University President — Dr. Gwen Finestone

Dr. Gwen Finestone, President of California Southern University (2019)Being a university president was not on my to-do list, nor was it on my bucket list, nor was it so much as a vague notion; never would it have been called my dream. It seemed to me that university presidents ate stress for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Who, in his or her right mind, would consciously choose that job in this day and age?

During a thirty-year career in the nonprofit sector, continually satisfying my need to be of service, to leave behind an enduring legacy, and to scratch my entrepreneurial itch by creating and growing human-service organizations, I was often requested to serve on Boards of Directors. That is how I came to serve on the Board of Directors for California Southern University in 2017. Subsequently, when I was asked to spearhead the Board's initiative to bring education to the women and girls of Pakistan, via collaboration with an American-Pakistani nonprofit called Cal-Pak, I happily accepted. Meeting with Ministers of Education, Secretaries of governments, and politicians was in my wheelhouse; this would be an adventure!

On four separate occasions, I was asked to consider serving as President of CalSouthern, and four times I declined the nomination. Having left the nonprofit sector in 2000, I had since grown a thriving practice as a psychotherapist; that was on my to-do list. I had spent years specializing in grief, loss, and trauma, and I had worked in hospice as a therapist and interfaith chaplain; that was on my dream list. Ah, but after serving for a year on CalSouthern's Board of Directors, the notion became more than vague—might being President be an adventure?

CalSouthern needed to be modernized, its systems and programs streamlined, its courses contemporized, and its message brought to the world. One of the best kept secrets in higher education, CalSouthern needed a boost into prominence. Once a trendsetter, it had become complacent and was resting on its laurels. In the field of higher education, if you are standing still, then you are falling behind; CalSouthern need re-energizing. Consequently, in May 2018, for the fifth (and final) time, the Founder and the Board asked me to be President, and I said yes. Being President would be an entrepreneurial adventure—my favorite kind of adventure. As one of my executive officers mused at the close of my first year as President, "The power of one word, 'yes,' everything changed with that one small word."

I said yes, and I have not looked back. Being the President of CalSouthern has been stimulating, exciting, exhausting, challenging, and infinitely rewarding. I have the opportunity to help employees and Learners change their lives for the better. I scratch my entrepreneurial itch every day. I have the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of my labor at Commencement, as I shake the hand of every graduating Learner, grateful for all that CalSouthern has done to advance his or her dreams. And I get to leave behind something of value on a global level. This University is our Founder's (Dr. Donald Hecht) bit of immortality, and rightly deserved. My bit of immortality will be in the lives we touch for the better.

I encourage you to say yes to the unknown, to the unexpected, to the vague notions, and to those items on your bucket list; most of all, say yes to your dreams. Embrace the power of the word yes. Everything can change with that small word. If you do, your life will truly be an adventure. 

With gratitude to be of service to your dreams,

Dr. Gwen Finestone, PhD