Santa Barbara City College’s new president, Andreea Serban, has entered at a pivotal point in the college’s history.
As the first woman to lead the institution since its founding, and as the youngest woman president currently in California’s community college system, Serban, 40, knows she has many expectations to meet.
While sitting on the side of a long conference table in her office, Serban, wearing a black leather jacket with a light scarf around the collar – despite it being 75 degrees outside – explained in her Romanian accent the three main issues looming over the college: its self-study to be reaccredited, which is a process that occurs every six years; its crippling budget situation; and its organization of the projects approved by voters in June of Measure V. The measure will give SBCC $77.2 million in bond funds to fix its infrastructure.
For Serban, who began her tenure as president on June 2, rolling out those three items successfully is just among her short-term goals. “I know that I want to be here at least 25 years in this job,” she said. And with that in mind, she said that her ultimate goal is for the college to be known nationally.
“I want us to be known as the premier two-year community college in this country,” Serban said. “I think we have such tremendous potential here, and I want to really be the one who continues to ensure that this college is really strong, that we are innovative, continue to be innovative, that students want to come here.”
With so much to work toward, Serban has somewhat of an advantage: She worked at SBCC from 1999 to 2006 as its associate vice president for technology, research and planning. In her role then, she worked closely not only with immediate past president John Romo, but also with his predecessor Peter MacDougal.
“Working so closely with the prior two presidents of this college, I know a lot about the operation, about the style, about the expectations people on this campus have – what they like and what they don’t like about the presidents – and how to best find a way to stay engaged,” Serban said.
Serban described her rise to the top administrative spot partly due to her competitive nature and how she was raised. Serban immigrated from Romania 15 years ago to earn her doctorate at State University of New York at Albany. It was there that she decided her goal was to ultimately lead an educational institution someday.
“Education in Romania was actually very competitive so from a very early age, you knew that only a few of your generation, for example, will make it to be in college because the number of spots in college was very limited,” she said. “So I was always very competitive, so for me it was never much a matter of being an immigrant, a woman, young or old. It’s, to me, about a competition.”
A quick detour
When Serban left SBCC in 2006, she moved to Orange County to work as vice chancellor of technology and learning Services at South Orange County Community College District in what she said was part of building her professional career. But despite the move, she and her husband kept their home in Santa Barbara, as if knowing they were bound to return soon.
As soon as Serban heard Romo was leaving SBCC, “I was working on my application. Not literally, but almost,” she said, smiling.
With a background in data-driven analysis, Serban said she wants to bring more of that type of approach and technology into the campus administration, mainly as a way to track progress and success. She also has plans to reach out to the community more by publishing an annual report, similar to the SBCC Foundation, the college’s fundraising arm.
Serban is also interested in advancing the student experience at SBCC. “It’s primarily about innovation for students. I mean, innovation in programs, innovation in services,” she said. “For example, short courses as short as a month, delivered in a sequential format to make sure that students stay engaged in a fast pace, and that they see the progress.”
Serban also plans to involve more collaboration among the community, administration, faculty and students, “because the era when you did it all on your own and you are successful, I think it’s long gone,” she said.
Despite so much whirling around her new life as president, Serban said she loves her role and working in the “most beautiful place in the universe.”
“You don’t know how the day will start, you don’t know how the day will end, but you know for sure that every minute of every day, it is truly engaged, it is truly dynamic,” she said. “And you do feel you actually make a difference, which I think all of us want, regardless of what job we have, we want to feel like we make a difference. I feel like we do make a difference here, in a very significant way.