Photo by Victoria Billings

Unpacked boxes clutter the office of new Cal Poly Provost Kathleen Enz Finken. Several books and knick-knacks sit on the dark bookshelves, but other than that, Enz Finken’s office is undecorated.

The new provost, who was selected to replace former provost Robert Koob last October after an extensive search, hasn’t had a chance to unpack at her office or her home since she started on Jan. 30. Instead, she’s been using all of her time to learn as much as she can about Cal Poly.

“When you have a job like this, you can’t expect the university or the world to stop for a while while you get up to speed,” Enz Finken said.

Fortunately for Enz Finken, she comes from a very similar job, as provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs at University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. Since she is familiar with administrative duties, her challenge right now is developing relationships on campus and understanding the challenges Cal Poly faces, she said.

That means Enz Finken can waste no time getting to know people, executive assistant to the provost Diane Dixon said. The provost is currently logging in 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. workdays to learn as much as she can, as quickly as she can.

“Right now she’s going to a lot of meetings,” Dixon said. “That takes a lot of time — getting to know all the constituencies on campus.”

And Enz Finken has many constituencies to familiarize herself with. In addition to meeting with the deans and overseeing every college, the provost is also in charge of financial aid, library services and information technology.

Even with all of the work ahead of her, Enz Finken said she is very positive about the future. Once she has familiarized herself with Cal Poly’s community and needs, she can set about improving the school, she said.

“You have to understand and define that broad scope, the big picture,” Enz Finken said. “But the only way you achieve the goals you set out is to be attentive to the details.”

Enz Finken already has a list of goals to accomplish as provost. Her predecessor, Koob, laid the groundwork for student success by streamlining curriculum, improving graduation rates and focusing on making the processes for changing a major more simple.

Enz Finken wants to continue improving four-year graduation rates, as well as put a new focus on increasing diversity at Cal Poly, she said.

“I see my job — my most important job — as helping to remove the barriers that get in the way of success,” Enz Finken.

She also sees Cal Poly’s “Learn By Doing” creed as essential to the school’s identity. She said she wants to ensure Cal Poly’s comprehensive polytechnic education isn’t endangered by budget cuts, and that the school continues to produce graduates who have relevant, hands-on experience in their career fields.

“I absolutely believe that is how best to prepare students to be successful in this century,” Enz Finken said.

Enz Finken will have to balance her goals with the challenges of budget and accreditation concerns currently facing schools across the nation, College of Liberal Arts Associate Dean Debra Valencia-Laver said.

“She has quite a few challenges with coming in in a particularly bad budget year,” Valencia-Laver said.

Nonetheless, Enz Finken came into the position aware that current budget troubles would be one of the issues she was expected to deal with.

“I always say you don’t go into these jobs thinking that everything’s going to be perfect and rosy,” Enz Finken said.

Those who work with Enz Finken say her first few weeks have been positive so far. Associated Students, Inc. President Kiyana Tabrizi said Enz Finken shows dedication and focus right away.

The new provost is working at learning quickly, and those who have worked with her are excited about what she will accomplish at Cal Poly, Tabrizi said.

“She asks the questions that she needs answers to, and she participates fully in the conversation,” Tabrizi said.

For now, the boxes remain packed next to the bookshelves, as Enz Finken looks to the future.

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