OF YOUR ORGANIZATION: Today I most admire the new work environments that are emerging in many workplaces. Supporting family leave, day care, etc. make a marked difference for women. I would not have been able to continue in graduate school if I had not had access to on-campus daycare for my three young children.
TYPICAL DAY AT THE OFFICE: Not too many people know what a dean does. I have heard the job described this way by an experienced dean: “the job is a mix of fire-fighting, paper-pushing, advocacy, and leadership,” a description I find quite accurate. So my typical day at the office fluctuates over each of these areas — making the job interesting, for sure!
BEST PLACE TO WORK OUTSIDE OF YOUR OFFICE: In the classroom or laboratory alongside students and faculty.
CURRENT READING: “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren (April 2016). My favorite quotes: “They accepted me despite the fact that I was just a girl, and assured of what I already suspected: that my true potential had more to do with my willingness to struggle than with my past or present circumstances.” “My desire to become a scientist was founded upon a deep instinct and nothing more. As a female scientist I am still unusual, but in my heart I was never anything else.”
MOST WANT TO MEET: Stephen Hawking.
SOCIAL MEDIA YOU MOST USE: Facebook.