Strategic Planning Committee
Meet our Consultants
San Diego State University is embarking in a landmark planning process and, through
that process, is committed to generating input from all levels of the university.
To ensure broad participation, SDSU is drawing on expertise from both within and outside
of the organization. An expert-informed initiative will strongly contribute to the
campus community’s ability to develop a strategic plan that will define not just the
future of one campus, but three: the SDSU main campus, SDSU Imperial Valley, and the
potential development of SDSU Mission Valley. Skilled and nationally-recognized experts
have been engaged to support and help guide this effort, and we encourage you to get
to know them below.
Emeritus Consulting Group
Alma R. Clayton-Pedersen is Chief Executive Officer of Emeritus Consulting Group, a firm that uses organizational development principles to assist nonprofit, public and education entities in enhancing their effectiveness for the public good. Clayton-Pedersen brings a wealth of experience to the firm’s work, particularly with respect to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion and facilitating discussions around inclusive excellence.
Clayton-Pedersen previously worked with the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) in several capacities. From 2010 to 2016, she was a Senior Scholar and co-Principal Investigator directing the work of AAC&U’s Preparing Critical Faculty for the Future Program, funded by the National Science Foundation. From 2000 to 2010, she served first as a Senior Policy Director, then Vice President for Education and Institutional Renewal, directing ongoing programs and several grant-funded projects. Prior to joining AAC&U, Dr. Clayton-Pedersen was deeply engaged for 16 years at Vanderbilt University, where she served in senior leadership roles in student affairs, a public policy center, academic affairs and athletic affairs. She conducted more than 20 institutional studies on retention, climate for diversity, and student programming. Throughout her 35-year career in higher education, Clayton-Pedersen has provided consultation on program evaluation, inter-organizational collaboration, diversity and institutional change in a range of settings and working with stakeholders nationally and internationally.
Sonja C. P. Armstrong, whose expertise stems from developing an expansive legal practice to public, is president and chief operating officer of Emeritus Consulting Group LLC.
Armstrong has served as both associate general counsel and special counsel at Chicago State University, a public, urban institution. As a generalist in higher education law, she has been responsible for oversight of issues relating to labor and employment, governance, athletics, residence life, academic affairs and student discipline, among other areas. One of Armstrong’s most significant campus endeavors involved a 15-month presidential appointment as interim director of intercollegiate athletics to restructure an emerging division of the university – creating a culture of compliance, an environment for successful student outcomes and a focus on institutional mission.
Prior to joining Chicago State University, Armstrong was an attorney at Katten Muchin
Rosenman LLP, one of the largest, most well-respected national law firms based in
Chicago. While in private practice, she served as legal counsel and advocate for a
diverse group of public and private entities – including higher education institutions
– in business, regulatory, complex litigation and dispute resolution matters. Overall
she was responsible for resolving challenges faced by her clients and fostering trusting
relationships at all levels within these organizations. Handling that work effectively
required her to use collaborative approaches to chart the best course of action to
reach each client’s organizational objectives.
AASCU Penson Center for Professional Development
Howard Cohen, Ph.D. is the AASCU Penson Center for Professional Development (APC) Executive Director and a Senior Associate of its consulting group, which works primarily with public regional universities. Cohen also holds the distinction of Chancellor Emeritus at Purdue University Northwest. Prior to his 10-year tenure as Chancellor, Cohen also served in academic and administrative appointments within the University of Massachusetts and University of Wisconsin systems. His areas of focus include strategic and academic planning, department chair leadership, leadership team development and executive coaching. Cohen is expected to be the lead consultant for the strategic planning components of our engagement, working in conjunction with other APC colleagues as needed.
Sal Rinella, Ph.D. is a former university president who has served as a consultant with APC and other organizations in all sectors of higher education for the past 14 years. Rinella also has been a facilitator and author for the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) roundtables and monographs, leading discussions of timely topics including New Forces and Realities: Making the Adjustment and The Presidential Role in Disaster Planning and Response. From 1994 to 2000, Rinella served at the helm of Austin Peay State University, an institution known for its collaborative, integrative learning community that tremendously expanded over the past three decades. Rinella’s areas of emphasis include strategic planning and positioning, identifying transformational programs and initiatives, formulating partnerships to advance the institution and team development.
We thank all members of our campus community – students, faculty, staff and administrators – for providing input and feedback, which will then inform San Diego State University’s future vision, mission and strategic priorities.