With the start of the new semester Orange Coast College welcomed Angelica Suarez, its new president — just the 11th president in the college’s history.
Appointed July 1, Suarez became just the second woman and first Latina president in OCC history. She replaces former President Dennis Harkins, who retired last year, and took over for interim President Kevin Ballinger.
“It is such an important milestone for Orange Coast College and for me,” Suarez said. “It communicates to other women, students who may be the first in their family to go to college, who may also be immigrants, that I got here. I’m here and its possible.”
Immigrating to the United States from Mexico at the age of 3, Suarez entered the education system with minimal English. One of her teachers in school recommended watching television in English to help her learn to speak the language. Instead of watching her favorite Spanish shows, she turned to American shows like Sesame Street.
The oldest of six children, Suarez said she didn’t even consider college as a possibility. She knew she had to go out into the workforce as soon as possible and lined up a job in a nursery for a local florist. Her mother had wanted her to have a job working in a bank, so she could dress nice and work indoors.
It wasn’t until her senior year of high school that Suarez said she considered college. East Los Angeles College had an outreach event and her favorite teacher pushed her to attend the workshop.
The outreach event convinced Suarez that if she completed her schooling she could put herself in a better position to support her family.
“When they [East LA College] left, they handed me an ID. Granted, it was a piece of paper, but to me, that truly was a moment that changed my life,” Suarez said.
She would go on to become the first person in her family to attend college.
Following her time at East L.A. College, Suarez moved on to CSU Long Beach, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology and later completed her master’s degree in counselling psychology.
Suarez earned a 4.0 GPA.
Now, having served as the vice president of academic affairs for Southwestern College, Suarez was drawn to Orange Coast College because of its vast achievements in its innovative programs.
“I love the common theme that is threaded across all conversations that is, how do we continue to be better in what we do to help all students be successful,” Suarez said.
As a product of the community college system, Suarez is excited to see the construction projects on campus conclude because of the opportunities the new buildings bring.
The expansion of Pirates' Promise and Pirates' Cove are among things that excite Suarez for the school’s future.
“It’s important that our students feel a sense of belonging and that they matter,” Suarez said. “Over the last two months I have certainly been made to believe that this is where I belong.”