New Los Banos dean brings experience, commitment and enthusiasm to the job

The new dean of the Merced College campus in Los Banos, Lonita Cordova, brings to the job extensive qualifications, expansive experience and intensive energy.

Cordova was named last month as dean of the Los Banos Campus by college president Chris Vitelli. She begins her new assignment on July 1, after completing her current assignment as dean of student success and equity at the Merced campus.

Cordova has a broad educational background, including a bachelor’s degree, a multiple subjects teaching credential, a master’s degree in educational counseling and a doctorate in psychology. She is also a military veteran, having spent eight years in the Navy.

Her work experience includes teaching high school and elementary schoolchildren, serving as a counselor at both the K-12 and college levels, teaching college psychology courses, serving as a college learning disability specialist and then becoming a student success and equity dean.

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She is excited about coming to Los Banos as new campus dean and is looking forward to getting to know the students and community it serves. “The campus has always been an important part of the community,” Cordova said, “and it has recently expanded its services with a new program in welding and the development of a food forest. And I foresee even greater things ahead.”

Cordova has an intriguing life story. She is the daughter of an African-American father and British mother. Lonita was born in London and then moved with her family to Orange County when she was 4.

Cordova (then Lonita Williams) grew up in a lower socioeconomic community and decided to join the Navy after graduating from high school to improve her opportunities. She enlisted as a radioperson in 1994 and during her service moved into more complex technology roles, eventually becoming a supervisor of information systems.

She met a man also serving in Navy, Alexander Cordova, while they were both stationed in Italy and before long they were married. After a while she and her husband decided to leave the military and return to the United States to start a family. She moved to Stockton, where Alexander’s family lives.

Soon Lonita utilized a program called “Troops to Teachers” to earn a bachelor’s degree and her multiple subjects credential from CSU Stanislaus and then taught ninth grade and in an alternative education school within the San Joaquin County Office of Education and later taught students in grades K through 6.

While teaching she realized she had a passion for education and for helping young people succeed, including foster youth and homeless and incarcerated students.

While working full-time as a teacher, Cordova earned a master’s degree in educational counseling, continuing to help students who were living in difficult circumstances. She became intrigued with the local community college, San Joaquin Delta, and taught psychology courses there and later served as a counselor at Modesto Junior College.

Cordova discovered that working in a community college was the best career choice for her. “Community colleges offer an excellent education to everyone,” she said, “including persons on the margins of society.”

Before long, after some more coursework, she was selected as a full-time learning disabilities specialist at Modesto Junior College, where she worked with a dean, Francisco Banuelos, who saw something special in her and suggested she pursue a career in community college leadership.

With Banuelos’s encouragement Cordova applied for an administrative position that had opened at Merced College, and she was hired as the dean of student success and equity in December 2017.

Another person who encouraged and guided Cordova was Kathleen Moberg, vice president of student services of Gavilan College, who served as Cordova’s mentor through the Association of California Community College Administrators.

When Brenda Latham announced early in 2019 her retirement as dean of the Los Banos campus after serving in that position for 11 years, several persons at Merced College encouraged Cordova to apply, and she was selected from a long list of applicants.

“The dean’s position in Los Banos sounded so appealing to me,” Cordova said, “a chance to be involved in so many different facets of a community college, including instruction, student services and facilities. And it also provides the opportunity to become deeply involved in a community which has embraced its campus for many years.”

Cordova can’t wait to begin her new job, as she learns more about the campus and the community it serves. On July 1 she plans to hit her new ground running.

Cordova will continue the dedicated spirit of previous deans, including Anne Newins, Karyn Dower and Brenda Latham. She has incredible energy and dedication. She believes in servant leadership and is committed to helping all students succeed.

I think the Los Banos Campus is lucky to have her.

John Spevak wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. His email is john. spevak@gmail.com