In leadership training programs for higher education, speakers stress the importance of finding an institution whose values closely match your own, Bonnie Irwin said.

Cal State Monterey Bay’s new provost believes she has found just such a place.

"The particular things this institution does well were big attractions for me," said Irwin, who took over as the university’s chief academic officer in July. "Service learning, that is important to me. The fact that we have an Office of Undergraduate Research, the vision that the president has for community engagement, all of those factors convinced me that this could be a good match."

Irwin came to CSUMB from Eastern Illinois University, where she was dean of Arts and Humanities. She also was a full professor of English and previously had served as dean of the Honors College.

She said she first started thinking of becoming a provost while serving as Honors College dean."You are dealing with admissions, you are dealing with alumni relations, with student affairs," Irwin said. "You have the opportunity to work with all the different deans and all the different departments across campus. And I found I really enjoyed having that 30,000-foot view."

The move from the Midwest to California is something of a homecoming for Irwin. She spent her early childhood in Chicago, where her father was an auditor for United Airlines.

The family moved to the Bay Area when Irwin was 12 and her father was transferred to San Francisco.

She attended Los Gatos High, and earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

She taught at a New Jersey community college and Iowa State University before moving to EIU in 1994.

Over the years, she said she has become even more convinced of the transformative power of master’s degree-granting comprehensive universities such as EIU and CSUMB.

"You see so much growth in the students when you work in an institution like this one," Irwin said."Many first-generation students don’t really have an academic support system in place. It is not that they don’t come from strong families, but they don’t have the same experience in navigating the world of higher education.

"It is exciting to see those students go to college and succeed. Education just opens so many doors."