New Dean Brings Future Vision to CEHHS
By Brian Hiro
As the first person in her family to graduate from college, Jennifer Ostergren could have been forgiven for thinking she had made it.
Far more than a mere bachelor’s degree, Ostergren had earned a master’s and even a doctorate as well. She was a longtime professor of speech-language pathology at Cal State Long Beach, her alma mater. For four years, she had served as associate dean of the College of Health and Human Services at the same university.
Ostergren, however, wasn’t finished on her road to self-improvement. In 2019, 23 years after completing her bachelor’s and 11 years after he doctorate, she went back to school. Specifically, she was chosen for the American Council on Education Fellows Program, a one-year fellowship that immerses participants in the study and practice of higher education leadership.
And immerse herself she did. While being embedded with the president and provost of Arizona State University, which included a front-row seat to the administration’s response to the nascent coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, Ostergren even lived in the dorms on the Tempe campus amid thousands of undergraduate students.
“It was a convenience, but it was also a very calculated decision that would allow me to be fully present,” Ostergren said. “Every day I walked into a different building and said to people, ‘Hi, I’m Jenn, what do you do? What do you think about ASU?’ I can’t tell you how many interesting conversations I had with students in the laundry room and the elevator and other places.
“If you have your head down and you trod the same path over and over again to your office, and you meet with the same people, you get isolated about the things that you should be focusing on.”
Ostergren is now trodding a different path, with her head firmly up and her eyes focused on the horizon. She just completed her first semester at Cal State San Marcos as the new dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Services, bringing a fresh vision to a college that stands to emerge stronger than ever from a pandemic that has caused a significant amount of disruption to its core disciplines.
In addition to her background as a speech-language pathologist. Ostergren is also a futurist. A futurist is someone who practices an interdisciplinary methodology for thinking about signals of change in the present and how they might shape trends or future directions.
Thinking about the future, of course, is not the same as predicting the future. Ostergren is quick to add that she’s not a prognosticator. She did not foretell, for example, that COVID-19 would ravage the world.
“A futurist filters decisions and their worldview through an understanding that everything changes, we're constantly in a time of change, and there are signs of early change that are present now that will become a trend, that will become the future,” she said. “It's the idea of being aware, looking up from the now about what's happening and trying to think about, ‘If we're going to approach the future in an active, positive way, we really need to be thinking about what the shifting landscape is to best position ourselves for the future that we want to have as either an individual or as an organization.’ ”
Ostergren stumbled upon futurist thinking by chance during her time at Cal State Long Beach and felt drawn to it almost immediately. She has received several certifications from the Institute for the Future, a Palo Alto-based group that serves as a consultant for companies and organizations that are pushing innovation. Among its clients is the state of California, which is partnering with the institute on a sweeping project about the future of work in the state.
Ostergren became so well-versed in futurist thinking that she trained 66 people in the discipline at Cal State Long Beach, and she brought a futurist lens to her role as a leading member of the university’s comprehensive strategic planning team.
“In a very weird, organically grown way, I was able to get the president and the leadership team at Long Beach excited about futurist thinking,” Ostergren said. “I think they, like many other leaders across the country, sensed a need even before the pandemic to look to the future in new and innovative ways.”
She now is incorporating that same perspective at CSUSM. Just as the university is in the midst of formulating a new strategic plan, so too is the college that Ostergren leads, and she said the opportunity to shepherd CEHHS through that process was a major reason why the dean position so appealed to her. She has participated in initial meetings with the college’s shared governance committee as the parties work together to chart a path forward for CEHHS.
“Jenn will be paramount in the building of a new strategic plan, as the dean provides the vision for the college, in consultation with the faculty and staff,” said Suzanne Moineau, chair of both the College Coordinating Committee and the Department of Speech-Language Pathology. “As we begin to solidify the new university strategic plan, CEHHS will be able to build our own plan to align with that of the university. I look forward to the process, as I see Jenn as a leader who can build community. She is an active listener and appears very dedicated to the missions of each of our departments and schools.”
Ostergren also has watched with eagerness as the new hospital for Kaiser Permanente rises from the ground only blocks from CSUSM, dreaming about what it could mean for a college and many other health-related disciplines at its core. She believes that any fresh vision for CEHHS involves being even more enmeshed with the community than it already is.
“When I think about us as a college, there's so much need for us to really engage with our community around health and education and human services,” she said. “We have this expertise in the things that have been so disrupted by the pandemic and are going to be forever changed going forward.
“We're just in a really good place, I think, to step out and say, ‘We're here, we've got expertise, we're going to shape our programs and research to help our local community recover.’ ”
Brian Hiro, Communications Specialist
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