Sacramento State names Frederika Harmsen as provost

Frederika Harmsen, a geologist, professor and member of a rock band, has been named Sacramento State’s new provost and the vice president of academic affairs.

The position is the second-highest at the university, below only the president, Alexander Gonzalez. She will lead the Office of Academic Affairs, made up of seven academic colleges, the university library and the College of Continuing Education.

“Dr. Harmsen brings a wealth of experience and a deep understanding of the important role of the California State University to our campus,” Gonzalez said in a prepared statement. “She has excelled as a teacher in the classroom, a scientist in the lab and in the field.”

Harmsen, 54, is coming from Chico State, where she is a professor of geology and the dean of the College of Natural Sciences. Before moving to Chico State in 2011, Harmsen spent 26 years at Fresno State University, where she was a professor, department chair and associate dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, according to university officials.

It was during her years in Fresno that she became a part of the band Cool Reflection, which plays blues and rock. Harmsen, also known as “Fraka,” plays keyboards and is a vocalist. The band comes up to Chico three times a year to perform at private parties and to play local nightspots like The Graduate.

When asked how students react to seeing their dean perform, she said, “They seem to like the music. We’ll get up and dance.”

Reached at her office at Chico State on Thursday, Harmsen said she’s excited about working at a university in the state capital, where there is the potential to be involved in education policy. She also is impressed with initiatives Gonzalez has proposed and with the reputation of Sacramento State which, she said, “offers a wide spectrum of learning opportunities, as well as a dedicated and talented staff.”

Harmsen fills the position vacated in June 2012 by Joseph F. Sheley, now president of California State University, Stanislaus. Charles W. Gossett, who served as the university’s interim provost, will remain at the university in a faculty position and will help with the transition, according to university officials.

When Harmsen begins as provost in February, one of her first goals will be to further the CSU graduation initiative, which aims to see more students graduate within four years. She also wants to continue efforts to provide counseling for all students. “I’d like to improve these pieces,” she said.

Harmsen, who was born in the Netherlands and grew up in New Zealand, said she’d also would like to increase the number of Sacramento State students who have “international experiences.” She said the faculty at Chico State, where 10 percent of students have been abroad, often lead overseas study programs during the summer or intersession. “I think it is very valuable to have that opportunity,” she said.

The new provost said the campus is now able to hire again and that she would like to improve racial diversity on the campus. “I was actually impressed by the amount (of diversity) that is in the student body, but perhaps that isn’t reflected as much in the faculty,” she said.

The professor’s work at the other CSU campuses includes initiatives to promote student diversity in science and engineering and outreach to K-12 schools in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. University officials say she has secured more than $3 million in federal research science grants.

Harmsen moved to the United States in 1984 after earning a doctorate degree in geology from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. She will live in Sacramento with her husband, botanist Thomas Mallory, and her pet Labradoodle, Iwi.