When wearing her jeans and shouldering a backpack on campus, Seher Awan has sometimes been mistaken for a student rather than Mission College’s 12th president. She doesn’t fit the traditional stereotype.
Her nonconformity—added to a Doctor of Education Degree from Pepperdine University and 16 years of community college work experience—just may be what will give Dr. Awan an edge in meeting the needs of the diverse students at Santa Clara’s Mission College, founded in 1976.
At 36, Awan, believed to be the youngest California college president, embodies the American immigrant dream of success. Although she was born in Los Angeles, her father was born and raised in Kenya and her mother as a sheltered Muslim woman in Pakistan.
Her father, who grew up in poverty, immigrated to California at 15. In time, a traditional Muslim marriage was arranged for her parents. They got engaged long distance by phone, met and married in Los Angeles—and fell in love.
“I struggled, being a child of immigrants,” said Awan, who has a younger brother. “We are a close-knit family, but there was a misalignment in culture.
“I was not socially normed as a Muslim woman,” Awan continued. “It was difficult to reconcile the cultures.”
Awan is the first in her family to graduate from college, starting out at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif., where her mother also once attended. But Awan’s high educational achievements were not a given.
“I wasn’t the best student in high school. I drove my parents nuts for a while,” said Awan. “I had fun doing things I wasn’t supposed to be doing. But it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish [that matters].”
“I believe in the power of education to change lives and uplift families to a better future. I started out as a first-generation community college student and can relate to the path of [Mission College] students,” said Awan. “I love what I do and helping others makes my life complete.”
Awan was president of Los Angeles Southwest College from July 2018 until she began her tenure at Mission College on Aug. 1, 2022. She wasn’t looking for a new job but couldn’t resist the lure of Mission College.
“Mission College is an amazing institution. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a change, but when I became aware of the opportunity and learned more about Mission, I felt that the institution aligned with my values and called to me,” said Awan.
“This is a great college doing amazing equity work to support students and the community. I felt I could make a difference at Mission and support the college in reaching its potential and shining brightly within the region,” she continued. “My values and beliefs deeply aligned with the college’s mission, values, and equity framework around social justice.”
With equity, students are provided with individualized opportunities to succeed. Not all students need the same assistance.
“We’re conforming to what students need, not vice versa,” said Awan.
“I’m excited and happy to be here. I’m excited for more people to know what a jewel Mission College is,” said President Awan.
“This is very joyful work, and if you’re not finding joy, you should reassess.”
Beyond campus, Awan, who lives in San Jose, finds joy in hiking and traveling with her husband and pampering her Yorkshire terrier. Follow her on social media: on Instagram @MissionscPrez and on Twitter @SeherAwan13.