With the new leadership of Jenelle S. Pitt-Parker, there’s a sense of renewed energy and momentum in the College of Education and Integrative Studies.
When she began her post as dean in July, Pitt-Parker didn’t wait until the fall semester to explore the campus and meet faculty, staff, students and community members. She immediately chatted up internal and external constituents — sometimes about the direction of the college and other times just to ask for directions. One day as she was looking for parking, she drove to the scenic overlook along Mansion Lane, on the way up the hill toward Kellogg House Pomona.
“The view! I started taking pictures so I can show my family,” she said. “The campus is gorgeous. I feel blessed to be part of the Cal Poly Pomona community and family.
Pitt-Parker is very familiar with the CSU system, having served at Fresno State for 14 years. Her commitment to education began as a child growing up in Los Angeles. Pitt-Parker was born in Toronto, Canada. Her parents, immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago who had some college credits and vocational education, always emphasized the importance of education.
After high school at Francisco Bravo Senior High Medical Magnet in East LA, Pitt-Parker attended UC Riverside for her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in rehabilitation counseling and rehabilitation counselor education at Michigan State University, joined the faculty at Fresno State, where she later advanced to associate dean in the Kremen School of Education and Human Development.
“The idea is that you would always be gaining education that will take you to the next step, that would allow you to be successful, that would allow you to give back, that would allow you to take care of your loved ones. That was the requirement,” she said of her family’s expectations. “I didn’t understand it until I’ve gotten older. Education is a vehicle to success and to use your success to impact others and support others. Looking back, my parents were trying to prepare us for life.”
Pitt-Parker’s journey to becoming a university leader wasn’t always smooth. She remembers a few “critical incidents” — significant moments that have shaped the person she is today and the type of leader she strives to be.
In high school AP English class, when everyone was sharing which colleges they were accepted to, Pitt-Parker was excited about getting into UC Berkeley. But a peer had a different feeling.
“I remember the comment back to me was, ‘Oh they’re just trying to fill their quota.’”
In graduate school at Michigan State University, her cohort of 12 decided they didn’t want to take a multicultural counseling elective course that previous cohorts had spoken highly of. Pitt-Parker, who was the only Black student and only person of color in her cohort, was approached by her cohort who indicated that they would take another elective because they found out that the course focused primarily on one population — Black communities — and thus they didn’t think it would be as helpful.
“What was my cohort saying? That moved me into a different space,” she remembered. “I was angered, I was confused. Is learning about certain demographics not worthy?”
As a faculty member, Pitt-Parker can also recount critical incidents when she was the minority in a situation or on the outside looking in. Together, those moments have formed her career’s north star — her “why” for pursuing education, leadership and service.
“I use those as reflective points as I think about the students that I have the opportunity to serve, the communities that I have the opportunity to engage with, and the faculty and staff who may also have similar lived experiences,” she said.
“Coming full circle now, we have a CSU system that has issued recommendations on how CSU campuses can better support, more explicitly support Black students and Black excellence. Those critical incidents were not for nothing. They have literally prepared for me this moment.”
“As a first-gen Latina, my parents have strongly emphasized that education is one of the most powerful things you can have in your life and take with you. Knowing that Dean Pitt-Parker has that as her foundation and that she is actively aiming to meet and support the needs of her students, staff, and faculty makes me happy and feel supported in what I aim to accomplish,” she said.
“I hope Dean Pitt-Parker can enhance undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and community service experiences to build that community among students and staff and uplift the voices that haven’t been heard in spaces of academia.”
Pitt-Parker has already discovered a shared sense of purpose and vision among CEIS faculty, staff and students who are leaders in equity, inclusion and social justice, addressing oppression, racism and anti-Blackness.
The college is moving forward with enhancing undergraduate and graduate research opportunities, as well as community engagement and plans to expand partnerships with other colleges and units at Cal Poly Pomona and off-campus entities including California Community Colleges and non-profit organizations to advance STEAM learning.
David Dominguez, a business student working in the dean’s office, says Pitt-Parker’s journey and goals for the college and the university are inspiring and motivating for people to pursue higher education and create a lasting impact on their communities.
“I firmly believe her vision will be a driving force behind the college’s success, ushering in a transformative era of both academic brilliance and community enrichment,” Dominguez said.
Staff member Sheena Chang appreciates that Pitt-Parker is using her role to embody diversity, equality and social justice, while inviting the college community to be part of a larger vision.
“In CEIS, we are strategically placed to teach our future educators and workforce to embody inclusion and social justice in everything that we do, and to prepare educators to play socially and ethically responsible roles with the populations that we serve in the community,” said Chang, who is the college’s practicum placement coordinator.
“This is CEIS on the horizon,” Pitt-Parker said. “We don’t want to be small and mighty. We just want to be mighty. We are well positioned and well equipped to serve the university and support all students to reach their goals. We are trying to invite folks to show up and show out. That’s the energy that we’re trying to cultivate in CEIS.”