Stephen Sutton is UC Berkeley’s new vice chancellor for student affairs, tasked with overseeing the student experience of Berkeley’s 30,000 undergraduate students and 11,000 graduate students. Chancellor Carol Christ and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos announced his appointment on Wednesday. Sutton, who has been serving as interim vice chancellor since January 2017, will be a key figure in realizing many of the chancellor’s goals related to enhancing the student experience, developing a greater sense of shared community at Berkeley and improving the campus climate for underrepresented students.
We sat down with Vice Chancellor Sutton to hear about how he started working in student affairs, learn about his central priorities and get a sense for how he ensures the student voice is included in administrative decision-making.
You received your undergraduate degree in microbiology, then quickly turned to working in higher education and student affairs. What interested you in the field?
I’m a first-generation college student, like many of our students at Berkeley. I was the oldest of three kids, my parents didn’t go to college and my extended family didn’t go to college. Without that grounding and knowledge of what college was like, when I got to Ohio State I was making choices on my own, always hoping to find folks out there to give me some guidance.
I went to college thinking I was going to be a doctor, but when the money from my family ran out and I needed to figure out how to pay for tuition, I became an RA — a resident adviser in a student dorm. I could get free room and board and a tiny stipend each month. But it became much more than that: Helping others was something that really resonated with me, and I had some great mentors myself in that role. I was an RA for two and a half years, and that set me on an entirely different career path.