Caltech Announces New Vice President for Administration

Karen Sisson, a well-respected financial leader who currently serves as vice president for business and finance at Kalamazoo College, will join Caltech on October 1, 2021, as vice president for administration and chief financial officer (VPA/CFO).

“In this pivotal role, Karen will oversee the campus budget and balance sheet, serve as a strategic partner to the president and provost on financial matters, and manage a large portion of the Institute’s administrative functions, from Audit to Facilities to Human Resources,” said Caltech president Thomas F. Rosenbaum, the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics, in announcing Sisson’s appointment. “She will work closely with JPL leadership and several Board of Trustees committees. As a member of the Institute’s senior leadership, Karen will help secure and enhance Caltech’s future.”

Sisson’s expertise with systems and budgeting, as well as her relationship-driven approach, have been honed with experience in both higher education and Southern California government, Rosenbaum added.

“I am thrilled to join a community with an unparalleled commitment to the discovery of new knowledge. The achievements of Caltech scholars can inspire each of us who supports this work to look beyond ourselves as we work to further the research and education mission,” Sisson says. “As vice president for administration and chief financial officer, I look forward to serving this diverse community and building on Caltech’s already strong foundation.”

As vice president for business and finance at Kalamazoo College, Sisson developed financial strategies to address the impact of COVID-19 and co-chaired committees that led to a successful reopening of campus in the winter of 2021. Prior to joining Kalamazoo College, she served for more than 10 years as the vice president and treasurer at Pomona College, where she developed and implemented the college’s response to the 2008 economic downturn and modernized the college’s financial systems and processes. She also oversaw the financing, renovation, and construction of two science buildings, two residence halls, the studio art building, and the recently completed Benton Museum of Art, each achieving at least LEED Gold certification.

Sisson established the college’s first dedicated investments office and advocated for the Claremont Colleges to implement a new financial and human resources system that then further improved Pomona’s overall operations and financial profile.

Prior to her tenure at Pomona College, Sisson worked for the City of Los Angeles as city administrative officer, deputy mayor for finance and performance management, and deputy executive director and chief financial officer for Los Angeles World Airports, which operates Los Angeles International Airport.

Sisson earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Pomona College, a master’s in business administration from the University of Chicago, and most recently a master’s in biblical studies and theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.

Sisson replaces Margo Steurbaut who, since July 2016, has “guided Caltech with skill and care” and “helped the Institute navigate the challenges of the pandemic with sensitivity and dedication,” Rosenbaum said.

Sisson was chosen from a slate of candidates from across the nation and recommended by a search committee that included trustees Suzanne Woolsey and Timothy Sloan; Caltech faculty members Dennis Dougherty and Ares Rosakis; campus-based staff members Cathy Light and Aleen Boladian; and Randi Levin, JPL’s chief information officer. The committee was chaired by Diana Jergovic and staffed by Hillary Tribbs.