Joan Bissell was a sweet, brilliant, totally dedicated champion of those who were underrepresented and underserved. Over her spectacular career of more than 40 years serving our society, she provided enlightened leadership and unselfish support for everyone who had the honor of working with her. Her loss is tragic, but her legacy will live on in the countless contributions she made during her lifetime.


Sadly, now is a time when a gathering of family, friends, and colleagues is not feasible. As a poor substitute, this Forum is a virtual gathering where friends, family, and colleagues are invited to share your thoughts, memories, and observations about Joanie. I will start the discussion with my own experience of Joanie.

My One True Love

The nearly 35 years I was married to Joanie were the most exhilarating, delightful, and satisfying years of my life. She was as brilliant and challenging in her personal life as she was in her career. Every day was filled with a shared pursuit of innovation and improvement in the education of our nation’s youth and a personal pursuit of inspiration through museums, art galleries, nature preserves, and the occasional wine tasting. Joanie was the cherished love of my life and I will miss her every day.



  1. Joanie will be missed! She had a brilliant mind and an adventurous spirit.

    One of the fondest memories I have of her was enjoying dinner and a walk around Balboa Island on December 31, 1999, the eve of a new millennium.

    She loved getting away for a weekend hike in Joshua Tree National Forest, or around Palm Springs, or elsewhere around Southern California. I’ll never forget some of the experiences she facilitated when Betsy and I visited: a hot air balloon ride in Coachella or a glider flight in San Diego county.

    Her pursuit of her own education and of those around her was relentless. Her perspective on academia was invaluable to me during my graduate and early academic career.

    Zack Miller, Joanie’s son-in-law

  2. I worked with Joan at the CSU Office of the Chancellor from 2014-2017, then as an educational consultant and non-profit director until 2018. Her tireless passion in supporting equity in education knew no bounds; she inspired me to continue onward in pursuit of advocacy in educational research.

    Sitting in meetings with Joan revealed her devotedness to teacher education. She never hesitated in ensuring that educators had what they needed and that the CSU (our mutual employer) did all it could to support individuals pursuing education as a career path. Joan was a dynamo, there are few like her.

    Finally, we had deep conversations about Harvard and the History of Science. I will miss her smile and her dedication in the future.
    Dawn Digrius Smith, Educator, Colleague, and Friend

  3. Joan’s contributions to the field of education were beyond extraordinary. Her legacy of achievement includes the preparation of thousands of teachers during her tenure in the California State University Chancellor’s office.

    On a personal note, I had the privilege of serving with Joan on the board of the EnCorps STEM Teachers Program. I can’t imagine our board without her invaluable insights and innovative ideas.

    I will dearly miss Joan’s passion for public education, her tireless devotion to the causes she believed in, and, most profoundly, our friendship. May her memory be a blessing to everyone who knew and loved her.

  4. Upon arrival to the CSU in 2011, I soon met Joan. She was so committed to STEM and making sure all students had access and success! She was instrumental in working with our faculty and administrators in teacher education as well. Joan was especially focused on helping us find the resources to be successful!

    On a personal note, Joan was such a positive force!

    Stanley and family, Sharon and I extend our condolences!

  5. Be Right Back

    Joanie has always been alive, was never born.
    When her vessel became worn out, her
    gems retuned to source, shine again
    in distant star-stuff landscapes.

    Joanie did not dread death. That her body fearfully
    sought to protect itself, a mere consequence
    of an animal manifestation. No angst either
    over loss of her beloveds, will not abandoned.

    She’ll always be a breeze in their mind-wind,
    dance in the Yahrzeit candle’s flicker,
    be a topic of Sabbath-table stories of her triumphs

    Tread ever so softly on our blue-green planet,
    it’s Joanie upon whom we will be walking.

  6. I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Bissell through the New Generation of Educators Initiative (NGEI). She worked relentlessly through the CSU Chancellor’s Office to champion high quality teacher preparation so that we could offer our best to historically marginalized and often underserved students, including first generation, underrepresented minorities, and socio-economically disadvantaged children and their communities. She always saw the potential in the student, regardless of whether that student was a first grader or an inexperienced assistant professor or even a seasoned and experienced PI. Her effectiveness as an administrator and leader reflected not only her intelligence, but also her compassion and commitment to serving others. I will cherish the memory of her advocacy for education and endeavor to follow her example.

  7. Joan had incredible drive, energy, intelligence, leadership skills, and quiet intensity, as well as a passion for supporting powerful education for ALL students. She was masterful in cultivating relationships, connecting and empowering people (faculty, funders, etc.), and celebrating the accomplishments of others.

    Joan’s leadership of MSTI, NGEI, and numerous other initiatives with identifiable acronyms served to positively impact thousands of teachers and students throughout California. Her research on early childhood education no doubt helped impact the lives of millions of children. What a legacy! I hope Joan took time to reflect on the incredible impact she made in the state (and far beyond), but–knowing Joan–she was probably looking ahead to the next way that she could help facilitate an effort to make this world a better place.

    She was committed to the powerful preparation of preservice teachers (especially math and science teachers at all levels), and I was stimulated by our conversations that sparked creative ideas about ways to support them, not only in California, but abroad! (Some photos of a few events where we had such conversations are available at

    I will dearly miss my friend Joan, but I will also carry a part of her with me throughout my life, as will many others. She lives on in our memories, in our work, and in the impact of her decades of service to education.

  8. Farewell My Love
    By Stanley Newhoff

    the end
    it comes at the conclusion
    of every movie, every story, every life
    yet we never really understand
    until it happens to us

    the end
    no more wondering
    if there really is a hint of apricot
    in the chardonnay
    no more wondering
    which candidate
    will serve us best
    no more wondering
    which trail to try today
    no more wondering
    where to go for Thanksgiving

    the end
    no more sharing
    our deepest thoughts and feelings
    no more sharing
    each other’s achievements
    no more sharing
    life’s ups and downs
    no more sharing

    the end
    the ride is over

    the end
    of the joy
    the love
    the cherished togetherness
    the person who was
    my one true love
    my dearest Joanie

    the end

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