New CGU president brings unique skill set to Claremont

Len Jessup, who began his new job as president of Claremont Graduate University this summer, is by all accounts an accomplished guy.

He was awarded the 2018 CEO Award by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, and is a practicing scholar. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in information and communication studies from California State University, Chico.

He went on to get his PhD in management and organizational behavior from the University of Arizona, Tucson, and has since authored many journal articles and books on entrepreneurship, innovation and the evolving nature of information technology.

And while all that is certainly impressive, the 57-year-old fitness buff’s latest ambition may be his loftiest.

“My goal is to be younger each year,” he said. “That’s what I’m working on.”

Mr. Jessup and his partner Kristi Staab arrived in Claremont in early June.

“We love it here,” he said. “It’s such a beautiful community. We’ve both got Apple Watches so we can track our steps, and we find that we’re really active and walking a lot. It’s been fantastic.”

He was born and raised in San Francisco, long before that city’s sprawl reached nearby suburbs such as San Mateo and San Bruno. Orchards and farmland were still common, much like Claremont in the 1960s.

“There were no computers yet when I grew up there,” he joked. “All these little communities have now grown together to one massive urban expanse.”

He has two children from a previous relationship: a daughter who is about to enter her junior year at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, and a son who is entering his junior year in high school in Moscow, Idaho.

Mr. Jessup and Ms. Staab have spent the last three-plus years in the Silver State, where he served as president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Before that he was dean of the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, and director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Washington State University, among other jobs in academia.

They now live in a home in the Village.

“We wanted to have time to get settled in to the house, but also to get settled in to the community as well,” Mr. Jessup said. “We like where we are, where we can walk over to campus and walk down the Village.”

CGU will celebrate its centennial in 2025, likely during Mr. Jessup’s tenure. He’s thrilled at the prospect, and jumped at the chance to talk about his plans to expand the university’s profile.

“Clearly what we want to work on for this first year is growing our enrollment,” he said. “We’ve got, for example, three new online master’s programs that are really interesting. We want to make sure that we have a good, successful launch and we grow those programs. And similarly, in addition to growing enrollment, we want to really grow and better engage our alumni base and our connections out with alumni and other key people out in industry.”

Mr. Jessup said he was also looking toward raising the university’s profile, nationally and abroad, as well as its financial position.

“The growth just helps us to make sure that we’re a good, strong, financially self-sustaining organization. And the alumni engagement helps us in finding new students and building partnerships, and then in placing students back out into great careers,” he said. “All of that helps get us to the destination we want to get to. In everything that we do, we want to be best in class. We want to be the best in graduate education and recognized for being so.”

Full time enrollment at CGU is about 2,200, with additional students attending part-time.

“We could certainly grow by a couple of hundred students and we certainly wouldn’t notice it in terms of our classrooms and our capacity.”

Being an engaged part of the local community is very important as well, Mr. Jessup said, both personally and professionally.

“We built a first 100-day plan, and that involves not only meeting people on campus, but getting out and meeting people in the community, in the broader LA basin, and then getting out and meeting our alumni around the country and around the world, particularly in Asia.”

Asia is an area of particular focus for the new president.

“We definitely have a fair number of [international] students, especially from Asia,” he said, “not only our students who come over, but our alumni that go back and are living there and working there.”

One might think life in small town Claremont would be a bit of a culture shock after the glitz and noise of Las Vegas. Not so, said Mr. Jessup.

“I don’t see that part of it because I’m involved with the universities and this intellectual community, and there’s a lot going on. So, to me, it feels pretty dynamic.”

Though born in San Francisco, when his parents retired the family moved to Fort Jones, California, with a population of about 500 at the time, where he graduated high school. He’s also lived in Moscow, Idaho, which is similar in size to Claremont, and in Bloomington, Indiana, which is roughly three times the size of the City of Trees.

“I’ve been in some great college towns,” he said. “I love this community and this size. We have the best of both worlds, because we have that kind of small-town college environment here, but the LA basin is our playground. This is perfect.”

His high school-aged son has taken a tour of the Claremont Colleges and is apparently considering heading south for his higher education. “It would be great if he would come down,” Mr. Jessup said.

Ms. Staab had a 20-year career in broadcasting and, about nine years ago, she earned her master’s degree. She now runs a leadership training and executive coaching business. Claremont is a nice fit for the fit couple.

“It’s a great community,” Mr. Jessup said. “We watched the parade on the Fourth of July then we went over to the stadium and watched the fireworks that night. It was fantastic. We really love it.”

—Mick Rhodes


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