Scholar, research administrator receive highest honor from CSU system

Charles Toombs and John Crockett are the fifth and sixth recipients of the Wang Family Excellence Award from SDSU since 2002.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024
From left: John Crockett, associate vice president for research advancement, and Charles Toombs, professor and immediate past chair of Africana Studies, are recipients of the 2024 Wang Family Excellence Award.
From left: John Crockett, associate vice president for research advancement, and Charles Toombs, professor and immediate past chair of Africana Studies, are recipients of the 2024 Wang Family Excellence Award.

A two-time chair of San Diego State University’s Africana Studies department and a top administrator of the university’s growing research arm were honored with California State University’s top award for faculty and staff excellence.

At a CSU Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday in Long Beach, Chancellor Mildred García and board President Wenda Fong presented the Wang Family Excellence Award to Professor Charles Toombs, known for his dedication to antiracism and to social and cultural justice, and John Crockett, associate vice president for research advancement, whose support for early-career faculty and their research funding extends throughout the CSU system.

Nominated by SDSU President Adela de la Torre, Toombs and Crockett are among five recipients of the 2024 awards throughout the CSU system. Each honoree receives a $20,000 award, provided through a $2.5 million endowment from Trustee Emeritus Stanley Wang and administered through the CSU Foundation.

Here is a closer look at each awardee:

Charles Toombs

Toombs was hired at SDSU’s College of Arts and Letters in 1991 after earning four degrees, including a doctorate in English, at Purdue University, and academic positions at California State University, Bakersfield, the University of Georgia, Athens, and the University of California, Riverside.

He was chair of Africana Studies (AFRAS) from 1998 to 2001 and 2013 to 2019 and has taught nearly two dozen different courses, including many focused on African American literature and the arts, and Black Urban Experience, subjects on which he also has written many publications. During his time in CAL he has served on numerous committees and governance bodies. He is described by CAL Interim Dean Ronnee Schreiber as “our leading light, and our North Star.”

Since 2019 Toombs also has been president of the California Faculty Association, the labor union for 29,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and other workers across 23 CSU campuses, a period in which the group has focused greater attention on matters of diversity, equity and inclusion.

De la Torre said Toombs has led CFA to “a substantial and historic pivot … that will be recognized in years to come as a defining moment in the history of CSU faculty” in the context of the system’s mission of educating a diverse population.

In an interview, Toombs said that while CFA has long sought to address salaries, rights and working conditions for faculty, “there was a neglected area. … We had not done the best job with actually addressing systemic racism and its impact on everything that we do. … Doing better was actually foregrounding our antiracism and social justice work.

“We thought this was extremely important as the demographics of the student body shifted to majority students-of-color and first-generation students and LGBTQ,” he added. “In doing so we were able to begin to bring more people into the work because we were addressing in more significant ways their lived experiences as faculty members on our campus.”

Being recognized with the award as an individual, Toombs said, reflects the importance of having “other voices at the table,”  and “from my positionality as a Black gay faculty member I’ve always thought that my voice was needed.”

John Crockett

Crockett was appointed to his current position in the Division of Research and Innovation in April 2020. He joined SDSU in February 2006 after seven years as a researcher at the University of Washington.

In her nominating letter, de la Torre noted Crockett and his team have supported the training of more than 300 new faculty members, along with additional graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. In 2014 he developed the Grants Research and Enterprise Writing (GREW) fellowship, aimed at assisting early-career faculty members in researching and developing effective funding proposals. It’s part of a critical function at SDSU, where funding for research has grown more than 40% over the past five years.

Crockett also is active in a CSU systemwide research group, sharing ideas on how to support faculty in ways tailored to each specific institution ― not all of which have research as high a priority as does SDSU. He also was one of the founding principal investigators of CREDITS (Center for Research Excellence and Diversity in Team Science), an SDSU/UC Santa Barbara‐led research and training program supported by the National Science Foundation.

“He is constantly thinking about (how) his team services can be improved, adapted and change in support of our scholars and he does all of that while being kind, humble, compassionate, and thoughtful,” de la Torre said.

In an interview, Crockett said he feels the award makes him a “stand-in for everyone … everyone is dedicated to their jobs, everyone has sacrificed other things that they could have done in order to make whatever contribution they can to the system and to the campuses.”

He said he was gratified to have his team recognized by the CSU system for the importance of a robust and impactful research enterprise and for work that is “very much in the background.”

“We’re very much working to curate the environment. Mainly what we do is we tend to the soil of the research enterprise. We add fertilizer, we amend it, we till so that our scholars can then plant the seeds of their ideas and flourish.”

Additional awardees

The other 2024 Wang Family Excellence Award recipients are:

  • Kelly Ansley Young, Cal State Long Beach (professor of biological sciences)
  • Daniel Crocker, Sonoma State (professor and chair, biology)
  • Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, San Francisco State (professor of Asian American Studies)

Chancellor García said the award recipients are “extraordinary individuals who have made it their life’s work to elevate the CSU learning experience and create limitless opportunities for our students.”

“Their skill, innovation and unwavering commitment to fulfilling the CSU’s mission wonderfully represent the highest ideals of the university.” 

At SDSU, Tooms and Crockett are the fifth and sixth recipients of the Wang Family Excellence Award since its inception in 1998. Prior honorees are Hala Madanat (2021), Guadalupe Ayala (2019), Sally Roush (2004) and Margaret McKerrow (2002). 

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