Beyond the Boardroom

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Dr. Frank Chong

Author: Alexandra Russell
February, 2015 Issue

Prior to joining Santa Rosa Junior College as superintendent and president, Dr. Frank Chong served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges at the U.S. Department of Education in the Obama administration in Washington, D.C. “It was just like ‘House of Cards,’ but the people were a lot nicer,” he says.
 
Chong, now a Petaluma resident, was inspired to pursue a career in education by his parents, who “always instilled in me the value of getting a good education. I loved school and attended UC Berkeley and Harvard University. Becoming a college president was a pretty cool way to stay on campus.”
 
For his own scholastic years, Chong attended Cal, where he majored in social welfare and Asian American studies. He received a masters at the John F. Kennedy School of Government and a doctorate at Dowling College in New York. “It is safe to say that I’m overeducated,” he says. “I like to say that I was a B student, but I’m an A person!”

Where did you grow up?
I’m an ABC from NYC (American-born Chinese from New York City).
 
Do you have a big family?
I’m the youngest of five siblings and therefore accustomed to getting my way.
 
Are you married?
I’m divorced with two teenagers who are attending college. And I’m engaged to a wonderful woman and plan to marry soon.
 
What’s enjoyable about your career?
The day-to-day experience of being in a college community is so stimulating. It really energizes me to be among smart young students and among our faculty—intelligent people who are passionate about their fields. I can’t help but feel the contagious energy of those striving for excellence.
 
What was your first job?
Selling tropical fish in a shop near Wall Street. I was an avid hobbyist. My older brother, Danny, loved raising tropical fish, too, so we had a 55-gallon fish tank in a little apartment. They were the love of my life, my friends. Although I killed some of those friends (by accident).
 
What do you love to do outside of work?
My favorite pasttimes are golfing with my buddies and listening to live music with Lene, my fiancée. We’re huge fans of Tony Bennett.
 
How comfortable are you with uncertainty?
I operate well in the gray. There’s always uncertainty in running a college—changes in regulations and personnel, loss of funding, even stormy weather. You have to be flexible and resilient. I’m an eternal optimist and cheerleader. I love to celebrate our achievements. Santa Rosa Junior College is such a wonderful institution.
 
What movie have you seen recently that you’d recommend?
“St. Vincent”: I love Bill Murray, and it’s filmed in Brooklyn, New Yawk.
 
What person do you admire most and why?
I worked in Washington, D.C., for Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education. He’s a very down-to-earth, “aw, shucks” kind of leader. He’s self-confident, not self-important. And he’s very courageous, taking on the banking industry, unions, for-profit schools. His goal is always to help the children.
 
What would people be surprised to know about you?
People think I’m a city boy, but I love camping and to be in nature. My most intense outdoor experience was a 21-day Outward Bound survival trip when I was 16. It included three days solo, fasting, a 180-mile trek of the Sierras, zip lines, rappelling and a half-marathon run. That was an amazing experience for a kid from New York City.
 
Share a magical childhood moment.
I was about seven years old when my dad took me to my first baseball game at Yankee Stadium. I was a big baseball fan. When I came to the entrance, saw that grass field, that blue sky and the Yankees, I was euphoric. After that, I’d go to games with my friends. I’ve been a lifelong baseball fan for 50 years now.

 

 

 

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