Delta’s new president has longtime connection to community colleges

Aguilera Lawrenson is first Latina, woman of color in her role

It’s been decades since Lisa Aguilera Lawrenson toddled about the American River College campus alongside her mother. Still, those early years of her life cemented a lasting connection to community colleges.

Aguilera Lawrenson, who has been working in the community college system for almost three decades, was selected as San Joaquin Delta College superintendent and president in May. She is the first Latina and woman of color to serve in that role—an honor she said she takes very seriously.

“I don’t know where I’d be without a community college background,” she said. “My life would be a mess, I’m certain of that.

“It gave me that ability to get an education, to help get me on my feet and get me moving. I want to provide that same opportunity for other students.”

Aguilera Lawrenson first stepped onto a college campus when her mother, Juliana DeHerrera Horner, enrolled at American River College. While DeHerrera Horner, a divorced mom of three, attended classes, Aguilera Lawrenson attended a preschool on campus.

“That’s where my relationship with community colleges began,” Aguilera Lawrenson said.

Her mother’s daughter

DeHerrera Horner, one of 22 children from a farm worker family, was the first in her family to go to college, Aguilera Lawrenson said. Because she dared to pursue an education, it changed the trajectory of her children’s lives, and that is a message that Aguilera Lawrenson openly shares to inspire students, many of whom are juggling families and work.

“I was never afraid of a college campus because I grew up on one essentially. It was familiar to me,” she said. “Although I might not have understood what all it meant, it had a tremendous impact on my brothers and me.”

Aguilera Lawrenson attended American River College before earning her bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English at the University of Puget Sound and Western Washington University, respectively. She holds a doctorate in education with an emphasis in community college leadership from Oregon State University. She has held various roles throughout her career, including as a professor, instructional dean, vice president of instruction, and vice president of student services.

Lisa Aguilera Lawrenson, the new Superintendent/President of San Joaquin Delta College. (COURTESY OF DELTA COLLEGE)

Aguilera Lawrenson has centered much of her career on equity and inclusion in community colleges, and it is what led her to become an administrator and to Delta College.

“I was doing equity work at a college, and I realized it was important for me to pursue my Ph.D. in administration and to move into administration to help move the system — it was a very conscious choice on my part,” she said. “I felt we needed more emphasis on looking at what students need.”

While completing her dissertation, which was focused on the experiences of Latinos in developmental English, she conducted research and focus groups at Delta College.

“I fell in love with the college,” she said. “What I told my mentor at the time is, ‘That’s where my people are, at Delta College,’” she said.

Taking the helm at Delta

Aguilera Lawrenson joined Delta College in 2020 as vice president of instruction and served as interim president from September 2021 until she was selected for the permanent post in May. Her three-year contract, which includes an annual salary of $277,000, was approved in June.

“After a comprehensive search, Dr. Aguilera Lawrenson rose to the top,” said Board of Trustees President Dr. Charles Jennings announcing the decision. “Her background and experience have prepared her for the tremendous responsibility that lies ahead. She has proven her commitment to student learning and success. We really feel she’s the right person at the right time to move the college forward as we grow and serve our community.”

Aguilera Lawrenson said her goals for Delta College are to improve the overall student experience and eliminate the equity gap so students from all backgrounds have access to more opportunities.

“This campus has a great foundation,” she said. “It has so much potential, and I want to see that potential fulfilled for our students.

“I am determined to make Delta College the best. To be excellent in everything that we do and to be a role model, not just for the state, but for the nation, and I believe we have what it takes.”

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