New president Sonya Christian here for ‘long haul’
Sonya Christian, Bakersfield College’s new president, has a vision of community and stability for the college and its students.
Since fall 2004, there have been three presidents, including Christian, and three interim presidents. Plus, several deans of different departments have come and gone.
Christian plans to address this in two ways. First, she plans on personally being here and putting issues of stability at the forefront.
“The stability of the college is front and center in terms of my focus. I plan on being at BC for a long time. I was at BC 10 years ago, I was here as a faculty member, then as a dean before I left in 2002,” she said. “So coming back in 2013, I’m here for the long haul.”
Secondly, she has plans to fill in the vacant administrative positions with staff who have been working at the school a long time.
“I sent out a call to our faculty and staff and said, ‘I would like you to step up for an 18-month transitional period while we figure out the reorganization,’ because these are individuals that have been at the college for a long time and I wanted to draw on the longevity, the commitment that people have to this college, to step into administrative roles,” Christian explained.
Two positions have been filled out in this way. Liz Rosell will be the dean of STEM, and Leah Carter will become the dean of Career and Technical Education.
Christian believes that by filling in these administrative positions this way will prevent the “turbulence created by turnover.”
In spring of last year, the president at the time, Robert Jensen, said that “everything is on the table” when it came to cuts at BC and said that the “major change” would happen this semester. Christian said that these cuts have happened but were not as drastic as expected.
“We have really tightened some of our management positions. So we’ve taken a reduction in some positions,” she said. “We have tried to also pull back on sections that are not core class sections, we ended up ghosting some classes, we ended up un-ghosting a few, but we haven’t un-ghosted all.
“We did not reduce the number of class sections as much as we had originally anticipated. With the passing of Proposition 30, there is a little bit more of a cushion.”
Another one of Christian’s focus areas is making the culture at BC a connected community.
“I’m going to focus internally at the college that we all come together, that we are really working together,” she said.
“If each of us is focused, the collective is going to be very strong and stable because during times of economic difficulty we need to pull together as a team, as a community, and take on this issue as a whole.
“So the internal community of faculty, staff and students are connecting with our external partners because we are the community’s college.
“We need to connect with our community partners, so they too can partner with us as we are weathering this difficult time.”
Christian uses the example of the planned electronic student planning system as to how this strategy of community will help students.
“If every student at Bakersfield College had an education plan that is electronic, so that when they come in, they develop it right,” she said. “So they put in these series of classes, their major, their goal and they plan it out whether it’s for one year or two years depending on their goal.
“Counselors have access to it when they are advising students and they see how they do.
“It’s connected to the student’s degree audits, the transcripts. Faculty members have access to it.
“So everyone is rallying, so it’s not just the academic plan, it’s just not a counselor talking to a student.
“It is something that the whole is focused on, that these students getting through to a goal completion, so they are not wondering.
“Everyone is helping them move toward that particular goal.”
Christian wants that sort of effort at connection to be a part of all projects at BC.
“So that’s the difference between working on a project in a particular department, as opposed to us taking it, making it student-focused and making sure everyone is focused on making sure that student moves in through that educational plan,” she said.
“That’s the kind of thinking for building community. If we’re going out for some sort of campaign to renovate the facilities, it’s not just one department.
“It’s the entire college. It’s the Renegades; we’re all coming together. We create our priorities so we’re not unconsciously working against each other but we’re all rallying.
“We know what the priorities are, then we go for it one at a time in a focused diligent way.”
Christian says the school is planning several strategies to help students. These planned strategies are projects with titles like Professional Development and Education Pathways. One of these strategies that Christian says will be a priority is the matriculation process.
“Matriculation means does the student get orientation, do they start developing an educational plan, do they get assessed, so that they are getting into the right classes in their first term and not getting in and taking classes and then kind of regrouping after one or two terms have gone.
“So that is a laser focus on first-time students,” she explained.
Christian wanted to remind students that every employee at BC is here to help them.
“I want to tell the students that the 1,371 employees on this campus, faculty, staff and administrators, are focused on student success and we, all 1,371 of us, are going to come together and the one thing we are going to be focused on is our students, the individual students,” she said. “So I tell them be confident because an entire college is behind them, and we’re here to stay.”