University President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval appointed Dr. Kent L. Willis as the next vice president for the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Fresno State. Willis’ first day in his new role is Jan. 3.

Willis currently serves as assistant vice president and associate dean of the graduate school at the University of Texas at Tyler, where he has been since 2018. Prior to that, he was with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler serving in a variety of academic and student affairs leadership roles.

“Dr. Willis brings a deep wealth of knowledge and experience in student enrollment and success to Fresno State,” Jiménez-Sandoval said. “He has a stellar record of leading innovative efforts in enrollment management, student recruitment and outreach, accreditation and institutional effectiveness.”

The vice president of the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management oversees employees in the division and student service offices and programs, including enrollment, campus discipline, academic advising, migrant services, student activities and the student unions on campus. 

“It is the collection of activities, as well as initiatives that come out of the Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Division that help raise the profile of the institution,” Willis said. “Helping students — whether they are prospective students, current students or former students — build and maintain an affinity for the institution, understanding the return on investment of higher education, it all comes together in the Division of Student Affairs.”

Willis succeeds Dr. Carolyn Coon, who is retiring after 20 years with Fresno State. Coon has served in the vice president role in an interim capacity since October 2019.

Willis understands there will be some challenges stepping into this role.

The first thing is that the division requires a person who can lead in a transparent way, but also find points for collaboration,” Willis said. “There’s a committed group of leaders who have been at the institution over time and through challenges who understand very well the needs that exist. And really, I think [people] are hungry for change and for a new chapter, a chance to really begin to move forward some ideas and some innovative approaches that are right for a time such as this.

The vice president reports to Jiménez-Sandoval and serves as a member of the President’s Cabinet.

“I’m confident that he will take on our two primary areas of focus: building a strong team with a culture of transparency and care while focusing on student engagement, recruitment, retention and graduation rates,” Jiménez-Sandoval said.

Willis received a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from Stephen F. Austin State University, a master’s degree in secondary education from East Central University and a Ph.D. in educational management from Hampton University, one of the nation’s prominent Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

His dissertation title was “Advancement of college readiness in South Texas: Perspectives on improved outcomes for at-risk students.” Willis’ research interests include college and career readiness, closing achievement gaps, school-based health promotion (wellness) and education policy.

In his current role at the University of Texas at Tyler, Willis is instrumental in program planning, student development and academic affairs. In addition, he creates engaging and transformative educational experiences to inspire lifelong learning, authentic leadership and independent scholarship.

While he has visited but never lived in California, he said it is Fresno State that drew him to make this move, not the allure of the “Golden State.”

“It’s a really exciting next chapter for me and my family. My wife, Ashley, and I look forward to joining a team of people who are truly exhibiting a commitment to student success in an institution that has over time demonstrated the ability to raise the social mobility of its students,” Willis said. “The most attractive thing has been the institution, as well as the vision of the leaders on campus that really compelled us to Fresno.”