July 2, 2020
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SSU’s Sakaki names Griffin-Desta as new Chief of Staff

December 28, 2018

Submitted by Sonoma State University

President Judy Sakaki announced that she has appointed Dr. Jerlena Griffin-Desta as Chief of Staff/Associate Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Diversity at Sonoma State University effective Jan. 28, 2019.

Dr. Griffin-Desta comes to SSU from the University of California Office of the President where she serves as Deputy to the Vice President of Student Affairs and Associate Vice President for Student Development and Engagement. In those roles, she provides strategic direction and leadership in a broad array of areas including student and civic engagement, diversity, student mental health and wellness. She also helps lead President Janet Napolitano’s initiatives on Global Food/Basic Needs; LGBT students, faculty and staff; Undocumented Students & Immigration and Student Veterans.

“I am thrilled that Jerlena is joining our leadership team at Sonoma State,” said Sakaki. “She brings with her nearly 30 years of experience in both private and public higher education, with exemplary strengths in strategic planning, collaborative problem-solving, innovation, organizational governance, and, perhaps most important, a student-centered perspective and commitment. Jerlena’s strong interpersonal skills and spirit of collaboration will be great additions to our leadership team and campus.”

Dr. Griffin-Desta began her career in student services at the University of San Francisco and spent more than 20 years at UCLA and UC Berkeley in various leadership roles in Student & Academic Affairs. While at Berkeley, Jerlena co-founded the national diversity model Critical Dialogues Across Differences that includes a seminar “Facing You, Facing Me,” which culminated in a book of the same name and a documentary based on the seminar. Griffin-Desta has consulted internationally, including in South Africa, where she assisted higher education leaders on reimagining their institutions in a post-apartheid environment. She has also consulted with universities in China and Armenia. Dr. Griffin-Desta recently completed her tenure as an American Council on Education Fellow, Class of 2017-18, at the University of Washington, where she focused on campus and system governance. She currently serves on the Western Association of Schools & Colleges Accreditation Team for Cal State L.A.

“Undoubtedly, California public higher education is the best in the nation and I am honored and humbled to be joining the California State University system and Sonoma State,” Griffin-Desta said. “I look forward to working with President Sakaki and her leadership team to help advance their shared vision of student success, academic excellence and innovation, leadership cultivation and making a transformative impact. These strategic priorities very much align with my personal values and expertise.”

Dr. Griffin-Desta earned her Bachelor’s degree from Mercer University where she studied Communications and English. She later earned her Master’s and Ph.D. from UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education: Policy, Organizations, Measurement and Evaluation program. Her research focused on expanding notions of merit through communitarianism and its implications for college admissions. She has taught Higher Education, Policy and Organizations and Multicultural Practices in the UC Berkeley Extension Program.

Dr. Griffin-Desta is active and serves on numerous committees and boards including the Governor-appointed Interagency (alcohol and other drugs) Prevention Advisory Council; the Interagency Council on Veterans Education Workgroup and the California Department of Education Student Mental Health Policy Workgroup. Her past and current community engagement includes the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Museum of Tolerance (Los Angeles), the African American Female Excellence Board of Directors (Oakland Unified School District), President of the Berkeley Bay Area Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and Stiles Hall Board of Directors (Berkeley)