Dr. Sabrina Sanders of California State University on building a career in education

Twenty Ten Talent - Sabrina Sanders of California State University on building a career in education

Dr. Sabrina Sanders is an educator, mentor and community activist based in Long Beach, California. As the Director of Student Affairs Projects and Initiatives at California State University’s Office of the Chancellor, Sabrina Sanders supports student affairs programs and system-wide initiatives at 23 campuses across the state. She is also a part-time professor at California State University, Long Beach where she teaches graduate students in Student Development and Higher Education.

Prior to her current roles, Sabrina served as the Dean of Student Affairs at Long Beach City College and Director of Athletic Academic Services at California State University Fullerton where she also served as the President of African American Faculty & Staff Association. She has worked at a number of higher education institutions and began her career as a National Association of Student Personnel Administrators Fellow. As a mentor to young professionals and graduate students planning a career in higher education, Sabrina is committed to coaching and supporting others.

Sabrina is actively involved in her community in Long Beach and was a Delegate for President Barack Obama at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Her community involvement includes serving as president of the Hamilton Neighborhood Association, commissioner on the Long Beach Community Investment Company, member of Leadership Long Beach and member of the North Long Beach Whole Village Initiative. Earlier this year Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of the 63rd District in Los Angeles County honored Dr. Sabrina Sanders as the 2016 Woman of the Year for the 63rd Assembly District.

Sabrina shares how she found her calling and her commitment to opening opportunities to students of all backgrounds.

After attending Imperial Valley College, a community college, I went to California State University San Marcos where I completed my Bachelors and Masters degrees in Business Administration. After that I completed my Doctorate in Education, Leadership, and Management at Alliant International University in San Diego, California.

I had a number of jobs while I was working my way through college. I worked at the movie theater at nights and on weekends. I worked at high schools and community colleges, specifically with first generation students and students of color to increase college attendance rates.

When I graduated from college with my business degree, I found my first corporate job doing marketing and sales for an international corporation. I did that for a year but I didn’t feel the same sense of fulfillment as I did in education. I went back to my old boss and said, “I’m looking for other opportunities. If you know anything, let me know.” She’d just received a grant needed to create an outreach program in the community colleges. It was perfect, as I wanted to go back to working with students and to keep pushing the agenda for higher education. My career took off from there.


I finished my undergraduate business degree during the recession. There were very limited opportunities, so I decided to go back to school to earn my Masters in Business Administration. That was very strategic, not only because I wanted to further my education, but I knew it would help me further my career opportunities. The knowledge, the networking and the skills that I obtained through a Masters in Business was a trajectory in how my mindset moved forward. It not only pushed my self-esteem further by gaining more knowledge, but it also gave me more information and skills to further my career as I moved up the ladder to become a higher education administrator.

At California State University Chancellor’s Office I work with our Vice Presidents of Student Affairs and our provosts across 23 universities. No day is the same, working on statewide or internal reports, meetings with advisory boards or campus leaders, traveling among our 23 universities, participating on system wide work groups or working with initiatives such as our Basic Needs Homeless and Hunger Security, Task Force on the Advancement of Ethnic Studies or LGBT Policy Review committees. There are always a variety of different projects that I’m working on and so excited about.

We recently finished a system-wide survey on health and wellness through the American College Health Association. It covers everything from eating habits to stress, anxiety, mental health, safety, violence and sexual health. I’m working with a team on understanding how the data from this system-wide survey will help guide and advise us on supporting our students, as it relates to their health and wellness, to be their very best.

I’m very passionate about how we can close the achievement gap nationally, as well as across the state of California. When we look at graduation rates, retention rates, persistence and the number of students that are coming into our colleges or into our schools, how do we ensure those rates are equivalent across all populations? When you see a significant gap with our African-American, Southeast Asian/Pacific Islander, Latino and Native-American students compared to other populations, what story is that telling? What do we need to do to provide the resources and the services to specific populations to ensure they are coming to our colleges, staying in school and graduating at the same rates as others? That’s something that I’m very passionate about and feel that we need to address as a nation.


When I’m in my office, I’m thinking academia. When I’m sitting at home, I’m thinking about my neighborhood, my community and the students I mentor. Within my neighborhood, I’m very intentional on identifying the needs of my community, whether that’s going to a city council meeting or going to a commission meeting. I also hold a role within the Democratic Party and I’ve been campaigning within my community, city, state and also nationally. I’m very passionate about candidates who speak up on behalf of the values I’m committed to – education, the environment and issues affecting communities of color and low-income, working class people.

My parents, in their own way, were social activists. My mom would speak up when she saw something that was wrong, my father and uncles were active in their unions at the California School Employees Association. They would take us to the voting polls and we would go door-to-door supporting community campaigns. We would learn early on to take responsibility for your neighborhood and community through voting, civic engagement and service.

I’m inspired by my parents. My dad has Alzheimer’s disease and my mom is his caretaker. She is so patient and nurturing as his memory and brain slowly fades away. She was a school teacher for over 30 years and very process oriented. She makes sure he’s empowered, encouraging him to continue doing things for himself as he’s still able. When I start feeling a little crushed and tired, I think about them. I have nothing to complain about. I think about folks out there who have way more on their plate to balance. I am reminded of that when I spend time with my parents, seeing them maximize life, relationships, and the connections they have with each other. My family continues to be my inspiration.

I grew up in Imperial Valley, California close to the border of Arizona and Mexico. Being raised on the border means I can cook some pretty good Mexican food.

As an educator, I take pride in the outcomes when it comes to students learning. As a leader, I am committed to giving back to the community, and achieving success. My biggest achievement has been mentoring college students towards graduation and influencing people to go to college to further their own personal and academic goals. I think I’ve done a good job pushing my five younger siblings to go after their college degrees and to support their success as well. Accomplishing those educational goals allows you to change your opportunities, and those for your community and for those around you.

During college I was in MUFP, a minority undergraduate fellowship program coordinated by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. It gave students of color access to higher education careers. My mentor, Sandra Kuchler, Dean of Students at California State University San Marcos, gave me some of my first professional advice: “be a generalist, learn a little bit about a whole lot of things and always keep the students center to all your decisions.” My goal has been to be a Vice President of Student Affairs. I feel that by having this array of experience in higher education and student-centered focus, Sandra Kuchler really was spot on in helping my career evolve into one I couldn’t have imagined. I’m serving one of the largest higher education systems in the world, 23 campuses and 470,000 students across the state of California doing what I love every day.

I believe in education. Knowledge is power. A college degree will change the number of opportunities for you, your family, your neighborhood and your community.

You can find Dr. Sabrina Sanders on Weebly, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Interview by Octavia Goredema @OctaviaGoredema

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