Two new community college presidents, one local, another a newcomer, start at Los Rios

Whitney Yamamura, left, has been appointed the next president of Folsom Lake College, and Michael Gutierrez, right, will be Sacramento City College’s new president.
Whitney Yamamura, left, has been appointed the next president of Folsom Lake College, and Michael Gutierrez, right, will be Sacramento City College’s new president. Folsom Lake College

Michael Gutierrez and Whitney Yamamura ended up in Sacramento in different ways.

“I’m a Sacramento guy,” Yamamura proudly said. “I’m fourth generation, I really didn’t want to go too far.”

Gutierrez, on the other hand, is still learning the lay of the land. “It’s been a little stressful because I’m fairly new to Sacramento, I got here (July 17), and it’s not only getting settled in the job, it’s trying to get settled in a new life.”

Ultimately, though, the two men both ended up in the capital. Earlier this summer, Gutierrez was appointed president of Sacramento City College, and Yamamura was chosen as president of Folsom Lake College. Both were unanimously approved by the Los Rios Board of Trustees.

Twenty-one years of experience in higher education will be useful for Gutierrez as he becomes the first Latino president of 100-year-old Sacramento City College.

Gutierrez worked numerous jobs in the Dallas County Community College District, his last position as executive vice president of Eastfield College.

When he found out about the opening at the oldest institution of higher education in Sacramento, he made the “calculated” but “easy” decision to apply, he said.

Gutierrez was not initially drawn to working at community colleges. Growing up in south San Antonio, he didn’t know what he wanted to do for a living. A career assessment test taken in the ninth grade placed him as a social worker. Upset with the results, the young man took the test a second time with the same results. Then, in college, he found himself studying public affairs.

After getting his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Gutierrez connected with the National Coalition for Advanced Technology Centers, which works directly with community colleges.

“And the more I learned, the more I visited different community colleges, the more I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, this is where I might think I want to be,’” Gutierrez said. “Even though it’s not directly social work, it’s very much missionary work.”

He has big plans for Sacramento City College’s future but has not yet come up with anything too specific. He recognizes that he must better learn the environment and its people first.

Yamamura, much like Gutierrez, took a circuitous route to leading a community college. After getting a bachelor’s in business with a concentration in finance from Sacramento State University, Yamamura tried out a job with a financial planning firm. He soon discovered it wasn’t for him.

Looking for another route in life, he earned a master’s in economics, and became an intern at a minority and women’s teaching internship program at American River College.

That led to a part-time teaching job, which led to a full-time teaching job, which ultimately led to administrative positions, including the vice presidency and the interim presidency of Cosumnes River College.

An old colleague who was then president of Folsom Lake College, Rachel Rosenthal, suggested Yamamura apply for her position. “When I looked at Folsom and the energy and dynamic here, I thought, ‘Wow, this is an opportunity, and I can think I can be at service to the people at Folsom.’”

Yamamura hopes to grow the Folsom Lake College campus to 23,000 students, possibly within the next decade.

Both presidents said they see community colleges as important institutions within their areas.

“With the way we work with our communities and the way we educate or train our community members, we allow people to move,” Gutierrez said. “If they were a person in poverty, they are allowed to move into the middle class. And it’s the middle class that has sustained democracy and our country for decades.”

Laura Sussman: 916-321-1611