Remembering Edward ‘Buzz’ Webb, a Leader Inspired by Students

Headshot of Edward "Buzz" Webb
Throughout his 25-year career as dean of students and, later, vice president of student affairs, Edward “Buzz” Webb, who passed away at the age of 86 in March, left a footprint as a leader who transformed student engagement at Cal Poly Humboldt.

Born in Indianapolis and raised mostly in San Diego, Webb’s career in student affairs began at San Diego State. While pursuing a master’s degree in public administration/political science, Webb held various positions including assistant to the dean of students and associate dean of students. In 1970, he received a Ph.D. in psychology at California Western University in San Diego. Four years later, President Alistair McCrone hired Webb as the dean of students for what was then Humboldt State University.

“Buzz came through Humboldt on a family vacation and thought it was the most beautiful place,” says Webb’s wife, Judy. “When the job for dean of students came up, he immediately applied. He loved the idea of working in a small school with students in the redwoods. And it proved to be the best job of his whole career.” 

Webb created programs that have left a mark on the University and the North Coast. Under his leadership, the University expanded recreational programs with the addition of club sports, new outdoor adventures such as backpacking, sailing, rafting, and rock climbing, and expanding intramural sports. He was also instrumental in the creation of  CenterArts, supporting the effort to implement a variety of cultural programs on the campus. Today, CenterArts is a cultural hub of the North Coast, bringing high-quality performing arts programming to the region since 1980.

“He wanted to be part of building Humboldt into an outstanding university,” says Humboldt alumnus Burt Nordstrom, whose first full-time job after graduating was in Student Affairs, where he was inspired by Webb’s vision. “Buzz loved the beauty of Humboldt County and wanted to put our surroundings to good use through programs and activities. He saw it as a perfect tie-in to the academic side and residential campus to make us a university where we can offer students a comprehensive experience in and out of the classroom.”

Ultimately Webb’s accomplishments were rooted in his determination to provide a rich, well-rounded experience by engaging with and learning from students.

“He was committed to students. He valued them and placed them at the center of his work,” says Rees Hughes, who also worked under Webb and served as director of Student Life.  

From meeting prospective students and their families at recruiting events to
driving the bus for weekend-long geography class field trips,  Webb lowered barriers between professional staff and students. 

“Students came first, and you could see that by his approach to management.
He would wander around campus talking to students and colleagues. He was always trying to get a read on what was needed to improve the university experience. He was also the biggest influence in my career,” says Nordstrom. Following Webb’s leadership style, Nordstrom became University vice president for Advancement and later served as vice president for Administrative Affairs. 

“He taught me that the key to success was being able to communicate and work with people in a team environment. Buzz was a mentor to many students and staff throughout his career and in retirement. There is no question that his guidance and advice were a significant influence on my career, for which I will always be grateful,” Nordstrom says.

Randi Darnell Burke, former dean of students,
says Webb saw mentoring as a two-way street. “He knew that students were also his mentors.  Student relationships and feedback helped inform his work, values, and beliefs as a vice president for Student Affairs.”

Webb was just as involved with the local community as he was with the campus community. He volunteered for the Humboldt Literacy Project and was a board member and counselor for Six Rivers Planned Parenthood. After he retired, Webb became a board member of the Headwaters Board and the Compass Community Credit Union.
He also taught courses part-time in career planning, leadership, and psychology at the University.

“Sometimes legacies are not always one big thing but a series of many smaller things,” Hughes says. “Buzz touched many students and staff and made a substantial difference in their lives. That is a wonderful legacy.”

Webb’s legacy of cultivating future leaders lives on through the
Webb Student Leadership Fund. The fund was established in 2005 by the Webbs, who believed that Humboldt students make a difference in communities and in the world, and, with encouragement and opportunity, students can rise to the challenge.  The fund supports the Outstanding Student Awards—an annual event that recognizes the academic and co-curricular excellence of students—leadership conferences, and other University leadership activities.