“Start where your student is and go from there.”
Those are the words that have inspired Dr. Mitzi Lowe’s career in higher education for the past 22 years. In fact, those are the words of her mother, Mary Whitaker-Lowe, who was a long-time educator herself, teaching until well into her eighties.
Growing up in Lexington, Kentucky, Mitzi Lowe had a strong support system from her mother and her sister, Mary Dean – 19 years her senior, who was also in the education field and served as the associate commissioner for education for the State of Kentucky.
“I feel so strongly that education – as cliché as it sounds – really transforms lives,” Lowe said. “I’ve experienced that firsthand, which is why I am so passionate about it. Watching my mom and sister go into a career they love so much also taught me that it’s really important to enjoy what you do.
My mother’s decision to get her education made a huge difference in our lives when I lost my father at age 7. Our lives would have been very different if my mother was not able to be self sufficient and take care of her family. She truly modeled how valuable an education is and how we must all be prepared to take care of ourselves.”
Lowe is taking her own words, and those of her mother, to heart as she heads back into the classroom this coming fall 2021, after eight years in administration, first as interim associate dean in 2012 and then later, as associate dean. Although she is leaving this role, she holds many fond memories of her time in the CHHS dean’s office, where she worked alongside three deans and an interim dean – each of whom she says she learned a great deal of leadership and collaboration from.
Lowe will return to faculty, as a professor in the Department of Social Work Education, where she initially got her start in 1998 as a lecturer in the department and as a researcher for the Child Welfare Training Academy. She worked through the ranks to become full professor in 2010. Two years later, Lowe joined the dean’s office, serving as interim associate dean under Dr. Andrew Hoff and later was promoted to associate dean under Dr. Jody Hironaka-Juteau in 2015.
Lowe also spent a year as special assistant to the provost and interim associate vice president for Academic Advising which was a joint appointment between Academic Affairs and the Division of Student Affairs in 2017.
Although Lowe was a key figure in many important initiatives, she says the relationships she’s built over the last eight years have been among her best memories. From staff birthday luncheons to candid conversations to spending time with others at Fresno State athletics games to getting to know students – each hold special memories for Lowe.
“I also will always cherish our special events where we were able to recognize our outstanding students and friends of the college,” Lowe said. “One of my favorite events was the student scholarship breakfast where donors got to meet their student scholarship recipients, as well as our community heroes event, and of course commencement ceremonies were always fun and rewarding.”
In 2015, Lowe and Hironaka-Juteau began work on the CHHS Honors Program in Collaborative Leadership – an effort to provide interprofessional education opportunities for students within various majors of the college. It is an initiative Lowe is particularly proud of.
“Jody and I both had experience in interprofessional education and thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if students had the same opportunity to learn about the importance of collaborative leadership skills across academic disciplines’?,” Lowe said. “And so we thought it would be wonderful to develop a curriculum that allowed students the opportunity to see the potential contribution their role plays on a team and to appreciate the role that other professionals play on a team and how to appreciate each other’s different strengths.”
This led to the implementation of the Honors Program, now in its fifth year. The program has led to partnerships with Valley Children’s Healthcare and other community-based organizations, with a focus on having students work together in interdisciplinary teams to address real-life health issues facing the Valley. Since then, over 200 students have been involved in the two-semester program.
During Lowe’s time, in partnership with Drs. Nancy Nisbett and Bryan Berrett, she helped build and implement a faculty mentoring program in the college, in an effort to provide faculty with more opportunities to receive support and research partnerships from peers across campus – as well as oversee the Advising and Career Development Center. Under her leadership, the advising center has provided guidance and support for hundreds of students in an effort toward meeting their academic and career goals – and has ultimately become a cross-campus model for how advising and career support can positively impact the student experience.
Lowe looks forward to the opportunity to return to the classroom, whether online or face-to-face, and she is ready to get back to her roots. As she reflects on her past, she recalls the first time she truly learned about social work. It all began when she was just 10, visiting her sister, Mary (a guidance counselor in the inner city at the time), in Hartford, Connecticut. Each summer, Lowe would visit her sister and brother-in-law, Charles Dean, a criminologist and superintendent of a boy’s delinquent home.
“Growing up in the South I learned about the significance of place and history, but in Hartford, I experienced the heart of the inner city, and met some of the most resilient and diverse people – many who were nothing like me, and it was a life-changing experience,” Lowe said. “That opened my eyes to one day working with people that really just need one more chance.”
That exposure to a new world unfamiliar to her propelled Lowe’s passion for the human services and social work field, thus beginning her Bulldog journey. She followed Mary and Charles to Fresno State, where Charles became the chair of the Department of Criminology at Fresno State and sister Mary worked as an administrator in various roles in the District Attorney Office, San Joaquin College of Law and later as a senior vice president at Valley Children’s Healthcare.
Lowe went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in Criminology from Fresno State and later returned for her master’s degree in the late eighties, while working 10 years in juvenile home care and Fresno County probation.
Lowe said it was Mary who inspired her own newfound desire to pursue higher education administration. This led to Lowe later attending her beloved University of Kentucky, where she earned her doctorate in Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation with an emphasis in Higher Education, in 1998.
Before and while pursuing her doctorate, Lowe began her teaching career – first as a teaching assistant and then adjunct faculty at both Lexington Community College and the University of Kentucky. After earning her doctorate, Lowe took her teaching career 2,300 miles away, back to her alma mater of Fresno State, where she has remained ever since.
When asked about what she looks forward to most about returning to the classroom, Lowe says it is being able to charge up her creative spirit to seek new and innovative approaches to teaching that best meet the strengths and needs of her students.
But prior to beginning her retooling phase, Lowe will enjoy some well-deserved time off with her partner, Donna and their maltichon pup, Katie Rey.
“We’re going to drive cross country, and the first place we’re going is Georgia. So I’m just going to take a little bit of time off, walk on the beach every day and not even stare at a screen,” Lowe said with a laugh.