Fresno State newest provost sees graduates as ‘agents of change’

Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, who was born in México and grew up in Fowler, is the new provost at Fresno State.
Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, who was born in México and grew up in Fowler, is the new provost at Fresno State.

Fresno State’s second-most powerful administrator a) rides a scooter on campus to quickly get from one place to another, b) hated tomatoes “for the longest time” because he grew up toiling alongside his siblings and parents on a family-run farm, and c) was born in a house in Jalpa, Zacatecas, México that has been in his paternal grandmother’s family for more than two centuries.

“It’s an old, old house with a patio and a lemon tree,” is how Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval describes the home where he was born 48 years ago. “The patio opens where you can see the stars, and you can hear the church bells because the church is nearby.”

Jiménez-Sandoval embarks on a new journey this fall semester as provost and vice president for academic affairs, an assignment he sought “to empower students to become agents of change.”

As provost (he succeeds Dr. Lynette Zelezny, who is now starting her second year as president at California State University, Bakersfield), he is the university’s chief academic officer and serves as its leader when the president is away from campus.

Jiménez-Sandoval, during a reception last month to welcome him to his new position, said he believes “students who enroll at Fresno State open their eyes to the world of knowledge and graduate with a new understanding of their own value.”

That, he said, provides much value to the university, the graduates and the community because graduates “become aware of their immense potential, vast intelligence, and unique history.”

“The second part to this value is: Once our students own their history, they become aware that glass ceilings are imposed by outside forces, but are ultimately enforced and cemented by the mind that believes in limitations,” said Jiménez-Sandoval, who began his Fresno State career 19 years ago teaching Spanish and Portuguese.

Jiménez-Sandoval, who moved up from being dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, points to his experience in understanding the challenges that many of today’s students must overcome.

“My parents placed a rather strong emphasis on education,” said Jiménez-Sandoval, whose oldest brother went to college in México. “Even before we came to the U.S., my parents (Alfonso Jiménez Pulido and Tila Sandoval de Jiménez) had a notion of the power of education to improve one’s future.”

Two of his siblings graduated from Fresno State.

“Here in the Valley, I grew up wanting to go to college,” said Jiménez-Sandoval, who was the eighth-ranked graduate from Fowler High School in 1989.

He decided to attend UC Irvine, where he earned his bachelor’s (Spanish and history), and doctorate (Spanish and Portuguese literatures) degrees. He has professional certificates from Cornell University (critical theory), Escuela de Arte y Antigüedades de Madrid (Spanish art history), and Univerisade Nova de Lisboa (Portuguese language and culture).

Jiménez-Sandoval had thoughts of entering medicine, but changed his mind after his freshman year when he discovered a love for teaching.

After UC Irvine, Jiménez-Sandoval had offers to teach in Texas, Iowa and Washington, D.C. He visited some of those universities in January and quickly realized the cold weather was not for him “because I don’t have the padding for it.”

Jiménez-Sandoval “returned” home when he accepted a job at Fresno State. In 2002, he was named coordinator of the Spanish master of arts degree. His goal was to make it the “best it could be.”

“When a student writes a thesis, they are not just writing a thesis. They are writing their own history,” said Jiménez-Sandoval, adding that each student wrote about their own interests, “their own world.”

“They were all Latinos/Latinas from various parts of Latin América and México, but they were now exploring what the identify grounded here and deeply rooted here in the Valley meant to them at the moment.”

In their theses, the students went through “a lot of struggles, but at the same time they proved the resilience of the human spirit, the resilience of these students who felt they had found themselves in Spanish, specifically, and also in very specific type of world they were now carving out for themselves.”

Jiménez-Sandoval remembers sitting in sixth-grade class as a newly arrived immigrant who “faced a lot of discrimination, a lot of negativity.” However, he pointed out teachers like Mr. Álvarez, who wrote in his yearbook: “I admire your willingness to learn.”

“I will always remember that,” said Jiménez-Sandoval. “I can still picture his perfect handwriting (and) the word ‘willingness’ stands out.”

Other teachers encouraged him, like Lupe Vargas, his high school Spanish teacher.

At Fresno State, Jiménez-Sandoval figured “it was my obligation to give back to the Valley because the Valley gave to me.”

Education can transform a student’s life, he said, pointing out previous students who “were hesitant, shy, not quite there.” Upon learning about the history of México from the pre-Spanish conquest to modern times “the attitude they had began to shed away.”

By the time they graduated, “they had this vision that could just penetrate worlds.”

“It’s the vision of being able to flawlessly go from one world into the next through the knowledge of grounding yourself in history,” he said.

Their belief, he said, is “I have a rich historical past, I have a rich historical culture and now I’m here and I’m going to use my past in order to promote, in order to advance, in order to contribute to this Valley that I now call my home.”

Jiménez-Sandoval calls it the “gift of a double vision.”

Castro, who announced Jiménez-Sandoval’s appointment effective July 22, praised the new provost as “a dynamic scholar and administrator with an unwavering passion for our university’s mission to boldly educate and empower students for success.

“I am excited to work with him to guide Fresno State to even greater heights of academic distinction, which will help to elevate the entire Central Valley,” said Castro, who noted that Fresno State’s professors strongly lobbied for Jiménez-Sandoval.

“As chair of the Academic Senate, I am thrilled at the prospect of working closely with Dr. Jiménez-Sandoval, our new provost,” said Thomas Holyoke, professor of political science. “Dr. Jiménez-Sandoval has a long history of working in close consultation with faculty in the College of Arts and Humanities, and I believe that he will bring that same dedication to faculty, and faculty governance, to his new role as our new provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.”

Jiménez-Sandoval is married to Dr. Mariana Anagnostopoulos, a professor in the Department of Philosophy. They have two sons, Arion and Leo.

This story was updated on Aug. 7 to correct that the house where Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval was born has been in his paternal grandmother’s family for more than two centuries.