During the final day of the bimonthly California State University Board of Trustees meeting at the Chancellor’s Office in Long Beach on Wednesday morning, CSU, Chico President Gayle Hutchinson had settled in, listening intently to California State Student Association (CSSA) President Mia Kagianas provide her final update.

Little did she know, all eyes in the room would soon be on her.

In a surprise announcement, Kagianas presented Hutchinson with the CSSA’s Robert C. Maxson President of the Year award.

“Named in honor of the former Long Beach State president,” Kagianas said, introducing Hutchinson, “the Robert C. Maxson President of the Year Award recognizes a campus president whose leadership reflects a commitment to students and demonstrates exceptional inclusion of students and shared governance.”

Kagianas, a 2019 Sacramento State graduate, bestowed the honor to Hutchinson in front of members of the CSU Board of Trustees, CSU presidents, members of the Chancellor’s Office, and special guests. She quoted outgoing CSU, Chico Associated Students President Alisha Sharma among Hutchinson’s qualifications for the honor:

“This year was devastating for our campus community,” Kagianas read, “We found ourselves in the midst of the most destructive wildfire California had ever seen. While thousands were fleeing the area, our president drove into the chaos, into the confusion, for us: the students, the campus, and community. That is leadership. Even during this incredibly difficult time, she helped me discover my voice.”

Hutchinson’s leadership through the unprecedented impact from last November’s Camp Fire helped open the Wildcats Rise Fire Recovery Fund that raised $701,000 to support 534 students and University employees affected by the fire; supported the Teaching the Camp Fire working group to develop pedagogy for ethically and effectively incorporating the fire into curriculum across disciplines; and appointed a faculty member to represent the University as a community liaison on the Camp Fire Long-Term Recovery Group.

“Receiving this prestigious award is one of the most unexpected and thrilling honors of my professional career,” Hutchinson said. “The events of this past year, particularly the Camp Fire, challenged us all, and our resolve has only been strengthened. Looking ahead, with the help of the University’s faculty, staff and administration, the Chico State campus community will continue to show its resolve and resilience.”

An accomplished former professor and dean, Hutchinson returned to CSU, Chico in June 2016 after working for three years as provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at CSU, Channel Islands. She is Chico State’s 15th president and the first female president in the University’s 132-year history.

Hutchinson built her career in higher education at Chico State, where she was hired in 1990 as a member of the Chico State faculty and taught kinesiology with a specialty in teacher preparation. She went on to serve as chair of the Department of Kinesiology from 2002–2007 and dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences from 2007–2013, and she participated in the prestigious American Council on Education Fellows program from 2005–2006. She was elected Academic Senate chair in 2006 and also served as statewide senator from 2003–2005, and chaired the Diversity Scorecard Committee responsible for drafting the University’s Diversity Action Plan.

Gayle Hutchinson addresses the campus community from the stage.
Chico State President Gayle Hutchinson was awarded with the California State Student Association Robert C. Maxson President of the Year award.
(Jason Halley / University Photographer)

Hutchinson holds a bachelor’s degree in physical education teacher education from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; a master’s degree in teaching analysis and curriculum development from Teachers College, Columbia University; and a doctorate in teacher education and staff development from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Over the past three years, she has led the campus through numerous crises, including the Camp Fire and the failure of the auxiliary spillway of the Oroville Dam; worked closely with faculty, staff, students and community members to develop an updated University strategic plan and campus master plan; and collaborated to achieve a successful WASC reaccreditation. 

The scaffold that supports her leadership style is collaboration, shared governance, diversity, innovation, institutional accountability, transparency, trust, and respect, and she promotes those values on both a system and campus level. In February, Hutchinson was appointed to serve as the CSU’s Presidential Advisor for its Native American Initiative.

As she finished her announcement Wednesday, Kagianas reflected on her personal experience with Hutchinson, as they met and learned about each other’s journeys at the CSU’s “Hill Day” in Washington, DC, in March.

“She has inspired me and took genuine care in my perspective and in my success,” Kagianas said, “making me feel part of the Wildcat Family, although I’m a Hornet.”

“Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat,” Hutchinson told her, leaning in for a hug.