The art of being president

Chico State’s leader offers up blown glass and good advice

FISH STORY Chico State University President Manuel Esteban made this glass fish a year ago. He likes making fish, but for some reason most people want to have paperweights.

FISH STORY Chico State University President Manuel Esteban made this glass fish a year ago. He likes making fish, but for some reason most people want to have paperweights.

Photo By Tom Angel

Manuel Esteban took the reins of Chico State in 1993. Though he never graduated from high school and trained as a glassblower as a child in Spain, he went on to obtain a doctorate in romance languages.

Manuel Esteban, prestigious president of Chico State University, has an artistic side.

Glassblowing is a craft Esteban, a native of Spain, learned from his father. His father-in-law was also a glassblower. These days, the president rarely shows off his skill at the art of turning molten glass into vases, paperweights and creatures.

Sometimes, he’ll give demonstration in the university’s glassblowing studio, reopened in 1995 after a five-year hiatus due to budget cuts. He can make a little duck or fish fairly quickly for a faculty art show or parents’ visitation day. For other pieces, he works with master glassblower Rick Satava at Satava’s Wall Street studio.

Esteban wishes he had time to blow glass more often. “I do it maybe once a year, and you need a lot more practice to get really proficient at it,” he said.

He has several glass fish on display in his Kendall Hall office but confesses that paper-

weights are actually more popular for gifts and charity events. “Paperweights seem to be favorites,” Esteban said. “The reason is, in a paperweight, you can sign your name on the bottom.”

He grins widely, remembering the last paperweight he donated to a Boys and Girls Club event. It sold for $1,350, and, he joked, “I thought I should just quit and make a couple of paperweights a day.”

Esteban, who was hired to lead Chico State nine years ago, has proven to be popular and likable, participating in community events and serving on charity boards.

With his distinctive European dress, jet-black moustache and even smile, Esteban doesn’t enjoy much anonymity around Chico. “It’s a plus and a minus,” shrugged the president, who was just recognized by a doctor—a stranger to him—who was giving him immunizations for a trip to China. “I’ll be buying shoes or groceries,” he said, “and someone will ask, ‘How’s enrollment?’”

He’s been spotted at Chico Heat games, cheering in shorts and sandals.

Fortunately, Esteban likes people, and it isn’t unusual to find him chatting with students on campus. “I think it’s just a question of personality,” he said. “The job can take someone who’s easygoing and turn him into a serious person,” or he can embrace the wider, community role of college president. “I like it, so I get out and talk to people.”

Shifting to a concerned-parent tone, Esteban offered up some advice for new college students.

“I think the big surprise for incoming students is they don’t realize how big a change it is from high school to university,” he said. “If they postpone studying until too late, they will be sorry.”

“You get wrapped up in the social atmosphere that exists on campus,” Esteban said, adding that that’s fine—to a point. “You’re only young once, so why shouldn’t you enjoy it? But you should not neglect the reason that you’re here. . . . You’ve got to be able to balance and find an equilibrium.”

He said Chico, and on a smaller scale the university’s student body, has a distinctive “atmosphere and type of look”—though he’d be hard-pressed to attach words to a definition.

“It’s a great community,” he said.