There are many people who fit the description of a leader but few who embody it heart and soul. Interim President Donald J. Para is that exception.
Much is known of his 26 years of accomplishments on campus.
Following his 12-year stint as Department of Music chair and year as associate dean, he served as dean of one of the nation’s largest colleges of the arts, raising $30 million while establishing the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music and developing a joint MBA/MFA in theater management degree.
In 2010, he was appointed the Division of Academic Affairs provost and senior vice president, after serving a year as interim provost. Despite severe state budget cuts, he oversaw the creation of the Highly Valued Degree Initiative, which has boosted graduation rates while raising the value of our degrees. During his tenure, the university also experienced a significant increase in student applications, receiving more than 80,000 for fall 2013 admissions.
Para, along with Interim Provost/Senior Vice President David Dowell, helped create the Leadership Fellows Program to develop a new generation of university leaders.
“When reflecting on Don Para’s leadership, what first comes to mind is the deep love and commitment that he has for this university,” commented Daniel J. O’Connor, chair of the university’s Academic Senate and of the Department of Liberal Studies. “He is a leader who walks the walk.”
What is known about Para, the man, among his colleagues and friends is less publicized but contributes to his excellence as an administrator and a true believer in Beach Pride.
As the son of an Italian immigrant father and a first-generation American college student who attended state universities himself, he identifies with Long Beach students. He is known for arriving every day by 7 a.m., often riding the bus from his home in Duarte, which gives him ample opportunity not only to observe Long Beach students, but to gain a different perspective on their campus experiences.
During his time with the College of the Arts, if there was a piano that needed to be moved, he was there to help. In his opinion, he would never ask anyone else to do something he could do, as “everyone is busy.”
His daughters, Alyssa and Marina, grew up on the campus as well and would take turns accompanying him to music concerts. Later, when Alyssa was studying for her master’s degree at the university, he would walk her to her classes.
As interim president, he is known to spend the weekend morning raking leaves and sweeping the sidewalks at the Miller House president’s residence before an afternoon university event. When asked why he didn’t have a yardman, he responded, “You’re looking at him.”
College of the Arts Interim Dean Chris Miles has worked closely with Para. “The three themes that I think have been clearly evident in all of his leadership roles have been his accessibility and openness, his engagement and awareness—or his in-touchness, if you will—and his absolute commitment to students and their success.”
Para’s wife, Sandra, has played an equal role as a great supporter of the campus. Every December, for more than 15 years, the couple has invited and bought tickets for a group of Carmelite sisters to attend the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music Winter Festival Concert. They are also regulars at numerous CSULB sporting events, cheering on the 49ers and wearing black and gold in honor of the university’s colors.
“Along with Don, our daughters and I have felt embraced by the campus community and feel blessed that we could experience so much of what CSULB has to offer,” Mrs. Para said.
As Para looks forward to retirement, he also looks back with much pride.
“It has been a privilege to serve the students, faculty and staff of Cal State Long Beach for the past 26 years, a university that transforms lives by offering a high-quality, affordable college education,” he said. “We can all be proud that this is the university of choice for thousands of prospective college students. Our students and alumni know that The Beach is a very special place.”
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