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Professor Su Jin Jez

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Sacramento State Prof. Su Jin Gatlin Jez, Masters in Public Policy and Administration Program faculty member

Sac State Professor Su Jin Jez is making her mark at Sac State Downtown

Sacramento State Prof. Su Jin Gatlin Jez recounts a particularly revealing encounter with her mother when she was in the family kitchen in a big bustle one day in elementary school. 

 “One day my mother comes home and sees me in the kitchen and says, ‘What are you doing?' Prof. Jez recalls. “I said, ‘I’m making a bunch of sandwiches. And now you need to drive me around because there are homeless people who are hungry, and we need to go feed them!’ ”

Growing up, Prof. Jez wanted to be an activist, as exemplified by her childhood empathy for the homeless. Today, Prof. Jez is an applied researcher and one of the more active faculty members in Sacramento State’s new downtown center where she engages her life-long passion for public policy and her commitment to help address and solve problems.

Prof. Jez is a faculty member in the Masters in Public Policy and Administration Program and teaches in the Independent Education Doctorate Program, teaching and training the future state policy and educational leaders. This year, she also serves as the faculty advisor to the Executive Fellows Program of the Center for California Studies, teaching a seminar class downtown.  

“Being a faculty member at Sacramento State allows me to do applied research that has value for state public policy, research that people will read and act on it,” she says. “And the Sac State downtown location makes it easier to build relationships and establish a stronger presence with the state capital community.”

Prof. Jez also serves as director of the CSU Student Success Network, which creates spaces and resources for people at all levels in the CSU to support student success. The Network has three main strategies: a year-long middle leadership academy for faculty, staff, administrators, and students; day-long convenings that dive deeply into a shared problem of practice; and applied research on student success in the CSU. The Network Advisory Board, which draws from across the CSU, meets twice a year at Sacramento State Downtown. 

“We’re so thrilled to have a faculty member lead our thinking on how to harness the energy of cross-functional teams and how to support student learning, engagement, progression, and success,” Prof. Andrea Venezia, executive director of Education Insights Center, says of Prof. Jez’s impact.

Meanwhile, Executive Fellows Program Director Brian Aguilar says Prof. Jez has been “great in her first year” as the faculty advisor to the program.   

“She understands the principles of leadership and how they relate to the public good and how to cultivate the next generation of public servants and leaders. She’s uniquely positioned to make that happen,” Aguilar says. 

Prof. Jez graduated from Armijo High School in Fairfield, where she was raised. Her academic and research career took root at UC Berkeley, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in statistics and a minor in public policy. As an undergrad, she had an internship on Wall Street in New York and a second one later in London, experiences that helped her land a job in investment banking in San Francisco right out of college. But a few months in, Prof. Jez says she knew it was “time for me to go to grad school.”

Wall Street’s loss was Sacramento State’s gain. After earning a master’s in economics and then a PhD in administration and policy analysis, both at Stanford University, Prof. Jez committed herself to an academic career and applied research. She worked for two years at WestEd, a non-profit research and development organization based in San Francisco, before receiving an appointment to the faculty at Sacramento State in 2009.

At Sacramento State, Prof. Jez has conducted applied research focused on reform efforts targeted to improve college readiness, access, and success. She works with schools, universities, governmental agencies, nonprofits, and foundations to improve programs and policies that create and support pathways for all students to achieve their postsecondary educational goals.

Of particular focus has been research into the impact of wealth disparities among racial and ethnic groups and their impact on college access – who attends a broad access institution versus a selective one, and who attends a four-year university or a two-year college. “Income is far less important than wealth when it comes to access to higher education,” she says.

That Prof. Jez’s research focuses on educational equity issues is a reflection of the strength and courage she draws from her family history and the adversity her relatives confronted and overcame. 

Her African-American father, a native of Arkansas, was raised by a single mother after Prof. Jez’ grandfather died from injuries in a farming accident. A nearby whites-only hospital would not provide a blood transfusion and the nearest black hospital was too far away, Prof. Jez says.

Her paternal grandmother, suddenly a single mom with 11 kids, including eight boys, took the family north for a better life. “She was worried about her boys in the south and the death penalty, so she moved the family to Minnesota,” Prof. Jez says. 

Prof. Jez’s father, who retired from the U.S. Air Force after a 20-year career and then worked as a postal carrier, met his future spouse while stationed in South Korea in 1970.   

Prof. Jez’s mother was born into a poor farming family in South Korea, and was almost left in an orphanage after her own mother died. “My grandfather tried to leave my Mom at an orphanage, but she yelled ‘Dad!’ when he was walking out the door.  So, they wouldn’t let him leave her,” Prof. Jez recounts.

Prof. Jez’s mother was then sent to work for a wealthy aunt and uncle, working as a housekeeper. Once in the United States, Prof. Jez’s mother worked as a farmworker slicing peaches until her English language skills improved enough to gain employment with Kmart, where her mother went from stocking shelves to manager.  

Prof. Jez calls her parents “amazing” and does not take for granted the opportunities she has had in her life.

“Being in Sacramento and at Sacramento State allows me to understand better the issues that need further analysis, and to have the space and time to do work that I think is critical,” she says. “And I am able to speak for people who don’t have the money for research.”---Public Affairs and Advocacy