sonya christian

Bakersfield College President Sonya Christian speaks during the annual Opening Day ceremony.

When one asks Bakersfield College President Sonya Christian what the 2019-20 school year looks like, she doesn't hesitate: "It's going to be our best year yet."

Frankly, there is plenty going on this year that might make it the college's strongest year to date. Enrollment continues to grow, educational opportunities are more readily available to different groups of students and the campus itself is expanding.

Christian shared with The Californian several initiatives and projects she is looking forward to this school year.

Q: How have the first few days of school been?

A: BC’s Welcome Week, the first week of the 2019-20 academic year, has been full of activity and excitement for the year ahead — classes starting, students meeting faculty and staff and learning about the support services and other opportunities at Bakersfield College that help make their journey to college completion a successful one.

I always feel inspired hearing the heartfelt stories from faculty returning to the classroom, from students returning to campus and students arriving at BC for their very first time on a college campus. Samantha Pulido, our Student Body president, was speaking for over 37,000 BC students on Opening Day as she shared her immediate goals, like doing well on her first test in Linear Algebra, and her long-term goal of graduating in May 2020 at Memorial Stadium.

This year select Renegades celebrated a monumental and historic day on Aug. 28. Seventeen inmate scholars graduated, including nine with honors, earning their associate's degree in communication at Kern Valley State Prison. Since its beginning in 2014-15, this program has experienced significant enrollment growth. Last year, Bakersfield College served 1,040 inmate scholars in 10 facilities and 16 prison yards. This year, the college is making course scheduling adjustment to implement a “6-Semester Predictive Loop” so that within any given six-semester cycle, ensuring that every course an inmate student needs to graduate will be offered. And by the end of the 2019-20 school year, BC will offer additional courses through the Inmate Scholars Program that will lead to Associate Degrees for Transfer in both psychology and sociology, giving these Renegades a unique opportunity to graduate as triple-majors.

Q: What are your goals for the school year?

A: We are active on many fronts. I’m proud of the faculty and staff at BC for their leadership, engagement and innovation that support students through to completion. All BC managers have their 2019-2020 work plan posted on the website.

We currently have 15 large construction projects underway, working to mitigate the impact of construction while maintaining high quality instruction and services ... In addition to Phase One renovations to Memorial Stadium, we are counting down the days to finishing construction of the brand new Vernon Valenzuela Veterans Resource Center. We are so grateful to our veterans for their service to our country, and are dedicated to providing the services they need. We know that with the right environment and services emphasizing academics, camaraderie, and wellness, all veterans can successfully complete their educational goals at BC.

Kern County rates of educational attainment are significantly lower than state averages, with only 9 percent of rural residents obtaining a college degree. Early College is more than just access to college — it is built on an equity equity model. Many students who graduate from high school don’t continue their education due to work obligations and providing for their families. And those who do begin college often quit before reaching their goal. Early College makes it possible for students to earn college credit and even earn a college certificate or degree while they are still in high school.

BC is launching several initiatives in entrepreneurial education to meet a growing need in our community. Enactus is BC’s official, and nationally affiliated student club in entrepreneurship.

This year, BC is also unveiling the BC Launch Pad, a location that provides entrepreneurial resources that empower residents to successfully launch and grow small businesses ... BC is also collaborating with Start It Up, a platform that helps innovators and entrepreneurs understand what it takes to have a sound business plan and navigate the legal issues related to starting a small business.

BC is partnering with Geekwise Academy, the educational arm of Bitwise Industries, to pilot a connected web development curriculum. This partnership with Geekwise will aggregate micro credentials for skills training and internships for students in specific courses of the web development certificate at Bakersfield College. 

Q: BC SouthWest students will be starting in October. What are you looking forward to with this group?

A: BC SouthWest classes are currently being held in a facility at the corner of Buena Vista Road and Stockdale Highway. BC SouthWest serves nearly 2,000 students, the equivalent of having 360 full-time students at this location. And we’re watching those enrollments grow.

