February 23, 2023
Contact: Paul Feist
Office E-mail: PFeist@CCCCO.edu
Board of Governors taps Kern Community College District chancellor as first woman in permanent role to lead the 116-college system
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California Community Colleges Board of Governors today 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 an 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 Gov. 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 of 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 Governor’s President Amy M. Costa. “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.”
For more than 30 years, Christian has actively engaged in policies and practices related to state and national completion, quality and equity agendas. 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.
Christian’s repeated call to Dare Mighty Things - inspired by NASA’s Perseverance Mars lander – reflects a sense of urgency in her work in climate action and emerging energies. 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.
“I’m delighted that Dr. Sonya Christian, a distinguished academic leader and a champion for California students, has been named the next chancellor of the California Community Colleges,’’ University of California President Michael V. Drake said. “For decades, our institutions have collaborated to help students prepare academically, to smooth the transfer path to a four-year institution, and to ensure that students thrive throughout their educational journeys. I am proud that a third of UC undergraduates come from community colleges and that the University of California enrolls more community college students than any institution of its caliber in the nation. I look forward to forging an even stronger partnership as Dr. Christian assumes her role and to advocating together for California’s world-class public higher education system.”
“On behalf of the entire California State University community, I congratulate Dr. Sonya Christian on her appointment as the California Community Colleges’ next chancellor,” said Jolene Koester, interim chancellor of the California State University. “Dr. Christian is an equity-centered leader who understands that increasing access to education and workforce development transforms lives, families, communities and the state. She is an innovator with a long and impressive track record of expanding opportunities for California’s students. I invite and welcome Dr. Christian’s partnership in collaboratively advancing our shared goals for student success.”
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 is the immediate past chair of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, which she joined as a commission member in 2015. She currently serves on the boards for the Campaign for College Opportunity, the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, the Public Policy Institute of California Higher Education Advisory Council, is the chair of the California Community Colleges Women's Caucus, and a member of the Asian American Pacific Islander Trustees and Administrators Caucus She has previously served on the Learning Lab Advisory Council, the Bakersfield Homeless Shelter Board, and was appointed by the governor to the Student Centered Funding Formula Oversight Committee.
Christian earned her bachelor of science degree from University of Kerala in Kerala, India; her master of science in applied mathematics from University of Southern California; and her doctorate from 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. Daisy Gonzales, PhD, will continue to serve as interim chancellor until Christian takes office.
NOTE: Photos and other content related to this announcement are available in Collections / New California Community Colleges Chancellor and will be updated.
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. California community colleges provide career education and workforce training; guaranteed transfer to four-year universities; and degree and certificate pathways. As the state’s engine for social and economic mobility, the California Community Colleges supports the Vision for Success, a strategic plan designed to improve student success outcomes, increase transfer rates and eliminate achievement gaps. For more information, please visit the California Community Colleges website or follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.