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Historian Starts the New Year as Interim Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences

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Jessica Yirush Stern, a historian of early America and former chair of the Department of History, has been appointed to serve as interim dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Stern, professor of history, begins her new position Jan. 1. Her appointment is effective until a national search has concluded, with the selection of a permanent dean expected by July 1.

She has served as the college’s associate dean of student relations for the past five years. The college has nearly 500 tenure-track faculty members and lecturers, and more than 20 departments and degree programs. An average of 2,500 students graduate each year.

“I am looking forward to supporting and promoting the signature programs in HSS that have such a powerful and long-term impact on students and faculty,” said Stern, who joined the university in 2007. 

“As dean, I will strive to work with the coordinators of these programs to lighten their loads, increase program visibility and weave a college narrative highlighting these programs to the campus, local and national community.”

These programs and initiatives include the Institute of Black Intellectual Innovation, Latinx Lab for Storytelling and Social Justice, Digital Ethnic Futures, Passage to the Future, Cal State DC Scholars, U-ACRE and the moot court team.

Stern also would like to develop a curriculum on Native American and Indigenous studies: “Our university is sorely in need of this curriculum. I eagerly want to help the college fill this void.”

During her tenure as associate dean, she has immersed herself in the college’s departments, programs and values. 

“I believe I have created the relationships and gained the knowledge and skills needed to shepherd the college during the next leg of its journey — and to push it into some new directions,” she said.

Stern shared she has benefited from the mentorship of Dean Sheryl Fontaine, professor of English, comparative literature and linguistics, who is stepping down after serving in the role since 2014. Fontaine will teach the university’s London study abroad program in the spring.

“Dean Fontaine showed me how critical strategic investments can be in successfully fulfilling the college’s mission,” she said. “The skills I have learned from her have set me up to serve the college well.”

Stern’s goals for the college include bolstering opportunities for students to enhance their academic success. These include strengthening the college’s tandem advising model in which each department has at least one staff adviser who works alongside faculty advisers to guide students on their academic pathway.

The adoption of the tandem advising model grew out of a project Stern created by being part of  the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ Emerging Leaders Program. She worked with faculty and staff advisers to analyze college advising.

“This model ensures that students will get the academic advising support they need from trained professional staff and allows faculty advisers to devote more time to mentoring students on post-graduation paths and navigating academia,” said Stern, an advisory board member of the California State University Student Success Network.

Through the Passage to the Future program, which prepares students for paid internships and various careers, she wants to enhance high-impact practices that help them gain skills and experiences for the workforce.

Stern believes the college can serve the campus community by using the humanities and social sciences to help students, faculty and staff understand the world around them and to model civic discourse. Her plans include expanding the college’s lecture series with topics focusing on current events

Stern’s research interests include examining the interactions between Native Americans and British settlers in the colonial period. She earned a doctorate and master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor’s degree from Reed College, all in history.  

Debra Cano Ramos