Kimo Ah Yun ’90 (Communication Studies)
Ask Kimo Ah Yun to describe his journey from someone who had never considered attending college to his current role as dean at a respected liberal arts university and you’ll find he can’t quite believe it himself.
“Here I am a first-generation college graduate and I drive onto a college campus each day,” says Ah Yun, dean of the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University and recipient of a 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award from Sacramento State and the Alumni Association. “Even my family will shake their heads.”
Take a closer look at Ah Yun’s path and you’ll see a blend of drive and fortuitousness, starting with his days as a student at Sacramento State.
The Sacramento native graduated high school thinking he might go to college someday but with no actual plans. That is, until he had a chance meeting with a Sac State admissions counselor while tagging along with a friend to a campus appointment.
“I was waiting for her to pay her fees when the counselor turned to me and asked, ‘And what are you doing with your life?’ as he pushed an application across the table towards me.”
Before he knew it, Ah Yun’s college career had begun.
After earning his communication studies degree and competing on the debate team at Sac State, Ah Yun left to earn master’s and doctoral degrees at Kansas State University and University of Michigan. When he returned to campus, it was as a faculty member in his old department.
At first, he wondered if he would be taken seriously because he had been their student six years earlier.
“So, I went in and tried to do the absolute best job that I could in all facets. I wanted to be the best teacher I could be, the best researcher I could be.”
Then Ah Yun began a series of steady steps up the academic ladder, seizing on openings. He went from faculty member and debate coach at Sac State to director of the University’s Center for Teaching and Learning, chair of the communication studies department and finally associate dean in the College of Arts and Letters.
Along the way, he was honored with teaching awards including the President’s Research Award from Sacramento State and the Jack Hunter Meta-Analysis Award from the International Communication Association. He’s also published multiple articles in scholarly journals.
Ah Yun says he thought he would retire at Sac State and when he was nominated for the deanship at Marquette he initially declined.
“I never thought I’d be able to leave Sac State but I love it at Marquette,” he says. “Their mission of developing the whole person really resonates with me.
“I live a dream that my job is to have conversations about changing people’s lives. I love where education has brought me.”