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Chico State

Celebrating Dawn Frank: 2022’s Outstanding MPP of the Year

Dawn Frank wears a bright red dress and smiles as she poses for a photo while holding a trophy and plaque
Jason Halley / University Photographer

Dawn Frank is living proof that college degrees can change life trajectories. She came to Chico State as a 26-year-old single mom on welfare—20 years later, she has two degrees under her belt (Women’s Studies, ’05; MSW, ’15) and runs three different centers.

“That’s education and what it did for me,” she said. “It wasn’t just the degrees and paper, it was the relationships and the curiosity and the grinding and the learning how to work systems, and the building of confidence.”

Fueled by an insatiable curiosity and a passion for connection, Frank has long been a stalwart advocate for the University’s equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts—she lives her values in her life and at work. After being hired as the first professional at Safe Place in 2009, she moved to an advisor position for the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) in summer 2012. After six beloved years with EOP, she embraced opportunities to make a more substantial impact joining the University’s Student Learning Center as its director in 2018 and three years later taking over as director of the Student Transition and Retention (STAR) Center. Finally, Frank was named interim director of the Cross-Cultural Leadership Center (CCLC) in 2022.

These are all positions she still holds today. And while she enjoys the challenge of working both with Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, her true joy comes from the staff and students she manages—all in the name of student success.

Frank was recognized with Chico State Staff Council’s inaugural 2022 Outstanding MPP Award at this summer’s Staff Excellence Awards.

Dawn Frank’s Mentors

“All of these folks have been instrumental in my growth here.”

  • Chela Mendoza-Patterson, former advisor at what was then the Women’s Center and is now the Gender and Sexuality Equity Coalition: “She was a very strong female mentor. She tirelessly advocated for the programs she supported and lead with a student-centered lens before that was a buzz term.”
  • Charles “CC” Carter, former director of the CCLC: “CC modeled leaning into courageous conversations and always made sure to keep student voices included in those conversations.”
  • Chris Malone, former associate director of EOP: “Easily the best boss I’ve had in my life. He knew the work in and out and led with a great sense of humor while continuously challenging his staff.”
  • Yer Thao, lead student learning center coordinator: “She has the strongest work ethic of anyone I’ve ever met. She is curious and generous and her passion for higher ed is contagious.”
  • Tracy Butts, dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts: “She’s brilliant on so many levels, and so much of it is her understanding of systems, her understanding of people, of academia, of the politics, the noise around it, and how to cut through that.”
  • Sara Trechter, professor in the Department of English: “She’s amazing. She really challenged me as an undergraduate and has been a great support in articulating my skill set and rejecting any gendered humility around my professional contributions.”
  • Tasha Alexander, coordinator in International Education and Global Engagement: “She has been a wonderful colleague and huge mentor. She is a phenomenal cheerleader for me both personally and professionally when I got lost in the weeds of work.”
  • Jackie Johnson, Frank’s mother: “She was a single mom to five children all born within six years. She instilled in me my social justice spirit, servant-leadership style, and the loving energy of as long as family is near I am always home. I always feel seen by my mommy, even when she sees right through my crap.”

What are some of your favorite spots on campus?

I raised my boys on this campus, so there’s a little memory in every corner, and it’s such a beautiful campus. There’s Alumni Glen and Kendall Lawn, of course, in terms of outdoor spaces. The Student Services Center houses some of the hardest working, most brilliant people on campus. I like popping into the offices there and connecting with people. Where I go to get fed and get energy, it’s the Student Learning Center. You walk through there on a Wednesday at 2 p.m. and it’s just buzzing with students nerding out—and I mean that in the most positive way, it’s really inspiring. I’m like a plant that needs sunlight, and students are that sunlight for me. The CCLC and the entire East Wing of the library is such a vibrant and diverse space of professionals and students. It is a great space to find and build community.

What are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of the applied learning from my degrees. I apply my academic programs to the work I do every single day. I love that because I think I am a testament to the power of a college degree. There’s so much value in it beyond just position and payroll. I’m proud that I can say I apply the theory I learned in classes and my internship sites, but I’m mostly proud of the staff I support and that they continue their development.

I’ve learned that to really help develop a person—not just a student, but in this context, students—you have to give them a lot of room for failure. To help support them failing forward and help them—and staff, as well—have that problem-solving lens of curiosity, curiosity, curiosity. Before you make assumptions, before you get defensive, before you say no, or even before you say yes to something, get really curious and ask a lot of questions: “What does this mean for my work? What does this mean for the campus? What does this mean for my personal development? Where is it aligning with my values?” I’m proud of the fact that I can honestly say I do live my values in my work. I know that I am made of mistakes, but again as long as I am failing forward by learning and applying those lessons, I’m okay with that.

What is something people may not know about you?

If there’s a word that captures me, it would be “wanderlust.” I am always very, very curious. I want to see the new art gallery, I want to see the new park, I want to go to any city anytime for any reason whatsoever. And if live music is involved, I’m there. I really love the diversity of the lived experience. If there’s an invitation thrown out there and I don’t already have plans, I usually say yes. I would love to be able to develop a cool craft or hobby and if I could, it would probably be apothecary. I would love to have a medicine garden and be able to put together tinctures to heal and enrich people’s lives.