Indian American Sonya Christian Named Chancellor of California Community Colleges
- The Kerala-born-and-raised will be the first woman and first person of South Asian descent to lead the nation’s largest system of higher education.
Sonya Christian has been named the 11th chancellor of the California Community Colleges effective June 1, the college board of governors announced last week. The Kerala-born-and-raised will be the first woman and first person of South Asian descent to lead the nation’s largest system of higher education, serving 1.8 million students, said a college press release.
Los Angeles Times noted that Christian, who served as Kern Community College District chancellor since July 2021, will “take over a college system that suffered dramatic enrollment declines during the pandemic, losing about 300,000 students.” Additionally, she’ll also be tasked with helping the colleges meet ambitious goals set by Gov. Gavin Newsom to increase the number of students who earn degrees, certificates and credentials and who transfer to the state’s four-year universities.
The Indian American has spent more than three decades actively engaging in policies and practices related to state and national completion, quality and equity agendas. She told the LA Times that she feels a “sense of urgency and moral obligation” to the workahead. She emphasized “the importance of community college as a way to advance socioeconomic mobility in marginalized communities.” Calling it “a uniquely challenging time for public education,” she added: “I believe our greatest challenges enable us to do our greatest work.”
While at Kern Community College District, Christian led the charge to strengthen organizational effectiveness to better serve students, faculty and staff. Her 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.
In 2015, she 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 $150 million state investment in Guided Pathways and broad adoption of the framework throughout the college system.
Christian started her career in higher education as a mathematics faculty and later as division chair, and 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.
She 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 several boards, and is the chair of the California Community Colleges Women’s 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.
She 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.