History

Proud History. Passionate People.

Built on agricultural land once home to orange, lemon and avocado groves, California State University, Northridge (CSUN) has been an integral part of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley for more than 60 years. CSUN proudly recognizes and acknowledges the Sesevitam, the first people of this ancestral and unceded territory of Sesevenga, which is now occupied by the University.

Today, nearly 400,000 alumni serve as the economic, cultural, intellectual and societal spark for Southern California and other communities. CSUN graduates more than 11,000 students annually who go on to lead industries as varied as tech, entertainment, business, education, the arts, health and science, helping to create a better society and world.

CSUN has catapulted passionate Matador students and alumni to create social change, make new discoveries and better our world.

The university’s commitment to student success, inclusive excellence and service to the community has made it a national model for institutions of higher learning. With over 38,550 passionate students and more than 2,100 dedicated faculty (Fall 2021), the proud history of CSUN continues to grow.

CSUN History & Leadership

Our rich history began with an official groundbreaking on January 4, 1956. The then-San Fernando Valley satellite campus of California State University, Los Angeles held its first classes on September 24, 1956.

Long committed to becoming a distinct four-year institution of higher education as opposed to simply a satellite campus, the university separated from the California State University, Los Angeles system on July 1, 1958 to become San Fernando Valley State College (SFVSC).

Under SFVSC's first president, Dr. Ralph Prator, enrollment grew from 2,525 in 1958 to over 6,000 in 1961. In the years that followed, enrollment continued to grow, with the institution boasting an enrollment of over 15,500 students in 1968.

In 1969, Dr. James Cleary became President of SFVSC, a position he would hold for 23 years. Three years into his role, the institution would officially become known as California State University, Northridge. Under his tenure, enrollment would expand to over 31,500, with the number of degree programs growing from 59 to 90.

Recognized for his leadership during a time of political and social unrest, commitment to academic excellence and oversight of numerous campus building projects, President Cleary was named one of the 100 most effective college presidents in the U.S. by the Exxon Education Foundation.

When President Clearly retired in 1992, Dr. Blenda Wilson was named President of CSUN, becoming the first African-American to hold the top post. Additionally, she became the first African-American woman in the United States to lead a college or university the size of CSUN.

The Northridge area was hit by a devastating 6.7-magnitude earthquake in 1994. While the university was fortunate to avoid any fatalities, it did sustain over $400 million in damages to buildings and infrastructure. However, through President Wilson's unwavering leadership and commitment to rebuilding the destroyed parts of campus, CSUN would come together as a campus was rebuilt and spirits renewed.

From 1999-2000, CSUN was led by Interim President Dr. Louanne Kennedy, a former CSUN Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs.

In 2001, Dr. Jolene Koester was inaugurated as the fourth president of CSUN, a position she held until 2011. Under President Koester, enrollment grew to 34,500 in 2006. A tribute to her success at CSUN, Koester was recently named Interim Chancellor of the 23-campus California State University system.

In 2012, Dr. Harry Hellenbrand served as Interim President. Prior to the interim role, he spent eight years as Provost and Vice-President for Academic Affairs at CSUN, a position he returned to when Dr. Diane Harrison was appointed as president in 2012. As CSUN President for nearly a decade, President Harrison was known for her commitment to students, academic excellence and leadership, as well as her penchant at building strong partnerships with public and private organizations.

Since 2021, Dr. Erica D. Beck has served as President of CSUN. An advocate of higher education's ability to transform lives and communities and promote social mobility, President Beck champions the academic success of students in the attainment of their highest educational aspirations. At the cornerstone of her presidency is an unwavering commitment to advancing equity, inclusion and justice to facilitate human potential while advancing knowledge that serves the public good.

Land Acknowledgement

CSUN recognizes and acknowledges the Sesevitam, the first people of this ancestral and unceded territory of Sesevenga — which is now occupied by our institution. It honors their elders, past and present, and the Sesevitam descendants, who are citizens of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. We recognize that the Sesevitam are still here, and we are committed to lifting up their stories, culture and community.

Scroll back to the top of the page