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A New Leader for Student Affairs

Berenecea Johnson Eanes is energized and ready to move forward

Aug. 20, 2012

After a few weeks “on duty” at Cal State Fullerton, Berenecea Johnson Eanes, the new vice president for student affairs, is energized and ready to move forward.

“Everyone has been so welcoming and pleasant,” she said. “I think all of us in Student Affairs are looking forward to the start of the new academic year.” 

One of the vice president’s first priorities is reviewing the strategic plan for her division and making necessary revisions for the upcoming year.

“I know it’s going to be rough in terms of the budget,” she admits. “But our job as a University is to support our students no matter how difficult that task seems. I don’t just mean the Student Affairs Division. It’s the job of the entire Fullerton family — all faculty and staff members. I see our division working hard to cultivate collaboration among all our stakeholders since I truly believe that we all play a role in the education of our students.

“I’m giving myself 90 days to develop some short- and long-range goals,” she said. “I need to build strategic relationships and get to know the Titan culture. These steps are essential in supporting the goals outlined by President García. I want to hone in on the ongoing development of a strategic plan that will speak to student success and help us make data-driven decisions.”

This level of planning is not new to Eanes. Prior to her arrival on the Fullerton campus, she served as vice president of student affairs at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a college within the City University of New York. While there, she provided vision, leadership and oversight to student services entities, including student life, health services, accessibilities services, the Children’s and Women's centers, athletics, community outreach and service learning, counseling, the college’s Urban Male Initiative, and career services. In addition, she served as an associate professor and chair of the Counseling Department.

As a wife and mother of two young children, Oscar, 5, and Victoria, 4, she has learned how to balance her personal and professional life. Her husband, Oscar Allen Eanes, an Emmy-awarded cameraman, has a flourishing career in television broadcasting (Food Network, Fox News). In her spare time, Eanes enjoys swimming, hiking and walking, reading — especially biographies about women in history — and music.

“I hope people will see me as an energetic and caring person who focuses on student success and engagement,” she said. “There is incredible potential here for partnerships on campus, with other campuses, particularly community colleges, and with outside groups.”

Eanes has devoted her career to assisting adolescents and young adults in meeting and achieving their life goals. She has led student success initiatives in various capacities for more than 15 years at such institutions as Hamilton College, Morehouse College, Columbia University and Georgia State University of Social Work, as well as John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

She received her bachelor of science degree in public health from Dillard University in 1988. She received her M.S.W. in clinical group work in 1992 from Boston University, and her doctorate in social work in 2000 from Clark Atlanta University.

Yet, she wasn’t always so sure that her career would focus on students. In fact, she initially had her sights set on hospital administration. Upon graduation from Dillard, her father — “who kept every promise that he made” — told her she had a year to figure out what she wanted to do.

“At the time, I had a mentor at Dillard who finally told me, ‘I think you’re a social worker,’” Eanes recalled. “So I returned to school to work on my master’s of social work.” 

She received a full scholarship from Boston University and worked as a resident adviser in the university’s resident housing. She also discovered that she enjoyed working with students and dedicated her studies and career to clinical and academic pursuits. After earning her doctorate in social work, she began teaching at Georgia State and eventually spent half a year in Ethiopia working for Teach for Africa. 

“I arrived in this small village, Jimma, in Ethiopia, after one of the most harrowing airplane rides I’ve ever been on,” she laughed.  “My job was to teach prospective instructors how to teach.

“I think it’s good to experience other cultures and learn other ways of living. For instance, I was always trying to line everyone up,” she laughed. “I’d go to this little post office and people would be standing around in a circle and I’d try to get them in line. The only person who was bothered by the lack of a line was me! That was one of those moments when you stop and ask yourself, ‘Why do I think my way is better? Who am I to tell these people that their system isn’t working? Clearly, it’s working for them.’

“That’s what’s great about living in different places — you learn that your way isn’t always the only way. And someone else just might have a different way of reaching the same goals.”

She brings that same insight to working with students.

“Students don’t all have the same problems, and what works for one may not work for another,” she said. “Veterans may have different needs than a student from the inner city or a woman who is returning to school after raising children. Transfer students may have different needs than freshmen just out of high school. Students from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds or of different religions have different needs. That’s why we develop multiple programs so we can better reach out to students and address their particular concerns.

“The diversity of the student population appeals to me,” she admitted. “In many ways, the CSU system is similar to the CUNY system, so it’s an area where I feel comfortable. My experience has allowed me to work with diverse groups of students and deepen my understanding of their concerns.

A prolific writer and organizer during her career, Eanes has co-authored numerous grants that have resulted in more than $4 million being awarded to fund various initiatives often focusing on student development. She believes her combined background in social and group dynamics and her ongoing faculty research agenda have prepared her for senior leadership positions in higher education administration. 

“When you think about it, student affairs really is the ideal marriage of social work practice and a commitment to the goals of higher education and student engagement,” she said“I anticipate getting to know the students, the dynamic team in Student Affairs, the faculty and staff across the campus, and developing a better understanding of the Cal State Fullerton culture. Underscoring my entire view is the fact that I’m really excited to be here, and I’m looking forward to developing goals that will enhance the university experience of our students.”

By: Valerie Orleans, 657-278-4540

Tags:  Campus Updates