Walking the Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) campus, students, staff and visitors are surrounded by change. Behind the library, an impressive state of the art building called the Lindley Center for STEM Education is being constructed. Not too far away from there, a brand-new soccer field is being built. These positive changes, along with many others are in large part thanks to the dedicated work of Dr. Frank Chong, President of SRJC.
Dr. Chong’s story begins on the other side of the country, in New York. Raised in the lower east side of Manhattan, Frank Chong was the youngest of five. Both of his parents immigrated to New York from China and his father worked at a restaurant, while his mother worked at his uncle’s bakery.
Growing up in a place as vivacious and diverse as New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s was both chaotic and exciting. With the Civil Rights Movement in full swing, alongside the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement, Dr. Chong was exposed to politics at a young age. At 11 years old, he went to the first ever Earth Day March in 1970 with his older sisters Joyce and Doris. His heroes were Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X, both civil rights giants. These monumental movements and leaders had a great impact on Dr. Chong and were the start of his interest in politics.
While Dr. Chong was in high school, there was a rise in gangs and gang violence in New York’s Chinatown. To escape the gang activity in his neighborhood, he found solace in playing basketball. Through basketball he became involved in a Christian organization called Young Life. The organization took him to a camp in Colorado and as a “city kid,” getting out into the stillness of nature and looking at the starry night sky was a transformative experience for him. Through Young Life, he was sponsored to do a survival backpacking program in California and it was this opportunity, as well as encouragement from his older sister, that drew Dr. Chong to California.
Once in California, Dr. Chong started college at the University of California, Berkeley. There he studied ethnic studies and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Social Welfare and Asian American Studies. After graduation, Dr. Chong became the Executive Director of Asian Man Power Services, a small non-profit that provided job training for recent Asian immigrants. From there, he worked in Oakland as Director of Special Services for the Asian Community Mental Health Services.
After getting professional work experience under his belt, Dr. Chong decided to go back to school. He earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration and completed the Educational Management program at Harvard University. Dr. Chong then went on to earn his Doctorate in Educational Administration Leadership and Technology from Dowling College in Oakdale, New York.
Once his doctorate program was complete, Dr. Chong began working as Special Assistant to Speaker of the California Assembly Willie Brown. During his five years working for Mr. Brown, Dr. Chong created legislation in higher education, mental health, small and minority business affairs, and local government.
Dr. Chong’s next adventure came in 1993, when he began working at San Francisco City College as Dean of Student Affairs until 2003. From there, Dr. Chong successfully applied to be President of Mission College in Santa Clara, serving from 2003 to 2006. After Mission College, he became President of Laney College in Oakland from 2006 to 2009. It was while he was working at Laney College that Dr. Chong got a once in a lifetime phone call.
In 2009, Dr. Chong’s colleague, Dr. Martha Kanter, was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as the U.S. Under Secretary of Education. Dr. Kanter asked Dr. Chong to serve as her Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges, overseeing the community college work and agenda for the Obama Administration. Dr. Chong said he was both shocked and honored. He accepted this once in a lifetime opportunity and moved to Washington, D.C.
After serving the Obama Administration for two years, Dr. Chong decided it was time to go back to California. When looking for job openings back in California, Dr. Chong saw the position for Presidency was available at the SRJC and he applied. Out of 40 other applicants, he was offered the position. Dr. Chong accepted the offer and is only the fifth President of SRJC in its entire 104-year history.
Now in his tenth year as President, Dr. Chong says he is proud of what he and his team have been able to accomplish. This sense of accomplishment is well deserved, as over the last decade the SRJC has flourished under Dr. Chong’s strong leadership. A major victory was in 2014 with the passing of Measure H, a $410 million bond to support new and updated technology and facilities. Measure H is the largest bond to ever be passed by voters in Sonoma County history. The measure focuses on investing in structural improvements and expansion, as well as investing in implementing state of the art sustainability on campus. Some of the projects the bond is funding include the Lindley Center for STEM Education, the restoration of Burbank Theater, a geothermal plant project, and much, much more.
In addition, Dr. Chong has successfully implemented various diversity initiatives to make SRJC a more welcoming and inclusive place for all. Since he's been President, there has been an increase in diversity on all levels, including a 15% increase in enrollment of Latinx students, who now comprise 40% of the student body. In addition, many groups have formed on campus, including the Black Leadership Association Collective (BLAC); Asian and Pacific Islander Staff Association (APISA); Latinx Faculty and Staff Association (LSFA); President’s LGBTQ Advisory Committee; and more.
As the first nonwhite male President of SRJC, Dr. Chong knows being a person of color in a leadership position sends a powerful message to his students. “One of my colleagues told me, at some point when you get in a position of power you are going to have to choose: are you going to be white or you going to be a person of color? And that really hit me. I said, clearly for me, I'm not going to try to be white; I'm going to be who I am and that's a person of color.” Being the President of a college and operating within historically white spaces, Dr. Chong recognizes the importance of keeping true to his cultural heritage and the positive influence this has on both staff and students. He says, “it’s about creating a culture of acceptance, and I think when students see at the highest level there is a person of color, that is really powerful.”
It hasn’t been an easy time being a leader, between the numerous fires that have affected our community and now having to navigate a global pandemic. Yet Dr. Chong has persevered and continues to provide students with the resources they need to be successful. Although every job has its ups and downs, for Dr. Chong, the ups outweigh the downs. His favorite part of the job is seeing student growth and perseverance.
Aside from the many professional hats Dr. Chong has worn, he is also a husband and a father to two amazing daughters. In his free time, he enjoys golfing, trying new restaurants, traveling with his wife, and most of all spending time with friends and family.
A humble man, Dr. Chong has accomplished more than many could dream of, yet he remains grounded. From securing impressive investments, to transforming the college’s culture, his impact on the SRJC is evident. Santa Rosa Junior College is lucky to have such a knowledgeable, kind, and dedicated leader, like Dr. Frank Chong.
Dr. Frank Chong was interviewed by Daniel Chaparro, Community Outreach Specialist, and Madelynn Cox, Community Engagement AmeriCorps VISTA.
To learn more about this story and the important work of Dr. Frank Chong visit the links below.
What's New at SRJC - December 2021 Edition
Biography: Dr. Frank Chong, President/Superintendent
Measure H Bond Information