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How CSUF cultivates leaders for the next generation – OCRegister

By Nicole Gregory, contributing writer
The next generation of leaders who will guide businesses, governments and communities into the future are being trained for the job right now at Cal State Fullerton.
For a sense of what this looks like on and off campus, take a look at three leadership “heroes” — a professor who teaches nascent leaders the skills they will need; a student leader who advocates for the thousands of CSUF students; and an alumnus who lives and breathes the practices he learned while getting his MBA as a successful business owner and community leader in Orange County.
“We’re creating leaders in education, business and all the arts and sciences,” said John (Jay) Barbuto, Jr., professor in the college of business and economics who established the Center for Leadership at Cal State Fullerton in 2011. Raised in Boston and educated in the New England area, Barbuto taught at the University of Nebraska, where he started a doctorate program in leadership studies.
“Everything we do has some element of networking and connecting,” he said. Students interact with business leaders, faculty, and other students. “We develop leadership by teaching skills students will need in their careers. And we very strongly encourage students to give back to others. They tutor elementary school students, work in soup kitchens, build with Habitat for Humanity, help out in pet-adoption clinics,” he said.
The outlook is good for these future leaders: Students at the Center for Leadership receive, on average, 2.2 job offers when they graduate, Barbuto said.
Josh Mitchell, 22, is finishing his graduate degree in computer engineering and already has a job lined up at Poshmark in Orange County after he graduates. He’s also president of Associated Students Inc., representing 40,000-plus students.
He had no interest in being a leader until he came to Cal State Fullerton where he was encouraged and supported in leadership roles — and one led to another. Born in Mission Viejo, Mitchell became a residential adviser in his first year. He served on the board of directors in the College of Engineering and Computer Science from 2019 to 2020, where he became familiar with ASI. Soon, he ran for president — and won.
This role requires keeping his ears and mind open. “I am listening, learning, trying to understand what students have to say,” Mitchell said. He sits on the academic senate, looks at coursework, degree programs, budgeting and finance, and meets with CSUF President Fram Virjee and advocates for student concerns.
“Being a leader is the best decision I could have made,” he said. “It’s challenged me to grow and forced me to be a better listener, and this applies to being a better friend, partner, and just a better person overall.”
Mitchell is inspired by his dad. “l Iook up to him the way I’ve seen him being a father and how he’s made his life from growing up in New Orleans.” He also admires LeBron James — “how he leads a team on a daily basis and has continued his hard work to be one of the best at his craft for over a decade.”
And finally, he admires former President Barack Obama. “I am biracial, and I see him more representing what I can do. He makes me think about possibility — and inspires me to think, why not? Why can’t I do that in the future?”
Expanding horizons is another way that Cal State Fullerton develops leaders. This happened to alumnus Tam Nguyen while getting his MBA more than 15 years ago. At the same time, he was running the family business with his sister Linh — Advance Beauty College, which their parents started after arriving in the U.S. from Saigon in 1975.
“Linh and I were in the day-to-day grind of our beauty college,” Nguyen said. “I was doing things on a practical level and I didn’t know the big picture theory behind it. I couldn’t get from survive to thrive. (Through my coursework at CSUF) I was able to bring what I was learning — marketing, managing, information systems, accounting, finance, economics — to the business.”
Today, Advance Beauty College has two locations and has trained tens of thousands of graduates for work in the nail industry with a curriculum that includes cosmetology, barbering, and teacher training.
Born in Saigon, Nguyen was raised in Walnut. Though he earned an M.D. he knew it wasn’t his path. Upon starting the Cal State Fullerton MBA program, he quickly recognized that it was entirely different from medical school.
“My classes required group projects. Working with other people was such a contrast from being in medical school studying by myself. In the MBA program at Cal State Fullerton, I finally felt at home. I was part of a group, in a team-member role. This was very intentional, to have students work in group projects, from marketing to management — they all had group projects.”
The result was that Nguyen created close friendships that have lasted for years and are woven into his personal and professional life. He also learned the value of giving back to the community, which dovetails with his family’s values.
“My parents naturally are givers and we saw that modeled as part of the vibrant and growing Vietnamese community. My time at Cal State Fullerton also showed me the importance of reaching into the community,” said Nguyen who is president of the Garden Grove Community Foundation and has been on the board of Orange County United Way. He has been chairman of the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce and won numerous awards as a business leader.
After graduating, Nguyen was invited to reconnect to the university and served as president of the alumni association in the 2010-2011 academic year, and was on the Board of Governors of the Cal State Fullerton Philanthropic Foundation. He is now its incoming chairman.
In his work and personal life, Nguyen draws inspiration from Virjee, CSUF’s president, particularly “his style of leadership, his humbleness and down-to-earth demeanor, and his deep caring for me and others in my community. When Asians were being pushed, ridiculed, spit on and killed, he took the time to march with me in the Stop Asian Hate protests and stood with me to feel my pain. He could have retired, but he led our university during a challenging time,” Nguyen said.
Virjee also inspires him personally. “He is very well-grounded. Because of him, I am inspired to be a good husband and father for my family and my community.”
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