Distinguished Alumni: Community College leader takes the helm at Orange County college district
October 11, 2022
Whitney Yamamura’s mentor at American River College threw him into the deep end right away.
While the other teaching interns only had to prepare one day’s lesson, Yamamura found himself teaching an entire community college course with the professor watching from the back of the classroom.
“It turned out to be the best thing for me. I got a lot of enjoyment from explaining concepts that are difficult and seeing light bulbs turning on in students’ heads,” said Yamamura, who previously worked as a financial planner selling investment portfolios.
“I was like, ‘Wow. I was the facilitator for that lightbulb. This is great.’ ”
Yamamura, recently named chancellor of Coast Community College District in Costa Mesa, is a 2022 recipient of a Distinguished Service Award from the Sacramento State Alumni Association. He and other Distinguished Alumni Award honorees will be recognized at an awards dinner on Oct. 13.
“I often hear how many residents of Sacramento are Sac State alumni, and so to be singled out for this award is a great privilege and a humbling one,” Yamamura said. “I’m really appreciative of it.”
Yamamura began working in higher education at American River College in 1989.
He says he owes his career to Sac State, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 1984 and his master’s in Economics in 1991. It was while a graduate student that the community college district reached out to master’s candidates for the teaching internship program.
“I often hear how many residents of Sacramento are Sac State alumni, and so to be singled out for this award is a great privilege and a humbling one.” -- Whitney Yamamura, Distinguished Service Award recipient
Yamamura advanced, serving at all four campuses in the Los Rios Community College District before being named president of Folsom Lake College in 2017. In June, he was selected as chancellor of the Coast Community College District.
Yamamura may have traded the American River for the Pacific Ocean, but he has deep roots in Sacramento.
He grew up near Sac State in the College Greens neighborhood. His father taught in Elk Grove for over 30 years, and a school named its library for him.
Yamamura’s great-grandparents were Sacramento County grape farmers until 1942, when they were forced into a concentration camp in Arkansas as part of the 120,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast imprisoned after Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor.
“My grandfather’s family originally had 120 acres off Jackson Highway and Hedge Avenue, but they weren’t contiguous. They had a 100-acre parcel and a 20-acre parcel,” Yamamura said. “When they were in Arkansas, they couldn’t come up with the money to pay the property taxes, so they lost 100 acres.”
The family returned to Sacramento to try and farm the remaining 20-acre parcel.
“They tried to make a go of it, but it didn’t work,” Yamamura said.
Yamamura is the second Asian American to serve as a college president in the history of the Los Rios Community College District dating back to 1916, and the first Japanese American chancellor of the Coast Community College District.
Yamamura provided the connections to create a Hmong language class while he was vice president of Instruction at Cosumnes River College.
He helped establish Folsom Lake College’s Equity Center for students of color, the LGBTQ community, first-generation, low-income, and undocumented students, as well as other vulnerable populations.
“I wanted to create a welcoming space for anybody who has felt unwelcome,” Yamamura said. “You don’t have to label it. … If you’re unsure about your place in the community college system, we have the Equity Center to make sure you have the services you need to support you.”
Yamamura also worked with Intel to create an Artificial Intelligence program, and pushed to expand the incarcerated students program at Folsom and Mule Creek prisons.
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