Second in command
Meet Chico State’s new provost
Belle Wei isn’t in Chico yet, but the longtime educator already feels connected to the campus.
Wei is the newly named provost and vice president of Academic Affairs for Chico State, a position reporting directly to the president and overseeing all academic programs at the university. In the past couple of months, as she went through a lengthy interview process, she found her own values align well with Chico State’s values of diversity, sustainability and the inspiration of students.
“They resonated deeply with me,” she said. “These are the areas I have focused on during my 25-year tenure at San Jose State University.”
Wei arrives with a lengthy résumé, a diverse background and a promise that student success is her primary goal.
An immigrant from Taiwan who moved to the United States after graduating high school, Wei works in the male-dominated field of engineering. This background gives her a range of perspectives on diversity, she said. As such, she wants to help students from various minority and low-income backgrounds achieve success.
“I try to really provide an opportunity and to inspire them and to motivate them to enter fields they have not considered before,” she said.
Wei (pronounced “way”) attended UC Berkeley for undergraduate work in biophysics before earning a master’s in engineering at Harvard University. She returned to UC Berkeley for her doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science.
She went on to work for the Ford Aerospace and Communications Corporation, which allowed her to make connections in the Silicon Valley. Since 2002, she has been the dean of San Jose State’s College of Engineering.
In addition to her impressive résumé, Wei has several noteworthy honors and experiences, such as being invited to the White House earlier this year by the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness for discussions about the future of engineering.
Contacted recently by phone in her Bay Area office, Wei was most excited to talk about her efforts establishing connections with students, staff and faculty.
At San Jose State, she hosted events like “Pizza with Dean Wei” to reach students on an informal level and “Brunch with Belle” to do the same with her staff, using the events to get suggestions for improvements to the college.
Simple and significant changes resulted, she said, such as adding more electrical outlets in the engineering building for students to charge their laptops and creating more classes about sustainability. In an open forum at Chico State during her interview process, Wei mentioned how she had increased the number of scholarships in engineering from 23 in 2003 to 57 this year.
Wei was unanimously selected from the top four of 73 applicants after a “full, complete and rigorous process,” said education professor Charles Zartman, chairman of the provost search committee and director of the Center for Bilingual/Multicultural Studies.
Zartman said Wei connected with the members of the committee during the interview process by turning a question-and-answer session into an engaging discussion, especially when it came to student success. She further distinguished herself with her connections to the Silicon Valley business community, which have greatly benefited the students at San Jose State. She has approached the companies hiring her engineering students and encouraged them to support the program that trained them, Zartman said.
Those connections would come with her to Chico State.
“She was more than willing to share all the institutional and individual contacts that she has nurtured over the past quarter of a century in San Jose,” he said.
Wei will reach out to alumni, such as the engineering students working in Silicon Valley, who want to support programs here in Chico, Zartman said.
He referred to her as “most impressive” in her communication abilities, knowledge and forward-thinking ideas.
“The outcome of this process is we have a wonderful individual with great talent who will bring this talent for the good of this institution,” Zartman said.
Wei, who is married to a fellow engineer and has a grown daughter, will take up her new post on Aug. 1. She already has some familiarity with the area. She visited Chico State for the first time three years ago, helping her niece, who attends Chico State, get settled. Just last week, she said, she drove through the rural areas south of Chico, admiring places like Lundberg Family Farms.
Wei has developed many friends and close relationships in San Jose, and while she will miss them after 25 years, she said this: “It is not goodbye to Belle, but welcome to Chico State.”