By Emily Tenorio Molina, Staff Writer
March 1, 2023
A community takes a great deal of experience from diverse perspectives to function and thrive. At the Peralta Community College District (PCCD), the unique perspectives and distinct skills of those that govern the district directly affect the success and wellbeing of the greater community – students, faculty, and classified professionals. Sheweet Yohannes, one of the two newest additions to the PCCD Board of Trustees voted into office during the November 2022 elections, is ready to bring her own fresh perspective to the district.
As a trustee on the governing board, Yohannes works with the other trustees to manage their sole employee: the district’s chancellor. The Board of Trustees oversees the approval of important projects and contracts that significantly impact the district. An important goal for Yohannes is improving the line of communication between the district and its students. This comes directly from her own experiences as a student and educator working at various institutions.
Yohannes understands the challenges that many working students face as they multitask other responsibilities while dedicating time to their studies. Like many who pass through the halls and virtual classrooms of PCCD, Yohannes has taken a non-traditional path towards achieving her goals in her career and education – attending community college, serving her country, and teaching halfway across the world before coming back to earn a master’s degree.
Yohannes is the eldest of two sisters, and was raised by a single father in Washington DC. Her father experienced financial difficulties during her childhood, and Yohannes recalls the expectation that she create her own pathway to success and make something of herself.
She began taking courses at the University of the District of Columbia Community College as a business major. Like many college students, however, Yohannes was unsure of what careers to follow. Instead, Yohannes chose a different path: she joined the army.
Like many veterans, Yohannes saw the army as a place for learning technical skills and using the GI Bill to finance her college education. Her enlistment, however, occurred shortly after the devastating attacks on 9/11. With the escalating tensions overseas, Yohannes was highly aware of the risks involved.
“Everyone I knew was getting deployed,” she said.
However, Yohannes was not deployed to an active combat zone. Her first duty station was in Korea where she worked as a radio broadcast engineer who would inspect the maintenance of transmission radio and TV sites around different stations. This lasted two years before she was moved to the Pentagon and worked in their congressional auditorium, helping with the technical side of many special events.
After her time in the army and earning her bachelor’s degree in International Business from Strayer University, Yohannes wanted a career jump into education, which prompted her to scout for opportunities abroad. That’s how she spent four years teaching English to children and adults in Spain and Russia. She recalls the initial difficulty of overcoming the language barriers alongside her colleagues.
“Most of us didn’t know the language prior to going there. So we kind of had to navigate on our own,” Yohannes said.
Yohannes found her final two years abroad in Russia to be an illuminating experience. It was eye opening to live in freezing weather and live in a culture quite foreign to her, especially as a person of color who stood out. She discussed the differences between Russian and American cultures with the students in her class.
“Moscow is very much like, ‘conformity is better’,” Yohannes explained.
When she moved away from the dark colored coats of the Russian capital to the vibrant streets of Oakland in 2017, she found the transition she needed. Afterall, she had just spent two years in one of the coldest parts of the world.
“As soon as I landed, I was like, oh, okay, green here, purple here, orange here,” Yohannes said, “and like, everybody is able to be expressive like themselves there.”
Yohannes feels that her experiences in the army and teaching abroad provided unique lessons on leadership. While pursuing her master’s at Golden Gate University (GGU), Yohannes had opportunities to work with students both in classrooms and in other settings, including administrative roles with direct lines of communication between herself and parts of the college community.
While completing her first master’s in Business Analytics in 2018 at GGU, Yohannes became an academic program manager, where she supported the three master’s programs in her department. She then began assisting the Dean of her department, which led to the creation of the position of Assistant Dean of Community Engagement, a role that gave Yohannes more time to communicate with students and faculty within her program. During that time Yohannes also became an adjunct professor at GGU and Berkeley Extension, while also pursuing her second master’s in Human Resources Management at the university.
Working the past five years at GGU gave Yohannes a clearer understanding of how decision making processes work in higher education. Similar to PCCD, one of the private university’s high priorities is making appropriate budget decisions to increase student retention. She has observed the bureaucratic process within her workplace, which is similar to Peralta’s Board of Trustees.
Despite GGU being a private school, Yohannes doesn’t see her transition to the community college district as a huge change. Her platform for reinforcing clear communication with students remains the same in whichever environment she’s working in.
After all, transitioning to new roles and environments isn’t a difficulty for Yohannes. Throughout this journey – as a student in community college, to her time as a radio broadcast engineer for the military, to her position as a teacher abroad, and her experience as an administrator in higher education – Yohannes has learned the responsibilities and challenges of a variety of different walks of life with diverse, eclectic, and applicable skill-sets. Each new role has added to a unique set of tools that she has at her disposal.
The opportunities she has had to engage with various age groups on their language skills and leading tasks with her army peers has given Yohannes the skills for a career in education. For example, working with students on learning another language gave her the insight on her leadership style as a teacher and on defining her goals as an educator.
In her new role as trustee, she is thinking about how to reach out to students through accessible channels that make sense for them.
“First, we have to connect with the students. How are we even speaking to them?” she said.
Yohannes wants to ensure that the trustees talk with students on the topics that affect their academic paths and that there is equitable representation in the decision making process. She brainstorms different ways the board could engage with students – hosting Q&A drop-ins, town hall meetings or perhaps through opt-in text messages.
Yohannes officially started her role as a trustee at the board’s Dec. 13 meeting, alongside new trustee Louis Quindlen. Now entering a new semester, Yohannes is interested in expanding transportation subsidies eligibility and improving housing security. She recently engaged with student government bodies like the Associated Students of Laney College, to note current student needs including transportation and housing, with plans to address them in upcoming PCCD trustee meetings. She’s looking forward to discussing a currently conducted housing study and revising transportation requirements in the upcoming weeks.
With over a decade of dedication to student success, Yohannes quickly took on the challenges that currently affect Peralta’s student community.
“I’m just ready to hit the ground running. Let’s go, let’s go to work!”