Dr. Sonya Christian, First Woman, First South Asian To Become Chancellor Of California Community Colleges
SACRAMENTO, CA – The California Community Colleges Board of Governors has announced the unanimous selection of Kern Community College District Chancellor Sonya Christian as the next permanent chancellor to lead the largest and most diverse system of public higher education in the nation.
The announcement comes following an extensive and nationwide search over the past seven months. Christian is a historic choice, becoming the first woman and the first person of South Asian heritage to be appointed as permanent chancellor.
“Dr. Christian is one of our nation’s most dynamic college leaders, with a demonstrated record of collaboration and results in the Central Valley,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “She understands what is needed to deliver on record levels of higher education investment to make real improvements to the lived reality of our students. I look forward to continuing to partner with Dr. Christian to ensure our community colleges are engines of equity and opportunity.”
“On behalf of the 1.8 million students at the California Community Colleges, our faculty, staff, and the Board of Governors, we are thrilled to welcome Dr. Sonya Christian as the newest chancellor,” said Board of Governors President Amy M. Costa in a statement. “The California Community Colleges proudly serves as the first for millions of Californians–first-generation students, first post-secondary institution attended, and we are pleased to continue that tradition with our first woman to lead the system as permanent chancellor.”
In July 2021, Christian was named the sixth chancellor of the Kern Community College District, where she implemented a call to action with a focus on advancing student success and closing achievement and equity gaps.
“I am honored to be selected to lead the most important system of higher education in the country and grateful to the Board of Governors for their confidence,” Christian said. “We continue to face many challenges, but I truly believe our greatest challenges enable us to do our greatest work. We are called to design the most vibrant, resilient, and effective learning environment ever. We are called do this work at scale, not eventually, but now. And we will work with a shared vision that keeps students first.”
Christian spearheaded a statewide coalition in 2015 that led to securing philanthropic funding for the 20-college Guided Pathways demonstration project in California, leading to a $150M state investment in Guided Pathways and broad adoption of the framework throughout the college system.
While at Kern Community College District, Christian led the charge to strengthen organizational effectiveness to better serve students, faculty, and staff.
Under her leadership, the Kern district established the California Renewable Energy Laboratory, an innovative coalition of public and private partners seeking to create a secure and stable energy future.
Christian started her career in higher education as a mathematics faculty and later as division chair, then dean of science, engineering, allied health and mathematics at Bakersfield College. She served as an administrator at Lane Community College in Oregon for several years before returning home to Kern Community College District in 2013 after being selected as the 10th president of Bakersfield College.
Christian earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Kerala in Kerala; her master of science in applied mathematics from the University of Southern California; and her doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles.
She will begin her duties on June 1, 2023, and replaces Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, who stepped down in August after leading the community college system for nearly six years..
The California Community Colleges is the largest system of higher education in the nation, composed of 73 districts and 116 colleges serving 1.8 million students per year.