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Chico State

Ardent Advocate for Historically Underserved Students Honored for Innovation, Contributions

Gary McMahon

The Chico State Emeritus and Retired Faculty and Staff Association (ERFSA) is pleased to announce the 2024 Hall of Honors class. Eight renowned faculty and staff members will be inducted into the Hall of Honor on Friday, May 31, 2024, during a ceremony and luncheon. Buy tickets.

An innovative, effective advocate for historically underserved students Gary McMahon not only changed lives but reshaped much of Chico State’s approach to attracting and supporting such students.

McMahon’s efforts began in 1997 by launching the Business Resource Center (BRC). He had a plan for assisting low-income and first-generation college students that included advising, peer mentoring, and creating a place for connection and community. His strategy helped the students both inside and outside the classroom and with their progress toward graduation. The blend of services and expectations at the BRC, now known as the College of Business Student Success Center, became a template for other like-minded programs on campus.

In 2008, McMahon moved from the College of Business to Enrollment Management and became director of the Chico Student Success Center (CSSC). There, McMahon expanded what the BRC was able to provide students while maintaining the same focus. Data gathered by campus found participants experienced an increased sense of belonging and were more likely to succeed than peers who are not in a student-support program. For its accomplishments, the CSSC received a CollegeKeys Compact Innovation Award from the College Board Western Region.

In 2015, the CSSC started a peer and faculty mentoring program called REACH for first-year students. Retention rates for those students exceeded rates for other first-year students on campus. The program won the Nicholas Michelli Award for Promoting Social Justice given by the National Network for Educational Renewal.

McMahon also led a major effort to attract more underrepresented students to campus. He and colleagues at the CSSC developed partnerships with 46 high schools across the state, many of whom had rarely if ever sent students to Chico State. This effort directly increased the University’s Latinx population and helped lead to the University’s national recognition as a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

McMahon also sought ways to improve recruitment and retention of Native American students, organizing school visits, field trips, and other events emphasizing an appreciation for Native American practices. The initiative contributed to campus naming its first director of Tribal Relations in 2018.

“Gary McMahon understood that the challenges faced by historically underserved students were not student problems but institutional problems, requiring structural change and tireless advocacy,” said Ellie Ertle, associate vice provost of Undergraduate Education. “His legacy is the personal and professional success of the countless students who were directly supported by his extraordinary mentoring.”

Prior to his retirement in 2020, McMahon was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the University’s annual Conversations on Diversity and Inclusion Awards.