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Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 5:19 pm | Fair 64º


SBCC President Andreea Serban Keeps Her Sights on the Future

She's committed to ensuring that the college and its programs adapt to the students' — and the world's — changing needs

Dr. Andreea Serban was born to lead. She emotes a powerful combination of charisma and commitment that makes you want to join her cause. She took the helm as president/superintendent of SBCC in 2008, and she bubbles with passionate vision about what’s to come.

Serban said she sees community colleges as a generous concept of higher education in the United States.

“They are the miracle worker of higher education,” Serban said. “We take everyone, no matter their skill level or readiness, and give them support. We offer exceptional education at an affordable price.”

It’s somewhat paradoxical, as the recession descends, enrollment has skyrocketed at SBCC to more than 20,000 credit students and 45,000 continuing education students annually. Yet it has been forced to cut classes to make up for its 10 percent budget reduction.

Serban paints a picture of the SBCC student. The median age is 24, although the college has students ranging in age from 17 to 80. She says many are making the transition to a new field and balancing a family with their schoolwork. They hail from more than 50 countries and represent all intellectual and income levels.

“We have a microcosm here that uniquely represents the world,” Serban said. “Their interests are extremely diverse, so we try to be all things to all people.”

Serban began her career as a math teacher at the high school and then university levels in her native Bucharest, Romania. She decided to pursue administration when she had the opportunity to come to the United States to pursue her master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University at Albany, State University of New York. As a graduate assistant, she felt inspired and found that research, planning and administration came naturally to her.

“It’s not just a job; it’s my life,” she said. “You can’t ever turn it off, which fits my personality.”

While the state offers minimal funding, Serban said, “The state money allotted to community colleges funds only mediocrity; if we want excellence, we must do our own fundraising, through grants and private donations.”

Serban is emphatic about SBCC being “an amazing college.” She knows she must turn out students who are competitive and employable, adding that “employers today want people who bring ideas and who think and work globally.”

Serban cites the talented, dynamic people she works with daily as her favorite part of her job.

“They help create an engaging environment, one with tremendous dialog that makes every day new,” she said.

Walking from one side of the campus to the other for a photo shoot, she must have greeted at least nine people by name. Everyone from the gardener and the security guard to other faculty gave a friendly wave our way.

Serban acknowledges that everyone in town has some affiliation or connection to the college — be it as a student, a donor or perhaps just that they use the track or other facilities.

“We make a tremendous impact on this community,” she said. “It’s a symbiotic relationship, and therefore status quo is never acceptable.”

Serban reaches out to connect local organizations to SBCC students whenever possible. For example, the college has programs with Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and United Way of Santa Barbara County, among others.

Looking ahead, Serban recognizes that today’s students need very different skills than even those who attended college a decade ago.

“Sometimes I have to fix things that aren’t even broken,” she said. “We must consistently innovate and improve systems.”

Improvements in technology have made information readily available, and Serban said SBCC must strive to teach students how to take this information and turn it into knowledge. She says the college must remain fresh and edgy to appeal to today’s students, who tend to be more technologically savvy and group-oriented.

Serban first came to Santa Barbara in 1999, working as an administrator at SBCC before leaving for the South Orange County Community College District in Mission Viejo. She was selected as SBCC’s first female president in 2008, succeeding John Romo, who had retired.

She said she loves Santa Barbara’s climate and the spirit of its residents.

After much debate, she named The Harbor Restaurant her favorite dining spot in town. She said the stunning sunset view “just feels like Santa Barbara.”

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to see more of her work.

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