Sarah Sweitzer doesn’t get up in the morning wondering what she can do each day to make Stanislaus State’s Stockton Campus reach its full potential.
“I’ve been up most of the night thinking of ideas,” said Sweitzer, appointed dean of the Stockton Campus in July. “What makes me excited about coming here are the people and what we can create.”
Steeped in science — with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the University of Nevada, Reno, a doctorate in pharmacology and toxicology from Dartmouth Medical School and a post-doctoral fellowship in Stanford University’s School of Medicine’s Department of Anesthesiology — Sweitzer is still an advocate of STEAM, which adds art to courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
It explains her putting a huge design of hot air balloons in the entry of the Stockton Campus’s Acacia Building so students, staff and faculty can stop and color, connecting through their creativity.
The balloons are part of Sweitzer’s theme of the Stockton Campus rising. She and newly named Stockton Campus Dean of Students Amy McKinney immediately bonded over their red hair and shared dream of the Campus’s potential. Together, they organized a door decorating contest in the building.
The touches spruce up the Acacia Building that will give way to a new classroom building scheduled to open in fall 2025.
Sweitzer, with McKinney at her side, sees a lot to be done before that happens.
First and foremost, Sweitzer wants to establish the Stockton Campus as what she calls “an anchor institution.”
“They take root and serve the community through economic development,” Sweitzer said. “Their missions and development of intellectual and human capital are part of a community’s vitality, energy and growth. This will be my fourth institution at which we are reshaping its work within a community as an anchor institution.”
There are other anchors in Stockton, with a population of 322,000, including hospitals, museums and universities.
With 19 years of experience working in higher education, Sweitzer has held teaching and leadership roles at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Presbyterian College School of Pharmacy in Clinton, South Carolina, Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, and most recently, as provost and chief executive officer of Touro University California in Vallejo.
Her playbook was to make each an integral part of the community, and her goal in Stockton is no different.
“There are multiple parts to it, but I like to talk about it as a community developer,” Sweitzer said. “We largely have a local student enrollment. We are developing community by educating local students and giving local community members opportunities for higher education.”
The University is a service provider, creator of employees and well as an employer.
“We’re also a cluster anchor,” Sweitzer said. “We bring people together, bring organizations together and create larger outcomes and synergies. That’s the work of the Community Equity Research Center (CERC) here.”
The work includes securing grants to create opportunities, and Sweitzer excels at that. While at Touro, she landed a multi-million dollar grant to be shared among three North Bay facilities to run community health worker clinics. Successful participants earn certificates to provide communities with health navigation, health education and health outreach, as well as some care management and peer counseling.
Sweitzer brought some of that grant funding to Stockton, and the first cohort of the program at the Stan State Stockton Campus was held during the summer.
Bringing in more students to the Stockton Campus is a goal. Once students arrive, they need to feel a part of a community and sense of belonging. Sweitzer and McKinney are working together to create an inclusive environment for students, faculty and staff.
“When you’re in higher education, you’re not just an employee,” Sweitzer said. “You change students’ lives every day. It’s a privilege and honor to work in higher education, because when you touch student lives, you change their family trajectories for generations.
“I know that well, because I’m a first-generation student and had a mentor who changed my life, and many of our faculty and staff here are first-generation, too. Many of our staff are also Stan State graduates, which is amazing. It brings it full circle.”
The dedicated faculty at the Stockton Campus inspire her.
“They are here because they genuinely want to work in this community and have brought heart to this campus,” Sweitzer said. “Many have been here for years through good and bad and have remained because of their commitment to student-centered education and to providing students with opportunities.
“Those are faculty who might teach on both campuses or just here, and we have faculty who have full-time jobs and come here and teach after they’ve finished their day jobs. They engage with students and the students love them. They bring workforce experience and passion for education.”
Making all the Stockton Campus has to offer better known and creating more partnerships in the community are top priorities.
Another is increasing diversity in all professional realms, including in those disciplines offered on the Stockton Campus: education, health care and business.
“If we are going to address health, economic and educational inequities, we have to diversify the population we’re educating,” she said. “We have to diversify our K-12 educators. We have to diversify our health care educators. We have to diversify our business leaders."
Stockton is a place to do that, Sweitzer said.
She looks at Stockton and Stan State’s campus there and sees nothing but potential. Figuring out ways to reach it keeps her up nights, and she couldn’t be happier.