In October we will move into a new southwest facility on the perimeter of CSUB. This will increase our educational space to 60,000 square feet. We have plans to grow the course and program offerings so students can complete multiple Associate Degrees for Transfer on their way to CSUB. For example, we are working with CSUB President Lynette Zelezny and her team to strengthen the BC-CSUB partnership that will streamline access for BC students to CSUB. This community college-university partnership has the potential to become a statewide model demonstrating how students can complete their baccalaureate in four years.

Q: Gandhi is an important figure who will be discussed heavily this year. What is the significance of choosing him and how are his messages relevant to BC students?

A: We are celebrating his 150th year of birth anniversary and want to thank Ravi and Naina Patel, who are leading the events that constitute the year-long celebration here in Bakersfield.

We have committed to using this year’s activities and observances to share Gandhi’s message. Education opens us up to differing world views and provides the space needed for us to coexist and thrive. At BC we teach our students to see the other, to know the other, to love the other. At BC, we are bridge builders.

I describe BC faculty and staff as being fearless in doing what is right. In that regard, I see the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi’s message alive at BC each day. Our faculty and staff are unafraid of change; instead, they are catalysts for change. They are champions for student success. They are champions for integrity in education. They are champions for this community.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

(7) comments

fernando lara

Bakersfield College is a great institution with an amazing leader in President Christian. The entire faculty and staff are committed to serving all BC students. As the BC SouthWest Center prepares for the move near CSUB, countless hours of preparation and planning have us ready for this next phase of delivering a quality-education to the thousands of students that live in the southwest and attend BC.


The year ahead at Bakersfield College, under the vision and direction of BC President Dr. Sonya Christian, is bright indeed. Her vision encompasses not only student success but the upward mobility of all the communities served by the institution. Access to education for all who seek it is key to economic and social improvement, and Bakersfield College is leading the way. Exciting times!


There are a lot of great things happening at BC and President Christian's leadership style has enabled innovative things to happen. I'm glad that there was a section in the article about how BC will be celebrating Gandhi's 150 birthday with the goal of developing the next generation of bridge builders (that's compassionate, smart leaders , not architecture structures) so crucial in our politically contentious times. In addition to the people mentioned in the article, we going to bring Dr. Paula Green, founder of the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, to be one of the Distinguished Speakers for a community talk on October 23. She has extensive experience as an international consultant to build sustained peace and her current projects are focused in the U.S.: Hands Across the Hills (bridging political divides between progressive liberals and conservatives in Leverett, MA and Whitesburg, KY) and Bridge4Unity (interracial dialogue between people in Beaufort, SC and Letcher County, KY and Western MA). Dr. Green will work with BC employees and students to learn how to find common ground even while holding different, cherished beliefs when confronted with politically contentious issues.


It is an incredible honor to support the students, faculty and staff at Bakersfield College under Dr. Christian's leadership. I have served several institutions of higher education over the span of 23 years, but President Christian's student-centered vision and passion makes our investment in the lives of students the most impactful and rewarding. It is truly a privilege to serve our students and our community. Thank you, President Christian, for your exceptional leadership and for always prioritizing the needs of our students. You continue to forever change lives through your sacrificial service. We can't adequately express our gratitude for the countless ways in which you have enriched our community.


Bakersfield College is doing great things under the guidance and leadership of President Sonya Christian. I was especially happy to see her mention of the 17 Inmate Scholars who graduated last month. The growth of the program and the success of the students in quite remarkable.


It is a privilege to work at Bakersfield College where over 1,000 employees unite each day to serve students. We are innovators, leading statewide efforts to improve intersegmental alignment, partnering with both K12 and transfer universities. Our transfer rates have increased nearly 700% in five years and we are opening our doors wider than ever before to serve nearly 40,000 students in the high schools, in the prisons, and at our new campus center co-located with CSU Bakersfield.

As an employee, I have been blown away by the interest other colleges have shown in learning what we do. We hosted nearly 20 other colleges on campus last year who approached us with an interest in interviewing faculty and staff to improve their own practices. We'll host another dozen in October and will host regional and statewide meetings on campus in November. Last year, BC was invited to multiple statewide and national meetings to report on our work.

It's a great time to be at BC!


Our community is very lucky to have Bakersfield College. Beautiful campus and great learning environment. Low-barrier admission for those who are willing to work hard for an excellent education. Bakersfield College is definitely a community asset that we can all be proud of.

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