Lompoc native Nohemy Ornelas’ journey through higher education officially came full circle when the Allan Hancock College Board of Trustees approved her as the college’s new associate superintendent/vice president of Student Services during the board’s meeting last Tuesday evening.
“It is a true honor. Opportunities like this do not come across very often,” said Ornelas, who graduated with honors from Hancock in 2001. “As a professional, it’s always a dream to come back and give back in your own community.”
In her new role as vice president, Ornelas will serve as a cabinet member and advisor to Hancock Superintendent/President Kevin Walthers, Ph.D. Walthers said Ornelas would return to Hancock with a wealth of experience and leadership skills.
“The college’s strategic plan calls for better integration with our community," Walthers said. "Nohemy’s close ties to Hancock and community will enhance our ability to meet those goals.”
Ornelas will also oversee departments such as Admissions and Records, Counseling, Financial Aid, Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) and more.
“To me, Hancock represents exactly what the motto of 'start here, go anywhere' means," she said. "The college opens doors to opportunities for students. My goal is to widen those doors and pathways to success.”
Ornelas, who grew up in Lompoc, first enrolled in classes at Hancock as a high school student. She went on to earn an associate in arts degree in liberal arts. She later received a bachelor’s degree in law and society from UC Santa Barbara in June 2003. She returned to Hancock in fall 2004 to work as a financial aid specialist and counseling assistant.
Ornelas said she found her passion while working at her alma mater.
“During my second year working at Hancock, I discovered working in education was what I loved. I realized I wanted to be in a capacity to create change, provide leadership and help students realize their potential,” said Ornelas, who earned her master’s degree in education from Cal Poly in 2007 while still working at Hancock.
Ornelas will return to Hancock after spending nearly five years at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. Since 2012, she had been the dean of student services. Among her many duties in the position was overseeing the college’s new scholarship program, the Cuesta Promise. Ornelas also served as the college’s financial aid director and interim admissions and records director during her time at Cuesta. Before Cuesta, Ornelas spent a year as a financial aid supervisor at Berkeley City College.
“My philosophy is rooted in lifelong learning," she said. "Everyone is capable of and should be given the opportunity to be exposed to education. I am a very hands-on administrator. I know I can impact students every day, which is why making students aware of the opportunities and the services out there is always a top priority.”
Ornelas, her husband and three children live in Santa Maria. She will start at Hancock on July 14.
— Sonja Oglesby is a public affairs coordinator for Allan Hancock College.